Getting Acquainted with Arminius, Part 2
John S. Knox
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2011. Volume 29.
Date Posted July, 2011
In the years preceding the Declaration of Sentiments' creation, Arminius frequently defended his position as a minister and theologian in the Reformed church and as a supporter of Calvin. His Declaration is the summary compilation of that defensive effort against the Supralapsarians and high Calvinists. As such, each section of the Declaration will be inspected as to its topic(s), thesis statement, and supportive assertions.
The Declaration consists of ten chapters on a variety of topics, but Arminius did not dwell equally in consideration on each of them. With clear purposes in mind, he gave appropriate attention to the aspects of doctrine crucial for a better awareness of his position, and in order to obtain a fuller understanding of the relationship between humanity and God. As such, he hoped his presentation would serve a dual purpose in his endeavors for biblical truth and in his defense of Supralapsarian charges.
SECTION I - "ON PREDESTINATION"
This is by far the most complex part of the Declaration. Nearly 15,000 words long, this exposition has three purposes. First, Arminius describes the Supralapsarian understanding of predestination and explains how it is harmful and wrong. Second, he presents other views of predestination with their finer points of understanding and benefit. Lastly, Arminius presents his own views on predestination.
Arminius' depiction of the Supralapsarian understanding regarding this topic is unflattering, to say the least. He begins his examination with a blunt statement of dismissal of their assertion that God has predestined some to salvation and others to damnation. He points out the fact that it is a belief "... espoused by those [Supralapsarians] who assume the very highest ground of this Predestination." So begins his condemnation of their extremist doctrinal interpretation of Calvin and the Bible.
He then goes on to detail their arguments and later provides the grounds for his rejection of these theological opinions. The main reasons for his denunciation of the Supralapsarian position are: (1) "it is not the foundation of Christianity, of Salvation, or of its certainty," (2) it "comprises within it neither the whole nor any part of the Gospel," and (3) it "was never admitted, decreed, or approved in any Council, either general or particular, for the first six hundred years after Christ." Supplementing this, he adds, it "neither agrees nor corresponds with the Harmony of those Confessions which were printed and published together in one Volume at Geneva, in the name of the Reformed and Protestant Churches," it is "repugnant to the Nature of God," it is "opposed to the Act of Creation," it is "injurious to the Glory of God," it is "hurtful to the salvation of men," and it "is in open hostility to the Ministry of the Gospel."
Apparently, Arminius has little trouble pointing out the defects of the Supralapsarian approach to predestination. He backs up each of these criticisms with proof of their flawed foundations. This long list is a testament to his personal disdain for the doctrine promoted by these high Calvinists.
Arminius then goes on to describe two other incorrect ways of conceptualizing predestination other than that of the Supralapsarians. First, God irreversibly decided in eternity,
to make (according to his own good pleasure,) the smaller portion out of the general mass of mankind partakers of his grace and glory, to the praise of his own glorious grace. But according to his pleasure he also passed by the greater portion of men, and left them in their own nature, which is incapable of every thing supernatural, [or beyond itself,] and did not communicate to them that saving and supernatural grace by which their nature, (if it still retained its integrity,) might be strengthened, or by which, if it were corrupted, it might be restored - for a demonstration of his own liberty. Yet after God had made these men sinners and guilty of death, he punished them with death eternal--for a demonstration of his own justice.
The crux of this complex passage is the suggestion that Arminius finds no logic or love in God predestining some people to salvation and others to damnation whether it is before or after the Fall of Adam--both seem incongruous considering God's expressed plan in Scripture for humanity.
Arminius rejects this understanding because it makes God the author of sin, which he cannot and will not affirm. Furthermore, this concept suggests an understanding of predestination that is "a palpable and absurd self-contradiction." It does not fit into any logical understanding of the nature of humanity nor does it accommodate God's biblical plan of redemption.
Arminius describes a third understanding of predestination in which, "God acts without the least consideration of repentance and faith in those whom he elects, or of impenitence and unbelief in those whom he reprobates." Arminius condemns this third understanding of predestination because it suggests that God does not care about the moral behavior or authentic faith of His followers-a concept not found in Scripture. This concept conflicts with the image of the God of justice accepted by early church fathers. God carefully judges the world and all its inhabitants, suggesting that He would not arbitrarily send certain people to heaven and hell, regardless of their good or bad faith in Him.
Finally, Arminius presents his own understanding of predestination. Rather than the lengthy exercise used earlier to invalidate the Supralapsarian view, Arminius offers a short and concise argument for his beliefs in this matter. He points to four decrees of God as evidence for his standpoint.
First, God "decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, for a Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and might communicate it by his own virtue." Jesus Christ is the ultimate sin offering used to appropriate the complete salvation of all humanity. Second, God "decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for his sake and through Him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and Believers as persevered to the end." Remaining in a sinful state only leads to death and to eternal damnation, but turning from sin leads to personal salvation. Third, "God decreed to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means which were necessary for repentance and faith." The resources for finding one's salvation are always available to everyone because God is ultimately wise, merciful, and just. Fourth,
He knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.
This is not the same as ordaining some to salvation and others to perdition. Rather, it is a supernatural ability to see into all possibilities of humanity and the future. It speaks of the power of God, which, conveniently, Arminius discusses in the next section in his Declaration. Predestination was perhaps the most serious misjudgment of the Supralapsarians according to Arminius, but his high Calvinist peers also embraced other extreme distortions of biblical interpretation and application, dangerously manifest in their rigid doctrinal positions not explicitly found nor supported in Holy Scriptures.