“Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him” (J.I. Packer, “Introduction” from “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4; quoted by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn in “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 3).
Throughout this series of “Getting the Story Straight,” I’ve demonstrated that J.I. Packer is grossly incorrect in his analysis of Arminianism---that is, Arminians are not Pelagian in their theology. Here today, I return to correct another false statement Packer makes about Arminians: that is, that Classical Arminians fail to attribute glory to God...that we attempt to give glory to man for our salvation.
In his Disputation XVI, titled “On the Vocation of Men to Salvation,” Arminius wrote the following:
“We define vocation, A GRACIOUS ACT OF GOD IN CHRIST, by which, through his word and Spirit, He calls forth sinful men, who are liable to condemnation and placed under the dominion of sin, from the condition of the animal life, and from the pollutions and corruptions of this world, (2 Tim. i,9; Matt. xi, 28; 1 Pet. ii,9,10; Gal. i,4; 2 Pet. ii, 20; Romans x, 13-15; 1 Pet. iii,19; Gen. vi,3,) unto ‘the fellowship of Jesus Christ,’ and of his kingdom and its benefits; that, being united unto Him as their Head, they may derive from Him life, sensation, motion, and a plenitude of every spiritual blessing, TO THE GLORY OF GOD and their own salvation. (1 Cor. i,9; Gal. ii,20; Ephes. i,3,6; 2 Thess. ii,13,14)” (Arminius, “Works,” II:231-232).
Arminius deems the call to salvation (vocation) as “a gracious act of God in Christ”; here, we find that it is God’s kindness that brings this about. And this is where Classical Arminians agree with Calvinists: there is nothing outside of God that dictates His actions. God does what He pleases...and He is pleased to call men and women to faith, to grant them life everlasting. Without this benevolence from God, no man or woman could, or would be, saved. Secondly, note that Arminius labels man as unworthy of this call to salvation: “He calls forth sinful men, who are liable to condemnation and placed under the dominion of sin.” The words “sinful men,” “liable to condemnation,” and “under the dominion of sin” tell us what man is and what he deserves---nothing short of Hell itself. So if any man or woman goes to Heaven, it is of nothing they deserve, but of what God has graciously given. This is “Soli Deo Gloria,” a praise to God because only God deserves praise for man’s blessings and eternal bliss with Christ.
Examine the passages Arminius notes at the end of the above quote. In 1 Corinthians 1:9, it is God “by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ the Lord” (NKJV); in Galatians 2:20, it is Christ whom, as Paul says, “loved me and gave Himself for me.” In Ephesians 1:3, it is God the Father “who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” And who gets the praise for salvation and all its benefits? “to the praise of the glory of HIS GRACE, by which HE made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). And in 2 Thess. 2:13-14, it is God who “from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” It is God who gets the glory for the salvation of man. Arminius’s references to these verses demonstrates his great desire to give God glory for his salvation. Once again, this is “soli deo Gloria,” for the glory of God alone. Contra Packer, Classical Arminians do not give themselves glory for their salvation. I don’t know if Packer has ever read Arminius, but he and all other Calvinists would do well to read him. They might be surprised that he never once sounds like a Pelagian (and don’t let me mention the fact that he actually refutes Pelagius in his “Works”!).
Arminius then goes into the efficient, inward-moving, and external causes of this vocation to salvation:
“THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF THIS VOCATION IS GOD THE FATHER IN THE SON. The Son himself, as appointed by the Father to be the Mediator and the King of his church, calls men by the Holy Spirit; as He is the Spirit of God given to the Mediator...but THIS VOCATION IS SO ADMINISTERED BY THE SPIRIT, THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS HIMSELF ITS EFFECTOR: for He appoints Bishops, sends forth teachers, endues them with gifts, grants them his assistance, and obtains authority for the word and bestows efficacy upon it (Hebrews iii,7; Acts xiii,2; xx,28; 1 Cor. xii,4,7,9,11; Heb. ii,4.)” (II:232).
Who brings about salvation? God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, all three persons of the Trinity play a role in our salvation. With these words, how could anyone say that “Arminians attribute their salvation to themselves?” Do Calvinists not know that we, like they, believe the Scriptures when they teach that “it is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no man may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9)? I don’t see Arminius attributing salvation to man (“soli homo gloria”), but rather “Soli Deo Gloria,” the glory of God.
What is the inward-moving cause of our salvation?
“The Inly-moving Cause is THE GRACE, MERCY, AND ‘LOVE OF GOD OUR SAVIOUR TOWARD MAN;’ (Titus iii,4,5;) by which HE IS INCLINED TO RELIEVE THE MISERY OF SINFUL MAN, AND TO IMPART UNTO HIM ETERNAL FELICITY. (2 Tim. i,9,10.)” (II:232).
Once again, I don’t see man being given glory in this statement at all. Rather, it is God who “is inclined to relieve the misery of sinful man.” God is the one who is stirred to take man out of his tragic state; God is the one who, like the Good Samaritan, sees man in a state of helplessness and picks him up, cares for his wounds, and nurses him back to spiritual health (Luke 10:30-37). Arminius cites 2 Tim. 1:9-10, which states that God called us “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace” (2 Tim. 1:9). How can Packer look at Classical Arminianism and falsely accuse Classic Arminians of attributing salvation to man?
I will continue to show Arminius’s thought regarding salvation in further posts. For now, let me end by using the words of Roger Olson:
“The common tendency is to impute to Arminianism every false belief...if the same method were used on Calvinism (as some Arminians have), Calvinists would howl in protest. We could argue that the Calvinist God, who predestines some people unconditionally to hell (EVEN IF ONLY BY DECREEING TO PASS OVER THEM IN ELECTION), is not a God of love but an arbitrary, capricious supreme being concerned only with displaying his own glory---even at the cost of the eternal destruction of souls he created. One principle that ought to be observed by all parties to this debate is BEFORE YOU DISAGREE MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND. In other words, we must make sure that we can describe another’s theological position as he or she would describe it before we criticize or condemn. Another guiding principle should be DO NOT IMPUTE TO OTHERS BELIEFS YOU REGARD AS LOGICALLY ENTAILED BY THEIR BELIEFS BUT THAT THEY EXPLICITLY DENY” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 41).
Both Calvinists and Arminians would do well to heed Roger Olson’s words.