The Interrogation of Mercy

Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) teaches on John 1:16  “And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.”

“What grace did we, in the first instance, receive?  Faith: walking in faith, we walk in grace.  How have we merited this? by what previous merits of ours?  Let not each one flatter himself, but let him return into his conscience, seek out the secret places of his own thoughts, recall the series of his deeds; let him not consider what he is if now he is something, but what he was that he might be something: he will find that he was not worthy of anything save punishment.  If, then, thou wast worthy of punishment, and He came not to punish sins, but to forgive sins, grace was given to thee, and not reward rendered.  Wherefore is it called grace? Because it is bestowed gratuitously.  For thou didst not, by previous merits, purchase that which thou didst receive.  This first grace, then, the sinner received, that his sins were forgiven.  What did he deserve? Let him interrogate justice, he finds punishment; let him interrogate mercy, he finds grace.  But God promised this also through the prophets; therefore, when He came to give what He had promised, He not only gave grace, but also truth.  How was truth exhibited? Because that was done which had been promised.” Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on John. III. 8.  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, volume 7, p. 21. [Emphasis added]


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