Posts Tagged ‘James Arminius’
When people fail to study Church History, they fail to see their own ignorance and errors. Arminius is a case in point. It is amazing to me how many people I see on the Internet or even have spoken with who believe many lies about Arminius. Some lies about Arminius are just ignorance to his times such as some teaching that Arminius opposed Calvin when in fact Calvin died when Arminius was but a toddler. Arminius never met Calvin. Arminius though did study under Calvin’s son-in-law, Beza, and was appointed by Beza to argue against the Anabaptists.
Some assume that Arminius was nothing more than an agitator, a rebel at heart and practice. Some assume that Arminius was a champion of free will and made mankind his focal point of his studies and thus he turned to humanism and embraced a false theology that robs God of His glory and splendor. Others falsely assume that Arminius liked being a rebel and wanted the attention.
None of these lies are true.
Arminius began his ministerial life as a Calvinist. He had studied under Beza in Geneva and was one of their top students. Arminius was a brilliant man and the Calvinists of his day recognized this. He returned to his home country in the Netherlands where he took up pastoring. His church was full as Arminius became one of the most popular preachers of his day. The controversy that would become “Arminianism” began when Arminius was preaching through the book of Romans. He came to Romans 7 and he differed with the Calvinistic view of his day that said that the man of Romans 7 was a saved man who struggled with sin. Arminius disagreed and taught that Paul was describing his own sinful condition before his salvation. Arminius had come to this viewpoint after his debates with the Anabaptists who also held to this position. Arminius in turn preached his new convictions about Romans 7 before his church. The sermons were very popular and became known. This led to Calvinists contacting him about his views regarding Romans 7. One simply did not disagree with Geneva in those days.
From Romans 7, Arminius went on to preach against the popular Calvinist view of Romans 9-11, that it teaches unconditional personal election. Arminius disagreed and he proceeded to preach conditional election. He also began to preach that Jesus died for all and that all can be saved through faith and repentance. He called for the church to not believe a doctrine just because the catechisms teach this. Preach the Word of God and believe the Word of God would be the motto of Arminius.
So was Arminius then a rebel? Much of what we know of Arminius comes to us by his personal writings. They are not sermons. They are not as lengthy as the works of Calvin or Luther so we are limited in how we can understand this man. But what we do gleam from Arminius is a man who was a deep thinker, a man who preached the Word of God and loved the Word of God, and a man who was not ashamed to state his views nor defend them. We don’t find a man hungry for controversy. We find a man hungry to communicate the Word of God. Arminius praised both Calvin and Beza in his writings. He commended the works of Calvin and his commentaries even while he disagreed with Calvin over some issues. In his personal debates (through letters) with other Calvinists, Arminius was gracious and loving toward them. He did not attack them but did attack their views by appealing to Scripture, reason, and to the Church Fathers.
I have seen some mean things written about Arminius. One Calvinist blogger (who also holds that only Calvinists are saved) wrote that he believed Arminius is in hell and he was happy to think that. He wrote, “The thought that Arminius sought to destroy the Church of God must be replaying over and over in his mind while he burns.” Another Calvinist blogger wrote, “Arminius sought to destroy the work of God that He had begun with Calvin in the restoration of His true church. Praise God that the Lord killed Arminius and then ended the heresy of Arminianism at the Synod of Dort.”
Now that sort of misled thinking is not rampant among Calvinists so please don’t confuse them for speaking for Calvinism. Sadly, while Knox, Luther, Calvin, and Tyndale are upheld as “reformers” who are worthy to be praised, Arminius is often not found. I understand that historically the Synod of Dort was a “victory” for Calvinism but Arminius was not even present at the Synod. He had died before the Synod convened. Arminius, if you read his writings, was a man who was passionate for the truth of God and was not bent on rebellion or even to attack Calvin. His goal was simple: obedience to the Word of God.
I pray that Arminians and Calvinists alike will follow Arminius’ example there and seek to obey the Word of God at all costs even if it runs contrary to what is popularly taught in the Church.
Let me begin with a few quotes from Charles Spurgeon about Arminianism from the book Through The Eyes of C.H. Spurgeon by Stephen McCaskell:
I believe it is a mistake about God himself which has been the root and foundation of all the mistakes in theology. Our conviction is, that Arminian theology, to a great extent, makes God to be less than he is. (From Spurgeon’s sermon, Even So, Father, #394).
The basis and groundwork of Arminian theology lies in attaching undue importance to man, and giving God rather the second place than the first. (The Infallibility of God’s Purpose, #406).
I believe that very much of current Arminianism is simply ignorance of gospel doctrine; and if people began to study their Bibles, and to take the Word of God as they find it, they must inevitably, if believers, rise up to rejoice in the doctrines of grace. (Knowledge Commended, #609).
I have heard these arguments above before. Spurgeon believes, as many Calvinists do, that Calvinism exalts God while Arminianism exalts mankind. His final point there is that true believers who truly study the Bible will no doubt be Calvinists for, in his mind, Calvinism is all in the Bible.
Ironically I have been saved for over 20 years and have always attended Arminian churches. In all my years, I have never heard or seen what Spurgeon states in deed or practice (other than prayerlessness which plagues both Arminians and Calvinists churches). I have never heard an Arminian believer state the following:
- “I saved myself”
- “I worked with God to be saved”
- “God saved me but I am saving myself now”
- “I was saved by God’s grace but I am kept by my works”
- “I am so thankful for my own free will that I was able to choose Jesus and be saved”
- “I exalt me! I exalt me!”
I have never heard any of that. Every sermon I have heard, every evangelistic message I have ever heard, every time I have gone out witnessing with other Arminians, I have never heard any of that. The Calvinist will reply, “Oh you might not hear it but you imply it with your lives by your works.” Really? How does good works among Arminians differ with good works among Calvinists? I go witnessing from time to time with Calvinists. Is my motivation any different from theirs? The Calvinist might reply, “Yes because they are going for the glory of God but you are going for your own glory.” This would be nothing but pure judgment based on a theological bias and not truth. Only God truly knows a heart (2 Timothy 2:19).
Arminianism is a theology of grace. Only ignorance (with apologies to Spurgeon above) would lead someone to read the works of Arminius and conclude that he teaches what Spurgeon states above. I am currently reading Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall’s excellent book, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace, and what a solid work. It shows that Arminius was much in line with the Reformers in his view of salvation and the grace of God in salvation. Arminius’ focus was completely upon God and looking to Jesus alone to save us from our sins. While Arminius did teach an unlimited atonement, he did so because of Scripture and his view of God and not beginning with mankind. It is wrong to teach that Arminianism is based first and foremost on mankind when in fact Arminius exalts Christ as the Savior of the world (John 1:29) as the beginning point of his theology.
I disagree also with Spurgeon’s last point. I believe that if you hand a person a Bible who just was saved, they will not come back believing in Calvinism. They will come back believing that Jesus shed His blood for all, that all can be saved through faith in Christ, that Jesus is worthy of worship, etc. but the “doctrines of grace” have to be taught to them. Who can read John 3:16 or 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and walk away saying “all” doesn’t mean all? One has to be taught that all doesn’t mean all.
I will admit that much ignorance abounds on both sides. We are both guilty of misunderstanding each other in the Arminian-Calvinist debate. In most cases, it is that we only tend to read what we agree with. I would admit that I would rather read an Arminian theological work than a Calvinist work. But that only leads to me seeing everything through my Arminianism. We all come to the Bible with our differences and we all tend to see what we want to see. May God help us to still love one another (and I do love Spurgeon and even named my second child after him) while not agreeing with each other (John 13:34-35). Let us agree first and foremost that we are both saved through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27) and then let us debate the passages from a heart of love and not ignorance toward each other.
I ordered Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall. I have read some other reviews of this book and one Arminian publication stated that this book was the best book on Arminianism from 2012. I am looking forward to reading this book and publishing a review here on my blog.
There is no doubt that Arminius affirmed original sin. He wrote,
The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” (Rom. v, 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephes. ii, 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v, 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever.
Later Arminians such as John Wesley or Richard Watson affirmed with Arminius the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin is defined as:
the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind’s first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God’s command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God.
I have no problem with such definitions. The Catholic writer GK Chesterton wrote, ”Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” Chesterton, and others, point to the fact that children have to be trained to do what is right and not what is wrong. I heard one original sin defender state once, “Just look at infants. They are not good. They are selfish and always want their way. They cry when you don’t serve them and give them what they want.” While I think he is reaching here a bit, he is correct to note that all humans are born with the inclination toward sin and toward pleasing ourselves.
Arminians, however, disagree over whether humans are born guilty of sin. Dr. Jack Cottrell, for example, holds that humans are born in a state of “original grace” until they are tempted by their own flesh and sin. He rejects that any person will be found guilty on the day of judgment simply because Adam sinned but each person will be found guilty for their own sins. The Church of the Nazarene states about original sin:
“We believe that original sin differs from actual sin in that it constitutes an inherited propensity to actual sin for which no one is accountable until its divinely provided remedy is neglected or rejected.”
My brief thought here is whether one should be viewed as a heretic if they reject original guilt or inherited guilt? I agree with Arminius and Wesley that we are born in original sin. No one is capable of salvation apart from the gracious work of Christ. None can save themselves. Our desire is for the flesh. Our desire is to please the flesh. Our desire is not to honor God. Salvation is the work of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and good works cannot save. Why? Because good works are measured by sinful humans who often have an eye on flesh and not God. Our “goodness” is not that good. God’s standard also is not good but perfection. Any one violation of His just laws requires judgment to come (James 2:10). We are not good. We are tainted by sin and by our flesh. We need a Savior (Romans 7:24-25)!
I agree that because of sin, we cannot earn God’s perfect righteousness (Romans 10:4). We must look to Christ alone to be saved and to have His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ alone turns away the wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9).
What is interesting is that even those who reject inherited guilt believe that because of sin, we still cannot earn God’s salvation. We still must look to Christ. While they reject the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, they hold that because of Adam’s sin, we inherit a corrupted nature that loves sin and not God. They agree with those who would hold to inherited guilt that none of us can save ourselves because of sin. We must look to Christ alone to be forgiven (John 3:14-18). Christ alone is the One who washes away our sins (1 John 1:9).
The older that I get, the more I see how corrupt I am apart from God’s grace. I don’t love God in my flesh. I love myself. Yet I rejoice in both the mercy of God (that He withholds His just wrath against my sins) and His grace (which enables me to be forgiven of my sins). By no means do I want to abide in sin. I hate sin. I want to fear God, to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). I want to honor Christ as Lord through faithful obedience to Him (1 Peter 3:15). However, I know that apart from His grace, I would be living in sin and rebellion against Him. I read Romans 3:10-18 and I see myself. I see my desires. But oh the joy that comes from loving Jesus and allowing Him to guide my steps. I am not perfect by any means but I seek to be like Christ more and more (Philippians 3:12-14). My goal is not to see how much sin I can get away with but to look to Christ to help me, forgive me, restore me, and strengthen me to overcome sin. He is certainly more than able to deliver me by His power (1 Corinthians 10:13).
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!