Friday, September 14, 2007

Perseverance: Owen, Augustine, and the Church Fathers

It was recently stated in the Speak-Easy, by our Arminian friend "Kangeroodort," that Augustine taught that true believers could lose their salvation, but the Elect would not; and that Calvin was "the first to teach inevitable perseverance of all believers." This statement came with no documentation, so I didn't know if it was fact or something the he found stated on Dan Corner's Pelagian landfill.

Well, I did some research and I think I found what Kangeroodort was referring to...

There was indeed a difference between the teachings of the Reformers and Augustine on the subject of Perseverance, but it wasn't as much of a difference as some might want us to believe. Concerning the differences and similarities between Augustine and John Owen (who would probably represent Calvin's views quite well), Henry Knapp has written,

"the difference... is a matter of semantics and/or a function of Augustine's sacramental/ecclesiastical views. On issues of soteriology and salvation, their understanding of perseverance is very similar."

For those interested in an in depth review of the similarities and differences between Owen and Augustine, I would suggest reading the entirety of Knapp's treatment of the issue from a work published in the Westminster Theological Journal available on pdf by clicking here.

For those interested in getting things straight from Augustine, I'd suggest his work entitled On the Gift of Perseverance.

If you read these two works for yourself, I think you may also see that there's not much of a difference either.

One other thing that Kangeroodort stated was this:

"Calvin's doctrine of inevitable perseverance was just as novel to the church in the 16th century as practicing yoga is today. Not to mention that only gnostics had taught inevitable perseverance prior to Calvin."

Again, he does not cite a reference back this assertion. Again, I decided to do a little digging to see what was out there. I found that John Gill, in his book, The Cause of God and Truth, cites numerous examples of folks, prior to Augustine even, who seemed to have some understanding of Perseverance. For those without access to the book I will cite each example Gill gives and link it to a web page where you can check it out for yourself:

Gill's Introduction to the Chapter.
  1. Clement of Rome (69 A.D.)
  2. Barnabas (70 A.D.)
  3. Ignatius (110 A.D.)
  4. Irenaeus (180 A.D.)
  5. The letter of the Martyrs in France (180 A.D.)
  6. Clement of Alexandria (190 A.D.)
  7. Tertullian (200 A.D.)
  8. Origen (230 A.D.)
  9. Cyprian (250 A.D.)
  10. Lactantius (320 A.D.)
  11. Eusebius Caesariensis (330 A.D.)
  12. Chronomatius (335 A.D.)
  13. Athanasius (350 A.D)
  14. Macarius Aegyptus (350 A.D.)
  15. Hilary of Poictiers (350 A.D.)
  16. Basilius Caesariensis (370 A.D.)
  17. Gregory of Nazianzum (350 A.D.)
  18. Gregory of Nyssa (380 A.D.)
  19. Hilary, the Deacon (380 A.D.)
  20. Ambrose, of Milain (380 A.D.)
  21. John Chrysostom (390 A.D.)
  22. Jerome (390 A.D.)

Kangeroodort's last remark concerning the issue was this challenge:

"...if you can produce something from Augustine that teaches that all true believers will persevere to the end, then I will concede that inevitable perseverance began with Augustine, which was still novel at the time."

I'm not sure if any of the preceding information meets this challenge, but, I've placed it before everyone and I hope it helps.

In closing, I have to conclude that no matter what Augustine, Calvin, Owen, Gill, or any of the Church Fathers listed above may have taught, our Lord Jesus Christ himself unambiguously taught that not one of His Elect sheep would perish -and there ends the matter.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37 ESV

Soli Deo Gloria!

17 comments:

gordan said...

Thanks for taking the time and trouble to do all that, Rhett.

Scribe said...

An excellent post Rhett! Anyone can build an argument from quotes lifted from their context.

Is that I strawman I smell burning...?

Rhett said...

Thanks guys.

Chapter 21 of Augustine's work is where you can really see the difference that Knapp says is a "matter of semantics and/or a function of Augustine's sacramental/ecclesiastical views."

(Chapters 54 & 56 are also good, though there's some real gems scattered throughout...)

Mike Y said...

Rhett, your bottom line is in fact the bottom line. Our doctrine is not determined by those who have gone before us, it's determined by the scriptures we cling to by faith. BTW, Christ also makes it clear in Revelation that the overcoming one is the one who has everlasting life.

This doesn't imply that salvation is a work product. It, instead, reinforces that the true Christian does and will persevere. And Christ makes clear that the one who doesn't, who quits, who leaves the faith, merely manifests that he was never a believer in the first place.

Bob Hayton said...

As Rhett said over on my blog today, how providential that my post from yesterday and Rhett's post here are almost on the same thing. My post is entitled "Interpreting Augustine: Was He “Reformed”?"

I found this article by Greg Johnson which in a few paragraphs (toward the middle of the web page as you scroll down) deals with Augustine's views on perseverance.

Basically Augustine felt God predestinated some to belief only, and others to belief and perseverance. Still all of this was totally gracious, as God had to change the wills of those elect. So in that sense he is very much like us Reformed guys.

Augustine's views on perseverance possibly are due to his fluid, changing views on justification (he did not have post-Reformation clarity like we do), in part. Also he claimed all who were infant baptized were regenerated. So this regeneration did not guarantee final salvation.

But at the end of the day his views aren't much different than true Calvinistic perseverance. Traditionally Calvinists interpret those who appear to have once believed yet fall away from faith, as people who were never truly regenerate and never had true saving faith. Calvinists treat them as covenant breakers. Augustine would just say they actually did have faith, but weren't predestined to continue believing to the end.

If the original Arminian guy, whose comment sparked this post in the first place, was trying to pit Augustine versus the typical modern Once Saved Always Saved version of eternal security, where a sinner's prayer or mental assent to truth purchases a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card, irrespective of any obedience or perseverance in faith, he succeeded. But pitting Augustine against the traditional orthodox Calvinist understanding of perseverance is another matter. The differences are mainly semantical, I would say. But in practice very similar.

Good post, by the way. It's great researching and learning about great men like Augustine, isn't it?

Blessings from the Cross,

Bob Hayton

kangeroodort said...

Scribe said,

"An excellent post Rhett! Anyone can build an argument from quotes lifted from their context."

Truly a good point and I could not help but notice that many of the links provided seem to be incomplete thoughts and rather random quotes with very little "context".

Clement of Rome is linked to above. Here is another quote from Clement of Rome that seems to clearly indicate that believers can forfeit salvation:

"[WRITTEN TO CHRISTIANS]Since all things are seen and heard [by God], let us fear Him and forsake those wicked works that proceed from evil desires. By doing that, through His mercy, we may be protected from the judgments to come. For where can any of us flee from His mighty hand." (c. 96)

Next comes Barnabas:

We ought, therefore brethren, carefully to inquire concerning our salvation. Otherwise, the wicked one, having made his entrance by deceit, may hurl us forth from our life." (c. 70-130)

The whole past time of your faith will profit you nothing, unless now in this wicked time we also withstand coming sources of danger...Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are called, we fall asleep in our sins. For then, the wicked prince, aquiring power over us, will thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord....And you should pay attention to this all the more, my brothers, when you reflect on and see that even after such great signs and wonders had been performed in Israel, they were still abandoned. Let us beware lest we be found to be, as it is written, the "many who are called" but not "the few who were chosen". (c. 70-130)

Irenaeus:

"It was not those who are outside that he said these things, but to us- lest we should be cast forth from the kingdom of God, by doing any such thing." (c. 180)

"Knowing that what preserves his life, namely obedience to God, is good, he may dilligently keep it with all earnestnest." (c. 180)

Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons." (c. 180)

"Rather, we should fear ourselves, least perchance, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but are shut out from His kingdom. And for that reason, Paul said, "For if [God] spared not the natural branches, [take heed] lest He also not spare you."" (c. 180)

Clemant of Alexandria:

"It is neither the faith, nor the love, nor the endurance of one day; rather, "he that endures to the end will be saved."" (c. 195)

"God gives forgiveness of past sins. However, as to future sins, each one procures this for himself. He does this by repenting, by condemning the past deeds, and by begging the Father to blot them out. For only the Father is the one who is able to undo what is done....So even in the case of the one who has done the greatest good deeds in life, but at the end has run headlong into wickedness, all his former pains are profitless to him. For at the climax of the drama, he has given up his part." (c. 195)

Tertullian:

The world returns to sin...and so it is destined to fire. So is the man who after baptism renews his sins." (c. 198)

"We ought indeed to walk so holily, and with so entire substantiality of faith, as to be confident and secure in regard of our own conscience, desiring that it may abide in us to the end. Yet, we should not presume [that it will]. For he who presumes, feels less apprehension. He who feels less apprehension, takes less precaution. He who takes less precaution, runs more risk. Fear is the foundation of salvation. Presumption is an impediment to fear....More useful, then, is it to apprehend that we may possibly fail, than to presume that we cannot. For apprehension will lead us to fear, fear to caution, and caution to salvation. On the other hand, if we presume, there will be neither fear nor caution to save us." (c. 198)

[The(Gnostic)Valentinians claim] that since they are already naturalized in the brotherly bond of the spiritual state, they will obtain a certain salvation- one which is on all accounts their due." (c. 200)

"Some think that God is under necessity of bestowing even on the unworthy what He has promised [to give]. So they turn His liberality into His slavery....For do not many afterwards fall out of [grace]? Is not this gift taken away from many? These, no doubt, are they who,....after approaching to the faith of repentence, build on the sands a house doomed to ruin." (c. 203)

God had forseen...that faith- even after baptism- would be endangered. He saw that most persons- after obtaining salvation-would be lost again, by soiling the wedding dress, by failing to provide oil for their torches." (c. 213)

Origen:

"A man may possess an acquired righteousness, from which it is possible for him to fall away." (c. 225)

"Certian ones of those [heretics] who hold differing opinions misuse these passages [like Rom. 9]. They essentially destroy free will by introducing ruined natures incapable of salvation and by introducing others as being saved in such a way that they cannot be lost." (c. 225)

Cyprian:

"You are still in the world. You are still in the battlefield. You daily fight for your lives. So you must be careful that...what you have begun to be with such blessed commencement will be consummated in you. It is a small thing to have first received something. It is a greater thing to be able to keep what you have attained. Faith itself and the saving birth do not make alive by mereley being received. Rather, they must be preserved. It is not the actual attainment, but the perfecting, that keeps a man for God. The Lord taught this in His instruction when He said, "Look! You have been made whole. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."...Solomon, Saul, and many others were able to keep the grace given them so long as they walked in the Lord's ways. However, when the discipline of the Lord was forsaken by them, grace also forsook them." (c. 250)

I ask...that you grieve with me at the spiritual death of my sister. For in this time of devestation, she has fallen from Christ." (c. 250)

He who wills that no one should perish, desires that sinners should repent, and by repentance, should return again to life." (c. 250)

"It is clear that the devil is driven out in baptism by the faith of the believer. But he returns if faith should afterward fail." (c. 250)

These are just a few of the numerous quotes taken from "A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs" by David Bercot [editor]. They appear under the heading of "Salvation" under the sub-heading "Can those who are saved ever be lost?"

In this section, there are quotes affirming that believers can lose salvation from nearly every significant church Father up to the "Apoatolic Constitutions" in c. 390, including 4 quotes from Irenaeus, 4 quotes from Clement of Alexandria, 6 quotes from Tertullian, 4 quotes from Origen, and 20 quotes from Cyprian, all of whom are linked to in the post as teaching inevitable perseverance. If nothing else, this demonstrates that the scholarship of those who wish to employ these Fathers for the purpose of proving that eternal security has historical precedence is suspect at best.

I advise anyone who wants to investigate this matter to look at more than just what Calvinist writers put forth as proof for their position in the Greek Fathers. The Ante-Nicene Fathers constitute a considerable body of work, and it is for that reason that I mentioned in the comment that led to this post, that I was open to correction. I have not read the early Church Fathers exaustively, but from what I have read, and according to men like Bercot [who has read them exaustively], there was unanimous agreement among these fathers against the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance, which was a teaching held only by heretics like the gnostics [as two of the above quotes demonstrate]. I appreciate the links, and will look at them more thoroughly when I get the opportunity.

God Bless,
Ben

kangeroodort said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kangeroodort said...

As far as the difference between Augustine's views and Calvin's being insignificant, we will just have to agree to disagree on that one. Calvin taught that no true believer can fall away, while Augustine affirmed that a true believer could fall away. That seems pretty significant to me.

An Augustinian could say that a regenerate person who fell away lost his or her salvation, while a Calvinist could say only that they were never really regenerated in the first place, and therefore lost nothing because they never truly possessed anything. The Calvinist position is much harder to sustain in light of Scripture than the Augustinian position as far as I am concerned.

Rhett said...

"I could not help but notice that many of the links provided seem to be incomplete thoughts and rather random quotes with very little "context"."

I Agree.... The same can be said for what you have posted as well.

Perhaps these men contradicted themselves?

Perhaps (as with us all) their understandings grew and changed with time and we are simply seeing examples of that?

(For example: One could find articles by A.W. Pink that teach dispensationalism, however, near the end of his life he renounced it and wrote against it.)

One other thing we must think about is that the Ante-Nicene Fathers lived in turbulent times, and many doctrines were not as fully developed as they are now.

Either way, Christ taught his sheep would never perish and that those who came to him would never be cast out....

Rhett said...

"As far as the difference between Augustine's views and Calvin's being insignificant, we will just have to agree to disagree on that one."

That's fine with me. Some of my best friends disagree with me on lots of things...

"An Augustinian could say that a regenerate person who fell away lost his or her salvation"

Actually, an Augustinian would say that the person was not granted the "gift of Perseverance" and was therefore "not called according to the purpose." (See ch. 21 of Augustine's On The Gift of Perseverance)

Look man...

You're convinced you are correct and so am I. I'm sure we could debate about it forever and neither of us will budge and inch.

I don't know about you, but I don't plan on ever losing my salvation -even if it is possible.

kangeroodort said...

I am with on that, but I still think there is danger in preaching eternal security, especially if it is not Biblical. I think Tertullian put it well:

"We ought indeed to walk so holily, and with so entire substantiality of faith, as to be confident and secure in regard of our own conscience, desiring that it may abide in us to the end. Yet, we should not presume [that it will]. For he who presumes, feels less apprehension. He who feels less apprehension, takes less precaution. He who takes less precaution, runs more risk. Fear is the foundation of salvation. Presumption is an impediment to fear....More useful, then, is it to apprehend that we may possibly fail, than to presume that we cannot. For apprehension will lead us to fear, fear to caution, and caution to salvation. On the other hand, if we presume, there will be neither fear nor caution to save us." (c. 198)

Faith in the doctrine of eternal security can lead to presumption and a lack of caution.

You are right that Augustine said one would not have been given the gift of perseverance, but he also maintained that those who were not given this gift were still saved for as long as they were believers.

Rhett said...

Ben,

My faith is not in the doctrine. My faith is in Christ whom I believe will keep me by his power.

Even so, everyday, I strive to make my calling and election sure.

How do I know that I know Christ?

The Apostle John made it plain:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6 ESV)

Neither Monergists nor Synergists, Calvinists nor Arminians, have any reason to think they are Heavenbound unless they bear fruit.

Here I stand,

Rhett

Charlie J. Ray said...

I was able to see the page on Augustine. But when you click on the romancatholicism.org link my antivirus program blocked it saying there is a detected threat. It's a bit amusing that a Roman Catholic site is infected with a virus. Is there an object lesson here?

:)

Charlie

Jonathan Emerson-Pierce said...
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Jonathan Emerson-Pierce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rev. J said...

There was indeed a great difference between Augustine and Calvin regarding perseverance. True, some of it was due to differing ecclesilogy and sacramentology. But if Augustine chose to see his soteriology in light of the whole (as ALL great pre-Reformation theologians did) it is impossible to say what his theology would have been otherwise. That is, one cannot simply say that his theology would've agreed with Calvin in any particular era or circumstance. And, what is clear, is that Augustine did indeed believe that anyone could become a true Christian - by God's grace. However, only the elect were given "the gift of perseverance." For this reason, Augustine's theology has been tolerated as generally orthodox by the Church universal, but not Calvin's. Viewed in historical context, Calvin's doctrine of omnipotence as it relates to soteriology is itself an invention of the Hellenistic philosophical bent of the late Middle Ages rather than Augustine or scripture. And therefore, could have and would have no influence on the more scripturally sound Augustine.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Doctrine will determine where you spend eternity. Jesus said if you do not believe his words you will be lost. John 12:48