The purpose of this paper is to delineate Arminius’ view on regeneration. The Arminian view on regeneration has frequently been mischaracterized, both by Calvinistic opponents, as well as adherents to his views. His view is often mischaracterized as semi-Pelagian (the view that man initiates salvation, but God completes) and sometimes go as far as to say Arminius denied original sin. Since the goal of this paper is to outline Arminius’ view, and not to defend the doctrines themselves, there will be a large number of quotations from Arminius and only a limited amount of scriptural exegesis.
We will begin with a brief explanation of Arminius view of pre-fallen Adam, showing that his view was that Adam required grace to avoid sin. Next, we will show Arminius’ view of the disabling effects of the fall. Then we will cover the restorative nature of regeneration. Then we will cover the most controversial part, the order of salvation, in which we will outline Arminius’ view of the three states of man. Finally, we will cover the specifics of how regeneration operates on the mind and will of men.
Arminius taught that regeneration is the rebirth or a spiritual birth. It’s the illumination of the mind from darkness to spiritual truth and inclination of the will from evil towards the spiritual good. In order to fully understand what Arminius taught about regeneration, it’s necessary to start with a brief explanation from Arminius on Adam in his original state, and then mankind in their fallen state.
Adam in his Original State
Arminius taught that Adam had the ability to avoid sin but only through God’s grace.
“In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace.” (link)
The “through grace” aspect, thought not unique to Arminius, is different than some theologians. Some say that Adam had this ability through nature. Arminius taught that: 1) God and Adam were in a covenant, 2) Adam was filled with the Holy Spirit, 3) Adam and Eve were the first church, and 4) only through grace could Adam avoid sin.
His reason for teaching God and Adam were in a covenant was based on Genesis 2:17:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
In this command, he found an implicit promise to bless. And since the blessing was spiritual life not just natural life, Adam must have had a spiritual gift. Arminius thought that “supernatural happiness cannot be acquired by the powers of nature alone”. link Therefore, it was through spiritual assistance that Adam was able to obtain the spiritual blessing. If Adam had kept the law, he would have been translated to heaven:
“So, likewise, if they had persisted in their obedience to both laws, we think it very probable that, at certain periods, men would have been translated from this natural life, by the intermediate change of the natural, mortal and corruptible body, into a body spiritual, immortal, and incorruptible, to pass a life of immortality and bliss in heaven.” (link)
It is this spiritual blessing, eternal life, that made it necessary for Adam to be given the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
The Effects of the Fall
Arminius taught that God’s punishments for the fall were 1) deprivation of the Holy Ghost 2) liability for physical death 3) liability for spiritual death 4) the curse on the ground, pain in childbearing, toil and so forth.
The Holy Spirit was removed because of Divine displeasure.
“The withdrawing of that primitive righteousness and holiness, which, because they are the effects of the Holy Spirit dwelling in man, ought not to have remained in him after he had fallen from the favor of God, and had incurred the Divine displeasure. (Luke 19:26.) For this Spirit is a seal of God’s favor and good will. (Romans 8:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 2:12.)” (link)
This deprivation of the Holy Spirit and “withdrawing of primitive righteousness” left Adam incapable of thinking, wanting or doing anything good.
“But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good.” (link)
Understanding man’s original and fallen state helps set the stage for understanding what Arminius had to say about the new birth or re-generation.
The New Birth
Arminius does not have a public or private disputation dedicated to the topic of regeneration. His most prominent writings on the subject are found in his commentary on the 7th chapter of Romans especially part 1 “Thesis to be Proved”, article 16 of his Apology against Certain Theological Articles and Article 20 in Certain Articles to be Diligently Weighed and Examined.
In his commentary on Romans 7, Arminius contrasts the regenerate man with the “almost saved” man described in passages such as Hebrews 6:4-6 & 2 Peter 2:20-22. These people had experienced the Holy Ghost, but were not yet regenerate. He emphasizes that the regenerate is free from the bondage of and experiences victory over sin. He uses this description to contrast a regenerate man to the man described in the second half of Romans 7 who is under the bondage of sin.
The regenerate man, through the assistance of grace, is enabled to think, will and do what is truly good.
“When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.” (link)
Regeneration restores every part of man, his mind, will, desires and thoughts:
“Regeneration not only illuminates the mind and conforms the will, but it likewise restrains and regulates the affections, and directs the external and the internal members to obedience to the divine law.” (link)
His view was that regeneration restores man back to the state they were in innocence. This can be seen from his frequent appeals to Colossians 3:10 and Ephesians 4:24 to describe regeneration.
“This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Genesis 1:26, 27,) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (2:17,) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10.) (link)
Col 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him
Eph 4:24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Adam was created in the image of God, but that image was damaged by the fall. Regeneration renews that image and corrects what that fall corrupted. Adam was able to sin or not, so therefore the regenerate man is able to sin or refrain from sin. He views the Calvinist position that regeneration necessitates that a person believes as opposed to leaving man’s options open as contrary to restoration.
“For, if we do not say that the mind of a man may possibly be inclined in another direction, even at the time when it is inclined in a given direction by efficacious grace, it follows that the will of man acts not according to the mode of liberty, but according to the mode of nature, and thus not the free-will, but the nature of man, will be saved. But the free-will, at least as to its exercise, will be, in that case, destroyed by grace, while it belongs to grace not to take away, but to correct nature itself, wherein it has become corrupt.” (link)
The Order of Salvation
In his commentary on Romans 7, Arminius also made an important point that would later become a major point of contention between the Reformed and Arminian camps. Arminius said that regeneration completes only after saving faith. Arminius’ reason that faith must come first was that regeneration is given through our union with Christ and we are united to Christ through faith.
“Besides, even true and living faith in Christ precedes regeneration strictly taken, and consisting of the mortification or death of the old man, and the vivification of the new man, as Calvin has, in the same passage of his Institutes, openly declared, and in a manner which agrees with the Scriptures and the nature of faith. For Christ becomes ours by faith, and we are engrafted into Christ, are made members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones, and, being thus planted with him, we coalesce or are united together, that we may draw from him the vivifying power of the Holy Spirit, by which power the old man is mortified and we rise again into a new life”. (link)
The premises Arminius followed, that lead him to the conclusion that regeneration follows faith, was that regeneration comes about through union with Christ. If we are united to Christ through faith, and regeneration completes through union with Christ, then regeneration follows faith. Looking at the passage of scripture Arminius uses to define regeneration, we gain a fuller understanding of where he was coming from.
Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
Here are Arminius’ comments on this verse:
“Let us consider the third verse, in which the same thing may appear still more plainly to us; for in it the cause is explained why men who are under the law, cannot be made free from the dominion and condemnation of sin; but it is shown that this is obtained for them and effected by Christ. But the cause is this, because deliverance from the law of sin and death, or freedom from condemnation, could not be obtained except by the condemnation of sin, that is, except sin had been previously despoiled of the [assumed] right which it possessed, and of its power which it exercised over men who were subject to it. But it possessed the right and power of exercising dominion and of killing. But sin could not be despoiled of its right, and deprived of its power, by the law; for the law was rendered “weak, through the flesh,” for the performance of such an arduous service.
When God saw this state of things, and was unwilling the unhappy race of men should be perpetually detained under the tyranny and condemnation of sin, “he sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and indeed for sin,” that is, for destroying it, and he condemned sin in the flesh of his Son, who bore sin in his own body [on the tree] and took away from it that authority over us which it possessed, and weakened its powers.” (link)
Notice how he is interpreting the verse that Christ, through His death, took away sins authority and rule over us through our flesh. Since union to Christ with respect to His death is essential to the death of our old man, then regeneration must complete after we are united to Christ through faith.
Rom 6:4-7 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Here are Arminius’ comments on this passage:
“For mortification and vivification, which, as integral parts, contain the whole of regeneration, are completed in us by our participation of the death and resurrection of Christ. (Romans 6.)” (link)
Other passages Arminius used to defend this order were:
Gal 3:2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
2Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name
Debatably, Reformed authors up to this point (most notably Calvin, Beza and Brucer), had not taken a firm position if the new birth precedes or comes after faith in the order of salvation. Arminius argued that they view regeneration as following faith. However, subsequent Calvinists have taken a clear stance that regeneration precedes faith.
Although, Arminius did say that faith precedes regeneration, this can be a confusing point. It’s confusing because Arminius does say that salvation is necessary to do anything good, of which saving faith eminently is. How can faith precede regeneration, if regeneration is first needed to think, want or do anything good?
The resolution is in Arminius’ use of two senses for the term regeneration. At times Arminius used regeneration in the sense of the completed work of the Holy Spirit. That is a man that has a new nature. At other times, Arminius used the term as the process by which the Holy Spirit gives us a new nature. The former “regeneration” is regeneration “strictly taken” and comes after faith. The latter “regeneration” or rather the “grace that belongs to regeneration” comes before faith.
Arminius lays down stages for man:
1) unregenerate (no motions of the Holy Sprit)
2) preparation for regeneration (fear and sorrow through the law)
a. in process regeneration (repentance)
b. completed regeneration (after faith, through union with Christ)
We will get into the distinctions between these stages, but at this point it’s worth pointing out that this is simply different than reformed theology. Without getting into the details, we simply say regeneration as a process, not a one time event.
“The First that this work of regeneration and illumination is not completed in one moment; but that it is advanced and promoted, from time to time, by daily increase. For “our old man is crucified, that the body of sin might be destroyed,” (Romans 6:6,) and “that the inward man may be renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16.) For this reason, in regenerate persons, as long as they inhabit these mortal bodies, “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:17.)” (link)
The first important distinction among the unregenerate is between those who are entirely hardened in their sins and those whom the Holy Spirit is starting to bring to fear of God.
But an unregenerate man is, not only he who is entirely blind, ignorant of the will of God, knowingly and willingly contaminating himself by sins without any remorse of conscience, affected with no sense of the wrath of God, terrified with no compunctions visits of conscience, not oppressed with the burden of sin, and inflamed with no desire of deliverance — but it is also he who knows the will of God but does it not, who is acquainted with the way of righteousness, but departs from it — who has the law of God written in his heart, and has thoughts mutually accusing and excusing each other — who receives the word of the gospel with gladness, and for a season rejoices in its light — who comes to baptism, but either does not receive the word itself in a good heart, or, at least, does not bring forth fruit — who is affected with a painful sense of sin, is oppressed with its burden, and who sorrows after a godly sort — who knows that righteousness cannot be acquired by the law, and who is, therefore, compelled to flee to Christ.
“For all these particulars, in what manner soever they be taken, do not belong to the essence and the essential parts of regeneration, penitence, or repentance, which are mortification and vivification and quickening1; but they are only things preceding, and may have some place among the beginnings, and, if such be the pleasure of any one, they may be reckoned the causes of penitence and regeneration, as Calvin has learnedly and nervously explained them in his Christian Institutes.” (link)
Arminius did not take a firm stance as to whether or not this preparatory work of initial fear was itself regeneration, but he leaned away from that direction and preferred to think of it as a distinct step, in-between the completely regenerate and the completely unregenerate.
“From this order, it appears that some acts of the Holy Spirit are occupied concerning those who are unregenerate, but who are to be born again, and that some operations arise from them in the minds of those who are not yet regenerate, but who are to be born again. But I do not attempt to determine whether these be the operations of the Spirit as He is the regenerator. I know that, in Romans 8:15-17, the apostle distinguishes between the Spirit of adoption and the spirit of bondage. I know that, in 2 Corinthians 3:6-11, he distinguishes between the ministration of the law and of death, and the ministration of the gospel and of the Spirit. I know the apostle said, when he was writing to the Galatians, that the Spirit is not received by the works of the law, but by the faith of the gospel of Christ. And I think that we must make a distinction between the Spirit as he prepares a temple for himself, and the same Spirit as He inhabits that temple when it is sanctified. Yet I am unwilling to contend with any earnestness about this point — whether these acts and operations may be attributed to the Spirit, the regenerator, not as He regenerates, but as He prepares the hearts of men to admit the efficiency of regeneration and renovation.” (link)
The Holy Spirit’s goal of this distinct step is to prepare a person for the work of regeneration, but the effect of the Spirit’s work is fear, not repentance and faith. So the Holy Spirit first brings a person to fear, and then in a separate act brings a person to faith. On this point Arminius referred to Romans 8:15 “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father”, which seems to indicate two works for the Holy Spirit. But the end goal of the Spirit’s work of fear and regeneration is the same: our conversion.
“The proper effect of the law is, that it convicts us of being inexcusably guilty of sin, subjects us to the curse, and condemns us, (Gal. 3,) and when we are deeply affected with the smart of sin and condemnation, it renders us, anxious and earnest in our desires for the grace of God. Hence, arises that of the apostle, which is the subject of his investigation in Romans 7, and at the close of which he exclaims, O wretched man that l am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? THE GRACE OF GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.”
“But is this, therefore, the work of the regenerating Spirit?” With regard to the END, I confess that it is; but with regard to the EFFECT itself, I dare not make any assertion. For mortification and vivification, which, as integral parts, contain the whole of regeneration, are completed in us by our participation of the death and resurrection of Christ. (Rom. 6.) In Romans viii, 15, the apostle distinguishes between “the Spirit of bondage to fear,” and “the Spirit of adoption.” Many persons denominate the former of these, “a legal Spirit,” and the latter “the Spirit of the gospel of Christ.” I, therefore, make the service of the Spirit of bondage to precede that of the Spirit of adoption, though both of them tend to one design. (link)
This step is technically still fits under the term unregenerate, but with a distinction. In his Apology he spells out the difference between an unregenerate man and a man undergoing regeneration:
“For the word “the unregenerate,” may be understood in two senses,
(i.) Either as it denotes those who have felt no motion of the regenerating Spirit, or of its tendency or preparation for regeneration, and who are therefore, destitute of the first principle of regeneration.
(ii.) Or it may signify those who are in the process of the new birth, and who feel those motions of the Holy Spirit which belong either to preparation or to the very essence of regeneration, but who are not yet regenerate; that is, they are brought by it to confess their sins, to mourn on account of them, to desire deliverance, and to seek out the Deliverer, who has been pointed out to them; but they are not yet furnished with that power of the Spirit by which the flesh, or the old man, is mortified, and by which a man, being transformed to newness of life, is rendered capable of performing works of righteousness.” (link)
One final distinction to note, albeit too subtle to be called an independent step, is between those undergoing regeneration, and those who have completed regeneration.
“Let us now see about the regenerate and the unregenerate man. That we may define him with strictness, as it is proper to do in oppositions and distinctions, we say that a regenerate man is one who is so called, not from the commenced act or operation of the Holy Spirit, though this is regeneration, but from the same act or operation when it is perfected with respect to its essential parts, though not with respect to its quantity and degree” (link)
The Holy Spirit’s work prior to faith is two parts, impacting both fear and repentance. The Holy Spirit’s work during repentance is an essential part of regeneration, but it is still not yet complete. The Holy Spirit completes regeneration after faith and it is an entire change: the old man being mortified and the new arising. Thus those undergoing regeneration are able to have faith in Christ, but regeneration does not complete till after the person believes.
Coming back to the question of how can an unregenerate man do anything that pleases God, in addition to different stages of regeneration, Arminius also saw a distinction in the way things are “pleasing to God”.
“Are the works of the unregenerate [those Arminius would have understood as undergoing the process of regeneration], which proceed from the powers of nature, so pleasing to God, as to induce Him on account of them to confer supernatural and saving grace on those who perform them?
Christ says, “To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Not, indeed, because such is the worthiness and the excellence of the use of any blessing conferred by God, either according to nature or to grace, that God should be moved by its merits to confer greater benefits; but, because such are the benignity and liberality of God, that, though these works are unworthy, yet He rewards them with a larger blessing. Therefore the word “pleasing” admits of two meanings, we can reply to the question proposed in two ways — either affirmatively, if that word be viewed as signifying “to please,” “to find favor in his eyes,” and “to obtain complacency for itself;” or negatively if “placeo” be received for that which it also signifies, “to please by its own excellence.” Yet it might be said, that good works are rewarded, in a moral view, not so much through the powers of nature, as by some operation in them of the Holy Spirit.” (link)
This differentiation in terminology makes communication difficult between the Reformed and Arminians and when one or the other side seeks a simple yes or no answer they receive back something rather complex. But the summary is this: those in the process of regeneration, but are not yet completely regenerate, cannot perform an act that is good of its own excellence, but can perform one which God chooses to graciously reward.
Response to the Argument that Faith is Made a Work
Arminius’ response to the common Calvinistic argument that Arminians make faith a work would be that the work is performed by God not us. Our initial response to grace is passive, not active. We cannot commence grace, nor carry out its completion. We cannot do anything that earns salvation. We simply don’t use our ability to resist. We don’t choose to accept converting grace, but rather, don’t choose to reject it.
“In the very commencement of his conversion, man conducts himself in a purely passive manner; that is, though, by a vital act, that is, by feeling, he has a perception of the grace which calls him, yet he can do no other than receive it and feel it. But, when he feels grace affecting or inclining his mind and heart, he freely assents to it, so that he is able at the same time to withhold his assent”. (link)
A More Precise Understanding of How Regeneration Works
Arminius made his boldest theological statement in Certain Articles to be Diligently Weighed and Examined. These were perhaps musings as opposed to articles he held as convictions. In any case, we come across a statement on regeneration which might easily be passed by, or might advance our understanding of regeneration bit deeper. He said:
“The proximate subject of regeneration, which is effected in the present life by the Spirit of Christ, is the mind and the affections of man, or the will considered according to the mode of nature, not the will considered according to the mode of liberty. It is not the body of man, though man, when renewed by regeneration through his mind and feelings, actually wills in a good manner, and performs well through the instruments of the body.” (link)
To understand this statement, we need to understand the difference between the will acting in the mode of nature and the will acting in the mode of liberty. In perusing Arminius’ other writings, we find some statements that make the will acting in the mode of nature sound like a physical impulse or automatic reaction.
Here’s a quote in which he is talking about God’s providential prevention of acts performed by the freewill of men.
“An impediment is placed by the Deity, upon the propensity and the will of a rational creature, in a two-fold mode, according to which God can act on the will. For He acts on the will either by the mode of nature, or according to the mode of the will and its freedom. The action, by which He affects the will, according to the mode of nature, may be called physical impulse; that, by which He acts on the same, according to the mode of the will and its freedom, will be suitably styled suasion. God acts, therefore, preventively on the will either by physical impulse or by suasion, that it may not will that, to which it is inclined by any propensity. He acts preventively on the will, by physical impulse, when He acts upon it, by the mode of nature, that, from it may necessarily result the prevention of an act, to which the creature is inclined by any propensity. Thus the evil disposition of the Egyptians towards the Israelites seems, in the judgment of some, to have been prevented from injuring them.” (link)
From this it’s clear that the mode of nature, as opposed to the mode of freedom, results in a necessary act. That is, the will acting according to the mode of nature cannot be otherwise or can only produce one result. But the will acting according to the mode of freedom is able to produce this or that result. So Arminius is saying that not every act proceeding from man’s will is free.
His view was that when the will is acting naturally and not freely, man is not responsible. Freedom is fundamental for responsibility.
“For the former has this effect, that the will may consent to the sin, but the latter has no such effect, though that consent is not according to the mode of free-will, but according to that of nature, in which mode only, God can so move the will, that it may be moved necessarily, that is, that it cannot but be moved. And in this relation, the will, as it consents by nature to sin, is free from guilt; for sin, as such, is of free-will, and tend towards its object, according to the mode of its own freedom. The law is enacted not for nature but for the will, for the will as it acts not according to the mode of nature, but according to the mode of freedom.” (link)
However, this gives rise to the questions of how the will is necessitated and why does it have a mode of nature at all?
In Arminius’ discussion of the will of God he gives some hints. The necessity has to do with the relationship between the will and its object (i.e. what is willed).
“The will of God is borne towards its object either according to the mode of nature, or that of liberty. In reference to the former, God tends towards his own primary, proper and adequate object, that is, towards himself. But, according to the mode of liberty, he tends towards other things — and towards all other things by the liberty of exercise, and towards many by the liberty of specification; because he cannot hate things, so far as they have some likeness of God, that is, so far as they are good; though he is not necessarily bound to love them, since he might reduce them to nothing whenever it seemed good to himself.” (link)
This concept came from Aquinas, who influenced Arminius’ thought greatly. Aquinas taught that the will always moves to good, just as the mind always moves to truth. The freedom of the will isn’t in the ability to want evil, but rather in specifying the means of obtaining its end goal. The problem isn’t that we don’t want good, but that we are sometimes unable to identify what is good.
“The will is a rational appetite. Now every appetite is only of something good. The reason of this is that the appetite is nothing else than an inclination of a person desirous of a thing towards that thing. Now every inclination is to something like and suitable to the thing inclined. Since, therefore, everything, inasmuch as it is being and substance, is a good, it must needs be that every inclination is to something good. And hence it is that the Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 1) that “the good is that which all desire.”
But it must be noted that, since every inclination results from a form, the natural appetite results from a form existing in the nature of things: while the sensitive appetite, as also the intellective or rational appetite, which we call the will, follows from an apprehended form. Therefore, just as the natural appetite tends to good existing in a thing; so the animal or voluntary appetite tends to a good which is apprehended. Consequently, in order that the will tend to anything, it is requisite, not that this be good in very truth, but that it be apprehended as good. Wherefore the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 3) that “the end is a good, or an apparent good.” (link)
Aquinas concluded that if the will were to be presented with an object that it sees as good, and only good, it would necessarily acts on it.
“Wherefore if the will be offered an object which is good universally and from every point of view, the will tends to it of necessity, if it wills anything at all; since it cannot will the opposite. If, on the other hand, the will is offered an object that is not good from every point of view, it will not tend to it of necessity.” (link)
It’s the exact correspondence of the nature of the will to its object that would give rise to necessity. However, when an object might be seen as good in some respects and not in other respects, the will is free to choose or not choose it.
“If, on the other hand, the will is offered an object that is not good from every point of view, it will not tend to it of necessity. And since lack of any good whatever, is a non-good, consequently, that good alone which is perfect and lacking in nothing, is such a good that the will cannot not-will it: and this is Happiness. Whereas any other particular goods, in so far as they are lacking in some good, can be regarded as non-goods: and from this point of view, they can be set aside or approved by the will, which can tend to one and the same thing from various points of view.” (link)
So the mode of nature is the source of desires. The will can only desire good. If the object is only good, the will necessarily moves a man towards that object. If the object is part good and part bad, the will remains free. The will cannot desire what isn’t good. So good, is somewhat of a guardrail, which the will cannot pass.
To give an example let’s say the objects of the will are A, B, C & D. If A is only good, the will necessarily moves us to A. If D is only bad, the will cannot choose D. If B and C are part good and part bad, the will is free to select between them.
So if the will only desires good, and man can choose what is at least good in part, why can’t the unregenerate man choose to obey God’s law?
This is because the unregenerate mind cannot see that the law is good, in every respect, and because the unregenerate will cannot desire what is spiritually good. In order to understand this, we must first understand the difference between the naturally and spiritually good. What is naturally good, is good for the body or good for us mentally. What is spiritually good, is good for the soul. Arminius explained this difference when explaining man’s depravity, but dismissed natural good as unimportant to the discussion of man’s depravity.
“The Good Things presented to man are three, natural, which he has in common with many other creatures; animal, which belong to him as a man; and spiritual, which are also deservedly called Celestial or Divine, and which are consentaneous to him as being a partaker of the Divine Nature. ….But because it is of little importance to our present purpose to investigate what may be the powers of free will to understand, to will, and to do natural and animal good things; we will omit them, and enter on the consideration of spiritual good, that concerns the spiritual life of man, which he is bound to live according to godliness, inquiring from the Scriptures what powers man possesses, while he is in the way of this animal life, to understand, to will, and to do spiritual good things, which alone are truly good and pleasing to God.” (link)
This diagram with examples helps differentiate between natural and spiritual good.
|From Arminian Pics|
The unregenerate man’s will only seeks the naturally good. This helps explain why unsaved people do so many things that seems on the surface to be obedient to God’s law, but they never do them out of a love for God. On the other hand, the regenerate man seeks what is spiritually good. They fail in the identification of the spiritually good, but they want what is spiritual good.
Regeneration does not necessitate that we believe or do good. Rather it changes the will so that its desire isn’t just what’s naturally good, but also what is spiritual good. Without regeneration, the will’s object is natural good only, but with regeneration we desire what is spiritually good.
The mode of nature sometimes specifies an action. In this case the action is necessary. At other times, however, the mode of nature acts as a guard rail. Things within certain boundaries may be chosen, but things outside those boundaries may not be chosen. The boundary is that the mind must see some good in an object, for the will to be able to choose it.
So, in summary, the will acting in the mode of nature, acts necessarily and not freely. The limitation on action is either complete or partial. In the case of an object presented to the will, which is seen as good in every respect, the will is completely limited to that object. In the case that objects have some good and some bad in them, the will may choose or not choose them. In the cause that object is all bad, the will cannot choose it.
So what did Arminius mean when he said that regeneration acts on the will according to the mode of nature, not the mode of freedom?
Regeneration moves the “boundaries” to include spiritual good. Now, the mind is able to see and the will is able to desire what is spiritually good. In this life, we only see that good in part, and hence we are still free to choose or not choose that good. But with regeneration, spiritual good is now an option.
1 Another distinction here is the difference between essential and non-essential elements of regeneration. The Holy Spirit’s working repentance in us is an essential part of regeneration, but initial fear is not. Arminius spoke of initial fear, that is different from, but a precursor to repentance. This initial fear is brought about by the law showing sinners that they are sinners and that they are under judgment. As soon as one moves from fear to a turning from sin, they are undergoing an essential part of regeneration.