Saturday, August 09, 2008

Arminius on Predestination

Arminius wrote a considerable article dealing with the aspects and implications of various Calvinist doctrines of Predestination in his Sentiments. Recently, I have found myself engaged in several contentious discussions regarding the orthodoxy of Calvinist predestination. In turning to Arminius' Sentiments I came to the unsettled conclusion that the predestination teaching of the various Calvinist churches cannot be deemed as an orthodox instruction in the body of Christ if Arminius argues on a solid ground (which I do indeed argue). While I would not deem such teachings to be heretical and I am certainly not in a position to do such, the degree of unorthodoxy is such that if Calvinistic Predestination were removed from the syllabus of Reformed thought, the entire catalogue of that systematic theology would crumble. Its foundation is premised on that arbitrary determinism called by another name, Predestination. The following is an extract from Arminius' comments on this matter and provides the Reformation Arminian view of predestination that readily agrees with the historic orthodoxy of the Christian Church without causing any manner of doctrinal conflict with that orthodoxy. Arminius' comments in whole are lengthy and those sections that address the objectionable tenets of Calvinist Predestination are not presented here although a link to those comments is provided. – A.M. Mallett

From Arminius' Declaration of Sentiments:


I have hitherto been stating those opinions concerning the article of Predestination which are inculcated in our Churches and in the University of Leyden, and of which I disapprove. I have at the same time produced my own reasons, why I form such an unfavorable judgment concerning them; and I will now declare my own opinions on this subject, which are of such a description as, according to my views, appear most conformable to the word of God.

1. The first absolute decree of God concerning the salvation of sinful man, is that by which he decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, for a Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and might communicate it by his own virtue.

2. The second precise and absolute decree of God, is that in which he decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for his sake and through Him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and believers as persevered to the end; but to leave in sin, and under wrath, all impenitent persons and unbelievers, and to damn them as aliens from Christ.

3. The third Divine decree is that by which God decreed to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means which were necessary for repentance and faith; and to have such administration instituted

(1.) according to the Divine Wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both to his mercy and his severity, and

(2.) according to Divine Justice, by which He is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and put it in execution.

4. To these succeeds the fourth decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.

Predestination, when thus explained, is

1. The foundation of Christianity, and of salvation and its certainty.

2. It is the sum and the matter of the gospel; nay, it is the gospel itself, and on that account necessary to be believed in order to salvation, as far as the two first articles are concerned.

3. It has had no need of being examined or determined by any council, either general or particular, since it is contained in the scriptures clearly and expressly in so many words; and no contradiction has ever yet been offered to it by any orthodox Divine.

4. It has constantly been acknowledged and taught by all Christian teachers who held correct and orthodox sentiments.

5. It agrees with that harmony of all confessions, which has been published by the protestant Churches.

6. It likewise agrees most excellently with the Dutch Confession and Catechism. This concord is such, that if in the Sixteenth article these two expressions "those persons whom" and "others," be explained by the words "believers" and "unbelievers" these opinions of mine on Predestination will be comprehended in that article with the greatest clearness. This is the reason why I directed the thesis to be composed in the very words of the Confession, when, on one occasion, I had to hold a public disputation before my private class in the University. This kind of Predestination also agrees with the reasoning contained in the twentieth and the fifty-fourth question of the Catechism.

7. It is also in excellent accordance with the nature of God — with his wisdom, goodness, and righteousness; because it contains the principal matter of all of them, and is the clearest demonstration of the Divine wisdom, goodness, and righteousness [or justice]

8. It is agreeable in every point with the nature of man — in what form soever that nature may be contemplated, whether in the primitive state of creation, in that of the fall, or in that of restoration.

9. It is in complete concert with the act of creation, by affirming that the creation itself is a real communication of good, both from the intention of God, and with regard to the very end or event; that it had its origin in the goodness of God; that whatever has a reference to its continuance and preservation, proceeds from Divine love; and that this act of creation is a perfect and appropriate work of God, in which he is at complaisance with himself, and by which he obtained all things necessary for an unsinning state.

10. It agrees with the nature of life eternal, and with the honorable titles by which that life is designated in the scriptures.

11. It also agrees with the nature of death eternal, and with the names by which that death is distinguished in scripture.

12. It states sin to be a real disobedience, and the meritorious cause of condemnation; and on this account, it is in the most perfect agreement with the fall and with sin.

13. In every particular, it harmonizes with the nature of grace, by ascribing to it all those things which agree with it, [or adapted to it,] and by reconciling it most completely to the righteousness of God and to the nature and liberty of the human will.

14. It conduces most conspicuously to declare the glory of God, his justice and his mercy. It also represents God as the cause of all good and of our salvation, and man as the cause of sin and of his own damnation.

15. It contributes to the honor of Jesus Christ, by placing him for the foundation of Predestination and the meritorious as well as communicative cause of salvation.

16. It greatly promotes the salvation of men: It is also the power, and the very means which lead to salvation — by exciting and creating within the mind of man sorrow on account of sin, a solicitude about his conversion, faith in Jesus Christ, a studious desire to perform good works, and zeal in prayer — and by causing men to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. It likewise prevents despair, as far as such prevention is necessary.

17. It confirms and establishes that order according to which the gospel ought to be preached,

(1.) By requiring repentance and faith —

(2.) And then by promising remission of sins, the grace of the spirit, and life eternal.

18. It strengthens the ministry of the gospel, and renders it profitable with respect to preaching, the administration of the sacraments and public prayers.

19. It is the foundation of the Christian religion; because in it, the two-fold love of God may be united together — God's love of righteousness [or justice], and his love of men, may, with the greatest consistency, be reconciled to each other.

20. Lastly. This doctrine of Predestination, has always been approved by the great majority of professing Christians, and even now, in these days, it enjoys the same extensive patronage. It cannot afford any person just cause for expressing his aversion to it; nor can it give any pretext for contention in the Christian Church.

It is therefore much to be desired, that men would proceed no further in this matter, and would not attempt to investigate the unsearchable judgments of God — at least that they would not proceed beyond the point at which those judgments have been clearly revealed in the scriptures.

This, my most potent Lords, is all that I intend now to declare to your mightinesses, respecting the doctrine of Predestination, about which there exists such a great controversy in the Church of Christ. If it would not prove too tedious to your Lordships, I have some other propositions which I could wish to state, because they contribute to a full declaration of my sentiments, and tend to the same purpose as that for which I have been ordered to attend in this place by your mightinesses.

There are certain other articles of the Christian religion, which possess a close affinity to the doctrine of Predestination, and which are in a great measure dependent on it: Of this description are the providence of God, the free-will of man, the perseverance of saints, and the certainty of salvation. On these topics, if not disagreeable to your mightinesses, I will in a brief manner relate my opinion.



Unknown said...

Private interpretation of Scriptures can be exceedingly harmful to self and others. This has divided Christianity into hundreds if not tens of thousands of segments.

Too many individuals claim their position is right and are unwilling to freely discuss the position taken or to be submissive to moral authorities.

Holding to a personal position, or one of heretical source, places one's eternal soul in jeopardy. Such people often become instruments that lead others to perdition.

A.M. Mallett said...

There is some small measure of truth in what you are stating. The largest denomination in Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church,has engaged in private interpretation of scripture for many centuries. This has caused considerable damage within the body of Christ.
As for whether or not one's soul is in jeopardy for holding to a personal opinion strikes me as rather dogmatic. There are millions of people who hold to the personal opinions of the Pope in Rome. Whether they are saved to begin with, I cannot address. However, much depends on what that personal opinion consists of.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr Mallett

The problem of the interpretation of the Bible is hardly a modern phenomenon, even if at times that is what some would have us believe.

The Bible itself bears witness that its interpretation can be a difficult matter.

Alongside texts that are perfectly clear, it contains passages of some obscurity.

When reading certain prophecies of Jeremiah, Daniel pondered at length over their meaning (Dn. 9:2).

According to the Acts of the Apostles, an Ethiopian of the first century found himself in the same situation with respect to a passage from the Book of Isaiah (Is. 53:7-8) and recognized that he had need of an interpreter (Acts 8:30-35).

The Second Letter of Peter insists that "no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private interpretation" (2 Pt. 1:20), and it also observes that the letters of the apostle Paul contain "some difficult passages, the meaning of which the ignorant and untrained distort, as they do also in the case of the other Scriptures, to their own ruin" (2 Pt. 3: 16).


A.M. Mallett said...

Mr. Gormley,
I did not suggest problems with interpretation were merely modern. I pointed out that your claim of denominations having varying opinions must include your own denomination, the Roman Catholic Church. Given the extent of Luther's theses, those problems were numerous with many of them codified today through the ecclesiastical opinions of Trent.
However, this posting and this blog are not particularly concerned with Roman Catholic apologetics.