Though the Calvinists of Arminius’s era rejected his doctrine of conditional election, which is presupposed by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, this did not deter him from defending what he believed is clearly taught in Scripture.
In his Apology (Defense), he argued that faith in Jesus Christ -- agreeing with the charge brought against him -- actually is “a condition prescribed and required by God, to be performed by those who shall obtain His salvation,” by citing, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey [or, believe] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36 NASB).1 He expounds:
The propositions contained in this passage cannot be resolved into any other than this brief one, which is likewise used in the Scripture, “Believe, and thou shalt be saved:” In which the word “believe” has the force of a demand or requirement; and the phrase “thou shalt be saved” has that of a [persuasion], by means of a good that is promised. This truth is so clear and perspicuous [i.e., easy to understand] that the denial of it would be a proof of great perversity or of extreme unskillfulness.2
His opponents did not appreciate, to state the very least, the conditional nature of his doctrine of election. For the Calvinist, if election unto salvation is conditional, then God is not sovereign. In this sense, so they maintain, man gets to choose who will or will not be saved rather than God.
This is not true, however, for even in Arminius’s doctrine (which has always been the orthodox position of the early Church), God is still the one who saves, even as He has decreed to save believers, not 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).
From all appearances, Calvinists would have us view God as somewhat reluctant to save (or certainly reluctant to save all), when learning that He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge [or, recognition] of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4 NASB). We know that all will not be saved (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; Rev. 20:11-15), but that has no bearing on God’s desire that all be saved.
Arminius’s opponents also took issue with his doctrine of election based on God’s foreknowledge or foresight, as noted in the previous post, “The Synod of Dort vs. Arminius and the Remonstrants.” Arminius interconnects God’s exhaustive foreknowledge with the sufficient means whereby a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. “Among those causes [or, means] I consider the [prevenient, or, that which comes before], accompanying and [subsequent, or, that which follows] grace of God, as the principal [or, foremost].”3 The controversial nature of Arminius’s claims struck the very heart of Calvinistic dogma.
In Calvinism, regeneration must precede faith if God’s unconditionally elect are to believe in Christ. Thus faith is the result of regeneration. But Arminius understood faith as a condition to salvation; and if faith is a condition to salvation, and God only grants this faith to the alleged unconditionally elect, and that through the means of regeneration, then the promise of salvation and the offer (and even intent) of the gospel are really only for the unconditionally elect, and not for the world, as Scripture explicitly and everywhere teaches (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; 28:19-20; John 1:4, 7, 9; Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:16-17; 10:13-17; Rev. 14:6).4
Though Calvinists responded to Arminius’s argument that God has decreed the means (faith via regeneration) as well as the end (salvation), Arminius responded that salvation is “not the end of God; but salvation and faith are the gifts of God, bound and connected together in this order between themselves through the will of God -- that faith should precede salvation, both with regard to God the Donor of it; and in reality.”5
Moreover, faith is “a condition required by God to be performed by him who shall be saved before it is a means of obtaining that salvation,”6 since neither God the Father, God the Son, nor God the Holy Spirit will believe for the individual. The person him- or herself must believe in Christ Jesus.
God does not implant faith into a person (and unfounded theory not advocated in Scripture), for faith is neither a substance nor an object, but refers to response and trust in the work and merit of Jesus Christ. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who [some add, diligently] seek Him” (Heb. 11:6 NASB).
1 James Arminius, “The Apology or Defense of James Arminius,” in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:748.
3 Ibid., 1:749.
4 Ibid., 1:749-50.
5 Ibid., 1:750.