Lesson 6 - (Computer) - Augustine's Charge #2 Defense Against Pelagius


Kathy L. McFarland

July 28, 2013

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Augustine’s Specific Challenges against Pelagius’ Free Will Defense

With Scripture Support or Considerations Developed through his Stance

 Lesson 6

 Charge #2 – Free Will ideas might dispute the grace of God

This study concerning free will vs. original sin doctrine seems to be going deep into doctrinal issues, and farther away from Scripture reflection.  It is critical for all Bible studies to focus upon the Word of God separated as much as possible from the doctrines established by Church leadership.  However, in this study the doctrines take center stage in the study for good reason; it is the doctrines of men that have confused or defined Scripture meanings that are critical to the salvation process.

Believers must understand the nature of sin before they can fully appreciate and understand the nature of salvation.  Sin is a critical problem that brings death to everyone upon this earth.  Death exists because of sin, and the hold of sin remains upon a person until released by death, either physical through mortality or spiritual through the grave experience of Baptism in Christ.

The debate between Pelagius and Augustine is valuable in the study of sin because it frames the issues so precisely that we are able to think upon these issues ourselves.  Is sin upon every baby at birth as a direct result of Adam and Eve’s transgression?  Or does sin come upon the young adult at the age of accountability when free will moves toward the side of sin?  Is it possible for a person to get through this life without sinning by following the Law of God perfectly?  Can free will evoke righteousness always, or does sin evoke the fallen-state of man always?  If we have free will, when does it come into play with regards to the salvation process?

It is that last question that frames the second accusation defended by Pelagius when he wrote that “all men are ruled by their own will and everyone submitted to his own desire.”[1] When the Synod charged the subversion of God’s grace of salvation through the thinking that free will controlled the process, Pelagius wisely backed down and stated he meant to say that it is God that helps man to make righteous decisions, and free will that leads man astray; thus, free will disallows God’s leading. The Synod Council considered this an acceptable defense; and, that was where the problem unfolded for Augustine.

How could the Synod Council allow such an evil perversion of words to be written about the Grace of God under the control of men while excusing the writer when his spoken words were more politically correct than his written words?

Augustine defends his angst at the Synod’s lack of care by making these specific points:

Point #1: The Spirit of Wisdom, through prayerful acquiesce of their free will, is clearly moving through followers of Christ to govern and lead them in the direction God wills (Wisdom 7:6-7; c.f. Romans 13:1).[2]

Scriptural Support for Augustine’s Rebuttal on Point #1

Augustine could have expressed the duties of the Spirit of Wisdom in a more succinct way that in all probability would have silenced Pelagius’ defense immediately.  The Spirit of Wisdom is seen in Scripture as help for tailors to prepare Aaron’s priestly garments for consecration purposes (Exodus 28:2-3). It is the Spirit of Wisdom that prepares a person to be made holy and filled with God’s glory. It is that same Spirit of Wisdom that was given fully to the Lord Jesus Christ upon his Incarnation that prepared his human existence to receive God’s holiness with His earthly body for righteous and faithful Judgment.[3] (Isaiah 11:1-5). It is that same Spirit that operates in God’s people that gives wisdom to their sight, enabling them to receive God’s presence along with knowledge and joy; as wisdom prepares believers to receive holiness,  God moves the sinners to laborious travails to gather and heap up natural life goods for His good people (Ecclesiastes 2:26).

Luke 2:40 reveals the nature of wisdom and grace perfectly; as the child Jesus grew, He was filled with wisdom and “the grace of God was upon him.” Grace comes to those with wisdom; it is the Holy Spirit of Wisdom that is given in portion (Luke 2:52) to believers to receive guidance with God’s Grace.

The Spirit of Wisdom operates in the hidden parts of a believer, and also brings fear of the LORD God to the walk of a Christian. Wisdom brings understanding of His Commandments and causes praises of glory to sing upon the lips of receivers of this critically necessary Spirit in the process of walking the way of Christ.

Finally, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 discusses the difference between the Spirit of Wisdom given by God, and the spirit of the world that operates in the unsaved.  It is the Spirit of Wisdom that brings the gifts of God that lets believers knows all things that His Grace freely gives. Colossians 1:9-11 shows the need for knowledge of his will with wisdom and spiritual understanding “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, begin fruitful in every good work, and increasing in knowledge of God.”

Augustine’s rebuttal that the Spirit of Wisdom, through prayerful acquiesce of their free will, is clearly moving through followers of Christ to govern and lead them in the direction God wills is confirmed and supported fully in Scripture, but is understated by him. Pelagius’ assertion that men are ruled by their free will is proven untrue; Christians are prepared by the Spirit of Wisdom and led by the Spirit of Grace upon the path that God wills, and the fallen unsaved are also moved by Him in their foolishness, to provide for His beloved (Ecclesiastes 2:26). It is likely had Augustine formulated his argument with full Scripture support for the works of the Spirit of Wisdom, or lack thereof, points 2-5 would have been unnecessary to prove his position.

Point #2: That Pelagius quoted Psalm 109:18  “As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, So let it come into his bowels like water, And like oil into his bones” to prove men are ruled by their own will seemed highly suggestive that it was the original nature created by God for human beings. Augustine argued that those ruled by their own will have departed from the rule of God and to bend that reality created the wrong idea that humanity ruled God.[4] Augustine further pointed out that submitting to one’s own rule rather than God’s rule brings self-focused attention of false achievements of human nature that brings ingratitude and impiety toward God and leads to the final realization of ruin caused by the rejection of God’s rule.[5]

Scriptural Support for Augustine’s Rebuttal on Point #2

In the topsy turvy liberal and secular world, terminology is often flipped in support of ideas that seem to sound right to justify a variant view of God’s Word.  “Free will” is a good example of this foolish exercise.

Jesus identified freedom to His disciples and that concept was connected with full belief in Him as the condition necessary to experience it:

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:28-32)

The Truth of God expressed in His Word and walked obediently by Christ’s disciples brings freedom. This freedom is experienced through the enlightenment of God’s Truth inside a believer’s being; the will of a believer has nothing to do with this granting of freedom. Yet, historically, “free will” has been part of the debate in Christianity since the "creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).

Liberty is given to Believers through the Truth in the Word of God. Scripture is clear; freedom comes through belief and discipleship. The possibilities of theistic determination’s relevancy to the “free will” hypothesis often debated historically in Christianity will be addressed in upcoming lessons.  For purposes of our ordered study in Lesson 6, it is only necessary at this point to know that wise understanding of the Truth of God brings freedom and foolish blindness to the things of God brings bondage.  Those in bondage can never have free will and those in liberty will always have freedom, confirmed by Scripture.

Point #3: The Divine Grace of God gives light to a person’s eyes that are predestined to conform to the likeness of Christ. This light, according to Augustine, can be darkened by free willed desires that lead the blind to perish. But, this free willed people able to darken the light are “vessels of wrath” created specifically by Him so the “vessels of His mercy” can see the richness of His glory.[6]

Scriptural Support for Augustine’s Rebuttal on Point #3

 “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:1-5)

Calvinists take heed!  Though predestination seems confirmable in Scripture in that some are chosen to be God’s people and some are not, Scripture clearly shows that the struggle between the fallen human conditions requires not only spiritual rebirth but a dedicated effort to be made throughout the life of the Christian. It’s not automatic; Paul teaches Christians in Philippians 2:1-5 how to develop the likeness of Christ. In that particular light, Christian freedom gives them opportunity to choose to increase their spiritual nature to become like Christ, with the knowledge that once saved babes in Christ must increase in their knowledge of God if they are to be fruitful and pleasing to the Lord (Colossians 1:9-11). It is not free will of human choice, but freedom given to believers through their faith in Christ, that gives every Christian the opportunity to conform more and more to Christ.

Augustine’s references Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” He declares that “our free will can do nothing better for us than to submit itself to be led by Him.”[7]

Augustine’s choice of word usage “our free will” complicates matters, especially as theistic determination became the hot topic of conversation among theologists’ in future Christian debates.  A careful examination of Augustine’s words in his rebuke of Pelagius shows that he understands the “Saviour’s helpful grace is so much better than our own wills and desires,” as the state of all faithful Christians that are led by Him. It is critical to the understanding of Augustine’s rebuke that we think not of the “free will” of Christians but rather the freedom of Christians to be led by God to ever increasing spiritual growth in their journey first predestined by Him. When “freedom given to Christians” replaces “free will” in Augustine’s points, his rebuke of Pelagius concerning this matter is supported by Scripture. However, it is made more difficult in his assertion that unsaved sinners have “free will” when Scripture shows those in bondage have no liberty to choose.

Scriptural Support for Augustine’s Rebuttal on Point #4

Those “vessels of His mercy” that are predestinated from the beginning to be Christ’s redeemed are ruled by the Spirit of God with full knowledge of God’s merciful deliverance.[8] This is evidenced, according to Augustine, as David prays with confident surety of his salvation in the day of battle, and asks that the desires of the wicked are not granted and exalt themselves over the people and things of God in Psalm 140:8.

Augustine’s reference to the vessels of mercy and wrath are found in Romans 9:20–24 (KJV 1900)

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”

 Accordingly, Augustine believes that all vessels formed by God to receive honor and mercy also receive His deliverance.  Since Psalm 140:8 clearly shows that the enemy of Christians wants to exalt themselves above the faithful, and should they do that, bring dishonor to Christians. Since the “vessels of His mercy” are honored by God from their predestined formation and preparation, the “vessels of wrath” will not be exalted above them. The “vessels of wrath” will be destroyed as God predestined (Romans 9:22) and the “vessels of mercy” prepared for glory in His presence.

This predestination of “vessels of mercy” and “vessels of wrath” excludes free will and free choice.  When the predestinated nature of believers is known, the recognition that they have absolutely no choice in their expression of personal free will is understood.  When the predestinated nature of the non-Christians is known, their choices are also understood to be without power.  It is God, according to Augustine, that chooses only His will to ultimately be expressed fully.

Scriptural Support for Augustine’s Rebuttal on Point #5

Further, Augustine argues that God assists His people in the making of good choices that allows them to rule rightly those given them to rule through His righteousness and goodness.[9]  He acknowledges that ultimately, it is God that chooses, and not man; however, there is a realm of righteous rule created for Christians by Him. It is in execution of rule that choices are made by the faithful.  The power of those choices, given by God, is not distributed without His direction.  It is God that leads the best choices to be forefront in a Christian’s judgment; even though choice is available, those walking the Christian walk will only choose the one choice that God leads them to.  Thus, Augustine argues that even with apparent choices given to Christians for rule, they are guided to making good choices through their relationship and leading by God.[10]


Augustine’s argument against Pelagius’ defense centers upon what he wrote vs. what he said concerning free will. The apparent frustration that Augustine feels that Pelagius is able to fool the Council is just under the surface throughout his points. Augustine accuses Pelagius at sensing the evil appearance of his written words that “all men are governed by their own will, and that every one is submitted to his own desire” as he stood in defense before the Council, and then changing the words to sound better by adding “God is its helper whenever it chooses good; whilst man is himself in fault when he sins, as being under the influence of a free will.”[11]  Augustine faults the judges of being hoodwinked through his more carefully prepared defense that is more acceptable to them, and questions why the judges allowed such incautious statements to be written from the beginning.

Though Pelagius seems to have offered a defense that allowed the Judges to accept his points, Augustine’s arguments are that even those statements are in error.  He says it is God that “rules those whom He assists in their choice of the good,” and those “ruled by Him” rule rightly.[12]  In that clear statement, free will in times of sin or righteousness just does not exist.


 Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. "A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius". Translated by Peter Holmes. Vol. V: Saint Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Edited by Philip Schaff. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887.


[1] Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, "A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius", ed. Philip Schaff, trans., Peter Holmes, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. V: Saint Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 185.

[2] Ibid., Chapter 6, 185.

[3] The Spirit of the LORD rested upon the Incarnated Christ, with the full Spirits of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might, Knowledge, and Fear of the LORD.  These Spirits together prepared the Lord Jesus Christ to perform His duties; the condition of righteousness required the Spirit of Wisdom to prepare Him for consecration in His human form (Isaiah 11:1-5).

[4] Augustine, Chapter 7, 186.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 185.

[8] Ibid., Chapter 7, 186.

[9] Ibid., 186.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

Last modified: Wednesday, 18 September 2013, 12:09 PM