Arminius on Apostasy

, posted by drwayman

In reading two new books, Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation by Keith Stanglin and Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Tom McCall, I found the follow- ing interesting facts. It is said of Arminius that he never decided whether one could fall afterbeing saved. This supposition is inaccurate. Arminius taught that had David died in his sins he would have been lost [Works 3:463 464].

Stanglin points out that Arminius did not believe that all sins are equal. He delineated four causes of sin: ignorantia, infirmitas, malitia, and negligentia. Sin motivated by malice would cause a believer to fall. This fact becomes clear in a letter written by Arminius to Uytenbogaert: “But it is possible for a believer to fall into a mortal sin, as is seen in David. Therefore he can fall at that moment in which if he were to die, he would be condemned” [Stanglin, 137].

Stanglin, along with Tom McCall, point out that Arminius clearly sets forth two paths to apostasy:

A. It can happen because of rejection, or

B. It can happen because of malicious sinning.

Arminius proffers that if the sin arises out of malice for the law and causes one to fall away, it is forgivable [Stanglin and McCall, Jacob Arminius, 174].

Stanglin points out that Arminius held the view that faith could be described in two ways: “actual” and “habit.” One could lose “actual” faith while retaining the faith of “habit.” The loss of “actual” faith would cause one to fall, but it was possible to be restored [Stanglin, 139]. If the apostasy came from malicious sin, then it was forgivable. If it came from rejection it was not.

In Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation, Stanglin includes a footnote that says, “Ashby and Pinson, who, without ever appealing to his writings on this matter, ascribe the position of irremediable apostasy to Arminius, claiming that Arminius believed a fallen person cannot be forgiven. Like Arminius, the Remonstrants also confessed that true believers who had fallen away could be restored to repentance” [Stanglin, 138].

Concerning the theory of “imputed righteous- ness,” Arminius would not take a position on whether he held to “passive” righteousness only or to both “passive” and “active.” The active righteousness of Christ was his work of obedience and his passive righteousness was his work of atonement. His comments are as follows:

But I never durst mingle myself with the dispute, or undertake to decide it; for I thought it possible for the Professors of the same religion to hold different opinions on this point from others of their brethren, without any breach of Christian peace or the unity of faith. Similar peaceful thoughts appear to have been indulged by both the adverse parties on this dispute; for they exercised a friendly toleration towards each other, and did not make that a reason for mutually renouncing their fraternal concord. But concerning such an amicable plan of adjusting differences, certain individuals in our country are of a different judgment [Works, 1:263].

W. Stephen Gunter has contributed much to the understanding of Arminius by his recent direct translation of Arminius’ Declaration of Sentiments into English from the original Dutch. He concurs that Arminius would not take a position on imputed righteousness.

In private correspondence with me, Dr. Gunter proffers three reasons:

1. The strict logic of imputed righteousness taken to its conclusion tends to undermine actual / imparted righteousness and Arminius (with Augustine) held out for the goal of holi- ness in the heart and life of believers.

2. Imputed righteousness was the cornerstone of most all supralapsarians and he simply did not wish to resemble that position in any way.

3. Arminius tried to define only those theologi- cal points he believed to be essential, and he really did believe that Christian theologians could differ on this point.

Keith Stanglin agrees that Arminius was reluctant to take a position on “imputed righteousness.” In private correspondence with me, Dr. Stanglin posits that he “would take it at face value. I’m not aware of any major shift in Arminius’ opinion on this issue.” Stanglin, along with Tom McCall, points out that Arminius did not object to saying “the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us,” but he did object to saying that “the righteousness of Christ is imputed for righteousness.” Arminius felt that it did not make sense to say that it is reckoned or imputed for righteousness. He acknowledges that Christ’s obedient righteousness is reckoned for us, but it is not imputed for righteousness [Stanglin and McCall, 139].

If we receive the obedience and righteousness of Christ, do we not receive the faith that produced the obedience and righteousness? Does that not mean that one would also receive the faith of Christ that produced the obedi- ence and righteousness? If we are accounted all His righteousness, all His obedience, with the attitudes and motives and faith that produced the action, how then do we fall away? We must not simply trust in the faith ofChrist. We must continue to trust in Christ.

This article was written by Gerald Gann.  The original can be found in The Arminian Magazine, 2014, 32(2), 5-6.

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