Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 53 [XLVIII.]--In What Sense Some Men May Be Said to Live Without Sin in the Present Life.
But in reference to the particular point in which he quoted the holy Ambrose with so much approbation, -- because he found in that author's writings, from the praises he accorded to Zacharias and Elisabeth, the opinion that a man might possibly in this life be without sin; although this cannot be denied if God wills it, with whom all things are possible, yet he ought to consider more carefully in what sense this was said. Now, so far as I can see, this statement was made in accordance with a certain standard of conduct, which is among men held to be worthy of approval and praise, and which no human being could justly call in question for the purpose of laying accusation or censure. Such a standard Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth are said to have maintained in the sight of God, for no other reason than that they, by walking therein, never deceived people by any dissimulation; but as they in their sincerity appeared to men, so were they known in the sight of God. The statement, however, was not made with any reference to that perfect state of righteousness in which we shall one day live truly and absolutely in a condition of spotless purity. The Apostle Paul, indeed, has told us that he was |blameless, as touching the righteousness which is of the law;| and it was in respect of the same law that Zacharias also lived a blameless life. This righteousness, however, the apostle counted as |dung| and |loss,| in comparison with the righteousness which is the object of our hope, and which we ought to |hunger and thirst after,| in order that hereafter we may be satisfied with the vision thereof, enjoying it now by faith, so long as |the just do live by faith.|