Monday, January 20, 2014

Commentary on Lord's Day 3

THIRD LORD’S DAY


Question 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?

Answer. By no means; but God created man good, and after his own image, in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God, his Creator heartily love him, and live with him in eternal happiness, to glorify him and praise him.

EXPOSITION

Having established the proposition that human nature is depraved, or sinful, we must now enquire, did God create man thus? and if not, with what nature did he create him? and whence does this depravity of human nature proceed? The subject of the creation of man, therefore, and of the image of God in man, belongs properly to this place.
It is also proper that we should here contrast the misery of man with his original excellence: first, that the cause and origin of our misery being known, we may not impute it unto God; and secondly, that the greatness of our misery may be the more clearly seen. In proportion as this is done, will the original excellency of man become apparent; just as the benefit of deliverance becomes the more precious in the same proportion in which we are brought to apprehend the magnitude of the evil from which we have been rescued.


OF THE CREATION OF MAN


The questions to be discussed, in connection with the creation of man are the following:

          I.      What was the state or condition in which God originally created man?
          II.      For what end did he create him?


I. WHAT WAS THE STATE IN WHICH GOD ORIGINALLY CREATED MAN?

This question is proposed almost for the same reasons for which the whole subject itself is considered, viz.: That it may be manifest, in the first place, that God created man without sin, and is therefore not the author of sin, or of our corruption and misery. 2. That we may see from what a height of dignity, to what a depth of misery we have fallen by sin, that we may thus acknowledge the mercy of God, who has deigned to extricate and deliver us from this wretchedness. 3. That we may acknowledge the greatness of the benefits which we have received, and our unworthiness of being made the recipients of such favors. 4. That we may the more earnestly desire, and seek in Christ, the recovery of that dignity and happiness which we have lost. 5. That we may be thankful to God for this restoration.
As touching the state and condition in which God originally created man, we are here taught, in the answer to this sixth question, that God created man good, and in his own image, &c., which it is necessary for us to expound somewhat more largely.
Man was created by God on the sixth day of the creation of the world. His body was made of the dust of the ground, immortal if he continued in righteousness, but mortal if he fell; for mortality followed sin as a punishment. His soul was made out of nothing. It was immediately breathed into him by the Almighty. It was, therefore, rational, spiritual, and immortal. “And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7.) He created, and united the soul and the body, so as to constitute, by this union, one person, performing such internal and external functions and actions as are peculiar to human nature, and which are just, holy, and pleasing to God. Man was also created in the image of God; by which we mean that he was created perfectly good, wise, just, holy, happy, and lord of all other creatures. Concerning this image of God, in which man was at first created, more will be said a little further on.


II. FOR WHAT END DID GOD CREATE MAN?

To this the catechism answers: “That he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal happiness, to glorify and praise him.” The glory of God is, therefore, the chief and ultimate end for which man was created. It was for this purpose that God created rational and intelligent beings, such as angels and men, that knowing him, they might praise him forever. Hence, man was created principally for the glory of God; that is, for professing and calling upon his holy name, for praise and thanksgiving, for love and obedience, which consists in a proper discharge of the duties which we owe to God and our fellowmen. For the glory of God comprehends all these things.
Obj. But the heavens, and earth, and other creatures are also said to glorify God. Therefore this was not the end for which man was created. Ans. When creatures destitute of reason are said to praise and glorify God it is not that they acknowledge or celebrate his praise, but because they furnish the matter and occasion of glorifying God, which belongs properly to intelligent creatures. Angels and men, by the contemplation of these works of God, discern his wisdom, goodness, and power, and are thus stirred up to magnify and praise his name. To glorify God, therefore, is the work of creatures possessed of reason and understanding, and if there were not beings of this description to discern the order and arrangement which is manifest in nature, unintelligent creation could no more be said to praise God than if it had no existence. Hence, we are to regard those declarations in the book of the Psalms, in which the heavens, sea, earth, &c., are said to praise God, as figurative expressions, in which the inspired writer attributes to things, void of reason, that which belongs properly to intelligent creatures.
2. There are other reasons for which man was created, subordinate to the glory of God. His knowledge, for instance, contributes to his glory, in as much as he cannot be glorified if he is not known. It is, moreover, the proper work of man to know and glorify God; for eternal life consists in this, as it is said: “This is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God.” (John 17:3.)
3. The happiness and blessedness of man, which consists in the enjoyment of God and heavenly blessings, is subordinate or next in order to the knowledge of God; for his goodness, mercy, and power are manifest from these.
Obj. But the felicity and happiness of man, his knowledge, and glorifying of God, are properties or conditions with and in which he was created; that is, they are a part of the image of God and of the proper form of man. Therefore, they are not the ends for which man was created, and belong more properly to the first question, which we have already considered, than to this second, which treats of the end of our creation. Ans. They are a part of the proper form and end of man, but in a different respect; for God made man such a being, that, being blessed and happy, he might rightly know and glorify him; and he created him for this end, that he might henceforth and forever be known and praised by him, and that he might continually communicate himself to man. Man was, therefore, created happy, knowing God aright, and glorifying him, which was the form he received in his creation; and, at the same time, he was created for this end that he might forever remain such. It is, therefore, correct to include both these things in speaking upon this subject; because man was created such a being, and for such an end. The first refers to the question what, in respect to the beginning; the other, to the question for what, in respect to his continuance and perseverance therein. So in Eph. 4:24, righteousness and true holiness, which constitute the form and very being of the new man, are said to be the end of the same. Nor is it absurd that the same thing should be declared the form and end in a different respect; for that which is the form in respect to the creature, is declared the end in respect to the purpose of the Creator.
The fourth end, for which man was created, is the manifestation, or declaration, of the mercy of God in the salvation of the elect, and of his justice in the punishment of the reprobate. This is subordinate to the knowledge and enjoyment of God; for in order that he may be known and communicate himself unto us, it is necessary that he should make a revelation of himself.
The fifth is the preservation of society in the human race, which, again, is subordinate to the manifestation of God; for if men did not exist, God could not have those to whom he might reveal himself. “I will declare thy name unto my brethren.” (Psalms 22:23.)
The sixth, is a mutual participation in the duties, kindness, and benefits which we owe to each other; which, again, contributes to the preservation of society; for it is necessary to the continuance of the human race, that peace and mutual intercourse exist amongst men.
This first creation of man is to be carefully compared with the misery of mankind, and with our departure from the end for which we were created; that by this means, also, we may know the greatness of our misery. For our knowledge of the greatness of the evil into which we have fallen, will be in the same degree in which we are brought to apprehend the superior excellence of the good which we have lost. This brings us to consider what the image of God was, in which man was created.


OF THE IMAGE OF GOD IN MAN

Concerning this, we are chiefly to enquire:

          I.      What is it, and what are the parts thereof?
          II.      To what extent is it lost, and what remains in man?
          III.      How may it be restored?


I. WHAT IS IT, AND WHAT ARE THE PARTS THEREOF?

The image of God in man, is a mind rightly knowing the nature, will, and works of God; a will freely obeying God; and a correspondence of all the inclinations, desires, and actions, with the divine will; in a word, it is the spiritual and immortal nature of the soul, and the purity and integrity of the whole man; a perfect blessedness and joy, together with the dignity and majesty of man, in which he excels and rules over all other creatures.
The image of God, therefore, comprehends: 1. The spiritual and immortal substance of the soul, together with the power of knowing and willing. 2. All our natural notions and conceptions of God, and of his will and works. 3. Just and holy actions, inclinations, and volitions, which is the same as perfect righteousness and holiness in the will, heart, and external actions. 4. Felicity, happiness, and glory, with the greatest delight in God, connected, at the same time, with an abundance of all good things, without any misery or corruption. 5. The dominion of man over all creatures, fish, fowls, and other living things. In all these respects, our rational nature resembles, in some degree, the Creator; just as the image resemble the archetype; yet we can never be equal with God. Paul calls the image of God “righteousness and true holiness,” (Eph. 4:24,) because these constitute the principal parts of it; yet he does not exclude wisdom and knowledge, but rather presupposes them; for no one can worship God if he does not know him. Neither does the Apostle, in this passage, exclude happiness and glory; for this, according to the order of divine justice, follows righteousness and true holiness. And wherever righteousness and true holiness are found, there is an absence of all evil, whether of guilt or punishment. This righteousness and true holiness, in which, according to the Apostle, the image of God consists, may also be taken for the same thing; or they may be so distinguished, that righteousness may be considered as referring to such outward and inward actions and motions as are in harmony with the law of God, and a mind judging correctly; whilst holiness may be understood as referring to the qualities of these actions, &c.
Obj. Perfect wisdom and righteousness are peculiar to God alone, nor is there any creature in whom they are found; for the wisdom of all creatures, even of the holy angels, may and does increase. How, then, could the image of God in man embrace perfect righteousness and wisdom? Ans. That which is here called perfect wisdom, does not mean such a wisdom as is ignorant of nothing, but such as is perfect according to the being in whom it is found, or which is such as the Creator designed should be in the creature, and which is sufficient for the happiness of the creature; as, for instance, the wisdom and felicity of the angels is perfect, because it is such as God designed and willed; and yet something may be continually added unto it, or else it would be infinite. So man was perfectly righteous, because he was conformable to God in all things which were required of him; and yet he was not equal with God, nor was his righteousness perfect in that degree in which God is righteous; but because there was nothing wanting to that perfection in which God created him; which he desired should be in him; and which was sufficient for the happiness of the creature. There is, therefore, an ambiguity in the word perfection. And it is in the sense just explained, that man is said, in the Scriptures, to be the image of God, or that he was made after his likeness.
When Christ, however, is called the image of God, it is in a far different sense, which is evident: 1. In respect to his divine nature, in which he is the image of the eternal Father, being co-eternal, consubstantial, and equal with the Father in essential properties and works, and as being that person through whom the Father reveals himself, in creating and preserving all things, but especially in the salvation of those whom he has chosen unto everlasting life. And he is called the image, not of himself, nor of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father; because he is eternally begotten, not of himself, nor of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father. 2. In respect to his human nature, in which he is the image of God, created indeed, yet transcending infinitely angels and men, both in the degree and number of gifts, such as wisdom, justice, power, and glory; and, at the same time, resembling, in a peculiar manner, the Father, in doctrine, virtues, and actions, as he himself said to one of his disciples, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” (John 14:9.)
But angels and men are said to be the image of God, as well in respect to the Son and Holy Ghost, as in respect to the Father, where it is said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26.) This is not to be understood, however, of any likeness or equality of essence, but merely of certain properties which have a resemblance to the Godhead, not in degree or essence, but in kind and imitation; for there are some things in angels and men which bear a certain analogy and correspondence with what we find in God, who comprehends, in himself, all that is truly good. Those things, on the other hand, concerning the image of God in man, which were formerly discussed, and denied by the Anthropomorphites, and recently by Osiander, may be found in Ursini Vol. I. pages 154, 155.


II. TO WHAT EXTENT IS IT LOST, AND WHAT REMAINS IN MAN?

Such, now, was the image of God in which man was originally created, and which was apparent in him before the fall. But after the fall, man lost this glorious image of God, on account of sin, and became transformed into the hateful image of satan. There were, however, some remains and sparks of the image of God still left in man, after his fall, and which even yet continue in those who are unregenerated, of which we may mention the following: 1. The incorporeal, rational, and immortal substance of the soul, together with its powers, of which we would merely make mention of the liberty of the will, so that whatever man wills, he wills freely 2. There are, in the understanding, many notions and conceptions of God, of nature, and of, the distinction which exists between things proper and improper, which constitute the principles of the arts and sciences. 3. There are some traces and remains of moral virtues, and some ability of regulating the external deportment of the life. 4. The enjoyment of many temporal blessings. 5. A certain dominion over other creatures. Man did not wholly lose his dominion over the various creatures which were put in subjection to him; for many of them still remain subject to him, so that he has the power of governing and using them for benefit. These vestiges and remains of the image of God in man, although they are greatly obscured and marred by sin, are nevertheless, still preserved in us to a certain extent; and that for these ends: 1. That they may be a testimony of the mercy and goodness of God towards us, unworthy as we are. 2. That God may make use of them in restoring his image in us. 3. That the wicked may be without excuse.
But those things which we have lost of the image of God are by far the greatest and most important benefits; of which we may mention the following: 1. The true, perfect, and saving knowledge of God, and of the divine will. 2. Correct views of the works of God, together with light and knowledge in the understanding; in the place of which we now have ignorance, blindness, and darkness. 3. The regulation and government of all the inclinations, desires, and actions; and a conformity with the law of God in the will, heart, and external parts; instead of which there is now a dreadful disorder and depravity of the inclinations and motions of the heart and will, from which all actual sin proceeds. 4. True and perfect dominion over the various creatures of God; for those beasts which at first feared man, now oppose, injure, and lie in wait for him; whilst the ground, which was cursed for his sake, brings forth thorns and briers. 5. The right of using those things which God granted, not to his enemies, but to his children. 6. The happiness of this and of a future life; in the place of which we now have temporal and eternal death, with every conceivable calamity.
Obj. The heathen were distinguished for many virtues, and performed works of great renown. Therefore it would seem that the image of God was not destroyed in them. Ans. The excellent virtues and deeds of renown, which are found among heathen nations, belong, indeed, to the vestiges or remains of the image of God, still preserved in the nature of man; but there is so much wanting, to constitute that true and perfect image of God, which was at first apparent in man, that these virtues are only certain shadows of external propriety, without the obedience of the heart to God, whom they neither know nor worship. Therefore, these works do not please God, since they do not proceed from a proper knowledge of him, and are not done with the intention of glorifying him.


III. HOW THE IMAGE OF GOD MAY BE RESTORED IN US

The restoration of this image of God in man, is effected by him alone, who first conferred it upon man; for he who gives life, and restores it when lost, is the same being. God the Father, restores this image through the Son; because he has “made him unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.) The Son, through the Holy Spirit, “changes us into the same image, from glory unto glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18.) And the Holy Ghost carries forward and completes what is begun by the Word, and the use of the Sacraments. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16.) This restoration, however, of the image of God in man, is effected in such a manner, that it is only begun, in this life, in such as believe, and is confirmed and carried forward in them, even to the end of life, as it concerns the soul—but as it concerns the whole man, it will be consummated in the resurrection of the body. We are, therefore, to consider who is the author, and what is the order, and manner in which this restoration is effected?


Question 7. Whence, then, proceeds this depravity of human nature?

Answer. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

EXPOSITION

Here we are to take into consideration, in the first place, the fall and first sin of man, from which the depravity of human nature proceeds; and secondly, we are to consider the subject of sin in general, and especially original sin.


OF THE FALL, AND FIRST SIN OF MAN

In relation to this, we must enquire:

          I.      What was the sin of our first parents?
          II.      What were the causes of it?
          III.      What were the effects of it?
          IV.      Why God permitted it?


I. WHAT WAS THE SIN OF OUR FIRST PARENTS?

The fall, or first sin of man, was the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; or the eating of the forbidden fruit: “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:16, 17.) Man, by the instigation of the devil, violated this command of God; and from this, has proceeded our depravity and misery.
But is the plucking of an apple such a great and heinous offence? It is indeed a most aggravated offence; because there are many horrid sins connected with it, such as: 1. Pride, ambition, and an admiration of self. Man, not satisfied with his own dignity, and with the condition in which he was placed, desired to be equal with God. This, God charged upon him, when he said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” (Gen. 3:22.) 2. Unbelief; for he charged a lie upon God, who had said, “Thou shalt surely die.” The devil denied this, by saying, “Ye shall not surely die;” and accused God of envy, saying, “But God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5.) Adam believed the devil rather than God, and ate of the forbidden fruit; nor did he believe that any punishment would overtake him. But not to believe God, and to believe the devil, is to regard God as though he were no God—yea, it is to substitute the devil in the place of God. This was a sin that was horrible beyond measure. 3. Contempt and disobedience to God; which appears in the fact that he ate of the fruit contrary to the command of God. 4. Ingratitude for benefits received. He was created in the image of God, and for the enjoyment of eternal life; for which benefit he made this return, that he harkened to the devil more than to God. 5. Unnataralness, and the want of love to posterity. Miserable man that he was! He did not think that as he had received these gifts for himself and his posterity, so he would also, by sinning, lose them for himself and his posterity. 6. Apostacy, or a manifest falling away from God to the devil, whom he believed and obeyed, rather than God; and whom he set up in the place of God, separating himself from God. He did not ask of God those things which he was to receive; but, by the advice of the devil, he wished to obtain equality with God. The fall of man, therefore, was no trifling, nor single offence; but it was a sin manifold and horrible in its nature, on account of which God justly rejected him, with all of his posterity.
Hence, we may easily return an answer to the objection: No just judge inflicts a great punishment on account of a small offence. God is a just judge. Therefore, he ought not to have punished so severely, in our first parents, the eating of an apple. Ans. It was not, however, a small offence as we have already shown; but a most aggravated sin—comprehending pride, ingratitude, apostacy, &c. Hence, God justly inflicted a severe punishment, on account of this act of disobedience. And if it be still further objected, that God ought to have spared the posterity of Adam, in as much as he himself has declared, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father;” (Ez. 18:20.) we would reply, that this is true only where the son is not a partaker of the wickedness of the father; but we are all partakers of the sin of Adam.


II. WHAT WERE THE CAUSES OF THE FIRST SIN?

The first sin of man had its origin, not in God, but was brought about by the instigation of the devil, and the free will of man. The devil tempted man to fall away from God; and man, yielding to this temptation, willingly separated himself from God. And although God left man to himself in this temptation, yet He is not the cause of the fall, the sin, or the destruction of man; because, in this desertion, he neither designed, nor accomplished any of these things. He merely put man upon trial, to show that he is entirely unable to do, or to retain aught that is good, if he is not preserved and controlled by the Holy Spirit; and with this, his trial, God, in his just judgment, permitted the sin of man to concur.
The wisdom of man reasons and concludes differently, as is evident from the objection which we often hear: He who withdraws, in the time of temptation, that grace, without which it is not possible to prevent a fall, is the cause of the fall. But God withdrew, from man, his grace, in the trial through which he was called to pass, so that man could not but fall. Therefore, God was the cause of the fall of man. Ans. The major proposition is true only of him who withholds grace, when he is obligated not to withdraw it; who takes it from him who is desirous of it, and does not wilfully reject it; and who withholds it out of malice. But it is not true of him who is not bound to preserve the grace which he at first gave; and who does not withdraw it from him who desires it, but only from him who is willing for him so to do, and who, of his own account, rejects the grace that is proffered him; and who does not, therefore, withhold it because he envies the sinner righteousness and eternal life; but that he may make a trial of him to whom he has imparted his grace. He who thus forsakes any one, is not the cause of sin, even though it necessarily follows this desertion and withdrawal of grace. And in as much as God withheld his grace from man in the time of his temptation, not in the first, but in the last manner just described, he is not the cause of his sin and destruction; but man alone is guilty for wilfully rejecting the grace of God.
It is again objected, by men of carnal minds: He who wills to tempt any one, when he certainly knows that he will fall, if he be tempted, wills the sin of him who falls. God willed that man should be tempted by the devil, when he knew that he would certainly fall; for if he had not willed it, man could not have been tempted. Therefore, God is the cause of the fall. Ans. We deny the major, if it be understood in its naked and simple form; for he is not the cause of sin, who wills that he who may fall should be tempted for the purpose of being put upon trial, and for the manifestation of the weakness of the creature, which was the sense in which God tempted man. But the devil tempting man, with the design that he might sin, and separate himself from God; and man, of his own free will, yielding to this temptation, in opposition to the command of God; they are both the cause of sin, of which we shall speak more hereafter.


III. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF THE FIRST SIN?

The effects of the first sin are: 1. Exposure to death, and the privation and destruction of the image of God in our first parents. 2. Original sin in their posterity, which includes exposures to eternal death, and a depravity and aversion of our whole nature to God. 3. All actual sins, which proceed from original sin; for that which is the cause of a cause, is also the cause of the effect. The first sin is the cause of original sin, and this of actual sins. 4. All the various evils which are inflicted upon men as punishments for sin. The first sin, therefore, is the cause of all other sins, and of the punishments which are inflicted upon the children of men. But whether it is in accordance with the justice of God to punish posterity for the sins of their parents, will be hereafter explained, when we come to treat the subject of original sin.


IV. WHY DID GOD PERMIT SIN?

God had the power of preserving man from falling, if he had willed so to do; but he permitted him to fall, that is, he did not grant him the grace of resisting the temptation of the devil, for these two reasons: First, that he might furnish an exhibition of the weakness of the creature, when left to himself, and not preserved in original righteousness by his Creator; and secondly, that by this occasion, God might display his goodness, mercy, and grace, in saving, through Christ, all them that believe; and manifest his justice and power in punishing the wicked and reprobate for their sins, as it is said, “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all, and that every mouth might be stopped.” “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering, the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” (Rom. 11:32; 9:22.)


OF SIN IN GENERAL

The questions which are usually discussed, in relation to sin in general, are chiefly the following:

          I.      From what does it appear that sin is in the world, and also in us?
          II.      What is sin?
          III.      How many kinds of sin are there?
          IV.      What is the origin of sin, or the causes of it?
          V.      What are the effects of sin?


I. FROM WHAT DOES IT APPEAR THAT SIN IS IN THE WORLD, AND THAT IT IS ALSO IN US?

That sin is in the world, and also in us, may be proven by a variety of arguments. First, God declares that we are all guilty of sin, which declaration ought especially to be believed, in as much as God is the searcher of the heart, and an eye-witness to all our actions. (Gen. 6:5; 18:21. Jer. 17:9. Rom. 1:21; 3:10; 7:18. Ps. 14 & 53. Isaiah 59.) Secondly, the law of God recognizes sin, as we have already shown, in our exposition of the third and fifth questions of the Catechism, where these declarations of the law were referred to: “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” “The law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no transgression.” “The law entered that the offence might abound.” “I had not known sin, but by the law.” (Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 5:20; 7:7.) Thirdly, conscience convinces, and convicts us of sin; for God even apart from his written law, has preserved in us certain general principles of the natural law, sufficient to accuse and condemn us. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them.” “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these not having the law, are a law unto themselves; which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts, the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing, one another.” (Rom. 1:19; 2:13–14.) Fourthly, punishments and death to which all men are subject; yea, our cemeteries, grave-yards, and places of execution, are all so many sermons upon the evil of sin; because God being just never inflicts punishment upon any of his creatures unless it be for sin, according to what the Scriptures say: “Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” “The wages of sin is death.” “Cursed is every one that confirmeth not all the words of this law, to do them.” (Rom. 5:12; 6:23. Deut. 27:26.)
The benefit of this question is: 1. That we may have matter for constant humiliation and penitence. 2. That we may turn away from, and not be ensnared by the errors and corruptions of the Anabaptists and Libertines, who deny that they have any sin, in contradiction to the express declaration of the word of God, which affirms that, “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves.” (John 1:8.) And also in contradiction to all experience; for they themselves frequently do many things which God in his law declares to be sins, but which they affirm, although most falsely, to be the workings of the Holy Spirit. They also live in misery, being subject to disease and death, no less than others, which, if they were not sinners, would certainly be in opposition to the rule, and law, Where there is no sin, there death is not.
Does any one ask, whether we may not also obtain a knowledge of sin from the gospel, since the gospel, in exhorting us to seek for righteousness, not in ourselves, but out of ourselves in Christ, declares us sinners? We reply, that the gospel does indeed pronounce us sinners, but not in particular as the law does; neither does it avowedly teach what, and how manifold sin is, what it deserves, &c., which is the proper work of the law; but it does this in general by presupposing what the law affirms, just as an inferior science assumes certain principles which are taken from another that is higher, and superior to it. After the law has convinced us that we are sinners, the gospel takes this principle as established, and concludes that in as much as we are sinners in ourselves, we must, therefore, seek righteousness out of ourselves, in Christ, if we would be saved.
We may, therefore, conclude from these five considerations, that we are all sinners in the sight of God: From the testimony of God himself—from the law of God in particular—from the gospel in general—from the sense of conscience, and from the various punishments which God, being just, would not inflict upon us, if we had not sinned.


II. WHAT IS SIN?

Sin is the transgression of the law, or whatever is in opposition thereto, whether it be the want of righteousness (defectus), or an inclination, or action contrary to the divine law, and so offending God, and subjecting the creature to his eternal wrath, unless forgiveness be obtained for the sake of the Son of God, our Mediator. Its general nature is a want of righteousness, or an inclination, or action not in accordance with the law of God. To speak more properly, however, it may be said that the want of righteousness is this general nature of sin, whilst inclinations and actions are rather the matter of sin. The difference, or formal character of sin, is opposition to the law, which the Apostle John calls the transgression of the law. The property, which necessarily attaches itself to sin, is the sinner’s guiltiness, which is a desert of punishment, temporal and eternal, according to the order of divine justice. Sin has, therefore, what is usually termed a double form, or a two-fold nature, which may be said to consist in opposition to the law, and guilt; or it may be regarded as including two sides, the former of which is opposition to the law, and the latter desert of punishment. The accidental condition of sin is thus expressed, unless forgiveness be obtained, &c., for it is not according to the nature of sin, but by an accident, that those who believe in Christ are not punished with eternal death; because sin is not imputed to them, but graciously remitted for Christ’s sake.
This want of righteousness, which is comprehended in sin, includes, as it respects the mind, ignorance and doubt with regard to God and his will; and as it respects the heart, it includes a want of love to God and our neighbor, a want of delight in God and an ardent desire and purpose to obey all his commandments; together with an omission of such actions as the law of God requires from us. Disordered inclinations consist in a stubbornness of the heart, and an unwillingness to comply with the law of God, and the judgment of the mind, as it respects actions which are proper and improper; together with a depravity and propensity of nature to do those things which God forbids, which evil is called concupiscence.
That this want of righteousness and these disordered inclinations are sins, and condemned of God, may be proven: First, from the law of God, which expressly condemns all these things, when it declares, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law, to do them”; and “Thou shalt not covet.” (Deut. 27:26. Ex. 20:17.) The law also requires of men the opposite gifts and exercises, such as perfect knowledge and love to God and our neighbor, saying: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, &c.” “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, &c.” “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 6:5. John 17:3. Ex. 20:3.) Secondly, the same thing is proven by the many testimonies of Scripture which condemn and speak of these evils as sins, as when it is said: “Every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually.” “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” “I had not known lust, (that is, I had not known it to be sin,) except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Gen. 6:8. Jer. 17:9. Rom. 7:7.) See also John 3:5. 1 Cor. 2:14; 15:28. Thirdly, by the punishment and death of infants, who, although they neither do good, nor evil, and sin not after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, nevertheless have sin, on account of which death reigns in them. This is that ignorance of and aversion to God of which we have already spoken.
Obj. 1. That which we do not will, as well as that which we cannot avoid, is no sin. But we do not will this want of righteousness, neither can we prevent disordered inclinations from arising within us. Therefore, they are no sins. Ans. The major proposition is true in a civil court, but not in the judgment of God, before whom whatever is in opposition to his law, whether it can be avoided or not, is sin, and as such deserves punishment. The Scriptures clearly teach these two things, that the wisdom of the flesh cannot be subject to the law of God, and that all those who are not subject thereto, stand exposed to the curse of the law.
Obj. 2. Nature is good. Our inclinations and desires are natural. Therefore, they are good. Ans. Nature is, indeed, good, if we look upon it as it came from the hands of God, and before it became corrupted by sin; for all things which God made, he declared to be very good. (Gen. 1:31.) And even now, nature is good as to its substance, and as it was made of God; but not as to its qualities, and as it has become corrupted.
Obj. 3. Punishments are no sins. Disordered inclinations and a want of righteousness are punishments of the first sin of man. Therefore, they are no sins. Ans. The major proposition is true in a civil court, but not in the judgment of God, who often punishes sin with sin, as the Apostle Paul most clearly shows in Rom. 1:27; 1 Thess. 4:11. God has power also to deprive his creatures of his spirit, which power none of his creatures possess.


III. HOW MANY KINDS OF SIN ARE THERE?

There are five principal divisions of sin. The first is that of original and actual sin. This distinction is taught in Rom. 5:14; 7:20; 9:11.


Original Sin

Original sin is the guilt of the whole human race, on account of the fall of our first parents. It consists in a want of the knowledge of God and of his will in the mind, and of an inclination to obey God with the heart and will; in the place of which there is an inclination to those things which the law of God forbids, and an aversion to those things which it commands, resulting from the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and from them made to pass over into all their posterity, thus corrupting our whole nature, so that all, on account of this depravity, are subject to the eternal wrath of God; nor can we do anything pleasing to him, unless forgiveness be obtained for the sake of the Son of God, our Mediator, and the Holy Ghost renew our nature. Of this kind of sin it is said, “Death reigned even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” “In sin did my mother conceive me.” (Rom. 5:14. Ps. 51:7.) Original sin comprehends, therefore, these two things: exposure to eternal condemnation on account of the fall of our first parents, and a depravity of our entire nature since the fall. Paul includes both, when he says: “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all, for that all have sinned.” (Rom. 5:12.) The same thing is expressed, although somewhat more obscurely, in the common definition of original sin which is generally attributed to Anselm: “Original sin is a want of original righteousness which ought to be in us.” Original righteousness was not only a conformity of our nature with the law of God, but it also included divine acceptance and approbation. In the place of this conformity with the divine law, we now have depravity; and in the place of this approbation, we have the displeasure of God, which has followed in consequence of the fall. The same thing is true of that definition of Hugo: “Original sin is that which we inherit from our birth, through ignorance in the understanding, and concupiscence in the flesh.”
In opposition to this doctrine of original sin, the Pelagians formerly believed, and taught, as the Anabaptists do at this day, that there is no original sin—that posterity are not guilty on account of the fall of our first parents, and that sin is not derived from them by propagation: but that every one sins, and contracts guilt only by imitating the bad examples of others. Augustin refuted these Pelagians in many books. There are others, who admit that we are all guilty on account of the fall of our first parents, but deny that we are born with such depravity as that which deserves condemnation; for the want of righteousness, and the propensity to evil which we all have by nature, they contend, cannot be regarded as sins.
We must hold, and maintain, in opposition to all these heretics, these four propositions: 1. That the whole human race is subject to the eternal wrath of God on account of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve. 2. That we are also, even from the moment of our birth, destitute of righteousness, and have inclinations contrary to the law of God. 3. That this want of righteousness, and these inclinations with which we are born, are sins, and deserve the eternal wrath of God. 4. That these evils are derived and contracted, not only by imitation, but by the propagation of the corrupt nature which we have all, Christ excepted, derived from our first parents.
The first, second, and third propositions have been already sufficiently demonstrated; the fourth is proven:
First, by the testimony of Scripture. “We are all by nature the children of wrath even as others.” “By the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” “I was born in iniquity.” “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (Eph. 2:3. Rom. 5:6, 19. Job 14:4. Ps. 51:7. John 3:5.)
Secondly, infants die, and are to be baptized. Therefore they must have sin. But they cannot sin by imitation. It remains, therefore, that it must be born in them, according as it is said: “Thou wast called a transgressor from the womb.” “The heart of man is evil from his youth.” (Is. 48:8. Gen. 8:21.) Ambrose says: “Who is just before God, when an infant but a day old cannot be free from sin?”
Thirdly, everything that is born has the nature of that from which it has proceeded, as it respects the substance, and accidents of the species to which it belongs. But we are all born of corrupt and sinful parents; therefore we all, by our birth, inherit, or become, partakers of their corruption and guilt.
Fourthly, by the death of Christ, who is the second Adam, we obtain a twofold grace: we mean justification and regeneration. It follows, therefore, that we must all have derived from the first Adam the twofold evil of guilt and corruption of nature, otherwise there had been no necessity for a twofold grace and remedy.
Obj. 1. If original sin be transmitted from parents to their offspring, it must be either through the body, or through the soul. But it cannot be through the body, because it is destitute of reason. Nor can it be through the soul, because this is not produced by transmission, or derived from the soul of the parent, since it is a substance which is spiritual and indivisible; nor is it created corrupt, since God is not the author of sin. Therefore, original sin is certainly not transmitted by nature. Ans. We deny the minor proposition; because the soul, although created pure and holy by God, may nevertheless contract corruption from the body into which it is infused, even though it be destitute of reason. Nor is it absurd to say that the corrupt constitution of the body, with its propensity to evil, is an unfit instrument for the good actions of the soul, and that the soul, not established in righteousness, may become polluted, and so fall from its own integrity, so soon as it becomes united with the body. We also deny the consequence of the above syilogism, for the reason that the parts which are enumerated in the first proposition are not properly expressed. Original sin is neither transmitted through the body, nor through the soul, but through the transgression of our first parents; on account of which, God, even whilst he creates the soul, at the same time deprives it of original righteousness, and such other gifts as he conferred upon our first parents upon the condition that they should transmit them to, or lose them for, their posterity, according as they themselves should retain or lose them. Nor is God, by this act, unjust, or the cause of sin; for this want of righteousness in respect to God, who inflicts it on account of the disobedience of our first parents, is no sin, but a most just punishment; although, in respect to our first parents, who drew it upon themselves and their posterity, it is a sin. The fallacy of the above argument will now be apparent if we state more fully the major proposition: original sin is transmitted to posterity either through the body, or through the soul, or through the transgression of our first parents, and the desert of this want of righteousness. For just as original sin came to exist in our first parents on account of their transgression, so it is transmitted to posterity on account of the same. This is not that small chink, or unimportant subject, about which the schoolmen disputed so warmly, whether the soul be transmitted from our parents by generation, and whether it becomes polluted by its connection, with the body; but it is that wide gate through which original sin flows violently and infects our nature, as Paul testifies when he says: “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners. (Rom. 5:19.)
To this it is objected: The want of original righteousness is sin. God has inflicted this, by creating in us a soul destitute of those gifts which he would have conferred upon Adam had he not sinned. Therefore he is the author of sin. Ans. There is in the minor proposition a fallacy of accident. This want of righteousness is sin in respect to Adam and us, since by his, and our fault we have drawn it upon ourselves, and now eagerly receive it. That the creature should be destitute of righteousness and of conformity to God, is repugnant to the law, and is sin. But in respect to God, it is a most just punishment of disobedience; which punishment is in harmony with the nature and law of God.
It is further objected: God ought not to punish the transgression of Adam with such a punishment as that which he knew would result in the destruction of the whole nature of man. Ans. God’s justice must be satisfied, even if the whole world should perish. It, moreover, behooved him to avenge in this manner the obstinacy of man, from regard to his extreme justice and truth. An offence committed against the highest good, deserves the most extreme punishment, which consists in the eternal destruction of the creature; for God has said “Thou shalt surely die.” It is, therefore, of his mercy that he should rescue any from this general ruin, and save them through Christ.
Obj. 2. It is natural that we should desire objects; therefore these desires are no sins. Ans. Such desires as are directed upon proper objects, and which God has excited and ordained, are no sins. But such as are inordinate, and contrary to the law, are sins. For to desire is not of itself sinful, inasmuch as it of itself is good, because it is natural; but to desire contrary to the law is sin.
Obj. 3. Original sin is removed, as far as it respects the samts; therefore they cannot transmit it to their offspring. Ans. The godly are indeed delivered from original sin as it respects the guilt thereof, which is remitted unto them through Christ; but in as far as it respects its formal character and essence,—that is, as an evil opposing itself to the law of God,—it remains. And although those to whom sin is remitted are at the same time regenerated by the Holy Ghost, yet this renewal of their nature is not perfect in this life; therefore they transmit the corrupt nature which they themselves have to their posterity.
To this it is objected: That which the parents do not possess, they cannot transmit to their posterity. The guilt of original sin is taken away from all those parents who have been regenerated. Therefore, at least, guilt cannot be transmitted. Ans. The major is to be distinguished. Parents do not transmit to their children that which they have not by nature; for they are freed from the guilt of sin, not by nature, but by the grace of Christ. It is for this reason that they do not transmit to their posterity, by nature, the righteousness which is imputed unto them by grace; but they transmit the corruption and condemnation to which they are by nature subject. And the reason why they transmit their guilt, and not their righteousness, is this: their children are born, not according to grace, but according to nature. Nor are we to conceive of grace and justification as restricted, and transmitted by carnal propagation, but by the most free election of God. Jacob and Esau are examples of this, &c. Augustin illustrates this by two forcible comparisons. The one is that of the grains of wheat, which, although they are sown after having been separated from their stalk, chaff, beard, and ear, by threshing, still spring out of the earth again, with all these. This comes to pass because the threshing and cleaning are not natural to the grain, but are the work of human industry. The other is that of a circumcised father, who, although he himself has no foreskin, yet begets a son with one; and this also happens because circumcision was not upon the father by nature, but by the covenant.
Obj. 4. If the root or tree be holy, the branches are also holy; therefore the children of those that are holy are also holy, and free from original sin. (Rom. 11:16.) Ans. There is here an incorrectness in the use of terms that are ambiguous in their signification; for holiness, as it is here used, does not signify freedom from sin, or purity of heart, but that dignity and privilege peculiar to the posterity of Abraham; because God, on account of the covenant which he made with Abraham, promised that he would at all times dispose some of his seed to do his will, and would grant unto them true inward holiness; and also because they had obtained a right and title to his church.
Obj. 5. But the children of believers are holy, according to the declaration of St. Paul, 1 Cor. 7:14. Therefore they have no original sin. Ans. This is an incorrect conclusion, drawn from a perversion of the figure of speech that is here employed: for when it is said they are holy, it does not mean that all the children of the faithful are regenerated, or that they obtain holiness by carnal propagation; for it is said, in Rom. 9:11, 13, of Jacob and Esau, that the one was loved and the other was hated before they were born, or had done good or evil; but it means that the children of the godly are holy as it respects the external fellowship of the church—that they are considered citizens and members thereof, and as being included in the number of those who are called, and sanctified, unless when they come to years of maturity they bear testimony against themselves by their impiety and unbelief, and so declare that they have forfeited all their rights and privileges.
Obj. 6. If sin be transmitted to posterity by natural generation, then those who will live at the latest period of the history of the human race will have to bear the sins of all the previous generations, whilst those who lived before them will have borne the sins of only a portion of their ancestry; consequently those who will live last upon the earth will be the most miserable, which is absurd and inconsistent with the justice of God. Ans. It would not be absurd, even if God were to desert, and punish more heavily, the last of our race: for the greater the number of sins that are committed, and treasured up by the human race, the more fiercely does his anger burn, and the more aggravated are the punishments which he inflicts upon men, according to what is written: “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” “That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias,” &c. (Gen. 15:16. Matt. 22:35.) We may also reply, that although God in his justice permits original sin, or the corruption and guilt of our nature, to pass upon all the posterity of Adam, yet he, at the same time, of his mercy, sets bounds to this sin, that posterity may not always suffer punishment for the actual transgression of their ancestors, nor imitate them; and that the children of wicked parents may not be evil, or worse and more miserable than their parents.
Obj. 7. But it is said, Ez. 18:20, that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father; therefore it is unjust that posterity should endure punishment for the sin of Adam. Ans. The son shall not, indeed, bear the iniquity of the father, nor make satisfaction for his transgression, if he does not approve of it, nor imitate it, but condemns and avoids it. But we justly suffer on account of the sin of Adam: 1. Because all of us approve of, and follow his transgression. 2. Because the offence of Adam is also ours; for we were all in Adam when he sinned, as the Apostle testifies: “We have all sinned in him.” (Rom. 5:12.) 3. Because the entire nature of Adam became guilty; and as we have proceeded from his very substance,—being, as it were, a part of him,—we must also necessarily be guilty ourselves. 4. Because Adam had received the gifts of God upon the condition that he would also impart them unto us, if he retained them; or lose them for us also, if he lost them. Hence it is, that when Adam lost these gifts, he did not merely lose them for himself, but also for all his posterity.
Obj. 8. All sin implies an exercise of the will. But infants are not capable of such an exercise of the will as is necessary, in order to the commission of sin. Therefore they cannot be said to commit sin. Ans. The whole argument is conceded, as far as it has respect to actual sin, but not as it relates to original sin, which consists in the depravity of our nature. Again, we deny what is affirmed in the minor proposition, because infants are not destitute of the power of willing; for although they may not be able to will sin as something that is actually done, yet they do will in inclination.
Obj. 9. The corruption and evils of our nature rather deserve pity than censure and punishment. Aristotle himself declares: “That no man censures the defects which attach themselves to our nature.” Original sin is a defect and corruption of our nature. Therefore it does not deserve punishment. Ans. The major proposition is true of such evils as are brought upon us, not by our negligence or wickedness, as if any one should be born blind, or become so by disease, or by a stroke from another. Such an one would indeed deserve to be pitied, rather than upbraided. But evils which we have all wickedly brought upon ourselves, as is the case with original sin, are justly deserving of censure, as Aristotle also testifies, when he adds: “But every one finds fault with such an one as becomes blind by excess of wine, or any other wicked action.” So much concerning original sin.


Of Actual Sin, and the remaining distinctions of Sin, with its causes and effects

Actual sin includes all those actions which are opposed to the law of God, whether they be such as have respect to the understanding, will, and heart, or to the external deportment of our lives, as to think, to will, to follow, and to do that which is evil; and an omission of those things which the law of God commands, as to be ignorant of, not to will, to shun and omit that which is good. The division of sin into sins of commission and omission is properly in place here.
The second division of sin. This distinction has respect to sin as reigning, and not reigning. By reigning sin we understand that form of sin to which the sinner makes no resistance through the grace of the Holy Spirit. He is therefore exposed to everlasting death, unless he repent and obtain forgiveness through Christ. Or it includes every sin which is not deplored, and to which the grace of the Holy Spirit makes no resistance, and on account of which he in whom it reigns is exposed to everlasting punishment, not only according to the order of divine justice, but also according to the nature of the thing itself. The following passages of Scripture refer to this distinction of sin: “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies.” “He that committeth sin,” that is, he who sins habitually, willfully, and with delight, “is of the devil.” (Rom. 6:12. 1 John 3:8.) It is called reigning sin, because it gratifies, and enslaves those who are the subjects of it, and also because it holds dominion over the man in whom it reigns, and exposes him to eternal condemnation. All the sins of men in their unregenerate state are of this character. There are also some sins of this description in those who have been regenerated, such as errors in the ground-work of faith, and such offences as are against the conscience, which, unless they are repented of, are inconsistent with an assurance of the forgiveness of sins, and true christian comfort. That those who are regenerate may be guilty of sin under this form, the lamentable fall of such holy men as Aaron and David abundantly testifies. Those objections which are commonly brought against what is here advanced, may be found in Ursini vol. 1, page 207.
Sin which does not thus reign, is that which the sinner resists by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It does not, therefore, expose him to eternal death, because he has repented and found favor through Christ. Such sins are disordered inclinations and unholy desires, a want of righteousness, and many sins of ignorance, of omission, and of infirmity, which remain in the godly as long as they continue in this life; but which they, nevertheless, acknowledge, deplore, hate, resist, and earnestly pray may be forgiven them for the sake of Christ, the Mediator, saying, forgive us our debts. Hence the godly retain their faith and consolation, notwithstanding they are not free from these sins. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk after the Spirit.” “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” (1 John 1:8. Rom. 7:18; 8:1. Ps. 19:13.)
The common distinction of sin into mortal and venial may be referred to this division. For although every sin in its own nature is mortal, by which we mean, that it deserves eternal death, yet reigning sin may be properly so called, inasmuch as he who perseveres in it will at length be overtaken by destruction. But it becomes venial sin, that is, it does not call for eternal death, when it does not reign in the regenerate who resist it by the grace of God; and this takes place, not because it merits pardon in itself, or does not deserve punishment, but because it is freely forgiven those that believe on account of the satisfaction of Christ, and is not imputed to them unto condemnation, as it is said: “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1.) When thus understood, the distinction of mortal and venial sin may be retained; but not when it is understood in the sense in which the Romish priests use it, as if that were mortal sin which deserves eternal death on account of its greatness, and that venial which does not deserve eternal death on account of its smallness, but merely some temporal punishment. Hence we would prefer, in the place of mortal and venial sin, the distinction which we have made of sin into reigning, and not reigning, and that for the following reasons: 1. Because the terms mortal and venial are ambiguous and obscure. All sins are mortal in their own nature. The apostle John also calls the sin against the Holy Ghost mortal, or unto death. 2. Because the Scriptures do not use these terms, especially venial sin. 3. Because of the errors of the Papists, who call those sins venial which are small and do not deserve eternal death, whilst the Scriptures declare: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” “Whosoever shall offend in one point, is guilty of all.” “The wages of sin is death.” “Whoso shall break one of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of God.” (Deut. 27:26. James 2:10. Rom. 6:23. Matt. 5:19.) In a word, every sin in its own nature is mortal, and deserves eternal death. But it becomes venial, that is, it does not work eternal death in the regenerate, because their sins have been freely pardoned for the sake of Christ.
The third division of sin. There is sin which is against the conscience, and sin which is not against the conscience. Sin against the conscience is, when any one knowing the will of God does, with design and purpose, that which is contrary thereto; or it is that sin which is committed by those who sin knowingly and willingly, as did David, when he committed the sin of adultery and murder. Sin not against the conscience is, when any one does any thing contrary to the law of God, ignorantly or unwillingly; or it is that which is indeed known to be sin, and deplored by the sinner, but which he cannot perfectly avoid in this life, as original sin, and many sins of ignorance, of omission, and infirmity. For we omit many things that are good, and do many that are evil, being suddenly overcome by infirmity, as Peter was, when by the force of temptation he denied Christ, knowingly, indeed, but not willingly. Hence he wept so bitterly, and did not lose his faith entirely, according to the promise of Christ: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” (Luke 22:32.) This was not reigning sin, much less the sin against the Holy Ghost; because Peter loved Christ no less when he denied him than when he wept over his sin, although his love did not at the time shew itself an account of his fear, excited by the dangerous circumstances in which he was placed. Such was also the sin which Paul acknowledged and lamented, when he said: “The good, that I would, I do not; but the evil, which I would not, that I do.” (Rom. 7:19.) His blasphemy and persecution of the church were likewise sins of ignorance, for says he: “I did it ignorantly in unbelief, and therefore obtained mercy.” (1 Tim. 1:13.)
The fourth division of sin. There is sin which is unpardonable—sin against the Holy Ghost, and unto death: and there is also pardonable sin—sin which is not against the Holy Ghost, nor unto death. The Scriptures speak of this distinction of sin in Matt. 12:31. Mark 3:29. 1 John 5:16. By unpardonable sin, or the sin against the Holy Ghost, and unto death, is meant a denial of, and a willful opposition to, the acknowledged truth of God, in connection with his will and works, concerning which the mind has been fully enlightened and convinced by the testimony of the Holy Ghost; all of which proceeds, not from fear or infirmity, but from a determined hatred to the truth, and from a heart filled with bitter malice. This sin God punishes with perpetual blindness, so that those who are guilty of it never repent, and consequently obtain no pardon. It is called unpardonable, not because its greatness exceeds the value of Christ’s merit, but because he who commits it is punished with total blindness, and does not receive the gift of repentance. It is a sin of a peculiarly aggravated nature, and is, therefore, followed by a punishment in accordance with its character, which punishment is final blindness and impenitency. And where there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness obtained. “Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” (Matt. 12:32. Mark 3:29.)
It is called the sin against the Holy Ghost, not that any one may commit an offence against the Holy Ghost which is not at the same time an offence against the Father and the Son, but by a significant form of speech, inasmuch as it is in an especial manner committed against the Holy Ghost, that is, against his peculiar and immediate office and work, which consists in the enlightening of the mind.
It is called by the Apostle John a sin unto death, not because it alone is a mortal sin, and deserves death, but, as has just been remarked, because it especially merits death, and because those who are guilty of it will most assuredly die, seeing that they never repent, or obtain forgiveness. The Apostle John, therefore, does not desire that we should pray for it; because it is in vain that we ask God to grant the pardon of it. The Scriptures also speak of this sin in other places, as in Heb. 6:4–8; 10:26–29. Tit. 3:10, 11.


Certain Rules to be observed in relation to the Sin against the Holy Ghost

1. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not found in every wicked person; but only in those who have been enlightened by the Holy Ghost, and who have been fully convinced of the truth, as Saul, Judas, &c.
2. Every sin which is against the Holy Ghost is reigning sin, and a sin against conscience, but not the reverse. For it may occur that some one may, either ignorantly, or even knowingly and willingly, hold certain errors, or violate some of the commandments of God, from weakness, or torture, or from fear of danger, and yet not purposely and maliciously impugn the truth, or totally fall from holiness, and continue in sensuality and a contempt of all that is sacred; but he may return unto God and repent of his sin. These forms of sin differ, therefore, as genus and species.
3. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not committed by the elect, or those who are truly converted. They can never perish; for Christ safely preserves and saves them. “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hands. (John 10:28. Also, 2 Tim. 2:19. 1 Pet. 1:5. 1 John 5:15.) Hence those who sin against the Holy Ghost were never truly converted and called. They went out from us, because they were not of us.
4. No one should decide hastily or rashly concerning the sin against the Holy Ghost; yea, judgment should in no case be passed upon any one, unless it be a posteriori, for the reason that we do not know what is in the heart of man. Many things which are controverted in relation to this subject, may be found in Ursini vol. 1, page 213, &c.
Sin that is pardonable, or not against the Holy Ghost, is any sin of which men may repent, and obtain forgiveness.
The fifth division of sin. There is that which is sin per se, and that which becomes sin by accident. Those things which are sins of themselves, and in their own nature, are those inclinations, desires and actions which are contrary to, and forbidden by, the law of God. Yet they are not sins, in as far as they are mere activities, or in respect to God, who moves all things (for motions, in as far as they are such, are good in themselves, and from God, in whom we live, move, and have our being); but in respect to us they are sins, in as far as they are committed by us contrary to the law of God; in which sense they are all in, and according to their own nature sins.
Those things which are sins by accident, are the actions of hypocrites, and such as have not been regenerated, which, although they have been prescribed and commanded by God, are nevertheless displeasing to him, inasmuch as they do not proceed from faith, and a desire to glorify God. The same thing may be said of indifferent actions, which are performed and attended with shame. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” “Unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure.” “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Rom. 14:23. Tit. 1:15. Heb. 11:6.)
All the virtues, therefore, of the unregenerate, such as the chastity of Scipio, the bravery of Julius Cæsar, the fidelity of Romulus, the justice of Aristides, &c., although they are in themselves good, and commanded by God, yet they are nevertheless sins by accident, and hateful to God, both because the persons by whom they are done do not please him, not being in a state of reconciliation, and also because they are not done in the manner, nor with the design which God requires; that is, they do not proceed from faith, and are not done for the glory of God. These conditions are so necessary in every good work, that without them our best actions are sinful; as the prayers, the alms, the sacrifices. &c., of hypocrites and the wicked are sins: because they do not spring from faith, and are not done out of regard to the glory of God. “Hypocrites give their alms in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” “He that killeth an ox, is as if he slew a man,” &c. (Matt. 6:2. Is. 66:3.)
There is, therefore, a great difference between the virtues of the regenerate and the unregenerate. For, 1. The good works of the regenerate proceed from faith, and are pleasing to God; but it is different with the works of the unregenerate. 2. The regenerate do all things to the glory of God; the unregenerate and hypocrites act with reference to their own glory. 3. The actions of the regenerate are connected with a sincere desire to obey God; the unregenerate and hypocrites exhibit only an outward profession, without inward obedience. Their virtues are, therefore, not such in reality: they are nothing more than shadows, and faint resemblances of that which is truly good. 4. The imperfection of the works of the regenerate is covered by the satisfaction of Christ, and the corruption which is still inherent in them is not imputed unto them, nor is it objected to them that they defile the gifts of God by their sins; but the virtues of the unregenerate which are good in themselves, are and remain sins by accident, and are defiled by many other crimes. 5. The good works of the unregenerate are honored merely with temporal rewards, and that not because they are pleasing to God, but that he may thus invite and encourage them, and others to such honesty and external deportment as is necessary for the well-being of the human race; but God accepts the works of the righteous for the sake of Christ, and graciously crowns them with temporal and eternal rewards, as it is said: “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8.) Finally, the unregenerate, by performing works commanded by God, obtain a mitigation of punishment, that they may not with other wicked persons suffer more grievously in this life; but the righteous do these things, not only that their sufferings may be alleviated, but also that they may be entirely freed therefrom. Obj. Those things which are sins ought not to be done. The works of the unregenerate, although they are good in the estimation of men and the civil law, are nevertheless sins. Therefore they ought not to be done. Ans. There is here a fallacy of accident. The major proposition is true of those things which are sins in themselves; the minor of those which are sins by accident. Those things now which are sins in themselves ought to be strictly avoided; but those which are sins by accident ought not to be omitted, but amended and performed in the manner and for the end for which God has commanded.
But this external discipline and conformity to the law is necessary even on the part of those who have not been regenerated. 1. On account of the command of God. 2. That they may escape the punishment which follows the violation of outward propriety. 3. That the peace and well-being of society at large may be preserved. Lastly, that the way to repentance may not be shut up by perseverance in a course of open transgression.
There is likewise a great difference between the sins of the regenerate and the unregenerate. For, as we have already shown, especially under the second division of this subject, there are many remains of sin still found in those who have been renewed by the Holy Spirit; such as original sin, and many actual sins of ignorance, of omission, and infirmity, which they nevertheless acknowledge, lament, and strive against, so that they do not lose a good conscience, nor a sense of the divine forgiveness. There are also some who fall into errors which oppose the very foundation of their faith, or who sin against conscience, on account of which they lose the consciousness of their acceptance with God, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who, were they to continue therein to the end of their lives, would be condemned, and rejected of God; but they do not perish, for the reason that they are led to see the error of their ways, and thus brought to repentance.
There is, however, a threefold distinction between the righteous and the wicked when they sin. 1. God has an eternal purpose to save all those whom he calls into his service. 2. When the righteous sin they are brought to repentance at some time or other before the end of life. 3. When those who have been regenerated fall into sin the seed of their regeneration always remains, which is sometimes so strong and vigorous as to resist sin to such an extent that they neither fall into errors that subvert the foundation of their hope, nor into reigning sin; at other times it is less vigorous and active, so that it may for a time be suppressed by temptations, yet it will at length authenticate its divine character, so that none of those who have been truly converted to God will finally fall away and perish; as we may see in the case of David, of Peter, &c. But when the unregenerate sin the case is wholly different, for none of these things have respect to them.


IV. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF SIN?

That God is not the cause of sin, is proven, 1. From the testimony of Scripture: “God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good.” “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness.” (Gen. 1:31. Ps. 5:4.) 2. God himself is supremely and perfectly good and holy, and cannot therefore be the author of evil. 3. God forbids all manner of sin in his law. 4. God punished most severely all sin, which he could not consistently do if it had its origin in him. 5. God would not destroy his own image in man. From these considerations it is evident that the origin of sin is not to be attributed to God.
But the proper, and in itself efficient cause of sin, is the will of devils and men, by which they freely fell from God, and deprived themselves of his image. “Through envy the devil brought death into the world.’ (Wisd. 2:24.) But death is the punishment of sin. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father of it.” “He that committeth sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” “By one man sin entered into the world.” (John 8:44. 1 John 3:8. Rom. 5:12.).
The cause, therefore, of the first sin, or of the fall of our first parents in Paradise, was the devil tempting and urging man to sin: and the will of man freely separating itself from God, and falling in with the suggestions of the tempter. This fall of Adam is the efficient cause of original sin both in himself and in his posterity. “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” The preceding cause of all actual sins in posterity, is original sin. “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin.” (Rom. 7:17. James 1:14.) Those objects which entice men to sin may be regarded as accidental or casual motives. “Sin, taking occasion by the commandments, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” (Rom. 7:8.) The devil and wicked men are the cause of sin in and of themselves. Preceding actual sins are the causes of those which follow, for the Scriptures teach that God punishes sin with sin, and that sins which follow are the punishments of those that precede: “God gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts: working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” “Therefore God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” (Rom. 1:24, 27. 2 Thes. 2:11.) But as man in his wisdom (so great is his insolence) is accustomed to frame various arguments, for the purpose of throwing the cause of sin from himself upon God, and so free himself from blame, we must speak more fully of the causes of sin, and refute the vain pretences by which men are wont to justify themselves.
There are some who pretend to find the origin of sin in their destiny, as revealed by the stars, saying. We have sinned because we were born under an unlucky planet. Others, when rebuked for their sins, reply, Not we, but the devil is the cause of the wicked deeds we have committed. Others, throwing aside all excuses, cast the blame directly upon God, saying, God willed it thus; for if he had not willed it, I had not sinned. Others, again, say, in extenuation of their sins, God was able to prevent me from doing that which was wrong, and as he did not restrain me, therefore, he himself is the author of my sin.
With these, and similar pretences, men have often, (for it is no new thing,) sharpened their Hasphemous tongues against God. Our first parents, when they had sinned, and God charged their crime upon them, endeavored to throw the blame of their wicked deed from themselves upon others, nor did they honestly confess the truth. Adam threw it, not so much upon his wife, as upon God himself. “The woman, said he, whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat;” as if he would say, I had not sinned, except thou hadst joined her to me. (Gen. 3:12.) The woman charged the evil deed wholly to the devil, saying, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” (Gen. 3:13.)
These are the false, impious, and detestable conclusions of wicked men in regard to the origin of sin, by which great reproach is cast upon the majesty, truth, and justice of God. Nor is the nature of man the cause of sin, because God created it good, according as it is said: “God saw all things which he had made, and behold it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31.) Sin is an adventitious, or accidental quality, which attaches itself to man in consequence of the fall, and not a substantial property; although it became natural after the fall, and is called so correctly by Augustin, because we are now all born in sin, and are the children of wrath, even as others. But these things must be more largely considered.
1. Those who would make destiny an excuse for their sins, define destin to mean an order, or chain linked together through eternity, and a certain perpetual necessity of purposes, and works, according to the counsel on God, or the evil stars themselves. Now if you ask them, Who made these stars? they reply, God. Therefore, these men charge their sins upon God. But such a destiny as this, all the wiser (not to speak of christian) philosophers unite in rejecting.
Augustin, in opposing two epistles of the Pelagians to Boniface, says, “Those who affirm destiny to be the cause of sin, contend that not only actions and events, but also our wills themselves, depend upon the position of the stars at the time of every one’s conception, or birth, which they call constellations. But the grace of God does not only rise above all the stars and all the heavens, but also above all the angels.”
We may conclude our remarks in reference to this vain pretence, by adducing the word of the Lord, as uttered by the Prophet Jeremiah, ch. 10, ver. 2: “Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of the heavens, for the heathen are dismayed at them.” That the heathen astrologers should, therefore, call the planet Saturn unmerciful, rigid and cruel; and Venus benignant, favorable, and mild, is the vanity of vanities; for the stars have no power of doing good or evil; and hence the crimes of wicked men ought never to be attributed to them.
2. That the devil is not the sole author of sin, who, when we are guilty of transgression, should alone bear the blame, and we be free from censure, is evident from this one consideration, that he can only suggest and entice men to do that which is evil; but cannot compel them to commit it. God so restrains the devil, by his power, that he cannot do what he desires; but only what, and as much as, God permits. Yea, he has not so much as control over filthy swine, much less over the most noble souls of men. He has, indeed, subtlety and great power of persuasion; but God is more powerful than satan, and never ceases to suggest good thoughts to man, nor does he permit the devil to go farther than is for our good. This we may see in the case of Job, that most holy man, and also in Paul, and in those words of his: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” (1 Cor. 10:13.) They reason falsely, therefore, who attempt to throw the blame of their sins upon the shoulders of Satan.
3. It remains to be demonstrated that God is not the author of sin. There are some who argue: God willed it thus, and if he had not willed it, we had not sinned. Who can resist his power? Again: When God had the power to prevent us from sinning, and did not, he is the author of our sins. These are the cavils, the foul slanders, and sophisms of the wicked. God might, indeed, by his absolute power, prevent evil; but he will not wrong and despoil his own creature, man, whom he created righteous and holy. He acts with man in a manner that corresponds with the nature with which he has endowed him. Hence he proposes laws to which he attaches rewards and punishments—he commands us to embrace the good and shun the evil; and that we may do this, he both grants his grace, without which we can do nothing, and also encourages our diligence and labor. But if a man come short of doing what he ought, his sin and negligence are chargeable upon himself, and not upon God, although God had the power to prevent it, and yet did not. Nor is it proper that God should prohibit, in any direct manner, the evil deeds of the wicked, lest by so doing, he should disturb the order which he has established, and so destroy his own work. Hence, God is not the author of sin, or of evil.
We shall now give the testimony of the Scriptures in reference to this subject—refute certain objections, and investigate the origin of sin.
The Scriptures, in many places, teach that God is not the author of sin. We can merely refer to a few passages bearing upon this point. “God made not death, nor hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living.” “I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight.” “God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions.” “Our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God.” “By one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” “I know that in me dwelleth no good thing.” (Wisd. 1:13. Ez. 18:23. Ps. 5:4, 5. Ecc. 7:29. Rom. 3:5; 5:12; 7:18.)
From these express declarations of Scripture, we may safely conclude, that God is not the author of sin; but that its origin must be traced to man, the devil being the instigator; yet in such a manner, that we may say, the devil who became corrupt from the beginning, deprived man of his original holiness, which, however, he could not have done, had not man of his own free will consented to the evil. Here it is necessary for us to revert to the fall of our father Adam, whom God created in his own image by which we mean that he created him good, perfect, holy, just, and immortal, and furnished him with the most excellent gifts, so that nothing was wanting to his full and perfect enjoyment. His understanding was fully enlightened; his will was most free and holy; he had the power of doing good, or evil; and had the law which directed him what to do, and what to avoid; for the Lord said, “Thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen. 2:17.) God demanded simple obedience and faith, that Adam might depend wholly upon him, and that not constrainedly, as if he were compelled thereto by some necessity; but freely and cheerfully. “God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his counsel, saying, If thou wilt, thou shalt keep the commandment, and perform acceptable faithfulness.” (Eccl. 15:14.) When the serpent, therefore, tempted man, and persuaded him to taste of the forbidden tree, he was not ignorant that the counsel and device of the serpent was contrary to the command of God; for the Lord had said, “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” (Gen. 3:3.) It was, therefore, in the hand of his counsel to eat, or not to eat. God declared his law, expressly enjoining upon him not to eat, and endeavored to restrain him from eating by foretelling the penalty—“Lest ye die.” Nor did Satan use any compulsive measures, (which it was not possible for him to do,) but probably advised, and urged man on, until he at length overcame him by his entreaties; for when the will of the woman inclined to the word of the devil, her mind receded from the word of God, and in rejecting his law, she committed an evil deed. Afterwards she inclined her husband, and drew him along with her, who, by consenting, became a partaker of her sin. The Scriptures teach this, where it is said, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” (Gen. 3:6.)
Here we have the beginning of evil, the devil; and that which moved the will of man, viz: the false praise and commendation of the devil, and therefore, a manifest lie; and the pleasant and attractive appearance of the tree. Hence, Adam and Eve did, of their own choice and free will, what they did, being deceived by the hope of obtaining greater and more excellent wisdom, which the seducer had falsely and deceptiously promised.
We conclude, therefore, that sin had its origin, not in God, who forbids what is evil, but in the devil, and the free choice of man, which was corrupted through the falsehood of Satan. Hence, the devil, and the perverted will of man following him, are to be regarded as the true cause of sin. This evil now flows over from our first parents, into all their posterity, so that sin does not take its rise from any other source, than from ourselves, from our perverted judgment and depraved will, together with the suggestion of the devil. For an evil root, or principle, such as the fall of our first parents, brings forth of itself, a corrupt and rotten branch, corresponding with its own nature, which satan now also by his fraud and lies, cultivates just as plants; but it is all in vain that he should so labor, if we do not offer ourselves to him to be moulded according to his will. That is called original sin which flows from the original fountain, viz: from our first parents, into all their posterity, by propagation, or generation. We bring this sin with us in our nature out of our mother’s womb, when we are born into the world. “I was born in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Ps. 51:7.) And Christ thus speaks of the devil: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44.)
Obj. 1. Satan was created by God; therefore, his malice must also be from him. Ans. We deny the antecedent. The devil was made satan or an adversary, not by God, for he created him a good angel; but by voluntary apostacy. Hence, it is said that he abode not in the truth, from which we may infer that he must have stood in the truth, prior to his fall.
Obj. 2. God created Adam; and, therefore, the sin of Adam. Ans. There is here a fallacy of accident, in attributing to God the creation of an accidental and accessory evil, in the place of that which is good. Sin is not natural; but it is a corruption of the nature of man, which God created good; for God made man good; but man, by the instigation of the devil, deprived himself of the gifts which he had received from God, and corrupted himself.
Obj. 3. But the will and power which Adam possessed, was from God. Therefore, sin, which is committed by this will, must also be from God. Ans. There is here, again, a fallacy of accident, for the will of Adam was not the cause of sin, in as far as it was from God; but in as far as it of its own accord inclined to the word of the devil. God did not give to man the will and power of doing evil, for he strictly forbade and denounced it in his law. But Adam abused and perverted the will and power which he had received from God, in as much as he did not devote them to the purposes for which they were given. The prodigal son received money from his father, not that he should waste it in riotous living, but that he might have as much as would be sufficient for his necessity. Wherefore, when he wickedly squandered that which he had received from his father, and was reduced to starvation, it was not the fault of the father from whom he had received it, but it resulted from the abuse of what he had received.
Obj. 4. God made man fallible; nor did he establish him in the goodness in which he created him. Therefore, it was according to his will that man sinned. Ans. The Scriptures rebuke and put to silence this frowardness of men wickedly curious, saying, “Who art thou that repliest against God.” “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker.” (Rom. 9:20. Is. 45:9.) Unless man had been created fallible, there would have been no praise attaching itself to his work, or virtue; for he would have been good from necessity. And what if it had been proper that man should have been thus created? The very nature of God required it to be thus. God does not give his glory to any creature. Adam was a man, and not God. And as God is good, so is he also just. He does good to men, but he wills that they be obedient and grateful to him. He bestowed innumerable benefits upon man; therefore, it behooved him to be thankful, obedient, and subject to God, who has declared, in his law, what would be pleasing to him, and what would not, saying, “Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat, lest thou die.” (Gen. 2:17.) As if he would say, thou shalt have respect to me, adhere to me, serve and obey me; thou shalt not ask and seek rules of good and evil from any one else than from me; thou shalt thus show thyself obedient to me.
To this, it is objected: God foreknew the fall of man, which he might have prevented, if he had not willed it; but he did not prevent it. Therefore, Adam sinned by the will and fault of God. Ans. An answer has already been returned to this objection; yet we may remark, in addition to what we have said, that it does not necessarily follow from the foreknowledge of God, that man was compelled to fall. A certain wise father did, from some particular signs, foresee that his degenerate son, at some subsequent time, would be thrust through with a sword; nor does his fore knowledge deceive him; for he is slain for fornication. But no one believes that he is thus slain because the father foresaw that he would come to a miserable end; but because he is a fornicator. Ambrose thus speaks of the murder of Cain: “God certainly foreknew to what his rage would lead him when excited and exasperated; yet he was not on this account urged to the deed which he perpetrated by the exercise of his own will, as by a necessity, to sin; because, in his foreknowledge, God cannot be deceived.” And Augustin says: “God is a just revenger of those things of which he is not the wicked perpetrator.”


V. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF SIN?

Having defined and considered what sin is, and whence it proceeds, we are now prepared to investigate the effects which necessarily follow the transgression of the divine law; a knowledge of which is of great importance to a proper understanding of the magnitude of the evil of sin. These effects are temporal and eternal punishments; and because God often punishes sins with sins, subsequent transgressions may be said to be the effects of preceding sins. (Rom. 1:24. 2 Thes. 2:11. Matt. 13:12.) That this may be the better understood, the following explanations are especially necessary.
1. Original sin, or the depravity of the entire nature of man, or the destruction of the image of God in man, in the sense in which we have explained it, is the effect of the fall of our first parents in Paradise. (Rom. 5:19.)
2. All actual sins are the effects of original sin. “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” (Rom. 7:17.)
3. All subsequent actual sins are the effects of preceding ones, and an increase of them; since, according to the just judgment of God, men often run from one sin into another, as Paul teaches concerning the Gentiles, in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans.
4. The sins of other men are also frequently the effects of actual sins, inasmuch as many persons are made worse through the reproach and bad examples of others, and are thus enticed and urged on to sin, as it is said: “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” (1 Cor. 15:33.)
5. An evil conscience, and a fear of the judgment of God, invariably and constantly follow the commission of sin. (Rom. 2:15. Is. 57:21.)
6. All the various calamities of this life, together with temporal death itself, are the effects of sin: because it is on account of sin that God has inflicted all these things upon the human race, according to the declaration: “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17.)
7. Eternal death is the last and most extreme consequence of sin, in all those who have not been delivered therefrom by the death and merit of Christ: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake to shame and everlasting contempt.” “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” (Deut. 27:26. Dan. 12:2. Matt. 25:41.)
All sins, therefore, whatever may be their character, deserve, in their own nature, eternal death, which is most plainly affirmed in these and similar passages of God’s word. “Cursed be he that confirmeth,” &c. “Whosoever shall offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” “Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” (Deut. 27:26. James 2:10. Matt. 5:26.)
Yet all sins are not equal. They differ according to certain degrees, even in the judgment of God; as it is said: “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness.” “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” Mark 3:28, 29. John 19:11.)
So there will also be degrees in the punishments of hell: for the punishments of the lost will be in proportion to the sins which they have committed; although, as it respects the duration of these punishments, all will be eternal. “That servant which knew his Lord’s will, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” “It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.” (Luke 12:47. Matt. 11:22.)


Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?

Answer. Indeed we are, except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.

EXPOSITION

The question of the freedom of the will, or the power of the human will to obey God, and to do that which is good, is intimately connected with the subject of the misery of man, and claims our attention next in order. It is also necessary to know what ability man possessed before the fall, and what he has since, that, having a correct knowledge of the effects of the first sin, we may be the more excited to humility, and to an earnest desire for divine grace and guidance; and also to true gratitude to God. For this doctrine of the liberty of the will, brings us to a consideration, not of the ability and excellence of man, but of his weakness and misery.


OF FREE WILL

The principal question and object, in this discussion, is, Whether man can now, in the same way in which he separated himself from God, also return to him by his own strength—accept of the grace that is offered him by God, and recover for himself the position which has been lost by sin? And also, whether the will of man be the chief cause why some are converted, whilst others continue in sin; and why, both among the converted and the unconverted, some are better than others? In a word, whether the will of man be the cause why men do good or evil, whether in this, or in that manner?
The Pelagians, and others of a similar character, reply to this question, That so much grace is given by God, and left by nature, to all men, that they can of themselves return to God, and obey him: neither are we to seek for any other cause than the will of man, as the reason why some receive and retain, whilst others reject and disregard, divine aid in forsaking sin, and do, after this or that manner, resolve upon and execute their own counsels and deeds.
The Holy Scriptures, however, teach a wholly different doctrine, which, as we understand it, is, that no work acceptable and pleasing to God can be undertaken, and performed by any one, without regeneration and the special grace of the Holy Spirit; neither can there be any more or less good in the counsels and actions of any man, than God of his own free grace chooses to produce in them; nor can the will of any creature be inclined in any other direction than that which seems good to the eternal and gracious counsel of God. And yet all the actions of the created will, both good and bad, are performed freely. That this may be the better understood, let us inquire:

          I.      What is freedom of will, or free power of choice?
          II.      What is the distinction which exists between the liberty which is in God, and that which is in his rational creatures, angels and men?
          III.      Is there any freedom of the human will?
          IV.      What kind of freedom of will is there in man; or how many de grees of free-will are there in man, according to his fourfold state?


I. WHAT IS THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL, OR FREE POWER OF CHOICE?

The term freedom, or liberty, sometimes signifies a relation, power or right, be it the ordering or disposing of a person or thing, made by the will of a certain person, or by nature, for the purpose of acting with one’s own choice, or from fear according to just laws, or the order which is in harmony with the nature of man; for the purpose of enjoying those benefits which are fit and proper for us, without any prohibition and restraint; and for the purpose of being relieved from enduring the wants and burdens which are not peculiar to our nature. This may be termed a freedom from bondage and misery, and is opposed to slavery. So God is most free, because he is bound to no one: so the Jews and Romans were free, not being bound by foreign governments and burdens: so a state, or city is free from tyranny and servitude, whilst in the enjoyment of civil liberty: so we, being justified by faith, are through Christ freed from the wrath of God, the curse of the law, and the ceremonies instituted by Moses. But this signification of liberty does not properly belong to this discussion of the freedom of the will; because it is evident, and admitted by all, that we are the servants of God, and that the law binds us either to obedience, or punishment. There are also many things which our will chooses freely, which it nevertheless has not the power or ability to perform.
Secondly, freedom is opposed to constraint, and is a quality of the will, or a natural power of an intelligent creature, concurring with the will; that is, it is the power of choosing or refusing, of its own accord, and without any constraint, an object presented by the understanding, the nature of the will remaining the same, and being free to choose this or that, or to defer any action it may see fit, just as a man may be willing to walk, or not to walk. This is to act upon mature deliberation, which is the method of acting peculiar to the will.
This freedom of will belongs to God, angels, and men: and, when considered in relation to them, is called free power of choice. For that is said to be free which is endowed with this power, or liberty of willing or not willing, whilst the power of choice is the will itself, as it follows or rejects the judgment of the mind in the choice which it makes; for it comprehends both faculties of the mind, viz: the judgment and the will.
Free power of choice is therefore the faculty or power of willing or not willing, of choosing or rejecting an object presented by the understanding, of its own accord, and without any constraint. This faculty is called the power of choice in respect to the mind, which presents objects to the will, to be chosen or rejected; and it is called free in respect to the will following voluntarily and of its own accord, without any constraint, the judgment of the mind. That is called free which is voluntary, and which is opposed to what is involuntary and constrained, but not to that which is necessary; for that which is voluntary may agree and harmonise with what is necessary, but not with what is involuntary, as God and the holy angels are necessarily good, but not involuntarily or constrainedly; but most freely, because they have the beginning and cause of their goodness, which is free will, in themselves. That is said to be constrained which has only an external beginning and cause of its own activity, and not, at the same time, one that is also internal, by which it may move itself to art this or in that manner.
There is, therefore, such a difference between what is necessary anœ constrained, as that which exists between what is general and particular. Whatever is constrained is necessary, but not every thing that is necessary is constrained. Hence there is what is called a double necessity—a necessity of immutability and of constraint. The former may exist with what is voluntary, but the latter cannot.
The same distinction also exists between what is free and contingent. Every thing that is free is contingent, but not the opposite. Therefore that which is free is a species of what is contingent, as is also that which is fortuitous and casual.


  II. WHAT IS THE DISTINCTION WHICH EXISTS BETWEEN THE LIBERTY WHICH IS IN GOD AND HIS CREATURES, ANGELS AND MEN?

There are two things common to God and rational creatures as it respects the liberty of the will. The one is, that God and intelligent creatures act upon deliberation and counsel, that is, they choose or reject objects by the exercise of the understanding and will. The other is, that they choose or reject objects by their own proper and inward activity, without any constraint, which is the same thing as to say that the will being in its own nature capacitated to will the opposite of that which it does will, or to defer acting, inclines of its own accord to that course which it prefers. (Ps. 104:24; 115:3. Gen. 3:6. Is. 1:19, 20. Matt. 23:37.)
There are three differences between the liberty which belongs to God and that which belongs to his creatures.
The first relates to the understanding. God sees and understands of himself all things in the most perfect manner, from all eternity, without the least ignorance or error of judgment. Creatures, on the other hand, know nothing of themselves, neither do they know all things, nor the same things at all times; but only so much of God, together with his works and will, as he is pleased, at particular times, to reveal unto them. Hence they are ignorant of many things, and often err. The following passages of Scripture confirm this distinction which we have made in regard to the understanding: “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven; but my Father only.” “He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.” “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord?” “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight.” “He lightneth every man that cometh into the world.” (Matt. 24:36. Dan. 2:21. Is. 40:13. Heb. 4:13. John 1:9.)
The second distinction holds in the will. The will of God is neither governed by, nor dependent upon, any thing beyond or out of itself. The wills of angels and men are indeed the causes of their own actions; yet they are notwithstanding influenced and controlled by the secret counsel and providence of God, in the choice or rejection of objects, whether immediately by God, or through certain instrumentalities, be they good or evil, which God sees fit to employ. It is consequently impossible for them to do any thing contrary to the eternal and immutable counsel of God. Hence the term αυτεξιυσνν (which means to be absolutely his own, at his own will, and in his own power), by which the Greek Theologians express free power of choice, belongs more properly to God, who is perfectly and absolutely at his own control, not being bound to any one; whilst the term εκθυσνν (which means voluntary or free) is more correctly used in relation to creatures, and is thus applied in the following passages of Scripture: (Phil. 5:14. Heb. 10:26. 1 Pet. 5:2.) The various arguments and testimonies from the word of God, by which this distinction is established, will be presented at large when we come to the consideration of the doctrine of the providence of God.
That God, however, is indeed the first cause of his counsels, these and similar declarations of his word plainly affirm: “He hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” “Who doeth according to his own will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” (Ps. 115:3. Dan. 4:35.) That the will and counsels of creatures depend upon the permission and will of God, may be proven by the following and similar passages of holy writ: “The Lord shall send his angel before thee,” &c. “Go and gather the children of Israel together,” &c. “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” “But God hath fulfilled those things,” &c. “Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.” (Gen. 24:7. Ex. 3:16. Acts 2:23; 3:17; 4:27. Jer. 10:23. Prov. 21:1.) The will, therefore, of angels and men, and all other second causes, are in like manner governed by God, as they are from him, as their first and chief cause. But the will of God is ruled by none of his creatures, because as he has no efficient cause out of himself, so he has no moving or inclining cause; otherwise he would not be God, the first and great cause of all his works, and creatures would be substituted in the place of God. God does not constrain and force, but moves and directs the will of his creatures; in other words, he effectually inclines the will by presenting objects to the mind, to choose that which the understanding at the time judges to be good, and to reject what it conceives to be evil.
The third distinction holds in the understanding and will at the same time. God, as he knows all things unchangeably, so he has also decreed them from everlasting, and wills unchangeably all things which are done in as far as they are good, and permits them in as far as they are sins. But as the notions and judgment which creatures form of things are changeable, so their wills are also changeable. They will that which before they would not, and refuse to choose that which they formerly delighted in. And still further, as all the counsels of God are most good, just and wise, he never disapproves of them; neither does he correct or change them, as men often do, when they perceive that they have unwisely decided upon any thing. These declarations of Scripture are here in point: “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the Son of man, that he should repent.” “I am the Lord, I change not.” “What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much,” &c. (Num. 23:19. Mal. 3:6. Rom. 9:22.)
Obj. 1. He who cannot change his counsel has no free will. God cannot change his counsel. Therefore his will is not free. Ans. We reply to the first proposition of this syllogism by making a distinction: it is not he who cannot change his purpose that has no liberty of will, but he who cannot change his counsel, being hindered by some external cause, although he might wish to change it. But God does not change his counsel, neither can he change it; not, however, on account of any hinderance arising from some external cause, nor on account of any imperfection of nature or ability, but because he does not will, neither can he will a change of his counsel, on account of the immutable rectitude of his will, in which no error nor any cause of change can possibly exist.
Obj. 2. That which is governed and ruled by the unchangeable will of God does not act freely. The will of angels and men acts freely. Therefore it is not ruled, nor bound in the choice which it makes, by the unchangeable will of God. Ans. It is necessary here again, in answering the above objection, to make the following distinction with reference to the major proposition: He who is so ruled and controlled by the will of God as to act without any deliberation and choice of his own, does not act freely; but it is not in this way that God influences the will of angels and men. He presents objects to the understanding, and through these effectually moves and inclines the will, so that although they choose that which God wills, they nevertheless do it from their own deliberation and choice, and therefore act freely. Hence creatures may be said to act freely, not when they disregard every form of government and restraint, but when they act with deliberation, and when the will chooses or rejects objects by its own free exercise, even though it may be excited and controlled by some one else.
Obj. 3. If the will, when God changes it, and directed it upon other objects, cannot resist, it is wholly passive. But this involves us in error. Therefore the will cannot be thus influenced and controlled. Ans. The conclusion here drawn is incorrect, in as much as there is not a sufficiently full and distinct enumeration in the major proposition of those exercises and actions of which the will is capable; for it may not only resist the influence which God brings to bear upon it, but it has the ability also, by its own proper determination, to obey God, and to assent to the suggestions and influences of his spirit. In doing this, however, it is not only passive, but also active, and performs its own actions, although the power of assenting and obeying is not from itself, but from the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Obj. 4. That which resists the will of God is not governed by it. The will of man opposes and resists God in many things. Therefore it is not governed by him. Ans. There are here four terms. The major proposition is true, if it be understood as including both the secret and revealed will of God; the minor, however, merely expresses the will of God as expressed or revealed, for the secret decrees of God’s will are always ratified and performed in all, even in those who most violently resist the commandments of God.
Obj. 5. If all the determinations, including even those of the wicked, are excited and ruled by the will of God, and if many of these are sinful, then God seems to be the author of sin. Ans. There is here a fallacy of accident in the minor proposition, for the determinations of the wicked are sins, not in as far as they are ordained and proceed from the will of God (for so far they are good, and agree with the divine law), but in as far as they are from devils and men, who in acting either do not know the will of God, or do not perform it with the design that they may thus obey and glorify God.


III. IS THERE ANY FREEDOM OF THE HUMAN WILL?

That there is in man a certain freedom of will, is proven: 1. From the fact that man was created in the image of God, of which free will constituted a part: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” “God made man in the beginning, and left him in the hand of his counsel.” (Gen. 1:26. Eccl. 15:14.) 2. From the definition of the freedom which belongs to man; for man acts upon deliberation, freely knowing, and desiring or rejecting this or that object. If this definition, now, correspond with the nature of man, the thing which is expressed and defined by it must also belong to him.
Obj. 1. If man be in the possession of freedom of will, the doctrine of original sin is overthrown; for it is a contradiction to say that man is not able to obey God, and to affirm, at the same time, that he has liberty of will. Ans. There is no real opposition in what is here affirmed, because since the fall man has liberty of will only in part, and not such as he had before the fall, nor to the same degree.
Obj. 2. He who has not a will to choose in like manner the good and the evil, does not possess free-will. But man, since the fall, has not a will to choose equally the good and the evil. Therefore he does not possess freedom of will. Ans. We reject the major proposition, because it contains an incorrect definition of liberty; for, according to it, God himself does not possess any liberty of will.
Obj. 3. That which is dependent upon another is not free. Our will is dependent upon another. Therefore it is not free. Ans. We reply to the major proposition, by making the following distinction: That which is dependent upon and ruled by another, and not by itself also, is not free. The will of man, however, is ruled not only by another, but also by itself; for God influences men in such a manner, that they are not constrained and carried along involuntarily, but most freely; so that it may be said that they move themselves. The being or will which is moved only by itself, belongs to God alone, of whom infinite liberty may more correctly be predicated, than of creatures. In the mean while, however, it may be sufficient, as far as it respects the liberty which belongs to man, to affirm, that whatever he wills, he wills freely, and by his own proper determination.
Obj. 4. That which is enslaved is not free. Our power of choice is enslaved since the fall. Therefore it is not free. Ans. The whole argument is conceded, if by free we understand that which has the power of cheesing that which is good and pleasing to God: for thus far the will is held in bondage, and can only will and choose that which is evil. “I am carnal, sold under sin,” &c. (Rom. 7:14.) But if by free we understand voluntary, or deliberative, then the major proposition is false; for it is not the subjection, but the constraint of the will, that takes away its liberty.


  IV. WHAT KIND OF LIBERTY OF WILL HAS MAN; OR HOW MANY DEGREES OF FREE-WILL ARE THERE, ACCORDING TO MAN’S FOUR-FOLD STATE?

It is still further to be inquired, in the discussion of this subject, (and this is also necessary, in order that we may arrive at a proper knowledge of ourselves,) What, and how great, was the liberty of will which man possessed before the fall? Whether there be any, or none at all, since the fall? And if any, what is it? Whether it be restored in us; in what manner, and how far? Wherefore it is evident that the degrees of free-will may be considered, and distinguished most correctly, according to the fourfold state of man, viz: as not yet fallen into sin—as fallen—as regenerated—and as glorified; that is, what kind, and how great, was the freedom of the human will before the fall? What is this freedom since the fall, and before regeneration? What is it in those who are regenerated? And what will it be in the life to come, in a state of glorification?
The first degree of liberty is that which belonged to man before the fall. This consisted in a mind enlightened with the perfect knowledge of God, and a will yielding entire obedience to God by its own voluntary act and inclination; and yet not so confirmed in this knowledge and obedience, but that it might fall by its own free exercise, if the appearance of any good were presented for the purpose of deceiving, and effecting a fall;—that is, the will of man was free to choose good and evil, or it might freely choose the good, but in such a manner that it might also choose the evil: it might continue to stand in the good, being preserved by God, and it might also incline and fall over to the evil, if forsaken of God. The former is confirmed by a consideration of the perfection of the image of God in which man was created. The latter is evident from the event itself, and from the following testimonies of Scripture: “God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions.” “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” (Eccl. 7:29. Rom. 11:32.) In the last passage just quoted, Paul testifies that God, with profound wisdom, did not place the first man beyond the reach of a fall; nor did he give him such a measure of grace, that he might not be seduced by the temptation of the devil, and be persuaded to sin; but he permitted him to be seduced, and to fall into sin and death, that all those who would be saved from this general ruin might be saved by his mercy alone. It is also proven by this plain argument: that if nothing can be done without the eternal and most wise counsel of God, then surely the fall of our first parents, least of a could be excluded therefrom, inasmuch as God had fully determined, from the very beginning, what he would have done, as regards the human race—the most important part of the work of creation. Those things which the wisdom of man is accustomed to bring forward against what has here been advanced, may be found in Ursini vol. i. p. 242, &c.
The second degree of free power of choice is that which belongs to man as a fallen being, born of corrupt parents, and unregenerated. In this state the will does indeed act freely, but it is disposed and inclined only to that which is evil, and can do nothing but sin. And the reason is, because the fall was followed by a privation of the knowledge of God, and of all inclinations to obedience; and because this has been succeeded by an ignorance of, and an aversion to God, from which man cannot be delivered unless he be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. In short, there is in man, since the fall, in his unregenerate state, a proneness to chose only that which is evil. In view of this ignorance and corruption of human nature since the fall, it is said: “Every thought of man’s heart is evil continually.” “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots,” &c. “Every man from his youth is given to evil, and their stony hearts cannot become flesh.” “We were dead in trespasses and in sins; and were by nature the children of wrath.” “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves.” (Gen. 6:5. Jer. 13:23. Syr. 17:13. Eph. 2:1, 3. Matt. 7:18. 2 Cor. 3:6.) With these explicit testimonies, gathered from the word of God, every man’s experience fully harmonizes: as may also be said to be true of the sense of conscience, which declares that we have no liberty and inclination of will to do that which is good; but in the place of this, a great proneness to do that which is evil, so long as we are not regenerated; as it is said: “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned.” (Jer. 31:18.) It is, therefore, clearly evident that the love of God is in no one by nature; and hence no one, in this state, has a propensity or inclination to serve God.
Obj. 1. There is nothing easier (said Erasmus to Luther) than to restrain the hand from theft. And still further: Socrates, Aristides, and many others, performed many excellent things, and were adorned with many virtues; therefore there was in them, before regeneration, a power of choice that was free to do that which was good. Ans. This is an imperfect definition of free power of choice, and of what constitutes a good work; or of liberty to do that which is good, which is the power of rendering such obedience as is acceptable to God. This the unregenerate have not. And although they may refrain from theft, as far as the external act is concerned, yet they are guilty of it as it respects the desires and tendencies of the heart. And not only so, but this external propriety itself, of which so much account is made, is to be attributed to God, who by his providence controls the hearts even of the wicked, and restrains them from those outbreaks of sin to which they are naturally inclined. Yet it would be wrong to conclude from this that it is easy for them to commence that true internal obedience which is pleasing to God. Such obedience can only be rendered by those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
Obj. 2. The works which are prescribed and enjoined by the law are good. The heathen perform many of these works. Therefore, their works are good, although they have not been regenerated; and, as a matter of consequence, they must possess liberty to choose the good. Ans. We reply to this objection by making the following distinction: The works prescribed and enjoined by the law are good, considered in themselves; but they become evil, by an accident, when they are done by those who are not regenerated; because they are not done in the manner, nor with the design which God requires.
Obj. 3. What God desires us to do, we have the power of doing. God desires us to do that which contributes to our well-being. Therefore, we have the ability, of ourselves, to do that which is good, and consequently do not need the grace and influence of the Holy Spirit. Ans. There is in this syllogism, an incorrect chain of reasoning, arising from the ambiguity of the word desire. In the major, it is used in its ordinary and proper sense. But in the minor, it is used improperly; for God is here said to desire, through a figure of speech, by which he is represented as being affected after the manner of men. Hence, there is a different kind of affirmation in the major from what there is in the minor. God desires in two respects. First, in respect to his commandments and invitations. Secondly, in respect to the love which he cherishes towards his creatures, and the torments of those that perish, but not in respect to the execution of his justice. Reply. He who invites others to do that which is good, and rejoice in their well-doing, declares that it is in their power to do this, and not in the power of him who invites. But God invites us to do that which is good, and approves of our conduct when we thus act. Therefore, it is in our power to do the good. Ans. We deny the minor proposition; because it is not sufficient for God to invite. It is also necessary that our wills consent to do the good, which they will not do unless God incline them.
Obj. 4. If we can do nothing but sin before our regeneration, God seems to punish us unjustly. Ans. He who sins of necessity is punished unjustly, unless he has brought this necessity of sinning upon himself. We are, therefore, justly punished, because we have brought this necessity of sinning upon ourselves, in our first parents, and follow their example by doing the same things. Other objections, which are ordinarily brought forward by the advocates of free-will, may be seen in Ursini vol. i. page 245.
The third degree of free power of choice is that which belongs to a man as regenerated, but not as yet perfected and glorified. In this state the will uses its liberty, not only for doing that which is evil, as is true of man before his regeneration, but here the will does both the good and the evil in part. It does that which is good, because the Holy Spirit, by his special grace, has renovated the nature of man through the Word of God—has kindled new light and knowledge in the understanding, and has awakened in the heart and will such new desires and inclinations, as are in harmony with the divine law; and because the Holy Spirit effectually inclines the will to do those things which are in accordance with this knowledge, and with these desires and inclinations. It is in this way that the will recovers both the power of willing that which is acceptable to God, and the use of this power, so that it commences to obey God according to these declarations of his word: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart.” “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” (Deut. 30:6. Ex. 36:26. 2 Cor. 3:17. 1 John 3:9.) The reasons, on account of which the will in this third degree chooses and does in part both the good and the evil, are the following: 1. Because the mind and will of those who are regenerated, are not fully and perfectly renewed in this life. There are many remains of depravity which cleave to the best of men, as long as they continue in the flesh, so that the works which they perform are imperfect, and defiled with sin. “I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” (Rom. 7:18.) 2. Because those who are regenerated are not always governed by the Holy Spirit; but are sometimes forsaken of God for a season, that he may thus either try, on humble them. Yet although they are thus left to themselves for a time, they do not finally perish, for God, in his own time and way, calls them to repentance. “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear. Return, for thy servant’s sake.” (Ps. 51:13. Is. 63:17.) In short, after regeneration is begun in man, there is a proneness to choose partly the good, and partly the evil. There is a proneness to the good, because the mind and will being illuminated and changed, begin, in some measure, to be turned to the good, and to commence new obedience. There is a proneness to the evil, because the saints are only imperfectly renewed in this life—retain many infirmities and evil desires, on account of original sin, which still cleaves to them. Hence the good works which they perform are not perfectly good. Those things which the Anabaptists, and others of a similar character, are accustomed to bring forward against what is here said of the imperfection of the holiness and good works of the righteous, may be seen on the 256th page of the same volume of Ursinus to which we have before referred, and also in the exposition of the 114th Question of the Catechism.
The fourth degree of free power of choice, is that which belongs to man after this life, in a state of glorification; or as perfectly regenerated. In this state, the will of man will be free to choose only the good, and not the evil. This will be the highest degree, or the perfect liberty of the human will, when we shall obey God fully and forever. In this state we shall not only not sin, but we will abhor it above every thing else; yea, we shall then no longer be able to sin. In proof of this we may adduce the following reasons: First, the perfect knowledge of God will then shine in the mind, whilst there will be the strongest and most ardent desire of the will and heart to obey God; so that there will be no room left for ignorance or doubt, or the least contempt of God. Secondly, in the life to come, the saints will never be forsaken, but will be constantly and forever ruled by the Holy Spirit, so that it will not be possible for them to deviate in the smallest respect from that which is right. Hence it is said: “They are as the angels of God in heaven.” “We shall be like him.” (Matt. 22:30. 1 John 3:3.) The good angels are inclined only to that which is good, because they are good; just as the bad angels, on the other hand, are inclined only to that which is evil, because they are evil. But we shall be like the good angels. Our condition will, therefore, be one of far greater excellence than that of Adam before the fall. Adam was, indeed, perfectly conformed to God; but he had the power to will both the good and the evil; and therefore, with all his gifts, he had a certain infirmity, viz: the possibility to fall from God, and to lose his gifts. He was changeably good. But we shall not be able to will any thing but the good. Just as the wicked are inclined and led to do evil only, because they are wicked; so we shall be inclined to that which is good, and love and choose it alone, because we shall be unchangeably good. We shall then be so fully established in righteousness and conformity to God, that it will not be possible for us to fall from him; yea, it will then be impossible for us to will any thing that is evil, because we shall be preserved by divine grace in that state of perfect liberty in which the will will choose the good only.
From these things which we have now said in relation to human freedom, it is manifestly a foul slander to say that we take away the liberty of the will. And although those who are renewed and glorified will not be able to will any thing but the good, after their glorification; yet their power of choice will then be free to a much greater extent than it now is; for God, also, cannot will any thing but the good, and yet he possesses perfect freedom of will. So on the other hand, we do not take away the power of choice from the ungodly, or such as are unregenerated, when we affirm that they are not able to will any thing but that which is evil; for they will and choose the evil freely—yea, most freely. Their will is inclined and carried with the greatest impetuosity, to evil only; because they continually retain in their hearts, hatred to God. Hence, all the works which they perform of an external moral character, are evil in the sight of God, as we have already shown in our remarks upon the doctrine of sin. So much concerning the free power of choice which belongs to man.


Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (pp. 27–66). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.