Thursday, May 21, 2009

Arminius on Perfect Obedience

One of the Wesleyan teachings that causes some stir in a few circles is the idea of Christian perfection, oftentimes mistakenly represented as sinless perfection. Of course, the teaching of the Wesleyans is not one of sinless perfection with regard to perfect obedience to every aspect of law. Instead it is a doctrine of Christian perfection where faith is preeminent in all things subjecting every aspect of the believer in submission to Christ. This is not to say that all Christians are to find themselves in such a place but that the capability and means are evident through Christ. Wesley didn't invent something new with this. He explains much in his essay A Plain Account of Christian Perfection as well as with his similar sermon. While there are differences in the teachings of Arminius and Augustine for that matter, there are strong similarities in what Wesley presented as our expectation as saints in Christ knowing full well we most often fall short of those expectations. In the last of his Nine Questions, Arminius addressed this issue of perfect obedience with regard to the saint of God. His comments follow.

Can believers under the grace of the New Covenant, perfectly observe the law of God in this life?

May God, or may He not, require of those who are partakers of the New Covenant, that the flesh do not lust against the Spirit, as a duty corresponding with the grace of that covenant?


The performance of the law is to be estimated according to the mind of Him who requires it to be observed. The answer will be two-fold, since He either wills it to be rigidly observed in the highest degree of perfection, or only according to epieikeian clemency; that is, if he require this according to clemency, and if the strength or powers which he confers be proportionate to the demand.

(1.) Man cannot perfectly perform such a law of God, if it be considered as to be performed according to rigor.

(2.) But if he require it according to clemency, and if the powers conferred be proportionate, (which must be acknowledged, since He requires it according to the evangelical covenant,) the answer is, it can be perfectly observed. But the question about capability is not of such great importance, "provided a man confesses that it is possible to be done by the grace of Christ," as St. Augustine justly observes.

Arminius' Nine Questions


DonaldH said...

I wondering that if the intent was "going on to perfection", or the journey to perfection, then it is actually an error as some perceive, is that a correct assumption on my part, based on his writings and your post?

DonaldH said...

I'm sorry I left out the word "not". Should read "not an error" as some perceive

A.M. Mallett said...

Donald, thank you for your comments. The intent is certainly a measure of going on to perfection. Neither Arminius or Augustine subscribed to the notion of immediate perfection nor would either have suggested we shall be perfect in this mortal walk. Both men rightly pointed out that through Christ, Christian perfection is certainly within our capability. Neither suggested this is the norm. I have had pastors liken this to having the Holy Spirit work to bring our condition to par with our position in Christ. Most of us will and do fall short of that measure but I have encountered a few souls whom I felt were fully Chrstlike in their faith, even if for that time.
I am not sure if that addressed your inquiry or not.

A.M. Mallett said...

Adding .... I want to find the source of Augustine's comments that spurred Arminius to concur. Augustine had a tendency to react to his circumstances and in his zeal in opposing Pelagius, he denied any hope of Christian perfection. I would like to reconcile that with his understanding of capability.

DonaldH said...


You nailed it for me. My understanding was/is pretty much the same I perceived the articulation of this view.

I have just heard many brethren criticize the usuage of the term. Based on your post it actually cleared up a thought I had. I basically was looking for confirmation on an issue and this was definitely it. Thanks.

Please post your findings with every good wish on the Augustine issue though.