Originally published on <Jan. 4, 2009>
“But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.” (John 1:12)
On this Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, it was my privilege to hear the best sermon on the Holy Name that I’ve ever heard. It included a deep probing into what Saint John meant when he wrote the verse I’ve put here at the top. Believing “in the name” of Jesus (or “on the name…” as the KJV has it) is taken by many Protestants to be the one thing necessary for our salvation. It would be presumed, in this order of things, that believing in Jesus’ Holy Name gives us divine sonship. I believe in Jesus, therefore I am a son of God.
But that’s not what Saint John said. He said that to those who believe in his name, “he gave them power to be made the sons of God.” What is this power? As this morning’s preacher explained, Saint Augustine identified “power” as the capacity to do what one wills. If I will to pick up 500 pounds, but I lack the power, I cannot do what I will. But, if I have the power to lift that weight, I can do as I will. Believing in Jesus gives us a power, and if we will it, we can become sons of God. Faith gives a faculty which the will must exercise.
Here, by the way, is the passage from Saint Augustine:
“For we call this power, where the faculty of performing is added to the will. Therefore every one is said to have in his power that which if he wills to do, he does, which if he wills not to do, he does not.” (de Spiritu et littera cap. 31).
According to Cornelius a Lapide, “S[aint John] Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Bede, and others, assert the same thing continually.”
In explaining power in this way, Saint Augustine defended the freedom of the will, not only against contemporary errors of the fifth century, but against fatalists of latter days, including Calvinists.