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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.: Chapter 48

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 48.—The Image of God is Not Wholly Blotted Out in These Unbelievers; Venial Sins.

According to some, however, they who do by nature the things contained in the law must not be regarded as yet in the number of those whom Christ’s grace justifies, but rather as among those some of whose actions (although they are those of ungodly men, who do not truly and rightly worship the true God) we not only cannot blame, but even justly and rightly praise, since they have been done—so far as we read, or know, or hear—according to the rule of righteousness; though at the same time, were we to discuss the question with what motive they are done, they would hardly be found to be such as deserve the praise and defence which are due to righteous conduct. [XXVIII.] Still, since God’s image has not been so completely erased in the soul of man by the stain of earthly affections, as to have left remaining there not even the merest lineaments of it whence it might be justly said that man, even in the ungodliness of his life, does, or appreciates, some things contained in the law; if this is what is meant by the statement that “the Gentiles, which have not the law” (that is, the law of God), “do by nature the things contained in the law,” 954 and that men of this character “are a law to themselves,” and “show the work of the law written in their hearts,”—that is to say, what was impressed on their hearts when they were created in the image of God has not been wholly blotted out:—even in this view of the subject, that wide difference will not be disturbed, which separates the new covenant from the old, and which lies in the fact that by the new covenant the law of God is written in the hearts of believers, whereas in the old it was inscribed on tables of stone. For this writing in the heart is effected by renovation, although it had not been completely blotted out by the old nature. For just as that image of God is renewed in the mind of believers by the new testament, which impiety had not quite abolished (for there had remained undoubtedly that which the soul of man cannot be except it be rational), so also the law of God, which had not been wholly blotted out there by unrighteousness, is certainly written thereon, renewed by grace. Now in the Jews the law which was written on tables could not effect this new inscription, which is justification, but only transgression. For they too were men, and there was inherent in them that power of nature, which enables the rational soul both to perceive and do what is lawful; but the godliness which transfers to another life happy and immortal has “a spotless law, converting souls,” 955 so that by the light thereof they may be renewed, and that be accomplished in them which is written, “There has been manifested over us, O Lord, the light of Thy countenance.” 956 Turned away from which, they have deserved to grow old, whilst they are incapable of renovation except by the grace of Christ,—in other words, without the intercession of the Mediator; there being “one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself p. 104 a ransom for all.” 957 Should those be strangers to His grace of whom we are treating, and who (after the manner of which we have spoken with sufficient fulness already) “do by nature the things contained in the law,” 958 of what use will be their “excusing thoughts” to them “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men,” 959 unless it be perhaps to procure for them a milder punishment? For as, on the one hand, there are certain venial sins which do not hinder the righteous man from the attainment of eternal life, and which are unavoidable in this life, so, on the other hand, there are some good works which are of no avail to an ungodly man towards the attainment of everlasting life, although it would be very difficult to find the life of any very bad man whatever entirely without them. But inasmuch as in the kingdom of God the saints differ in glory as one star does from another, 960 so likewise, in the condemnation of everlasting punishment, it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that other city; 961 whilst some men will be twofold more the children of hell than others. 962 Thus in the judgment of God not even this fact will be without its influence,—that one man will have sinned more, or less, than another, even when both are involved in the ungodliness that is worthy of damnation.



Rom. ii. 14.


Ps. xix. 7.


Ps. iv. 6.


1 Tim. 2:5, 6.


Rom. ii. 14.


Rom. 2:15, 16.


1 Cor. xv. 41.


Luke x. 12.


Matt. xxiii. 15.

Next: Chapter 49

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