By Roger Salter
Special to virtueonline
January 9, 2013
The refutation of Arminianism is not enterprised with any animosity towards persons. Theological discussion is the pursuit of truth not the persecution of individuals. Where there exist doctrinal differences it is often possible to maintain unity of hearts in common trust in the Savior. Every believer is inconsistent and incomplete in the comprehension of their faith. The maintenance of organized Christian conviction is not merely for the sake of orderliness in thought but principally for the full recognition and praise of the honor of the Triune God in the matter of human salvation. This penman, if permitted to be personal for a moment, has cherished friends devoted to Arminian views, and these friendships are respectful, affectionate, and even jovial. He has also enjoyed ministerial experience in ecclesiastically official ecumenical projects and has been privileged to share deep spiritual fellowship with both Roman Catholic clergy and lay persons.
There are bonds in Christ that transcend doctrinal positions and they are expressed in times of shared devotion and prayer and the mutual recounting of the experience of the goodness of God. One could commend a host of Catholic spiritual masters to Calvinists. After all the Reformers drew much from their wisdom, notably Bernard of Clairvaux as an example, and William Whittaker, largely responsible for the Lambeth Articles, admired Thomas Aquinas.
Archbishop Ussher whose Irish Articles articulated the theology of Lambeth was admired by Continental Catholic controversialists and he reciprocated that goodwill in personal terms. The Puritan missionary to the Native Americans in the 17th century, John Elliot, found great solace in the companionship of his Roman Catholic counterpart. Clergy especially, in advocacy of the truth, do not need to get hot under the collar. Theological investigation and debate is engaged in so as to expand our admiration of God and discover increasingly our entire dependence upon him. Truth trains the eye of the soul upon the glory of God and sensible controversy has a clarifying effect (No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 1 Corinthians 11:19).
The love of God and pastoral concern for others obligates us to apprehend the disclosures of divine revelation as fully as possible. The Church of God is strengthened by truth and weakened by its dilution or absence.
Anglicans may, and should, counter Arminianism, because it is a Confessional and pastoral duty. The constitution and character of Anglicanism is Augustinian according to the Anglican Way defined in the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and The Articles of Religion (note the symbolic portrait of Thomas Cranmer in the British National Portrait Gallery with the New Testament and a volume of Augustine placed before him). Deviations from this Way may exist in our now comprehensive Communion but they are illicit according to our formularies. The Church is afraid of the complications and conflict arising from any attempt at revision and so these standards are quietly set aside to the disadvantage of the denomination and the influx of diverse alternative traditions.
The English Reformers were skilled and diligent scholars in the area of Patristics and the church fathers they regarded with respect. But they did not hesitate to disagree with these authorities when their views contradicted Scripture. The writings of the fathers are neither canonical nor infallible.
These men were immensely able and courageous but many things they averred were clearly erroneous (e.g. Origen on apokatastasis) and contradictory of their peers (Jerome loved a good argument wherever one was available). The drop in the level of divine wisdom is very apparent when the fathers are compared with the apostolic documents and William Cunningham has a point when he deems the fathers as somewhat like children in the faith, in many ways weak in their understanding of Scriptural truth. Ambrose, Victorinus, and Augustine, commenced the trend of rising above the automatic rejection of pagan fatalism to asserting the sovereignty of grace. Until then the leaders of the early church emphasized "free will" to avoid Gentile subscription to astrological and philosophical determinism.
Free will as a gift from God is not denied by folk of a Calvinistic persuasion. The will is always free to act according to the nature of the one who wills. The will is not an independent faculty that has the capacity to direct man away from his inherent and fundamental leanings and inclinations. It is the "whole person" choosing according to reason and affection which are now defective and opposed to God and goodness in fallen man.
The designs and desires of fallen man function according to corrupt natural disposition and preference. Grace as disposition, as is taught by Aquinas, must be granted to rebellious man as a divine donation. The sinner is captive to evil choices ("Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin'". John 8:34) and cannot but refuse that which is righteous and holy until God renews the will and inclines it to prefer him and his ways (Romans 8: 5-8 cf Phil. 2: 13). But always man is ever exercising his free (of compulsion and force) will, first in voluntary bondage to evil, and then as one liberated and restored by God to pure and righteous choices.
When Scripture addresses our will it is dealing with our responsibility to be sagacious and obedient, and it is divulging our inability to comply with what is right. The will is susceptible to various influences and it is only the divine influence that is sufficiently persuasive or effective in turning man to his Maker. The will becomes a new creation and volition is controlled by a sanctified self. Freedom is not defined by the ability simply to exercise options as Arminians seem to think. God is most free and yet his nature will not allow the slightest hint of evil decision or action. He confers this bias towards righteousness upon his chosen.
It is divine beneficence, not bullying, for God to effectually call his elect and they have the restored capacity to come willingly (cf the attraction of romantic love. The lover loves willingly but can do no other. Bees are inevitably drawn in the direction of honey - freely yet also by necessity of their craving. The sweet honey of the gospel draws the elect when the taste for it is conferred by grace). Arminianism posits a false philosophy of choice. The will does not govern in isolation but is guided by many factors, some detectable and others concealed. Our psychology is complex but depraved in every aspect.
When Calvin took up his position on predestination he was simply following his mentors such as the authors of Holy Scripture in its entirety, St. Paul and St. John specifically, Augustine, Bernard, Luther, and the mild mannered Martin Bucer, a Dominican and a student of St. Thomas' theology. Calvin was no innovator but a diligent pupil in this matter, and predestination was no 16th century novelty invented by Protestants. It was a theme in the theology of many of the greatest pre-Reformational thinkers. Calvin was trained in his theological expertise by exposure to highly competent theologies, both contemporary and classical from the past. Much that is negative in people's estimation of the great Genevan (by adoption) arises from those first accounts published about the man (as was the case with Luther also) from those who were his fiercest opponents in the Roman tradition. The human John Calvin may be approached in the many recent biographies that portray him with accuracy and especially so in Bouwsma's coverage of him as person, pastor, and theologian. Here is no ogre to be mercilessly pilloried by the ill-informed.
When it comes to divine election, a doctrine full of sweet comfort according to our Reformers, Arminians do not shrink from stating that God's choice of his people is based purely and absolutely on "foreknowledge" in the sense of mere prescience i.e. knowing in advance who will repent of sin and believe the gospel. This is clearly not divine election but self selection. Human virtue, in this scheme of things, is the ultimate and indispensable qualification for grace, as per Catholicism and Judaism, and those without this spiritual talent (who makes you to differ?) simply miss out. The former Christian Brother and commentator on all things Catholic, late novelist Morris West relates in his book The Clowns of God a conversation between two long-separated friends notorious in their earlier lives for loose living in a sexual way. One has become a priest and the other remains a skeptic. The unbeliever laments that he has no talent for faith and the priest comments that it is not a talent but a gift (cf Ephesians 2: 8).
The difference is supposedly in man no matter how you construct your variety of Arminianism - in semi-Pelagian form or Wesleyan (but notice 1Corinthians 4:7. Grace is distinguishing). In "free-willism" it comes down to man making the right initial move. Augustinianism holds out the strongest hope to the very worst and most helpless of sinful men because grace is triumphant over inevitable and recalcitrant human refusal.
Whosoever will is the sincere divine bidding, whomsoever comes is the divine prerogative in a scenario where all men constitutionally repudiate grace and the gospel. "He has a sovereign right to do with us as he pleases, and if we consider what we are we have no reason to complain, and to those who seek him, his sovereignty is exercised in a way of grace" John Newton. (Personally I am grateful that God's will has prevailed over mine after years of sinful defiance and mockery of the things of God. His grace has overcome and one is overwhelmed by his compassion). Romans 8:29 is not a reference to a mere prior knowledge of the actions and attitudes of human individuals. It is not a matter of prescience but of affectionate fore-ordination (Acts 13:48 and see C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans - "It denotes that special taking knowledge of a person which is God's electing grace").
It is knowledge in the sense of prior and unmerited love of someone known with an undeserved, unearned, favour and preference. The choice is certain, unconditional, and effective, and it is never rescinded. God chooses us when we are at our worst, he knows the full scope of our criminal performance and our potential for evil in the future, but his business is to save us from ourselves and his grace restores and preserves through due means on his part and earnest penitence and regret for lapses on ours. Christ is a successful and strong Savior in his strivings, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascended ministry as our great high priest and protector. The objection to Arminainsim is that it places his work of salvation in doubt at every point of its Scripturally declared efficacy.
Arminianism makes man his own saviour at every crucial point, and that is why, in spite of its many saintly proponents, it is an error and heresy that the church universal must repudiate for God's honor and man's assurance. The convinced sinner cannot trust himself at any stage in the process of his salvation and must trust the Lord Jesus absolutely all the way. Arminianism is an insult to God that fosters human self reliance. One has actually heard folk celebrate the occasion on which they allowed Almighty God to rescue them.
Such a statement brings a shock to the system and tears to the eyes. And this, Arminianism confesses and propounds. Salvation is not exclusively of the Lord but of the Lord (who is more or less ineffectual) plus. America's great theologian Jonathan Edwards thought it wise and his duty to check Arminianism within the boundaries of his ministry. The gentle-natured John "Rabbi" Duncan advised, "Never allow an Arminian in your pulpit". Charles Spurgeon opined, "I believe the man who is not willing to submit to the electing love and sovereign grace of God has great reason to question whether he is a Christian at all, for the spirit that kicks against that is the spirit of the unhumbled, unrenewed heart". We know that these two giants were not as severe as that toward Arminian folk, but their sentiments express their dismay at Arminian tenets.
Many folk would wish to shelve discussion of this nature and it is true that vehemence on the topic of election and related matters has often been excessive and offensive on both sides. But has God ever revealed anything in his Word that is harmful in itself and not of benefit to his people when rightly considered? Are there pages in Scripture that must be stapled together? Article 17 arms us with pastoral wisdom in the advocacy of electing love. We are self-deprived of any beneficial spiritual capacity left to ourselves.
Calvinism announces a God who salvages the human soul from the point of regeneration to our entry into glory. We are saved by grace utterly, and utterly safe in the love of God. Championing the cause of Augustinianism is not from a persecutory impulse but it is the enunciation of the plea to all believers to enjoy the whole counsel of God, and so we concur with the observation of John Newton: "You could not have loved him, if he had not loved you first. He spoke to you, and said: 'Seek my face', before your heart cried to him: 'Thy face, O Lord, will I seek' ".
The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church
For information on changes to VOL comments, please see this FAQ entry.
comments powered by Disqus
Follow VOL on Social Networks: