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Johannes Wollebius on Common Special Grace in the Light of Depravity Due to Sin

September 15, 2008

 

VIII. Original sin consists not only of inability to do good, but also of a tendency [proclivitas] toward evil; nor is it merely the loss of the good originally given, but also the addition of the corresponding evil.

IX. By original sin natural goods are corrupted, and the supernatural good completely [penitus] taken away.

X. There remain, therefore, the intellect, but it is beclouded; and the will, which has lost its rectitude; and the lower desires, which are totally corrupted.

XI. Therefore, even in natural and civil affairs unredeemed man can do good only by special grace.

XII. Without this special grace of God nothing significant was done by the pagans [gentiles].

XIII. Whatever they did accomplish was so mingled with multiform futility, that even their greatest virtues are merely magnificent sins [splendida peccata] before God.

XIV. Good works are not merely actions that are good in themselves, but actions that are performed from right motives.

The phrase “good works” may be used either univocally or equivocally. It is used univocally of actions that are good simply with respect to all circumstances, but equivocally of actions good in themselves but corrupted with respect to the object, or subject, or means, or purpose. If one examines the purpose of the actions of the pagans, it will be evident that they were concerned over their own glory rather than that of God

XV. Although the passions of the reprobate are restrained by God a! with a bridle, they are not made whole.

XVI. The supernatural gifts, namely clarity of intellect, rectitude of will and conformity of passion to reason, are completely lost.

XVII. Thus in spiritual matters, man has within himself no principle of knowing or acting, either as a concrete fact or as a possibility.

XVIII. Therefore, those who attribute to unredeemed man either free will or other powers by which he might do good or prepare himself for conversion and God’s grace, are seeking a house in ashes. This is the error of the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians.

XIX. The will remains free from coercion, but not free to choose between good and evil.

XX. The will has been made so evil [factum est ad malum] that it is better described as enslaved than as free. So far as intellect is concerned, “the natural man cannot understand the concerns of the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2: 14). As to will, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil” (Gen. 8: 21). Finally, Scripture declares that man as a whole has lost spiritual life, “to lie dead in sin” (Eph. 2: I).

XXI. Even when this sin has been forgiven to pious parents, it is nonetheless passed on by generation to their children. Because the stain is not completely removed by forgiveness, although the guilt is removed. The gift of faith is not given by generation, but by regeneration, so man generates man not as regenerate, but simply as man, just as seed cleansed of beard, chaff, and husk, still produce these when it grows.

Johannes Wollebius, “Compendium Theologiae Christianae,” in John W. Beardslee III, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1977), 70-71. [Originally published in 1626.] [Note, by the term “special grace” Wollebius means special common grace, cf, Calvin, Institutes 2.2.17; Institutes, 2.3.4.]

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