The Bondage of the Will: Arminianism 101

Abstract: Arminianism has been used so broadly that it means different things to different people and, as a result, it has been unfairly accused of sentiments that are not truly Arminian. Arminianism champions the Biblical theology of redemption in Christ as being freely offered to all by grace through faith. The need in our time for the light of Christ’s grace and the glory of God’s love for all is as desperate as it has ever been. Therefore, this series intends to boldly proclaim the righteousness of God in the good news of salvation for all people everywhere in the name of Jesus Christ.

THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL

Arminius argues in his Public Disputations (1603 – 1609) that Adam and Eve were not compelled to disobey God by the irresistible divine will, nor by any other external providence outside themselves, but by their own as-yet still innocent desire to obtain what they perceived to be “good” apart from God himself. Humanity subsequently persists in evil since the time of the fall by both our stubborn determination to be “good” entirely apart from God, and by our love for those things which are evil in God’s sight, whether we call them “good” or desire them because they please our carnal appetites. Our capacity to perceive, discern, understand, desire, and perform acts of “spiritual goodness” has been taken captive by the powers of darkness (i.e. “sin and death”), which now rule over the human mind to the extent that humanity is fully estranged from God and utterly incapable of finding our own way back to him.

In speaking about the darkness of the human mind, Arminius observes:

To the darkness of the mind succeeds the perverseness of the affections and of the heart, according to which it hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil. The Apostle was unable to afford a more luminous description of this perverseness, than he has given in the following words: “The carnal mind is enmity against God. For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7.) For this reason, the human heart itself is very often called deceitful and perverse, uncircumcised, hard and stony.” (Jer. 13:10; 17:9; Ezek. 36:26.) Its imagination is said to be “only evil from his very youth;” (Gen. 6:5; 8:21;) and “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,” &c. (Matt. 15:19.)

Arminius Speaks, p. 4

Arminius states that the darkened human mind is influenced by the corrupt passions of the human heart, which is wholly averse to God and described by Scripture as being “deceitful”, “perverse”, “uncircumcised”, “hard”, and “the source of evil thoughts and actions”.

Human nature was corrupted by the rebellion of our first parents, from whose sin death spread to all like an incurable disease:

Romans 5:12, 14 (CSB) — 12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a type of the Coming One.

1 Corinthians 15:21–22 (CSB) — 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

This corrupt-nature not only incapacitated the human will by the darkness of the human mind to such an extent that we cannot perceive, discern, understand, desire, and perform acts of “spiritual goodness”, but it also produces the corrupt passions of the human heart that now bend the human will towards darkness.

Scripture confers this testimony regarding the affections of the human heart:

Jeremiah 13:10 (CSB) — 10 These evil people, who refuse to listen to me, who follow the stubbornness of their own hearts, and who have followed other gods to serve and bow in worship—they will be like this underwear, of no use at all.

Jeremiah 17:9 (CSB) — 9 The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?

John 3:19–20 (CSB) — 19 This is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.

The human mind and its will is, therefore, blinded by the darkness of our corrupt nature in which is an insatiable appetite for the pleasures of darkness (i.e. “sin”). We neither possess the faculties, nor the inclination, to discern spiritual matters of goodness (1 Cor. 2:14). We discover in this a most terrifying and disheartening diagnosis about the human condition: our minds are so blinded by our nature of corruption that they perceive matters of spiritual life to be “foolishness”, and the affections of our hearts are so firmly fixed on the pleasures of darkness that they are entirely hostile to God, in whom alone exists lasting life.

Scripture concludes:

Ephesians 4:18 (CSB) — 18 They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts.

We are excluded from the life of God because of (1) the ignorance of our minds, and (2) the hardness of our hearts.

Arminius now observes another corresponding attribute of the bondage of our wills:

Exactly correspondent to this darkness of the mind, and perverseness of the heart, is the utter weakness of all the powers to perform that which is truly good, and to omit the perpetration of that which is evil, in a due mode and from a due end and cause. The subjoined sayings of Christ serve to describe this impotence. “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” (Matt. 7:18.) “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (12:34.) The following relates to the good which is properly prescribed in the gospel: “No man can come to me, except the Father draw him.” (John 6:44.) As do likewise the following words of the Apostle: “The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;” (Rom. 8:7;) therefore, that man over whom it has dominion, cannot perform what the law commands. The same Apostle says, “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins wrought in us,” or flourished energetically. (7:5.) To the same purpose are all those passages in which the man existing in this state is said to be under the power of sin and Satan, reduced to the condition of a slave, and “taken captive by the Devil.” (Rom. 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:26.)

Arminius Speaks, p. 5

Not only is the human condition such that we cannot perceive, discern, understand, desire, and perform acts of “spiritual goodness”, but we are also incapable of fully omitting those acts of sinful deeds which rule in our corrupt natures. Although we perform many of these deeds in full agreement with happy hearts, as beings who fully desire the pleasures of darkness that we seek, we are nonetheless compelled towards such ends by our corrupt natures even when we know such things are wrong (Rom. 1:32; 2:2).

Arminius offers the following conclusions about human will as it pertains to our state of spiritual and moral corruption:

To these let the consideration of the whole of the life of man who is placed under sin, be added, of which the Scriptures exhibit to us the most lumino of descriptions; and it will be evident, that nothing can be spoken more truly concerning man in this state, than that he is altogether dead in sin. (Rom. 3:10–19.) Therefore, if “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;” (2 Cor. 3:17;) and if those alone be “free indeed whom the Son hath made free; (John 8:36;) it follows, that our will is not free from the first fall; that is, it is not free to good, unless it be made free by the Son through his Spirit.

Arminius Speaks, p. 5

The good news of Jesus Christ offers the hope of deliverance from the bondage of darkness that rules our wills by the power of sin and death. His resurrection offers the assurance that the chains of our bondage are broken. His promise is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whom we are washed, renewed, and restored to the blessed liberty that our souls once enjoyed.

In Jesus Christ we may experience the redemption of our souls to new liberty:

Ezekiel 36:26 (CSB) — 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Romans 12:2 (CSB) — 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

CITATIONS: ARMINIUS SPEAKS

John D. Wagner’s collection of Arminius’ essential writings on predestination, free will, and the nature of God serves as the basis for my study on this series. Wagner’s considerable effort in organizing and presenting the essence of Arminius’ teaching on these subjects is of incredible value, and I highly recommend this volume – Arminius Speaks – to any student who is genuinely interested in accessing what Arminius actually taught.

Any material that I take from other sources will be properly cited. But to save time and labor on my part, I will simply denote the page number and title when referencing this work.

Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God: James Arminius: Wagner, John D: Wipf and Stocke Publishers, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401

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