Calvinism and Arminianism 30

“This false idea of ‘free-will’ is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences” (Luther).

Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who deny the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into a meritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformer’s thought). Arminianism was, indeed, in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favour of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other (Johnson and Packer’s introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will).

If the Arminian position is true, then God has done all He can and salvation ultimately depends on something we do (make a choice, pray a prayer), then salvation does not ultimately depend on the sovereign grace of God and so is a work. If one understands that salvation depends on the will of God and is all to the glory of His grace, then one will turn from salvation as ultimately depending on the will of man as poison to the Gospel of grace alone. It is only when one sees it in this light, however, that one can understand that Reformed theologians and pastors just shortly after the Reformation say that Arminianism was essentially a return to Rome. This is hard, but it is something that people must come to grips with in the depths of their souls.

The reason that the Reformed theologians and pastors thought that Arminianism was a return to Rome was because it turns faith into a meritorious work in a sense. As stated in previous posts on this subject, the doctrine of free-will is like the tip of the iceberg. People only see the tip and they don’t see the massive amount of ice below the surface. The doctrine of “free-will” was seen as part and parcel of adding works to salvation, a denial of justification by grace alone, and in direct conflict with the sovereign grace of God. While it may not seem like such a big deal to the professing Reformed in the modern day, but the sovereignty of grace was a vital part of the Reformation and cutting it out of its supreme place is to cut the heart out of justification by faith alone as set out by the Luther and the Reformers. Packer and Johnson set out that the sovereignty of God in salvation was “the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformer’s thought.” If that is correct, and I am not sure how it could be denied, it should be clear that the setting out of “free-will” is an idea that is in direct conflict (and contradictory) with the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformation.

The doctrine of the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners is under girded and supported with links that cannot be broken to a massive theology. As Jesus Christ is the manifestation and revelation of God, so the Gospel of grace alone is the brightest point at which Christ is the revelation of God. The Gospel is not just some little message that a person must intellectually agree to, but instead the whole weight of the character of God and of the Messiah Himself are displayed in this. The teaching of free-will, when it is seen as the tip of an iceberg with a massive theology under it, will be seen as two icebergs of thought and theology colliding. It is not just that free-will contradicts free and sovereign grace, but the teachings that support them and that they are connected to cannot be reconciled either.

If the Reformers were correct in believing and saying that sovereign grace was the heart of New Testament Christianity, then we can see how they saw that a belief in free-will was nothing more than a renunciation of New Testament Christianity and a return to New Testament Judaism which was what Roman Catholicism was and is. The doctrine of free-will is not just some little bit of difference between the Arminian and historical Calvinism, it is a direct contradiction upon the most essential points. Not just the doctrine alone either, but the massive amount of theology below the water is also at odds with historical Calvinism as well. To put in bluntly, Arminianism is a direct attack on the Gospel of grace alone which is built on God showing mercy to whom He would show mercy and His being gracious to whom He would be gracious to. It is man deciding who God will have mercy on and man deciding whom God will be gracious to. In other words, it really destroys the biblical teaching on grace.

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