The Vault

T.C. Hammond: Reformation Teaching about Original Sin

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From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, March 1, 1956.

In our last article we promised to deal more fully with the Doctrine contained in Article IX. It is one of the Articles directed against the teaching of the Church of Rome.

39 Articles: Article 9 – Of Original or Birth-sin

Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk) ; but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, phronema sarkos, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptised, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

There are some points on which the Article agrees with the formulation of The Council of Trent on this subject. Both repudiate the idea that the sin of Adam affected no one but himself. Both declare that Adam transfused (the word of the Council of Trent) not only death, and pains of the body, but sin also, which is the death of the soul, into the whole human race. Both agree that as a consequence of Adam’s transgression, man is changed for the worse in body and soul. But here the agreement ends and the Article adopts quite definitely the Calvinistic, as opposed to the Romanist, interpretation of the effects of original sin.

Read Calvin.

Incidentally it must be here pointed out that the suggestion (adopted by even such a cautious historian as Professor Norman Sykes), that the words “very far gone from original righteousness” are a deliberate modification of the Calvinistic Doctrine of “total Deficiency” must be rejected. In the first place the Latin “quam longissime distet” could quite reasonably be translated—” is separated as far as possible” from original righteousness. In the second place Calvin never taught that original sin robbed the soul of all desires towards good. On the contrary he writes: “Whenever, therefore, we meet with heathen writers, let us learn from that light of truth which is admirably displayed in their writings, that the human mind, fallen as it is, and corrupted from its integrity, is yet invested and adorned by God with excellent talents. If we believe that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we shall neither reject nor despise the truth itself, wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to insult the Spirit of God; for the gifts of the Spirit cannot be under valued without offering contempt and reproach to the Spirit Himself . . . Therefore, since it appears that those whom the Scripture styles “natural men” have discovered such acuteness and perspicacity in the investigating of sublunary things, let us learn from such examples, how many good qualities, the Lord hath left to the nature of man, since it has been despoiled of what is truly good.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bk. II CII sec. XV). It would be well if those who speak of Calvin would read Calvin.

Romans, Chapter Seven.

But leaving aside this most controversial point, the Article asserts in opposition to the Council of Trent that the “infection of nature” remains in them that are regenerate. This is a direct denial of the teaching of The Council of Trent. In 1546 the Council asserted that “the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin” is taken away in baptism, so that “in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates. It is possible that Jewell had these statements in view when he englished “renatis et credentibus” “them that believe and are baptised.” It is a more direct repudiation of the Roman Catholic Doctrine. The Church of England declares that the taint of original sin abides even in the true believer. St. Paul’s declaration in Romans 7 that even when with the mind he serves the law of God he still in the flesh serves the law of sin, is a scriptural exemplification of this fact which is also a sad fact of experience.

On the Roman view baptism wholly eradicates original sin. On the Reformed view, ably expressed in our Article, even the regenerating power of God the Holy Ghost does not affect this radical alteration.

In the believer “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh.” (Gal. 5: 1 7.)

There is here a co-incidence in language and a variation of language when we compare Trent and London which is very significant. Trent unhesitatingly identifies the baptismal act with the experience of the new birth. The Article hesitates to do this. But when Trent asserts that original sin is removed the article meets the assertion by declaring that original sin remains not only in baptised persons but in those who believe. The more the Articles are studied the more the evidence of care in their formulation become manifest. Finally, Trent with an amusing or lamentable disregard of Scripture evidence declares ‘This concupiscence which the Apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin.”

In our former article the sentence “the abandonment of the former word “ratio” should read “the abandonment of the former word “natura” for “ratio.” The Council declared “that which has the true and proper nature (ratio) of sin is taken away…” The Article asserts definitely that “concupiscence hath of itself the nature (ratio) of sin.” The statements are explicit and illustrate for us the great care which was taken to set out the Doctrine of the faith in clear relations to the current opinions which in the judgment of the Reformers impaired that Doctrine.

This article from the ACR Vault is part of our Articulate series, listening to T.C. Hammond unpack the 39 Articles one by one.

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