GETTING ACQUAINTED WITH ARMINIUS, PART 4
John S. Knox
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2011. Volume 30.
Date Posted July, 2012
The Declaration of Sentiments contains ten chapters which Arminius compiled in his defense. Last issue covered Sections 2-4.
SECTION V – THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
This section is very intriguing for it deals with the matter of the perseverance of the saints—that is, the continued victory over sin in the life of the believer and an uninterrupted relationship with God. The first sub-section deals with what perseverance is and how it is maintained. The second sub-section, though, brings up a question over the possibility of a believer falling away from the faith. Arminius addresses the doctrine of perseverance.
My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies — yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit
He suggests that every Christian has the resources, provided by God, to resist the powers of evil in order to maintain a healthy relationship with God. There is no danger of being "either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ" or of being impotent in one's earnest attempt to keep the faith. God provides his grace and its benefits in order to enable each believer to succeed. This appears to fall in line with proper Reformed thought.
However, the second sub-section questions whether or not willful disobedience and rejection can "cause Divine grace to be ineffectual." Thus, Arminius contends that it is impossible to have one's position with God taken away, although it may be possible to turn away from it. Always using Scripture as the foundation, Arminius notes "certain passages" that seem to suggest the latter. This approach flies in the face of the determinism of the Supralapsarians.
SECTION VI – "THE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION"
As with the perseverance of the saints, Arminius suggests that it is possible to have good confidence that one's salvation is not so fragile as to require perpetual anxiety and fear. However, Arminius reminds the reader that no human is the eternal judge—God is. Therefore, there is some room for speculation and contemplation on the part of the believer.
This chapter consists of two sub-sections. The first details Arminius' opinion of what assurance of salvation means. He states, "It is possible for him who believes in Jesus Christ to be certain and persuaded, and, if his heart condemn him not, he is now in reality assured, that he is a son of God, and stands in the grace of Jesus Christ." This belief should be both heart-felt and intellectually perceived. Moreover, this belief is actualized by "...the testimony of God's Spirit witnessing together with his conscience." Yet, one should not forget that God is the ultimate judge and that every believer is still reliant upon God for his or her salvation.
In the second sub-section, Arminius raises an issue as an item for debate. He does not state his opinion one way or another but remarks, "Yet it will be proper to make the extent of the boundaries of this assurance, a subject of inquiry in our convention." Without a great deal of Scriptural proof or early church father definitive explanations, Arminius sees aspects of this doctrine open to debate and discussion. The double predestination of Calvinism makes this assurance seem absolute—a quality that Arminius would suggest is more speculative than definitive.
SECTION VII – "THE PERFECTION OF BELIEVERS IN THIS LIFE"
In this chapter, he brings up the fact that he has been accused of Pelagianism because of his speculation that a believer can live a sinless life. "It is reported, that I entertain sentiments on this subject, which are very improper, and nearly allied to those of the Pelagians." However, the error of his attackers is that they are failing to acknowledge the caveat he includes in his understanding of perfection. With his understanding that nothing happens without the direction of God, Arminius states, "it is possible for the regenerate in the life perfectly to keep God's precepts." He then goes on to show how he is only promoting ideas similar to that of St. Augustine.
He continues, "Though these might have been my sentiments yet I ought not on this account to be considered a Pelagian, either partly or entirely, provided I had only added that ‘they could do this by the grace of Christ, and by no means without it.'" As with earlier chapters, Arminius makes sure to keep the grace of God as the crucial element in his doctrine. Arminius goes on to defend himself by remarking that he never asserted that a person can live free from sin, but he never denied it, either.
He appeals to the great church father, Augustine, whose own statements suggested the possibility of perfection. Furthermore, he points to the absurdity of his opponents accusing him of being a Pelagian when his ideas merely mirror those of Augustine, ". . . one of the most strenuous adversaries of the Pelagian doctrine." Beyond this, Arminius proclaims, "I account this sentiment of Pelagius to be heretical, and diametrically opposed to these words of Christ, ‘Without me ye can do nothing:' (John 15:5)" Arminius wants no misunderstanding of his condemnation of Pelagius and his promotion of the authority of Scripture.
Arminius ends this chapter lamenting the misrepresentation of him by his critics. He assures his audience that what information is being spread about him by men like Gomarus is based only on rumor. He then informs his listeners/readers that he is going to "disclose the real state of the whole matter," which he does in the next chapter.