A DISSERTATION ON THE TRUE AND GENUINE SENSE OF THE SEVENTH CHAPTER OF THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS. BY JAMES ARMINIUS, D.D.
1. What is the subject of inquiry concerning the meaning of this chapter?
2. The manner in which this question is made a subject of dispute; formerly, a latitude of sentiment respecting it, was permitted.
3. Those who explain this passage as relating to a man under the law, are rashly charged with having some affinity With the Pelagian heresy.
4. Distribution of the subjects to be discussed in this Commentary.
1. The subject of inquiry concerning the meaning of the seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans, and particularly of the latter part of it, which is treated upon from the beginning of the fourteenth or fifteenth verse to the end of the chapter, is this: "Does the apostle there treat of himself, such as he then was?" Or, which is almost the same question, "Under his own person, does he treat about a man living in the possession of the grace of Christ, or does he there personate a man placed under the law?" This question is also usually proposed in other words, thus: "Does the apostle there treat about a man who is still unregenerate, or about one who is already regenerated through the Spirit of Christ?" The latter question differs a little in its meaning from the former, (1.) because the word "unregenerate" has a more extensive signification, embracing even those who are under the law, and at whose state the apostle has also briefly glanced in the ninth verse of this chapter, and (2.) because the same word, with some persons, denotes not only the mere absence of regeneration, but likewise of all those things which are necessarily previous to regeneration; and these previous things are so far from being excluded by the words, "under the law," that, on the contrary, a great part of them is necessarily comprehended in the ample compass of that state which these words describe. This ought not to be passed over without some animadversion; because this notion about the word "unregenerate" which many persons have previously formed, is no small cause why they think they must reject the opinion, which declares that this passage of Scripture relates to an unregenerate man, that is, to one not only devoid of regeneration, but likewise of all those things which usually precede regeneration; and why they suppose that they ought to approve of the one contrary to this, without any further attentive consideration of the words and of the things signified.
2. But this question has now become a subject of dispute, not as one of those about which the writers who treat on Catholic doctrine may be allowed to maintain different sentiments, but as if it was one of such importance and weight to the truth of faith, that, without great detriment to truth and manifest heresy, no determination can be made concerning it except in one way, which is the affirmation that the apostle is there treating about a man who lives under grace and is regenerate. This judgment about the question seems new to me, and is one which was never heard in the church before these our times. In those better days, liberty was granted to the divines of the church to maintain an opinion on the one part of this question or on the other, provided they did not produce an explanation of their meaning that was at variance with the articles and doctrines of faith. The thing itself will shew that it is possible to do so in this matter, and such was the persuasion which was entertained on the subject by those who granted this liberty of sentiment, because no man ever supposed that any opinion was to be tolerated in the church which could not admit of an explanation that was agreeable to the doctrines and articles of belief.
3. Those who explain this passage in reference to a man living under the law, are charged with holding a doctrine which has some affinity to the two-fold heresy of Pelagius, and are said to ascribe to man, without the grace of Christ, some true and saving good, and, taking away the contest between the flesh and the spirit which is carried on in the regenerate, are said to maintain a perfection of righteousness in the present life. But I ingenuously confess that I detest, from my heart, the consequences which are here deduced; in the mean time, I do not perceive how they can flow from such an opinion. If any one will deign to prove this, I will instantly abjure an opinion thus conducting to heresy; knowing that nothing can be true, from which a falsehood may, by good consequence, be concluded. But if this cannot be demonstrated, and if I can make it evident that neither these heresies, nor any other, are derived from this opinion when it is properly explained, then, under these circumstances, it seems that I may require, in my own right, that no molestation shall be offered to me, or to any one else, on account of this opinion. If I shall confirm this opinion by arguments which are not only probable, but likewise incapable of refutation, or which at least have a greater semblance of probability than those by which the contrary opinion is supported, then let me be allowed to request that, by at least an equal right, this sentiment may obtain a place with the other in the church. If, lastly, I shall prove that the other opinion as it is in these days explained by most divines, cannot, without the greatest difficulty, be reconciled to many of the plainest passages of Scripture, that it is in no small degree injurious to the grace of the indwelling Spirit, that it has a hurtful effect on good morals, and that it was never approved by any of the ancient fathers of the church, but, on the contrary, disapproved by some of them, and even to St. Augustine himself; then may I be permitted by a most deserved right to admonish the defenders of that other sentiment, that they reflect frequently and seriously, whether they be wishful to excite the wrath of God against themselves by an unjust condemnation of this better opinion and of those who are its defenders.
4. Having premised these things, let us now enter on the matter itself, which shall be treated by us after being distributed in the following parts: I. I will show that, in this passage, the apostle does not speak about himself, nor about a man living under grace, but that he has transferred to himself the person of a man placed under the law. II. I will make it evident that this opinion has never been condemned in the church as heretical, but that it has always had some defenders among the divines of the church. III. I will show that no heresy, neither that of Pelagius, nor any other, can be derived from this opinion, but that it is most evidently opposed to Pelagianism, and that in a most distinguished manner and designedly, it refutes the grand falsehood of Pelagius. Confining myself within the bounds of necessary defense, I might, after having explained these three heads, conclude this treatise, unless it might seem to some one advisable and useful to confute by equal arguments the contrary opinion, especially as it is explained in these days. This I will attempt in other two chapters, subjoined to the preceding three, which will then be analogous and appear as parallels to the last two. IV. Therefore, I will prove that the meaning which some of our modern divines attribute to the apostle in this was not approved by any of the ancient fathers of the church, not even by St. Augustine himself, but that it was repudiated and confuted by him and some others. V. And, lastly, I will demonstrate, that this opinion, as explained in these days by many persons, is not only injurious to grace, but likewise adverse to good morals. God grant that I may meditate and write nothing but what is agreeable to his sacred truth. If, however, any thing of a contrary kind should escape from me, which is a fault of easy occurrence to one who "knows but in part, and prophesies in part;" I wish that neither to be [considered as] spoken nor written. I make this previous protestation against any such thing; and will, in reality, declare those things which possess greater truth and certainty, when any one has taught them to me.