Getting Acquainted with Arminius,
John S. Knox
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2011. Volume 29.
Date Posted Dec., 2011
The Declaration of Sentiments contains ten chapters which Arminius compiled in his defense. Last issue we looked at Section 1, "On Predestination." In this issue we will continue to examine sections 2-4.
SECTION II - "THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD"
This section focuses on the providence or guardianship of God in regards to the world and its inhabitants. Defending himself against accusations of Pelagianism, he uses inclusive language to describe the sovereignty and power of God. He wants no one to misunderstand his intentions or beliefs in this matter. For Arminius, God is supremely in charge.
Even though it is presented as one long paragraph, in essence this section is comprised of three sub-sections. The first dwells on the overall providence of God; the second states God's role in acts of goodness and evil, and the third section is a refutation of allegations against him. Ultimately, his goal is to allow his audience greater insight into his beliefs on God's divine intervention in life, thereby acquitting himself of Supralapsarian accusations.
Arminius begins this section with a blanket statement describing the providence of God:
I consider Divine Providence to be that solicitous, continued, and universally present inspection and oversight of God, according to which he exercises a general care over the whole world, but evinces a particular concern for all his [intelligent] creatures without any exception, with the design of preserving and governing them in their own essence, qualities, actions, and passions, in a manner that is at once worthy of himself and suitable to them, to the praise of his name and the salvation of Believers.
As one can see from this complicated sentence, Arminius' beliefs on the providence of God are multidimensional. However, some key words and ideas stand out. First, "Providence" concerns the oversight of God. He is transcendent and omnipotent in His divine duties. Second, God is lovingly active in the world according to His nature and despite humanity's nature. Third, attesting to God's ultimate dominion in life, ". . . nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance." The governance of God includes the actions and free-will of every individual.
The next sub-section deals with the origin of good and evil. Arminius states, "God both wills and performs good acts but that He only freely permits those which are evil." Thus, God is the author of good, but not of evil. Arminius wants his listeners not to misunderstand him on this aspect. The third section points to allegations "falsely imputed" against him and denies their validity based on the statements in this chapter as well as other documents. Arminius concludes this section with his own allegation of serious misconduct on the part of his attackers.
SECTION III - "THE FREE-WILL OF MAN"
This section is the shortest in the Declaration, but it is not without some significance. In it, Arminius describes the reality of humanity's exercise of free will on earth. In an attempt to dispel more rumors of Pelagianism, as with the previous section, Arminius uses appropriate language to convey the hegemony of God. Despite God's dominion, though, humanity has been endowed with some abilities to choose autonomously; however, the human will only operates in conjunction with the grace of God.
In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace.
Thus, God creates the will of a human being, but it can only be used with God's help. Arminius supports this notion when he remarks, ". . . man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good." Humanity is still utterly dependent upon God despite possessing some volitional autonomy.
Another aspect of this section that needs attention is Arminius' belief in the "synergistic" relationship of God and humanity. Much to the annoyance of his Supralapsarian opponents, Arminius uses inflammatory phrases like, "man was endowed," "through the assistance," and "made a partaker." These statements suggest a joint endeavor that incorporates the actions of humanity with God's will-a definite high Calvinist faux pas considering their monergistic position.
Assuredly, most extreme Calvinists would consider this understanding unorthodox and contrary to proper doctrine. However, Arminius does not defend his position at all, which seems peculiar as he is often considered to be pro-Catholic in this understanding. This may be where Arminius departs from complete Calvinist adherence, however. Perhaps he does not elaborate fully fearing his explanations would only provide his enemies with more "ammunition" to use against him.
SECTION IV – "THE GRACE OF GOD"
This next section examines God's grace, its nature and effect on humanity, and its existence in an individual's life. It is comprised of three sub-sections. The first two are descriptive; the last is a brief defense of Arminius' unique perspective on grace.
The first sub-section details the nature and description of divine grace. The grace of God is crucial in the presentation of the Declaration. In many ways, it is the "glue" that holds Arminius' defense together against the attacks of the high Calvinists.
He breaks down grace to three points. First, grace is unwarranted, "gratuitous affection" from God to the sinner, providing eternal life, justification, and adoption. Grace is also an ". . . infusion . . . of all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which appertain to the regeneration and renewing of man." These gifts only come from God; without them, humanity can do no good act. Finally, grace is ". . . that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit" that inspires humanity to act in good ways for the glory of God.
The next sub-section in this chapter focuses on the influence of grace on human behavior. It is the catalyst for all good and loving actions. If an individual is behaving in godly fashion, it is solely due to the presence of God's grace asserting its influence. With this in mind, Arminius asserts, "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." True, Arminius believes in the free-will of man to do beneficial deeds; however, this ability is only in existence through the grace of God alone. There is no other source for it—an understanding deflating Supralapsarian claims of Arminius being a Pelagian or Socinian.
The last sub-section deals with the matter of resisting the Holy Spirit. Whereas his Supralapsarian adversaries contend that no human being can resist the Spirit of God, Arminius points to scripture and states, "I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered." He does not dispute what can be accomplished with the help of the grace of God; he only suggests that it is not beyond rejection. He points out that though the nature of grace is observable both in life and in the Bible, its mode is more mysterious. This matter will be dealt with more definitively in Holland at the Synod of Dort in 1618.