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 The Principles of Theology - Article 9

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< The Condemnation of Original Sin

Part 5. The Permanence of Original Sin

The rest of the Article is concerned with teaching that this “infection of nature” remains in the regenerate, and that although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptised, yet that this infection of nature “hath of itself the nature of sin.”

The Character of Original Sin. It is here described as “infection of nature.” It answers to the former phrase, “fault and corruption of the nature.” It is further spoken of as “the lust of the flesh” and its Greek equivalent is given; θρόνημα σαρκὸς (Rom. 8:6). The effort of the Article to interpret this term is particularly interesting: “Which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh.” It is probable that all these aspects are rightly included in the full meaning of the term, which suggests the general bent of the entire nature, thought, feeling, will. The principle of the idea is best understood from a reference to the passages where the word and its cognates are found: Matt. 16:23 (ϕρονεῖς, “thou savourest”); Rom. 8:5 f. (ϕρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς, the minding of the flesh); 8:27 (ϕρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος, the minding of the Spirit); 12:16 (ϕρονοῦντες, mind); Phil. 3:19 (ϕρονοῦντες, mind), Col. 3:2 (ϕρονεῖτε, set your affection). It is further said, following the teaching of St. Paul, that this lust of the flesh is not subject to the law of God (Rom. 8:7).

The Permanence of Original Sin. “Doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated.” It is clear that whatever happens in connection with regeneration this evil principle of sin remains. Nor is there any distinction between the “regenerated” and the “sanctified,” as though it were possible for this “infection of nature” to be removed by some Divine act subsequent to regeneration. Any distinction of this kind may safely be said to have been altogether outside the view of the Reformers; indeed, it cannot be said to exist in reality, but is only used in certain quarters as a distinction by which it is attempted to justify a theory of the entire removal of the evil principle.

The Safeguard. The Article clearly shows that no one will be condemned merely for the possession of inborn sinfulness. “There is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized.” The Latin equivalent here is particularly noteworthy: renatis et credentibus nulla propter Christum est condemnatio. Here the Article translates the Latin renatis (born again) by the English “baptized,” and also omits to translate the Latin propter Christum. This use of renatis for “baptized” seems to show clearly that in the minds of the Reformers Baptism refers to birth, not life, to the introduction of an already living being into a new sphere, not the bestowal of the primal germ of life.

It is sometimes said that Baptism removes the “taint” of original sin. But at once the question arises, What is this “taint”? It can only mean guilt or principle, [1] and if guilt is personal and cannot be said to exist in an unconscious child, there remains only the principle which, according to the Article, continues to exist in the regenerated. What, then, are we to understand by “taint”? The question shows how necessary it is to be quite clear as to the meaning and fact of Baptism. [2]

The Sinfulness of Original Sin. The closing words of the Article are that “the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.” In sese rationem peccati. It is sometimes said that this phrase does not really mean that concupiscence is essentially and inherently sinful, but only that “it leads to sin.” [3] It is also urged that it is difficult to say exactly what the Article means on this point, and that its ambiguity was probably designed to emphasise the truth that while not in itself sinful, concupiscence is so closely connected with sin that if unchecked sin will be its result. [4] On this view a distinction is based between our Article and certain other Protestant formularies, which speak of concupiscence as “true and proper sin,” and special attention is called to the proposal of the Westminster Assembly to substitute “is truly and properly sin” for the milder statement of our Article. [5] But there seems to be some confusion here, because the paragraph in the Article is concerned with what is “true and proper sin in the regenerate,” since “concupiscence and lust” must, of necessity, mean the same as “this infection of nature.” Either, therefore, it is sin or it is not, and it is noteworthy that the first Commentary on the Articles, by Rogers, dated 1587-1607, clearly teaches that concupiscence is sin, and opposes those who teach otherwise. [6] There can be no doubt that our Article is clearly against the Council of Trent on this point, which declares that concupiscence is not of the nature of sin. In remission of sins there are two things: (a) guilt; (b) punishment, and in original sinfulness there are two elements: (a) penalty; (b) disposition. The sinful condition is twofold: negative in the absence of grace to maintain union with God; positive in the corruption of nature, and (throughout) the sinful characteristic. Nature and person in this connection are inseparable, because the nature involves the will, and the will is the most distinct personal characteristic and is disinclined to obey God. Remission affects the person, but not the nature. Men are forgiven personal punishments, but the depravatio and its effects remain and are still subject to such results as death. It is this positive habit and disposition which is concupiscence.

The important point of this statement is that it is directed towards the Roman Catholic theory of what is called sacramental justification. Whatever we may say about Baptism, if there still remains in our souls something that has “of itself the nature of sin” we must continually need the love and mercy of God to pardon our transgression, and His grace to overcome the power of inborn sinfulness. The distinction, therefore, which is made between that which “hath of itself the nature of sin” and that which is “sin” is really baseless, more particularly as the phrase, “nature of sin” comes directly from the Council of Trent, and is evidently intended to contradict the official Roman Catholic doctrine. In 1546 the Council said:

“If any one denies, that through the grace of Jesus Christ which is conferred in Baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted, or even asserts that all of that which hath the true and proper nature of sin (peccati rationem habet) is not taken away, but only cut down and not imputed, let him be accursed.”

It is hardly possible to doubt that the statement of our Article, peccati tamen in sese rationem habere, was intended to be a definite reply to Rome. Rome’s view is really a recurrence to the erroneous view of original righteousness, which regards concupiscence as a consequence of nature, both in the unregenerate and the regenerate. Further, it should be remembered that the same phrase occurs in Article 13, where there is practically no doubt that the meaning is something essentially sinful.

This question of the permanence of original sin in the regenerate is important on two grounds: (a) in its opposition to all forms of what is called “sinless perfection”; (b) on the other hand, against any yielding to defeat and accepting it as inevitable. Something must be said on each of these two points.

(a) It is important to consider the relation of sin to our nature. The ultimate capacity in human nature is the capacity for feeling, for vivid impressions of pain and pleasure. These are called the primary sensibilities and have been disordered through sin, and are never entirely rectified in this life, though the Atonement covers their defect. Then come secondary sensibilities, leading to desires on the one hand and aversions on the other. It is at this point that Divine grace comes in. If the will does not consent there is no personal sin, but there is a disorder below the will which is sinful and needs to be dealt with. Personal responsibility is concerned only with that which the will determines. Atonement covers the rest, including incapacity and defect. It is also important to note the distinction between Adam and ourselves. He had the liability, but not the tendency to sin. We have both, and the tendency is what the Article calls the “corruption of the nature,” “infection of nature,” “concupiscence.” The weakness of what is known as the Methodist doctrine of “Perfect Love” is that it teaches that grace meets all the needs of human nature in the sense of eradication. But it does not. Scripture continually distinguishes between sin and sins, between the root and fruit, but though the root remains, as stated by the Article, there is no need for it to bring forth fruit.

(b) But the presence of inborn sinfulness in the regenerate, while real and powerful, is no excuse, still less justification for sinning. The Apostle clearly teaches that the redemptive work of Christ was intended to render inert or inoperative the evil principle within (Rom. 6:6, Greek). And thus we may say that while Scripture teaches something that is very near eradication, in order that we may not be satisfied with anything less than the highest type of Christian living, on the other hand, it as clearly teaches that the evil principle has not been removed. It loses its power over the believer, though the believer does not lose its presence. To the same effect is the Apostle’s word: “Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” (Rom. 6:11). He thereby teaches that while we are to be dead to it, it is not dead to us. Sin is not dead, but we are to keep on reckoning ourselves to be dead to it. Such language would have been impossible if sin had been entirely removed. It is impossible to avoid noticing at this point the striking affinity between the Roman Catholic and Methodist doctrines of making sinfulness inhere in the will only. [7] Our Article, in harmony with the Protestant Confessions of the sixteenth century goes much deeper, and shows that sin has affected the nature long before the will commences to act.

The question is vital to many of the most practical and important aspects of living, for if we are wrong here we are liable to be wrong everywhere. Superficial views of sin inevitably tend towards superficial views of the redemptive work of Christ. We must, therefore, be on our guard against the two extremes: on the one hand we must insist that even in the regenerate the evil principle remains and will remain to the end of this life; on the other hand, we must be clear that this evil principle need not and ought not to produce evil results in practice, since the grace of God has been provided to meet and overcome it. [8]


>> Introduction to Article 10



[1] “In baptism the guilt is pardoned” (Gibson, ut supra, p. 374).
[2] The Church Catechism is sometimes understood to mean that Baptism makes us the children of grace: “A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness: for being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace.” It should be noted, however, that the Latin version of Dean Durel, 1671, renders “hereby” by hac ratione, which can only refer to “a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness,” rendered by Durel mori peccato et denuo nasci justitiæ. To the same effect is an old paraphrase of the Catechism, 1674. By contrast, Bright and Medd in their modern Latin version render “hereby” by per Baptismum, which is, of course, the ex opere operato view.

[3] Gibson, ut supra, p. 376.
[4] Gibson, ut supra, p. 376.

[5] Gibson, ut supra, p. 376.

[6] Rogers, On the Articles, pp. 101-103.

[7] “Such are the difficulties in which the Council involved itself in its attempts to transfer the seat of sin from the affections to the outward manifestation, and yet to avoid coming into open collision with Scripture and Christian feeling” (Litton, ut supra, p. 170).

[8] More will be said on this subject in connection with Articles 15 and 16.



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Article 9

>> Introduction

>> The Meaning of Original Sin

>> The Extent of Original Sin

>> The Result of Original Sin

>> The Condemnation of Original Sin

>> The Permanence of Original Sin

Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man




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