‘I never taught that a true believer can either totally or finally fall away from the faith and perish’ (Jacob Arminius)
Jacob Arminius (courtesy About.com)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
Jacob Arminius, the founder of what has become known as Arminianism, wrote that it is “impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers to decline from salvation” (Arminius 1977:281). However, he admitted that at one time he did say “That it was possible for believers finally to decline or fall away from the faith and salvation” (Arminius 1977:281).
Perseverance of the Saints
It is worthy of quoting him at some length in his segment on ‘The Perseverance of the Saints’:
My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies—yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.
Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration (Arminius 1977:254, emphasis in original).
Assurance of Salvation
He had this to write about ‘The Assurance of Salvation’:
With regard to the certainty [or assurance] of salvation, my opinion is, that it is possible for him who believes in Jesus Christ to be certain and persuaded, and, if his heart condemn him not, he is now in reality assured, that he is a son of God, and stands in the grace of Jesus Christ. Such a certainty is wrought in the mind, as well by the action of the Holy Spirit inwardly actuating the believer and by the fruits of faith, as from his own conscience, and the testimony of God’s Spirit witnessing together with his conscience. I also believe, that it is possible for such a person, with an assured confidence in the grace of God and his mercy in Christ, to depart out of this life, and to appear before the throne of grace, without any anxious fear or terrific dread: and yet this person should constantly pray, “O lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant!”
But, since “God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things,” and since a man judges not his own self—yea, though a man know nothing by himself, yet is he not thereby justified, but he who judgeth him is the Lord, (1 John iii. 19; 1 Cor. iv. 3,) I dare not [on this account] place this assurance [or certainty] on an equality with that by which we know there is a God, and that Christ is the saviour of the world. Yet it will be proper to make the extent of the boundaries of this assurance, a subject of inquiry in our convention (Arminius 1977:255).
Can Christian believers fall away from the faith?
In his ‘Apology or Defence’ (Articles I & II) he wrote:
A distinction ought to be made between power and action. For it is one thing to declare, that “it is possible for the faithful to fall away from faith and salvation,” and it is another to say, that “they do actually fall away.” This distinction is of such extensive observance, that even antiquity itself was not afraid of affirming, concerning the elect and those who were to be saved, “that it was possible for them not to be saved;” and that “the mutability by which it was possible for them not to be willing to obey God, was not taken away from them,” although it was the opinion of the ancients, “that such persons never would in reality be damned.” On this very subject, too, the greater part of our own doctors lay down a difference. For they say, “that it is possible for such persons to fall away, if their nature, which is inclined to lapses and defection, and if the temptations of the world and Satan, be the only circumstances taken into consideration: but that they will not finally fall away, because God will bring back to himself his own elect before the end of life.” If any one asserts, “that it is not possible for believers, in consideration of their being elect persons, finally to fall away from salvation, because God has decreed to save them,” I answer, the decree concerning saving does not take away the possibility of damning, but it removes damnation itself. For “to be actually saved,” and “a possibility of not being saved,” are two things not contrary to each other, but in perfect agreement.
I therefore add, that in this way I have hitherto discriminated these two cases. And at one time I certainly did say, with an explanation subjoined to it, “that it was possible for believers finally to decline or fall away from faith and salvation.” But at no period have I asserted, “that believers do finally decline or fall away from faith or salvation.” This article, therefore, is ascribed to one who is not its author; and it is another offense against historical veracity.
I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences. (1.) “It is possible for believers to decline from the FAITH ;” and (2.) “It is possible for believers to decline from SALVATION.” For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted; it being impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, that power of God would be conquered which he has determined to employ in saving believers. On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, that is, provided they still continue unbelievers. Therefore, whether this hypothesis be granted or not, the enunciation cannot be accurately expressed. For if this hypothesis (their perseverance in faith) be granted, they cannot decline; but if it be not granted, they cannot do otherwise than decline. (2.) But that first enunciation includes no hypothesis; and therefore an answer may be given to it simply, either that it is possible, or that it is impossible. For this cause, the second article ought to be corrected in the following manner: “It is possible for believers finally to fall away or decline from the faith;” or rather, “Some believers finally fall away and decline from the faith.” This being granted, the other can be necessarily inferred, “therefore they also actually decline from salvation.” Respecting the truth of this [Second] article, I repeat the same observations which I made about the First. For the following expressions are reciprocal to each other, and regular consequences: “Faith is peculiar to the elect,” and “believers do not finally fall away from the faith.” In like manner, “Faith is not peculiar to the elect,” and “Some believers finally decline from the faith” (Arminius 1977:280-282).
As a Reformed Arminian,
I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).
Arminius J 1977. The Writings of James Arminius, vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, also available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1.iv.i.html (Accessed 29 September 2013).
Jacob Arminius (courtesy Christian History Institute)
Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 March 2016.