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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on Grace and Free Will.: Chapter 44

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 44 [XXII.]—Gratuitous Grace Exemplified in Infants.

Men, however, may suppose that there are certain good deserts which they think are precedent to justification through God’s grace; all the while failing to see, when they express such an opinion, that they do nothing else than deny grace. But, as I have already remarked, let them suppose what they like respecting the case of adults, in the case of infants, at any rate, the Pelagians find no means of answering the difficulty. For these in receiving grace have no will; from the influence of which they can pretend to any precedent merit. We see, moreover, how they cry and struggle when they are baptized, and feel the divine sacraments. Such conduct would, of course, be charged against them as a great impiety, if they already had free will in use; and notwithstanding this, grace cleaves to them even in their resisting struggles. But most certainly there is no prevenient merit, otherwise the grace would be no longer grace. Sometimes, too, this grace is bestowed upon the children of unbelievers, when they happen by some means or other to fall, by reason of God’s secret providence, into the hands of pious persons; but, on the other hand, the children of believers fail to obtain grace, some hindrance occurring to prevent the approach of help to rescue them in their danger. These things, no doubt, happen through the secret providence of God, whose judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out. These are the words of the apostle; and you should observe what he had previously said, to lead him to add such a remark. He was discoursing about the Jews and Gentiles, when he wrote to the Romans—themselves Gentiles—to this effect: “For as ye, in times past, have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief; even so have these also now not believed, p. 464 that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy; for God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.”  3215 Now, after he had thought upon what he said, full of wonder at the certain truth of his own assertion, indeed, but astonished at its great depth, how God concluded all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all,—as if doing evil that good might come,—he at once exclaimed, and said, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” 3216 Perverse men, who do not reflect upon these unsearchable judgments and untraceable ways, indeed, but are ever prone to censure, being unable to understand, have supposed the apostle to say, and censoriously gloried over him for saying, “Let us do evil, that good may come!” God forbid that the apostle should say so! But men, without understanding, have thought that this was in fact said, when they heard these words of the apostle: “Moreover, the law entered, that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” 3217 But grace, indeed, effects this purpose—that good works should now be wrought by those who previously did evil; not that they should persevere in evil courses and suppose that they are recompensed with good. Their language, therefore, ought not to be: “Let us do evil, that good may come;” but: “We have done evil, and good has come; let us henceforth do good, that in the future world we may receive good for good, who in the present life are receiving good for evil.” Wherefore it is written in the Psalm, “I will sing of mercy and judgment unto Thee, O Lord.” 3218 When the Son of man, therefore, first came into the world, it was not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 3219 And this dispensation was for mercy; by and by, however, He will come for judgment—to judge the quick and the dead. And yet even in this present time salvation itself does not eventuate without judgment—although it be a hidden one; therefore He says, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not may see, and that they which see may be made blind.” 3220



Rom. xi. 30-32.


Rom. xi. 33.


Rom. v. 20.


Ps. ci. 1.


John iii. 17.


John ix. 39.

Next: Chapter 45