Those Pesky Arminians Make God's Love Mutable?

Dr. R. Scott Clark, of Heidelblog, offers a three-paragraph quote entitled: "De Moulin: The Arminians Make God's Love Mutable." Pierre de Moulin (1568-1658) is a Calvinist minister from France who resides in England for some years, is theologically trained at Cambridge, and becomes, for a time, a professor at the University of Leiden toward the end of the sixteenth century; while Arminius is a pastor of the Old Reformed Church, de Oude Kerk, just a few years prior to being called by the same University as a professor. In 1602, a decade after de Moulin becomes a professor at Leiden, the elder Antonius Thysius, Professor of Theology at Leiden, names Arminius "a light of the Netherlands and born to the school."1 Though Arminius is hesitant about the position, ministers and governmental leaders desire Arminius for the appointment, to the dismay of supralapsarian Francis Gomarus.2

Pierre de Moulin begins his critique of the theology of the Arminians thusly: "The Arminians do cover themselves against this shower of arguments, with that their distinction of the antecedent and consequent will of God." (link) One might imagine that de Moulin's arguments are solely against the early Arminians. Indeed, Dr. Clark only quotes from this segment, and we wonder why. Pierre writes the following: "Lutherans, Arminians, and Amyrauldians [sic] distinguished between God's antecedent and consequent wills. For them, God's antecedent will is the general will of God which desires that all through Christ may be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). But this expression of God's will is antecedent to the conduct of human beings."3 So, he reserves his same complaint not only against the Arminians, but also against the Lutherans and the four-point Calvinists known as the Amyraldians.

The theories of the antecedent and consequent will of God refer, in this context, to that particular will of God whereby He intends to save a human being from sin, death and hell, or, strictly, the consequent wrath of God. Arminius suggests that "the will of God be one and simple," not theoretically two, as in the Calvinist "two wills in God" theory -- one secret and one revealed -- but is distinguished "into that by which He absolutely wills to do any thing or to prevent it; and into that by which He wills something to be done or omitted by His rational creatures."4 One aspect of the will of God includes that which God wills to be done "without regard to the volition or act of the creature."5 But there is another aspect to the will of God by that "which He wills something with respect to the volition or the act of the creature."6 Such is "also either antecedent or consequent."7

The so-called antecedent will of God is "that by which He wills something with respect to the subsequent will or act of the creature, as, 'God wills all men to be saved if they believe.'"8 (Cf. Ezek. 18:36; 33:11; John 3:15, 16, 17; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; 2 Pet. 3:9) The conditional clause "if they believe" properly frames this "antecedent will" of God: from eternity past God wills to save the believer (John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). God does not, by an antecedent will, regenerate and save unbelievers (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13).



The so-called consequent will of God is "that by which He wills something with respect to the antecedent volition or act of the creature, as, 'Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better would it have been for that man if he had never been born!' [cf. Matt. 26:24] Both depend on the absolute will, and according to it each of them is regulated."9 Pierre de Moulin complains:
They [the Arminians] say that God does love some men more than [others] by His consequent will, that is, by that will which is after [i.e., which occurs in time after] the faith and repentance of man: For God does love them most, whom He forsees will believe, and by their own free will, are to use grace well. But by His primary and antecedent will, God does alike love all men, and does equally desire the salvation of all; and therefore He doth give to all men sufficient grace for faith, and so for salvation. And the cause why the Gospel is not preached to all, they say, is not the will of God, but either the negligence of Christians, or the indignity and unworthiness of the people, or else the sins of their ancestors, who have rejected grace, being offered. (link)
Historically, Calvinists have always maintained a problem with the love of God, that God could be confessed to loving every person in the world -- as Scripture actually and most explicitly states in no uncertain terms (John 3:16). If one desires to explain philosophically how God can be admitted to loving only those whom He has unconditionally elected unto faith and salvation then they must demonstrate such a theory from direct passages of Scripture and then properly interpret John 3:16, or Ezekiel 18:36; 33:11, or 1 Timothy 2:4. Thus far the majority of Christians throughout the world and through the ages fail to be convinced by their explanations. See the post: "God. Love. Calvinism."

The Arminians place the blame of a failure for the spread of the Gospel to sinful and slothful believers. Calvinists, rather, place that failure on God -- God does not want the Gospel of His Son to be preached to all. See the post: "Calvin: The Gospel of Salvation is Not for All." Pierre continues his rebuke: "Certainly this is a deadly speech, and is directly contrary, not only to the Scripture, but also to itself. For while they bring reasons, why God does not offer his Gospel to all, unawares they yield to our party; for they lay down the causes, why God does not equally love all." (link) Yet, what could be more "deadly" to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than to admit that God Himself is the One who does not "offer His Gospel to all"? How is that any semblance of Good News? Hence further demonstration of the deficiencies of Calvinism. But de Moulin's real argument is with God loving all equally:
But the question is not, why God loves some men more than others, but whether God does love all men equally; therefore they entangle themselves. And how absurd that distinction is of the will of God into antecedent and consequent, how contumelious [insulting] against God, in that sense in which it is taken by the sectaries. . . . (link) (emphasis added)
His argument, which he explicitly notes in the third and final paragraph quoted by Dr. Clark, is intended to convey a notion that the reason why God allegedly loves some more than others is because such people, again, allegedly, love and obey and trust in God -- a complete contradiction of 1 John 4:19: "We love because He first loved us." By this Pierre falsely assumes a type of merit in Arminian theology reminiscent of Medieval theology and Roman Catholicism proper. But is he accurately interpreting and rightly representing Arminian theology on this matter? Of course not.

Keep in mind that de Moulin brings this same charge on the Lutherans, and the four-point Calvinists, i.e., the Amyraldians. He can bring this charge on the four-point Calvinist because such insists, with Scripture, that Jesus died on behalf of all (John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 Tim. 2:6; 4:10; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:2). Only the five-point Calvinist, then, avoids "making God's love mutable." Pierre is guilty of confusing and conflating two separate (even if connected) doctrines: the love of God and the will of God in salvation. The latter is conditioned on faith (1 Cor. 1:21); the former is conditioned on the loving nature of God (1 John 4:8). God does not love the creature because the creature first loves Him, strictly, even though God does confess that He visits "the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me," but shows "lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Ex. 20:5, 6); and also: "for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed" (1 Sam. 2:30).

In fact, de Moulin is constructing a philosophical argument from what he believes to be an inference of Arminian theology on the will of God as it relates to the love of God for all humanity. In other words, Pierre is not saying what Arminians are saying, but is saying what he thinks are the implications of the Arminian position on the will of God as it must, in his mind, relate to the love of God. Arminians deny what Pierre insists they affirm, that God loves us because we first loved Him, from God's omniscient (foreknowing) perspective. Still, the Arminians ground the knowledge/foreknowledge of God not in relation to time (that God looked down through the corridors of time to see all that would happen), but in His very essence as God. In other words, God never learned any notion imaginable, but always knew exhaustively all that can be known about an individual. That such knowledge would include the salvific state of a person is not the same as arguing that the reason He loves the believer is because He foreknew (or foresaw) their love for Him. God's eternal existence precedes and assumes priority over our finite and time-bound existence. Hence His love precedes our love and faith by measure of eternity. Pierre does not afford the Arminians this context.

The Remonstrants insist that the love and grace of God was demonstrated at the height of our sin and the very depths of our depravity and helplessness: "It was from this that the highest necessity and also advantage of divine grace, prepared for us in Christ the Savior before the ages, clearly appeared. For without it we could neither shake off the miserable yoke of sin, nor do anything truly good in all religion, nor finally ever escape eternal death or any true punishment of sin. Much less could we at any time obtain eternal salvation without it or through ourselves."10 These words betray the summation claimed by de Moulin. So do these words (emphases added):
Wherefore it seemed good to the most merciful God, in the end of the age or in the fullness of time, to begin and properly execute that most excellent work which He had foreknown or proposed in Himself before the foundation of the world, and [which] in passing ages He had indicated under various figures, shadows and types . . . God accomplished this work through His unique only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom He manifestly sent into the world, not only that He might by Him most openly declare to us and in various ways confirm His most merciful will concerning His freely bestowing eternal life upon sinners who seriously repent and truly believe, but also indeed, that as far as it is in Him, He might gradually lead us to that desired end through His most holy obedience and the efficacious operation of His Holy Spirit.11
In these confessions, what occurs first, the mercy (and, obviously, love) of God toward sinners or the obedience, repentance, faith and love of sinners toward God? For Calvinists like de Moulin, the latter occurs in Arminian theology, and God responds with love, grace, and mercy. But when one performs the art and science of ad fontes -- reaching back to the primary sources -- then the blatant misrepresentations of the Calvinists against their Arminian brothers becomes most evident. God does not love us because we first loved Him. Neither Arminius nor the Remonstrants would ever utter or pen such nonsense. But Calvinists like de Moulin contort the words of the Arminians (and, as we have seen, the Lutherans and the four-point Calvinists known as Amyraldians) into a monstrous ideology.

My suggestion to Calvinists and all others is this: if you want to understand what Arminians think and believe, then read what Arminians think and believe, and not what Calvinists perceive Arminians think and believe. History has clearly demonstrated that Calvinists like John Owen, Augustus Toplady, Abraham Kuyper to John Piper, J.I. Packer, and John MacArthur (among many others) persistently misrepresent Arminian theology. A great site to begin one's study of Arminian theology is the Society of Evangelical Arminians; and the best article for an apt overview of Arminian theology is the post: "The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/The Biblical Doctrines of Grace."

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1 Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998), 231.

2 Ibid., 233.

3 Reformed Reader: A Sourcebook in Christian Theology: Volume 1: Classical Beginnings, 1519-1799, eds.William Stacy Johnson and John H. Leith (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 104.

4 Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XIX. On the Various Distinctions of the Will of God," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 2:344.

5 Ibid., 2:345.

6 Ibid., 2:345-46.

7 Ibid., 2:346.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 The Arminian Confession of 1621, trans. and ed. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005), 68-69.

11 Ibid., 69-70.

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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.