Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

On the Total Inability of the Sinner

I was listening to a podcast of Dr. John MacArthur speaking at a Bible conference on the subject of total depravity (though he later admitted that total inability is perhaps a better term).  As an Arminian, I was able to listen to this Calvinist brother preach on this subject and agree with him 100%.  The sinner is incapable of salvation apart from the grace of God.  Sinners, by nature, do not seek God (Romans 3:10-11).  Sinners are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).  I agreed with MacArthur that God alone is the one who must act to bring the sinner to salvation.  I believe this first act was done by God Himself in the garden after the fall (Genesis 3:21) and in His prophesy about the coming Seed who would crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15).  From Genesis to the Gospels, we have the story of God reaching out to lost sinners and ultimately in His Son He showed both His justice and His love for lost sinners (Luke 19:10; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:14).

MacArthur and I would agree on all this (though he would disagree that Christ came to save all sinners but only the elect).  Arminians agree that Christ is the only hope for lost humanity.  Christ is the only way we can find forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:28) and we must preach that salvation comes only through faith in Him and Him alone (Galatians 2:15-16).  We must preach that all sinners are under the wrath of God apart from salvation in Christ Jesus (Romans 1:18) and that the only way for sinners to turn away God’s just wrath is through the sacrifice of Christ (Romans 3:22-27; 5:8-9).

Further, because of the nature of depravity, sinners cannot just choose to be saved when they want.  Sinners must have the Holy Spirit working upon their hearts to be saved.  Jesus promised this work toward sinners in John 16:8-11.  Notice in John 16:8-11 that this would be toward the entire world.  The Spirit is working even now in the world to draw sinners to the Savior (John 6:44).  As we preach the gospel, sinners hear the gospel and the Spirit of God draws sinners to repent of their sins (Acts 2:37-38).  Those sinners who appropriate the work of Christ are the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10) and are truly saved by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).  I have no problem saying that salvation is the work of God (John 1:12-13) and that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, none could be saved.  In our depraved state, sinners simply will not look to Christ for salvation.  We hate the true God and we would rather do it our own way if left to ourselves.  We need the divine aid of the Spirit of God.

And yet in the midst of all these truths that MacArthur said, twice in his lecture he mentioned Arminians.  In both times he was wrong about what Arminians believe.  In his first statement, MacArthur stated that the Western Church was largely Arminian in its approach to evangelism meaning that it is up to the sinner to choose to be saved and so the church must facilitate that belief by making church appealing to the sinner hoping that the sinner will choose Christ.  This is not Arminianism.  This is semi-Pelagianism at best.  Arminius affirmed the depravity of lost sinners.

Concerning the original sin of Adam and Eve, Arminius wrote:

The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” (Rom. v, 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephes. ii, 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v, 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever.

Regarding so-called “free will” and whether mankind is capable of just choosing to be saved, Arminius wrote:

In reference to Divine Grace, I believe, 1. It is a gratuitous affection by which God is kindly affected towards a miserable sinner, and according to which he, in the first place, gives his Son, “that whosoever believers in him might have eternal life,” and, afterwards, he justifies him in Christ Jesus and for his sake, and adopts him into the right of sons, unto salvation. 2. It is an infusion (both into the human understanding and into the will and affections,) of all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which appertain to the regeneration and renewing of man — such as faith, hope, charity, &c.; for, without these gracious gifts, man is not sufficient to think, will, or do any thing that is good. 3. It is that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit, according to which He acts upon and excites to good the man who has been already renewed, by infusing into him salutary cogitations, and by inspiring him with good desires, that he may thus actually will whatever is good; and according to which God may then will and work together with man, that man may perform whatever he wills.

In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace.

In fact, about free will Arminius wrote:

This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.

Where in the teachings of Arminius does MacArthur get that Arminians believe in free will to just choose to be saved?  This perhaps is the teaching of the seeker churches in the United States and the Western Churches but it is not the teaching of Arminius.

Secondly, MacArthur states in his lecture on free will that Arminians deny the total inability of the sinner by teaching that there is still something left in man that allows him to choose Christ.  He states that this was the view of the confused Calvinist, John Wesley (to which he received a laugh from the audience).  MacArthur goes on to state that Wesley was right on so many issues but he missed it here on the subject of total inability.

For now I won’t go to Wesley on this (though I feel MacArthur is wrong on that) but to Arminius.  Did Arminius believe in partial depravity or total depravity?  Notice the above quote on free will and ponder Arminius’ answer to the state of free will in man.

Arminius goes on to write about the state of depraved man:

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.

Does Arminius affirm a partial depraved state there?  Arminius continues:

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.)

It seems clear that Arminius affirms the wickedness of mankind.

Arminius wrote later on about the nature of God’s grace after regeneration saying this:

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. i, 6;) and “we are kept by the power of God through faith.” (1 Pet. i, 5.) “The God of all grace makes us perfect, stablishes, strengthens and settles us.” (i, 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 i, 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!”

And I echo Arminius’ “amen” here.  All of salvation is by the grace of God!  We are not saved by works, kept by works but we are wholly saved by the work of Christ alone and kept in Him by His grace alone.  Salvation is indeed the work of God.

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