...

REJECTION OF ERRORS 

Article 6. Who teach: That in the true conversion of man no new qualities, powers or gifts can be infused by God into the will, and that therefore faith through which we are first converted, and because of which we are called believers, is not a quality or gift infused by God, but only an act of man, and that it can not be said to be a gift, except in respect of the power to attain to this faith. For thereby they contradict the Holy Scriptures, which declare that God infuses new qualities of faith, of obedience, and of the consciousness of his love into our hearts: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write it,” Jer. 31:33. And: “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams. upon the dry’ ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed,” Is. 44:3. And: “The love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which hath been given us,” Rom. 5:5. This is also repugnant to the continuous practice of the Church, which prays by the mouth of the Prophet thus: “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned,” Jer. 31:18

The above translation of this article is quite accurate. 

While the preceding articles of the Rejection of Errors in this chapter of the Canons dealt with errors concerning the corruption of the natural man, this and the remaining articles in this chapter deal with errors concerning man’s conversion and the manner of that conversion. And just as in connection with the positive part of this chapter we pointed out that the Reformed doctrine of man’s corruption and the Reformed doctrine of man’s conversion to God are intimately related, so that the former is the foundation of the latter, so here we point out that the Arminian doctrines of man’s corruption and man’s conversion sustain the same relation to each other. The very language of this article strongly reminds us of this relation. Just as we found that the Arminian wants to speak merely of the act of sin, so we find here that he wants to speak only of the act of faith. Just as previously he has denied that any spiritual gifts, or good qualities and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, could belong to the will of man when he was first created, and could be separated there from in the fall, so here he denies that any new qualities, powers, or gifts can be infused by God into the will in the true Conversion of man. And just as he denies that in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are separated from the will of man, but maintains that the will has only been hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections, so here he does not want to speak of faith as a quality or gift that is infused by God into the will, but maintains (in full harmony with the idea that the will is only hindered) that faith can only be called a gift in respect to the power to attain to faith. Hence, these three propositions maybe distinguished in the Arminian doctrine of man’s conversion: 

1) In true conversion no new qualities, powers, or gifts can be infused by God into the will. 

2) Therefore faith is not a quality or gift infused by God, but only an act of man. 

3) Faith can be called a gift only in respect to the power to attain to this faith. 

Looking ahead to the next article, which speaks of the grace of God whereby we are converted, we can see at once why it is necessary for the Arminian to maintain this view. If grace is to be an offer and is to be resistible, so that the matter of salvation is entirely up to the will of man, to be accepted or rejected by him, then it must needs be maintained that there is no work of God’s grace whereby the will of man receives new qualities and powers prior to the point at which man faces the question whether he will believe or not believe. 

Now let us try to understand the Arminian position somewhat. The first two propositions mentioned above are rather clear. The first, as we said, is closely connected with what the Arminian has taught concerning man’s creation and fall. He simply maintains that it is impossible to speak of spiritual gifts belonging to the will, that therefore it is impossible to speak of spiritual gifts of the will being lost in the fall, and that therefore it is impossible to speak of new spiritual qualities being infused into the will in conversion. The will is neutral. It is in itself neither good nor evil, though it is capable of willing either good or evil things. That will with its capability for either good or evil comes through the fall entirely unscathed. The only thing that can be said is that the will, though itself untouched by the fall, is now hindered in its operation through the darkness of the mind and the irregularity of the affections. 

Hence, it is both unnecessary and impossible to speak of new qualities and powers being infused into the will in conversion. In this light the second proposition is also plain. While in Reformed doctrine we make the distinction between the faculty, or power, of faith and the act of faith, or believing, the Arminian wants nothing of this distinction. He wants to speak only of the act of faith. And this prepares the way also for him to speak of faith, the act of believing, as solely the act of man. And it must be granted, of course, that if the first of the Arminian propositions mentioned above is true, the second, namely, that faith is only an act of man, necessarily follows with inescapable logic. And so the Arminian always reads the term faith in Scripture in the sense of man’s act of believing.” 

Thus far the Arminian position and intention is quite clear. It is the position which is so well known in our own day, the position according to which all the emphasis is put on, “You must believe! You must believe!” The activity of faith, that is the thing! And, of course, with this stress on the necessity or responsibility of believing is either expressed or implied the ability to believe. With the rankest Arminians this ability of man to believe is frequently openly expressed. With the more subtle Arminians who often try to sail under the Reformed flag this ability of man to believe is more often implied, but then very plainly implied too by the very fact that they put all the stress on this act of faith and by the fact that they present the gospel as a well-meant offer of salvation to all, or a promise of salvation to all, on the condition of faith. For what pray, is the sense of such a general well-meant offer, or general conditional promise, if those to whom the offer or promise is made have not the ability to meet the condition? 

The third proposition of this Arminian error is, however, more subtle and dangerous. That proposition is that faith can be called a gift only in respect to the power to attain to this faith. Now what does this mean? And what does the Arminian intend to do with this proposition? Answering the last question first, we must remember that the Scriptures certainly speak of faith as a gift; and the Arminian, if he is to appear at all Biblical,—which he must if he is to get a following,—must adhere to this Biblical language. This he certainly wants to do, and he attempts to do. If he is confronted by anyone with the plain teaching of Scripture that faith is a gift of God, he will certainly freely admit this and enthusiastically embrace this statement. Yet he wants nothing of the distinction between the power and the act of faith. And he wants only to speak of man’s act of believing. What then does he mean by this third proposition? In the first place, let it be noted that the Arminian does not here speak of the power or quality of faith. He does not after all contradict his first proposition by the third one. But he speaks of the “power to attain to this faith.” This very language makes a distinction between the faith and the power. The power is not faith itself, but it is a power to attain to faith. Hence, in the second place, the Arminian plays hocus-pocus with words again. The Bible speaks of faith as a gift. “Yes,” the Arminian says, “but that does not mean that faith itself is a gift. Faith itself is only an act of man, and you cannot speak of it as a gift. An act cannot be a gift. What the Bible means is that God gives the power to attain to faith. He helps man to believe. He removes the hindrances of the darkness of man’s understanding and the irregularity of his affections, and thus He makes it possible for man to perform the act of believing.” Thus the grace of God is reduced to a mere helping power, faith is reduced to a mere act of man, and salvation is made to be dependent upon man’s will. Grace irresistible. Or, to illustrate somewhat more plainly the Arminian idea, think of the following example. I am in my car on the way from Chicago to Grand Rapids when. I am stalled by a barricade in the road. There is nothing wrong with my car. No new qualities or powers need to be infused into it. If only the hindrance, the obstacle, is removed, then I can attain to my goal. But when by some power that obstacle is removed, I have not yet achieved or attained that goal. The removal of the obstacle is not the gift of the goal. In fact, the removing of that barricade cannot even be said to be the same as the act of traveling toward that goal. It is merely of some assistance, if I should want to go on my way toward Grand Rapids. At that point I can put my car in motion and proceed along the road; but I can also put my car in motion and drive it into the ditch or turn around and go back to Chicago if I so desire. Thus it is also with that power to attain to the act of faith. That power removes the hindrances of the darkness of mind and irregularity of affections. But then the will of man is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it. It is able to will to believe, but also not to will to believe. Grace is not irresistible. 

The fathers once again do not engage in an extensive argument about this error. They do not even bother to point out that the Arminian expression concerning the “power to attain to this faith” is a piece of deceitful sophistry. They simply point to the Scriptures, Scriptures which deny the first and the fundamental proposition of the Arminians, namely, that no new qualities are infused into the will in conversion. The first two passages, from Jeremiah and Isaiah, teach this truth rather in general. The writing of the law in our hearts certainly implies the infusing of such spiritual qualities and powers as righteousness, holiness, the love of the Lord our God, and obedience. And the pouring out of the Spirit upon spiritually dry and thirsty ground implies the infusing the all the spiritual qualities and powers that are wrought only by the Spirit of Christ. The passage from Romans 5speaks specifically of the infusing of the love of God in us: the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. And the passage from Jeremiah 31:18 is important because it teaches not only that before we turn God must turn us, but also and especially because it teaches that there is a necessary and inevitable relationship of cause and effect between God’s turning of us and our turning: if God turns me, Ishall be turned. Hence, God’s converting grace is irresistible, or, if you will, efficacious. And notice that the fathers emphasize that the continuous practice of the church has been to pray as Jeremiah prayed. This is a worthwhile point. And the power of this point lies in the fact that the prayer here quoted, of course, is an infallibly inspired prayer, taken directly from Scripture. It is therefore the will of God that His people should thus pray and should thus acknowledge the absolute sovereignty and efficacy of His converting grace. 

H.C.H.