"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    The Fall & Its Consequences by Pastor John Samson

    When Adam fell, how great was the fall? Did all mankind fall with him? How far? What can be done to remedy the spiritual problem? Does man just need a good moral pep talk? ...a good doctor? ...or is man on a gurney at the mortician's with a tag on the toe?

    These are not merely isoteric questions reserved for elite theologians. What you and I believe about man's basic nature has radical effects regarding how we view the Gospel itself.

    So are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners? In this brief article, I will seek to outline the basic views that are out there, ending with what I believe to be the biblical one:

    1. PELAGIANISM - Salvation is all of man (human monergism)


    Named after the British monk Pelagius (354 - 418 A.D.)

    Pelagius believed that Adam's sin affected no one but himself. Those born since Adam have been born into the same condition Adam was in before the Fall, neutral towards sin. Human beings are able to live free from sin if they want to.

    This is a humanistic, man centered teaching and while it is very positive, it limits the nature and scope of sin and flatly denies the necessity of God's grace. This view was condemned as heresy by the Church, as it has no basis in Scripture.

    2. SYNERGISM (through the actions of more than one - cooperation)


    If man was as healthy as the optimists (Pelagians) say, then surely war, disease, starvation, poverty, racial issues and alike would have been eradicated by now. Since such problems are still here, Synergists conclude that something is basically wrong with human nature. Yet, they believe that the situation is not completely hopeless. Its bad, perhaps even desperate, but not hopeless. There's a death sentence on us all because of our sin, but there's no need to call the mortician yet.

    Human nature has been damaged by the Fall. The will is NOT enslaved to sin, but is capable of believing in Christ, even prior to regeneration (although not entirely apart from God's grace). Every sinner retains the ability to choose for or against God, either cooperating with God's Spirit resulting in salvation or resisting God's grace resulting in damnation.

    Election is conditional, determined by individual choice: the only people God has chosen are those whom He already knew would believe. The faith He forsees is not exclusively a divine gift but partly a human decision. Therefore, the ultimate cause of salvation is not God's choice of the sinner but the sinner's choice of God.

    Under this broad heading of synergism, we have two basic schools of thought:

    A. SEMI-PELAGIANISM - which teaches that man initiates, God helps.
    "... Divine grace is indispensable for salvation, but it does not necessarily need to precede a free human choice, because, despite the weakness of human volition, the will takes the initiative toward God." R. Kyle (Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

    B. ARMINIANISM - which teaches that God initiates by offering grace, and that mankind either does or does not cooperate with that grace. This belief, though quite popular in our day, would still be classed as synergistic because salvation takes place through the cooperation of man with God's grace.

    3. AUGUSTINIANISM (Reformation Theology) - God saves by His Divine power alone (Divine monergism)


    Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned

    Romans 5:19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

    1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

    John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

    Augustinianism is named after Saint Augustine of the 6th Century A.D.. As far as his relationship to God is concerned, man is a lifeless corpse, unable to make a single move toward God, or even respond to God, unless God first brings this spiritually dead corpse to life. Every area of the constituent nature of man has been affected by the Fall: man's entire body, soul and spirit has suffered a radical corruption.

    This does not mean that man is without a conscience or any sense of right or wrong, nor that every sinner is devoid of all the qualities that are both pleasing to men and useful to society, when those qualities are judged only by human standards. However, it does mean that man is spiritually dead, incapable of coming to Christ by his own power (John 6:44). This we call the doctrine of Total Depravity or perhaps more precisely, total inability.

    Although spiritually dead, it is a strange death since he is nevertheless up and about actively practicing sin. He is what horror stories call a zombie - dead but walking around. This is a fair description of what Paul says about human nature in its lost condition. Apart from Jesus Christ, these sinning human corpses are the living dead.

    Man has a will, most definitely, but this will never wants God (Rom 3:11; Rom 8:7), without the direct and gracious intervention of God. Man's will is enslaved (John 8:34). The sinner actively practices evil. He is also by nature an object of God's wrath (Eph 2:3). BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy.... even when we were dead... made us alive (by grace you have been saved)... (Eph. 2:4, 5)

    The example of Lazarus' resurrection from physical death gives us a very good picture concerning what must take place for spiritual resurrection to occur. Lazarus, being a lifeless corpse in the tomb, did not cooperate with Christ with regard to his own resurrection. Why not? Well obviously, because he was dead. He was unable to aid himself in his own resurrection. Jesus simply cried out "Lazarus come forth!" and this call was powerful and sufficient in and of itself to bring dead and putrifying Lazarus back to life. Christ did not interview the dead man Lazarus and ask if he would like to be resurrected, and once he got the "all clear" went ahead with his plan, now having obtained Lazarus' all important permission and assent. Nor did Lazarus, once brought back to life, immediately take Jesus to court in an attempt to sue him for violating his libertarian free will rights as a dead man to stay dead! No, for the rest of his earthly life, Lazarus was deeply grateful for the unspeakable mercy he had received from the Master.

    In our regeneration from spiritual death, those whom He makes alive, having received this grace of regeneration, infallibly respond in repentance and faith to the effectual call of God. This truth is demonstrated in many passages in scripture, but perhaps the clearest is Ephesians 2:1-10.

    1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
    2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
    3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
    4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
    5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
    6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
    7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
    8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
    9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
    10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

    Regarding verses 8 and 9, Dr. R. C. Sproul has commented, "Here the Apostle teaches that the faith through which we are saved is a faith that comes to us by grace. Our faith is something we exercise by ourselves and in ourselves, but it is not of ourselves. It is a gift. It is not an achievement. With the graciousness of the gift of faith as a fruit of regeneration, all boasting is excluded forever, save in the boasting of the exceeding riches of God’s mercy. All man-centered views of salvation are excluded..."

    Colossians 2:13 also states, "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him..."

    Notice that both in Ephesians 2:5, and Colossians 2:13, it was "when we were dead" that God made us alive. Not one mention is made of our role in all this, such as, "when you were dead, you decided to cooperate with God's grace, and He then raised you..." I don't know how the Apostle Paul could have taught Divine monergism more clearly. It was when we were dead that God made us alive.

    Each of the members of the Trinity are at work in the salvation of sinners. God the Father elects a people for salvation, Jesus the Son redeems them in His atoning work on the cross, and God, the Holy Spirit, regenerates them, bringing them to life.

    Augustinianism removes all ground for boasting, demolishes all human pride and exalts God's grace as the sole efficient cause of a sinner's salvation. As Jonah 2:9 says, "Salvation is of the Lord." Therefore the glory for it goes to God, and to God alone.

    For further biblical study on this theme, I highly recommend the following articles by Dr. R. C. Sproul:
    "Adam's Fall and Mine" here
    "The New Genesis" here
    "The Pelagian Captivity of the Church" here

    Posted by John Samson on November 21, 2005 03:43 PM


    Another great article! I love Ephesians and it is so useful in discussions like this. In fact, when talking to Arminians I frequently cite Chapter 1 - 2:10 and when speaking with Dispensationalists I often cite 2:11 - 3:6.

    In Christ alone,

    Great summary! I never understood the distinction between semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Most Reformed writers speak of them as being one and the same, which seems to really irritate the Arminians! :) Two Q's about your post:

    1) In technical terms, is the Roman Catholic understanding of election closer to Arminian or semi-Pelagian? They deny both, yet it's definitely synergistic (and remains so for the life, and afterlife, of the sinner).

    2) Why does everyone spend so much time fighting over Augustine's views? I hear him cited more than any other church father by both Catholics (often about Church authority and sacraments) and Reformed (mostly about grace and election). Several well-studied Catholics have assured me that Augustine's views on election are absolutely nothing like Luther and Calvin "misunderstood" them to be. Is that wrong? Did he really hold to absolute predestination and radical corruption, or did the Reformers pick up on that current in his writings, and take them to another level?

    Thanks again for the post!


    I saw your excellent question and I have some source material here for you to refute those who would claim the Reformers misunderstood Augustine:

    It is clear that the Roman Catholic understanding of the fall and free will is much closer to the Arminian understanding than the semi-pelagian one but has elements of both In fact, they are in many ways identical. The Catholics acknowledge the heresy of semi-pelagianism and believe in the necessity of a prevenient grace. Thomas Aquinas is clear about this. They believe in cooperating with grace and that we must maintain our own justification ... amazingly similar to Arminianism.

    On question #2 the Romans Catholics need only read his own words in "Treatise on Predestination" by Augustine

    Augustine here exposes the error of synergism which is still rampant in RC theology today. I especially recommend CHAP. 34 [XVII.]— THE SPECIAL CALLING OF THE ELECT IS NOT BECAUSE THEY HAVE BELIEVED, BUT IN ORDER THAT THEY MAY BELIEVE....


    The Reformers and Augustine have the same view on these topics. The four states of man in relation to sin enumerated by Augustine of Hippo: (a) able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare); (b) not able not to sin (non posse non peccare); (c) able not to sin (posse non peccare); and (d) unable to sin (non posse peccare). The first state corresponds to the state of man in innocency, before the Fall; the second the state of the natural man after the Fall; the third the state of the regenerate man; and the fourth the glorified man. Contrast this with the Council of Trent which anathematizes the position of Augustine and the Council of Orange (529 AD)

    Here are the canons which relate specifically to your question which the church set forth in this 529 AD Council which came out of the Augustine Pelagian controversy, which the Roman Catholics seem to have conveniently forgotten about.

    The Council of Orange (529 AD) was an outgrowth of the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius. This controversy had to do with the degree to which a human being is responsible for his or her own salvation, and the role of the grace of God in bringing about salvation. The Pelagians held that human beings are born in a state of innocence, i.e., that there is no such thing as a sinful nature or original sin.

    As a result of this view, they held that a state of sinless perfection was achievable in this life. The Council of Orange dealt with the Semi-Pelagian doctrine that the human race, though fallen and possessed of a sinful nature, is still "good" enough to able to lay hold of the grace of God through an act of unredeemed human will. The Council held to Augustine's view and repudiated Pelagius. The following canons greatly influenced the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity.

    Here are some highlights which show a clear Calvinistic bent:

    CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

    CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

    CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

    CANON 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

    CANON 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, "For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5).

    CANON 8. If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him "unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44), as he also says to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17), and as the Apostle says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).

    I would highly recommend John Calvin's book entitled "The Bondage and liberation of the Will" where he quotes Augustine extensively against his Roman Catholic opponents who still embrace free will. Here is the link:

    I would suggest that you try to make time to read Augustine's Treatise on Predestination. It is like 50 1 page chapters and should be avaliable for free online. I think this will soundly refute any statements like Calvin and Luther "misunderstood" his views of election.

    Great post!

    Great! I found the Treatise online and will read it once I'm able to find some time (probably in-between reading other religious books!)

    The canons of Orange sound like something straight from the pen of a Reformer. Of particular interest to me is that each point is bolstered with Scripture, though they pay homage to the "interpretation of the Fathers." Sounds like (dare I say it?) Sola Scriptura! Interesting...

    Some of the language seems to hint at baptismal regeneration, though it's a little bit vague...I suppose it's not important in this context anyway, since this council was convened to address sin and grace, not sacraments.

    Thanks to all for your recommendations.

    Brother Bill:

    Good morning. Grace and mercy be yours in abundance through Christ.

    If you want to do some in-depth reading about this, apart from Calvin's Bondage and Liberation of the Will, recommended above, I would suggest looking at Augustine's Anti-Pelagian writings. The reality is, they could just as easily be called anti-synergist writings because he makes it clear that grace is effectual, not merely prevenient:

    Here is a link to the physical book:

    Especially see
    A Treatise on Nature and Grace.

    A Treatise on Grace and Free Will.

    A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints.

    "The canons of Orange sound like something straight from the pen of a Reformer."

    It is my belief that you will soon learn that this is the case because the council was heavily influenced by Augustinian thought. My church history is weaker then it should be but I believe this is where Semi-Pelagianism was condemned. Some of the more learned posters can correct me.


    Hi. This is really interesting post. Thank You! I have just subscribed to Your rss!

    Best regards

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