Arminius on Justification

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James Arminius underwent a barrage of accusations during his public ministry by strict Calvinists who were not adverse to taking their doctrines farther than even Calvin himself. Article XXV against Arminius charged him as teaching:

“The whole of that which we appear before God justifies us: But we appear before God, not only by Faith, but also by Works: THEREFORE we are justified before God, not only by Faith, but likewise by Works.” What follows is his reply.

“A man who is ignorant of those things which (aguntur) are here the order of the day and who reads this article will undoubtedly think that in the point of Justification I favour the party of the Papists, and am their professed defender.

“Nay he will suppose that I have proceeded to such a pitch of impudence as to have the audacity to maintain a conclusion directly contrary to the words of the Apostle, who says, ‘We conclude therefore, that a man is justified by faith, without the works of the law.’

“But when he shall understand the origin of this article, and why it is charged on me, then it will be evident to him that it arises from calumny [slander and false charges] and from a corruption of my words. I deny, therefore, that I made that syllogism, or ever intended to draw that conclusion, or to propound those things from which such a conclusion might be deduced.

“This brief defense would suffice for all upright minds, to give a favourable interpretation, if perchance anything had been spoken which could give occasion to unjust suspicion.

“But it will be labour well bestowed for me to transcribe my own words from a certain Disputation on JUSTIFICATION, from which this article has been taken; that it may appear with what kind of fidelity they have made their extract. The Ninth Thesis in it is thus expressed:

“‘From these things, thus laid down according to the Scriptures, we conclude that JUSTIFICATION, when used for the act of a Judge, is either purely the imputation of righteousness (factam) bestowed, through mercy from the throne of grace in Christ the Propitiation, on a sinner, but on one who believes; or that man is justified before God of debt, according to the rigour of justice, without any forgiveness.

“‘Because the Papists deny the latter, they ought to concede the former. And this is so far true that how highly soever any one of the Saints may be endowed with Faith, Hope, and Charity—and how numerous soever and excellent may be the works of Faith, Hope, and Charity which he has performed—yet he will not obtain from God the Judge a sentence of Justification unless He quit the tribunal of His severe Justice and place Himself in the throne of Grace, and out of it pronounce a sentence of absolution in his favour, and unless the Lord of his Mercy and Pity graciously account for righteousness the whole of that good with which the Saint appears before Him:

“‘For woe to a life of the greatest innocence if it be judged without mercy! This truth even the Papists seem to acknowledge, who assert that the works of the Saints cannot stand before the judgment of God unless they be sprinkled with the blood of Christ.’ (Public Disput. XIX)

“Thus far my Thesis: Could any person imagine that the Major in this article can, according to my sentiments and design, be deduced from it? ‘The whole of that in which we appear before God justifies us!;’ how can this be deduced when I say, ‘that not even this good, which the Papists are able or know how to attribute to the most holy men, can obtain from God a sentence of Justification unless He through mercy from the throne of grace reckon this graciously for righteousness!’

“Who does not perceive that I grant this through sufferance and concession? ‘God considers and esteems for righteousness all this good in which the Papists say the Saints appear before God:’ I yield this, that I may the more firmly confute them; and I thus obtain, ‘that not even that total can be accounted for righteousness except graciously and through mercy.’

“This conduct is real malignity and a violent detorsion of my words; on account of which I have indeed no small occasion given to me of complaining before God of this injury: But I contain myself, lest my complaint to God should be detrimental to their souls; I would rather beseech God to be pleased to grant them a better mind . . .

“I know the Saints who will be placed before the tribunal of the Divine Justice have had Faith and through Faith have performed good Works: But, I think they appear and stand before God with this Confidence or Trust, ‘that God (proposuit) has set forth His Son Jesus Christ as a Propitiation through Faith in His blood that they may thus be justified by the Faith of Jesus Christ through the remission of sins.’ I do not read that Christ is constituted a Propitiation through Works in His blood, that we may also be justified by Works!

“My desire indeed is to appear before the tribunal of God thus (with this Confidence or Trust in Christ, as a Propitiation through Faith in His blood), and ‘to be graciously judged through mercy from the throne of grace.’

“If I be otherwise judged, I know I shall be condemned; which sore judgment may the Lord, who is full of clemency and pity, avert according to His great mercy—even from you, my brethren, though you thus speak, whether the words which you use convey your own meaning, or whether you attribute this meaning to me.

“I also might thus draw wonderful [fantastical] conclusions from this assumption which is laid down if an accusation were to be set aside by retaliation or a recriminating charge and not by innocence. But I will not resort to such a course, lest I seem (paria referre) to return evil for evil; though I might do this with a somewhat greater show of reason.”1

1 James Arminius, “Apology Against Thirty-One Theological Articles,” The Works of Arminius, Vol. II, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 46-49.