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>Arminius on the Perfection of Believers in this Life

>Beside those doctrines on which I have treated, there is now much discussion among us respecting the perfection of believers, or regenerated persons, in this life; and it is reported, that I entertain sentiments on this subject, which are very improper, and nearly allied to those of the Pelagians, viz: “that it is possible for the regenerate in this life perfectly to keep God’s precepts.” To this I reply, though these might have been my sentiments yet I ought not on this account to be considered a Pelagian, either partly or entirely, provided I had only added that “they could do this by the grace of Christ, and by no means without it.” But while I never asserted, that a believer could perfectly keep the precepts of Christ in this life, I never denied it, but always left it as a matter which has still to be decided. For I have contented myself with those sentiments which St. Augustine has expressed on this subject, whose words have frequently quoted in the University, and have usually subjoined, that I had no addition to make to them.

Augustine says, “four questions may claim our attention on this topic. The first is, was there ever yet a man without sin, one who from the beginning of life to its termination never committed sin? The second, has there ever been, is there now, or can there possibly be, an individual who does not sin, that is, who has attained to such a state of perfection in this life as not to commit sin, but perfectly to fulfill the law of God? The third, is it possible for a man in this life to exist without sin? The fourth, if it be possible for a man to be without sin, why has such an individual never yet been found?” St. Augustine says, that such a person as is described in the first question never yet lived, or will hereafter be brought into existence, with the exception of Jesus Christ. He does not think, that any man has attained to such perfection in this life as is portrayed in the second question. With regard to the third, he thinks it possible for a man to be without sin, by means of the grace of Christ and free-will. In answer to the fourth, man does not do what it is possible for him by the grace of Christ to perform, either because that which is good escapes his observation, or because in it he places no part of his delight.” From this quotation it is apparent, that St. Augustine, one of the most strenuous adversaries of the Pelagian doctrine, retained this sentiment, that “it is possible for a man to live in this world without sin.”

Beside this, the same Christian father says, “let Pelagius confess, that it is possible for man to be without sin, in no other way than by the grace of Christ, and we will be at peace with each other.” The opinion of Pelagius appeared to St. Augustine to be this — “that man could fulfill the law of God by his own proffer strength and ability; but with still “greater facility by means of the grace of Christ.” I have already most abundantly stated the great distance at which I stand from such a sentiment; in addition to which I now declare, that I account this sentiment of Pelagius to be heretical, and diametrically opposed to these words of Christ, “Without me ye can do nothing:” (John 15:5 KJV) It is likewise very destructive, and inflicts a most grievous wound on the glory of Christ.

I cannot see that anything is contained in all I have hitherto produced respecting my sentiments, on account of which any person ought to be “afraid of appearing in the presence of God,” and from which it might be feared that any mischievous consequences can possibly arise. Yet because every day brings me fresh information about reports concerning me, “that I carry in my breast destructive sentiments and heresies,” I cannot possibly conceive to what points those charges can relate, except perhaps they draw some such pretext from my opinion concerning the Divinity of the Son of God, and the justification of man before God. Indeed, I have lately learnt, that there has been much public conversation, and many rumors have been circulated, respecting my opinion on both these points of doctrine, particularly since the last conference [between Gomarus and myself] before the Counselors of the Supreme Court. This is one reason why I think, that I shall not be acting unadvisedly if I disclose to your mightinesses the real state of the whole matter.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/08/2011 at 2:17 PM

Arminius’ Opinion On Pelagianism

This is continued from my post from yesterday where I begin to address the differences between Pelagianism and Arminianism.  Sadly some Calvinists have incorrectly stated that Arminians have much in common with Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism but this is not the case as you will see from reading the works of Arminius.  In this excerpt from Arminius we see that he distances himself from his critics who, even in his lifetime, were incorrectly saying that his teachings were identical to the Pelagians.  Arminius identifies from the beginning that he believes Pelagianism to be heretical.  


1. THE Second thing contained in this third part is an affirmation, that our interpretation of Romans 7 is professedly adverse to the Pelagian heresy. 2. This is proved from the fact, that the principal dogma of that heresy is professedly confuted through this very interpretation. 3. In some passages of his works, which are here cited, St. Augustine confesses with sufficient plainness that this is true. 4.Objection and an Answer to it. 5. Another Objection — that Prosper Dysidaeus, the Samosatenian, explains this chapter in the same manner. Answer — no heretic is in error on every point. The Jesuits, those myrmidons of the pope, explain this chapter as referring to a man placed under grace. 6. A third objection — that his interpretation differs from the confessions of the reformed churches, which have been framed and established by the blood of martyrs. Answer — no article of any confession is contrary to this interpretation: No man ever shed his blood for the contrary interpretation. Numbers of martyrs were not even interrogated about this article on the perfection of righteousness.

1. I now come to the second part of the thesis, in which I said, that this chapter, when explained as referring to a man who is under the law, is directly and professedly contrary to the Pelagian heresy. Though I have already proved this in part, on the occasion of replying to the preceding objection, yet I will now at somewhat greater length teach and confirm it.

2. We have just seen that the article of the Pelagian heresy which is by no means either the last or the least, is that in which it is asserted that a man is able through his own free will, as being of itself sufficient for him, to fulfill the precept of God, if he be only instructed in the doctrine of the law, so as to be capable of knowing what he ought to perform and what to omit.

It appears that this dogma is not only firmly refuted, but that it is also plucked up as if by the roots and extirpated, according to the very design and purpose of the apostle, by means of this chapter, when it is understood as referring to a man under the law. This is apparent from the opposition of the dogma to the context of the apostle. The former says, “Man, instructed by the teaching of the law, is capable, by the powers of his free will alone, to overcome sin and to obey the law of God.” But the apostle declares that this cannot be effected by the powers of free will and of the law. he says, “sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace,” (Romans 6:14 KJV) from which it is manifest that, if they were under the law, sin would have the dominion over them — a consequence upon which he treats more copiously in the seventh chapter. Pelagius says, “Man is able, without the grace of Christ, and instructed solely by the teaching of the law, to perform the good which he wills, through his free will, and to omit the evil which he does not will;” but the apostle declares that this man “consents indeed to the law that it is good, but that to perform what is good he finds not in himself; he omits the good which he wills, and he performs the evil which he wills not.” Therefore, the doctrine of the apostle is, independently of its consequence, directly repugnant to the Pelagian dogma, and this, indeed, from the scope and end which the apostle had, in the same chapter, proposed to himself.

But, from passages of this description, heresies are far more powerfully convicted and destroyed, than they are from passages accommodated to their refutation beyond the scope and intention of the writer, though this also be done according to the correct meaning of the same passages.

3. St. Augustine himself confesses that, when this chapter is explained in reference to a man under the law, it is adverse to the Pelagian heresy:

“But,” says Pelagius, “why should I thus exclaim, who am now baptized in Christ? Let them make such an exclamation who have not yet perceived such a benefit, and whose expressions the apostle transferred to himself, if indeed this is said by them? But this defense of nature does not permit them to cry out with this voice. For nature does not exist in those who are baptized; and, in those who are not baptized, nature has no existence. Or, if nature is granted to be vitiated even in baptized persons, so that they exclaim, not without sufficient reason — O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? — and if succour is afforded to them in that which immediately follows, The Grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, let it now at length be granted, that human nature requires the aid of a physician. (On Nature and Grace, cap. 54.) From these remarks it is apparent, according to the mind of St. Augustine, that this passage, even when it is understood in reference to a natural man, is destructive to that dogma of Pelagius, in which he asserts that the natural man is able, by the powers of nature, to perform the law of God.

Thus also in a passage upon which we have already made some observations from his Retractations, lib. I, cap. 23, St. Augustine openly affirms that this chapter, when explained as relating to a man under the law, confutes the Pelagian heresy. These are his words: “By this, indeed, is now overturned the Pelagian heresy, that will not admit that the love, by which we live good and pious lives, is from God to us, but that asserts it to be from ourselves.”

Besides, if we can obtain from them even this admission, that those who are not yet baptized implore the aid of the saviour’s grace, this will indeed be no small matter against that false defense of nature, as being sufficient for itself, and of the power of free will. For he is not sufficient for himself who says, O wretched man that l am! who shall deliver me? or else he must be said to possess full liberty, who still requires to be liberated. (On Nature and Grace, cap. 55.)

But at this point, on account of which we have undertaken the consideration of these things, the apostle begins to introduce his own person, and to speak as if concerning himself. In this passage the Pelagians are unwilling that the apostle himself should be understood, but assert that he has transferred to himself another man who is yet placed under the law, and not delivered through grace, in which passage they ought indeed to concede “that by the law no man is justified.” as the same apostle has declared in another part of his writings, but that the law is of force for the knowledge of sin and the transgression of the law itself; that, after sin has been known and increased, grace may be required through faith. (Against the Two Epistles of the Pelagians to Boniface, lib. I, cap. 8)

4. “But,” some man will say, “the Pelagians have interpreted that chapter as applicable to a man who is unregenerate, not without good reason. They undoubtedly knew that such an interpretation was peculiarly favourable to their sentiments which they defended against the church.”

To this I reply, First. It has already been shown, both in reality, and by the testimony of St. Augustine, that this chapter, even when understood as applicable to a man under the law, and not yet regenerate, is adverse to the Pelagian doctrine.

Secondly. It may have happened that the Pelagians supposed the chapter might be explained in reference to a man placed under the law, and not under grace, without any consideration of the controversy in which they were engaged with the orthodox.

Thirdly. It cannot favour the sentiments of the Pelagians, that the apostle is said in this chapter to be treating about a man under the law; but this might be favourable, that they adduced such a description of a man who is under the law, as they knew was accommodated to strengthen their sentiments. For they said that “a man under this law is he who, by the power and instinct of nature, (which was not corrupted in Adam,) is able to will that which is good, and not to will what is evil; but who, through a depraved habit, was so bound to the service of sin, as in reality, and actually he was not able to perform the good which he would.” This false description of the man might also be met, not by denying that the subject of this chapter is a man under the law, but by refuting that description. For heretics are not heretical on all subjects and in every point; and it is their usual practice to intermix true things with those which are false, and frequently on true foundations to erect a superstructure of falsehoods — I repeat it, on true foundations, which, by some artifice, or by manifest violence are perverted to the support of falsehoods.

5. It is objected, besides, “It is impossible for this opinion not to be heretical or allied to heresy, when we see one Prosper Dysidaeus. a Samosatenian, who is deeply polluted by a multitude of heresies, interpreting Romans 7 in reference to a man who is not yet under grace, but under the law, which he undoubtedly would not have done, had he not understood that through it he had a mighty support for his own heresies.”

REPLY. — This objection is truly ridiculous — as if he who is a heretic ought to err in all things, and can speak nothing that is true, or if he does utter any truth, the whole of it must be referred to the confirmation of his heresy. Even the very worst of heretics have, in some articles, held the same sentiments as those of the church. It is a well known fact that the ancient heretics endeavoured, and indeed were accustomed, to interpret many passages of Scripture against the orthodox, in such a way as they could not injure their several heresies. Yet these very passages are, even at the present time, explained by our theologians against the sense of the ancient orthodox, and in accordance with the interpretation of those heretics. But such persons are not, on this account, to be denominated “the favourers of heresies.”

But I am desirous to have it demonstrated to me what affinity my explanation of Romans 7 has with Aryanism or Samosatenianism. If the same person, who is either an Aryan or a Samosatenian, is likewise earnest about the perfection of righteousness in this life, he will deny that this chapter ought to he understood as relating to the regenerate, not as he is either a Samosatenian or an Aryan, but as he is a Pelagian or a follower of Celestius.

If it be allowable to reason in this manner, then the opinion which explains this chapter as referring to a man under grace, will itself labour under great prejudices, from the fact that it is generally so interpreted by the Jesuits, and by their leaders, who are the sworn enemies of the church of Christ, and of the truth, and, at the same time, the most able retainers of the popish church, that is, of a church which is idolatrous, tyrannical, and most polluted with innumerable heresies. Away, then, with such a mode of argumentation as this, about the explanation of any portion of Scripture! Let it never proceed from the mind or the lips of those persons who, with a good conscience, have undertaken the defense of the truth. Who does not perceive that arguments of this kind are employed for the purpose of abashing and unsettling the minds of ignorant and inexperienced hearers; that, being blinded by a certain fear and stupor, they may not be able to form a judgment on the truth, nay, that they may not dare to touch the matter under controversy, through a vain fear of heresy! Such artifices as these are notorious; and all men of learning and moderation are aware of them. Nor are they capable of proving injurious to any persons except to the unlearned and the simple, or to those who have spontaneously determined to wander into error. For we have shewn that this chapter has been understood in the same sense as we interpret it, by many doctors of the church, who declared and proved themselves to be the most eminent adversaries of Aryanism, Samosatenianism, and other heresies, and the most strenuous defendants of the true doctrine concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Gracious Lord! What a wide and ample plain is here opened for those persons who feel a pleasure in thrusting out the most able and efficient assertors of catholic doctrine into the camp of heretics, under this pretext, that they Interpret certain passages of Scripture which have been usually adduced for the refutation of heresy, in such a manner as not to enable other persons to attack heresies with those passages so interpreted.

6. Lastly. This, my explanation is burdened with another objection — that “it differs from the confessions of all the reformed churches in Europe, for the establishment of which such a multitude of martyrs have shed their blood.”

This argument likewise, I assert, is employed, not for teaching the truth, but to inflame and blind the minds of those who listen to it, through the indignation which they conceive. For I deny that — in any confession, whether that of the French, the Dutch, the Swiss, the Savoy, the English, the Scotch, the Bohemian, or the Lutheran churches, or of any other — there is extant a single article that is contrary to this interpretation, or that is in the least weakened by this interpretation of Romans 7. It may, indeed, possibly have happened that some portion of this chapter has been used in some confession for the establishment of a doctrine which cannot be confirmed from it, unless it be explained as relating to a regenerate man who is under grace. But how does this circumstance militate against him who approves of the very same doctrine, and defends it in an earnest and accurate manner, by adducing several other passages of Scripture in its support, Such a man affirms this alone — that the true doctrine, in whose defense it has been cited, is not sufficiently well defended by this passage of holy writ. And what man ever shed his blood, or was compelled to shed it, because he was of opinion that this chapter ought to be explained in reference to a regenerate man, and not to a man who is under the law?

I speak with freedom, and frankly declare that, while I am listening to such reasons, I am scarcely able to govern and restrain myself from openly crying out, through grief, that God would have mercy on those who teach these things, and would put within them a good mind and a sincere conscience, lest, while rushing headlong against conscience, they at length receive due punishment for the demerit of malignant ignorance, or that he would be pleased to hinder their attempts, or at least, that he would render them abortive, lest they should injure the truth which has been divinely manifested, and the church of Christ! For I cannot put any milder construction on such expressions, when they proceed from men that are endued with knowledge and understanding.

All those matters contained in confessions are not equally necessary. All the particulars in any confession are not confirmed by the blood of those who are dragged away to the stake not for the whole of that confession, but on account of some part of it. And we know that many thousands of martyrs have sealed the truth of the gospel with their blood, who were never questioned respecting this article of the perfection or imperfection of righteousness, and who never expended any thoughts upon it. I refer now to this question: “Are those who, through Christ, are justified and sanctified, able in this life to fulfill the law of God without any defect, through the assistance of Christ and the Spirit of grace?” For all Christians are well assured, that, without the grace of Christ, they are not able to do any good whatsoever. Wherefore, the use of this kind of argument must be laid aside by those who are good and conscientious inquirers after the truth, and who endeavour to preserve her when she is discovered.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/30/2010 at 9:16 AM

What Does Arminianism Have In Common With Pelagianism?

How many times have you come upon Calvinist blogs or have been reading Calvinist books and the author will make the claim that Arminianism and Pelagianism are similar in many ways?  This week along I was visiting a certain reformed Calvinist blog and the author made the claim that Pelagianism lead to Arminianism.  This author tried to show that since Charles Finney was Arminian, this led to modern evangelicals acceptance of semi-Pelagianism.  The problem with this view is that Finney was not an Arminian.  The views of Charles Finney do not line up with the views of Arminius, Wesley, Wakefield, Mills, Watson, or a host of other Arminian theologians.  While I did leave a comment expressing how far the author was off, this didn’t stop the same blog from repeating this same statement in another post just a couple days later.

I would say that the problem is either people don’t understand Pelagianism or they don’t understand Arminianism.  My guess is that they don’t understand both.  I am aware that some Calvinists believe that Calvinism is the gospel and thus any other system that questions Calvinism is wrong and outside of orthodox Christianity but I believe that quite a few Calvinists and even some Arminians need to study what it was that Pelagius taught and how his theology is far from the doctrines espoused by Arminius.

In brief let me first state what Pelagianism teaches:

Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam’s sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with the Bible and was historically opposed by Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, leading to its condemnation as a heresy at Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).

In my estimation Augustine went too far in his reaction to the British monk Pelagius but we’ll leave that for another time.  For now, the views of Augustine regarding all the above of Pelagianism became the adopted view for most of the Christian Church.  However just a brief reading of the above about Pelagianism show just how radically different it is to Arminianism.

For instance, the Fall of Man.  Pelagius taught that humanity was basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall.  Arminius, on the other hand, believed with Augustine and with Calvin that the Fall of Man brought not just physical death but spiritual death and total depravity (though Arminians would rather use the phrase “radical corruption” since Calvinists view of total depravity borders on making all men evil from birth).  Arminius taught that because of the Fall, humanity is without hope of salvation apart from the sovereignty of God.  Arminius taught that humanity was imputed with Adam’s sin in the sense that we are all born with a corrupt image and apart from God’s grace, we can not be saved.  For Arminius, radical corruption meant not just that we are capable of sinning but that we can not earn salvation through human effort apart from sovereign grace.

Concerning salvation Pelagius taught that humanity has the ability in and of themselves apart from divine aid to obey God and earn eternal salvation.  How far this is from Arminius’ teachings.  In no way did Arminius teach any of Pelagius’ views on humanity regarding salvation.  Arminius, like the Calvinists, teaches that salvation cannot be earned by good works or human effort or by our own free will.  Arminius taught that salvation comes by the power of God through the gospel (Romans 1:16-17) and that the act of faith is a gift from God given by God to His elect through His foreknowledge (Romans 8:29-30; 1 Peter 1:2).  Arminius taught that the Holy Spirit draws sinners to Christ the Savior through the preaching of the gospel (John 6:44; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14) and that salvation is accomplished through God’s grace through faith (John 6:29; Acts 10:43; 13:38-39; Romans 5:1-11; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  Arminius rejected any notion that good works either obtain salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) or that good works keep us saved (1 Peter 1:5).

Are there any agreements then between Pelagius and Arminius?  The only exception would be the notion of free will.  Both Pelagius and Arminius taught that humanity was created in the image of God and that our free will remained intact despite the Fall.  The difference would be that Pelagius taught that through the free will of humans, we can earn our own salvation.  Arminius rejected such a notion viewing this as heretical and in his words, Popish (meaning Roman Catholic).  Arminius believed that while our free will did remain intact after the Fall, because of Adam’s sin we are not capable apart from the grace of God and His Spirit from obtaining salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Unless the Spirit draws a sinner to Christ, they cannot be saved even using their own free will.  Where Arminius differed with Calvin was over whether this salvation was conditional or unconditional.  The Calvinist teaches that God’s grace is irresistible but the Arminian teaches that God’s grace can be resisted (Acts 7:51; 2 Corinthians 6:2). 

Even in this short post its quite easy to see that Pelagianism and Arminianism are not even close on any issues with the exception of free will and even there we disagree.  To make the claim, as some Calvinists sites do, that we are similar to Pelagianism or even Semi-Pelagianism is ignoring the teachings of Arminius altogether.  In my next post I will publish Arminius’ writings on Pelagianism because even in his own day many accused Arminius of being Pelagian despite him being otherwise.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/29/2010 at 2:14 PM

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