The doctrine of Total Depravity is a doctrine that is not only Biblical, but has also been embraced by both Calvinists and Arminians throughout church history. And, likewise, the heresy of Pelagianism is not only proven false throughout Scripture, but has also been rejected by both Calvinists and Arminians throughout church history. As pointed out in my recent article, Arminians do not believe that a sinner’s free-will decision is the final cause of salvation (link). With that said, here are a few quotes about “free will” that Arminians actually agree with. If you are under the impression that Arminians are Semipelagians, this may surprise you!
First on the list, the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon says:
“Free will has carried many souls to hell, but yet never a soul to heaven.” (The Spurgeon Series 1857 & 1858)
As a Classical Arminian, I affirm this. Because man, in his sinful and depraved state can do nothing pleasing to God (Rom. 8:7-8), including make a decision to follow God, Arminians would agree with Spurgeon here.
Next, we have the Reverend George Whitefield, who rightly states that:
“Man is nothing; he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him.” (Works, Vol. I)
Yes! A thousand times yes! This is why God gets all the glory and credit when a soul is saved. God’s grace must precede salvation. As John 6:44 and 65 says, no one can come to Christ, unless he or she is drawn/enabled by the Father.
The next two quotes can be found in Martin Luther’s “Bondage of the Will”. First, Luther writes:
“For if ‘Free-will’ cannot of itself will good, but wills good by grace alone, who does not see, that good will, merit, and reward, belong to grace alone.” (Bondage of the Will)
Again, because of man’s Total Inability, God’s grace must get 100% of the credit when it comes to salvation.
“All the passages in the Holy Scriptures that mention assistance are they that do away with ‘free-will’, and these are countless. For grace is needed, and the help of grace is given, because ‘free-will’ can do nothing.” —Martin Luther (Bondage of the Will)
This quote from Luther makes me think of, and goes perfectly with a statement made by Arminius himself: “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. Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace.” (Works) At this point, it should be obvious to anyone reading, that Arminians and Calvinists are in total agreement when it comes to the doctrines of Original Sin and Total Depravity.
Let’s continue with a quote from Augustine of Hippo:
“Let them, therefore, observe how they are mistaken who think that our seeking, asking, knocking is of ourselves, and is not a gift given to us.” (Works, Vol. III)
As we’ve already noted, mankind who is dead in his sins cannot do anything truly good, which includes seeking, asking, and knocking. Arminians affirm this.
Here’s another great quote from the Prince of preachers:
“The great destroyer of man is the will of man. I do not believe that man’s free will has ever saved a soul, but man’s free will has been the ruin of multitudes.” (Charles Spurgeon: The Man and His Works)
C. H. Spurgeon nails it again. Free will has never, and will never save a single soul. Adam and Eve exercised their will in the Garden, and to this day, mankind chooses sin and death on a continual basis. Only by means of God’s amazing grace can sinners repent and turn to Christ. Arminians firmly believe that it is only grace that can break through man’s depravity, and cause him to obtain new life.
And lastly, we go to Reformer, John Calvin himself:
“Faith is a special gift of God, which proceedeth not from our free will.” (Institutes)
Can Arminians really go along with this one? Can Arminians affirm that faith is a gift and not something we are able to produce in and of ourselves? Let’s look once again to the man himself, Jacobus Arminius, and see what he has to say on the matter. When Calvinists accused Arminius of insisting that faith in Christ is not the gift of God, he responded: “I never said this, I never thought of saying it, and, relying on God’s grace, I never will enunciate my sentiments on matters of this description in a manner thus desperate and confused.” He also rejected the idea that “faith depends partly on the grace of God and partly on the powers of free will,” as well as the theory that “if a man will, he can believe or not believe” whensoever he wills. (Jacob Arminius, “Apology against Thirty-One Theological Articles,” in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 2:51.) Arminius was quite clear, that “Faith is the effect of God illuminating the mind and sealing the heart, and it is his mere gift.” (Works)
For more about the Arminian view of Total Depravity and free will, including more quotes on the subject from Arminians, see this article.