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Dissertation of the 7th Chapter of Romans: Chapter 24 - Our Opinion is Opposed to the Pelagian Heresy

By Jacobus Arminius


      THE Second thing contained in this third part is an affirmation, that our interpretation of Romans 7 is professedly adverse to the Pelagian heresy.

      2. This is proved from the fact, that the principal dogma of that heresy is professedly confuted through this very interpretation.

      3. In some passages of his works, which are here cited, St. Augustine confesses with sufficient plainness that this is true.

      4. Objection and an Answer to it.

      5. Another Objection--that Prosper Dysidaeus, the Samosatenian, explains this chapter in the same manner. Answer--no heretic is in error on every point. The Jesuits, those myrmidons of the pope, explain this chapter as referring to a man placed under grace.

      6. A third objection--that his interpretation differs from the confessions of the reformed churches, which have been framed and established by the blood of martyrs. Answer--no article of any confession is contrary to this interpretation: No man ever shed his blood for the contrary interpretation. Numbers of martyrs were not even interrogated about this article on the perfection of righteousness.

      1. I now come to the second part of the thesis, in which I said, that this chapter, when explained as referring to a man who is under the law, is directly and professedly contrary to the Pelagian heresy. Though I have already proved this in part, on the occasion of replying to the preceding objection, yet I will now at somewhat greater length teach and confirm it.

      2. We have just seen that the article of the Pelagian heresy which is by no means either the last or the least, is that in which it is asserted that a man is able through his own free will, as being of itself sufficient for him, to fulfill the precept of God, if he be only instructed in the doctrine of the law, so as to be capable of knowing what he ought to perform and what to omit. It appears that this dogma is not only firmly refuted, but that it is also plucked up as if by the roots and extirpated, according to the very design and purpose of the apostle, by means of this chapter, when it is understood as referring to a man under the law. This is apparent from the opposition of the dogma to the context of the apostle. The former says, "Man, instructed by the teaching of the law, is capable, by the powers of his free will alone, to overcome sin and to obey the law of God." But the apostle declares that this cannot be effected by the powers of free will and of the law. he says, "sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace," (Rom. vi. 14,) from which it is manifest that, if they were under the law, sin would have the dominion over them--a consequence upon which he treats more copiously in the seventh chapter. Pelagius says, "Man is able, without the grace of Christ, and instructed solely by the teaching of the law, to perform the good which he wills, through his free will, and to omit the evil which he does not will;" but the apostle declares that this man "consents indeed to the law that it is good, but that to perform what is good he finds not in himself; he omits the good which he wills, and he performs the evil which he wills not." Therefore, the doctrine of the apostle is, independently of its consequence, directly repugnant to the Pelagian dogma, and this, indeed, from the scope and end which the apostle had, in the same chapter, proposed to himself. But, from passages of this description, heresies are far more powerfully convicted and destroyed, than they are from passages accommodated to their refutation beyond the scope and intention of the writer, though this also be done according to the correct meaning of the same passages.

      3. St. Augustine himself confesses that, when this chapter is explained in reference to a man under the law, it is adverse to the Pelagian heresy: "But," says Pelagius, "why should I thus exclaim, who am now baptized in Christ? Let them make such an exclamation who have not yet perceived such a benefit, and whose expressions the apostle transferred to himself, if indeed this is said by them? But this defense of nature does not permit them to cry out with this voice. For nature does not exist in those who are baptized; and, in those who are not baptized, nature has no existence. Or, if nature is granted to be vitiated even in baptized persons, so that they exclaim, not without sufficient reason--O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? -- and if succour is afforded to them in that which immediately follows, The Grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, let it now at length be granted, that human nature requires the aid of a physician. (On Nature and Grace, cap. 54.) From these remarks it is apparent, according to the mind of St. Augustine, that this passage, even when it is understood in reference to a natural man, is destructive to that dogma of Pelagius, in which he asserts that the natural man is able, by the powers of nature, to perform the law of God. Thus also in a passage upon which we have already made some observations from his Retractations, lib. I, cap. 23, St. Augustine openly affirms that this chapter, when explained as relating to a man under the law, confutes the Pelagian heresy. These are his words: "By this, indeed, is now overturned the Pelagian heresy, that will not admit that the love, by which we live good and pious lives, is from God to us, but that asserts it to be from ourselves." Besides, if we can obtain from them even this admission, that those who are not yet baptized implore the aid of the saviour's grace, this will indeed be no small matter against that false defense of nature, as being sufficient for itself, and of the power of free will. For he is not sufficient for himself who says, O wretched man that l am! who shall deliver me? or else he must be said to possess full liberty, who still requires to be liberated. (On nature and Grace, cap. 55.) But at this point, on account of which we have undertaken the consideration of these things, the apostle begins to introduce his own person, and to speak as if concerning himself. In this passage the Pelagians are unwilling that the apostle himself should be understood, but assert that he has transferred to himself another man who is yet placed under the law, and not delivered through grace, in which passage they ought indeed to concede "that by the law no man is justified." as the same apostle has declared in another part of his writings, but that the law is of force for the knowledge of sin and the transgression of the law itself; that, after sin has been known and increased, grace may be required through faith. (Against the two Epistles of the Pelagians to Boniface, lib. I, cap. 8)

      4. "But," some man will say, "the Pelagians have interpreted that chapter as applicable to a man who is unregenerate, not without good reason. They undoubtedly knew that such an interpretation was peculiarly favourable to their sentiments which they defended against the church." To this I reply, First. It has already been shown, both in reality, and by the testimony of St. Augustine, that this chapter, even when understood as applicable to a man under the law, and not yet regenerate, is adverse to the Pelagian doctrine. Secondly. It may have happened that the Pelagians supposed the chapter might be explained in reference to a man placed under the law, and not under grace, without any consideration of the controversy in which they were engaged with the orthodox. Thirdly. It cannot favour the sentiments of the Pelagians, that the apostle is said in this chapter to be treating about a man under the law; but this might be favourable, that they adduced such a description of a man who is under the law, as they knew was accommodated to strengthen their sentiments. For they said that "a man under this law is he who, by the power and instinct of nature, (which was not corrupted in Adam,) is able to will that which is good, and not to will what is evil; but who, through a depraved habit, was so bound to the service of sin, as in reality, and actually he was not able to perform the good which he would," &c. This false description of the man might also be met, not by denying that the subject of this chapter is a man under the law, but by refuting that description. For heretics are not heretical on all subjects and in every point; and it is their usual practice to intermix true things with those which are false, and frequently on true foundations to erect a superstructure of falsehoods--I repeat it, on true foundations, which, by some artifice, or by manifest violence are perverted to the support of falsehoods.

      5. It is objected, besides, "It is impossible for this opinion not to be heretical or allied to heresy, when we see one Prosper Dysidaeus. a Samosatenian, who is deeply polluted by a multitude of heresies, interpreting Romans 7 in reference to a man who is not yet under grace, but under the law, which he undoubtedly would not have done, had he not understood that through it he had a mighty support for his own heresies." REPLY.--This objection is truly ridiculous--as if he who is a heretic ought to err in all things, and can speak nothing that is true, or if he does utter any truth, the whole of it must be referred to the confirmation of his heresy. Even the very worst of heretics have, in some articles, held the same sentiments as those of the church. It is a well known fact that the ancient heretics endeavoured, and indeed were accustomed, to interpret many passages of Scripture against the orthodox, in such a way as they could not injure their several heresies. Yet these very passages are, even at the present time, explained by our theologians against the sense of the ancient orthodox, and in accordance with the interpretation of those heretics. But such persons are not, on this account, to be denominated "the favourers of heresies." But I am desirous to have it demonstrated to me what affinity my explanation of Romans 7 has with Aryanism or Samosatenianism. If the same person, who is either an Aryan or a Samosatenian, is likewise earnest about the perfection of righteousness in this life, he will deny that this chapter ought to he understood as relating to the regenerate, not as he is either a Samosatenian or an Aryan, but as he is a Pelagian or a follower of Celestius. If it be allowable to reason in this manner, then the opinion which explains this chapter as referring to a man under grace, will itself labour under great prejudices, from the fact that it is generally so interpreted by the Jesuits, and by their leaders, who are the sworn enemies of the church of Christ, and of the truth, and, at the same time, the most able retainers of the popish church, that is, of a church which is idolatrous, tyrannical, and most polluted with innumerable heresies. Away, then, with such a mode of argumentation as this, about the explanation of any portion of Scripture! Let it never proceed from the mind or the lips of those persons who, with a good conscience, have undertaken the defense of the truth. Who does not perceive that arguments of this kind are employed for the purpose of abashing and unsettling the minds of ignorant and inexperienced hearers; that, being blinded by a certain fear and stupor, they may not be able to form a judgment on the truth, nay, that they may not dare to touch the matter under controversy, through a vain fear of heresy! Such artifices as these are notorious; and all men of learning and moderation are aware of them. Nor are they capable of proving injurious to any persons except to the unlearned and the simple, or to those who have spontaneously determined to wander into error. For we have shewn that this chapter has been understood in the same sense as we interpret it, by many doctors of the church, who declared and proved themselves to be the most eminent adversaries of Aryanism, Samosatenianism, and other heresies, and the most strenuous defendants of the true doctrine concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Gracious Lord! What a wide and ample plain is here opened for those persons who feel a pleasure in thrusting out the most able and efficient assertors of catholic doctrine into the camp of heretics, under this pretext, that they Interpret certain passages of Scripture which have been usually adduced for the refutation of heresy, in such a manner as not to enable other persons to attack heresies with those passages so interpreted.

      6. Lastly. This, my explanation is burdened with another objection--that "it differs from the confessions of all the reformed churches in Europe, for the establishment of which such a multitude of martyrs have shed their blood." This argument likewise, I assert, is employed, not for teaching the truth, but to inflame and blind the minds of those who listen to it, through the indignation which they conceive. For I deny that--in any confession, whether that of the French, the Dutch, the Swiss, the Savoy, the English, the Scotch, the Bohemian, or the Lutheran churches, or of any other--there is extant a single article that is contrary to this interpretation, or that is in the least weakened by this interpretation of Romans 7. It may, indeed, possibly have happened that some portion of this chapter has been used in some confession for the establishment of a doctrine which cannot be confirmed from it, unless it be explained as relating to a regenerate man who is under grace. But how does this circumstance militate against him who approves of the very same doctrine, and defends it in an earnest and accurate manner, by adducing several other passages of Scripture in its support, Such a man affirms this alone--that the true doctrine, in whose defense it has been cited, is not sufficiently well defended by this passage of holy writ. And what man ever shed his blood, or was compelled to shed it, because he was of opinion that this chapter ought to be explained in reference to a regenerate man, and not to a man who is under the law? I speak with freedom, and frankly declare that, while I am listening to such reasons, I am scarcely able to govern and restrain myself from openly crying out, through grief, that God would have mercy on those who teach these things, and would put within them a good mind and a sincere conscience, lest, while rushing headlong against conscience, they at length receive due punishment for the demerit of malignant ignorance, or that he would be pleased to hinder their attempts, or at least, that he would render them abortive, lest they should injure the truth which has been divinely manifested, and the church of Christ! For I cannot put any milder construction on such expressions, when they proceed from men that are endued with knowledge and understanding. All those matters contained in confessions are not equally necessary. All the particulars in any confession are not confirmed by the blood of those who are dragged away to the stake not for the whole of that confession, but on account of some part of it. And we know that many thousands of martyrs have sealed the truth of the gospel with their blood, who were never questioned respecting this article of the perfection or imperfection of righteousness, and who never expended any thoughts upon it. I refer now to this question: "Are those who, through Christ, are justified and sanctified, able in this life to fulfill the law of God without any defect, through the assistance of Christ and the Spirit of grace?" For all Christians are well assured, that, without the grace of Christ, they are not able to do any good whatsoever. Wherefore, the use of this kind of argument must be laid aside by those who are good and conscientious inquirers after the truth, and who endeavour to preserve her when she is discovered.

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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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