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De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will
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Sect. CXLV. — AND here is solved that question of the Diatribe so often repeated throughout its book — “if we can do nothing, to what purpose are so many laws, so many precepts, so many threatenings, and so many promises?” —

Paul here gives an answer: “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” His answer is far different from that which would enter the thoughts of man, or of “Free-will.” He does not say, by the law is proved “Free-will,” because it co-operates with it unto righteousness. For righteousness is not by the law, but, “by the law is the knowledge of sin:” seeing that, the effect, the work, and the office of the law, is to be a light to the ignorant and the blind; such a light, as discovers to them disease, sin, evil, death, hell, and the wrath of God; though it does not deliver from these, but shews them only. And when a man is thus brought to a knowledge of the disease of sin, he is cast down, is afflicted, nay despairs: the law does not help him, much less can he help himself. Another light is necessary, which might discover to him the remedy. This is the voice of the Gospel, revealing Christ as the Deliverer from all these evils. Neither “Free-will” nor reason can discover Him. And how should, it discover Him, when it is itself dark and devoid even of the light of the law, which might discover to it its disease, which disease, in its own light it seeth not, but believes it to be sound health.

So also in Galatians iii., treating on the same point, he saith, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” To which he answers, not as the Diatribe does, in a way that proves the existence of “Free-will,” but he saith, “it was added because of transgressions, until the Seed should come, to whom the promise was made.” (Gal. iii. 19). He saith, “because of transgressions;” not, however, to restrain them, as Jerome dreams; (for Paul shews, that to take away and to restrain sins, by the gift of righteousness, was that which was promised to the Seed to come;) but to cause transgressions to abound, as he saith Rom. v. 20, “The law entered that sin might abound.” Not that sins were not committed and did not abound without the law, but they were not known to be transgressions and sins of such magnitude; for the most and greatest of them, were considered to be righteousnesses. And while sins are thus unknown, there is no place for remedy, or for hope; because, they will not submit to the hand of the healer, considering themselves to be whole, and not to want a physician. Therefore, the law is necessary, which might give the knowledge of sin; in order that, he who is proud and whole in his own eyes, being humbled down into the knowledge of the iniquity and greatness of his sin, might groan and breathe after the grace that is laid up in Christ.

Only observe, therefore, the simplicity of the words — “By the law is the knowledge of sin;” and yet, these alone are of force sufficient to confound and overthrow “Free-will” altogether. For if it be true, that of itself, it knows not what is sin, and what is evil, as the apostle saith here, and Rom. vii. 7-8, “I should not have known that concupiscence was sin, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet,” how can it ever know what is righteousness and good? And if it know not what righteousness is, how can it endeavour to attain unto it? We know not the sin in which we were born, in which we live, in which we move and exist, and which lives, moves, and reigns in us; how then should we know that righteousness which is without us, and which reigns in heaven? These works bring that miserable thing “Free-will” to nothing — nothing at all!

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