On James Arminius’ “Declaration of Sentiments”

The following is a short paper by Ed Bryant summarizing his study of primary sources.

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In this document Professor James Arminius critiques the major tenets of the common Calvinistic theology that held sway in the Dutch church of his day.  He defines the reformed doctrine he disagrees with, presents arguments against it, and then declares his own view.

He believed that the most important teaching he had to take to task was predestination, particularly the supralapsarian view which says that God decreed people to heaven or hell apart from the consideration of their works.  The Divine decree included the means as well as the end which secures the salvation of the elect, making it impossible for any of them to be lost and secures the damnation of the reprobate, making it impossible for any of them to be saved.

Arminius takes issue with several points of predestination and tries to show that even the Dutch church standards, the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism, did not support the teaching as it was espoused by most churches.

He argues against predestination on the grounds that it is a teaching contrary to the nature of God, man, sin, eternal life, death, and grace.  The doctrine makes God the author of sin because man is compelled by an irresistible force to commit sin, destroying his free choice.  Actually, if predestination is true, argues Arminius, then it is God who sins.  In addition, Arminius said that predestination dishonors Christ, inverts the Gospel, and undermines the Christian faith.

The Professor defined his own view of predestination as God knowing beforehand (from eternity) who, through prevenient grace, would believe in Jesus.  He did, however, agree with the reformed doctrine of providence.  He believed that God exercises a general care and control over the whole world and that nothing happens by chance.  Even man’s free will is subject to the Divine will and that nothing can be done contrary to the will of God, including evil.  God does not cause evil but permits it.

Concerning free will, Arminius believed that before the fall man had the ability to obey God with the assistance of Divine grace.  After the fall man lost the ability to do good until he is regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Arminius ascribes all good in man and done by him to the grace of God, but God’s grace can be turned down and the work of the Holy Spirit resisted.

He confessed his agreement with the perseverance of the saints but admitted that certain passages of Scripture seemed to teach the opposite.  He proposed that the Synod study this more thoroughly to see if it is possible for some through neglect to fall away from Christ and return to the world, nullifying the grace of God in their lives.

With respect to assurance of salvation, Arminius held that believers could know they were saved by the testimony of one’s conscience and witness of the Holy Spirit.  Yet their assurance is not equal to the certainty they have of God’s existence.

Arminius also addressed the subject of perfection of believers in this life.  He was charged with being a Pelagian, because he thought it was possible for a person to live in this world without sin by the grace of Christ.  Augustine also believed this.  Arminius was not a Pelagian, because he denied that man could fulfill the law of God in his own strength.

The Professor had to clear himself of suspicion with respect to the deity of Christ.  He affirmed what the ancient church always taught that the Son had his deity from the Father by eternal generation.  He held the unity of the Divine essence while affirming the trinity of Persons.  He did not agree with the new mode of speaking of the Son as autotheos, meaning that Christ had his Divine essence from himself and not from the Father.

In conclusion, Arminius proposes an examination and revision of the church standards for the National Synod to ensure that it is in full agreement with the Word of God.  These are human compositions and likely to contain some error.  He advocated making the Confession shorter and to contain few articles that pertained to the necessity of salvation.

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