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Arminius on Why We Sin

I was reading from the Works of Arminius and noticed a short note he wrote on why we sin.  Arminius wrote,

The efficient cause of actual sins is, man through his own free will. The inwardly working cause is the original propensity of our nature towards that which is contrary to the divine law, which propensity we have contracted from our first parents, through carnal generation. The outwardly working causes are the objects and occasions which solicit men to sin. The substance or material cause, is an act which, according to its nature, has reference to good. The form or formal cause of it is a transgression of the law, or an anomy. It is destitute of an end; because sin is amartia a transgression which wanders from its aim. The object of it is a variable good; to which, when man is inclined, after having deserted the unchangeable good, he commits an offense.

The effect of actual sins are all the calamities and miseries of the present life, then death temporal, and afterwards death eternal. But in those who are hardened and blinded, even the effects of preceding sins become consequent sins themselves.

Notice that Arminius is clear that he gives no reference to God causing us to sin.  We sin because we have a sinful nature and because we want to sin by our own free will which is itself enslaved to sin apart from grace.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/04/2013 at 8:28 AM

8 Responses

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  1. It also seems pretty clear that the “free will” is controlled by the sinful nature, or as Jacobus puts it “the inwardly working cause is the original propensity of our nature”, it seems very similar to what Jesus said to the Pharisees recorded in John 8:44 “Ye are of [your] father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”

    I wonder if Jacobus recognized that what he was saying is that the free will is a sinfully influenced and sinfully driven will. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem to be something to be proud of, or something to preserve and glorify.

    Anthony Vigar

    11/05/2013 at 12:17 PM

    • He did indeed know that the will of man was sinful. This is why he emphasized that God’s grace alone must intervene for us to be saved. We are slaves to sin but His grace enables us to believe. In this way, He was clearly Reformed in viewing people as sinful and needful of God’s grace for salvation. John Wesley would later follow suit and agree with Arminius and more clearly emphasized prevenient grace in the process of salvation.

  2. And if “we want to sin by our own free will which is itself enslaved to sin”, how then is it still labelled: “free will”? It seems like a major contradiction to me, to think that something enslaved is free, and especially if that something enslaved is enslaved to sin… a contradiction indeed…

    Anthony Vigar

    11/05/2013 at 12:57 PM

    • Well even Jonathan Edwards argued for free will that way. Edwards argued that free will is when we do freely what we want and that is sin. We sin because we freely want to sin but we choose to use our wills for our sinfulness because we are slaves to sin. Apart from grace, none of us would choose to follow Christ, obey Him as Lord, etc. Our flesh is simply too sinful.

      • Please help me understand why people want to adhere to the fallacy of the imagery that “free will” creates ie: Humanism vs saying something which seems more concrete and appropriate: like “sinful will”. I guess the thought “we choose to use our wills” drills deeper to suggest that there is an internal power to choose to engage a will, now it sounds more like we are talking about “choice” vs “will”, and I appreciate that you recognize that choice is influenced by the sinful nature.

        I also hear you say, “Apart from grace, none of us would choose to follow Christ, obey Him as Lord.” I assume that you are talking about prevenient grace vs grace (also known as irresistable grace, a grace that overwhelms a sinfully guilty person with the amazing mercy and love that they do not deserve). I am amazed though, the amount of power appropriated to the flesh via the prevenient grace concept… it still seems amazing that a Loving God would grant a sinfully enslaved, fully guilty person only the opportunity to unshackle themselves by requiring them to utilize their sinfully enslaved choice thereby engaging their sinfully enslaved will vs stepping down to graciously, mercifully, and lovingly unlatch the lock for any of them.

        To come back to the post, I suppose I would challenge Jacobus to reword his statement from: “The efficient cause of actual sins is, man through his own free will.” to: “The efficient cause of actual sins is, man through his sinfully enslaved will.” I think the later would reflect the truth and your perspective more clearly as well, although I may be mistaken in interpreting your perception on “free will”.

        I guess I have a concern with promoting humanistic fallacies vs being concrete, real and more appropriate in word usage when describing the human condition… appreciate your thoughts!

        Anthony Vigar

        11/06/2013 at 3:33 PM

      • And I appreciate your thoughts as well. I agree that we must guard against a humanistic tendency to want to grant people “free will” to do just what they want including coming when they feel like it to be saved. Not all agree with me over this issue. Moral Government advocates would disagree with both of us and say that man is indeed free completely to rebel or receive the grace of God in salvation. They do not hold that we earn God’s righteousness but that man is capable, despite our sinfulness, to come and be saved by their own free will when the gospel goes forth.

        I hold that we are sinful. We need the grace of God to be saved. I do believe that man is capable of resisting the grace of God because I see this in Scripture. Israel is a case in point of people rejecting the grace of God that He offered over and over and over again.

        Yet you and I agree that we are saved only by the grace of God coming and opening our eyes and showing us our sins. Without His grace, we could not and would not be saved.

        I hope that helps. I know I am not always clear on these issues. I hope I am this time. God bless you my brother.

      • I hear you, “I do believe that man is capable of resisting the grace of God because I see this in Scripture.” and agree, I would hold that sinful man is naturally resistant to the grace of God, man sees the evidence of God’s glory and graciousness all around (Rom. 10:18; Ps. 19:1-4).

        If I may utilize an analogous approach, I may be stretching here, yet I think a self-preserving slave would be quite hesitant to trust the concept of entering into becoming a slave to a new Master, especially if it means identifying that they are in fact a slave (especially to sin and the father of lies), a bit difficult if they don’t believe they are a slave, yet believe they are not a slave, and are a master of self (deception of humanism). I would venture to suggest that most who hold to the “free will” perspective actually side with the humanistic deception of self mastery…

        It seems to me that the historical and current Israel and the rest of the world would fall into this same category of being born dead in trespasses and sins, naturally at enmity with God, a slave to unrighteousness… yet I don’t ever read in Scripture that when God moves upon a person or persons in a sovereign, loving, regenerating approach by granting them the gift of repentance, that they are able to resist that gracious act of mercy and love to prick their hearts, bring conviction and effectually transform them (regeneration). It seems to me that God is a Loving Master who overwhelms unwilling slaves of an evil kingdom with His love and freedom and translates them to His own kingdom of incredible freedom and love, our natural resistance is no match for His gracious effectual power, and for myself, it would seem arrogant of me to think that I am powerful enough to resist His grace towards me personally. The Almighty God is so wonderful in that He would actually graciously save any of us, especially when He is perfectly Just in destroying me and us and never letting me or any of us be or become.

        Just thinking out loud here, and I appreciate your receptivity, your knowledge and reasoning is quite refreshing… also, if my somewhat analogous approach seems to be erroneous or could benefit from refinement, please let me know, its developing in its etiology…

        Anthony Vigar

        11/07/2013 at 2:43 PM

      • No problem. I too enjoy thinking out loud. A couple of books that I can think of off the top of my head about this issue would be “Grace, Faith, Free Will” by Robert Picirilli. A great book that deals with the various aspects of both Arminianism and Calvinism. The other book, though more polemic in nature, is “The Natural Ability of Man” by Jesse Morrell. Jesse comes at the issue of free will from a moral government perspective.

        Got to work the next few days so sorry for the short reply.

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