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Arminius on Actual Sins (Part 1)




I. As divines and philosophers are often compelled, on account of a penury of words, to distinguish those which are synonymous, and to receive others in a stricter or more ample signification than their nature and etymology will allow; so in this matter of actual sin, although the term applies also to the first sin of Adam, yet, for the sake of a more accurate distinction, they commonly take it for that sin which man commits, through the corruption of his nature, from the time where he knows how to use reason; and they define it thus: “Something thought, spoken or done against the law of God; or the omission of something which has been commanded by that law to be thought, spoken or done.” Or, with more brevity, “Sin is the transgression of the law;” which St. John has explained in this compound word anomia “anomy.” (1 John iii, 4.)

II. For as the law is perceptive of good and prohibitory of evil, it is necessary not only that an action, but that the neglect of an action, be accounted a sin. Hence arises the first distinction of sin into that of commission, when a prohibited act is perpetrated, as theft, murder, adultery, &c. And into that of omission, when a man abstains from [the performance of] an act that has been commanded; as if any one does not render due honour to a magistrate, or bestows on the poor nothing in proportion to the amplitude of his means. And since the Law is two-fold, one “the Law of works,” properly called, “the Law,” the other “the Law of faith,” (Rom. iii, 27,) which is the gospel of the grace of God; therefore sin is either that which is committed against the Law, or against the gospel of Christ. (Heb. ii, 2, 3.) That which is committed against the Law, provokes the wrath of God against sinners; that against the gospel, causes the wrath of God to abide upon us; the former, by deserving punishment; the latter, by preventing the remission of punishment.

III. One is a sin per se, “of itself;” another, per accidens, “accidentally.”

(1.) A sin per se is every external or internal action which is prohibited by the law, or every neglect of an action commanded by the law.

(2.) A sin is per accidens either in things necessary and restricted by law, or in things indifferent. In things necessary, either when an act prescribed by law is performed without its due circumstances, such as to bestow alms that you obtain praise from men; (Matt. vi, 2;) or when an act prohibited by law is omitted, not from a due cause and for a just end; as when any one represses his anger at the moment, that he may afterwards exact more cruel vengeance. In things indifferent, when any one uses them to the offense of the weak. (Rom. xiv, 15, 21.)

IV. Sin is likewise divided in reference to the personal object against whom the offense is committed; and it is either against God, against our neighbour, or against ourselves, according to what the Apostle says: “The grace of God that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly, in this present world.” (Tit. ii, 11.) Where soberness is appropriately referred to the man himself; righteousness to our neighbour; and godliness to God: These, we affirm, are likewise contained in the two grand precepts, “Love God above all things,” and “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” For howsoever it may seem, that the ten commandments prescribe only what is due to God and to our neighbour; yet this very requirement is of such a nature that it cannot be performed by a man without fulfilling at the same time his duty to himself.

V. It is further distinguished, from its cause, into sins of ignorance, infirmity, malignity and negligence.

(1.) A sin of ignorance is, when a man does any thing which he does not know to be a sin; thus, Paul persecuted Christ in his Church. (1 Tim. i, 13.)

(2.) A sin of infirmity is, when, through fear, which may befall even a brave man, or through any other more vehement passion and perturbation of mind, he commits any offense; thus, Peter denied Christ, (Matt. xxvi, 70,) and thus David, being offended by Nabal, was proceeding to destroy him and his domestics. (1 Sam. xxv, 13, 21.)

(3.) A sin of dignity or malice, when any thing is committed with a determined purpose of mind, and with deliberate counsel; thus Judas denied Christ, (Matt. xxvi, 14, 15.) and thus David caused Uriah to be killed. (2 Sam. xi, 15.)

(4.) A sin of negligence is, when a man is overtaken by a sin, (Gal. vi, l.) which encircles and besets him before he can reflect within himself about the deed. (Heb. xii, 1.) In this description will be classed that of St. Paul against Ananias the High Priest, if indeed he may be said to have sinned in that matter. (Acts xxiii, 3.)

VI. Nearly allied to this is the distribution of sin into that which is contrary to conscience, and that which is not contrary to conscience.

(1.) A sin against conscience is one that is perpetrated through malice and deliberate purpose, laying waste the conscience, and (if committed by holy persons) grieving the Holy Spirit so much as to cause Him to desist from his usual functions of leading them into the right way, and of making them glad in their consciences by his inward testimony. (Psalm li, 10, 13.) This is called, by way of eminence, “a sin against conscience;” though, when this phrase is taken in a wide acceptation, a sin which is committed through infirmity, but which has a previous sure knowledge that is applied to the deed, might also be said to be against conscience.

(2.) A sin not against conscience is either that which is by no means such, and which is not committed through a willful and wished-for ignorance of the law, as the man who neglects to know what he is capable of knowing: or it is that which at least is not such in a primary degree, but is precipitated through precipitancy, the cause of which is a vehement and unforeseen temptation. Of this kind, was the too hasty judgment of David against Mephibosheth, produced by the grievous accusation of Ziba, which happened at the very time when David fled. This bore a strong resemblance to a falsehood. (2 Sam. xvi, 3, 4.) Yet that which, when once committed, is not contrary to conscience, becomes contrary to it when more frequently repeated, and when the man neglects self-correction.

VII. To this may be added, the division of sin from its causes, with regard to the real object about which the sin is perpetrated. This object is either “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life,” that is, either pleasure specially so called, or avarice, or arrogant haughtiness; all of which, proceeding from the single fountain of self love or inordinate affection, tend distinctly towards the good things of the present life, haughtiness towards its honours, avarice towards its riches, and pleasure towards those things by which the external senses may experience self-gratification. From these arise those works of the flesh which are enumerated by the apostle in Gal. v, 19-21, perhaps with the exception of idolatry. Yet it may be made a legitimate subject of discussion, whether idolatry may not be referred to one of these three causes.

VIII. Sin is also divided into venial and mortal: but this distribution is not deduced from the nature of sin itself, but accidentally from the gracious estimation of God. For every sin is in its own nature mortal, that is, it is that which merits death; because it is declared universally concerning sin, that “its wages is death,” (Rom. vi, 23,) which might in truth be brought instantly down upon the offenders, were God wishful to enter into judgment with his servants. But that which denominates sin venial, or capable of being forgiven, is this circumstance, God is not willing to impute sin to believers, or to place sin against them, but is desirous to pardon it; although with this difference, that it requires express penitence from some, while concerning others it is content with this expression: “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me, O Lord, from secret faults.” (Psalm xix, 12.) In this case, the ground of fear is not so much, lest, from the aggravation of sin, men should fall into despair, as, lest, from its extenuation, they should relapse into negligence and security; not only because man has a greater propensity to the latter than to the former, but likewise because that declaration is always at hand: have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” that is, of the sinner who has merited death by his transgressions, “but that he be converted and live.” (Ezek. xviii, 32.)

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/26/2013 at 10:34 AM

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