REJECTION OF ERRORS 

Article 2. Who teach: That the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as: goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall. For such is contrary to the description of the image of God; which the Apostle gives in Eph. 4:24, where he declares that it consists in righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will. 

The above translation is substantially correct, though it might be possible to improve upon it as to some of the finer points. We would prefer to bring out the thought in the first part somewhat as fellows: “Who teach: That it was impossible for the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and, virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, to have their place in (to reside in; Latin: locum habere non potuisse) the will of man, when he was first created, and that accordingly it was impossible for them to be separated from his will in the fall.” We would also make the minor correction of changing “undoubtedly” to “entirely” or “altogether.” However, it probably takes a little explanation no matter which way the translation reads before we properly understand this error. 

Before, we proceed with this explanation we wish to remark that this and the two following articles are rather closely related, and that the relation is such that these three articles form three steps in the Arminian reasoning concerning man’s so-called “free will.” And this present article is rather fundamental to the whole chain of reasoning. This can readily be understood. The article deals with man’s creation, with his original position and nature by virtue of his creation. And it stands to reason that what you say about man’s creation will determine to no small degree what you say about his fall and, in turn, about his conversion or restoration. 

At the same time we may remark that today in Arminian preaching one does not very easily meet with the error condemned in this article in this direct form. This is probably due largely to the fact that Arminian preaching in its modern farm does not busy itself very much with basic doctrines. Besides, it is mostly Christological and Soteriological in its emphasis, that is, it deals directly almost solely with matters concerning Christ and salvation, and that too, of course, in a very sentimental and false way. This does not mean, however, that Arminianism is not a doctrine. Nor does it mean that the false doctrine treated in this article of our Canons is not still the Arminian doctrine. It is. And it still forms the doctrinal basis upon which modern Arminianism builds its whole false scheme of doctrine. Basically Arminianism is humanistic. And because it is, we may well look for some of its key errors in regard to its implicit doctrine of man, its anthropology. Hence, we do well to pay attention to the error that is treated here. 

What is that error? 

The first aspect of the error is stated as fellows in the article: “That it was impossible for the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, to have their place in the will of man, when he was first created.” The question is, however: what did the Arminians mean by this? 

In the first place, the Arminians maintained that the will as such, conceived of apart from any action of the will, any act of willing, any determination, any choice, is simply the faculty or power of the soul to choose. The will, therefore, is able to choose either good or evil, and, in fact, is able to choose good and evil. In the second place, it follows, according to this same conception, that the will itself, as a faculty or power of the soul, cannot be described in terms of the spiritual and ethical. You cannot speak of a holy or an unholy will, a good or an evil will, a righteous or an unrighteous will. The spiritual gifts, or the good qualities, and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created. No more than, you can speak of a circle in terms of its being square or out of square, no more can you speak of a will in terms of its being holy, righteous, good, or unholy, unrighteous, evil. The two categories of thought do not belong together. Why not, according to the Arminian? Simply because that is not part of the creation of man.

The second aspect of the Arminian error in this connection is expressed as follows in the article: “and that these (spiritual gifts), therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall.” This is, of course, a conclusion from the preceding proposition. And we may add too that it is a perfectly logical conclusion if you grant that the premise on which it is based is correct. It certainly follows that if these spiritual gifts did not belong to the will of man by virtue of creation, they could not be separated therefrom in the fall. The will could not lose what it did not have to begin with. And we may insert at this point that here is a plain example of the fact that if you say “A” you must say “B”, and that it is of crucial importance to be very careful and precise in regard to your doctrine of man’s original state and his creation. What you say about man’s creation will certainly determine all that you say about his fall and his restoration. 

Now what do the fathers say of this error? 

We may notice that in this case they do not bother to classify this Arminian error, with Pelagianism. It most certainly is Pelagianism. The same old errors of Pelagius, that sin, is only in the act, not in the nature; that the will remains free to choose good and evil; that you can never really speak of a corrupt will as such; as yell as the implied error of individualism,—these may all be discovered in this statement 6f the Arminians. In fact, it is almost amazing that such an error could ever have arisen in Reformed circles. Nor would it be difficult to show the similarity between this doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of man in puris naturalibus and his conception of the image of God as a donum superadditum. Neither, however, do the fathers at this point argue against this doctrine by pointing to its evil consequences for the rest of our doctrine. For it certainly does not take much vision to sec in what direction this error takes one. The effect of this error is going to be an inevitable denial of man’s total depravity,—a denial that is indispensable to the idea of a conditional salvation. 

No, the method of the fathers here is to take us step by step along the Arminians’ line of reasoning. The consequences of this teaching in Article 2 will become plain in the following articles. But at each step the fathers point out the most fundamental error of the Arminians, namely, that they oppose Scripture: “For such is contrary to the description of the image of God, which the Apostle gives in Eph. 4:24, where he declares that it consists in righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will.” 

In the passage referred to we read: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” 

Concerning this passage, the following: 

1. The fathers are correct in finding here a description of the image of God. It is true that the image of God is not literally mentioned here. But nevertheless the idea is plainly stated in the expression, “created after God.” This is the same as saying “created in God’s image, after His likeness.” This is confirmed also by the somewhat parallel passage in Colossians 3:10: “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” 

2. That as far as the present article is concerned, the fathers are correct in quoting it with a view to man’s creation. For while it is certainly true that the text in point speaks of man’s recreation, we must not forget that salvation implies that the image of God is restored in the child of God. In other words, you have a description here of the image of God, whether in creation or in recreation. The question remains yet: how does this argument overthrow the Arminian position? In answer, let us note the following elements: 

1. Notice that the passage in question speaks exactly of spiritual gifts, or good qualities and virtues. This is important. It does not speak merely of a righteous or holy action or a righteous or holy choice. It speaks of qualities, virtues, spiritual gifts. 

2. Notice, in the second place, that these qualities, virtues, gifts themselves constitute the image of God.

3. Now if we remember that the image of God was not something added to man, but something which he possessed by virtue of his very being created, so that the Scripture says that he was created in God’s image, and after God’s likeness, then it must be plain that this righteousness and holiness were indeed qualities of man’s will when he was created. Man was not neutral. His creation after God’s image certainly did not mean that he was merely created a creature with the power of will. It means very definitely that he was created with a righteous and holy will. His righteousness and holiness, were in-created. 

All this does not touch, of course, on another phase of man’s creation, namely, that his righteousness and holiness were in-created in such a way that the first man was lapsable, could fall, and could lose his spiritual gifts and good qualities and virtues. But that is another question. That man could change and fall and become corrupt is certainly not to be explained by saying that his will as such had no qualities of righteousness and holiness to begin with, and that it was neutral, capable of willing both good and evil. Then you deny the fall. And, in fact, the Arminian denies the very possibility of man’s fall in the error at present under discussion. But Reformed and Scriptural it is to say that these spiritual gifts resided in man’s will when he was at first created. Reformed and Scriptural it is to say that therefore these good qualities could be and were separated from man’s will when he fell. And Reformed and Scriptural it is to reject the Arminian error that is repugnant thereto; and to do so expressly. 

H.C.H.