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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness...: Chapter 20

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 20.—Paul Worthy to Be the Prince of the Apostles, and Yet a Sinner.

What commendation, however, is bestowed on Zacharias and Elisabeth which is not comprehended in what the apostle has said about himself before he believed in Christ? He said that, “as touching the righteousness which is in the law, he had been blameless.” 537 The same is said also of them: “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” 538 It was because whatever righteousness they had in them was not a pretence before men that it is said accordingly, “They walked before the Lord.” But that which is written of Zacharias and his wife in the phrase, in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, the apostle briefly expressed by the words, in the law. For there was not one law for him and another for them previous to the gospel. It was one and the same law which, as we read, was given by Moses to their fathers, and according to which, also, Zacharias was priest, and offered sacrifices in his course. And yet the apostle, who was then endued with the like righteousness, goes on to say: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; for whose sake I have not only thought all things to be only detriments, but I have even counted them as dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering, being made comformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” 539 So far, then, is it from being true that we should, from the words in which Scripture describes them, suppose that Zacharias and Elisabeth had a perfect righteousness without any sin, that we must even regard the apostle himself, according to the selfsame rule, as not perfect, not only in that righteousness of the law which he possessed in common with them, and which he counts as loss and dung in comparison with that most excellent righteousness which is by the faith of Christ, but also in the very gospel itself, wherein he deserved the pre-eminence of his great apostleship. Now I would not venture to say this if I did not deem it very wrong to refuse credence to himself. He extends the passage which we have quoted, and says: “Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect; but I follow after, if I may comprehend that for which also I am apprehended in Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” 540 Here he confesses that he has not yet attained, and is not yet perfect in that plenitude of righteousness which he had longed to obtain in Christ; but that he was as yet pressing towards the mark, and, forgetting what was past, was reaching out to the things which are before him. We are sure, then, that what he says elsewhere is true even of himself: “Alp. 53 though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”  541 Although he was already a perfect 542 traveller, he had not yet attained the perfect end of his journey. All such he would fain take with him as companions of his course. This he expresses in the words which follow our former quotation: “Let as many, then, of us as are perfect, be thus minded: and if ye be yet of another mind, God will reveal even this also to you. Nevertheless, whereunto we have already attained, let us walk by that rule.” 543 This “walk” is not performed with the legs of the body, but with the affections of the soul and the character of the life, so that they who possess righteousness may arrive at perfection, who, advancing in their renewal day by day along the straight path of faith, have by this time become perfect as travellers in the selfsame righteousness.



Phil. iii. 6.


Luke i. 6. [See also his work, De Gratia Christi, 53.]


Phil. iii. 7-11.


Phil. iii. 12-14.


2 Cor. iv. 16.


[Augustin plays on the word “perfect.”—W.]


Phil. 3:15, 16.

Next: Chapter 21

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