A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius

by Jacob Harmensen
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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1583

First published: Corte ende grondighe verclaringhe uyt de Heylighe Schrift…over het swaerwichtighe poinct vande cracht ende rechtvaerdicheyt der voorsienicheyt Godts ontrent he quade, 1608 (English translation, 1657)

Edition(s) used: The Writings of James Arminius , translated from the Latin by James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall. 3 vols. Grand...

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First published: Corte ende grondighe verclaringhe uyt de Heylighe Schrift…over het swaerwichtighe poinct vande cracht ende rechtvaerdicheyt der voorsienicheyt Godts ontrent he quade, 1608 (English translation, 1657)

Edition(s) used: The Writings of James Arminius, translated from the Latin by James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall. 3 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1977

Genre(s): Nonfiction

Subgenre(s): Theology

Core issue(s):Arminianism; Calvinism; Methodists and Methodism; salvation

Overview

In 1608, when theological differences arose over predestination and threatened civil war, the Dutch national legislature called Dutch Reformed minister and professor of theology Jacobus Arminius to explain why he rejected Calvinism. After hearing both sides of this issue, the government decided that since the controversy had no bearing on the main points pertaining to salvation, each side should tolerate the other. Arminius died the following year, but his ideas were developed and championed by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Later thinkers who opposed Calvinism called themselves Arminians and advocated Unitarianism (the rationalistic belief that God exists only in one person) and Pelagianism (the denial of Original Sin and the belief that human beings have perfect free will to do either right or wrong), two movements that Arminius himself had repudiated.

In A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius (also known as the “Just Man’s Defense”), Arminius explains the doctrine of predestination as taught by his opponents. It has four main points:

(1) Before the creation of the world, God chose to make certain individuals in order to give them eternal life in heaven, and others in order to destroy them in hell. He did this to show his mercy and his power, and nothing in the individuals themselves can account for the destiny God chooses for them.

(2) In order to carry out his plan, God created human beings and then made them commit sin.

(3) God brings those whom he has chosen to save to faith in Christ by irresistible grace, so that it is impossible for them to avoid going to heaven.

(4) God withholds grace from those whom he has chosen to damn, so they cannot believe and be saved.

Arminius then gives twenty reasons for rejecting this view of predestination. They may be condensed into eleven:

(1) No council of the early church, church father, or contemporary church creed holds this doctrine.

(2) It is repugnant to the nature of God, especially his justice and goodness: to his justice, because it teaches that God determined to punish some people even before they became sinners; to his goodness, because it states that from eternity God willed the greatest evil to some of his creatures.

(3) It is contrary to the nature of humanity, which God created in his image, whom he endowed with free will, and in whom he instilled the disposition and aptitude for enjoying eternal life.

(4) It is diametrically opposed to the act of creation, because the purpose of creation is to communicate good. According to predestination, some people are created only for the purpose of damnation, so creating them does not communicate any good.

(5) It is at open hostility with the nature of eternal life, which the Bible calls “the reward of obedience” (Hebrews 6:10).

(6) It is opposed to the nature of eternal death, which the Bible says is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23).

(7) It is inconsistent with the nature and properties of sin, which the Bible calls “disobedience” and “rebellion,” because a person who has no choice cannot disobey or rebel.

(8) It is repugnant to the nature of divine grace, because predestination understands grace to take away free will and to be irresistible, but the Bible says people have free will and that they can resist God’s grace.

(9) It is injurious to the glory of God, because it makes God the author of sin, and in fact, the only one real sinner in the universe.

(10) It is hurtful to the salvation of humanity, because it states that humans can contribute nothing toward their own salvation, and if that were true, they need not even try.

(11) It is in open hostility to the ministry of the Gospel because it implies that nothing the minister does—not preaching, not baptizing, not praying—will make any difference in anyone’s salvation.

After rejecting predestination, Arminius explains two attempts to avoid the problems it raises. The first is to say God made all humans mortal and incapable of any supernatural activity, even of simple obedience to God. God then chose some of them to be made spiritual, capable of a relationship with him, and favored with eternal life. This kind of predestination believes in election but rejects reprobation, saying that God merely passes over those who end up being damned. The second attempt to escape the objections to predestination says God did not choose to elect and reprobate people until after he had decided that all should fall into sin. Thus God is not predestining people who are guiltless, but out of all of sinful humanity, he graciously saves some. By each of these explanations, the holders of predestination hope to avoid making God the author of sin.

Arminius rejects these two modifications, pointing out that both of them attribute the fall of humanity to God’s decree, either by making humans naturally incapable of obeying him or by willing that all humanity should fall. Neither of these schemes solves the problem of making God responsible for sin.

Finally, Arminius explains what he believes the Bible teaches about predestination. Mirroring his presentation of his opponents’ belief, he makes four points about it.

(1) The first absolute decree of God is to appoint his son, Jesus Christ, to mediate salvation to the world.

(2) The second absolute decree of God is to save those who repent and believe in Christ and to damn those who refuse to believe.

(3) The third divine degree is to administer the means for salvation according to divine wisdom and justice.

(4) The fourth divine decree is to save those particular individuals whom God through foreknowledge knows will come to faith and will persevere.

Arminius finally shows how this understanding of predestination fulfills the conditions which his opponents’ understanding does not.

Besides predestination, Arminius deals with nine other topics related to it, briefly saying that God’s providence means that nothing happens in the world by chance but that the good happens by God’s direction and the bad happens by God’s permission. God orders the events of the world in a way that glorifies him and saves believers. Of human free will, Arminius says that people were originally endowed with free will but lost it in the Fall. However, by God’s grace, the regenerate are capable of freely doing the good. About God’s grace, Arminius states that his only disagreement with the predestinarians is whether one can resist it or not. He says the Scripture clearly teaches that people may reject the Holy Spirit and reject the grace of God. Arminius says that in the matter of the perseverance of the saints, some Bible passages seem to affirm it and some seem to deny it, and he is still considering the matter. Likewise Arminius considers the assurance of salvation to be a matter of further discussion, because the Scripture is not clear on this topic. Another matter for further consideration is the perfection of believers in this life.

On a wholly different topic Arminius treats the question of whether God the Son can properly be termed autotheos, or “God in himself.” After a long discussion, he concludes that he cannot, because the Son has the divine essence from the Father. Next, he refuses to take sides in the question of whether the active obedience of Christ justifies humanity as well as his passive obedience. Finally, he opposes those who say the Dutch Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism should never be subject to examination or revision, pointing out that only God’s word is immutable.

Christian Themes

Arminius’s main concern is to protect the justice and goodness of God, which are compromised by the idea that God created certain individuals solely for the purpose of damning them. The idea that people do not have free will but only follow the course that God predestined for them also impugns God’s character. While Calvinists believe the foundational truth of the Bible to be God’s sovereign grace in the predestination of individuals to heaven or hell, Arminius says it is God’s love for the sinner and his gracious salvation for all who believe.

Sources for Further Study

  • Bangs, Carl. Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1971. A theological biography explaining Arminius’s work in its historical setting.
  • Forster, Roger T., and V. Paul Marston. God’s Strategy in Human History. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1974. A modern presentation of Arminian theology.
  • Hunt, Dave. What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. 2d ed. Bend, Oreg.: Berean Call, 2004. A somewhat simplistic refutation of Calvinism.
  • Peterson, Robert A., and Michael D. Williams. Why I Am Not an Arminian. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004. A modern presentation of the objections to Arminianism.
  • Slaatte, Howard A. The Arminian Arm of Theology: The Theologies of John Fletcher, First Methodist Theologian, and His Precursor, James Arminius. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1979. A work showing how Fletcher’s theology influenced Arminius and John Wesley and Methodism.
  • Walls, Jerry L., and Joseph R. Dongel. Why I Am Not a Calvinist. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004. A modern presentation of Arminian and other objections to Calvinism.
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