Posts Tagged ‘James Arminius’
Very often I read or hear Calvinism referred to as “the doctrines of grace.” I am not sure where the history of Calvinism being described that way comes from but I can assure you that we Arminians find it offensive to refer to Calvinism as the “doctrines of grace.” Why you ask?
1. It Implies Only Calvinism Embraces Grace
This is certainly not true. In fact, even Pelagius embraced a form of God’s grace. Arminius clearly embraced grace. Even Alexander Campbell and the Restoration Movement theologians embrace grace. To call your system of theology “the doctrines of grace” sounds as if your system alone embraces grace. Calvinists hold that since they believe that God is sovereign in salvation and that He does it all, the saving, the cleansing, the sanctifying, the glorification, etc. then they are holding to God’s grace alone as the basis for our salvation. The problem is that Arminians believe the same. In fact, both Arminians and Calvinists believe in Ephesians 2:8-9 and we both believe that God does not believe for us but rather people are responsible to believe the gospel. Only the hyper-Calvinist would hold that God believes for a person.
Arminius wrote this about grace:
In reference to Divine Grace, I believe, 1. It is a gratuitous affection by which God is kindly affected towards a miserable sinner, and according to which he, in the first place, gives his Son, “that whosoever believers in him might have eternal life,” and, afterwards, he justifies him in Christ Jesus and for his sake, and adopts him into the right of sons, unto salvation. 2. It is an infusion (both into the human understanding and into the will and affections,) of all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which appertain to the regeneration and renewing of man — such as faith, hope, charity, etc.; for, without these gracious gifts, man is not sufficient to think, will, or do any thing that is good. 3. It is that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit, according to which He acts upon and excites to good the man who has been already renewed, by infusing into him salutary cogitations, and by inspiring him with good desires, that he may thus actually will whatever is good; and according to which God may then will and work together with man, that man may perform whatever he wills.
In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, “is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace, (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did,) but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.
That Arminius held strongly to the grace of God is not in question. That he taught that salvation was all of grace is also not in question. Clearly he did. To affirm Calvinism as “the doctrines of grace” then would be to ignore what Arminius taught about salvation by grace.
2. It Implies that Calvinism is All About Grace
Neither Arminianism nor Calvinism is strictly about grace. Both believe in grace but both branch off into other areas of theology as well. For instance, I would argue that Calvinism is much more about the sovereignty of God than about grace. I would argue that Arminianism is much more about the love of God than about grace. Grace flows in both streams but it does not dominate either thinking. Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm that salvation is by grace. The key fundamental difference here is whether that salvation is conditioned. Arminians affirm that salvation is conditioned upon faith where as Calvinists believe that salvation is unconditional and based simply on the sovereign will of God. For the Arminian, the atonement shows the great love of God for all people so that all can be saved through faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16). For the Calvinist, the atonement shows the great love of God manifested in His sovereign choice in the giving of His Son for the elect.
So thus I would argue that to refer to Calvinism as “the doctrines of grace” is misleading. Grace has a part but it does not dominate the Calvinist system like God’s sovereign and unconditional choosing does in unconditional election. I am sure that Calvinist theologians would argue that this sovereign choice is by God’s grace alone. Perhaps but the sovereign will of God would still be the major factor here and not grace.
3. It Denies the Place of Grace Among Arminians
When Calvinism is referred to as “the doctrines of grace”, I believe this view falls to understand the importance of grace in Arminianism. Consider the atonement of Christ for a moment. We Arminians believe that Jesus’ blood is so powerful that He died for all. After all, Jesus is God and His blood certainly can wash away all sinners sins. We believe this not because we hold to a high view of mankind for we believe man is dead in his sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) but we hold to this view because we affirm what Scripture says about the atonement being for all (John 1:29; 3:16-18; 4:42; Romans 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14). We believe this “all” refers to “all” in the context. To read into “all” and see only “few” is not allowing the text to speak for itself. We believe that Jesus died for all that all may come and be saved for this is the will of God (Luke 19:10; Acts 2:38-39; 5:31-32; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 2 Peter 3:9). Those who come to Christ in saving faith come because of the work of the Spirit in drawing them to salvation (John 1:12-13; 6:44; Acts 16:14-15) and because the blood of Jesus is sufficient to wash away all their sins (Hebrews 9:22, 27-28; 10:14). This salvation is completely based on the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation (John 6:29; Acts 15:11; Romans 3:22-29; 4:24-5:11; Titus 3:5-7).
Thus we Arminians affirm that God’s grace is so mighty, so radical, so big that it is certainly able to save the lowest sinner who comes to Christ in saving faith and the grace of God is able to keep us (Hebrews 7:25). The sinner will not be able to stand before God and claim that it was sovereign hardening that left them in their sins. It was their own rebellion against a holy God (John 3:19-21). That is grace. That is all-powerful, all-loving grace that enables sinners to come to Christ for salvation (John 6:37-45).
I do not affirm Calvinism. I know many godly men and women who do. I know that they are well-meaning when they refer to Calvinism as “the doctrines of grace” and for many of them, it is simply without considering what they mean that they repeat this. For us Arminians, we find it offensive that Calvinism refers to itself as the “doctrines of grace.” As I pointed out above, Arminians clearly affirm with Arminius the grace of God in salvation and we even go further than Calvinists in exalting the grace of God in the salvation of all who come to the Savior in true faith. All of salvation is by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Not one reformed Arminian would ever teach that salvation is any thing other than by God’s grace given in Christ Jesus.
No doubt Calvinists come to Romans 9 and they read into the text “unconditional election unto salvation” all through the text. One Calvinist brother stated that the text is so clear about God’s sovereign choice in salvation that to miss it should be borderline heresy. I, of course, disagree.
This morning I spent the morning reading and re-reading Romans 9. Over and over again I was struck by how clear it is that Paul is not speaking about election unto salvation. It is clear to me that Paul the Apostle is arguing against the Jews who would argue that by virtue of race, they are the promised elect of God. Paul is saying “no” to that. He is arguing that God is sovereign in His choice to reject Israel whom He had previously chosen because they rejected His righteousness because of their pursuit of it through the Law.
Let us briefly cover the chapter. Notice how Paul begins in Romans 9:1-5. It is clear from these verses that Paul is not speaking about individual unconditional election to salvation. Not once in Romans 9:1-5 does he mention salvation. He mentions the blessings that have come to his people, his kinsmen (v. 3) because of God’s choice (vv. 4-5) but he never mentions salvation. His point is national Israel and not individual salvation.
To back this up, notice Romans 9:6-13. When we read these verses the idea that Paul is speaking of national Israel is clear. When we come to verses 10-13 and compare these verses to Genesis 25:19-26 we find the story is clearly speaking of nations or peoples and not individual salvation. Malachi 1:2-3 is cited in Romans 9:13 and when we read Malachi 1:2-3 in its context, we see that again God is speaking of nations and not individual salvation.
When we come to Romans 9:14, we find the passage that Arminius felt best is asked about the text. The question asked by Calvinists is whether God is just or unjust to sovereignly choose individuals to salvation or damnation. Arminius states that Romans 9:14 is the key question to ask. Is God unjust to reject Israel because of their rejection of His Messiah? Paul establishes in Romans 9:14-29 that God is not unjust and in fact He has raised up a remnant among the Gentiles and the Jews (v. 24). Paul points out that this remnant of the faithful were prophesied about by Isaiah in Romans 9:27-29.
Romans 9:30-33 closes by powerfully showing that Romans 9 has been about God’s rejection of national Israel for His remnant of grace (the Church we might say). The only way, argues Paul, to be part of this remnant is by faith. This is the Arminian argument. God’s elect are those who are justified through faith (Romans 5:1; 1 Timothy 4:10). The elect is not an arbitrary number that God choose before time but rather He elected His Son who died so that through faith we might enter into this remnant of grace (Romans 11:5).
I am thankful to part of the remnant of grace by faith! I praise God for the gift of His Son who died in my place for my sins (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). What a wonderful salvation is found in the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:27-28). I rejoice in God’s sovereign choice to save all who come to Christ in faith (John 6:37, 40). Surely our Savior is mighty to save!
I wanted to add a note about my previous post on the old ICOC. One report stated that the average old ICOC member would remain less than 7 years with the ICOC. Most would become spiritual burnouts and many, I suspect, were never truly converted to Christ (John 3:3-7). Only God knows that in the end (2 Timothy 2:19). However, what happens when a person embraces a works-righteousness position is that you can never live up to the standard of God’s absolute perfection and holiness (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15-16). The person who believes that their salvation is based on their actions or their works will no doubt end up beating their head against a pole as they realize they just can’t do enough to satisfy their guilt before a holy God nor do they do enough to earn His forgiveness.
Thankfully, as true disciples of Jesus know, we do not earn God’s righteousness nor His approval by what we do but by faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus is our salvation! Jesus is our everything! He is the One who died for our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6; Matthew 1:21; 26:28) and He is the One who continues to save us as we walk by faith and not by sight, trusting in His intercession before the Father for our eternal salvation (Hebrews 7:25; 10:10, 14; 1 John 2:1-2). We understand that Christ is our focus and He alone obtained our salvation by His own work on the cross. Salvation is completely the work of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). This takes all the pressure off. We are not trying to earn God’s favor nor His forgiveness because we have all this in His Son (Galatians 4:4-6). We are accepted in the Son (Colossians 1:12-14). Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). What glorious, wonderful news! No wonder the word “gospel” means “good news” for that is just what it is! It is the good news of acceptance in Christ and peace with God.
I pray. I worship. I evangelize. I seek to avoid sin. I pursue holiness. I do all these things but my motivation is not to earn God’s approval nor to earn His righteousness. I do these things because of what Jesus has done in saving me. His grace toward me motivates me toward good works that God prepared in advance for me to do according to His foreknowledge (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14). I am not saved by works. I am saved through Christ and His work. As Arminius stated:
Justification is a just and gracious act of God as a judge, by which, from the throne of his grace and mercy, he absolves from his sins, man, a sinner, but who is a believer, on account of Christ, and the obedience and righteousness of Christ, and considers him righteous, to the salvation of the justified person, and to the glory of divine righteousness and grace.
Praise God that justification is by the gracious act of God given to us in Christ Jesus and received by faith (Romans 5:1). Salvation is finished and applied through the cross (Colossians 2:14-15).
Does Romans 6:3-4 describe water baptism or spiritual baptism? There are people on both sides of this issue. All from the Restoration Movement including Dr. Jack Cottrell or Dr. Douglas Jacoby hold that Romans 6:3-4 is describing the act of water baptism as seen in Acts 2:38, 41. In Restoration theology, baptism is the moment when our sins are forgiven. They point to other New Testament passages such as Galatians 3:27 or Colossians 2:12 or 1 Peter 3:21-22.
However, there are those who believe that Romans 6:3-4 is not referring at all to water baptism. Dr. Charles Swindoll, for example, holds that Romans 6:3-4 is pointing to a spiritual baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Dr. John MacArthur, in his Study Bible, agrees that Romans 6:3-4 is not referring to water baptism. MacArthur writes that Paul is using baptism here in a metaphorical sense. The baptism here is identification with Christ and His saving work on the cross. While MacArthur acknowledges that water baptism pictures this, this is not what Paul is focusing on here in Romans 6:3-4.
Thomas Ralston was an American Methodist theologian who wrote in 1847 that he believed that Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:11-12 were referring to spiritual baptism and not water baptism. He then gave ten arguments in favor of his view.
1. The baptism of Paul describes death to sin.
2. This baptism enables us to walk in newness of life.
3. This baptism so plants us in the likeness of Christ’s death as to cause us to be in the likeness of His resurrection.
4. This baptism crucifies our old man, which Ralston interprets as the carnal nature.
5. This baptism destroys the body of sin which Ralston interprets the body of sin as synonymous with “the old man.”
6. This baptism releases us from the service of sin.
7. This baptism produces the circumcision of the heart.
8. This baptism puts off the body of the sins of the flesh, which Ralston interprets as forgiveness of all past sins.
9. From this baptism we are raised through faith, but in immersion we are raised by the hands of another.
10. In this baptism we are made alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13).
Other theologians including Samuel Wakefield, Thomas Coke, James Boice, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones all agree that Romans 6:3-4 is not referring at all to water baptism but to spiritual baptism or the baptism of the Spirit.
John Wesley taught that he would never baptize a person into the Church whom God had not first baptized in the Spirit which he took to take place at the new birth (1 Corinthians 12:13). Clearly, Romans 8:8 says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. How can one then, still without the Spirit according to those who teach that water baptism brings forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit, submit to Jesus in water baptism. It would be more logical to teach that those who submit to Jesus’ Lordship in water baptism are doing so because they have the Spirit of God in them enabling them to obey Jesus (Romans 8:9-11). Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind cannot submit to God’s Law. How then could we expect people without the Spirit to obey the command of Jesus and be baptized (Matthew 28:19)?
I do believe that water baptism is vital. I believe in baptism by immersion though I do not believe in arguing over the mode of baptism (neither did Wesley). Arminius held to sprinkling and infant baptism as did Wesley. I disagree with them over these issues and hold to disciple’s baptism meaning that only disciples of Jesus should be baptized (Matthew 28:19). However, if disciple equals Christian (Acts 11:26) then Christian equals disciple and thus only Christians should be baptized. I believe that baptism is seen in the book of Acts as the time when people openly confessed faith in Jesus as Lord (Acts 22:16).
That said, I believe that Jesus alone saves. The grounds for our salvation is the precious blood of Jesus and His work on the cross along with His glorious resurrection and His intercession for us before the Father (Hebrews 7:25; 9;14, 22, 27-28; 10:4). My salvation is not based on my faith or my repentance or my baptism but Jesus alone. Furthermore, I believe that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, none can be saved. The Spirit opens our hearts to the gospel (John 6:44; 16:8-11) and He regenerates us (John 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Titus 3:5-7). This work of salvation is accomplished by God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Baptism in water is what I do in response to the gospel by which I am saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
HT: A Fundamental Wesleyan Commentary on Romans by Dr. Vic Reasoner.
Just a reminder that great Arminians in the past did not hold to nor practice the sinner’s prayer, the anxious seat, or the mourner’s bench. This would include great Arminians such as Arminius himself who never states in his Works anything about how a sinner receives salvation other than by God’s grace through faith as Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9. Neither did Arminians after him such as John Wesley, John Fletcher, Richard Watson, Adam Clarke, Thomas Pope, nor John Miley. Non-Calvinists such as Alexander Campbell did not use the practice.
So what did great Arminian evangelists do to call sinners to salvation? Wesley preached Christ. Wesley preached that sinners should look to Jesus for salvation. He would instruct sinners to be justified through faith as the Bible says (Romans 5:1). He didn’t use manipulation to get sinners saved. Wesley didn’t try to get his brother Charles Wesley to sing one of his hymns through just one more time so that that last sinner would come forward. Wesley simply preached Christ. Christ saves and no one else. It is the name of Jesus that saves sinners (Acts 4:12). You and I are only saved through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our works (Titus 3:5-7). Works flow from justification but they do not secure justification (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12-13). Faith works (James 2:14-26) but works flow from saving faith and not for salvation (Romans 4:5).
When you preach salvation to the lost, preach to them that they are to look to Jesus for salvation and not the Church nor any theologian. Jesus alone saves (John 14:6).
Few realize the struggle that Arminius faced to become the theologian that he became. I have been recently re-reading his Works on my Kindle and I am struck by the humility of the theologian who was later to be characterized as a semi-Pelagian and a heretic by the Synod of Dort’s rulings. I use to believe that Arminius would have surely turned the Synod of Dort at least toward understanding that his argument was not against Calvinism per se but that the Word of God should be the determinate of truth and not the catechisms. Now I believe that Arminius would have been killed had he lived to stand before the Synod of Dort. Calvinists view the Synod of Dort as a victory for Calvinism, a stand for the truth of the gospel but I view the Synod of Dort as a mockery and a kangaroo trial that was set from the beginning to rule against the Arminians (or Remonstrants) and declare their views as heretical and thus worthy of persecution which the Arminians would endure for many years after the Synod of Dort.
Before all of this, few realize that Arminius’ entire family was murdered by the Catholics in 1575. A little background is in order. Since the Reformation had launched under Martin Luther, countries in Europe were being divided by their loyalties. Some were siding with Rome and the Roman Catholic Church with their “counter-reformation” while others were following the Protestants and turning away from Rome. The Vatican was very influential in its dealing with the European governments and had shaped laws and policies for centuries until the Protestant Reformation. Now nations were appointing Protestant leaders and kings and bucking against Rome. Rome’s power was crumbling. Several nations such as France and Spain took the initiative to turn the tide through war by forcing the nations to convert back to Roman Catholicism.
In Holland William Orange had been a protector of the people. Orange, while officially a Roman Catholic, saw himself as a defender of freedom to allow people to be free to worship God as they deemed right. He believed that Rome had no right to wage war against the Protestants and he became sympathetic toward the Protestant cause. Orange’s forces were under constant attack from the pro-Vatican armies. The Spaniards in particular were waging war against William Orange and his mavericks.
Oudewater was Arminius’ hometown. Arminius himself was away studying at this time when on July 19, 1575 some 11,000 foot soldiers approached the now Protestant city. For several weeks the Catholic Hierges waited with his army outside of the city fearing that Orange was going to attack and fearing that the city would cut their dikes and flood the land as Orange had done in his defense of Leiden. Hierges sent messengers back and forth to the city of Oudewater calling for their surrender of the city. Oudewater, meanwhile, made preparations to defend the city. They also sent out a call for assistance to defeat Hierges.
On August 6, 1575 Hierges made preparations to attack. He sent a messenger with a white flag and called once again for the peaceful surrender of the city. The conditions were unacceptable to the town government and the attack begin. The men took more than 300 women, children, and elderly into a large farmhouse in the town. The canons begin to fire upon the city. The Spanish troops quickly moved into the city. First they killed all the defenders on the walls of the town. Those who fled were chased down and killed as well. Then the Spaniards turned toward the non-combatants. Mothers were killed in front of their children, children in front of their mothers. Girls and women were raped in view of their fathers and husbands. None were spared. Even Catholic nuns were found and replied to the Spaniards that they were Catholic nuns the men replied before raping and killing them, “So much better for your souls.” The Reformed preacher of Oudewater, Johannes Gelasius, had to watch as they murdered his little boy as the Spaniards demanded his recantation of Protestantism to which he said he would not. They then hung Gelasius.
It was in this massacre that Arminius lost his mother, his siblings, and all of his other relatives. His entire family was gone. Arminius was alone in surviving the massacre and by the providence of God, he was away studying.
The Spaniards, after killing nearly the entire city except those whom they felt could help them politically and the rich who could pay for their release, destroyed the entire town. Nothing remains of the old town but the church alone. The town was still under the control of the Spaniards when Arminius returned to the city risking his own life to find out what happened to his family. In December of 1576, the Dutch liberated the city but nothing was left of the town.
I tell this story to simply show that we all face hard times and trials. For most of us, we know nothing of losing our entire family to a massacre like this. Arminius could have turned against God at this point but it seems that his faith only got stronger. He turned this trial into what led him to his studies at the University of Leiden where he would excel to become their top student and would go to Geneva to study under Theodore Beza, the son-in-law and successor to John Calvin. Beza would also go on to say that Arminius was by far his top student. All of this was from the hand of God leading Arminius and protecting him through these dark trials. We don’t know why evil things befall the righteous but we need to trust God through our trials knowing that He is sovereign and He will guide us through (Psalm 23:4-6; Romans 8:18, 28-30; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Revelation 2:10).