Extenuation by Extraction

Here are some quotes from B.B. Warfield’s, Augustine & The Pelagian Controversy:

When Augustine comes to speak of the means of grace, i.e., of the channels and circumstances of its conference to men, he approaches the meeting point of two very dissimilar streams of his theology — his doctrine of grace and his doctrine of the Church — and he is sadly deflected from the natural course of his theology by the alien influence. He does not, indeed, bind the conference of grace to the means in such a sense that the grace must be given at the exact time of the application of the means. He does not deny that ‘God is able, even when no man rebukes, to correct whom He will, and to lead him on to the wholesome mortification of repentance by the most hidden and most mighty power of His medicine.'”(Warfield; underlining mine-CD)

On what grounds does Warfield assert that Augustine’s “doctrine of grace” and “doctrine of the Church” are dissimilar?  How can Warfield legitimately separate out what Augustine has clearly joined together?  On what basis does Warfield assert that one of Augustine’s two aforementioned doctrines indicate a “[sad deflection] from the natural course of his theology by the alien influence”?  Why does Warfield think that Augustine’s “doctrine of the Church” is an “alien influence”?  Does Warfield realize that both of these doctrines are part & parcel to Augustine’s theology?  This “alien influence” (as Warfield put it) plays an important legalistic role in how Augustine’s view of “grace” that is not truly grace, is dispensed (cf. Romans 11:6; Galatians 5:2-4).

More from Warfield:

“But he teaches that those who are thus lost out of the visible Church are lost because of some fatal flaw in their baptism, or on account of post-baptismal sins; and that those who are of the ‘called according to the purpose’ are predestinated not only to salvation, but to salvation by baptism. Grace is not tied to the means in the sense that it is not conferred save in the means; but it is tied to the means in the sense that it is not conferred without the means. Baptism, for instance, is absolutely necessary for salvation: no exception is allowed except such as save the principle — baptism of blood (martyrdom), and, somewhat grudgingly, baptism of intention. And baptism, when worthily received, is absolutely efficacious: ‘if a man were to die immediately after baptism, he would have nothing at all left to hold him liable to punishment.’ In a word, while there are many baptized who will not be saved, there are none saved who have not been baptized; it is the grace of God that saves, but baptism is a channel of grace without which none receive it.“(Warfield; underlining mine-CD)

Where is the alleged deflection from the natural course of Augustine’s theology, Warfield?  This IS the natural (and damnable) course of his theology!  This is not a small breach in the wrapping of an otherwise orthodox parcel (or package).  This is not an occasional insidious statement interspersed here-and-there.  Augustine’s supposed “doctrine of grace” and his “doctrine of the Church” (e.g., legalistic understanding of baptism) are a PACKAGE DEAL.  Romans 11:6 teaches how this “package deal” is sometimes revealed when self-righteous religionists teach a version of “grace” that is “no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).

[Initially, I thought of 2 John 1:9, but Augustine’s heretical view of baptism is too blatant and out in the open.  It appears that 2 John 1:9 is addressing damnable heresy that is more subtle than that of Augustine.]

Warfield continues with a lament regarding what ended up flowing from Augustine’s baptismal doctrine:

“The saddest corollary that flowed from this doctrine was that by which Augustine was forced to assert that all those who died unbaptized, including infants, are finally lost and depart into eternal punishment. He did not shrink from the inference, although he assigned the place of lightest punishment in hell to those who were guilty of no sin but original sin, but who had departed this life without having washed this away in the ‘laver of regeneration.’ This is the dark side of his soteriology; but it should be remembered that it was not his theology of grace, but the universal and traditional belief in the necessity of baptism for remission of sins, which he inherited in common with all of his time, that forced it upon him.” (Warfield; underlining mine–CD)

What about those whose traditional belief in the necessity of circumcision in Galatians 5:2-4?  Do you think they also held to a “doctrine of grace”?  Was their “doctrine of circumcision” an alien and innocuous influence?  What did Paul say about this “alien influence” in Galatians 1:8-9 and 5:2-4?  What would have happened if Paul had decided to emulate Warfield?  Of course, it is and was impossible for Paul to so emulate, since he is a true believer.

Warfield continued:

“The theology of grace was destined in the hands of his [Augustine’s–CD] successors, who have rejoiced to confess that they were taught by him, to remove this stumbling-block also from Christian teaching; and if not to Augustine, it is to Augustine’s theology that the Christian world owes its liberation from so terrible and incredible a tenet. Along with the doctrine of infant damnation, another stumbling-block also, not so much of Augustinian, but of Church theology, has gone. It was not because of his theology of grace, or of his doctrine of predestination, that Augustine taught that comparatively few of the human race are saved. It was, again, because he believed that baptism and incorporation into the visible Church were necessary for salvation.” (Warfield)

Augustine did write a book called Retractions.  How large or small this book is, I am unaware.  If Augustine was saved by God prior to his death, then he repented of his doctrine of salvation conditioned on the sinner, and believe in the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the work of Jesus Christ ALONE; he counted all his damnable errors as dung just as the apostle Paul did in Philippians 3:7-9 (for more on what true evangelical repentance looks like, see the article Gospel Repentance).

Warfield concludes:

“Augustine held that he who builds on a human foundation builds on sand, and founded all his hope on the Rock itself. And there also he founded his teaching; as he distrusted man in the matter of salvation, so he distrusted him in the form of theology. No other of the fathers so conscientiously wrought out his theology from the revealed Word; no other of them so sternly excluded human additions. The subjects of which theology treats, he declares, are such as ‘we could by no means find out unless we believed them on the testimony of Holy Scripture.’ ‘Where Scripture gives no certain testimony,’ he says, ‘human presumption must beware how it decides in favor of either side.’ ‘We must first bend our necks to the authority of Scripture,’ he insists, ‘in order that we may arrive at knowledge and understanding through faith.’ And this was not merely his theory, but his practice. No theology was ever, it may be more broadly asserted, more conscientiously wrought out from the Scriptures. Is it without error? No; but its errors are on the surface, not of the essence. It leads to God, and it came from God; and in the midst of the controversies of so many ages it has shown itself an edifice whose solid core is built out of material ‘which cannot be shaken.‘” (Warfield; underlining mine–CD)

An old quote from James R. White (10/21/2006) that is consistent with Warfield’s assessment that Augustine was impacted by “the universal and traditional belief in the necessity of baptism for remission of sins, which he inherited in common with all of his time.”

“A number of years ago I made a presentation on the impact of the Donatist Controversy and the Pelagian Controversy on the theology of Augustine. I have repeated the essence of that material a number of times in various venues. To encapsulate it, even the most brilliant of Christian theologians and leaders are impacted by the contexts in which they live and minister, and in particular, by the controversies that define their age. The reason Warfield could rightly say that the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the victory of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church is that the one came from his controversy against the Pelagians and the other from his role in the Donatist controversy. From afar, modern readers can sometimes wonder how ancient writers could have been so ‘blind’ to their internal self-contradictions, but distance and time are convenient aids that we do not get to have in looking at ourselves.” (James R. White; underlining mine–CD)

Every one of Jesus Christ’s sheep are “impacted by the contexts in which they live” and “by the contexts that define their age.”  The Good Shepherd’s sheep are graciously preserved from following a stranger, even in the midst of controversy.   James White is ignorant of the Biblical doctrine of God’s preserving grace.

“And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes in front of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will not follow a stranger, never! But [they] will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of the strangers.” (John 10:4-5)

“Now to Him being able to keep you without stumbling, and to set you before His glory without blemish, with unspeakable joy; to the only wise God, our Savior, [be] glory and majesty and might and authority, even now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)


God’s Preserving Grace: A Message of Comfort