Arminian Today

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Arminius and Free Will

Many would be surprised to learn that the motif behind Arminianism is not free will.  Free will plays a part in the debate but as Dr. Roger Olson states in his book, Against Calvinism, the main focus of the Arminian is upon the character of God.  We believe that the character of God is such that He has shown that He is a loving, merciful God who delights in saving sinners by His grace and for His glory.  He has demonstrated His character and His grace in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9).  Jesus said in John 14:9 to Philip that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father.  Jesus did not say He was the Father but only that if they had seen Him, they had seen His Father in the sense that He was equal with God the Father (John 10:30) and He demonstrated what the Father was like.

In this sense, we Arminians hold that free will is merely a demonstration of true love.  Because God wants a true loving relationship with His creatures, He created us with the ability to choose to love Him or reject Him.  God gave humanity the gift of free will.  Unlike the birds of the air who perfectly obey God or the flowers in the field who perfectly obey God, mankind was created with the gift of reason, with intellect, with the ability to create, with the ability to love or even to hate.  No doubt the will of man was damaged in the Fall (Genesis 3:22), the free will of mankind remains intact but severely damaged.  Arminius stated this about the free will,

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.

Arminius states further about how the free will now operates apart from grace saying,

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. vii, 18.) “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (xii, 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 vi, 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. viii, 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. (vii, 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. vi, 20; 2 Tim. ii, 26.)

Arminius leaves no doubt that the free will of mankind has been subjected to sin and thus the will of man is perverse and wicked.  Mankind, in this state, cannot just choose by themselves to come to God.  We need the work of grace to be saved.  John Wesley rightly saw this as prevenient grace.  Adam Clarke wrote this about the work of the Spirit in bringing sinners to salvation:

So deep is the stain, so radicated the habits of sinning, so strong the propensity to do what is evil; that nothing less than the power by which the soul was created, can conquer these habits, eradicate these vices, and cause such a leper to change his spots, and such an Ethiopian his hue. The whole change which the soul undergoes in its conversion, is the effect of a divine energy within. This the gospel promises, when it promises to send forth the Holy Spirit. This mighty Spirit is given to enlighten, convince, strengthen, quicken, and save; and the change which is effected in the sinner’s soul, in his habits, and in his life, is such as no natural cause can produce; such as no art of man can effect; and such as no religious institutions, connected with the most serious and pointed moral advices, can ever bring about. It is wholly God’s work; and he performs it neither by might nor power, but by his own Spirit.

Mankind is lost in their sins and are in rebellion against God.  Clarke wrote this as well about this state of sin:

The original mode of transgression is still continued, and the original sin in consequence. Here are the proofs:

1. Every human being is endeavoring to obtain knowledge by unlawful means, even while the lawful means and every available help are at hand. 2. They are endeavoring to be independent, and to live without God in the world; hence prayer, the language of dependence on God’s providence and grace, is neglected, I might say detested, by the great majority of men. Had I no other proof than this that man is a fallen creature, my soul would bow to this evidence. 3. Being destitute of the true knowledge of God, they seek privacy for their crimes, not considering that the eye of God is upon them, being only solicitous to hide them from the eye of man. The simple, plain, easy condition on which depended his immortality, man broke; and thus forfeited his life to the blessing with which he was naturally endowed; and thus corruption and decay, and a disorderly course of nature, were superinduced. The air that he breathed became unfriendly to the continual support of life; the seeds of dissolution were engendered in his constitution; and out of these various diseases sprang, which, by their repeated attacks, sapped the foundation of life, till at last the fruit of his dissolution verified the judgment of his Creator; for, after living a dying life, it was at last terminated by death.

We are at war with God.  We hate and despise the true and living God.  We have created idols, false gods, false religions, etc. all to appease our sinful conscience and to avoid the true God of the Bible.  We would rather serve false gods or even no gods then to submit to Yahweh.  What a wicked state we find ourselves in!  Our only hope is the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Arminius wrote this about the gracious work of God upon our free will:

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,” (Ephesians. v, 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,” (Isa. xi, 2,) “the Spirit of grace,” (Zech. xii, 10,) “of faith,” (2 Cor. iv, 13,) “the Spirit of adoption” into sons, (Rom. viii, 16,) and “the Spirit of holiness;” and to whom the acts of illumination, regeneration, renovation, and confirmation, are attributed in the Scriptures.

The work of the Lord is that He sent forth His Son to die for our sins (Galatians 4:1-6) and the gospel of His grace goes forth by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).  This gospel brings the truth of God to the lost (Matthew 28:19) and this gospel sets sinners free by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).  This gospel gives light to all mankind (John 1:9) and this gospel enables us, by the free will assisted by the Spirit, to believe the gospel and be saved (John 1:12-13; Acts 16:30-34).  Because we are dead in our sins, we need the regenerating work of the Spirit to be saved (John 3:1-7; Ephesians 2:1-3; Titus 3:5-7).  The Spirit not only illuminates our minds to hear the gospel but He regenerates us when we repent of our sins and turn in saving faith to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:37-38).  Arminius stated,

The matter or subject of vocation is mankind constituted in the animal life; men worldly, natural, animal, carnal, sinful, alienated from the life of God, and dead in sins; and therefore Unworthy to be called, and Unfit to answer to the call, unless by the gracious estimation of God they be accounted worthy, and by his powerful operation they be rendered Fit to comply with the vocation. (Matt. ix, 13; Tit. ii, 12; Ephes. ii, 11, 12; iv, 17, 18; v, 14; John v, 25; vi, 44; Matt. x, 11-13; Acts xvi, 14.)

The free will of mankind must then have the divine aid of the Spirit in order for us to be saved because of the nature of our sinful depravity before God.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/12/2012 at 12:05 PM

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