“...from these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions; first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions: (1.) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him...” (J.I. Packer, “Introduction” in “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4)
For the last two posts, I’ve been combating J.I. Packer’s ideas regarding Classical Arminian theology. Today, I’m back to do this once again---this time, through discussion of the biblical notion of depravity.
Packer claims that Arminians believe that man is not completely corrupted by sin; however, this is not true at all. For my defense, I provide the words of Arminius:
“...having turned away from the light of his own mind and his Chief Good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that Chief Good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life. By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is UNDER THE DOMINION OF SIN...in this state, the free will of man towards the True Good is not only WOUNDED, MAIMED, INFIRM, BENT, AND WEAKENED; BUT IT IS ALSO IMPRISONED, DESTROYED, AND LOST; AND ITS POWERS ARE NOT ONLY DEBILITATED AND USELESS UNLESS THEY BE ASSISTED BY GRACE, BUT IT HAS NO POWERS WHATEVER EXCEPT SUCH AS ARE EXCITED BY DIVINE GRACE: for Christ has said, ‘Without me ye can do nothing’” (James Arminius, “Works,” II:192).
Adam’s sin was imputed to all of the human race, in such a way that our will to choose the good is imprisoned to sin and evil...and, without grace, we would never choose the good, never accept Christ, never submit to His Lordship. Arminius even went so far as to say, “It [free will of man] has no powers whatever except such as are excited by divine grace.” It is the grace of God that “makes alive” the will, not man himself.
Arminius goes into greater detail regarding the depravity of man. He starts with the mind of man:
“The mind of man, in this state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God: For ‘the animal man has no perception of the things of the Spirit of God;’ (1 Cor. ii, 14;) in which passage man is called ‘animal,’ not from the animal body, but from ‘anima,’ the soul itself, which is the most noble part of man, but which is so encompassed about with the clouds of ignorance, as to be distinguished by the epithets of ‘vain’ and ‘foolish’; and men themselves, thus darkened in their minds, are denominated ‘mad’ or foolish, ‘fools,’ and even ‘darkness’ itself. (Rom. I, 21, 22; Ephes. iv, 17, 18; Titus iii, 3; Ephes. v, 8) This is true, not only when...it [the mind] is preparing to form conclusions by the understanding; BUT LIKEWISE WHEN, BY SIMPLE APPREHENSION, IT WOULD RECEIVE THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL EXTERNALLY OFFERED TO IT: for the human mind judges that to be ‘foolishness’ which is the most excellent ‘Wisdom’ of God (1 Cor. i,18,24)” (Arminius, “Works,” II:193).
Man is so depraved that, not only is his thinking about ordinary life skewed (for instance, man cannot escape his presuppositions), but he can’t even receive the Gospel naturally on his own. To receive the Gospel, man must be granted grace by the Spirit of Grace Himself. And why? because of 1 Corinthians 1, a passage Arminius quotes as to say that “the human mind judges that to be ‘foolishness’ which is the most excellent ‘Wisdom’ of God.” In addition, Arminius cites other passages in his quote, such as Romans 1, Ephesians 4 and 5, etc. to show that he believes man is naturally born with a darkened mind, a mind that desperately needs to be illuminated and enlightened by the Lord Himself if the son or daughter of Adam and Eve will ever come to faith.
Next, the affections and heart are affected by sin:
“it [the heart] hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil. The Apostle was unable to afford a more luminous description of this perverseness, than he has given in the following words: ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Rom. viii, 7). For this reason, the human heart itself is very often called deceitful and perverse, uncircumcised, hard and stony;’(Jer. xiii, 10; xvii,9; Ezek. xxxvi, 26:) Its imagination is said to be ‘only evil from his very youth;’ (Gen. vi, 5; viii, 21;) and ‘out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, &c. (Matt. xv,19.)” (Works II:193).
Arminius quotes from Romans 8:7 to show that those who are not saved cannot please God. He also shows that the heart is deceitful and wicked, and that man’s every thought is evil, according to the words of the Lord Himself in Genesis 6. Arminius’ work here shows us that he very much held to Reformed theology, as biblical a view on depravity (at least) as any follower of John Calvin.
J.I. Packer notes in his quote above that Arminians don’t believe in the total inability of man. Well, let’s try out Arminius’ words on the helplessness of the human condition:
“Exactly correspondent to this darkness of the mind, and perverseness of the heart, is THE UTTER WEAKNESS OF ALL THE POWERS TO PERFORM THAT WHICH IS TRULY GOOD...the subjoined sayings of Christ serve to describe this impotence: ‘A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.’ (Matt. vii, 18.) ‘How can ye, being evil, speak good things?’ (xii, 34.) The following relates to the good which is properly prescribed in the Gospel: ‘No man can come to me, except the Father draw him:’ (John vi, 44:)...the Apostle says, ‘when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin wrought in us,’ or flourished energetically (Rom. vii, 5.) To the same purpose are all those passages in which the man existing in this state is said to be under the power of sin and Satan, reduced to the condition of a slave, and ‘taken captive by the Devil.’ (Rom. vi,20; 2 Tim.ii,26.)” (“Works,” II:194).
In Arminius’s description of human inability, he notes the favorite verse used by Calvinists in their assessment of depravity: John 6:44. Yes, as surprising as it may seem, Arminians DO believe in the depravity of man!!!
What I’ve provided here should be enough. The point of Arminius citations here is to say to Packer and the Calvinist clan that we, like them, believe in human depravity and human inability. We do not argue some “semi-Pelagian” or “Pelagian” notion of man where the only thing man lost was his knowledge in the Garden of Eden; rather, we argue that man lost his power to will the spiritual Good that day...and that, without God’s awakening, enabling, and sustaining grace, man cannot place himself, and will not be placed, on the path that leads to glory. In man’s natural state, he is drowning in the ocean of life, and desperately needs the Lord Jesus Christ to throw him a lifeline. Without it, man only has the second death to look forward to.