The Remonstrance of 1610, by followers of Jacobus Arminius, counters five points of doctrine that were understood to be Calvinistic teachings. The Remonstrance first denies the five Calvinistic tenets, and then positively asserts five articles of doctrine that present a completely different idea of God’s character.
The Remonstrance on Conditional Predestination
God has immutably decreed, from eternity, to save those men who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, believe in Jesus Christ, and by the same grace persevere in the obedience of faith to the end; and, on the other hand, to condemn the unbelievers and unconverted (John iii. 36).
Election and condemnation are thus conditioned by foreknowledge, and made dependent on the foreseen faith or unbelief of men (Remonstrance, Article I).
The first phrase of Article I illustrates the primary challenge of the entire Calvinism/Arminianism debate: “God has immutably decreed, from eternity…” This isn’t necessarily a false statement, but it isn’t grounded exegetically. Upon what basis can we say when God made such determinations, other than before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4)? The lack of precision here lends opportunity for the further development of such constructs as the covenant of redemption and the lapsarian/superlapsarian/supralapsarian debate – none of which have any actual exegetical grounding. This particular statement goes just a little further than what is written. The basis of authority for the entire discussion has historically been theological constructs, rather than exegetically precise statements.
Further, the statement describes how saints “persevere in the obedience of faith” as a necessary prerequisite to salvation, making salvation a strictly future thing conditioned upon perseverance. But the obedience of faith in John 3:36 is not referring to obedience that comes after faith, but rather having faith as obedience. The only imperative for unbelievers is to believe in him (John 3:16), thus the obedience discussed in 3:36 is synonymous with belief, and not an additional condition. By the subtle misinterpretation of faith and obedience as two separate things, the Remonstrance makes salvation a conditional reward that can be lost at any point. The article also demonstrates no recognition of the fact that eternal life is a present tense possession of the believer (Jn 6:47), and thus cannot be conditioned on future actions. Simple exegesis resolves the problem, but in this article there is no attention given to exegesis by the Remonstrance.
The final statement on election and condemnation as conditioned by foreknowledge also goes beyond what is written. Ephesians 1:5 implies that the predestining is based solely on His will, whereas Arminian thought would understand the predestination of Romans 8:29 as an effect of the cause that is foreknowledge. Consequently, in Arminianism, God does not predestine from His strengh, but only from His knowledge. Thus from an Arminian perspective, His sovereign control is limited.
The Remonstrance on Universal Atonement
Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, and his grace is extended to all. His atoning sacrifice is in and of itself sufficient for the redemption of the whole world, and is intended for all by God the Father. But its inherent sufficiency does not necessarily imply its actual efficiency. The grace of God may be resisted, and only those who accept it by faith are actually saved. He who is lost, is lost by his own guilt (John iii. 16; 1 John ii. 2).
The Arminians agree with the orthodox in holding the doctrine of a vicarious or expiatory atonement, in opposition to the Socinians; but they soften it down, and represent its direct effect to be to enable God, consistently with his justice and veracity, to enter into a new covenant with men, under which pardon is conveyed to all men on condition of repentance and faith. The immediate effect of Christ’s death was not the salvation, but only the salvability of sinners by the removal of the legal obstacles, and opening the door for pardon and reconciliation. They reject the doctrine of a limited atonement, which is connected with the supralapsarian view of predestination, but is disowned by moderate Calvinists, who differ from the Arminians in all other points. Calvin himself says that Christ died sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis (Remonstrance, Article II).
The first statement here regarding the extent, sufficiency, and efficiency of the atonement is actually a very good one, exegetically defensible from the two passages cited (Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 2:2). Jesus died for all a sufficient death, but just as the blood of the Passover lamb had to be applied in order to be efficient (or in order to actually save, Ex 12:7), so the blood of Jesus must be applied through belief in Him.
The Remonstrance on Saving Faith
Man in his fallen state is unable to accomplish any thing really and truly good, and therefore also unable to attain to saving faith, unless he be regenerated and renewed by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit (John xv. 5) (Remonstrance, Article III).
In order to justify this statement that regeneration precedes faith, the Remonstrance cites John 15:5, which has nothing whatsoever to do with saving faith – in fact, Jesus’ statement in that passage is addressed to eleven men who Jesus says already have saving faith (Jn 15:3). This is exegetically bizarre, and is no less logically odd. To illustrate, imagine a man walking on the side of a highway. He is pondering his sin and what God has done for him. In the Arminian model, in a moment in time he is regenerated, and a split second later – as a result of that regeneration– is about to have saving faith. But in that nano second (or whatever period of time) between the regeneration and the act of faith, the man is struck by a car and dies immediately. By definition, he would have been regenerated apart from faith. Regeneration preceding faith is not exegetically or logically plausible. Some degree of divine enablement allowing saving faith is clearly in view (e.g., Jn 6:44), but regeneration goes much too far.
The Remonstrance on Resistible Grace
Grace is the beginning, continuation, and end of our spiritual life, so that man can neither think nor do any good or resist sin without prevening, co-operating, and assisting grace. But as for the manner of co-operation, this grace is not irresistible, for many resist the Holy Ghost (Acts vii.)(Remonstrance, Article IV).
This statement attempts to accommodate the false dichotomy that either God is sovereign and no one can resist Him at all, or He is not sovereignly in control, and because of that He can be resisted. The cited martyr of Stephen illustrates a resistance to God’s word, but gives no commentary supporting any lack of control on God’s part. Notice how this statement is logically grounded on the final statement of the first article – that God’s sovereignty is expressed as a result of foreknowledge, and not the other way around. Arminianism says He decrees it because He knows it. Calvinism says He knows it because He decrees it. But what does the Bible say? Ephesians 1:5 is clear regarding cause and effect, whereas Romans 8:29 is not considering cause and effect at all.
The Remonstrance on Uncertainty of Perseverance
Although grace is sufficient and abundant to preserve the faithful through all trials and temptations for life everlasting, it has not yet been proved from the Scriptures that grace, once given, can never be lost.
On this point the disciples of Arminius went further, and taught the possibility of a total and final fall of believers from grace. They appealed to such passages where believers are warned against this very danger, and to such examples as Solomon and Judas. They moreover denied, with the Roman Catholics, that any body can have a certainty of salvation except by special revelation.
These five points the Remonstrants declare to be in harmony with the Word of God, edifying and, as far as they go, sufficient for salvation. They protest against the charge of changing the Christian Reformed religion, and claim toleration and legal protection for their doctrine Remonstrance, Article V).
The first paragraph of this statement is patently false. John 6:47 – at the moment of belief, we possess eternal life, which by definition, cannot be lost. 1 Peter 1:3-5 contains no less than eleven statements affirming the eternal security of the believer. Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those in Christ. How can those in Christ ever undergo the condemnation of being cast out if there is no condemnation for them? Romans 8:29-30 says that God’s foreknowledge and predestination is just as true of the believer as is being called, justified, and glorified – the outcome is certain. Romans 8:39 says that no created thing can separate us from the love of God. Am I a created thing? Is there anything I can do to separate myself from His love? Impossible. And the list goes on…
Further, the strange appeals to Solomon and Judas don’t support the Remonstrance’s argument here. We have no timeline of Solomon’s sin with respect to when he authored Ecclesiastes. However, it appears that Ecclesiastes was written as a final explanation of the journey he had taken, and that his conclusion affirms the fear of the Lord (Ecc 11:9, 12:1,12:13-14). Judas was a scoundrel (Jn 12:6) whose betrayal of Christ was consistent with his inner character, and yet who was remorseful after the betrayal (Mt 27:3). He didn’t fall from grace. If anything, we can hope he came to know the depths of God’s grace after his great sin. Further, Judas’ betrayal was apparently facilitated by some degree of possession of Judas by Satan (Lk 22:3, Jn 13:2). Should we understand that all who are under grace are prone to Satanic possession, and that we all must be on guard against such a danger? Does the Bible ever warn of such a thing? Of course not.
Finally, the concluding statement that the five points constructed by the Remonstrants are in harmony with the word of God is evidently not true when the five points are considered against the light of Scripture. Certainly there is some Biblical truth interspersed throughout the five points (especially in the second point). But insofar as they rely on theological suppositions and constructs rather than exegetical ones, and conclude contrarily to Scripture in many assertions, I cannot agree with them.
These two articles are attempts at fairly representing and responding to the two pervasive theological positions of Calvinism and Arminianism. The next and final article in this series is an attempt to positively assert the Biblical perspective on these issues.