Arminius and Arminianism
We have very little disagreement with Arminius when he writes about the free will of man. According to him man in the state of righteousness could perform the true good; in the state of sin “man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform that which is truly good. When he is made partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing that which is good, yet not without the continued aids of Divine grace.”
The only remark I would make is that Arminius always, and also here, speaks of the assistance and aids of divine grace. To me that sounds like synergism: God and man co-operating. Scripture never speaks that way. God is always first. It does not speak of the assistance and aids of the grace of God, but always of man’s being saved and walking in newness of life through or by grace.
The same is true of the paragraph in which Arminius speaks of grace. Grace according to him, is first of all, a kindly affection toward the miserable sinner; secondly, it is also an infusion of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and, finally, it is the “perpetual assistance of the Holy Spirit” etc. And again he writes that the regenerated man can do no good “without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace.” On this I have the same objection which I mentioned above: God and man never co-operate, but God is always first. This becomes worse when Arminius further writes that the grace of God is not irresistible. With respect to which I believe, according to the Scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.”
What Arminius means by this assisting, aiding, and cooperating grace, becomes very plain when he writes about the perseverance of the saints. Then he writes as follows: “that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by 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. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ.”
But now it comes:
“But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention (or Synod) to institute a diligent enquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause divine grace to be ineffectual.”
And then he writes that he never taught that a true believer can ever finally fall away from faith and perish; “yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding.”
And he concluded as follows:
“On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine (of unconditional perseverance) which are worthy of much consideration.”
From this it is very clear what Arminius means when he speaks of “assisting, aiding, and co-operating grace.” It certainly implies that grace is never all powerful, that it is always resistible, that it is never efficacious, that, in other words, man is stronger than God! For although he does not flatly deny “unconditional perseverance,” the general trend of what he writes certainly lies, to say the least, in that direction.
The same trend is expressed in the paragraph in which he writes on the assurance of salvation. First he writes that it is possible for the believer to become assured that he is a son of God and that he stands in the grace of Christ. But then he writes really the very opposite or, to quote him literally: “I dare not (on this account) place this assurance (or certainty) on an equality with that by which we know there is a God, and that Christ is the Savior of the world. Yet it will be proper to make the extent of the boundaries of this assurance, a subject of enquiry at our convention.”
In the next or seventh section Arminius discusses his sentiments about the perfection of believers in this life. He writes that “‘it is reported, that I entertain sentiments of this subject, which are very improper, and nearly allied to those of the Pelagians, viz.: ‘that is possible for the regenerate in this life perfectly to keep God’s precepts.’ To this I reply, 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.'”
But even if Arminius would have added this, it would still be incorrect, for as the Heidelberg Catechism expresses it at the close of its discussion of the Ten Commandments, the very holiest of the children of God has only a small beginning of the new obedience. The reason is, of course, that the old man of sin remains with him until the end of his life in the world.
In section VIII, Arminius discusses the divinity of the Son of God. He introduced this discussion by writing (in the preceding section): “Indeed, I have lately learned, that there has been much public conversation, and many rumors have been circulated, respecting both these points of doctrine (the divinity of the Son of God and justification, H.H.), particularly since the last conference between Gomarus and myself before the Counselors of the Supreme Court. This is one reason why I think, that I shall not be acting unadvisedly if I disclose to your mightinesses the real state of the whole matter.”
But what are the sentiments of Arminius on these subjects, I must explain in the next issue, D.V.
Rank Arminianism in Calvin Seminary
Prof. Dekker also refers to “the universal love of God revealed in His invitation of the gospel, sincerely extended to all without reservation or limitation.” For this he refers, again without any explanation, to Isaiah 45:22 and Matt. 11:28. In the former passage we read: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.”
Now, in the first place, it is, indeed, very easy to find some so-called universal texts in Scripture, isolate them without any regard to their context and to all the rest of Scripture, deny the doctrine of election, and draw the conclusion that God loves all men and that, as far as He is concerned, He will save all men. That is the usual policy of Arminianism. And this is exactly what Prof. Dekker does. But no truly Reformed man will ever do this.
In the second place, in texts like Isaiah 45:22 we have what is known as the external calling. And this external calling certainly comes, not indeed, to all men, but, nevertheless, to all that hear the gospel. But, unless that external calling is accompanied by the internal calling the calling is not saving but, on the contrary, it is a savor of death unto death. Hence, the external calling by itself is no proof that God loves those to whom that calling comes; but it is such only when the Spirit of God in Christ accompanies it by the internal calling.
Finally, the text from Isaiah 45:22 does not speak of all men, but of “all the ends of the earth” and that is something quite different. God calls His own from all the nations of the earth and not only from the nation of Israel.
As to the text in Matt. 11:28, I would remark the following:
1. The context plainly shows that, in vs. 28 Christ does not refer to all men when He speaks of those that “labor and are heavy laden.” He definitely speaks of the elect, for there we read: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father neither knoweth any man the Father, but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”
Such is the context in which Matt. 11:28 occurs. Here the Lord tells us that God hides as well as reveals. He tells us that such was God’s good pleasure. And He tells us that no one can possibly know the Father except he top whom the Son will reveal Him. Does that sound as if God loves all men? And the same is true of vs. 28 in the same context.
2. Again, the text in vs. 28 speaks of the calling. I do not like that word “invitation” for the simple reason that an invitation may either be accepted or rejected. God does not invite but calls. The call is: “Come unto me.” And that call may not be rejected. However, it cannot be accepted except when the Spirit applies that calling to the heart of the sinner. And this He does not to “all men” or even to all that hear the gospel, but only to the elect. When Prof. Dekker writes emphatically “God Loves . . . All Men” he denies election. He denies the efficacious calling. He denies all Reformed truth. He is Arminian.
Prof. Dekker also refers to the texts in Ezekiel 18:23 andEzekiel 33:11. This smells like the common grace theory adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924. And true it is, no doubt, that for his doctrine that God loves all men he may appeal to the “First Point.” But before I go into the true interpretation of these texts, I must call attention to the fact that he quotes from Calvin’s Commentary on these verses. He quotes him as follows: “God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who, were perishing and rushing to destruction should return to the way of safety.” This sounds, indeed, as if Calvin also supported the error that God loves all men.
However, it is never honest to quote any author partially, and this is exactly what Prof. Dekker does in this case. Hence, I will also quote from the commentary on the same text. Calvin writes:
“God is said not to wish the death of a sinner. How so? since he wishes all to be converted. Now we must see how God wishes all to be converted; for repentance is surely his peculiar gift: as it is his office to create men, so it is his providence to renew them, and restore his image within them. For this reason we are said to be his workmanship that is, his fashioning (Eph. 2:10). Since, therefore, repentance is a kind of second creation, it follows that it is not in man’s power; and if it is equally in God’s power to convert men as well as to create them, it follows that the reprobates are not converted, because he does not wish their conversion; for if he wished it he could do it: and hence it appears that he does not wish it.” etc.
Now we ask: does God, according to Calvin, love all men? The answer is: in no wise. For he does not love the reprobate which, according to Calvin, is evident from the fact that he does not give them repentance.
As for the correct interpretation of the text in Ezekiel, I may again quote from my book “The Protestant Reformed Churches in America.” I still agree with the explanation I there offer. It is as follows:
“This is surely the interpretation of the Synod of 1924, as well as of Prof. L. Berkhof in his booklet written in defense of the Three Points. But notice, with regard to these two texts, which are essentially the same in meaning:
“a. That in neither of these two passages is there any offer of grace or salvation as far as the form of these texts is concerned. In both passages we have a direct statement by the Lord, the God of Israel, that He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but therein that he turn and live. In the text from chapter 33 this statement stands in the form of an oath. It is, therefore, no offer, but a most emphatic divine assertion.
“b. That in both texts it is the house of Israel that is addressed. The Lord, therefore, through His prophet, does not address the wicked in general, but the Church, they that are called His people, whom He has chosen, but that have departed from the way of the covenant of the Lord. This certainly does. not plead in favor of the interpretation, that would apply this text to the reprobate wicked, or to the elect and reprobate alike. It is His people, whom the Lord assures of His forgiving mercy.
“c. This is corroborated by the context, especially of the text in Ezek. 33:11. There the assertion of forgiving grace by the Lord is an answer to the complaint of the people of God: ‘If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?’ They were conscious of their sin. They felt that they were worthy of condemnation and death because of their transgressions. And they did not see a way out. They did not understand that the Lord is abundant in tender mercy a forgiving grace. They pined away in their sin, and they must surely die. To these people the Lord answers, that there is abundant hope. For He hath no pleasure in the death of His people, even when they have departed from His ways. He will have mercy on them and forgive. Therefore, let them turn and He will pardon and they shall live.
“d. And, finally, notice that the Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked that turns and lives. Scripture elsewhere frequently testifies that the Lord has a holy pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. For He hates all the workers of iniquity, and He shall laugh in their destruction and hold them in derision. But the Lord does have pleasure that the wicked turn from their evil way. And when they turn from their wicked way and are wicked no more, He delights in their life and giveth it unto them abundantly by His grace.”
Prof. Dekker quotes two more passages from Scripture to prove his contention that God loves all men.
The first is II Peter 3:9: “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” But this is only part of the text. The whole text reads as follows: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
On this we briefly remark the following:
1. In the context the apostle writes about the promise of the coming of Christ. There were some scoffers or there would be scoffers in the Church in the last days that mocked at the idea that Christ would come again. “Where is the promise of his coming,” they mockingly asked. It is to these mockers that the apostle refers in the first part of vs. 9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.”
2. This, namely, that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, the apostle explains in the rest of the text. Writes he: “But is longsuffering to us-ward.” Longsuffering means that God’s people must suffer in the world and that, therefore, they all the more long for the coming of the Lord and the realization of the promise. And that God is longsuffering over them means that He suffers with them and will realize His promise to them as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, it must wait until all is fulfilled. But do not overlook the fact, that the text states that God is longsuffering “to us-ward,” which refers to the people of God.
3. Then the text states what end must be reached before the promise can be realized. It is, namely, that he is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Prof. Dekker would explain that the word “all” in the text refers to all men. But this is, in t first place, absurd, for then the promise would never be realized for the simple reason that all men will never come to repentance. But this is also contrary to the text. The text does not state that God is longsuffering to all men but tous-ward which means the people of God, the Church. But if this is so, and it is so, then the word “all” in the last part of the text also means the people of God, the Church, the elect. Hence, the text means: God is longsuffering over His people, not willing that any of us, that is, the elect, should perish, but that all the people of God, the elect, should come to repentance. This explanation is in harmony, not only with the words of the text, but also with all Scripture.
The last text which is quoted by Prof. Dekker is fromI Tim. 2:1-4. The text reads as follows: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.”
The explanation of this text is not difficult. It is evident that the Church at the time of the apostle Paul was of the opinion that “kings and all that are in authority” were excluded from those that are saved. Did they not often cause them to be persecuted and to suffer? Hence, the apostle admonishes them to pray also for them. Hence, the meaning of the word “all” in vs. 4 is “all classes of men.” That this is the meaning lies on the very surface of the text. I do not have to say more about it.
In the next paragraph, Prof. Dekker makes two complaints:
1. The first is that theologians, “for the sake of a limited election,” give an arbitrary interpretation of such terms as “world” or “all men.” In answer to this, I claim that I did nothing of the kind. All I did say was, in the first place, Prof. Dekker did not even attempt to offer an explanation: he simply made some statements; and, secondly, I did make an explanation, and I challenge Prof. Dekker to refute it.
2. The second is that other theologians speak of different kinds of love, love to all men (common grace) and love to the elect (special grace.). This is “double track theology.” With this I agree, although I cannot possibly agree with Prof. Dekker’s “single track theology” that God loves all men without distinction, head for head and soul for soul. I do not believe that the Bible supports the notion of “common grace.”
Next time, the Lord willing, I hope to examine the quotations which Prof. Dekker makes from the Confessions.