Augustine of Hippo
ON THE SAME WORDS OF THE GOSPEL JOHN XVI. 8, " HE WILL CONVICT THE WORLD IN RESPECT OF SIN, AND OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND OF JUDGEMENT."
1. When our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was speaking at length of the coming of the Holy Ghost, He said among the rest, "He shall convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.' Nor when He had said this, did He pass on to another subject; but vouchsafed to convey a somewhat more explicit notice of this same truth. "Of sin," said He, "because they believed not on Me. Of righteousness, because I go to the Father. Of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged already." There arises therefore within us a desire of understanding, why as if it were men's only sin, not to believe on Christ, He said it of this alone, that the Holy Ghost should convince the world; but if it is plain that besides this unbelief there are manifold other sins of men, why of this alone should the Holy Ghost convince the world? Is it because all sins are by unbelief retained, by faith remitted; that therefore God imputeth this one above all the rest, by which it comes to pass that the rest are, not loosed, so long as proud man believes not in an Humbled God? For so it is written; "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." Now this grace of God is a gift of God. But the greatest gift is the Holy Ghost Himself; and therefore is it called grace. For forasmuch "as all had sinned, and needed the glory of God; because by one man sin entered into the world, and death by his sin in whom all have sinned;" therefore is it grace because given gratuitously. And therefore is it given gratuitously, because it is not rendered as a reward alter a strict scrutiny of deserts, but given as a gift after the pardon of sins.
2. Therefore of sin are unbelievers, that is, the lovers of the world, convinced; for they are signified by the name of the world. For when it is said, "He will convince the world of sin;" it is of none other sin than that they have not believed on Christ. For if this sin exist not, no sins will remain, because when the just man lives by faith, all are loosed. Now the difference is great as to whether one believe that Jesus is Christ, or whether he believe on Christ. For that Jesus is Christ even the devils believed, and yet the devils believed not on Christ. For he believeth on Christ, who both hopeth in Christ and loveth Christ. For if he have faith without hope and love, he believeth that Christ is, but he doth not believe on Christ. Whoso then believeth on Christ, by believing on Christ, Christ cometh unto him, and in a manner uniteth Himself to him, and he is made a member in His Body. Which cannot be, but by the accession of hope and love.
3. What mean again His words, "Of righteousness, because I go to the Father "? And first must we enquire, if the world is convinced of sin, why it is also of righteousness? For who can rightly, be convinced of righteousness? Is it indeed that the world is convinced of its own sin, but of Christ's righteousness? I do not see what else call be understood; since He saith, "Of sin, because they believed not on Me. Of righteousness, because I go to the Father." They believed not, He goeth to the Father. Their sin therefore, and His righteousness. But why would He name righteousness in this only, that He goeth to the Father? Is it not righteousness also that He came hither from the Father? Or is that rather mercy, that He came from the Father to us, and righteousness, that He goeth to the Father?
4. So, Brethren, I think it expedient, that in so profound a depth of Scripture, in words, wherein peradventure there lies some hidden truth which may in due season be laid open, we should as it were together enquire faithfully, that we may attain to find healthfully. Why then doth He call this righteousness, in that He goeth to the Father, and not also in that He came from the Father? Is it that in that it is mercy that He came, therefore it is righteousness that
He goeth? that so in our own case too we may learn that righteousness cannot be fulfilled in us, if we are slow to give a place first to mercy, "not seeking our own things, but the things of others also." Which advice when the Apostle had given, he immediately joined to it the example of our Lord Himself; "Doing nothing," saith he, "through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind, each esteeming the other better than themselves. Not looking every man on his own things, but also on the things of others." Then he added immediately, "Let this mind be in each of you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the Form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man; He humbled Himself, having become obedient even unto death, yea the death of the cross." This is the mercy whereby He came from the Father. What then is the righteousness whereby He goeth to the Father? He goes on and says; "Wherefore God also hath exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name; that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the Glory of God the Father." This is the righteousness whereby He goeth to the Father.
5. But if He Alone goeth to the Father, what doth it profit us? Why is the world convinced by the Holy Ghost of this righteousness? And yet if He did not Alone go to the Father, He would not say in another place, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He That descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven." But the Apostle Paul also says, "For our conversation is in heaven." And why is this? Because he also says, "If ye be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Mind the things which are above, not those which are upon the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." How then is He Alone? Is He therefore Alone because Christ with all His members is One, as the Head with His Body? Now what is His Body, but the Church? As the same teacher says, "Now ye are the Body of Christ, and members in particular." Forasmuch then as we have fallen, and He descended for our sakes, what is, "No man hath ascended, but He That descended;" but that no man hath ascended, except as made one with Him, and as a member fastened into His Body who descended? And thus He saith to His disciples, "Without Me ye can do nothing." For in one way is He One with the Father, and in another one with us. He is One with the Father, in that the Substance of the Father and the Son is One; He is One with the Father, in that, "Being in the Form of God, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God." But He was made One with us, in that "He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant;" He was made one with us, according to the seed of Abraham, "in whom all nations shall be blessed." Which place when the Apostle had brought forward, he said, "He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ." And for that we too belong to that which is Christ, by our incorporation together, and coherence to That Head, It is One Christ. And also for that he says to us too, "Therefore are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to the promise." For if the seed of Abraham be One, and That One Seed of Abraham can only be understood of Christ; but this seed of Abraham we also are; therefore This Whole, that is, the Head and the Body, is One Christ.
6. And therefore we ought not to deem ourselves separated from that righteousness, which the Lord Himself makes mention of, saying, "Of righteousness, because I go to the Father." For we too have risen with Christ, and we are with Christ our Head, now for a while by faith and hope; but our hope will be completed in the last resurrection of the dead. But when our hope shall be completed, then shall our justification be completed also. And the Lord who was to complete it showed us in His Own Flesh (that is, in our Head), Wherein He rose again and ascended to the Father, what we ought to hope for. For that thus it is written, "He was delivered for our sins, and rose again for our justification." The world then is convinced "of sin" in those who believe not on Christ; "and of righteousness," in those who rise again in the members of Christ. Whence it is said, "That we may be the righteousness of God in him." For if not in Him, in no way righteousness. But if in Him, He goeth with us Whole to the Father, and this perfect righteousness will be fulfilled in us. And therefore "of judgment" too is the world convinced, "because the prince of this world hath been judged already;" that is, the devil, the prince of the unrighteous, who in heart inhabit only in this world which they love, and therefore are called "the world;" as our conversation is in heaven, if we have risen again with Christ. Therefore as Christ together with us, that is His Body, is One; so the devil with all the ungodly whose head he is, with as it were his own body, is one.
Wherefore as we are not separated from the righteousness, of which the Lord said, "Because I go to the Father;" so the ungodly are not separated from that judgment, of which He said, "Because the prince of this world hath been judged already."