Believers can perfectly fulfill the Law, and live in the world without sin.
This is what I never said. But when a certain person once, in a public disputation on the Baptism of Infants, was endeavouring, by a long digression, to bring me to the point either to declare that believers could perfectly fulfill the law of God, or that they could not -- I declined an answer, but quoted the opinion of St. Augustine, from the second book of his Treatise On the demerits and remission of sins, against the Pelagians. That passage, I will here transcribe, that I may defend myself against the charge of Pelagianism; because, I perceive that the men with whom I have to do, consider even these sentiments to be Pelagian, though they can on no count whatever, be reckoned such.
St. Augustine says: |We must not instantly with an incautious rashness, oppose those who assert that it is possible for man to be in this life without sin. For if we deny the possibility of this, we shall derogate both from the free will of man, which desires to be in such a perfect state by willing it; and from the power or mercy of God, who effects it by the assistance which He affords. But it is one question whether it be possible, and another whether such a man actually exists. It is one question, if such a perfect man is not in existence when it is possible, why is he not? And it is another, not only whether there is any one who has never had any sin at all, but likewise, whether there could at any time have been such a man, or that it is now possible? In this fourfold proposal of questions, if I be asked |is it possible for a man to exist in the present life without sin;| I shall confess, that it is possible by the grace of God, and by man's free will.| (Cap.6.)
In another of his works, St. Augustine says: |Pelagius disputes correctly, that they confess it not to be impossible, by the very circumstance of either many or all persons wishing to do it; [perfectly to fulfill the law of God;] but let him confess whence it is possible, and peace is instantly established. For the possibility arises from the grace of God through Christ Jesus,| &c. (On Nature and Grace, against the Pelagians, cap.59, 60.) And in a subsequent passage: |For it may be made a question among true and pious Christians, has there ever been, is there now, or can there be, in this life, any man who lives so justly as to have no sin at all? Whosoever doubts about the possibility of the existence of such a person after this life, he is destitute of understanding. But I am unwilling to enter into a contest, about this possibility even in the present life.| See the paragraphs which immediately succeed in the same chapter. And in the 69th chapter of that work, he says: |By the very thing, by which we most firmly believe that a just and good God could not command impossibilities, we are admonished both of what we may do in things easy of accomplishment, and of what we may ask in matters of difficulty; because all things are easy to charity,| &c.
I do not oppose this opinion of St. Augustine; but I do not enter into a contest about any part of the whole matter. For I think the time may be far more happily and usefully employed in prayers to obtain what is lacking in each of us, and in serious admonitions that every one endeavour to proceed and to press forward towards the mark of perfection, than when spent in such disputations.
But my brethren will say, that in the 114th question of our Catechism this very subject is treated, and that it is there asked, |Can those persons who are converted to God, perfectly observe the Divine Commands,| The answer subjoined is, |By no means.| To this observation I reply, that I do not say anything against it; but that the reason of the negative answer [or scriptural proof added] is about the act, when the question itself is about the possibility; and that, therefore, from this, nothing is proved. It is also well known that this answer had been rejected by some persons; and that it was only by the intervention of the brethren, who added an explanation to it, that it afterwards obtained the approbation of the same individuals. But I shall be perfectly willing to enter into a conference with my brethren about this matter, whenever it shall be convenient; and I hope we shall easily agree in opinion.