In our preceding article we quoted from Philip Schaff in connection with the fall of Adam and its consequences. Pelagius, it was noted, destitute of all idea of the organic wholeness of the race or of human nature, viewed Adam merely as an isolated individual; he gave him no representative place, and therefore his acts no bearing beyond himself. In this article we continue with Philip Schaff, as he now sets forth the Pelagian system with respect to the doctrine of human ability and divine grace. Writing on Pelagius’ doctrine of human ability, Vol. III, 808 ff., he writes as follows:
The PRESENT MORAL CONDITION of man is, according to the Pelagian system, in all respects the same as that of Adam before the fall. Every child is born with the same moral powers and capabilities with which the first man was created by God. For the freedom of choice, as we have already seen, is not lost by abuse, and is altogether the same in heathens, Jews, and Christians, except that in Christians it is aided by grace (how similar Pelagianism is to the theory of Common Grace; also this theory sets forth that the heathens were groping for the light, were seeking after God, and were aided by the gospel of Jesus Christ when it was proclaimed to them—H.V.). Pelagius was a creationist, holding that the body alone is derived from the parents, and that every soul is created directly by God, and is therefore sinless. The sin of the father, inasmuch as it consists in isolated acts of will, and does not inhere in the nature, has no influence upon the child. The only difference is, that, in the first place, Adam’s posterity are born children, and not, like him, created full-grown; and secondly, they have before them the bad example of his disobedience, which tempts them more or less to imitation, and to the influence of which by far the most—but not all—succumb.
Julian often appeals to the virtues of the heathen, such as valor, chastity, and temperance, in proof of the natural goodness of human nature (does this not sound very much like Common Grace?—H.V.).
He looked at the matter of moral action as such, and judged it accordingly. “If the chastity of the heathen,” he objects to Augustine’s view of the corrupt nature of heathen virtue, “were no chastity, then it might be said with the same propriety that the bodies of unbelievers are no bodies; that the eyes of the heathen could not see; that grain which grew in their fields was no grain.”
Augustine justly ascribed the value of a moral act to the inward disposition or the direction of the will, and judged it from the unity of the whole life and according to the standard of love to God, which is the soul of all true virtue, and is bestowed upon us only through grace. He did not deny altogether the existence of natural virtues, such as moderation, lenity, benevolence, generosity, which proceed from the Creator, and also constitute a certain merit among men; but he drew a broad line of distinction between them and the specific Christian graces, which alone are good in the proper sense of the word, and alone have value before God (this, I believe, is a striking statement as far as Augustine’s view of the natural man is concerned—H.V.). The Holy Scripture, history, and Christian experience, by no means warrant such a favorable view of the natural moral condition of man as the Pelagian system teaches. On the contrary, they draw a most gloomy picture of fearful corruption and universal inclination to all evil, which can only be overcome by the intervention of divine grace (to this we say Amen—H.V.). Yet Augustine also touches an extreme, when, on a false application of the passage of St. Paul: “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin,”
he ascribes all the virtues of the heathen to ambition and love of honor, and so stigmatizes them as vices (this may be the conclusion of Philip Schaff, but we would like to know what interpretation he would give of
—H.V.). And in fact he is in this inconsistent with himself. For, according to his view, the nature which God created, remains, as to its substance, good; the divine image is not wholly lost, but only defaced; and even man’s sorrow in his loss reveals a remaining trace of good.
Pelagius distinguishes three elements in the idea of good: power, will, and act (posse, velle, and esse). The first appertains to man’s nature, the second to his free will, the third to his conduct. The power or ability to do good, the ethical constitution, is grace, and comes therefore from God, as an original endowment of the nature of man, It is the condition of volition and action, though it does not necessarily produce them. Willing and acting belong exclusively to man himself. The power of speech, of thought, of sight, is God’s gift; but whether we shall really think, speak, or see, and whether we shall think, speak, or see well or ill, depends upon ourselves.
Here the nature of man is mechanically sundered from his will and act; and the one is referred exclusively to God, the others to man. Moral ability does not exist over and above the will and its acts, but in them, and is increased by exercise; and thus its growth depends upon man himself. On the other hand, the divine help is indispensable even to the willing and doing of good; for God works in us both to will and to do. The Pelagian system is founded unconsciously upon the deistic conception of the world as a clock, made and wound up by God, and then running of itself, and needing at most some subsequent repairs. God, in this system, is not the omnipresent and everywhere working Upholder and Governor of the world, in whom the creation lives and moves and has its being, but a more or less passive spectator of the operation of the universe. Jerome therefore fairly accuses the Pelagians (without naming them) of denying the absolute dependence of man on God, and cites against them the declaration of Christ,
concerning the uninterrupted activity of God.
IV. The doctrine of the GRACE of God.
The sufficiency of the natural reason and will of man would seem to make supernatural revelation and grace superfluous. But this Pelagius does not admit. Besides the natural grace, as we may call his con-created ability, he assumes also a supernatural grace, which through revelation enlightens the understanding, and assists man to will and to do what is good (here, where we read of the word, “assists” we are reminded of the Arminians who use the same language in their Five Points of the Remonstrants—H.V.). T
his grace confers the negative benefit of the forgiveness of past sins, or justification, which Pelagius understands in the Protestant sense of declaring righteous, and not (like Augustine) in the Catholic sense of making righteous; and the positive benefit of a strengthening of the will by the power of instruction and example. As we have been followers of Adam in sin, so should we become imitators of Christ in virtue. “In those not Christians,” says Pelagius, “good exists in a condition of nakedness and helplessness; but in Christians it acquires vigor through the assistance of Christ.” He distinguishes different stages of development in grace corresponding to the increasing corruption of mankind. At first, he says, men lived righteous by nature, then righteous under the law, and finally righteous under grace, or the gospel (we may do well to compare this to the Arminian conception of various decrees in God, as set forth in our Canons—H.V.). When the inner law, or the conscience, no longer sufficed, the outward or Mosaic law came in; and when this failed, through the overmastering habit of sinning, it had to be assisted by the view and imitation of Christ, as set forth in his example. Julian of Eclanum also makes kinds and degrees of the grace of God. The first gift of grace is our creation out of nothing; the second, our rational soul; the third, the written law; the fourth, the gospel, with all its benefits. In the gift of’ the Son of God grace is completed (Is not the similarity striking between this conception and Arminianism? Heresy, also of the modern day, is not so new after all!—H.V.).
Grace is therefore a useful external help to the development of the powers of nature, but is not absolutely necessary. Coelestius laid down the proposition, that grace is not given for single acts. Pelagius, it is true, condemned those who deny that the grace of God in Christ is necessary for every moment and every act; but this point was a concession wrung from him in the controversy, and does not follow logically from his premises.
Grace moreover, according to Pelagius, is intended for all men (not, as Augustine taught, for the elect few only), but it must first be deserved. This, however, really destroys its freedom. “The heathen,” he says, “are liable to judgment and damnation, because they, notwithstanding their free will, by which they are able to attain unto faith and to deserve God’s grace, make an evil use of the freedom bestowed upon them; Christians, on the other hand, are worthy of reward, because they through good use of freedom deserve the grace of God, and keep his commandments.”
Pelagianism, therefore, unduly restricts the specifically Christian grace to the force of instruction and example. Christ is indeed the Supreme Teacher, and the Perfect Example, but He is also High-priest and King, and the Author of a new spiritual creation. Had He been merely a teacher, He would not have been specifically distinct from Moses and Socrates, and could not have redeemed mankind from the guilt and bondage of sin. Moreover, He does not merely influence believers from without, but lives and works in them through the Holy Ghost, as the principle of their spiritual life. Hence, Augustine’s wish for his opponent: “Would that Pelagius might confess that grace which not merely promises us the excellence of future glory, but also brings forth in us the faith and hope of it; a grace, which not merely admonishes to all good, but also from within inclines us thereto; not merely reveals wisdom, but also inspires us with the love of wisdom. (This superficial conception of grace is inevitable, with the Pelagian conception of sin.—H.V.).
Pelagianism is a fundamental anthropological heresy, denying man’s need of redemption, and answering to the Ebionistic Christology, which rejects the divinity of Christ. It is the opposite of Manichaeism, which denies man’s capability of redemption, and which corresponds to the Gnostic denial of the true humanity of Christ.
Pelagianism, as we know, was never rooted out and is rampant today. In our following article, the Lord willing, we will begin to call attention to the Augustinian system.