Jacobus Arminius’ View of Predestination [In His Own Words], and Some Commentary by Me

Here are Jacobus Arminius’ own words on how he conceived of a doctrine of predestination; this is following a lengthy argument, made by him before his ecclesial examiners against double predestination (and against both
supra and infra lapsarianism):

arminian1

I. The first specific and absolute divine decree regarding the salvation of sinful humanity: God decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King in order that he might destroy sin by his own death, so that by his own obedience he might obtain the salvation lost through disobedience, and by his power communicate this salvation.

II. In the second precise and absolute decree, God decided graciously to accept those who repent and believe in Christ, and for Christ’s sake and through him to effect the final salvation of penitents and believers who persevere to the end in their faith.  Simultaneously, God decreed to leave in sin under divine wrath all impenitent persons and unbelievers, damning them as alienated from Christ.

III. The third divine decree: God decided to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means necessary for repentance and faith—this being accomplished according to divine wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both to his mercy and his severity. And this all proceeds according to divine justice, by which God is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and carry out.

IV. From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere. [Jacobus Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, trans. by W. Stephen Gunter, 135.]

Arminius immediately follows these points up with twenty implications of these theses; which I will have to share at a later time. Suffice it to say, it becomes quickly clear that Arminius was just as much a son of his time as any of us are. He is using the same kind of formal and material methodological and conceptual matter that his antagonists have available to them, in other words he is a classical theist who is also a conceptually formed scholastic. In other words, Arminius and his detractors are really not all that far a part.

It should be noticed, that Arminius offers these points after he has just offered direct argument against both supralapsarian and infralapsarian positions; declaring that in both situations, God is still seen as the decreer and antecedent cause of evil (even the infralapsarian position). Thus, Arminius, argued, creation was not ultimately created as ‘good’, but as evil, since it was the theater intended for God to cause evil that his justice might be displayed (he also makes an argument from God’s love of  justice juxtaposed with God’s love of humanity).

So for Arminius, he believes that the supra/infralapsarian positions (the now Westminster Calvinist positions) both stumble over themselves because he thinks that God has caused salvation (antecedent or previous to) the ‘fall’ and sin. And thus repentance, justification, the incarnation, etc. become arbitrary middle terms that aren’t really necessary for salvation for the elect to be accomplished. In other words, Arminius’ point of attack focuses on the Calvinist position offering a ‘metaphysical’ salvation far away that does not really need the ‘physical’ (like the historical fall, etc.) in order to become reality. So Arminius is trying to offer a conception, in contrast to this, that offers a view of salvation that is (dare I say) actualistic and concretely particularized and realized in the ontology of the world, and within the parameters of salvation or redemptive history (i.e. not all predetermined back up in the absolute decrees of God somewhere in eternity).

Out of time, more to say, but this should do for now.

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10 comments

  1. Such a theology of glory. The cross need never be mentioned; it is not central, not substantial, but accidental. It is not the shape of the thing, but merely the opening gambit. The decree is the thing.

    The problem is that Arminius’ “actualism” here is actualism of the human person in history, as the central agent involved in the question of salvation. We are what we do, and the matter of salvation follows accordingly. God has possibilized salvation in Christ, and it is the believer who actualizes it. The proximate cause of salvation here is always belief and perseverance; only the ultimate and mediate/instrumental causes belong to God. This is the problem with the decretal understanding of salvation: it becomes the “law of the land,” which does not fulfill itself. It sets the terms of salvation, terms which are either met or not by human agents.

    By comparison, Barth’s actualism (for example) declares that God is what God does, and that the matter of salvation follows accordingly. There is no decree. There is action, the primary fact, and announcement of that action, the secondary fact. Faith does something else: it leads toward moral behavior concordant with God’s accomplished salvation, when we understand and trust that fact. By trusting in God’s grace we begin to become what we are in Christ—our existence begins to conform to our essence—but we are that regardless of the relative possibility of our absolutely impossible existences in sin.

    Either Arminius presumes (which he seems to) that there are human beings who shall be judged righteous on the basis of their perseverance in faith, and therefore saved, or he’s proposed a system in which all fail and all are therefore damned in divine foreknowledge. Grace in such a system as he proposes is (as in so much of scholasticism) the provision of effective assistance, and of reward. And it can be this because the assumption underlying it is that there is something worth saving, and that salvation and damnation are on the basis of worth. Salvation is a reward, the attainment of which has been made possible and then announced, and its achievement is left to human agency under the mask of divine foreknowledge. God has only achieved the salvation of the willing, and “election” is the election of a self-selecting group of people who choose salvation by sufficiently embracing the given means.

    Have I mentioned I don’t like it? 😉

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  2. Funny how in its own way (and in many ways) Arminianism is “Reformed,” too. (Though my Reformed brothers get upset when I point that out.)

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  3. Matt Frost:

    Never considered demolitioning Arminianism on the charge of “theology of glory”.

    Once we enter the realm of speculation instead of taking Christ as Word of God, and thus Decree of God, we will dance around forever with Arminius, Beza and the rest that allow trendy philosophical constructs to mute the Scriptures.

    Good stuff.

    Cal

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  4. It is funny how man spends so much time and can come up with such big words to pontificate what is the motive of God.

    Yet in all my reading of scripture, I can not recall even the most elevated book in history, spending time on the motive of God except love.

    God, and only He really knows why, loves man. Why do we spend so much energy trying to define His love for some and not others unto salvation? Why do we think we can understand His motives in His own foreknowledge when we already know His ways are above ours.

    Is it that in our wisdom we are speaking for God where He has not spoken, or will He say to us, I never sent you to say that.

    glasseyedave
    thegospelaccordingtothegospel,com

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  5. @Matt,

    Nice, you just qualified for your own special post ;-).

    @Michael, yeah, the Reformed don’t like this, do they ;-)?

    @Cal,

    Matt did provide good stuff! Now if you’d paid any attention to my category on “theology of glory” you’d realize that I had implicitly critiqued Arminius through the theology of glory by critiquing classical theism through it 😉 … but indeed, Matt’s critique is spot on!!

    @Dave,

    I am not sure what you are referencing; are you referencing Arminius, my blog, the commenters on this blog; all of the above; none of the above; some of the above?

    I will tell you why God loves man; because God is love by definition (i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in intrarelation), and God created man and woman in His image, and His image (Col 1.15) is His Son, Christ. So woman/man are image bearers of the image Himself, God in Christ. This is why He loves us, because He has chosen for all eternity to not be who He is w/o us in Christ.

    If your comment is in reference to the absolute decrees and decretal theology in general; then yes, I agree with you. Speculative theology, methodologically, is a dead end (so NO to the via negativa or negative or negating theology).

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  6. […] know as classical or Westminster Calvinists; you can read that post (if you haven’t already) here. The content of this post shares once again from Arminius; these are the twenty points and […]

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  7. Let’s not get too down on scholasticism. It’s really all we’ve got. Theology itself is a dead end, if what you’re looking for is a path that will take you to a destination you haven’t already arrived at. Tools are only tools. They can be used correctly.

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  8. Matt, I have just recently written a post on why Evangelical Calvinists are more scholastic than Scholastics; so I wouldn’t say I am getting down on scholasticism. Instead, though, I will make a distinction between scholastic methodology and scholastic conceptuality; usually when I refer to scholasticism I am referencing the historical conceptuality that is most often attendant with it.

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  9. Bobby, it was more of a general caution to the thread. Myself included, as I put the bee on “scholasticism” myself. But you make the right distinction, as I was also attempting to point to the Medieval trends in theology that go by that name. Medieval scholasticism wasn’t really interrupted by the Reformation; it just looks that way. The topical change in most of post-Reformation dogmatics doesn’t hide the fact that the method remains remarkably similar. It’s a largely conservative method of doing theology, preserving and elaborating on key insights raised within the tradition. Which is, in turn, something that goes back much farther than the Medieval period. Pharisaic scholarship attended to the adaptation of the tradition to new circumstances, using a fundamentally similar mode of thought. It’s how we keep the flame lit between really good theologians! 😉

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  10. Great points, Matt; especially drawing the correlation between the Pharisaic commentary tradition (Mishna for example etc) and the scholastic one; nice!

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