Arminius on Imputed Righteousness

Last time I gave a quote from Francis Turretin. Interestingly enough, I tried to find from the writings of Arminius regarding what he had to say about the subject. I did not find it until after the last post, so I will try to give Arminius a place to defend himself here. In the second volume of his works (pp. 42-45) he denies the charge that some had made against him in this matter. The first quote is from Turretin and is the same from the last post. The second quote will be from Arminius.

In vain, however, does Arminius contend that the righteousness of Christ is not imputed for righteousness, since it is that very righteousness itself (to wit, supposing that is not properly righteousness which is imputed to us for righteousness). He falsely confounds to impute for righteousness by gracious acceptation that which is not a righteousness and to impute to a person for righteousness which he did not have. The first sense has no place here, only the latter. Accordingly what Abraham had not is said to be imputed to him for righteousness and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us (i.e., reckoned ours), which was not ours. Thus imputation does not deny the truth of the thing of the perfection of the righteousness, but only the truth of the possession by ascribing to a person what was not properly his. (Turretin)

I have said, that I disapprove of the SECOND enunciation, “The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us for righteousness:” And why may not I reject a phrase which does not occur in the Scriptures, provided I do not deny any true [sensum] signification which can be proved from the Scriptures? But this is the reason of my rejection of that phrase: “Whatever is imputed for righteousness, or to righteousness, or instead of righteousness, it is not righteousness itself strictly and rigidly taken: But the righteousness of Christ, which He hath performed in obeying the Father, is righteousness itself strictly and rigidly taken: THEREFORE it is not imputed for righteousness. (Arminius)

If what Arminius says here is his correct position, then Turretin has indeed misread his intent. The little word “for” indeed has different meanings, but we also don’t know how if it is different in the language it was originally written in. The word “for” in English and in this context can mean that one thing is given to be something in and of itself or it can mean that one thing is accepted in place of another and is not that thing itself. Evidently Turretin read Arminius as meaning the righteousness of Christ cannot be imputed to us for righteousness because what is imputed cannot be righteousness itself. Arminius tries to explain his denial by saying that he used the word “for” in a different way. Arminius used the word “for” in this context as meaning “instead of.” His denial, then, of the righteousness of Christ for righteousness simply means that he does not believe that the righteousness of Christ is imputed instead of a real righteousness. He says that he believes the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers but that it is a real righteousness. His use of language at this point can certainly be read either way and would almost certainly be read the way Turretin read it apart from some very clear and precise language.

Arminius also uses different language in describing how he does not believe that faith is righteousness itself despite others reading him as saying so. He also asserts that he believes that faith is an instrument of justification but does not believe that it is an instrument of God in justification. What these writings do for us, despite the different interpretations, is show the glory of God in justification. God uses theological differences to set out His truth with more clarity. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to sinners and is a perfect righteousness in and of itself. No sinner needs any righteousness but the perfect righteousness of Christ Himself. Christ does not give something that God accepts in the place of righteousness and just calls it righteousness, but a strict, rigid, and even perfect righteousness is given to the sinner by the grace of God.

Regardless of what one thinks of Arminius or Turretin at this point, in the providence of God a great truth of the Gospel flows out of this. The justice and holiness of God is set out in the Gospel because He will not allow for anything but a perfect righteousness to enter into His presence. Yet we can also see the shining of the glory of His mercy, love, and grace in that He gives a perfect righteousness to sinners apart from their worth or merit in and of themselves. God does not just accept sinners by counting something which is not righteousness as righteousness, but because they have the perfect righteousness of Christ. The sinner with Christ has escaped hell by the cross of Christ and also has the gates of heaven opened because of the perfect righteousness of Christ counted as his.

2 Responses to “Arminius on Imputed Righteousness”

  1. michael Says:

    This is stuff worlds are framed by!

    Here is your own words which I find ironically a fine example of what you are pointing out with regard to understanding which is it, which word is necessary to line up, or plumb up Turrentin and Arminius to the meaning of imputed righteousness?

    You wrote: “[[The justice and holiness of God is set out in the Gospel because He will not allow for anything but a perfect righteousness to enter into His presence.]]”

    Now here is how I would write it. Can you see the “word” I use, changing yours?

    I write: “[The justice and holiness of God is set out in the Gospel because He can not allow for anything but a perfect righteousness to enter into His presence.]”

    The way I have been taught, I would not use the word “will” but the word “can” instead.

    I would say from what I understand, God would not because He “cannot” allow for anything but a perfect righteousness to enter into His presence.

    That a conjoining has occurred first in order for us to be in His Presence when we die. Cf Romans 7:1-6, Ephesians 2:5 and Colossians 2:13.

    Why? Because He is Holy. Because Jesus Christ became sin. Because the Holy Ghost is Holy and vindicated Christ, 1 Tim. 3:16.

    I would develop this more if you like? But for now, I will wait and see your response?

    Thank you Wes for bringing these things in here!

  2. Richard Smith Says:

    Hello Michael:

    I do see what you are saying, though there is a reason to use the word “will” rather than the word “cannot.” I think that one gains something by one word and yet loses something else by the other. Though, as I will try to show, in God there is probably no real difference when it is traced to the foundation. For example, if we say that God cannot do something, then we have to explain why He cannot. If I say that God cannot lie, I do not mean that He has no inherent ability to say something that is not true, but that He has no moral ability to do so. For God to speak a lie would be for God to deny and contradict Himself. As God who is Truth itself, the word “cannot” in the phrase cannot lie means that He is unable to contradict Himself as truth itself. It is not a weakness for God to be unable to lie, but it is His strength to be unable to tell a lie.

    It is very true that God cannot allow anything but a perfect righteousness into His presence. But the reason that He cannot is because it is against His very glory itself. He does not lack any ability in this regard, but it is His strength and glory that He cannot allow anything unholy in His presence. However, His inability to do so is also His will to do so. He will not allow anything into His presence because of His perfect character. He will not allow anything into His presence because He cannot. The “cannot” is closely linked to His will which cannot be separated from His being as a whole. For God to will something is for God as a whole Being to will it. What God wills in relation to His holiness is what He wills in a way that He cannot will what is other than best and according to His glory. What God cannot do is because of His internal glory and love within Himself which still amounts to who He is and therefore it is what He wills. Boiled down,
    what God will not do is what God cannot do and what God cannot do is what God will not do.

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