Arminian Grace: How Sweet the Sound

, posted by

I found this mockery at a Calvinist’s blog, who will remain nameless:

“Arminian ‘grace!’ How strange the sound, Salvation hinged on me. I once was lost, then turned around, Was blind, then chose to see.

“What ‘grace’ is it that calls for choice, Made from some good within? That part that wills to heed God’s voice, Proved stronger than my sin.

“Thru many ardent gospel pleas, I sat with heart of stone. But then some hidden good in me, Propelled me toward my home.

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Because of what we’ve done. We’ve no less days to sing our praise, Than when we first begun.”

I’d like to hear Chris Tomlin do something with that one! John Newton would have been proud of our Calvinist “friend.” Actually, I think Newton would have been disgusted. I think every Christian should be disgusted with the heresy mentioned in that re-working of a classic hymn. And if that encapsulated Arminian theology, I would never adhere to such nonsense.

Could not, however, some of those polemics be turned on the Calvinist? “What grace is it that calls for choice . . .” Was not the Calvinist “made willing” to choose Christ? Or has the Calvinist made no choice for Christ whatsoever? “That part that chose to heed God’s voice, Proved stronger than my sin.” Ibid.

The rest of the re-worked masterpiece is just rubbish. It is no more true of Arminianism than it is of Calvinism. But once again we have yet another example of a Calvinist’s caricature of Arminianism, exhibiting his confusion of Arminianism with Pelagianism because he is either too ignorant (in the classical sense of the word) or too lazy to investigate the matter any further.

The Lord be praised for careful, Calvinist pastors and theologians (such as R. C. Sproul and Richard A. Muller) who take the time to study Arminius and Arminianism, and accurately represent Arminian theology, even though their convictions side with Calvinism. Muller noted, “The undeniably scholastic approach of Arminius to theology provides . . . a clue to the problem of the phenomenon of Reformed and Protestant scholasticism in general.

“The fact that Arminius, who did not follow the Reformed down the path of radical monergism and strict predestinarianism, is as scholastic in his theological method and as apt to draw on scholastic categories in the discussions of divine essence, attributes, and work ad extra as his Reformed adversaries demonstrates the incongruity of the thesis found in much earlier scholarship that the rise of a scholastic Protestantism was related in an almost casual way to the development of the Reformed doctrine of predestination.”1

Arminius’ contribution to Reformed Protestantism has, sadly, been neglected by those who have claimed to follow his theological method. Many who call themselves Arminian today know very little of Arminius, let alone the theology which he taught; and Calvinists know even less.

R. C. Sproul wrote, “As a Calvinist I frequently hear criticisms of Calvinistic thought that I would heartily agree with if indeed they represented Calvinism. So, I am sure, the disciples of Arminius suffer the same fate and become equally frustrated.”2

Is Arminian theology tantamount to Pelagianism, or even Semi-Pelagianism? Can sinners merely choose to believe (of their own free will) in Christ Jesus whenever they please, as the above hymn caricatures? Sproul writes, “James Arminius was emphatic in his rejection of Pelagianism, particularly with respect to the fall of Adam. The fall leaves man in a ruined state, under the dominion of sin . . .

“He [Arminius] is not satisfied to declare that man’s will was merely wounded or weakened. He insists that it was ‘imprisoned, destroyed, and lost.’ The language of Augustine, Martin Luther, or John Calvin is scarcely stronger than that of Arminius . . .

“Arminius not only affirms the bondage of the will, but insists that natural man, being dead in sin, exists in a state of moral inability or impotence. What more could an Augustinian or Calvinist hope for from a theologian? Arminius then declares that the only remedy for man’s fallen condition is the gracious operation of God’s Spirit. The will of man is not free to do any good unless it is made free or liberated by the Son of God through the Spirit of God.”3

It does the reader well to keep in mind that neither Sproul nor Muller agree with Arminius’ conclusions logically, philosophically, or theologically. But they do recognize, however, that Arminius was an orthodox, Reformed scholar whose teachings do not reflect those of Pelagius or his followers, nor many who call themselves Arminian in modern times.

It is rather easy to say what grace is not, but that is really no help to the student of Scripture. We have already concluded on this site that grace is not regeneration (Col. 2:13). So, what is grace? God’s grace that brings salvation (upon the condition of faith in Christ Jesus) must not be thought of as tangible; it is spiritual, not something that can be “given,” in the strict sense of the word.

A sinner cannot experience grace with his five senses. What did Paul teach? Our Lord Jesus Christ is the One “through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5.2). How does one stand in the grace of God? Paul teaches that faith is the answer. He also warned people not to receive God’s grace in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). He himself admitted that he did not “nullify” the grace of God (Gal. 2:21), but made use of His grace by faith in Christ.

Salvation is God’s grace to mankind (granted to those who will trust Christ, Eph. 2:5, 8). Jesus Himself was full of grace (John 1:14, 17) and we have all received grace upon grace (John 1:16). Justification is God’s grace to sinners (granted to those who will trust Christ, Rom. 3:24; Titus 3:7). These graces must be received (Rom. 5:17; 1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 6:1; Gal. 2:21). “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all” (Titus 2:11).

God the Father is the God of all grace (1 Pet. 5:10). The Son of God is full of grace (John 1:14). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29). God graced mankind by sending His Son into the world to save him by faith. The Son graciously laid down His life in order to reconcile man back to God to save him by faith. The Spirit graciously draws man to the Savior to save him by faith. All of salvation is of grace from first to last.

The grace that saves is found in Christ alone (2 Tim. 2:1; Philm. v. 25). This is not just Arminian Grace, it is biblical grace. It is not regeneration, but it is grace which leads one toward repentance and regeneration (Rom. 2:4), so that he or she may be made into a new creature by faith in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17; John 3:3-8), to the glory of God alone.

1 Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 275.

2 R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), 126.

3 Ibid., 125, 126, 128.