Augustine on the Difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant

From time to time I will be using my blog basically as a place to take note of helpful passages I come across in my reading. If you are anything like me, you probably have had the experience of reading something somewhere and then later wanting to find it again but totally forgetting where it was! I think that this passage is helpful because of Augustine’s insight into the nature of grace. the Pelagians in his day were claiming that God’s grace consisted in giving us commands and instructions so that we could then “be good people” (I am simplifying this a little bit). Augustine denied this, saying that rather, God’s grace consisted in His internal work by which he changes us from the inside:

“By the law of works, then, the Lord says, ‘Thou shalt not covet:’ but by the law of faith He says, ‘Without me ye can do nothing;’ . . . It is therefore apparent what difference there is between the old covenant and the new,—that in the former the law is written on tables, while in the latter on hearts; so that what in the one alarms from without, in the other delights from within; and in the former man becomes a transgressor through the letter that kills, in the other a lover through the life-giving spirit. We must therefore avoid saying, that the way in which God assists us to work righteousness, and ‘works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure,’ is by externally addressing to our faculties precepts of holiness; for He gives His increase internally, by shedding love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us.” (Augustine, On the Letter and the Spirit, ch. 42).

I think this helpful (despite that Augustine overreaches the transformative aspect of grace by interpreting justification as “being made righteous”). There are many people today who will rightly proclaim justification by grace through faith, but then seem to imply that from there God’s help in sanctification consists in simply telling us what the right thing is to do. Augustine rightly emphasizes that God’s help comes in the form of inner transformation, not simply external instruction.

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