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De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will
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Sect. LV. — ANOTHER passage is adduced by our Diatribe out of Gen. iv. 7.: where the Lord saith unto Cain, “Under thee shall be the desire of sin, and thou shalt rule over it.” — “Here it is shewn (saith the Diatribe) that the motions of the mind to evil can be overcome, and that they do not carry with them the necessity of sinning.” —

These words, ‘the motions of the mind to evil can be overcomes’ though spoken with ambiguity, yet, from the scope of the sentiment, the consequence, and the circumstances, must mean this: — that “Free-will,” has the power of overcoming its motions to evil; and that, those motions do not bring upon it the necessity of sinning. Here, again; what is there excepted which is not ascribed unto “Free-will?” What need is there of the Spirit, what need of Christ, what need of God, if “Free-will” can overcome the motions of the mind to evil! And where, again, is that ‘probable opinion’ which affirms, that “Free-will” cannot so much as will good? For here, the victory over evil is ascribed unto that, which neither wills nor wishes for good. The inconsiderateness of our Diatribe is really — too — too bad!

Take the truth of the matter in a few words. As I have before observed, by such passages as these, it is shewn to man what he ought to do, not what he can do. It is said, therefore, unto Cain, that he ought to rule over his sin, and to hold its desires in subjection under him. But this he neither did nor could do, because he was already pressed down under the contrary dominion of Satan. — It is well known, that the Hebrews frequently use the future indicative for the imperative: as in Exod. xx. 1-17. “Thou shalt, have none other gods but Me,” “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and in numberless other instances of the same kind. Otherwise, if these sentences were taken indicatively, as they really stand, they would be promises of God; and as He cannot lie, it would come to pass that no man could sin; and then, as commands, they would be unnecessary; and if this were the case, then our interpreter would have translated this passage more correctly thus: — “let its desire be under thee, and rule thou over it,” (Gen. iv. 7.) Even as it then ought also to be said concerning the woman, “Be thou under thy husband, and let him rule over thee,” (Gen. iii. 16.) But that it was not spoken indicatively unto Cain is manifest from this: — it would then have been a promise. Whereas, it was not a promise; because, from the conduct of Cain, the event proved the contrary.

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