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Dissertation of the 7th Chapter of Romans: Chapter 27 - Common Interpretation Answered

By Jacobus Arminius


      An objection for the common interpretation; it is possible for this to be the meaning of Romans 7, "that the regenerate do not so frequently and so perfectly perform what is good, and omit what is evil as they wish." Reply: The gloss is contrary to the text, because this chapter describes the continuous state of the man about whom it treats.

      2. The manner in which St. Paul would have spoken, if had intended to convey the meaning that generally obtains, and this in conformity with the style and modes of speaking which he usually adopts in other passages when writing concerning himself. An argument against the usually received opinion, taken from those things which have been previously spoken, and which are here reduced into the form of a syllogism.

      3. Another objection in favour of the common interpretation, and this in two members. An answer to the first member. An answer to the second, "that when the regenerate sin, they sin with reluctance." Every inward struggle against sin is not a sign that the man is regenerate.

      4. Another objection, and a reply to it. Remarks on a complete and an incomplete will. The regenerate will not, with a complete will, more good than they perform, neither perpetrate more evil than they will.

      5. Each of us must institute a serious examination into self and into all the motions of his will.

      1. But some one will say, in defense of this modern opinion, and in order to wipe away this double stain, "By this interpretation, no injury is inflicted on divine grace, and no harm is done to good morals." Some other man, possessed of still greater vehemence in defending the opinion which he has once conceived, will bring against me the charge of calumny, [and will say,] "It is a well known fact that they who give this interpretation to the chapter, do not take away from the regenerate the performance of all actual good, and the omission of what is evil, and consequently, [the work of] the grace of regeneration; but this is all that they affirm: Sometimes, nay, very often, those men who are regenerated by the Spirit of Christ do the evil which. they would not, and, far more frequently, omit or do not perform the good which they would; and the same regenerate persons never perform so perfectly the good which they do as they will to perform it, and they never omit evil so perfectly as they will to omit it. But neither of these assertions can be denied by those who acknowledge the imperfection of righteousness in this life, and who accurately consider the examples of the most holy of mortals which are depicted in the Holy Scriptures." I reply, this subterfuge affords no defense or excuse for the modern explanation of Romans 7. For, (as the phrase is,) in this instance the gloss is contrary to the text. For that chapter does not treat about that which occasionally befalls the man who is the subject of discussion, but about what generally and for the most part is accustomed to happen to him; and it contains a description of the continuous state of the man about whom it treats. This is openly declared by the words themselves and by the mode of speech employed. The apostle says, "The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do." This is said without any distinction or contraction of the general saying to its being specially understood as though he sometimes did not the good which he would, and sometimes did the evil which he would not, or as though he many times abstained from the evil which he hates, and performed the good which he would. But the apostle simply and indefinitely enunciates concerning the detested evil that he perpetrates it, and concerning the good which he willed that he performs it not. But if this indefinite enunciation be said to mean "that the good which has been willed is more frequently performed than omitted, and that the detested evil has been more frequently avoided than committed," which must necessarily be affirmed by those who explain the chapter in reference to a regenerate man, for a regenerate man walks not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit--then I say, the apostle did not know how to enunciate his own meaning. For indefinite enunciations possess equal force with those which are universal, or they approach as near as possible to them; they enunciate, concerning objects, those attributes which are in every one of them and at all times, or most usually and according to the more excellent part. Thus it is said concerning the Cretians, that they are liars. (Tit. i. 12.) The Athenians are said to be light and frivolous, and to take pleasure in "hearing some new thing;" and the Carthaginians are called perfidious. The Scriptures speak thus, that the Jews have been rejected on account of the greater part, (for "God doth not cast away his people whom he foreknew,") and that the gentiles were received into their place. For power was given, and a command enjoined on the apostles, to preach the gospel to all nations, and most of them have now long since been converted to Christ, or will yet be converted. Neither in this chapter is the apostle treating about a perfect and, in every respect, complete performance of good and omission of evil, but simply about the performance of the one and the omission of the other. For he says that the man commits evil, but not perfectly, if he is regenerate; otherwise, he would sin with an entire and full will. But this will be subsequently treated at greater length.

      2. But if St. Paul intended in this chapter to convey such a meaning as those interpreters ascribe to him, then he must have spoken in the following manner, if he was desirous of saying thing, in accordance with himself: "We know that the law is spiritual, and requires from us an obedience perfect in all its parts, and continuous without any intermission or interruption. But I have not yet so far conquered the flesh, I have not yet such a complete dominion over sin, neither have I broken or subdued the lusts of the flesh so much, as to be able to perform that perfect and uninterrupted obedience to the law. For it occasionally happens to me, that I do the evil which I would not, and omit the good which I would; nay, I perceive that I never perform what is good in such perfection and with so much zeal as it is in my will to perform; nor have I omitted what is evil in such perfection as I have wished. For in both cases, even while I am performing what is good and omitting what is evil, I feel the concupiscence of the flesh struggling and resisting; and I consider myself to have experienced admirable success if I come victorious out of the combat, that is, if I do that which the Spirit lusteth, and not what the flesh lusteth." Such a declaration as this would have been suitable to the sense which they attribute to the apostle, and this is properly the index and interpreter of that meaning. But many passages of Scripture, in which the apostle treats about himself, teach us that he ought to have spoken thus, if he had spoken things that were consistent with himself: "For I am conscious to myself of nothing; yet am I not hereby justified." (1 Cor. iv. 4.) "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so perform I my part as a combatant, not as one who beateth the air; but I beat down and keep my body under, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a reprobate." (vi, 26,27.) "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (xi, 1.) "- While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporary, but those which are not seen are eternal." (2 Cor. iv. 18.) "- Giving no offense in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed; but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience," &c. (vi, 3-10.) "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I may live unto God. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal. ii. 19, 20.) "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (vi, 14.) Many other passages of a similar import might be cited. Since, therefore, this interpretation does not agree with the chapter, it cannot, by this opinion, be excused from the two crimes which are objected against it, [as being injurious to divine grace, and noxious to good morals]. Wherefore I persist in preferring the same accusation, and I declare, The opinion which attributes to a regenerate man "that he generally does the evil which he would not, and that he most commonly omits the good which he would," is injurious to the grace of regeneration and hurtful to good morals; But the opinion which explains Romans 7 as referring to a regenerate man, attributes these things to one who is regenerate; Therefore, this opinion is injurious to the grace of regeneration, and hurtful to good morals. The light of the major proposition is so great as not to require either proof or illustration. The minor is in the text. For, as has already been shewn, to the man about whom the apostle is treating it is attributed, that he most commonly commits what is evil and omits what is good; therefore, the conclusion properly follows. It appears, therefore, that I have not through calumny affixed this objection to the opinion which is opposed to my own; and I can sacredly affirm, now, that prior to the act of taking the pen into my hands, I had made a vow before God that [in the discussion of this subject] I would indulge in no calumny. Wherefore, though the objection were false, it would in that case have escaped from me through ignorance and not through malice.

      3. Some one, however, who is desirous of pertinaciously keeping and retaining the thesis which has been once laid down, will here reply--"Let it be granted, that this explanation is deficient in those things which the apostle attributes to this man; let it likewise be granted, that the interpretation produced by other persons is not suitable to the passage; yet it does not become disadvantageous to good morals, nor is any injury inflicted on grace through this opinion, provided that the whole together be excepted, as it equitably should be, and that one part be not separated from another--this also being granted, that, though this interpretation be unsuitable for Romans 7, yet it is agreeable to the rest of the Scriptures and to the analogy of faith." (1.) That I may not seem to be too rigid, I am willing to grant the former of these; about the latter we shall see something further. For I own, that the opinion of St. Augustine, which interprets the chapter as relating only to the act and motion of concupiscence, neither proves to be detrimental to grace, nor injurious to good morals, though he explains the passage concerning a regenerate man. But I say that, after it has been impressed and inculcated on the minds of hearers or readers that the apostle is treating about a regenerate man in Romans 7, it is not in our power to hinder such persons from understanding the rest of those things which are attributed to this man in a different manner from that in which they ought to be understood, that is, from receiving them in an acceptation which is not agreeable to the text and design of the apostle, and as they are not received when they are explained as relating to a man who is under sin, and under the law, especially when the inclination is a persuasive to such an interpretation, and when the concupiscence of the flesh gives a similar impulse. This, as I have already related, has been actually done by many people, and certainly not without blame attached to the opinion itself, though "the whole of it be received together." For this is not the only thing declared by that opinion, "The regenerate sometimes commit sin; and they never perfectly perform what is good, and omit what is evil, while they continue in the present life;" but this is likewise added: "It is a property of the regenerate, to commit sin not with a full consent of the will, and while in the act of sinning to will not to sin; since the unregenerate sin with a full consent of the will, and without any reluctance on its part." Those persons who wish to excuse themselves by this chapter, and who, while engaged in sin, feel some resistance of the will and remorse of conscience in the act of sinning, conclude from the preceding assertion, that they commit sin not with a full consent of the will, and, therefore, that the very fact itself of their thus committing sin is a sign of their regeneration. Such a conclusion as this is both injurious to grace and inimical to good morals. (i.) It is injurious to grace, because it lays that down, as a sign of regeneration, which is alike common to the regenerate and to the unregenerate, that is, to those who are under the law. (ii.) It is inimical to good morals, because sin is neither so much avoided by that man who holds such an opinion as this, nor does its perpetration produce deep sorrow in him who is its author, because from the mode of the deed he still concludes that he is regenerate. (2.) But let us now consider, whether those things which have been adduced to liberate their opinion from this two-fold criminal charge, be conformable to the rest of the Scriptures and to the analogy of faith, or not. I confess it indeed to be a very great truth, that, while the regenerate pass their lives in this mortal body, they neither perfectly perform what is good, nor omit what is evil. But I add, that, while in the present life, they never perfectly will what is good, or perfectly hate what is evil. I likewise confess, that even the best of the regenerate offend in many things, and sometimes actually sin, by doing what is evil and omitting what is good; for the regenerate do not always act from the principle of regeneration. But I deny that, when they sin, they sin unwillingly, though they may do so with a struggle in their mind and conscience. For, while the contest and struggle continued between the mind and the flesh, how much soever they might nill the evil to which the flesh incited them, and will the good from which it dehorted them; yet they do not proceed onward to the deed itself except when the battle is terminated, the mind or conscience is overcome, and after the will has yielded consent to the flesh--though such consent be not without stinging remorse of conscience. Then I deny, that it can be concluded from this opposition of the mind, that he is a regenerate man who sins in this manner. For, as we have often previously shewn, the commission of sin with a reluctant mind and conscience belongs to many of the unregenerate. Besides, as we have also previously taught, that resistance which immediately preceded the perpetration of sin, was not from the Holy Spirit who regenerated and inhabited, but from the mind which was convinced of the righteousness and equity of the law. For the life of the conscience continues; and from its life, action and motion remain, when the Holy Spirit is either wholly departed, or is so grieved as to employ no motion and act for the hindrance of sin. It is a well known fact, that the soul in man which is vegetative, performs the first and the last offices of life, while the rational soul ceases its operations as in the case of lunatics and maniacs, and the sensitive soul desists from acting in lethargic persons. I wish these observations to receive a diligent consideration; for they have a great tendency to induce a man to enter upon a serious and sure examination respecting himself, to attain a correct knowledge of the state of regeneration, and sedulously to distinguish between it and the state BEFORE the law, and chiefly between it and that UNDER the law.

      4. Yet some person will here rejoin, and, for the sake of excusing or defending his opinion, will say, "It cannot be denied that the regenerate will more good than they actually perform, and perpetrate more evil than they will." My answer is, this, when correctly understood, may be conceded; for it is stated with some ambiguity. "To will and not to will this thing," may be understood concerning either a complete or an incomplete volition and nolition, (to use the words of Thomas Aquinas,) though in a sense a little different. (1.) I give the appellation of a complete will to that which is borne to a particular object that is particularly considered, approving or disapproving of that object according to the prescript or direction of the last judgment of the reason that is formed concerning it. (2.) I give the appellation of an incomplete will to that which is borne towards the same object generally considered, approving or disapproving of it according to the prescript or direction not of the last judgment of the reason which is formed concerning it. The former of these, which is indeed complete, may be called simply a volition and a nolition. But the latter, which is incomplete, is otherwise expressed by the words, desire and wishing, and ought to be called vellcity rather than will. Having premised these things, I now say, It cannot be affirmed with truth, "that a regenerate man wills more good with a complete will than he actually performs," unless without any fault of his own, he be hindered by necessity or by some greater force, or "that he actually does more evil than it is his will to do." For he does it not through coaction. A merchant who, for the sake of avoiding shipwreck, throws his heavy bales into the sea, willingly performs that act, having followed this last judgment of his reason--that it is better for his bales of goods to be destroyed, than for himself to perish with them. Thus, with a complete (I do not say with a full) volition, David willed his adulterous intercourse with Bathsheba. Willingly, and with a complete volition, Peter denied Christ. But if this be understood concerning an incomplete will, then I grant it may be said "that the regenerate will to perform more good than they really execute, and to omit more evil than they omit." This, however, is not an exclusive property of the regenerate; for it belongs to all those who are so under the law, that in them the law has discharged all its functions, and (the Holy Spirit employing it for this purpose) in them has produced all those effects which it is possible and usual for the law to produce. Both the regenerate, and those who are under the law, might indeed will, that there was not in them such a vast force and efficacy of sin yet existing and reigning in them; and might wish, that they were not solicited and impelled to evil deeds through concupiscence and the temptation of sin; nay, they might also will that they did not lust or indulge in concupiscence; but those evil acts to which they are solicited by sin which either is in them, or dwells in them and reigns, they do not perform, except through the intervention of the consent of the will that has been obtained by this temptation of sin. For lust does not bring forth sin, unless it has conceived; but it conceives through the consent of the will tanquam ex marito. But as long as the will remains in a state of suspense, inclining to neither part, so long no act is produced--as we behold in a just balance, or true scales, of which neither part verges upward or downward prior to one of them receiving an accession of weight which depresses that scale and elevates the opposite one. All motion reclines or depends on rest as on a foundation. Thus, the will does not move towards the part of sin unless when acquiescing in its temptation.

      5. These remarks are exceedingly plain, and capable of being fully confirmed by experience itself, if any one will only accurately ponder within himself all the motions of his own will. But the greatest part of us avoid this duty; for it cannot be performed without [inducing] sorrow and sickness of mind, which no man willingly brings upon himself. But it is by no means probable, that sin should obtain a full consent from the will of that man who is generally well instructed in the righteousness and unrighteousness of actions, before he has ceased to feel any sorrow or regret: Wherefore, the difference between a regenerate and an unregenerate man must not be placed in this particular when both of them commit sin. For, in that particular deed, they equally yield to the temptation of sin, both of them sin from the same principle of depraved nature, and in both instances the resistance is one and the same when sin is perpetrated, that is, on the part of the mind and conscience convicted of the justice or the injustice of the deed. For if the Spirit were itself that resistance, then sin would not be perpetrated in the very act. "Is there then no difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate, when they commit sin?" That I may not deny this, I say that such difference must be brought forward from plain passages in the Holy Scriptures; otherwise, that man will deceive himself to his great peril, who follows some other rule of judging.

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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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