Sunday, December 28, 2008

Arminius on Original Sin and Guilt

On one of the discussion boards, there is a self styled teacher who has made a point of building what he feels is a case against Arminians regarding the work of grace in this world, what we refer to as prevenient or preventing grace, inferring that as Arminians we instruct that grace has annulled the guilt of all men through the work of Christ. At its core is the Pelagian suggestion that men have been restored to that place where they may approach or disregard the LORD, the Gospel, the good things of God based on some measure of their own renewed merit. Of course this reflects a poor understanding of our Christian doctrine. Nonetheless men such as he persist in their claims in spite of protests to the contrary. Fortunately Arminius addressed this specific issue in his Nine Questions and made his sentiments clear regarding the effect of original sin and the state of natural man. The following are the questions posed and his succinct reply.

Does original sin, of itself, render man obnoxious to eternal death, even without the addition of any actual sin? Or is the guilt of original sin taken away from all and every one by the benefits of Christ the Mediator?

If some men are condemned solely on account of the sin committed by Adam, and others on account of their rejection of the Gospel, are there not two peremptory decrees concerning the damnation of men, and two judgments, one Legal, the other Evangelical?


Those things which in this question are placed in opposition to each other, easily agree together. For original sin can render man obnoxious to eternal death, and its guilt can be taken away from all men by Christ. Indeed, in order that guilt may be removed, it is necessary that men be previously rendered guilty. But to reply to each part separately: It is perversely said, that "original sin renders a man obnoxious to death," since that sin is the punishment of Adam's actual sin, which punishment is preceded by guilt, that is, an obligation to the punishment denounced by the law. With regard to the second member of the question, it is very easily answered by the distinction of the soliciting, obtaining, and the application of the benefits of Christ. For as a participation of Christ's benefits consists in faith alone, it follows that, if among these benefits "deliverance from this guilt" be one, believers only are delivered from it, since they are those upon whom the wrath of God does not abide.

From his statement, it is beyond refute that the proper Reformed Arminian position regarding the condition of man with regard to original sin is that natural man remains "obnoxious" in such a state. As with other Christian doctrine, faith plays a central role in the restoration of man, a faith specific to the finished work of Christ. Lacking this faith there can be no restoration of man's fallen condition. So with this understanding, it cannot be said that natural man outside of Christ has had his fallen nature annulled or has been restored to a place of revelation light. He remains in his obnoxious condition. The pastor or layman who faces such charges should take some strong comfort in knowing that these claims against us have been adequately addressed. Let the defense be as with Arminius, we defend our faith with faith itself.