Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 24.--An Objection of the Pelagians. The Apostle Paul Was Not Free From Sin So Long as He Lived.
|But see,| say they, |how the apostle says, I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness;' which he would not have said if he had any sin.| It is for them, then, to explain how he could have said this, when there still remained for him to encounter the great conflict, the grievous and excessive weight of that suffering which he had just said awaited him. In order to finish his course, was there yet wanting only a small thing, when that in fact was still left to suffer wherein would be a fiercer and more cruel foe? If, however, he uttered such words of joy feeling sure and secure, because he had been made sure and secure by Him who had revealed to him the imminence of his suffering, then he spoke these words, not in the fulness of realization, but in the firmness of hope, and represents what he foresees is to come as if it had already been done. If, therefore, he had added to those words the further statement, |I have no longer any sin,| we must have understood him as even then speaking of a perfection arising from a future prospect, not from an accomplished fact. For his having no sin, which they suppose was completed when he spoke these words, pertained to the finishing of his course; just in the same way as his triumphing over his adversary in the decisive conflict of his suffering had also reference to the finishing of his course, although this they must needs themselves allow remained yet to be effected, when he was speaking these words. The whole of this, therefore, we declare to have been as yet awaiting its accomplishment, at the time when the apostle, with his perfect trust in the promise of God, spoke of it all as having been already realized. For it was in reference to the finishing of his course that he forgave the sins of those who sinned against him, and prayed that his own sins might in like manner be forgiven him; and it was in his most certain confidence in this promise of the Lord, that he believed he should have no sin in that last end, which was still future, even when in his trustfulness he spoke of it as already accomplished. Now, omitting all other considerations, I wonder whether, when he uttered the words in which he is thought to imply that he had no sin, that |thorn of the flesh| had been already removed from him, for the taking away of which he had three times entreated the Lord, and had received this answer: |My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.| For bringing so great a man to perfection, it was needful that that |messenger of Satan| should not be taken away by whom he was therefore to be buffeted, |lest he should be unduly exalted by the abundance of his revelations,| and is there then any man so bold as either to think or to say, that any one who has to bend beneath the burden of this life is altogether clean from all sin whatever?