Freewill Restored: 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.

HUMAN FREEWILL RESTORED

In Arminius’ Public Disputations (1603-1609), he argued that God created humanity in a state of liberty in which our will was free from both external and internal necessity (i.e. “determinism”), free from the dominion of sin, and free from any external or internal misery by which we might be compelled to act against our own desires. He was also very intentional in pointing out that humanity was not free from our God’s sovereignty or our moral accountability to him; God alone is free from the jurisdiction and inspection of others. Yet we were free to move and live being compelled and directed by our will according to whatever we deemed good within the creation that God had provided.

This blissful state of freedom was lost when Adam and Eve attempted to gain the good they wanted in defiance of God’s sovereign decree, and were brought under the dominion of sin and death through their rebellion against God. True liberty was wholly lost to humanity when we entered our fallen state of corruption. We are now subject to all the tyranny of corruption, wherein the powers of darkness rule and reign with unrelenting oppression over the souls of mankind.

The gospel is then proclaimed to “set the captives free” and Arminius observes the following about the human will in our state of restoration:

But far different from this is the consideration of the free will of man, as constituted in the third state of renewed righteousness. For when a new light and knowledge of God and Christ, and of the Divine will, have been kindled in his mind; and when new affections, inclinations and motions agreeing with the law of God, have been excited in his heart, and new powers have been produced in him; it comes to pass, that, being liberated from the kingdom of darkness, and being now made “light in the Lord,” (Eph. 5:8) he understands the true and saving good; that, after the hardness of his stony heart has been changed into the softness of flesh, and the law of God according to the covenant of grace has been inscribed on it, (Jer. 31:32–35,) he loves and embraces that which is good, just, and holy; and that, being made capable in Christ, co-operating now with God, he prosecutes the good which he knows and loves, and he begins himself to perform it in deed. But this, whatever it may be of knowledge, holiness and power, is all begotten within him by the Holy Spirit; who is, on this account, called “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and the fear of Jehovah,” (Isai. 11:2,) “the Spirit of grace,” (Zech. 12:10,) “of faith,” (2 Cor. 4:13,) “the Spirit of adoption” into sons, (Rom. 8:16,) and “the Spirit of holiness;” and to whom the acts of illumination, regeneration, renovation, and confirmation, are attributed in the Scriptures.

The Works of Arminius: Public Disputations

Everything that was corrupted and lost during the fall of humanity begins to be restored and regenerated in the New Creation, in which the Holy Spirit brings about a renewed knowledge of Yahweh and his divine will in the human minds and likewise he evokes new affections, inclinations, and motives in the human heart, so that we may now act and live in true liberty as those who have been set free from the powers of darkness into God’s marvelous light. In this state of renewed-righteousness, we may now properly perceive, discern, understand, desire, and act on things of “spiritual goodness” by the powers of grace enacted in us by Christ through the Holy Spirit according to the will of God.

Arminius now contributes two vital observations, the first of which is as follows:

The first is, that this work of regeneration and illumination is not completed in one moment; but that it is advanced and promoted, from time to time, by daily increase. For “our old man is crucified, that the body of sin might be destroyed,” (Rom. 6:6,) and “that the inward man may be renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16.) For this reason, in regenerate persons, as long as they inhabit these mortal bodies, “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:17.) Hence it arises, that they can neither perform any good thing without great resistance and violent struggles, nor abstain from the commission of evil. Nay, it also happens, that, either through ignorance or infirmity, and sometimes through perverseness, they sin, as we may see in the cases of Moses, Aaron, Barnabas, Peter and David. Neither is such an occurrence only accidental; but, even in those who are the most perfect, the following Scriptures have their fulfilment: “In many things we all offend;” (James 3:2;) and “There is no man that sinneth not.” (1 Kings 8:46.)

The Works of Arminius: Public Disputations

God carries out the work of salvation that he began in us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in whom we move, and live, and have our being as redeemed souls. This work of regeneration and illumination is produced in us “day by day”:

2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (CSB) — 16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The struggle that we must endure now as we “put off the body of death” and are “renewed day by day” is “producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory”. God’s grace enables us to to perceive, discern, understand, desire, and act upon the things of “spiritual goodness” that cannot be seen in this lifetime so that we no longer set our minds on temporal things, because we are now enabled through the grace of God. Yet we remain incapable of acting upon any spiritual good unless we are enabled by the grace of God because our being remains, during this age, in the corrupt flesh of these perishing bodies. We are subject to the war the exists between the Spirit and the flesh, so that we are utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit both to do good and resist evil. Therefore, we experience the deep conflict that exists between our liberated spiritual will in which we desire heavenly things, and our corrupt fleshly will in which we desire carnal things; and in this conflict we often fail as we are renewed “day by day” – here a little, there a little – until we reach maturity in Christ Jesus.

Arminius’ second observation follows:

The second thing to be observed is, that as the very first commencement of every good thing, so likewise the progress, continuance and confirmation, nay, even the perseverance in good, are not from ourselves, but from God through the Holy Spirit. For “He who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ;” (Phil. 1:6;) and “we are kept by the power of God through faith.” (1 Peter 1:5.) “The God of all grace makes us perfect, establishes, strengthens and settles us.” (5:10.) But if it happens that persons fall into sin who have been born again, they neither repent nor rise again unless they be raised up again by God through the power of his Spirit, and be renewed to repentance. This is proved in the most satisfactory manner, by the example of David and of Peter. “Every good and perfect gift, therefore, is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights,” (James 1:17,) by whose power the dead are animated that they may live, the fallen are raised up that they may recover themselves, the blind are illuminated that they may see, the unwilling are incited that they may become willing, the weak are confirmed that they may stand, the willing are assisted that they may work and may co-operate with God. “To whom be praise and glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. AMEN!

The Works of Arminius: Public Disputations

In the same way that we were utterly dependent on the enabling-grace of God to illuminate our minds so that we could perceive, discern, and understand the spiritual things that we were previously ignorant of; and in the same way that his prevenient grace was necessary to warm and excite the desires of our hearts towards Christ, so that we could desire and pursue him, so also is his grace necessary to enable those who are born again to move towards good and away from evil.

God actively works in his children day-by-day to bring about all that is good so that we may be conformed to the nature of Christ, yet he does not do this by inwardly or externally compelling us against our wills, but he actively works to restore, renew, and regenerate those who submit to him – spirit, soul, and body:

1 Peter 5:10 (CSB) — 10 The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 (CSB) — 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, when Christians fall into sin, it is not because God willed it to be so, nor is it because God is incapable of securing us in righteousness since it is written that if we “walk by the Spirit, [we will] certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Rather, we fall into sin when we choose to act upon the desires of the flesh rather than the desires of the Spirit. We do so as those who are still “being sanctified”, showing our continued and desperate need for the grace of God that we might one day be truly “conformed to the likeness of Christ”.

We are never restored as born again Christians from the errors of our sin by the strength of our own will. Instead, we are restored by the supply of God’s divine grace that is given to us in Christ through the Holy Spirit. He raises us back up again through the power of his divine Spirit, and renews us in the righteousness of Christ through the faith of repentance.

Arminius then provides the following conclusion about human freewill:

What then, you ask, does free will do? I reply with brevity, it saves. Take away free will, and nothing will be left to be saved. Take away grace, and nothing will be left as the source of salvation. This work [of salvation] cannot be effected without two parties—one, from whom it may come: the other, to whom or in whom it may be wrought. God is the author of salvation. Free will is only capable of being saved. No one, except God, is able to bestow salvation; and nothing, except free will, is capable of receiving it

The Works of Arminius: Public Disputations

Arminius argues that there can be no genuine sense of “salvation” in agents who are not acting of themselves since Scripture cannot genuinely command sinners to repent if they are not the ones who enact repentance. Indeed, Scripture would be commanding “God” to repent if it were but God enacting repentance outside of human will.

Arminius also argues that human freewill does not discredit God as the sole author and perfecter of salvation, so that we may only boast in the Lord. We must “choose this day who we will serve”, and “submit ourselves to God” because we are utterly and entirely dependent upon his grace to be made new.

CITATIONS: ARMINIUS SPEAKS

The Works of Arminius: Arminius, J. (1853). (J. Nichols & W. R. Bagnall, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 528–531). Auburn; Buffalo: Derby, Miller and Orton.

Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God: James Arminius (pp. 5-7): Wagner, John D: Wipf and Stocke Publishers, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401

2 Replies to “Freewill Restored: Arminianism 101”

  1. Hi David,

    Having never read much of Arminius’ works, I’m wondering how would he say that we humans make the decision to follow Jesus. Perhaps you touched on it in an earlier writing, but if the will has been compromised at the fall of mankind, it seems that a person would still not be able to choose right. …unless there is something about hearing the Gospel that takes off the fallen veil and allows a authentic decision to be made. Is that what he’s saying?

    Even so, how would he explain passages like Romans 2 that witness to the Gentiles being able to live in accordance with the law of God without having been exposed to the law? “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,” (Rom. 2:14,15).

    Just wondering.

    Brotherly, Park

    Like

    1. These are excellent questions! They even seem to be the questions that form the basis of Arminius’ response to the Calvinist system.

      This is the most concise summary that I could find directly from Arminius:

      II. We define VOCATION, a gracious act of God in Christ, by which, through his word and Spirit, He calls forth sinful men, who are liable to condemnation and placed under the dominion of sin, from the condition of the animal life (i.e. “natural state”), and from the pollutions and corruptions of this world, (2 Tim. 1:9; Matt. 11:28; 1 Pet. 2:9, 10; Gal. 1:4; 2 Pet. 2:20; Rom. 10:13–15; 1 Pet. 3:19; Gen. 6:3,) unto “the fellowship of Jesus Christ,” and of his kingdom and its benefits; that, being united unto Him as their Head, they may derive from him life, sensation, motion, and a plenitude of every spiritual blessing, to the glory of God and their own salvation. (1 Cor. 1:9; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:3, 6; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14.)

      III. The efficient cause of this vocation is God the Father in the Son. The Son himself, as appointed by the Father to be the Mediator and the king of his church, calls men by the Holy Spirit; as He is the Spirit of God given to the Mediator; and as He is the Spirit of Christ the king and the head of his church, by whom both “the Father and the Son hitherto work.” (1 Thess. 2:12; Ephes. 2:17; 4:11, 12; Rev. 3:20; John 5:17.) But this vocation is so administered by the Spirit, that the Holy Spirit is himself its effector: for He appoints bishops, sends forth teachers, endues them with gifts, grants them his assistance, and obtains authority for the word and bestows efficacy upon it. (Heb. 3:7; Acts 13:2; 20:28; 1 Cor. 12:4, 7, 9, 11; Heb. 2:4.)

      IV. The inly-moving cause is the grace, mercy and “love of God our Savior toward man;” (Titus 3:4, 5;) by which He is inclined to relieve the misery of sinful man, and to impart unto him eternal felicity. (2 Tim. 1:9, 10.) But the disposing cause is the wisdom and justice of God; by which he knows how it is proper for this vocation to be administered, and wills it to be dispensed as it is lawful and benefitting; and from which is formed the decree of his will concerning the administration and its mode. (1 Cor. 1:17, 18.)

      V. The external cause, which outwardly moves God, is Jesus Christ by his obedience and intercession. (2 Tim. 1:9.) But the instrumental cause is the word of God, administered by means of men, either through preaching or writing, which is the ordinary method; (1 Cor. 12:28–30; 2 Thess 2:14;) or without human assistance, when the word is immediately proposed by God inwardly to the mind and the will, which is extraordinary. And this is in fact both the word of the law and that of the Gospel, which are subordinate in the operations apportioned to each other.

      Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (Vol. 1, pp. 570–571).

      As you said, there is something about hearing the Gospel and being inwardly convicted by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) that takes off the fallen veil and allows an authentic decision to be made. This is what Arminius referred to as the “gracious act of God in Christ, by which, through his word and Spirit, He calls forth sinful men”; we are enabled by God through the powerful gospel and the comprehensive ministry of the Holy Spirit to respond to the gospel based on our free will.

      With respect to Romans two, I could not find an adequately concise quote from Arminius – he tends to be quite long in his writings – so, here is my best summary of how I understand Arminius’ view of the question: Romans two explains the world’s moral culpability for sin.

      There seem to be two key points here: first, this pertains to God’s justice and shows that he will be just when he judges the world because we are all without excuse since we have all agreed with God, at least in some measure, that his law is good and righteous; second, this demonstrates that while “everyone sins”, humans are capable of doing some good and are not totally depraved in the since that Calvin taught, saying that “everything we do is constantly wicked”. Instead, we are capable in our unregenerate state of agreeing with God, at least in some measure, about what is right. However, the capacity to walk wholly upright does not exist in anyone who has sinned because all who have sinned have become a slave to sin and death.

      I won’t go into this in much detail unless you are interested, but this seems to be how Arminius saw Romans seven: people are capable of agreeing with God that his righteous law is good, and we can see, understand and desire the righteous law of God, and we may even be able to do some of what the law commands, but in this unregenerate state, “the good we want to do we do not do”; unregenerate souls are powerless to actually live by God’s law.

      I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this if you have time to share them.

      Like

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