Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 65.--In What Sense a Sinless Righteousness in This Life Can Be Asserted.
Forasmuch, however, as an inferior righteousness may be said to be competent to this life, whereby the just man lives by faith although absent from the Lord, and, therefore, walking by faith and not yet by sight, -- it may be without absurdity said, no doubt, in respect of it, that it is free from sin; for it ought not to be attributed to it as a fault, that it is not as yet sufficient for so great a love to God as is due to the final, complete, and perfect condition thereof. It is one thing to fail at present in attaining to the fulness of love, and another thing to be swayed by no lust. A man ought therefore to abstain from every unlawful desire, although he loves God now far less than it is possible to love Him when He becomes an object of sight; just as in matters connected with the bodily senses, the eye can receive no pleasure from any kind of darkness, although it may be unable to look with a firm sight amidst refulgent light. Only let us see to it that we so constitute the soul of man in this corruptible body, that, although it has not yet swallowed up and consumed the motions of earthly lust in that super-eminent perfection of the love of God, it nevertheless, in that inferior righteousness to which we have referred, gives no consent to the aforesaid lust for the purpose of effecting any unlawful thing. In respect, therefore, of that immortal life, the commandment is even now applicable: |Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might;| but in reference to the present life the following: |Let not sin reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.| To the one, again, belongs, |Thou shalt not covet;| to the other, |Thou shalt not go after thy lusts.| To the one it appertains to seek for nothing more than to continue in its perfect state; to the other it belongs actively to do the duty committed to it, and to hope as its reward for the perfection of the future life, -- so that in the one the just man may live forevermore in the sight of that happiness which in this life was his object of desire; in the other, he may live by that faith whereon rests his desire for the ultimate blessedness as its certain end. (These things being so, it will be sin in the man who lives by faith ever to consent to an unlawful delight, -- by committing not only frightful deeds and crimes, but even trifling faults; sinful, if he lend an ear to a word that ought not to be listened to, or a tongue to a phrase which should not be uttered; sinful, if he entertains a thought in his heart in such a way as to wish that an evil pleasure were a lawful one, although known to be unlawful by the commandment, -- for this amounts to a consent to sin, which would certainly be carried out in act, unless fear of punishment deterred.) Have such just men, while living by faith, no need to say: |Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors?| And do they prove this to be wrong which is written, |In Thy sight shall no man living be justified?| and this: |If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us?| and, |There is no man that sinneth not;| and again, |There is not on the earth a righteous man, who doeth good and sinneth not| (for both these statements are expressed in a general future sense, -- |sinneth not,| |will not sin,| -- not in the past time, |has not sinned|)? -- and all other places of this purport contained in the Holy Scripture? Since, however, these passages cannot possibly be false, it plainly follows, to my mind, that whatever be the quality or extent of the righteousness which we may definitely ascribe to the present life, there is not a man living in it who is absolutely free from all sin; and that it is necessary for every one to give, that it may be given to him; and to forgive, that it may be forgiven him; and whatever righteousness he has, not to presume that he has it of himself, but from the grace of God, who justifies him, and still to go on hungering and thirsting for righteousness from Him who is the living bread, and with whom is the fountain of life; who works in His saints, whilst labouring amidst temptation in this life, their justification in such manner that He may still have somewhat to impart to them liberally when they ask, and something mercifully to forgive them when they confess.