Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 4)

The Articles now turn to dealing with personal religion, or the doctrine of salvation.

IX. 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 engendered 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 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 baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath itself the nature of sin.

X. Of Free Will
The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.

As with the Lutheran and the other Reformed church confessions, the Articles make an explicit statement affirming original sin and denying the Pelagian idea that men are born basically good. Article 9 also sides with Augustine by stating that man is not only deprived of righteousness, but also positively inclined to evil. This is to say that no man is born morally neutral. Every one of us was born with an inherited moral corruption that makes us sinners by nature. This is a crucial component of the biblical understanding of the gospel. The reason we need redemption, and the reason we cannot earn it in any way, is that we are sinners by nature. We justly deserve God's wrath and condemnation.

Article 9 mentions nothing of inherited guilt or the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity (Rom 5:12-21). It also does not explicitly affirm total depravity (that every aspect of our being is corrupted by sin). But Article 10 does go on to affirm our inability to believe apart from God's "preventing" grace. The term "preventing" here has the older meaning of "preceding." In other words, God's grace must work first in order to give us a desire to believe in him and do his will.

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