One’s justification and thus atonement before God is realized by one’s faith in and union with Christ Jesus (which is akin to Calvinistic doctrine and very much unlike Roman Catholic doctrine). The following is what Arminius teaches on the union of believers with Christ:
- I. As Christ is constituted by the Father the Saviour of those that believe, who, being exalted in heaven to the right hand of the Father, communicates to believers all those blessings which He has solicited from the Father, and which He has obtained by His obedience and pleading; but as the participation of blessings cannot be through communication unless where there has previously been an orderly and suitable union between him who communicates and those to whom such communications are made; it is therefore necessary for us to treat, in the first place, upon the union of Christ with us, on account of its being the primary and immediate effect of that faith by which men believe in Him as the only Saviour.
II. The truth of this thing, and the necessity of this union, are intimated by the names with which Christ is signally distinguished in a certain relation to believers: Such are the appellations [the act of calling by name] of Head, Spouse, Foundation, Vine, and others of a similar kind. From which, on the other hand, believers are called members in his body which is the entire church of believers, the spouse of Christ, lively stones built on Him, and young shoots or branches: By these epithets is signified the closest and most intimate union between Christ and believers.1
One of the aspects of Arminius’s theology that I appreciate most is his attention given to union with Jesus Christ. It affects election, predestination, atonement, justification, sanctification, and the perseverance of the one in union with Him. As Jesus in no uncertain terms conditionally states, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2 NET Bible). He further insists: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up” (John 15:6 NET Bible).
The apostle Paul informs the believer of the same thing: “Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God ~ harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherswise you also will be cut off” (Rom. 11:22 NET Bible). Arminius’s theology is Bible-centered and Christological by nature. He continues:
- III. We may define or describe it to be that spiritual and most strict and therefore mystically essential conjunction, by which believers, being immediately connected, by God the Father and Jesus Christ through the Spirit of Christ and of God, with Christ Himself, and through Christ with God, become one with Him and with the Father, and are made partakers of all His blessings, to their own salvation and the glory of Christ and of God.
Notice that Arminius does not cower from admitting a measure of mystery in the believer’s union with God the Father through Jesus Christ. Indeed there must exist some measure of mystery in the Christian faith, for everything has not been revealed to us. However, too much mystery in one’s theology lends itself to fostering “a persistent ignorance of what is factual, coherent, and true in light of how God’s word relates to the evidence of life.”3 So, the believer must maintain a balance to the notion of mystery or he or she will end up not knowing much of anything. Arminius continues:
- IV. The author of this union is not only God the Father, who has constituted His Son the Head of the Church, endued Him with the Spirit without measure, and unites believers to His Son; but also Christ, who communicates to believers that Spirit whom He obtained from the Father, that, cleaving to Him by faith, they may be one Spirit. The administrators are Prophets, Apostles, and other dispensers of the mysteries of God, who lay Christ as the foundation, and bring His spouse to Him.
V. The parties to be united are 1) Christ, by whom God the Father has constituted the Head, the Spouse, the Foundation, the Vine, &c., and to whom He has given all perfection, with a plenary power and command to communicate it: 2) And sinful man and therefore destitute of the glory of God, yet a believer and owning Christ for his Saviour.
VI. The bond of unity must be considered both on the part of believers, and on the part of God and Christ. (1) On the part of believers, it is faith in Christ and God, by which Christ is given to dwell in our hearts. (2) On the part of God and Christ, it is the Spirit of both, who flows from Christ as the constituted Head, into believers, that He may unite them to Him as members.
VII. The Form of union is a compacting and joining together, which is orderly, harmonious, and in every part agreeing with itself by joints fitly supplied according to the measure of the gifts of Christ. This conjunction receives various appellations, according to the various similitudes which we have already adduced. With respect to a foundation and a house built upon it, it is a being built up into [a spiritual house]. With respect to a husband and wife, it is a participation of flesh and bones. With respect to a vine and its branches . . . it is an ingrafting and implanting.
VIII. The proximate and immediate End is the communion of the parts united among themselves; this also is an effect consequent upon that union, but actively understood as it flows from Christ; and positively, as it flows into believers, and is received by them. The cause of this is that the relation is that of disquiparancy [long elaboration] where the foundation is Christ, who possesses all things and stands in need of nothing; the Term or Boundary is the believer in want of all things. The Remote End is the eternal salvation of believers and the glory of God and Christ.
IX. But not only does Christ communicate His blessings to the believers who are united to Him, but He likewise considers, on account of this most intimate and close union, that the good things bestowed and the evils inflicted on believers are also done to Himself. Hence arise commiseration [sympathy] for His children and certain succour [assistance]; but anger against those who afflict, which abides upon them unless they repent; and beneficence [generosity, good] towards those who have given even a draught of cold water in the name of Christ to one of His followers.4
1 James Arminius, “Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XLVI. On the Communion of Believers with Christ, and Particularly with His Death,” in The Works of Arminius, three volumes, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 2:401-02.
2 Ibid., 2:402.
3 Udo Middlemann, The Innocence of God (Colorado Springs: Paternoster Publishing, 2007), 27.
4 Arminius, 2:402-03.