Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 8.--Conjugal Chastity is Itself the Gift of God.
It is concerning conjugal chastity itself that the apostle treats, when he says, |Let him do what he will, he sinneth not if he marry;| and yet this too is God's gift, for the Scripture says, |It is by the Lord that the woman is joined to her husband.| Accordingly the teacher of the Gentiles, in one of his discourses, commends both conjugal chastity, whereby adulteries are prevented, and the still more perfect continence which foregoes all cohabitation, and shows how both one and the other are severally the gift of God. Writing to the Corinthians, he admonished married persons not to defraud each other; and then, after his admonition to these, he added: |But I could wish that all men were even as I am myself,| -- meaning, of course, that he abstained from all cohabitation; and then proceeded to say: |But every man hath his own gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.| Now, do the many precepts which are written in the law of God, forbidding all fornication and adultery, indicate anything else than free will? Surely such precepts would not be given unless a man had a will of his own, wherewith to obey the divine commandments. And yet it is God's gift which is indispensable for the observance of the precepts of chastity. Accordingly, it is said in the Book of Wisdom: |When I knew that no one could be continent, except God gives it, then this became a point of wisdom to know whose gift it was.| |Every man,| however, |is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed| not to observe and keep these holy precepts of chastity. If he should say in respect of these commandments, |I wish to keep them, but am mastered by my concupiscence,| then the Scripture responds to his free will, as I have already said: |Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.| In order, however, that this victory may be gained, grace renders its help; and were not this help given, then the law would be nothing but the strength of sin. For concupiscence is increased and receives greater energies from the prohibition of the law, unless the spirit of grace helps. This explains the statement of the great Teacher of the Gentiles, when he says, |The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.| See, then, I pray you, whence originates this confession of weakness, when a man says, |I desire to keep what the law commands, but am overcome by the strength of my concupiscence.| And when his will is addressed, and it is said, |Be not overcome of evil,| of what avail is anything but the succour of God's grace to the accomplishment of the precept? This the apostle himself afterwards stated; for after saying |The strength of sin is the law,| he immediately subjoined, |But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.| It follows, then, that the victory in which sin is vanquished is nothing else than the gift of God, who in this contest helps free will.