Saturday, 22 June 2013



There can be no doubt but that Calvin was a great admirer of Augustine, the African Bishop of Hippo. The following quote from the Institutes makes that clear:
 "Were we disposed to frame an entire volume out of Augustine, it were easy to show the reader that I have no occasion to use any other words than his: but I am unwilling to burden him with a prolix statement." (3:22:8)
 These words are sometimes used to imply that Calvin practically disregarded the Bible in favour of Augustine. But even the opening words show this implication to be false i.e.  "Were we disposed..." - the clear implication being that he was not disposed and, although he made use of Augustine's views, it was merely as a commentator upon what was written in the word of God. As Calvin observed elsewhere: "Therefore, let this remain as a most sure maxim, that no doctrine is worthy to be believed but that which we find to be grounded in the Scriptures." (Acts 17:11) and others of a similar nature.  When Calvin quoted Augustine, it was usually in agreement (which is natural) but sometimes it was to disagree, as the following examples from the Institutes show:  "How extravagant the view which Augustine sometimes takes!" - "For there is no solidity in Augustine’s speculation..." - "...when Augustine was not always free from this superstition..." etc. Similar comments may be found in Calvin's commentaries.

Of the most significant of the "I-must-put-distance-between-me-and-Augustine" comments of Calvin, the following are the most significant I gave come across so far:

"It is certain that Paul speaks of those who, while always retaining the foundations, mix hay with gold, stubble with silver, and wood with precious stones — that is, those who build upon Christ, but in consequence of the weakness of the flesh, admit something that is man’s, or through ignorance turn aside to some extent from the strict purity of God’s word. Such were many of the saints, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, and the like. Add to these, if you choose, from those of later times, Gregory and Bernard, and others of that stamp, who, while they had it as their object to build upon Christ, did nevertheless often deviate from the right system of building. Such persons, Paul says, could be saved, but on this condition — if the Lord wiped away their ignorance, and purged them from all dross." (Comments on 1 Corinthians 3:13)

Again: "The Schools have always gone from worse to worse, until at length, in their downward path, they have degenerated into a kind of Pelagianism. Even the sentiment of Augustine, or at least his mode of expressing it, cannot be entirely approved of. For although he is admirable in stripping man of all merit of righteousness, and transferring the whole praise of it to God, yet he classes the grace by which we are regenerated to newness of life under the head of sanctification. (Institutes 3:11:15)

It is worth noting that other Christian leaders have been big fans of Augustine as well.

 CH Spurgeon observed: "The doctrine which I preach to you is that of the Puritans: it is the doctrine of Calvin, the doctrine of Augustine, the doctrine of Paul, the doctrine of the Holy Ghost." (Unusual occasions p.230)

BH Carroll observed:  "What we call Calvinism is the doctrine of Augustine. He saved the church for 300 years from going astray." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

W.A. Criswell observed: “And it was then that the great preacher, Augustine, picked up his pen and wrote one of the great books of all time and all eternity.  He wrote The City of God.  The City of God. And the thesis of the book is this: turning the eye of the people away from destroyed and decaying and dying Rome, he lifted up their hearts and their eyes and their spirits to the great holy city, the New Jerusalem that is yet to come, coming down from God out of heaven.  And his people were encouraged, and their hearts were lifted up, and they began once again to sing the songs of victory and of Zion. That’s our faith.  That’s our faith.  That’s our persuasion.  That’s our commitment in the holy, heavenly, saving name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Sermon on Isaiah 28:11) 

John R Rice observed: "Thank God for St. Augustine, that great doctor of Hippo, a real earnest man he was, a father in the Roman church. If you have read St. Augustine's Confessions, you have found that they are very sweet and good."

HA Ironside stated: "Augustine was the great preacher of grace during the fourth and fifth centuries. Although his understanding of the doctrine of justification did not have the fine-tuned precision of the Reformers, Augustine’s response on this point was similar to Luther’s. He said that the doctrine of justification led to the maxim, “Love God and do as you please.” Because we have misunderstood one of the gospel’s most basic themes, Augustine’s statement looks to many like a license to indulge one’s sinful nature, but in reality it touches upon the motivation the Christian has for his actions. The person who has been justified by God’s grace has a new, higher, and nobler motivation for holiness than the shallow, hypocritical self-righteousness or fear that seems to motivate so may religious people today."




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