Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bavinck on Semi-Pelagianism

Sorry but I borrowed this extensive quote from another blog:

Herman Bavinck, volume III of Reformed Dogmatics, Part I, Chapter II, pages 90-92.

Pelagianism was condemned by the Christian church. From the outset the church fathers assumed a certain connection between Adam’s sin and that of his descendants. Although this connection was not yet examined in detail, Adam’s trespass did bring about a great moral upheaval in his own life and that of his descendants. The nature of that moral change, however, was viewed in very diverse ways. According to semi-Pelagianism, the consequences of Adam’s fall consisted for him and his descendants, aside from death, primarily in the weakening of moral strength. Though there is actually no real original sin in the sense of guilt, there is a hereditary malady: as a result of Adam’s fall, humanity has become morally sick; the human will has been weakened and is inclined to evil.1 There has originated in humans a conflict between “flesh” and “spirit” that makes it impossible for a person to live without sin; but humans can will the good, and when they do, grace comes to their assistance in accomplishing it.2 This is the position adopted by the Greek church; and although in the West Augustine exerted strong influence, the [Western] church increasingly strayed toward semi-Pelagianism. The Council of Trent taught that though the freedom of the will had diminished, it had not been destroyed3, and that concupiscence as such is not a sin. Totally in agreement with this is the opinion of Anabaptists, Zwingli, the Remonstrants, the Moravian Brethren, the Supernaturalists, and many modern theologians. All agree in believing that Adam’s fall had consequences also for his descendants, because they are physically connected with him. But the moral state that came into being in the human race as a result of Adam’s trespass is not one of sin and guilt but of weakness, lack, sickness. Original sin as such cannot damn humans and at most results in a punishment of the damned [poena damni—the pain of eternal separation from God] without a punishment of the senses (poena sensus). It is an occasion for sin, not sin itself in the true sense of the word. Since the will is in a weakened state, however, it easily yields to the temptations of the flesh; then, when the will agrees and consents to concupiscence, original sin turns into personal sin, which renders a person guilty and deserving of punishment. Materially this theory of original sin completely corresponds to the theory that sin is the product of sensuality and a remnant of humanity’s earlier animal state.

This semi-Pelagian view of original sin, however, is basically not much better than that of Pelagius and is open to the same objections. (1) It denies the character and seriousness of sin. Sin, after all, is lawlessness (ἀνομια). The state in which humans are born either corresponds to God’s law or deviates from it; it is good or evil, sinful or not sinful. There is no third category. That that state is good and agrees in all parts with God’s law, semi-Pelagians dare not assert either. Yet they do not call it sinful in the true sense of the word. So they create an intermediate state and speak of original sin as a disease, a deficiency, an illness that is not a real sin but can only be an occasion for sin.4 Or they separate sin and guilt and say, like Rothe and Kaftan, that though original sin is sin, it is not guilt. (2) This is impossible both ways. Sin and guilt are inseparable (Gal. 3:10; James 2:10; 1 John 5:17). If sin is lawlessness, it is punishable; and, conversely, where there is guilt and punishment, there has to be sin. Original sin, however, is such that death is its consequence (Rom. 5:14), that it makes us unworthy of the fellowship of God and his heaven (Doedes), that it is inherently impure, the occasion and source of many sins, and is presumably therefore itself sin. Otherwise God would be unjust for punishing with death, the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), that which is no sin and does not deserve death.5 The law would lose its absolute validity, for there would be deviation that did not deserve punishment, fellowship with God would be withheld where there was no guilt. Between heaven and hell, good and evil, light and darkness there would come a state that was neither, a “punishment of the damned” without a “punishment of the senses.” That which engenders all sorts of sins would not itself be sinful. The tree, though good, would still bear bad fruit. The spring, though pure, would produce impure water. (3) The notion that innate sinfulness only becomes sin and guilt when the will consents to it, so far from improving the theory, makes it worse. We have to choose: either the will, as it were, stands above and outside that innate tendency, and then original sin consists in nothing but the innate sensual nature, and the entire [moral] character of sin is lost; or the will is itself more or less affected and weakened by original sin. It is rooted in the sinful nature and arises from it, and then one loses—to precisely the same degree as that to which one allows the will to be weakened—that which the theory was designed to maintain: that there is no sin without a decision of the free will.6
Furthermore, even if one could conceive a will such that it existed in part or in whole outside the inborn sinful nature, it would still not in fact yield what it is intended to yield. The first decisions of the will that consent to innate concupiscence all occur in the early years when the will is still weak and powerless. No persons are aware that with those first decisions of the will, they are incurring such a guilt, that they actually did not fall and become children of wrath until then. Over against those who say this, everyone could excuse himself by saying he did not know better and could not act otherwise, that for such a weighty decision about his eternal weal or woe, he was positioned in most unfavorable circumstances. Indeed, if original sin is not sin, all other later sins, which so readily and so necessarily spring from it, cannot be sin either. Also Schleiermacher, therefore, rejected the notion that original sin cannot be guilt until it breaks out in actual sins, “for the mere circumstance that there has been no opportunity for and no outward incentive to sin cannot enhance the spiritual status of man.” (4) The semi-Pelagian theory not only does not solve the problem present here, but it does not even begin to touch it and even deliberately shuts its eyes to it. The universality of sin is a fact that also semi-Pelagians acknowledge. They reject its explanation in terms of imitation. They accept that an impure, effective, sick, sinful (though nonculpable and nonpunishable) state is anterior to sinful acts.7 They acknowledge that that impure, sick state, in the lives of all without distinction, leads to culpable, punishable deeds, so that the weakened free will actually means very little.8 Now then, how must we explain that appalling phenomenon? How can it be squared with God’s justice that, aside now from the covenant of grace, he permits all humans to be born in such a state, a state that, in any case, for children dying in infancy entails death and exclusion from his fellowship, and for all others eternal ruin? The semi-Pelagian theory fails totally to enter into the problem and contents itself with a superficial and inconsequential doctrine of free will.9

[Frankly, I find it refreshing that Bavinck acknowledges that the children of unbelievers who die in infancy have none of the Gospel promises.  Why would anyone disagree?  Is God unjust for damning infants?  I guess the flood account in Genesis 6-9 records a great injustice on God's part when He wiped out all mankind except for eight souls.  That would include women and children and old folks in the destruction ensuing from the flood.  Also, I have my doubts that Ulrich Zwingli could be considered along with the Anabaptists and Remonstrandts since he wrote strongly in favor of unconditional election and challenged the Catabaptists or Anabaptists.  Perhaps Bavinck is making Zwingli guilty of what some of his later followers did to pervert his theology?  --  Charlie]

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