Arminius and Arminianism
As to the divinity of the Son of God and the opinion of Arminius concerning this truth, we will be brief. This brevity is not because the subject is not important, for it is. Nor is this brevity observed because Arminius did not err in regard to this doctrine, for he did. But it is because we are rather interested in what he teaches concerning the truth of predestination and related doctrines such as sovereign grace, the free will of man.
At the University of Leyden at the time, Arminius proposed the subject of the divinity of the Son of God and with respect to this subject he laid down the proposition that the Son had his essence from the Father. In the disputation which followed, one of the students objected that the Son was autotheos, that is, essentially God of himself. He argued “that the word (autotheos, H.H.) was justly applicable to the Son of God” in the sense that he was essentially God of himself, “and that the essence of the Father could not be said to be communicated to the Son and to the Holy Spirit . . . but that it was in perfect correctness and strict propriety common alike to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
This Arminius denied. He claimed that the Son had his divine essence from the Father. The opinion of the student, according to him, “was at variance with the word of God, and with the whole of the ancient Church, both Greek and Latin, which had always taught, that the Son had his Deity from the Father by eternal generation.”
Yet the student was correct. For there is one divine essence and it is within that divine essence, common to all the three Persons, that the Son is generated by the Father and the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son.
But let this be sufficient and let us rather turn to what Arminius has to say about the doctrine of justification.
First, in par. IX, he states: “I am not conscious to myself, of having taught or entertained any other sentiments concerning the justification of man before God, than those which are held unanimously by the Reformed and Protestant Churches, and which are in complete agreement with their expressed opinions.”
Then, he quotes Rom. IV:5ff. “Faith is imputed for righteousness.” On this passage, according to him, there are three possible interpretations:
1. Faith itself as an act of man, performed according to the command of the gospel, is imputed by God for righteousness, “and that of grace; since it is not the righteousness of the law.”
2. Faith is imputed for righteousness because it apprehends the righteousness of Christ.
3. Faith is imputed for righteousness because of its instrumental operation.
Arminius holds that the first of these propositions is the correct one. He complains that “It is on this ground that I am accounted to hold and to teach unsound opinions concerning the justification of man before God.” And he also explains the proposition which he claims to be correct in the following way. First, sinners are accounted righteous only by the obedience of Christ. Secondly, the righteousness of Christ is the only ground or cause on account of which God reckons the sinner righteous. Thirdly, God imputes the righteousness of Christ only to believers.
I am afraid that it is exactly on this point that Arminius was accused of holding unsound doctrines. For, do not forget that, according to him, faith is an act of man. O, to be sure, he cannot perform this act except by grace, that is, by the assisting and co-operative grace of God. But it is an act of man by which he, nevertheless, obeys the command of the gospel by and through himself. He does not believe that all is grace. He does not believe that grace is always first. He does not believe that the natural man cannot believe in Christ and that he is wholly dead in sin. Why not? Fundamentally because he does not believe in predestination, in election and reprobation, except on the basis of the foreknowledge of God. He believes that God chose those whom he foresaw and foreknew that they would believe in Christ, and that He rejected those whom He foresaw and foreknew that they would not believe in Him.
This is the fundamental reason why Arminius emphasizes that faith, as an act of man, causes the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to a sinner.
Rank Arminianism in Calvin Seminary
It is evident from the article in the Reformed Journal by Prof. H. Dekker that he felt that he had in mind the doctrine of the Three Points. This is evident from the texts he quotes as well as from his quotations from the Canons of Dordrecht which he also makes. These quotations are also made, by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church convened at Kalamazoo in 1924.
And also the editor of The Banner, evidently, saw the similarity between Prof. Dekker’s article and the Three Points, for in his criticism of Prof. Dekker’s article he cannot help to refer to and to defend especially the First of those Three Points. Writes he:
“In inquiring just what the Bible has to say about all this it is necessary to be very clear as to precisely what the question is. Let it be clearly understood, then, that this is not a matter of common grace, or of a certain favorable attitude of God to all mankind.”
And at the close of his article, the editor refers to some of the decisions of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1959 which also deal with the common grace question.
Nevertheless, I repeat that Prof. Dekker can always appeal for his stand to the First Point of 1924. Do not forget that one of the grounds which the Synod of 1924 adduced in support of the First Point or in support of the expression that “there is a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to his creatures in general, is “the general offer of the gospel.” Nor do forget that in his pamphlet “The Three Points In All Parts Reformed, Berkhof wrote, in explanation of Ezekiel 33:11 the following words: “Are these not words of tender mercy, in which a Father begs His apostatizing children to return to Father’s house and to the heart of Father.” p. 22. (Translation from the Dutch is mine, H.H.)
Now, mark you well, all this is written in support of the statement that God is gracious to all his creatures . . . to all men! If God is filled with mercy to all men does He then not love all men?
I do certainly not agree with Prof. Dekker. His views are, as I express in the heading above these articles, rank Arminianism. But if I were in his shoes and a case were made against me, I would surely appeal to the Three Points as explained by Berkhof and also by H.J. Kuiper, in order to prove that I was in full agreement with the officially declared doctrine of the Christian Reformed Church.
But I was going to discuss the passages from the Confessions which Prof. Dekker quotes in support of his position that God loves all men.
First Prof. Dekker quotes from Canons II, 5: “Moreover the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified, shall not perish but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared to all nations and all persons promiscuously and without distinction to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.”
Now, I am confident that even Prof. Dekker understands very well that this part of the confessions does not teach that God loves all men.
Let us put this to the test by replacing the limited clauses that occur in this article of the Canons by the words “all men.”
hen you obtain the following:
“The promise of the gospel is that all men shall not perish but that all men shall have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, for it is God’s good pleasure that all men in the whole world shall hear the gospel.”
Is it possible that the fathers of Dordt could have meant to insert an article of this nature in the Canons?
Of course not!
The article surely does not make the promise of God general and to all men. It is very particular. It is limited on every side.
To be sure, the article teaches that the gospel must be preached to all nations and persons promiscuously and without distinction. And it is to be accompanied by the command to believe and repent.
But do not overlook that this article of the Canons adds “to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel. Even the course which the gospel takes in the world is determined by God’s good pleasure.
Moreover, according to the article in the Canons, the promise of the gospel is not to all men, but only to those that repent and believe. And faith and repentance are gifts of God and they are bestowed only on the elect.
Prof. Dekker also quotes Canons III, IV, 8 where we read:
“As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly declared in his word, what will be acceptable to him; namely, that they who are called should come unto him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe on him.”
Also this article is quoted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in support of the declaration that God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel to all that hear it.
Prof. Dekker quotes this article to prove that God loves all men. But, apart now from the fact that the Canons as a whole teach the very opposite, also the above quoted article certainly does not teach that God loves all men.
1. That the external calling by the gospel is serious. Latin, serio. It is serious for all that hear, whether for the elect or reprobate. It is serious for the reprobate because they, too, hear the call to repent and believe. That in and by themselves they cannot and will not, and cannot will to, do this makes no difference as to the seriousness of God’s calling. And it is serious for the elect because this same calling is applied to their hearts so that they do repent and. believe.
2. It, moreover, declares that it is pleasing to God that the called leave the way of evil and wickedness and, in the way of repentance, should come to him. Again I say that no man can do this of himself and the reprobate will and. can never do this, but this does not change the fact that they are responsible before God. And the elect, by the grace of God, may know that they will not be rejected for it is pleasing to God that they come unto him.
3. And to all this is added the particular promise that to all that believe and come to him he will give rest and eternal life. This is not for all, but only for them that believe and come unto him, that is, the elect.
Besides, the Canons, from which Prof. Dekker makes the above quotations, teach the very opposite from that which he attempts to make them teach.
Thus, for instance, in I, 6, we read:
“That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree, ‘for known unto God are all his works even from the beginning.’ Acts 15:18. ‘Who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will.’ Eph. 1:11. According to which decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment in their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God which, though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.”
Or, to quote no more, in Canons II, 8 we read:
“For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God, that Christ, by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation and language, all those and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing, and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.”
This is Reformed.