Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 13 [VI.]--The Grace of God is Not Given According to Merit, But Itself Makes All Good Desert.
From these and similar passages of Scripture, we gather the proof that God's grace is not given according to our merits. The truth is, we see that it is given not only where there are no good, but even where there are many evil merits preceding: and we see it so given daily. But it is plain that when it has been given, also our good merits begin to be, -- yet only by means of it; for, were that only to withdraw itself, man falls, not raised up, but precipitated by free will. Wherefore no man ought, even when he begins to possess good merits, to attribute them to himself, but to God, who is thus addressed by the Psalmist: |Be Thou my helper, forsake me not.| By saying, |Forsake me not,| he shows that if he were to be forsaken, he is unable of himself to do any good thing. Wherefore also he says: |I said in my abundance, I shall never be moved,| for he thought that he had such an abundance of good to call his own that he would not be moved. But in order that he might be taught whose that was, of which he had begun to boast as if it were his own, he was admonished by the gradual desertion of God's grace, and says: |O Lord, in Thy good pleasure Thou didst add strength to my beauty. Thou didst, however, turn away Thy face, and then I was troubled and distressed.| Thus, it is necessary for a man that he should be not only justified when unrighteous by the grace of God, -- that is, be changed from unholiness to righteousness, -- when he is requited with good for his evil; but that, even after he has become justified by faith, grace should accompany him on his way, and he should lean upon it, lest he fall. On this account it is written concerning the Church herself in the book of Canticles: |Who is this that cometh up in white raiment, leaning upon her kinsman?| Made white is she who by herself alone could not be white. And by whom has she been made white except by Him who says by the prophet, |Though your sins be as purple, I will make them white as snow|? At the time, then, that she was made white, she deserved nothing good; but now that she is made white, she walketh well; -- but it is only by her continuing ever to lean upon Him by whom she was made white. Wherefore, Jesus Himself, on whom she leans that was made white, said to His disciples, |Without me ye can do nothing.|