Arminius on Sin, Depravity, Blasphemy and God's Relation to the Same

Jacob Arminius adhered to the Reformed notion of original sin, including its transference to all the posterity of Adam and Eve, and he differed in emphasis with his colleague Simon Episcopius on the same. He emphatically insisted that, with regard to His elect, God so very much hates "the sins of the regenerate and of the elect of God, and indeed so much the more as those who thus sin have received more benefits from God and a greater power of resisting sin."1 The presence and reality of sin is an affront to the holiness of God -- the first sin being described as "disobedience and [an] offense against the 'legal covenant' that God had made with humanity, resulting in a fall from the original 'state of integrity.'"2

This "state" of sin has utterly affected humanity. In this "state," insists Arminius, our free will is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened, but it is also "imprisoned," or in bondage to sin, "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."3 Calvinist scholar R.C. Sproul, a primary foe of Arminian theology, concludes: "The language of Augustine, Martin Luther, or John Calvin is scarcely stronger than that of Arminius."4 In this "state," according to Arminius, our mind, the affections of our heart, and our power to will is distorted.5 When Jesus declares that, without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5), Arminius views that statement quite literally.

In this "state," or context, of sin we commit actual sins. We are not sinners, ontologically, because we sin; we sin because we are, ontologically, sinners. Like the draw and pull of muck and mire, we are incapable of pulling ourselves out of this "state," even if we desired to. Therein lies one problem: in this "state" of sin, we do not inherently desire to be rid of this "state." We, unnaturally, have become comfortable in the muck and mire of sin. To one degree or another, in our bondage to sin, we hate and have "an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God."6 Apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11), we are helpless (Rom. 5:6), and enemies of God in need of reconciliation (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:19). This we are incapable of accomplishing.

Arminius introduces the topic of Satan, that fallen creature of God, who is the leader of a hostile group of followers. "Envying the glory of God and the salvation of man, and attentively looking out on all occasions, he marks every movement; and whenever an opportunity occurs, during the Lord's seed-time [Matt. 13:23], he sows the tares of heresies and schisms among the wheat."7 But then fallen mortals follow this path:
Man himself follows next in this destructive train, and is easily induced to perform any service for Satan, however pernicious its operation may prove to his own destruction; and that most subtle enemy, the serpent, finds in man several instruments most appropriately fitted for the completion of his purposes.8
Arminius is echoing the apostle Paul's references to the work of Satan in the lives and hearts of God's fallen creatures. Satan, called "the god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4 NET), blinds the minds of "those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Cor. 4:4 NET) There is a spiritual war being engaged by the enemy of God, Satan and his followers, and fallen human beings are often the target of Satan's ploys. (2 Cor. 10:3, 4, 5) He and his followers deceive believers, even, attempting to divert them from their "pure devotion to Christ." (2 Cor. 11:3)

Deception at times overtakes those who appear like true followers of Christ: "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions." (2 Cor. 11:14, 15) This is why the apostle commands us to take up and put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18), so that "you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil" (Eph. 6:11) ... "so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand." (Eph. 6:13)

Sts James and Peter warn: "So give yourselves completely to God. Stand against the devil, and the devil will run from you" (James 4:7 NCV, emphasis added); "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are." (1 Pet. 5:8-9 NLT, emphasis added) Not only is your sinful "state" constantly drawing and pulling you back to the muck and mire of sin, but so is your great enemy, the Devil. But what part does God play in all of this? What is His relation to the muck and mire of our sin?



Arminius was very cautious to leave to God His divine holiness, justice, and righteousness. In no sense is Arminius willing to confess, as do Calvinists, that God has, from eternity, decreed our actual sins, renders our actual sins necessary, brings the same about, or influences our desires and decisions.9 Such an unthinkable and deplorable notion, for Arminius and Arminians, renders God the Author (Originator, Instigator, Determiner, Designer, Architect, Begetter, Founder, Innovator, and Mastermind) of sin and evil. No matter what qualifications are offered, if one suggests that God has decreed and thus rendered certain our actual sins, then God is the Author of sin and evil.

For Arminius, sin is both of commission (a forbidden act performed -- "do not do this," yet it was done) and omission (a commanded act not performed -- "do this," yet it was not done).10 Incidentally, the so-called blasphemy of the Holy Spirit falls under the category of a sin of commission, and is tantamount to a staunch and resolute resistance "against the operation of the Holy Spirit, that is, against the conviction of the truth through miracles, and against the illumination of the mind."11 He continues:
But since it is necessary that the Mercy of God should stop at some point, being circumscribed by the limits of His Justice and Equity according to the prescript of His Wisdom, this sin is said to be "unpardonable," because God accounts the man who has perpetrated so horrid a crime, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace, to be altogether unworthy of having the Divine Benignity and the operation of the Holy Spirit occupied in his conversion, lest He should Himself appear to esteem this sacred operation and kindness at a low rate, and to stand in need of a sinful man, especially of one who is such a monstrous sinner!12
Sin has personal objects "against whom the offense is committed; and it is either against God, against our neighbor, or against ourselves."13 There exists, of course, the sins of ignorance (cf. 1 Tim. 1:13), infirmity out of fear (Matt. 26:70), malice (Matt. 26:14, 15) and negligence (Gal. 6:1). One can even sin against one's conscience (Ps. 51:3, 10, 13 NET). In all categories of sin, however, God remains righteous. Though sin "has exceeded the order of every thing created, yet it is circumscribed within the order of the Creator Himself, and of the Chief Good." Arminius continues:
Since it is apparent from all these premises that the Providence [or Sovereignty] of God ought not ... to [always in all cases] intervene, or come between, to prevent the perpetration of evil by a free creature; it also follows, from the entrance of evil into the world, and ... it has entered so far "that the whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John 5:19), that the Providence of God cannot be destroyed.14
God, as Sovereign, reserves the privilege of hindering evil (cf. Gen. 20:6).15 But God has seen fit, according to His wisdom and counsel, not to intervene in most instances of evil. He allows relatively free and rational creatures to freely choose their own paths in life. Hence He has sovereignly elected not to decree or render certain our decisions, nor does He bring such about by His Power or Will, and this pleases Him. "Sin therefore is permitted to the Capability of the creature when God employs none of those hindrances"16 which would, otherwise, directly barricade an opportunity for sin to be manifested. God could have "refrained from producing a creature that might possess freedom of choice,"17 but instead opted to create a rational being, in His image, who would rightly relate to Himself and to the world in which he or she would exist.

God is also capable of bringing good out of freely-elected sin, and evil, and directing "sin wherever He wills, 'reaching from one end to another mightily, and sweetly ordering all things.'" (Wisdom 8:1: Wisdom is here Personified)18 God is sovereign over sin, as He places "a boundary on sin that it may not wander and stray in infinitum at the option of the creature." God "determines the moment of time when He permits a sin to the commission of which His creature is inclined," and even its duration.19 God is able to accomplish His purposes through the freely-elected decision of His creatures to sin (cf. Gen. 45:8).20 Sin cannot thwart the plans and purposes of the Almighty, who is sovereign over all, without, in a weak and lowly manner, determining the decisions of His creatures.

Arminius mentions that some deny the sovereignty of God because "they can conceive in their minds no other administration of Divine Providence concerning evil than such as would involve God Himself in the culpability, and would exempt from all criminality the creature, as if he had been impelled to sin by an irresistible act of God's efficiency."21 Indeed, Arminius thinks that the errors of the determinists in this regard are directly to blame for many rejecting the biblical doctrine of the sovereignty of God, as properly defined in and framed by Scripture -- a teaching directly opposed to divine determinism. God permits sin and evil;22 He does not decree and, thus, render certain that sin and evil be manifested by necessity.

The truth regarding the concurrence of God is a staple doctrine in Arminius' hamartiology (study of the doctrine of sin): "because nothing whatever can have any entity [being, existence] except from the First and Chief Being, who immediately produces that entity."23 (cf. Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3) Regardless, no one sins by decree, nor by God bringing sin or evil about by His divine Will or Power. If Calvinism is true, and God has decreed, rendered certain, and brings about or influences our desires and decisions, then "God really sins" because He "moves to sin by an act that is unavoidable, and according to His own purpose and primary invention, without having received any previous inducement to such an act from any preceding sin or demerit" in His creatures (His eternal decree preceded the sin of any rational creature): thus "God is the only sinner."24 God forbid!

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1 Jacob Arminius, "Certain Articles to be Diligently Examined and Weighed: Article XX. On Regeneration and the Regenerate," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:724.

2 Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 142.

3 Works, 2:192.

4 R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 126.

5 Arminius, Works, 2:192-93.

6 Ibid., 2:193.

7 Works, 1:454.

8 Ibid.

9 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), I.18.1. See also Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 319-30; Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143.

10 Arminius, Works, 2:158.

11 Ibid., 2:161.

12 Ibid., 2:161-62.

13 Ibid., 2:158.

14 Ibid., 2:164.

15 Ibid., 2:167; cf. also 2:178-79.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid., 2:172.

19 Ibid., 2:173-74.

20 Ibid., 2:174-75.

21 Ibid., 2:177.

22 "But whatever God permits He permits it designedly and voluntarily, His Will being immediately concerned about its Permission, which Permission itself is immediately occupied about sin: which order cannot be inverted without injury to Divine Justice and Truth." (2:180)

23 Ibid., 2:183.

24 Ibid., 1:630.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.