In his treatise defending the Reformation understanding of Scripture against resurgent Romanism Perkins counted 22 issues between Protestants (his term) and Rome:
1 Of Free-will.
2 Of Original sin.
3 Assurance of salvation.
4 Justification of a sinner.
5 Of Merits.
6 Satisfactions for sin.
7 Of Traditions.
8 Of Vows.
9 Of Images.
10 Of Real presence.
11 The sacrifice of the Mass.
12 Of Fasting.
13 The state of Perfection.
14 Worshipping of Saints departed.
15 Intercession of Saints.
16 Implicit faith.
17 Of Purgatory.
18 Of the Supremacy.
19 Of the efficacy of the Sacraments.
20 Of Faith.
21 Of Repentance.
22 The sins of the Roman Church.
He began he exposition with a decidedly unfriendly quotation from Revelation 18:4:
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Go out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues….
His intent, as he went on to make clear, was to identify Rome as the whore of Babylon:
And the whore of Babylon, as by all circumstances may be gathered, is the state or regiment of a people that are the inhabitants of Rome and appertain thereto. This may be proved by the interpretation of the holy Ghost: for in the last verse of the seventeenth Chapter, the woman, that is, the whore of Babylon, is said to be a city which reigns over the kings of the earth: now in the days when Saint John penned this book of Revelation, there was no city in the world that ruled over the kings of the earth but Rome; it then being the seat where the Emperor put in execution his imperial authority. Again, in the seventh verse she is said to sit on a beast having seven heads and ten horns: which seven heads be seven hills, verse 9. whereon the woman sits, and also they be seven kings. Therefore by the whore of Babylon is meant a city standing on seven hills. Now it is well known, not only to learned men in the Church of God, but even to the heathen themselves, that Rome alone is the city built on seven distinct hills….
In response to the charge that to separate from Rome is schism, Perkins replied:
…all those who will be saved, must depart and separate themselves from the faith and religion of this present church of Rome. And whereas they are charged with schism that separate on this manner; the truth is, they are not schismatics that do so, because they have the commandment of God for their warrant: and the party is the schismatic in whom the cause of this separation lies: and that is the Church of Rome, namely, the cup of abomination in the whores hand, which is their heretical and schismatical religion
His first charge against Rome, which he notes is not the principal issue, is that the Roman communion has corrupted the doctrine of sin. It comes under the heading of free will, which he defined thus:
Free-will both by them and us, is taken for a mixt power in the mind and will of man; whereby discerning what is good and what is evil, he doth accordingly choose or refuse the same.
He identified three aspects of free will. Natural, human, and spiritual. The question is whether, after the fall, humans have this power. He began to address this question the same way Augustine began with the Pelagians (and semi-Pelagians!) and the way Thomas Boston would do after Perkins, with the fourfold state of humanity:
Man must be considered in a four-fold estate, as he was created, as he was corrupted, as he is renewed, as he shall be glorified. In the first estate, we ascribe to mans will liberty of nature, in which he could will or not nill [to be unwilling] either good or evil: in the third, liberty of grace: in the last, liberty of glory. All the doubt is of the second estate: and yet therein also we agree
“All the doubt is of the second….” The issue between Rome and Protestants is what are the effects of the fall. How sinful are we? The great attraction of semi-Pelagianism has always been that they avoid to obvious and gross error of the Pelagians, who denied any legal or spiritual connection between Adam and us, formally by affirming our connection with Adam. They affirm that in Adam’s fall sinned we all but they deny what Paul, Augustine, the medieval neo-Augustinians, and the Protestants affirm, namely that the effect of Adam’s sin is extensive and intensive. According to the semi-Pelagians, whether in Rome or out, we’re not that sinful. In this case, they assert that we’re not so sinful that we cannot do our part in cooperation with grace, which is said to make it possible.
He distinguished between different aspects of human freedom. On the question of what Luther and Melanchthon called “external freedom,” i.e., the lack of compulsion, there is no disagreement:
Human actions are such as are common to all men good and bad, as to speak, and use reason, the practice of [al]mechanical and liberal arts, and the outward performance of civil and ecclesiastical duties; [such] as to come to [the] church, to speak and preach the word, to reach out the hand to receive the Sacrament, and to lend the ear to listen outwardly to that which is taught. And hither we may refer the outward actions of civil virtues: as namely, justice, temperance, gentleness, and liberality.
The Augustinian and Protestant doctrine of corruption (pravitas) does not teach that humans are as wicked as they could be. In the providence of God, by which the Spirit restrains evil, humans are capable of civil, outward, virtues.
Protestants agree with Rome that when fallen humans sin they do so without compulsion.
[I]n these we likewise join with the Papists, and teach, that in sins or evil actions man have freedom of will.
Perkins says that we Protestants even agree with Rome, in part on a second part of spiritual willing.
We likewise in part join with the Church of Rome, and say, that in the first conversion of a sinner, man’s free-will concurs with Gods grace, as a fellow or co-worker in some sort. For in the conversion of a sinner three things are required: the Word, God’s spirit, and man’s will, for man’s will is not passive in all and every respect, but has an action in the best conversion and change of the soul. When any man is converted, this work of God is not done by compulsion, but he is converted willingly: and at the very time when he is converted, by Gods grace he wills his conversion.
The point of discussion is what we now call “regeneration,” not sanctification as much as the moment of awakening from death to life. He quoted Augustine to the effect that when God gives quickening grace he also gives “a desire and will” simultaneously. We will freely but we do so with a renewed, Spirit-given, will. When he gives faith the Spirit gives a new will causing the will to “desire faith and to willingly receive the gift of believing….” So, even in regeneration we do not act under compulsion because, as Perkins noted, “no man can receive grace utterly against his will, considering [that] will constrained is no will.”
On free will, the difference between confessional Protestants and Rome is the effect of the fall.
The Papists say, mans will concurs and works with Gods graces in the first conversion of a sinner, by itself, and by it own natural power: and is only helped by the Holy Ghost. We say, that mans will works with grace in the first conversion: yet not of it self, but by grace. Or thus: They say, will has a natural cooperation: we deny it, and say it has cooperation only by grace, being in itself not active but passive, willing well only as it is moved by grace, whereby it must first be acted and moved, before it can act or will.
The difference between Rome and Protestants is illustrated by the different analogies we use. They use the analogy of a prisons and prisoners, who are said to be bound and weak, who are “but living in part” i.e., “not wholly dead” and therefore “yet has ability to stir….” On this image, if the warden [the Holy Spirit] “and do but untie his bands, and reach him his hand of grace, then can [the prisoner] stand of himself, and will his own salvation, or any thing else that is good.”
We Protestants, however, use a different image to describe the human condition after the fall: death. Perkins wrote that we must describe the prisoner as he actually is, “even stark dead” and “one that lies rotten in the grave, not having any ability or power to move or stir: and therefore he cannot so much as desire to do any thing that is truly good of himself” who is utterly dependent upon the Spirit, who
must first come and put a new soule into him, even the spirit of grace to quicken and revive him: and then being thus revived, the will beginneth to will good things at the very same time, when God by his spirit first infuseth grace.”
This is, as Perkins wrote, “the true difference betweene us and the Church of Rome in this point of free will.”