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1. It is a worthy subject of inquiry how these words of the Lord are to be understood,
But I have called you friends: for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. For who is there that dare affirm or believe that any man knows all things that the only-begotten Son has heard of the Father; when there is no one that can comprehend even how He hears any word of the Father, being as He is Himself the only Word of the Father? Nay more, is it not the case that a little afterwards, in this same discourse, which He delivered to the disciples between the Supper and His passion, He said,
I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now? How, then, are we to understand that He made known unto the disciples all that He had heard of the Father, when there are many things that He says not, just because He knows that they cannot bear them now? Doubtless what He is yet to do He says that He has done as the same Being who has made those things which are yet to be. Isaiah 45:11 For as He says by the prophet,
They pierced my hands and my feet, and not, They will yet pierce; but speaking as it were of the past, and yet predicting what was still in the future: so also in the passage before us He declares that He has made known to the disciples all, that He knows He will yet make known in that fullness of knowledge, whereof the apostle says,
But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part shall be done away. For in the same place he adds:
Now I know in part, but then shall I know, even as also I am known; and now through a glass in a riddle, but then face to face. For the same apostle also says that we have been saved by the washing of regeneration, Titus 3:5 and yet declares in another place,
We are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is no hope; for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Romans 8:24-25 To a similar purpose it is also said by his fellow-apostle Peter,
In whom, though now seeing Him not, you believe; and in whom, when you see Him, you shall rejoice with a joy unspeakable and glorious: receiving the reward of faith, even the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 If, then, it is now the season of faith, and faith's reward is the salvation of our souls; who, in that faith which works by love, Galatians 5:6 can doubt that the day must come to an end, and at its close the reward be received; not only the redemption of our body, whereof the Apostle Paul speaks, Romans 8:23 but also the salvation of our souls, as we are told by the Apostle Peter? For the felicity springing from both is at this present time, and in the existing state of mortality, a matter rather of hope than of actual possession. But this it concerns us to remember, that our outward man, to wit the body, is still decaying; but the inward, that is, the soul, is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16 Accordingly, while we are waiting for the immortality of the flesh and salvation of our souls in the future, yet with the pledge we have received, it may be said that we are saved already; so that knowledge of all things which the Only-begotten has heard of the Father we are to regard as a matter of hope still lying in the future, although declared by Christ as something He had already imparted.
You have not chosen me, He says,
but I have chosen you. Grace such as that is ineffable. For what were we so long as Christ had not yet chosen us, and we were therefore still destitute of love? For he who has chosen Him, how can he love Him? Were we, think you, in that condition which is sung of in the psalm:
I had rather be an abject in the house of the Lord, than dwell in the tents of wickedness? Certainly not. What were we then, but sinful and lost? We had not yet come to believe in Him, in order to lead to His choosing us; for if it were those who already believed that He chose, then was He chosen Himself, prior to His choosing. But how could He say,
You have not chosen me, save only because His mercy anticipated us? Here surely is at fault the vain reasoning of those who defend the foreknowledge of God in opposition to His grace, and with this view declare that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4 because God foreknew that we should be good, but not that He Himself would make us good. So says not He, who declares,
You have not chosen me. For had He chosen us on the ground that He foreknew that we should be good, then would He also have foreknown that we would not be the first to make choice of Him. For in no other way could we possibly be good: unless, forsooth, one could be called good who has never made good his choice. What was it then that He chose in those who were not good? For they were not chosen because of their goodness, inasmuch as they could not be good without being chosen. Otherwise grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit. Such, certainly, is the election of grace, whereof the apostle says:
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace. To which he adds: Romans 11:5-6 Listen, you ungrateful one, listen:
You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. Not that you may say, I am chosen because I already believed. For if you were believing in Him, then had you already chosen Him. But listen:
You have not chosen me. Not that you may say, Before I believed I was already doing good works, and therefore was I chosen. For what good work can be prior to faith, when the apostle says, Romans 14:23 What, then, are we to say on hearing such words,
You have not chosen me, but that we were evil, and were chosen in order that we might be good through the grace of Him who chose us? For it is not by grace, if merit preceded: but it is of grace: and therefore that grace did not find, but effected the merit.
3. See then, beloved, how it is that He chooses not the good, but makes those whom He has chosen good.
I have chosen you, He says,
and appointed you that you should go and bring forth fruit, and [that] your fruit should remain. And is not that the fruit, whereof He had already said,
Without me you can do nothing? He has chosen therefore, and appointed that we should go and bring forth fruit; and no fruit, accordingly, had we to induce His choice of us.
That ye should go, He said,
and bring forth fruit. We go to bring forth, and He Himself is the way wherein we go, and wherein He has appointed us to go. And so His mercy has anticipated us in all.
And that your fruit, He says,
should remain; that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, He may give it you. Accordingly let love remain; for He Himself is our fruit. And this love lies at present in longing desire, not yet in fullness of enjoyment; and whatsoever with that longing desire we shall ask in the name of the only-begotten Son, the Father gives us. But what is not expedient for our salvation to receive, let us not imagine that we ask that in the Saviour's name: but we ask in the name of the Saviour only that which really belongs to the way of salvation.
Source. Translated by John Gibb. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701086.htm>.
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