The Common Ground of Lutherans and Arminians With Regard to the Free Will of Men

, posted by A.M. Mallett

In combating charges of Pelagianism and heresy, Lutherans and Arminians have both expressed clear sentiments defining the orthodoxy of man’s limited freedom of the will. Philip Melancthon, Martin Luther’s contemporary friend and colleague, systematized Lutheran thought through his various contributions including the Augsburg Confession of 1530. This confessional document remains a bedrock source of original Lutheran ecclesiastical thought. Similarly, James Arminius conveyed complementary thoughts regarding the limited freedom of the will in his Sentiments. Both men reflected the orthodoxy of the Reformation church as it relates to the fallen condition of natural man.

This agreement in orthodoxy is important to note in view of various sectarian efforts to separate one or the other from Protestant orthodoxy. Lutherans are generally not challenged with regard to their credentials of Protestantism (being the origins of European Protestantism) however Arminians are often accused of having a lack in that regard, most often challenged by the various Calvinist sects as harboring Pelagian or the 4th century semi-Pelagian views of John Cassian. As various theologians have demonstrated repeatedly over the last few centuries, the charges made against orthodox Protestant Arminians are spurious. Nonetheless, modern Calvinists continue to make these unfounded accusations, to wit, accusing Arminians of teaching that men have an innate unbounded free will capable of being the primary cause of any move toward the pursuit of righteousness.

Provided first below is Article 18 of the Augsburg Confession written by Melancthon in 1530. In it he addressed the nature of man’s limited free will and our utter dependency on the power of the Holy Spirit to engage in the spiritual works and goodness of God. He makes a great distinction between the free will works of our natural condition and those of a true spiritual nature, keeping each subject to the full grasp of God’s providence.

Following this, James Arminius comments on the free will of man in which he finds agreement with the necessity of the power of the Holy Spirit in all spiritual matters. Arminius also defined his thoughts on the providence of God in a separate writing that compliments these thoughts. Taken together, these comments by Melancthon and Arminius define Protestant orthodoxy with regard to the necessity of the power of the Holy Spirit as it pertains to man’s fallen natural condition.

Philip Melancthon regarding Free Will:

      “… Of Free Will they teach that man’s will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2,14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received through the Word. These things are said in as many words by Augustine in his Hypognosticon, Book III: We grant that all men have a free will, free, inasmuch as it has the judgment of reason; not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete aught in things pertaining to God, but only in works of this life, whether good or evil. “Good” I call those works which spring from the good in nature, such as, willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn diverse useful arts, or whatsoever good pertains to this life. For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being. “Evil” I call such works as willing to worship an idol, to commit murder, etc.

 

    They condemn the Pelagians and others, who teach that without the Holy Ghost, by the power of nature alone, we are able to love God above all things; also to do the commandments of God as touching “the substance of the act.” For, although nature is able in a manner to do the outward work, (for it is able to keep the hands from theft and murder,) yet it cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc…” – Augsburg Confession (1530), Article XVIII – Of Free Will, Philip Melancthon

James Arminius regarding Free Will:

    “… This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: 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. 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. 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…” – Works, Vol. I, James Arminius (Sentiments)

An Introspective of an Arminian Christian, “The Common Ground of Lutherans and Arminians With Regard to the Free Will of Men”