Arminius on Grounding Election in Jesus Christ

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That the Doctrine of Election is taught in Scripture is uncontested: “just as He chose [elected] us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4 NASB). Only in union with Christ Jesus is anyone elected of God. The object of the Christian religion, admits Arminius, is Christ and God.1 The duties or devotion of religion should be performed to Christ and God, “among which reasons, the last is the will of God, and His command that prescribes religion by [practionem] the conditions of a covenant”.2

This election of God unto salvation in Christ is first and foremost “the decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ, by which He determined within Himself from all eternity to justify believers, to adopt them, and to endow them with eternal life”.3 This will bring God honor and praise through our Lord Jesus Christ, and “even for the declaration of His justice.”4 Arminius continues:

    This predestination [or election] is evangelical, and therefore peremptory [not open to appeal or challenge] and irrevocable: And as this Gospel is purely gracious, this predestination is also gracious according to the benevolent [affectum] inclination of God in Christ. But that grace excludes every cause which can possibly be imagined to be capable of having proceeded from man, and by which God may be moved to make this decree.5

F. Stuart Clarke, retired Methodist Circuit Minister in the Midlands, North of England and Scotland, comments that for Arminius, Christ is “the foundation of predestination, and the meritorious cause of the blessings destined for believers.”6 The Doctrine of the Election of God is not grounded merely in a decree, as in Calvinism, but in the work and person of Jesus Christ. Arminius’s language is very particular at this point, especially in its connection with God’s love, “by which he [in the words of Arminius] ‘loves men absolutely to salvation, and absolutely intends to bestow eternal life on them’, [it] does not exist except in Jesus Christ, the Son of his love, who solicits, merits, obtains, brings back and dispenses the salvation that was lost.”7

Arminius places Christ Jesus as “the foundation of this predestination.”8 There can be no election without Christ. The “form” of this predestination, or rather election, is in “the internal act itself of God, who fore-ordains to believers this union with Christ their Head, and [communionem] a participation in His benefits.”9 The goal is, as the apostle Paul insists, “to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6 NASB). God’s grace was bestowed not out of obligation, but freely, on us who are in union with the Beloved Jesus Christ. Arminius confesses: “This predestination is the foundation of Christianity, of salvation, and of the certainty of salvation; and St. Paul treats upon it in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 8:28-30).”10 Again, Clarke comments:

    The believers predestined, believe in God who justifies the ungodly, and in Christ raised from the dead and Mediator between God and men. God’s internal act fore-ordains to believers union with Christ their Head and participation in his benefits. Without this Mediator, God neither willed to show mercy nor to save men without faith in him (the Mediator). Such predestination is the foundation of Christianity, of salvation, and of the certainty of salvation. Arminius’ doctrine of predestination is not [Dutch scholar Evert Rijker] Dekker’s eigenschappen-predestinatie [lit. property-predestination] so much as a covenant-predestination.11

Do not be misinformed. Neither Arminius nor Classical Arminians adhere to the notion that mankind can believe in Christ Jesus inherently. Clarke comments: “What Arminius stresses is that a natural, carnal, sensual, sinful man cannot perform an act of faith; no-one can perform it except through God’s grace.”12 This is a crucial point for Arminian theology. The views espoused thus far are well within the framework of Reformed theology. Classical Arminianism is at complete variance with semi-Pelagianism. “The question,” explains Clarke, “is whether this grace is not only that of God the Father, but also of our Lord Jesus Christ.”13

We have yet another example of a Trinitarian formula, if you will, in the process of man’s salvation in the theology of Arminius. Clarke writes:

    Arminius had made it clear in his inaugural oration that the covenant in Christ’s blood is a covenant of grace, and referred to Ephesians 1:7 with its reference to redemption in Christ and his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace. One of the works of Christ as High Priest was to ask and obtain the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of grace, for his people. Arminius was to use the actual phrase “the grace of Christ . . . which belongs to regeneration” in his Letter to Hippolytus `a Collibus, and the means of grace are the word and the Spirit (of Christ).14

Concerning the operative work of the Godhead in the plan and execution of man’s salvation, Arminius affirms that “a new light and knowledge of God and Christ, and of the Divine Will” must be “kindled in his mind” if a sinner is to come to Christ, concluding that, “whatever it may be of knowledge, holiness and power” working within the sinner, it is “all begotten within him by the Holy Spirit.”15 Man can do nothing without the enabling of God Almighty: “For this reason,” Jesus confesses, “I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65 NASB).

Arminius differs, however, from the Calvinistic framework of the Doctrine of Election. First, confesses Arminius, Jesus Christ was chosen or elected of God to be the Savior of mankind: “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights” (Isaiah 42:1 NASB; cf. Matt. 12:18). Arminian theologian Roger Olson comments: “Arminius considers the Calvinist doctrine insufficiently Christocentric. Jesus Christ seems to arrive as an afterthought to God’s primary decree to save some and damn others.”16 Arminius declares:

    Since God can love to salvation no one who is a sinner, unless he be reconciled to Himself in Christ, hence it follows that predestination cannot have place except in Christ. And since Christ was ordained and given for sinners, it is certain that predestination and its opposite, reprobation, could not have had place before the sin of man, — I mean, foreseen by God, — and before the appointment of Christ as Mediator, and moreover before His discharging, in the foreknowledge of God, the office of Mediator, which appertains to reconciliation.17

By God’s foreknowledge, Arminius does not mean that God must first have sat down to see how things might play out before He could do whatever He had planned to do with the salvation and damnation of mankind. Such a crude analogy is to neglect what Arminius means by the phrase. For Arminius, God has always known people as either believers or unbelievers, since God knows all that can be known. Election is therefore eternal. “God’s will to save,” writes Arminian scholar Robert Picirilli, “(which includes both determining what the condition is and knowing who will meet it and electing to save them) is as eternal as He is.”18 It is no more a stretch to insist that God, given His exhaustive foreknowledge of all things and persons and events, could know or foreknow all who would ever exist, and also know and foreordain their eternal state, than to suggest that God could foreordain all who would ever exist and unconditionally elect some to salvation and condemn the rest. Both scenarios are plausible. Both Arminians and Calvinists, respectively, believe that Scripture teaches their view.

Election is conditional — conditioned upon faith in and union with Jesus Christ. Scripture nowhere teaches that election is unconditional in nature. If salvation is conditional, then election is conditional. Picirilli writes:

    Thus Arminius, as we have already seen, defined election as the decree of God by which He determined from all eternity to justify believers [cf. 1 Cor. 1:21]. And thus [Jack] Cottrell correctly observes that “God determined even before the creation which individuals will be saved, and even wrote their names in the book of life.”

    Election is conditional. This is the Arminian’s main point of departure from Calvinism, understanding the Bible to teach that specific persons are elected or reprobated (i.e. chosen or rejected) as believers or unbelievers.

    Arminius’ way of presenting this strikes me as the most appropriate and properly cautious. His definitions . . . indicate that he saw people elected as believers (or reprobated as unbelievers). Consequently faith is the “condition” for election. For Arminius, if salvation is by faith, then election is by faith. If salvation is conditional, election is.19

The Calvinist will read this and balk, for he does not understand how God could eternally elect someone who would believe in Christ since no one can believe in Christ because of total or radical depravity. The Classical Arminian wholeheartedly agrees that all sinners are radically depraved.20 However, we are not permitted to limit God’s ability to exhaustively foreknow all things (know, however, that many Arminians hold to Corporate Election as well as to Foreknowledge Election).

Since we believe that God knows all that can be known, including all future contingencies, then He is able to know every single individual — what each will be like, what each will choose, and where each will spend eternity. He is able to know who will trust in Christ Jesus when enabled by the Spirit to do so. Simply put: He is able. Hence, the Doctrine of Election is Christocentric. To insist that God cannot foreknow anything without first meticulously foreordaining every detail is to strip God of His attributes of power, ability, and knowledge. This is something which Classical Arminians refuse to do.

1 James Arminius, “Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XL. On the Predestination of Believers,” in The Works of Arminius, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:392.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 F. Stuart Clarke, The Ground of Election: Jacobus Arminius’ Doctrine of the Work and Person of Christ (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2006), 90.

7 Ibid.

8 Arminius, 2:392.

9 Ibid., 393.

10 Ibid.

11 Clarke, 91.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Arminius, 2:192.

16 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 183.

17 Arminius, 3:278-79.

18 Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002), 52.

19 Ibid., 53.

20 Arminius states that the fallen will of man is “not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and [attenuatum] weakened; but it is also [captivatum] imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace,” 2:192.