I. THE OPPOSITE OPINION IS INJURIOUS TO GRACE AND HURTFUL TO GOOD MORALS
It is First shewn, that the interpretation of Romans 7, which prevails in the present day is injurious to grace, by attributing to it less than is proper. (1.) The contest which is described in that chapter, cannot be attributed to the Holy Spirit dwelling in a man, without manifest contumely to the Holy Ghost. (2.) An objection and reply.
2. It is Secondly shewn, that the modern interpretation is hurtful to good morals; because it draws along with it, as a consequence, that a man flatters and encourages himself in his sins, provided only that he commits them with a reluctant conscience. This is illustrated by some instances.
3. It is likewise confirmed by St. Augustine and by the Venerable Bede. Thesis.--The opinion which affirms, that this chapter treats about a man who is regenerate and placed under grace; and which also interprets the good which this man would and does not, and the evil which he would not but does, as referring to actual good and evil; is injurious to grace, and inimical to good morals.
1. That this modern opinion is injurious to divine grace, I demonstrate in the following manner: An injury is inflicted on grace, not only by him who attributes to nature or to free will that which belongs to grace, that is, having taken it away from grace; but likewise by him who attributes to it less than is its due, and than ought truly to be ascribed to grace. In the last of these modes, this modern opinion is inimical to grace: For it attributes less than, according to the Scriptures, ought to be ascribed to grace. The Scriptures ascribe to divine grace, that, in the regenerate, it worketh not only to will but also to do; (Phil. ii. 13) that, by its power, our old man is crucified, and the body of sin is destroyed or enervated, so that henceforth we should not obey it in the lusts thereof; that, through grace, the regenerate are dead indeed unto sin, and are raised up again to walk in newness of life, in which they serve not sin but God, neither do they yield their members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but as instruments of righteousness to God; (Rom. vi. 2-13) that, through the efficacy of the Spirit, they mortify the deeds of the body; (viii, 13) and that grace not only supplies to the regenerate strength to resist the world, Satan, and the flesh, but, likewise, power to gain the victory over them. (Ephes. vi. 11-18; James iv. 4-8; 1 John iv. 4; v, 4; &c., &c.) But this modern opinion attributes to grace, that its only effect in the regenerate is to will and not to do, that it is too weak to crucify the old man, to destroy the body of sin, or to conquer the flesh, the world and Satan. For the regenerate man, according to this opinion, is said to obey sin in its lusts, and to walk after the desires of the flesh; though he is said to do this, compelled by the violence of sin, in opposition to conscience, and with a reluctant will. For the interpretation and addition alter the mode of obedience by which men obey sin; it does not deny obedience itself. This was also the cause why St. Augustine interpreted the chapter in reference to concupiscence; for he perceived that if he interpreted it concerning actual sins, he would be inflicting an injury on grace. (1.) I am desirous that it should be made the subject of diligent consideration, and that it should be frequently and deliberately pondered, whether the contest which is said to be described in this chapter can be ascribed to the indwelling Holy Spirit, without manifest contumely and dishonour to the grace of Christ and of His Spirit, if this be laid down as the issue of the contest, that the man works from the will of the flesh, not from concupiscence of the Spirit. This is the result of the battle, which is laid down by those who interpret the chapter concerning actual good and evil. To any who earnestly peruses the passage, it will indeed appear evident that such a contest cannot be ascribed to the Holy Spirit, without enormous disgrace to Him. For, what is it? It is said to be a contest, and a waging of war between "the law of the mind," that is, the Holy Spirit dwelling within, and "the law of the members;" and the victory is assigned to the law of the members against the law of the mind; for it leads the man away, as a captive, to the law of sin, the Holy Spirit, who dwells within vainly resisting and warring against it. Under these circumstances, is not the Holy Spirit represented as being much weaker than the law in the members, that is, than the lust of the flesh and indwelling sin, The man who denies this, will deny that the sun shines when he is to be seen in all his meridian splendour. For, in this place, no mention is made of his spontaneous yielding or surrender, of desisting from the combat, or the casting away of his weapons, which we have declared to be the cause why he who begins to fight in the Spirit is conquered by the flesh. But no mention of such circumstances can here be made; for it is said to be a battle, and a waging of war not between "the law of the members" and a man who uses "the law of the mind," but to be between "the law of the mind" and "the law of the members;" to which law of the mind the casting away of its weapons cannot be attributed, for it is itself engaged in the battle and not by proxy. Neither can a desisting from the combat be ascribed to the law of the mind before it has actually been conquered and overcome. Much less can a spontaneous surrender be attributed to it, because this can by no means occur between these two combatants. For "the law of the mind" must necessarily lose its life, and cease to have any existence, before it willingly and spontaneously yields to the rebellious flesh. (2.) Some one, however, may reply, "This is a metaphorical kind of speaking or discourse, and through a Prosopopoeia, a person and the properties of a person are attributed to the law of the mind and to that of the members. But, properly and without any trope or figure, this man is said to fight with himself; that is, the man, as he is regenerate, fights with himself as he is unregenerate." My answer to this is, there is nothing to prevent the thing from being done in the manner now specified; for a regenerate man, as such, fights in the power and strength of the grace and the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, if while fighting he is conquered, the grace and the Spirit of Christ are overcome, which would be a fact most ignominious to the grace and Spirit of Christ. But if he be conquered while in a state of nonresistance, and not during the conflict, but after he has cast away his weapons or has desisted from the combat, then this is not the case which is the subject of the present investigation; for, in the case stated by the apostle, the man is made prisoner while in actual combat, not after he has ceased to be a belligerent; because the effect and accomplishment of this bringing into captivity is joined to the act of waging war and that indeed immediately. But these two are properly joined together, and in a manner that is agreeable to the nature of parties fighting against each other, if "the law of the mind," that is, the conscience, convinced of the equity and justice of the law, be said to contend with "the law of the members;" for the former is conquered while fighting and in the very midst of the conflict, because it is too weak to be capable of withstanding the impetuosity of the shock against "the law of the members," that is, the lusts of the flesh and the desires of sin, though it earnestly strives to bear away, by every exertion and with all its powers, the palm of victory from the field of battle.
2. But matter of fact teaches that this opinion is inimical and hurtful to good morals. For nothing can be imagined more noxious to true morality than to assert that" it is a property of the regenerate not to do the good which they would, and to do the evil which they would not;" because it necessarily follows from this that those persons flatter themselves in their sins, who, while sinning, feel that they do so with a reluctant conscience and with a will that offered some resistance. For they conclude themselves to be regenerate from this circumstance--because it is not one of the properties of the unregenerate to do the evil which they would not, and to omit the performance of the good which they would; the unregenerate being those who omit the good, and perpetrate the evil, with a full consent of the will, and without any resistance. I truly and sacredly affirm that this has, in more instances than one, fallen within the range of my experience: When I have admonished certain persons to exercise a degree of caution over themselves and to guard against the commission of some wickedness which they knew to be prohibited by the law, they have replied "that it was indeed their will so to refrain, but that they must declare, with the apostle, We are unable to perform the good which we would." "I speak the truth in Christ and lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost," that I have received this very answer from a certain individual, not after he had perpetrated the crime, but when he was previously admonished not to commit it. I am also acquainted with a lady, who on being admonished and blamed for a certain deed which she knew she had perpetrated against the law of God and her own conscience, coolly replied "that as she had done that deed with a reluctant will and not with a full consent, in this she experienced something similar to what the apostle Paul endured when he said, The evil that l would not, that I do." I have known both men and women, young persons and old, who, when I have explained this seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans in the sense in which I defend it in this treatise, have openly confessed to me "that they had always previously entertained the opinion that, if they had actually perpetrated any evil with a reluctant mind, or had omitted the performance of any good when their conscience exclaimed against such omission, it was not necessary for them to care much about the matter or deeply to lament it, since they considered themselves in this respect to be similar to St. Paul." These persons, therefore, have returned me hearty thanks, as they have declared, because, by my interpretation, I had delivered them from that false opinion.
3. But, lest it might appear that I alone make this assertion, and, without any witness or supporter, declare that "the opinion which interprets this chapter as referring to actual good and evil, is adverse to good morals arid to piety," let us now see what judgment some of the ancients have formed about this matter. AUGUSTINE When discussing these words of the apostle--"for the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do"--this father makes the following remarks: As often as the divine words which have just been recited from the epistle of the apostle Paul, are read, it is to be feared that, when they arc incorrectly understood, they furnish an occasion to men who are seeking one; because they are inclined to the commission of sin, and with difficulty restrain themselves. Therefore, when they have heard the apostle declaring, "For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I hate, that I do," they commit evil; and, as if displeased with themselves because they thus do evil, they suppose that they resemble the apostle, who said, "For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do." For this passage is sometimes read, and at present imposes on us the necessity of admonishing, that, when men take it in a wrong acceptation, they convert salutary food into poison. (0n Time, Sermons 43 a 45, tom. 10.) But lest, in this battle, these divine words when read should seem, to those who have not a good understanding of them, as the trumpet of the enemy's army and not that of our own ranks, by which we may be incited, and not by which we may be conquered, pay attention, I beseech you, my brethren, and, you who are in the contest, contend manfully. For, you who have not yet begun the combat, will not understand what I say; but you who are now contending, will easily understand my meaning. I speak openly; your words will be in silence. Recollect, in the first place, what the apostle has written to the Galatians, from which this passage may be well expounded; for, speaking to believers who had been baptized, he says--speaking to them as those to whom all sins had been remitted in the sacred laver; but speaking to them as to those who are still fighting, he says, "This I say then: Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." He has not said, Ye shall not do or perform, but, Ye shall not fulfill or perfect. And why does he say this, He proceeds to say "for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary, the one to the other, that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law." If ye be led of the Spirit--What is "to be led of the Spirit"? To consent to the Spirit of God which commands, and not to the flesh which lusteth. Yet it lusts, and resists, and wills something, and thou wiliest not. Persevere in not willing [that which the flesh wills]. And yet thy desire to God should be of this description, that there may not be any concupiscence for thee to resist. Consider what I have said. I repeat it: Thy request unto God should be of this kind, that no concupiscence whatever may remain which it may be necessary for thee to resist. For thou dost resist; and, by not consenting, thou dost overcome; but it is far better to have no enemy than to conquer one. The time will arrive when that enemy will have no existence. Apply thy mind to the notes of triumph, and see if it will be "O death, where is thy contest?" It will not be "O death, where is thy sting?" Thou shalt seek its place, and shalt not find it. (Ibid.) In a subsequent passage on the same treatise, when explaining still more plainly the meaning of the apostle, lest his words should prove hurtful to those who seek occasion, St. Augustine writes in the following manner: The apostle, therefore, does not what he would, because he wills not to lust or indulge in concupiscence; yet he lusts; therefore he does the evil which he wills not. Did this evil concupiscence draw the apostle into subjection to lust for fornication? By no means. Let not such thoughts as these arise in thy heart. He contended against it; he was not subdued. But because he willed not, and had this against which he might contend, therefore he said "What I would, that do I not;" I will not to lust, or to indulge in concupiscence, and yet I do lust. "Therefore, what I would, that do I not;" but yet I consent not to concupiscence. For, otherwise, he would not have said, "Ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh:" if he fulfilled them himself. But he has placed for thee, before thy eyes, the combat in which he was engaged, that thou mayest not be afraid concerning thine own. For, if the blessed apostle had not said this, when thou hast perceived concupiscence in motion within thy members to which thou wouldst not yield thy consent, yet, since thou hast perceived it to be in motion, perhaps thou mightest despair concerning thyself, and say--if I belonged unto God, l should not have such motions. Look at the apostle engaged in the battle, and be unwilling to fill thyself with despair. He says, "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind; and because I am unwilling that it should wage ware for it is my own flesh, I am myself the person, it is a part of myself--"that which I would, I do not; but the evil which I hate, that do I," because I lust. Therefore, the good which I do in not giving consent to my evil concupiscence, I perform it, but I do not perfect it. And concupiscence, which is my enemy, performs evil, and does not perfect it. In what way do I perform good and not perfect it? I perform good when I do not consent to evil concupiscence, but I do not perfect good so as not to indulge the least concupiscence. Again, therefore, in what way does my enemy perform evil, and not perfect evil? It performs evil, because it puts evil desires in motion. It does not perfect evil, because it does not draw me to evil.(Ibid.) VENERABLE BEDE But the thing which I do or perform is to lust, not to consent to lust; lest any one should now seek in the apostle an example for himself, and should himself afford a bad one. "That which I would, I do not." For what saith the law, "Thou shalt not covet." And it is not my will to lust, and yet I lust, though I give no consent to my lust, and though I go not after it. (On Romans 7.) II.