Arminius on Romans 7:14

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Arminius on Romans 7:14

provided by SEA member, Roy Ingle

Here are the thoughts of Arminius on Romans 7:14. As I noted before, Adam Clarke felt that the whole of the passage is speaking of an unregenerate man. Arminius agreed. It was here, in his preaching through Romans, that Arminius ignited the controversy with the theologians of his day when he begin to teach that the man of Romans 7 was unregenerate. Calvin had taught that Romans 7 represented the struggle of all Christians including Paul the Apostle.

And now Arminius on Romans 7:14:

1. A closer investigation of this question and a demonstration taken from the text itself, that the apostle is here treating about a man paced under the law, and not under grace.
2. The manner in which Carnal and spiritual are opposed to each other in the scriptures.
3. An objection taken from 1 Corinthians iii, 1,2; and a reply to it.
4. The meaning of the phrase, sold under sin. The views of Calvin and Beza on this verse.

1. Having, in the preceding manner, considered the disposition and economy of the whole chapter, let us now somewhat more strictly investigate the question proposed by us, which is this: “Are those things which are recorded, from the fourteenth verse to the end of the seventh chapter, to be understood concerning a man who is under the law, or concerning one who is under grace?”

First of all, let some attention be bestowed on the connection of the fourteenth verse with those which preceded it; for the rational particle γαρ “for,” indicates its connection with the preceding. This connection shows, that the same subject is discussed in this verse, as in those before it; and the pronoun εγω I, must be understood as relating to the same man, as had been signified in the previous verses by the same pronoun. But the investigation in the former part of the chapter was respecting a man who is under the law, and the pronoun “I” had previously denoted the man who was under the law: Therefore, in this fourteenth verse also, in which a, cause is given of that which had been before explained, a man under the law is still the subject. If it be otherwise, the whole of it is nothing less than loose reasoning; nor, in this case, have we ever been able to perceive even any probable connection, according to which these consequences that follow can be in coherence with the matters preceding, and which has been adduced by those who suppose that, in the first thirteen verses of this seventh chapter, the discourse refers to a man under the law, but that in the fourteenth verse and those which follow, the subject of the discourse is a man under grace. If any one denies this, let him attempt to make out the connection [between the two portions of the chapter which have just been specified]. Some of those who have entertained that opinion, perceiving the difficulty of such an undertaking, interpret this fourteenth verse as well as those which preceded it, as relating to a man under the law, but the fifteenth and following verses as applicable to a man under grace. This, also, we shall hereafter perceive.

Secondly. In the same fourteenth verse, that man about whom the apostle treats under his own person, is said to be carnal; but a man who is regenerate and placed under grace is not carnal, but spiritual. Therefore, it is a matter of the greatest certainty, that the subject of the apostle in this verse is not a man placed under grace. But a man who is under the law is carnal; therefore, it is plain that the subject of discourse in this verse is a man under the law. I prove that a regenerate man, one who is placed under grace, is neither carnal, nor so designated in the Scriptures. In Romans 8:9, it is said “but ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” And in the verse preceding, it is said, “so then they that are in the flesh cannot please God:” But a regenerate man, one who is placed under grace, pleases God. In Romans 8:5, it is said “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh,” but [as it is expressed in the same verse] a man under grace “minds the things of the Spirit.” In Galatians 5:24, it is said, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts;” and they that “have crucified the flesh” are not carnal. But men who are regenerate and placed under grace “are Christ’s and have crucified the flesh.” Therefore, such men as answer this description are not carnal. In Romans 8:14, it is said, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Therefore, they are “led by the Spirit of God;” but such persons are spiritual.

2. But it is here objected, “the same man may, in a different respect, be called carnal and spiritual — ’spiritual,’ so far as he is regenerate through the Spirit — ’carnal’ so far as he is unregenerate; for, as long as man is in this mortal body, he is not fully regenerate. From this arises a two-fold signification of the work ’carnal’: one denotes a man purely carnal, in whom sin has the dominion; the other denotes a man partly carnal and partly spiritual.”

Answer: I grant, according to the Scriptures, that man is not fully and perfectly regenerate so long as he is in the present life. But this admission must be correctly apprehended, that is, that such perfection be understood as relating not to the essence and essential parts of regeneration itself, but to the degree and measure of the quantity. For the business of regeneration is not carried on in such a manner, that a man is regenerate or renewed with regard to some of his faculties, but remains with regard to others of them altogether in the oldness of depraved nature. But this second birth is ordered in the same manner as our first nativity, by which we are born human beings — that is, partaking entirely of human nature, but not in the perfection of adult manhood. Thus also, does the power of regeneration pervade all the faculties of man, none of them excepted; but it does not pervade them perfectly at the first moment; for it is carried on gradually, and by daily advances, until it is expanded or drawn out to a full and mature age in Christ Hence, the whole man is said to be regenerated, according to all his faculties, mind, affections and will; and he is, therefore, with regard to these, his regenerated faculties, a spiritual person.

But as in the Scripture, a spiritual man and a carnal man are opposed to each other in their entire definitions, [for the former of them is one who walks according to the Spirit, and the latter is he that walks after the flesh, and as the one is mentioned for the opposite of the other,) in this respect indeed, the same man cannot be said to be at once both spiritual and carnal. And thus I reject, according to the Scriptures, this distinction of carnal persons, by which some of them are called carnal, in whom sin has dominion on the predominant part, and by which others receive the appellation of carnal men, in whom the flesh contends against the Spirit on the part which is less powerful; for the rejection of this distinction, I have the permission of Scripture, which is not accustomed to reckon the latter of these two classes in the number of carnal persons. This is expressed in a very significant manner by Leo, on the resurrection of our Lord, in the following words: “Though we are saved by hope, and still bear about with us corruption and mortal flesh, yet we are correctly said not to be in the flesh if carnal affections have not dominion over us, and we deservedly lay aside and discard the name of that thing whose will we no longer follow.”’

But were this, their distinction, allowed, still, that is not yet proved which they attempt, unless it be demonstrated that this man is called carnal, not in the first of these respects or senses, but in the second — not because sin has the dominion in him, but because the flesh contends against the Spirit, which is a result that can never be deduced from the text itself: For It is evident that, in the man whom the apostle here calls carnal, sin has the dominion, and the party of the flesh is more powerful in him than that of the Spirit. Because “sin dwelleth in him, he does the evil that he would not, and he does not the good which he would; to perform what is good, finds not; but sin, which dwelleth in him, perpetrates that which is evil; he is brought into captivity to the law of sin, or he is a captive under the law of sin.” All these are certain and manifest tokens of sin, which has the dominion. Nor is it any valid objection, that the man is compelled, though unwilling and reluctant, to obey sin; for the dominion of sin is two fold — either with the consent of him who sins, or against his conscience, and his consent arising from his conscience. For whether a servant obeys his Lord willingly or unwillingly, he is still the servant of him to whom he yields obedience. This is such a certain truth, that no one is able to come from the servitude of sin to liberty, except through this way — the way of this hatred of servitude, and of this desire of obtaining deliverance.

3. But some one will say,

“Even those who are under grace are called carnal in” 1 Corinthians 3:1, 2.

I reply, The question does not relate to the word itself; but to its true meaning and the thing signified by it. We must try, therefore, whether this word has the same signification in this passage as it has in the seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans. But they [at Corinth] are called carnal with respect to knowledge, and in reference to feeling or inclination. In this sense, being unskillful and inexperienced in the doctrine of piety, and the knowledge of the gospel, they are called carnal in opposition to those who are spiritual, who know how to “judge all things,” (1 Corinthians 2:15, ) and who are also called “who are perfect,” in (1 Corinthians 2:6, ) and, in this sense, “babes in Christ,” and those who have need to be fed with milk are called carnal. But with respect to feeling or inclination, those men are called carnal in whom human and carnal affections have the dominion and prevail, and who are said, in other passages, to be in the flesh, and to walk according to the flesh, in opposition to those who are spiritual, who, “through the Spirit, have mortified the deeds of the flesh and have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” But the apostle seems here to bestow this appellation on the Corinthians, or on some of them, with this two-fold reference; for he says that, with respect to knowledge, they are “babes in Christ,” that is, unskillful and inexperienced in the doctrine of piety, who had to be “fed with milk, and who were not able to bear solid food.” But with respect to affections, he says that they “are carnal, and walk as men,” on account of the contentions and divisions which prevailed among them, from which it was evident that, in them, the flesh had the predominance over the Spirit. But in whatever sense or manner the word is used in this passage, it brings no advantage to the cause of those who declare that the apostle calls himself a carnal man in Romans 7:14. For if the same word is not used in 1 Corinthians 3:1, in a sense similar to that which it bears in Romans 7:14, then it is adduced in an unlearned and useless manner in elucidation of this question; for equivocation is the fruitful parent of error. If the word is to be received in the same sense in both passages, then I am at liberty firmly to conclude from this, in favor of my opinion, that the apostle cannot be called carnal in Romans 7, for under that appellation he severely reprehends the Corinthians because he “was not able to speak unto them as unto spiritual persons,” since they were such as were still carnal; which he would have done without any just cause, if he were himself also comprehended under that title when understood in the same signification.

4. Thirdly. The same man about whom the apostle is here treating, is also said, in this, the fourteenth verse, to be sold under sin, or, (which is the same thing,) the slave of sin, and become its servant by purchase, which title can, in no sense whatsoever, be adapted to men placed under grace — a misappropriation of epithet, against which the Scriptures openly reclaim in many passages:

“If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36.)

“For he that is dead” is justified, that is, he “is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7.) “But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin; being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness,” or those who are completely subject to it. (Romans 6:17, 18.) But that the two things here specified [the service of sin, and that of righteousness] are so opposed to each other, as not to be able to meet together at once in the same individual, is evident from the twentieth verse of the same chapter: “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” But that the same remark applies to a man who is under the law, is apparent from a comparison of 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” with Galatians 5:18, “But if ye be led of Spirit, ye are not under the law;” therefore, they who are of the Spirit are free. But such persons are not under the law; therefore, those who are under the law are not free, but are the servants of sin. For, whether any one unwillingly, and compelled by the force of sin, obeys it, or whether it willingly — whether anyone becomes the slave of sin by the deed of his first parents, or whether, in addition to this, “he has sold himself to work evil in the sight of the Lord,” as it is related concerning Ahab in 1 Kings 21:20. In each of these cases is the man truly and deservedly called the servant of sin.

“For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.” (2 Peter 2:19.)


“whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” (John 8:34.)

“Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:16.)

For the different mode of servitude does not exempt or discharge [the subject of it] from servitude, but is conclusive that he is under it.

Should any one reply, concerning the man mentioned in Romans 7:14, “that he is not simply called the servant of sin, but that he is so denominated with this restriction — that he is the servant of sin with respect to the flesh, and not with respect to the mind, as is apparent from the last verse of the same chapter, which is an explanation of this verse,” I rejoin that this man is simply called the servant of sin, but of the description of those who unwillingly and with a reluctant conscience serve sin. But with respect to the manner in which the last verse of the chapter is to be understood, we shall perceive what it is when we arrive at that part.

But the greater part of the divines of our profession acknowledge that this fourteenth verse must be understood as relating to an unregenerate man, to one who is not placed under grace. Thus Calvin observes on verse, “The apostle now begins to bring the law and the nature of man a little more closely into hostile contact with each other.” And on the subsequent verse he says, “He now descends to the more particular example of a man already regenerate.” Thus also, Beza, against Castellio, in the refutation of the first argument to the thirteenth and fourteenth calumny, (fol. 413,) says, “St. Paul exclaims that he is not sufficient even to think that which is good; and in another passage, considering himself not within the boundaries of grace, he says, But I am carnal, sold under sin.”

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