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Dissertation of the 7th Chapter of Romans: Chapter 23 - This Opinion Isn't Heretical

By Jacobus Arminius


      In this third part, two things are contained: the first is a negative--that this, my interpretation of Romans 7 is not favourable to the Pelagian heresy. The principal dogmas of the Pelagian heresy are recounted from St. Augustine.

      2. It is proved by induction and by comparison that this interpretation agrees with none of these dogmas.

      3. Two rejoinders to the contrary. An answer to the first of them, that every good thing must not be taken away from the regenerate.

      4. An answer to the second. The truth must be confirmed, and falsehood refitted, by solid arguments.

      5. It is proved from St. Augustine that the doctrine which relates to the necessity of the grace of Christ, and to the impossibility of the law for the conquest of sin, was accounted by the ancients to be of far more importance than that which proves the perpetual imperfections of the regenerate in this life.

      6. To this, the fathers of the Council of Carthage seem to give their assent, in their epistle to Pope Innocent. Thesis.--No heresy, neither that of Pelagius nor any other, can be derived or confirmed from this opinion. But this opinion is, in the most obvious manner, adverse to Pelagianism, and affords a signal and professed confutation of its grand and leading falsehood.

      1. This thesis contains two parts. The First is, that this opinion is neither heretical, nor allied to heresy. The Second that it is directly contrary to the Pelagian heresy, and professedly refutes it. With regard to the First of these parts, because it consists of a negation, those who maintain the affirmative of it must destroy it by the proof of the contrary. I am desirous, therefore, to hear from them what heresy it is which this opinion advocates and favours. They will undoubtedly announce it to be that of Pelagius. But I require a proof of the particular point in which there is the least agreement between this opinion and Pelagianism. Let us shew, however, ex abundanti, that this opinion is not favourable to Pelagianism. The following heads of doctrine are those which St. Augustine has laid down in his book on Heresies and his Hypognosticon, as belonging to Pelagianism: (i.) Whether Adam had sinned, or had not sinned, he would have died. (ii.) The sin of Adam was injurious to no one except to himself; and therefore, (iii.) Little children do not contract original sin from Adam; neither will they perish from life eternal, if they depart out of the present life without the sacrament of baptism. (iv.) Lust or concupiscence in man is a natural good; neither is there any thing in it of which man may be ashamed. (v.) Through his free will, as per se, man is sufficient for himself, and is able to will what is good, and to fulfill or perfect that which he wills. Or even, for the merits of works, God bestows grace on every one. (vi.) The life of the just or the righteous in this life has in it no sin whatsoever; and from these persons, the church of Christ in this state of mortality are completed, that it may be altogether without spot or wrinkle. (vii.) Pelagius, being compelled to confess grace, says that it is a gift conferred in creation, is the preaching of the law, and the illumination of the mind, to know those things which are good and those which are evil, as well as the remission of sins if any one has sinned, excluding from this [definition of grace] love and the gift and assistance of the Holy Spirit, without which, he says, the good which is known may be performed, though he acknowledges that this grace has also been given for this purpose--that the thing may be the more easily done, which can indeed be otherwise done by the power of nature, but yet with greater difficulty.

      2. These are the principal dogmas of the Pelagian heresy, to which others, if any such there be, may be referred. But none of these dogmas are patronized by the opinion which explains Romans 7, as applicable to a man placed under the law, and in the manner in which we have explained it, and as St. Augustine has declared it in his book entitled "The Exposition of certain Propositions from the epistle to the Romans," and in his first book to Simplicianus. This will be proved thus by induction: (i.) Our opinion openly professes that sin is the only and sole meritorious cause of death, and that man would not have died, had he not sinned. (ii.) By the commission of sin, Adam corrupted himself and all his posterity, and rendered them obnoxious to the wrath of God. (iii.) All who are born in the ordinary way from Adam, contract from him original sin and the penalty of death eternal. Our opinion lays this down as the foundation of further explanation; for this original sin is called, in Romans 7, "the sin," "the sin exceedingly sinful," "the indwelling sin," "the sin which is adjacent to a man, or present with him," or "the evil which is present with a man and" the law in the members." (iv.) Our opinion openly declares that concupiscence, under which is also comprehended lust, is an evil. (v.) The fifth of the enumerated Pelagian dogmas is professedly refuted by our opinion; for, in Romans 7, the apostle teaches, according to our opinion, that the natural man cannot will what is good, except he be under the law, and unless the legal spirit have produced this willing in him by the law; and though he wills what is good, yet it is by no means through free will, even though it be impelled and assisted by the law to be capable of performing that very thing. But it also teaches that the grace of Christ, that is, the gift of the Holy Spirit and of love, is absolutely necessary for this purpose, which grace is not bestowed according to merits, (which are nothing at all,) but is purely gratuitous. (vi.) The sixth of the enumerated dogmas of Pelagius is neither taught nor refuted by our opinion, because it maintain, that Romans 7 does not treat about the regenerate. But, in the mean time, the patrons and advocates of our opinion do not deny that what is said respecting the imperfection of believers in the present life, is true. (vii.) The seventh of the enumerated dogmas of Pelagius is refuted by our opinion; for it not only grants, that good can with difficulty be done by the man who is under the law, and who is not yet placed under grace; but it also unreservedly denies that it is possible for such a man by any means to resist sin and to perform what is good.

      3. But some one will perhaps rejoin, and say "Your interpretation of this chapter is favourable to Pelagianism, on two accounts. First, because it attributes something of good to a man who is not yet regenerated and placed under grace. Secondly, because it takes away from the church a passage of Scripture, by which she is accustomed to prove the imperfection of the regenerate in the present life, and the conflict which is maintained between the flesh and the Spirit as long as man lives upon earth." With regard to the First of these objections, I reply that we must see, First, what kind of good it is that our interpretation attributes to a man who is unregenerate. For, it is certain that every good, of what kind soever it may be, must not be entirely taken away from an unregenerate man and one who is not yet placed under grace; because the knowledge of the truth, (Rom. i. 18,19,) the work of the law written in his heart, his thoughts accusing or else excusing one another, the discernment of what is just and unjust, (ii, 15,18,) the knowledge of sin, grief on account of sin, anxiety of conscience, desire of deliverance, &c., (vii, 7,9,13,24) are all good things, and yet they are attributed to a man who is unregenerate. Secondly. We must know that this, our opinion, which explains Romans 7 as relating to a man under the law, does not bring forth these good things from the storehouse of nature, but it deduces them from the operation of the Spirit, who employs the preaching of the law and blesses it. Thirdly. We must also consider that this was not a subject of controversy between the church and the Pelagians: "May something of good be attributed to an unregenerate man who is not yet under grace, but who is placed under the law; or may it not?" But the question between them was "Can something of good be attributed to man, without grace and its operation?" He who receives some operation of grace is not instantly under grace or regenerate; for grace prepares the will of man for itself, that it may dwell in it. Grace knocks at the door of our hearts; but that which has occasion to knock does not yet reside in the heart nor has it the dominion, though it may knock so as to cause the door to be opened to it on account of its persuasion. But we have frequently treated on topics similar to this in the first part of this our treatise.

      4. With respect to the Second of these objections, I reply, First. This passage of Holy Writ was not produced by the church, in her earliest days, for establishing the imperfection of the regenerate in this life, and the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit such as that which is maintained in regenerate persons; for we have already shown that the most ancient of the Christian fathers did not explain Romans 7 in reference to the regenerate, or those who are placed under grace; though it subsequently began to be employed, by some divines, to establish this dogma. Secondly. It is inconsequent argumentation to say that "the opinion by which some passage is otherwise explained than it is by the many, nay which has been quoted by the church herself to destroy some heresy, is therefore or can be judged to be allied to heresy, because it takes away from the church a passage which has been usually employed to prove a true doctrine, and to refute a heresy." For if this be not inconsequent reasoning, there will scarcely be one of our divines who will not thus be deservedly judged to be allied to some heresy or other, and sometimes indeed to a very enormous one. By such a law [of criticism] as this, Calvin is called "an Aryan" by the Lutherans, because he openly avows in his writings, that "many passages of Scripture, which have been adduced by the ancient church (both Greek and Latin) to establish the doctrine of the trinity, do not contribute in the least to that purpose," and because he gives to them such a different interpretation. Thirdly. No detriment will accrue to the church by the removal of this passage, from the support of the imperfection of the regenerate in this life as she is furnished with a number (which is sufficiently copious) of other passages to prove the same doctrine, and to weaken the contrary one. This is abundantly demonstrated by St. Augustine, when be professedly treats upon, the Perfection of Righteousness in this life in opposition to Coelestius. Fourthly. We must well and carefully examine by what passages of Scripture, and by what arguments, the truth may be proved, and falsehood refuted, lest, if weak and less valid, and in some degree doubtful, passages and arguments be adduced, the hopes of heretics should be elevated, after they have demolished such weak bulwarks as those, and they should suppose it possible to disprove and confute the remaining [more suitable and valid] arguments on the same subject. For that man inflicts no slight injury on the truth who props it up by weak arguments; and the rules of art teach us, that a necessary conclusion must be verified or proved by necessary arguments; for the conclusion, follows that part [of a syllogism] which is the weakest. But it has been already shown, that this portion of Scripture has not been devoid of controversy even among the catholic commentators on the Holy Scriptures. Fifthly,. In what manner soever this chapter, as thus explained according to my mind, may not be able to serve the church to prove the imperfection of the regenerate in the present life, yet it serves her for the confirmation of another doctrine, and one of a far greater importance, against the Pelagians--that is, the necessity of the grace of Christ. and the incapability of the law to conquer or to avoid sin, and to order or direct the life of a man according to its rule.

      5. But we may discover, from various passages in the writings of St. Augustine, the vast difference which the ancient church put between the necessity of the former of the two questions or doctrines, [specified in the preceding paragraph,] and the latter. For instance: But in that which Pelagius argues against those who say, "And who would be unwilling to be without sin, if this were placed in the power of man?" he in fact disputes correctly, that by this very question they own that it is not impossible, because either many persons or all men wish to be without sin. But let Pelagius only confess [from what source this is possible, and peace is instantly established. For the origin of it is the grace of God through Jesus Christ, &c. (On Nature and Grace, against the Pelagians, cap. 59.) There may be some question among real and pious Christians, whether there has ever been in this world, is now, or can possibly be, any man who lives so righteously as to have no sin whatsoever. Yet he is assuredly void of understanding who entertains any doubt whether it is possible for a man to be without sin after this life. But I do not wish to enter into a contest about this question. Though it seems to me that in no other sense can be understood what is written in the Psalms, and in similar passages, if any such there be: "In thy sight shall No man living be justified;" (cxliii, 2) yet it may be shown that even these expressions may be better understood in another sense, and that even perfect and complete righteousness, to which there may be no addition, was yesterday in an individual, while he lived in the body, is in him to-day, and will be in him to-morrow while there are still far more persons, who, while they do not doubt that it is necessary for them truly to say, even to the last day of [their continuance in] this life, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us," yet are firmly persuaded that their hope in Christ and in his promises is real, certain and firm, yet in no way except by the aid of the grace, of the saviour, Christ the crucified, and by the gift of his Spirit. I do not know whether that man can be correctly reckoned in the number of Christians of any description, who denies either that any persons attain to the most complete perfection, or that some arrive at any degree whatever of proficiency in true piety and righteousness. (Ibid. cap. 60.) Besides, though I am more inclined to believe that there is not now, has not been, and will not be, any one who is perfect with such a purity as this; and yet when it is defended and supposed, that there is, has been, or will be such a perfect man, as far as I am able to form a judgment, they who hold this opinion do not greatly or perniciously err, &c. But those persons are most strenuously and vehemently to be resisted, who suppose it possible either to fulfill or to perfect the righteousness of the human will, by its own power, without the aid of God, or by aiming at it to make some proficiency. (On the Spirit and the Letter, cap. 2.) Consult likewise his treatise On Nature and Grace, cap. 42, 43, 58, & 63; in which he briefly says--"It is no question at all, or not a great one, what man is perfected, or the time. when he becomes so, as long as no doubt is entertained that it is impossible for this to be done without the grace of Christ." See also his treatise On the Demerit and Remission of Sin, lib. 2, cap. 6,14; and lib. 3, cap.

      13. 6. But in order that we may know this to have been the opinion not only of St. Augustine, but also of the church universal, let us listen to the bishops assembled together in the Council of Carthage, who write in the following manner to Pope Innocent: "But in what manner soever this question turns itself, because though a man is not found in this life without sin, yet it may be said to be possible by the adoption of grace and of the Spirit of God; and that [such perfection] may be attained we must urge most importunate intreaties and use our best endeavours. Whosoever is deceived on this point, ought to be tolerated. It is not a diabolical impiety, but it is a human error, to affirm that it must be MOST diligently pursued and desired, though it cannot shew that which it affirms; for it believes it possible for that to be done which it is undoubtedly laudable to will." We perceive, therefore, that Romans 7, when explained according to my mind, is serviceable to the church in establishing a doctrine of far greater importance than that which is declared from the other opinion. "But," some one will say, "it is possible to establish both these doctrines, [the imperfection and the perfection of the regenerate,] From that opinion which explains the chapter as relating to a man who is under grace." I reply, granting this, yet I deny that it is possible to establish both in a direct manner; for, one doctrine, that of the imperfection of the regenerate in this life, will be directly proved from this passage, and the other will be deduced from it by consequence. But it is a matter of much importance, whether a doctrine be confirmed by a passage of Scripture properly explained and according to the intention of the Scriptures, or whether it be deduced from them by the deduction of a consequence. For some passages of Scripture are like certain seats, out of which controversies ought to be determined; and those which are of this kind are usually employed in a very stable and safe manner for the decision of controversies. II.

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - The Thesis to be Proved
   Chapter 2 - The Connection Between the 6th & 7th Chapter
   Chapter 3 - Proposition of the Apostle
   Chapter 4 - Romans 7:14
   Chapter 5 - Romans 7:15
   Chapter 6 - Romans 7:16
   Chapter 7 - Romans 7:17
   Chapter 8 - Romans 7:18, 19
   Chapter 9 - Romans 7:20
   Chapter 10 - Romans 7:21
   Chapter 11 - Romans 7:22, 23
   Chapter 12 - The Ancient Fathers
   Chapter 13 - Romans 7:24
   Chapter 14 - Romans 7:25
   Chapter 15 - Under the Law
   Chapter 16 - The Grace of God
   Chapter 17 - The Connection Between the 7th & 8th Chapters
   Chapter 18 - The Opinion Corroborated by Testimonies
   Chapter 19 - Christian Fathers Approve of our Interpretation
   Chapter 20 - The Opinion of St. Augustine
   Chapter 21 - Writers from the Middle Ages Support our Opinion
   Chapter 22 - Favorable Testimonies of Recent Divines
   Chapter 23 - This Opinion Isn't Heretical
   Chapter 24 - Our Opinion is Opposed to the Pelagian Heresy
   Chapter 25 - Ancient Church Doctors Didn't Approve the Opposite Opinion
   Chapter 26 - The Opposite Opinion is Hurtful to Grace & Good Morals
   Chapter 27 - Common Interpretation Answered


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