Did Arminius Affirm Salvation by Grace or Works?
written by SEA member, Roy Ingle
I read a Calvinist piece in which the author showed his utter misunderstanding of Arminianism. He never cites Arminius, never cites a prominent Arminian theologian but nonetheless he asserted that Arminianism holds to “works salvation” because we deny that God forces people to believe the gospel. He seeks to build his case from Romans 3:10-18 by showing that mankind is so depraved that apart from God first regenerating them, none could be saved. He sees this as all of grace whereas Arminianism teaches that we believe the gospel and then are regenerated and so we believe in works salvation because we believe salvation must be received freely by grace through faith.
Did Arminius hold that salvation was by our works? Notice what he wrote here about salvation and how we are saved:
“This vocation is both external and internal. The external vocation is by the ministry of men propounding the word. The internal vocation is through the operation of the Holy Spirit illuminating and affecting the heart, that attention may be paid to those things which are spoken, and that credence may be given to the word. From the concurrence of both these, arises the efficacy of vocation.”
Arminius affirms that the Word of God must be preached to the lost for them to be saved (Romans 10:17). This is why evangelism is necessary (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). People must hear the gospel to be saved. Arminius called this “the external vocation.” The internal vocation was the work of the Spirit in bringing sinners to Christ (John 6:44-45; Acts 16:14-15). Arminius clearly affirms that sinners must hear the gospel and the Spirit must open their hearts by His grace for salvation.
Arminius further wrote,
“We say that “it is a gracious and merciful act; “not with respect to Christ, as if the Father, through grace as distinguished from strict and rigid justice, had accepted the obedience of Christ for righteousness, but with respect to us, both because God, through his gracious mercy towards us, has made Christ to be sin for us, and righteousness to us, that we might be the righteousness of God in him, and because he has placed communion with Christ in the faith of the gospel, and has set forth Christ as a propitiation through faith.”
Here Arminius affirmed that salvation was the gracious act of God and that our acceptance before God is based on the work and merit of the Lord Jesus Christ and not our works. Jesus is our propitiation through faith which is clearly the same as what Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 3:25. Arminius makes the focus of salvation on the work of Christ and not on the work of mankind.
Arminius wrote also:
“Christ has not obtained by his merits that we should be justified by the worthiness and merit of faith, and much less that we should be justified by the merit of works: But the merit of Christ is opposed to justification by works; and, in the Scriptures, faith and merit are placed in opposition to each other.”
Faith is how we are justified before God but Arminius is careful not to place our faith as the basis for our salvation. The basis for our salvation is not our faith but faith in Christ. Christ is our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). Christ and His work on the cross secures salvation for those who believe the gospel (John 6:29). Arminius correctly notes that faith and merit are placed in opposition to each other as in Romans 4:4-5. To receive salvation through faith is not to earn salvation or to work for salvation but to humbly receive the finished work of Christ for that which He has already obtained by His own blood (Matthew 26:28). None are saved merely because Christ died on the cross but all must come through faith to the saving work of Christ on the cross (Romans 3:21-27). That Paul makes salvation conditioned upon faith in Christ does not negate the fact that faith is not a work for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). Arminius states,
“The proximate end of vocation is, that they who have been called answer by faith to God and to Christ who give the call, and that they thus become the covenanted people of God through Christ the Mediator of the New Covenant; and, after having become believers and parties to the covenant, that they love, fear, honour, and worship God and Christ, render in all things obedience to the divine precepts “in righteousness and true holiness,” and that by this means they “make their calling and election sure.” (Prov. i, 24,; Heb. iii, 7; Rev. iii, 20; Ephes. ii, 11-16; Tit. iii, 8; Deut. vi, 4, 5; Jer. xxxii, 38, 39; Luke i, 74, 75; 2 Pet. i, 1, 10.)
Thus those who, by faith, believe the gospel become partakers in the New Covenant with Christ as the Mediator. This makes their calling and election sure.
Arminius affirmed salvation by grace as he wrote,
“Concerning grace and free will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent: Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace. That I may not be said, like Pelagius, to practice delusion with regard to the word “grace,” I mean by it that which is the grace of Christ and which belongs to regeneration. I affirm, therefore, that this grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good. It is this grace which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will; which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the actions, and bends the will to carry into execution good thoughts and good desires. This grace goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and co-operates lest we will in vain. It averts temptations, assists and grants succour in the midst of temptations, sustains man against the flesh, the world and Satan, and in this great contest grants to man the enjoyment of the victory. It raises up again those who are conquered and have fallen, establishes and supplies them with new strength, and renders them more cautious. This grace commences salvation, promotes it, and perfects and consummates it.”
“I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. And I add to this — that teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace, provided he so pleads the cause of grace, as not to inflict an injury on the justice of God, and not to take away the free will to that which is evil.”
Notice that Arminius affirms with the Reformers that salvation was entirely a work of grace. He states that the free will of mankind cannot produce salvation apart from grace. The will of mankind is tainted by sin and we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). We need the grace of God for salvation. Clearly then Arminius affirmed salvation by grace and opposed works to produce the righteousness that God requires which is none other than perfection.
For the original post with comments, go to: http://arminiantoday.com/2013/01/03/did-arminius-affirm-salvation-by-grace-or-works/