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Wendelin's "Christian Theology": Doctrine of Actual Sin

THESIS I:  Hitherto original sinActual sin follows, which is a defect of action, repugnant to the law of God.

EXPLANATION:  The fount and origin of actual sin is original sin, through which the nature of man has been corrupted in such a way that it at all points is in conflict with the law of God.  Subsequently, a sin is able to be the cause of another sin, and that in various ways:

(1.)  With one sin admitted, the grace of the Holy Spirit is lost, being destitute of which the sinner falls into many others.

(2.)  God punishes sins with sins, by delivering the sinner over to the power of Satan.

(3.)  Inasmuch as, because of the affinity of sins, the sinner is inclined from one to another:  so, from prodigality to theft, from drunkenness to lust, etc.

(4.)  Inasmuch as one sin is not able to be perpetrated without many others:  so it is in the case of avarice.

(5.)  Inasmuch as one is perpetrated because of another.

 


THESIS II:  Actual sin is distinguished:  (1.)  into sin of itself, or by accidental property; (2.)  into manifest or hidden sin; (3.)  into spiritual or bodily sin; (4.)  into reigning or not reigning sin; (5.)  into remissible or irremissible sin.

 

THESIS III:  What is simply prohibited by the law of God, whether it be a vicious act by internal defect, like theft, adultery, blasphemy, etc., or an intermission of an action commanded in the law; is sin of itself.

EXPLANATION:  Hence a sin is either of commission or omission.  A sin of commission is commonly defined as an act prohibited by God.  A sin of omission, an omission of an act prescribed by the law of God.  For, not only those that do what the law prohibits, but also those that do not what the law prescribes, sin.

 

THESIS IV:  What is commanded in the law of God, and is indeed good in itself, but is displeasing to God on account of external defects, namely, unbelief, and absence of the appropriate end, is a sin by accidental property.

EXPLANATION:  I.  The virtues and actions, most illustrious in appearance, of the Gentiles were sins of this sort, like the justice of Aristides,[1] the chastity of Scipio,[2] the courage of Julius Cæsar, the patience of Socrates, etc.  For, even if these virtues, and the actions that thence proceed, are commanded by the law of God; nevertheless, they were defiled by the Heathen:

(1.)  Because of their unbelief:  for they did not proceed from faith.  But whatsoever is not of faith is sin, Romans 14:23.

(2.)  Because of the absence of the appropriate end:  for the Gentiles did not direct their virtuous actions to the glory of God.  But all are actions are to be directed to the glory of God.  1 Corinthians 10:31, whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  Hence Augustine elegantly states:  Virtues are to be distinguished from vices, not by duties, but by ends; duties are weighed, not by actions, but by ends.

Because of these defects the virtues of the Gentiles are called sins by accidental properties.

II.  Exception is taken to this doctrine:

There must be an abstaining from sins.

But the virtues of the Gentiles were sins.

Therefore, the Gentiles were obliged to abstain from their virtues.

Response to the major:  There is to be an abstaining from things sinful of themselves, in such a way that the whole action, vicious by internal defect, might be left off.  But from things sinful by accidental property there is not to be an abstaining in a simple way; but actions agreeable of themselves to the law of God are to be fulfilled, but the external defects are to be emended:  if they be not able to be emended, nevertheless it is better to commit a sin by accidental property, than a thing sinful of itself by the omission of an action prescribed of itself by the law of God.

 

THESIS V:  A manifest sin is one, of which many are away; but hidden, of which either the author himself is not aware, or the author alone, or in addition to the author a few others.

EXPLANATION:  I.  Thus David also asked to be absolved of hidden sins, Psalm 19:12.

* II.  It is asked, whether all evil thinking is sin.

Response:  Evil thinking is arranged into three sorts:

(1.)  Transient thinking:  which is conceived by the thinker and vanishes in almost the same moment.

(2.)  Thinking slightly adhering:  which, not passing so swiftly, titillates the appetite, as it were, but without consent, Ephesians 5:17.

(3.)  Lasting thinking, drawing the will to consent.

It is beyond controversy, that the second and third sorts are sin:  but, that the first is also, is proven against the Scholastics.

(1.)  Because it is not agreeable to the law.

(2.)  Because it springs from a corrupt heart, and argues the destruction of the divine image.

(3.)  Because it is a sort of evil concupiscence.

(4.)  Because even an idle word is a sin, Matthew 12:13.

III.  The appearance of sin, both manifest and hidden, known by one or by a very few besides the author, is scandal, which, active and given, is defined as a thing said or done truly evil, or having the appearance of evil, whereby the author of it furnishes an occasion for sinning to another, Matthew 18:6, 7, etc.  Or scandal is received or passive, Matthew 11:6; 13:21; 15:12; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Luke 2:34; 1 Peter 2:7, 8; John 6:41, 52, 60, etc.

Sometimes scandal is given and received at the same time.

 


THESIS VI:  Spiritual sin is that which more nearly touches and contaminates the spirit of soul of man.  Carnal sin is that which in addition to the spirit also stains the body.

EXPLANATION:  Idolatry, blasphemy, heresy, desperation, etc., are spiritual sins.  Drunkenness, adultery, murder, etc., are carnal sins.

 

THESIS VII:  Reigning sin is that which the sinner does not resist by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Non-reigning sin is that which the sinner does resist and oppose by the grace of the Holy Spirit, even if he sometimes succumbs to the same.

EXPLANATION:  In the case of reigning sin, the will of man clearly and fully consents to an inordinate appetite.  Whence it is said to be perpetrated with the full consent of the will.  In the case of non-reigning sin, the will of man does not fully consent to the inordinate appetite, but sets itself in opposition:  concerning which that saying of Paul is to be taken:  what I would, that I do not, but what I hate, that I do, Romans 7:15, 19.  Hence sins not reigning are said to be committed out of weakness:  but reigning sins, out of determined wickedness and contumacy.  Those regenerated are liable to non-reigning sinsreigning sins are proper to the unregenerate.  See Exercitation 42.

 

THESIS VIII:  Remissible sin is that to which forgiveness is granted through repentance and faith in Christ.

EXPLANATION:  I.  This sin is elsewhere called venial:  not because it is worthy of venia/forgiveness, or does not deserve the punishment of eternal death:  but because by the grace of God it obtains forgiveness.  For, considered in itself, all sin is mortal, that is, worthy of eternal death.  Deuteronomy 27:26, Cursed be he that continueth not in all the words that are written in the book of the law.  Concerning sin in general the Apostle saith, the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23.  And in James 2:10, Whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is guilty of all.  Therefore, either venial sin is not repugnant to the law of God, and so is not sin:  or, if it is repugnant to the law of God, it begets death:  because it draws after itself the violation of the whole law.  Nevertheless, you would not rightly gather from this, that all sin are equal:  because all sins deserve a punishment equal in duration, there can be an equality in the extension of the punishment, but an inequality in the intensity, according to the inequality of the ἀνομίας/lawlessness with respect to degree.  Thus there is no doubt, that blasphemy against God is a more heinous sin than theft:  even if by the great sin of some magistrates thieves are wont to be more grievously punished than blasphemers.  Thus he sins more grievous, who strikes a parent, than he who strikes a brother; who strikes a Teacher, than he who strikes a fellow student, etc.:  Who perpetrates in very deed a known crime, than he who does not perpetrate:  who commits reigning sin, than he who commits non-reigning sin.  Christ Himself expressly acknowledges the inequality, John 19:11.

II.  The Papists contend that certain sins are venial by their very nature, that is, they do not deserve eternal death.  Among their other arguments, there are two principal ones:

(1.)  If all sins deserved eternal death, certainly all would be worthy of the Gehenna of fire.

But the consequent is false:  Therefore also the antecedent.

The rationale of the hypothetical:  because eternal death and the Gehenna of fire are the same.

The minor is proven out of Matthew 5:22:[3]  In which God assigns diverse punishments to diverse degrees of sin:  but to the third degree alone does He assign the Gehenna of fire.

Response:  I deny the hypothetical:  the rationale or proof of it is false.  The Gehenna of fire, in the passage alleged out of Matthew, does not absolutely and simply signify eternal death or damnation:  but only a more intense degree of eternal death.  For, as there are diverse degrees of sins, so there shall also be diverse degrees of punishments or of eternal damnation in hell.

(2.)  Not every sin begets death, but only sin consummated.

Therefore, not every sin is mortal in its own nature.

The antecedent is proven out of James 1:15, when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin:  but sin, when it is finished, or consummated, bringeth forth death.

Response:  If to beget death is the same thing as to introduce the guilt of eternal death, taken simply and absolutely:  I deny the antecedent.  The proof does not make for the matter:  for, even if to external sin, or sin crossing into external act, James attributed death:  nevertheless, sin only conceived in the soul does not thereby deliver from the punishment of death.  Both are worthy of the punishment of death:  yet the Apostle attributes death only to sin external and consummated, because it is more worthy of death, than concupiscence alone, or sin conceived only in the soul.

 

THESIS IX:  Irremissible sin is that to which forgiveness is never granted because of obstinate impenitence and unbelief.

EXPLANATION:  I.  All the sins of reprobates are irremissible:  because they never truly repent, and never believe upon Christ.  Therefore, those sins that are remissible to the elect by faith in Christ are irremissible to reprobates, because of their final unbelief.

II.  Nevertheless, the sin against the Holy Spirit is a peculiar sort of irremissible sin:  which is determined denial, blasphemy, and persecution of known truth concerning God, and His will and method of salvation, of which the conscience has been convicted.  Mention is made of this sin, Matthew 12:31; Luke 12:10; Hebrews 6:4.  1 John 5:16, it is called sin unto death κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, par excellence:  because whoever is liable to it does not find his way clear of death:  whence the Apostles does not will that prayers be offered for him:  This sin falls upon reprobates alone, and not all those, but only son:  and great care is to be taken, that there be no rash judgment concerning it.

III.  It is called the sin against the Holy Spirit, because it is committed against the immediate and proper operations of the Holy Spirit, which are the revelation of heavenly truth, the illumination of minds, and conviction concerning the truth.  In Hebrews 6:4-6, it say, it is impossible…to renew those that have committed this sin again unto repentance.  Where it is asked, in what regard is it impossible?

Response:  Because those that sin against the Holy Spirit set themselves in opposition to Him, so that they are not able to be renewed, unless by a new expiatory sacrifice, after out of determined malice they have rejected the former, Hebrews 10:26, 29.  But by the wisdom and righteousness of God no new sacrifice has been granted:  neither is the Son of God able to be crucified twice.

IV.  Hitherto the principal distributions of actual sin.  By Theologians was also used the division into sin of the heart, mouth, and deed.

A sin of the heart is a depraved thought or lust.

Note:  Thought concerning evil is threefold:  (1.)  simple apprehension; (2.)  apprehension conjoined with a motion of the inclination to consent; (3.)  apprehension conjoined with full approbation and consent.  The first is without sin, and was also in Christ, Matthew 4:1.  It is nothing but a recognition of evil:  but to recognize evil is not evil.  The third, beyond all controversy, is sin.  Neither is the second free from sin, James 1:14.

The desire for an unlawful thing is, under condition, unlawful, and guilty of sin, if it concerns that which is prohibited by divine law and intrinsically evil:  as if you should say, thou wert going to commit adultery, except that had been prohibited:  the father was going to abuse, except that had been forbidden by the law of God.  Desires of this sort argue an inclination and propensity toward that which of itself is sin.  But a desire for an unlawful things is able, under considition, to be without sin, if it concerns that which does not have intrinsic wickedness, but is only unlawful by positive law:  as if you should say, with the gates closed, I may depart from the town through the bulwarks, unless it were prohibited.

A sin of the mouth is ἀνομία/lawlessness in external speech, a lie, for example, or blasphemy.  In Matthew 12:36, Christ says, that an account of every idle words is to be rendered by men; where by the term idle He understands excessive speeches without necessity and utility, because commonly there is a carelessness about them, and men think that they are never going to have to render an account of them.  Against whom Christ affirms, that even in such words a worthiness of condemnation is able to be found:  because many things are uttered with scandal, rashly, against honesty, etc.  Jerome interprets ῥῆμα ἀργόν, idle word, as that which is set forth without advantage to the speaker and hearer.  However, not all jocular words are sins:  let them also consider that use as legitimate and honest, Proverbs 29:9; 1 Kings 18:27.

A sin of deed is ἀνομία/lawlessness in external act; like theft, murder, adultery.  Sin in external deed is greater than if it were only conceived in the heart, or even brought forth by the mouth, because of the greater effort in sinning, and also the greater injury.  Whence external works are punished even capitally, but what things are only thought, or spoken forth, are not so punished.

To this pertains the common description of sin by thought, word, and deed against the law of God.  See Exercitation 41.


[1] Aristides (530-468 BC) was an Athenian general and stateman.  He was known for his unwavering integrity, and was nicknamed “the Just”.

[2] Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (235-c. 183 BC) was a Roman general and stateman, remembered for his victory over Carthage in the Second Punic War.  It is said that a female prisoner from the siege of New Carthage in Iberia was brought to him:  when he learned of her betrothal, rather than taking advantage of her, he returned her to her fiancé.

[3] Matthew 5:22:  “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment:  and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council:  but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire (εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός).”

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