Arminius, the Scapegoat of Calvinism,
Part 2
Dr. Vic Reasoner

1. Arminius is misrepresented concerning total depravity

Lars Qualben in A History of the Christian Church states that Jacob Arminius and his followers taught "Man was not totally depraved and could therefore co-operate with God in the spiritual regeneration"[p. 351]. Louis Berkhof wrote, "Man has by nature an irresistible bias for evil. He is not able to apprehend and love spiritual excellence, to seek and do spiritual things, the things of God that pertain to salvation. This position, which is Augustinian and Calvinistic, is flatly contradicted by Pelagianism and Socinianism, and in part also by Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism [Systematic Theology, p. 248]. Harbach wrote, "Arminianism, however, under its breath croons the siren song of man's essential goodness."

However, Samuel Wakefield, an early American Methodist theologian wrote, "True Arminianism, therefore, as fully as Calvinism, admits the total depravity of human nature." Let Arminius speak for himself.

On account of this transgression, man fell under the displeasure and the wrath of God, rendered himself subject to a double death, and deserving to be deprived of the primeval righteousness and holiness in which a great part of the image of God consisted.

Arminius describes the effects of the first sin of the first man as "the withdrawing of that primitive righteousness and 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." Again, Arminius explains the effects of the sin of our first parents.

This was the reason why all men who were to be propagated from them in a natural way, became obnoxious to death temporal and death eternal, and devoid of this gift of the Holy Spirit or original righteousness: This punishment usually receives the appellation of "a privation of the image of God," and "original sin."

Kenneth Grider explains, "Original sin refers to a state of sin in us due to that original act of sin on Adam's part." In Wesley's 272 page treatise, "The Doctrine of Original Sin," he declared without this doctrine "the Christian system falls at once" [Works, 9:194]. Wesleyan-Arminians do affirm man's sinful nature, our basic inclination to sin, our total depravity which was inherited from Adam.

2. Arminius is misrepresented as teaching the absolute freedom of the will.

R. J. Rushdoony equates humanism with Arminianism. He refers to the old humanistic dream that every man, by his own free choice, can effect his salvation. "If this sounds very much like Arminianism, it is because the same principle undergirds Arminianism and humanism: salvation as man's decision" [Systematic Theology, 2:923].

John MacArthur wrote,

Pragmatism's ally is arminianism, the theology that denies God's sovereign election and affirms that man must decide on his own to trust or reject Christ. That places on the evangelist the burden of using technique that is clever enough, imaginative enough, or convincing enough to sway a person's decision. . . . to teach or imply that human technique can bring someone to Christ is contrary to Scripture [Our Sufficiency in Christ, p. 152].

In Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will R. C. Sproul admits that the language of Augustine, Martin Luther, or John Calvin is scarcely stronger than that of Arminius regarding the fall [p. 126]. He concedes that Arminians teach justification by faith alone. Yet Arminianism contains "un-Christian elements in it" [p. 25]. For Sproul, the point of departure was that Arminius believed prevenient grace was sufficient, but not irresistible.

This makes salvation synergistic, not monergistic. Sproul argues for monergism and that regeneration must precede faith. Monergism, as defined by Sproul, means that God is the single actor in regeneration. He defines synergism as a relationship in which God assists and humans cooperate. This, he says, leads to human autonomy and differs only slightly from the Roman Catholic view of faith as a meritorious work. I fail to see how "cooperation with" means the same thing as "autonomy from." Sproul asserts that "any view of the human will that destroyed the biblical view of human responsibility is seriously defective. Any view of the human will that destroys the biblical view of God's character is even worse."

While the rest of the book is devoted to a historical survey of the teachings of Pelagius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, Finney, and Chafer with regard to their teaching concerning the fall, free will, and regeneration, Sproul never defines the will. Nor does he show how Calvinism escapes the charge of destroying human responsibility. His chapter on Arminius ends with a review of the heretic teachings of Clark Pinnock. The inference is that any who abandons Calvinism is liable to end up just as confused. Yet Pinnock's new views go beyond historic Arminianism and orthodox Christianity [pp. 142-3]. Therefore, Pinnock is a straw man.

Early Methodism taught that we were saved by free grace. Call it by either term, we could only cooperate as we were enabled by prevenient grace. This emphasis is neither Pelagianism nor absolute human autonomy. James Arminius declared

But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of any by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good, but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing, and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.

In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.

Free Will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without Grace. . . . I affirm, therefore, that this grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good: It is this grace which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will; which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the affections, and bends the will to carry into execution good thoughts and good desires. This grace goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and cooperated lest we will in vain.

John Wesley said that the will of a sinner is "free only to evil" ["The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption," Sermon #9, II.7]. In another context Wesley stated that he came to the very edge of Calvinism:

  1. In ascribing all good to the free grace of God
  2. In denying all natural free will and all power antecedent to grace
  3. In excluding all merit from man even for what he has or does by the grace of God [Works, 8:285].

Our emphasis in not upon free will, but upon God's grace, including prevenient grace. John Fletcher stated that Arminianism asserts "that obedient free will is always dependent upon God's free grace; and disobedient free will upon God's just wrath" [Works, 2:229]. John Wesley wrote, "Natural free-will, in the present state of mankind, I do not understand: I only assert, that there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which 'enlightens every man that cometh into the world'" [Works, 10:229-30].

It is not historic Wesleyan-Arminianism which overemphasized free will, it was the later teaching of Charles Finney, a Pelagian, who influenced the holiness movement at this point. Robert Chiles surveyed three major transitions in American Methodism between 1790 and 1935. He concluded,

The third major change in Methodist theology, 'from free grace to free will,' began with the Wesleyan doctrine of grace as free for all and in all and as the sole power of salvation. Steadily the areas of achievement assigned to man's freedom were increased. . . . Repentance and, eventually, faith came to be considered essentially human acts, not God's gifts, and salvation proper became man's divinely assisted effort to moralize and spiritualize his life.

3. Arminius is misrepresented as teaching a works salvation.

Louis Berkhof wrote in his Systematic Theology, "The Arminian order of salvation, while ostensibly ascribing the work of salvation to God, really makes it contingent on the attitude and the work of man" [p. 421].

J. I. Packer concluded, "Thus, Arminianism made man's salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being view throughout as man's own work and, because his own, not God's in him."

In contrast, Kenneth Grider stated that "we Arminian-Wesleyans are not Pelagians, since we believe in original sin and since we believe that prevenient grace is necessary to enable us to use our freedom for taking savory directions in our lives." Grider then clarifies what he means.

This view means that we will not say to a congregation in an evangelistic service, "You do your part and God will do His part." Unregenerate persons cannot do any such thing until God first does His part of extending prevenient grace to them.

This view also means that the Arminian-Wesleyan will not say, "God will meet you halfway." We cannot initiate our own salvation. being fallen creatures, inclined to evil and that continually, God must come all the way to where we are and initiate in us our "first faint desire" to turn to Christ - as John Wesley said.

Arminius declared that "faith, and faith only, is imputed for righteousness. By this alone are we justified before God, absolved from our sins, and are accounted, pronounced and declared RIGHTEOUS by God, who delivers his judgment from the throne of grace." Arminius also wrote,

Evangelical faith is an assent of the mind, produced by the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel, in sinners, who through the law know and acknowledge their sins, and are penitent on account of them: By which they are not only fully persuaded within themselves, that Jesus Christ has been constituted by God the author of salvation to those who obey Him, and that He is their own Saviour if they have believed in Him; and by which they also believe in Him as such, and through Him on God as the Benevolent Father in Him, to the salvation of believers and to the glory of Christ and God.

Two years after his Aldersgate experience, Wesley explained that he had wandered many years in the "new path of salvation by faith and works," but about two years ago it pleased God to show us the old way of salvation by faith only" [Journal, 22 June, 1740. Those who claim the Wesleyan-Arminian doctrine teaches otherwise need to read "Justification by Faith," which is the fifth sermon of the doctrinal standards of Methodism.

Arminius did not object to saying, "the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us," but he did object to saying that "the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us for righteousness." He wanted to avoid saying that Christ's righteousness is a cloak over our unrighteousness. He believed that in the imputation of Christ's righteousness we are partakers in Christ.

John Wesley also embraced the doctrine of imputed righteousness, but pronounced a similar caution, "In the meantime what we are afraid of is this: lest any should use the phrase, "The righteousness of Christ," or, "The righteousness of Christ is 'imputed to me'," as a cover for his unrighteousness" ["The Lord our Righteousness," Sermon #20, II.19].

--to be concluded in the next issue