Listening to Arminius–and Not Just His Opponents–on Justification

by J. Matthew Pinson

I often enjoy reading Reformation21, a blog of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. But I recently read a blog post by Mark Jones entitled “Arminian vs. Reformed on Justification” that diverged from the very careful analysis usually found on that Calvinist blog and in Mr. Jones’s other posts.

In an endorsement of my forthcoming book, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition, Leroy Forlines says, “Our first obligation to those with whom we disagree is to find out what they are actually saying. If this happens, Arminianism will be given a new face in the theological world.” This is so true, and the place where there seems to be the most prognosticating about one’s theological opponents without actually taking their views seriously is in some Calvinist quarters.

Please understand that not all Calvinists are like this. Russell Moore and Timothy George, for example, have both endorsed my forthcoming book. However, the sorts of caricatures one sees in Mark Jones’s blog post are still all too common. Mr. Jones goes on and on about Arminius’s views on justification without actually quoting Arminius! He merely quotes what several Calvinists of Arminius’s day said about Arminius.

I have reprinted below some brief quotations from chapter one of Arminian and Baptist, entitled “Jacobus Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming.” I hope the reader will see from reading these excerpts Arminius’s genuineness when he stated that he agreed with Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Belgic Confession of Faith on the doctrine of justification.

Arminius’s view of justification is summarized in his Public Disputations. There he said justification is that act by which one, “being placed before the throne of grace which is erected in Christ Jesus the Propitiation, is accounted and pronounced by God, the just and merciful Judge, righteous and worthy of the reward of righteousness, not in himself but in Christ, of grace, according to the Gospel, to the praise of the righteousness and grace of God, and to the salvation of the justified person himself” [1].

Justification for Arminius was forensic or imputative in nature. Arminius states: “In his obedience and righteousness, Christ is also the Material Cause of our justification, so far as God bestows Christ on us for righteousness, and imputes his righteousness and obedience to us” [2].

Arminius went as far as to say in his letter to Hippolytus à Collibus that God “reckons” Christ’s righteousness “to have been performed for us” [3].

In his Declaration of Sentiments, he averred: “I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ, and that the obedience and righteousness of Christ constitute the only meritorious cause through which God pardons the sins of believers and accounts them as righteous, as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law” [4].

Arminius states his full agreement with what Calvin said with regard to justification in his Institutes. Calvin wrote: “We are justified before God solely by the intercession of Christ’s righteousness. This is equivalent to saying that man is not righteous in himself but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation. . . . You see that our righteousness is not in us but in Christ, that we possess it only because we are partakers in Christ; indeed, with him we possess all its riches” (Institutes, 3.11.23).

Arminius’s statements regarding justification place him well within the mainstream, not only of the broad Reformed movement of his day, but also of post-Dort Calvinism on both sides of the English Channel.

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[1] Arminius, Works, 2:256. Public Disputation 19, “On the Justification of Man before God.”

[2] Ibid., 2:406. Private Disputation 48, “On Justification.”

[3] Ibid., 2:702. “Letter to Hippolytus à Collibus.”

[4] Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), Kindle location 3433-3435; cf. Arminius, Works, 1:700.

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