Jacobus Arminius, The Theologian of Law: Miscellanies on Moralism and the Priority of Justice

There is so much I would like to communicate through this post; Jacobus Arminius is just that kind of rascal! Unfortunately, because of space limitations and blog attention span disorder, I will have to delimit myself to the
arminiusbare minimum of what I would really like to cover in regard to Arminius’ conception of duplex amore Dei (i.e. God’s ‘twofold love’), and how that is taken captive by a ‘Legal theology’ of the sort that I would think ought to heal any Arminian of being Arminian (if they actually followed the actual teachings of Arminius–which I don’t think most know). I am really having a hard time knowing how to whittle this down, much of what I am going to provide will just be straight quotation of Arminius from his Declaration of Sentiments, and then maybe some commentary from his translator W. Stephen Gunter.

We will jump into the discussion that involves Arminius Legal Theology. I will quote Gunter’s lead into Arminius, and then we will hear directly from Arminius.

[P]oint nineteen is a tightly woven sustained argument exhibiting a fine example of Arminius’ scholastic inclinations. He starts where his opponents start, with Legal Theology in the pre-fall situation, logically irrespective of Christ’s saving work. God is characterized by justice, which produces a hatred for sin, and God is characterized by his “love for humanity” as creatures endowed with reason…. At this juncture he invokes Hebrews 11:6, because in Arminius’ theological dialectic, election is God’s free decision to save those who by grace come seeking and believing: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Regardless of where one encounters the doctrine of election in Arminius, one finds also the dimensions of uncoerced, non-necessitated freedom. It is important to keep this in mind, even as we see how Arminius weaves his notion of the duplex amor Dei:

[Here is Arminius]A mutuality exists between those two kinds of love. The love that God extends to humanity cannot come into play unless it is permitted by God’s love of justice. This implies that God’s love for justice is the more excellent of the two; however, love for the creature abounds, except where the love of justice would prohibit its expression. The consequence of this is demonstrated by God’s condemning humanity on account of sin. God clearly demonstrates this love relationship in the original created order; however, this does not imply that God’s love for the creature supersedes his love for justice. Had this been the case, God would have manifested a stronger aversion to the eternal misery of the creature than to the creature’s disobedience. The abundant place for divine love is clear because God condemns no person for any reason other than sin, and God saves the multitudes of humanity who are converted from sin. In the divine dispensation, this salvation would not be possible unless it was God’s will to allow an abundant scope for his love toward the creature under God’s judgment, to the extent this is permitted by his justice (p. 124).[1]

For Arminius, then, God loves His justice more than He loves creation. The consequent of this is that for Arminius, God’s own life is shaped and given co-inherence through a relation of Law and Justice; and thus not a conception of God as Triune, ‘personal’, self-giving love. Love of Law precedes Love (of people) and Grace in the theology of Jacobus Arminius, and this is played out–in my view–in the most heinous of ways as it relates to God’s love for humanity.

As an aside [I don’t have the time to get into this here], Arminius intentionally operates with a subordinationist conception of the Divine Monarchia (or God-head); which makes perfect sense, given His ‘Legal Theology’, and thus the priority of Law being met prior to Love being given (so in order for this to happen, Jesus, then must become the ‘instrument’ by which God’s [the ‘Father’s] ‘Just’ requirements are met, prior to Love being given. So Law is always the orienting pole of salvation, and then the subsequent Love for the sinner. Law becomes the control that leverages the continued obedience of the sinner, and thus salvation and relationship with God continues to be shaped by God’s ontological character as a Lover of Justice, more than a Lover of the Person. Note Arminius:

[…] This prioritizing of justice is the only adequate protection against carelessness. At the same time, the foundation for the latter kind of faith, one that dares to believe that God will undoubtedly reward those who diligently seek Him, is that great love for humanity which neither can nor will prevent God from effecting salvation for the sinner—unless God be hindered by his greater love for justice…. God’s twofold love, and the mutuality that each part bears toward the other, serve together to form the foundation of religion, without which no true religion can possibly exist. Any doctrine, therefore that is in open hostility to this twofold love and to the relationship that mutually exists between them, subverts the foundation of all religion. (pp. 126-28)[2]

Okay, so this aside has gotten a little out of control. What this illustrates, though, is the utter contingence that God’s own life and then subsequent relation to His creation has on Law/Justice (and the voluntarism therein). Beyond that, what this also demonstrates is that Arminius suffered from a terrible case of, at least, semi-Pelagianism. As corollary with Arminius’ conception of God’s love of justice as primary, this becomes the rule by which humanity sustains their salvation, and it becomes the motivation for personal holiness; fear of damnation. So Arminius, in good Pelagian form has constructed a soteriology that is a principled moralism; one that starts in God’s life and works all the way down to ours, and back up to God’s again.

There is much more to say, but let me end by quoting Arminius’ final summarization of his view of predestination and election; the final summation that he gives to his opponents and detractors in his Declaration of Sentiments (which represents Arminius’ mature and final statements on his positions). Here is Arminius, and with this we end:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its own 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.[3]

It is fitting that Arminius ends his summary with an article (IV) grounded and framed by keeping the conditions of the Law, meeting God’s standard and definitive form as Lover of Justice more than Lover of People.

Roger Olson (contemporary evangelical Arminian theologian, par excellence), has written more than once (online and elsewhere), that most Arminians nowadays are nothing more than semi-Pelagian; he communicates this with the triumphalism that if Arminians today really followed and knew what Jacobus Arminius actually taught, they would cease all  semi-Pelagian activity, and become ‘orthodox’. Really?

[T]here is nothing in that reasoning of Calvin that I cannot heartily approve, if all things (in it) are rightly understood. For I confess that the grace by which the Holy Spirit is given, is not common to all men; I also confess that the origin [fontem: source, principal cause] of faith can be said to be gratuitous election of God, but it is election to bestow faith, not to communicate salvation. For a believer is elected to participate in salvation, a sinner is elected to faith. ~Jacobus Arminius[4]

[1] W. Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), 176-77.

[2] Ibid., 179.

[3] Ibid., 180.

[4] Works, 1:747 cited by Gunter, p. 181.

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5 Responses to Jacobus Arminius, The Theologian of Law: Miscellanies on Moralism and the Priority of Justice

  1. Matt Frost says:

    Just for the record, your image is not of the heretic Pelagius, but of the Byzantine Pope Pelagius I, and the number “060” represents the fact that he was the 60th pope of the Catholic Church. 🙂


  2. Matt Frost says:

    More than in the previous posts on Arminius, you’ve made it clear here that Arminius himself is not to blame for the problem. (One of the benefits to good secondary literature: context!) He appears to be producing the best logical inferences he can out of a system that has the problems we’ve gone over to date. I feel like Arminius himself is the reductio ad absurdum of this system. On such a view, if he’s personally to blame for anything, it’s not pursuing a more Luther-isch principled rejection of the system.


  3. Bobby Grow says:

    Ha, I’ll have to change the picture, Matt; thanks :-).

    I agree with you about, Arminius, Matt. He is a kind of reductio ad absurdum to the whole scholastically Reformed project. Stephen Gunter, his translator here, notes that Arminius was in the end, just a Reformed theologian of the period; and he has been caricatured to death/heresy by his opponents. And yet his opponents have failed to recognize that the rocks they have been throwing at Arminius are in fact just the broken pieces of their own foundation, upon which they tenuously (blindly) stand.


  4. oft says:

    That last quote you post of Arminius is probably why the Synod at Dort kicked him out. Without looking, I’m almost positive Paul or Peter mentions ” elect to salvation” or something to the sort. It’s still freewill and if it’s freewill, it can’t be predestination.


  5. Bobby Grow says:


    I don’t know what you mean about freewill and predestination. For example, Augustine and his whole tradition believes in “freewill,” it is just that he also believes that we are so overcome and taken by our sin (Rom 2–3) that we will always and only choose ourselves instead of God. So it requires God to break in on us, and break this vicious circle so that we can choose Him rather than ourselves.

    You have created a false dichotomy. And to set it up as you have, your understanding of freewill would be considered Pelagian (or heretical, historical), and not orthodox Christian teaching–not even Arminius or Arminians today would set it up as you have here.


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