Jacob Arminius– Theologian of Grace Part Five


BEN: Would it be correct to say that Arminius rejects Calvin’s strong distinction between the secret decrees and will of God and the revealed will of God, which allowed for the possibility that God’s revealed will might appear to contradict his secret or hidden will (e.g. it might appear from Scripture that God desires for none to perish and all to be saved, but in fact in his secret will and decrees God predetermined some to be reprobated)? In other words, because of Arminius’ belief in the ‘simplicity’ and consistency of God’s nature, there could not be even an apparent contradiction between his revealed will and any other hidden will God might have?

KEITH: That’s correct. Arminius did acknowledge a distinction between, on the one hand, God’s partly revealed will (of God’s pleasure), that is, what God wills to do himself, and, on the other hand, the revealed will (of the sign), what God intends for the creature to do. With regard to the secret will of God’s pleasure, there are some matters that are revealed, and others that are hidden from the human mind and remain mysterious. But, for Arminius, God’s good pleasure with regard to salvation is one of those matters that has been clearly revealed—namely, he wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. In comparison with his Reformed contemporaries, Arminius is less willing to ascribe to mystery the salvific intent of God. And whatever those mysteries may be that certainly do remain in God’s hidden will, they cannot be contrary to God’s supreme goodness and express desire to save all, which desire is his good pleasure (beneplacitum).

BEN: One of the more interesting aspects of Arminius’ thought has to do with what he thinks the image of God in human beings entails. Explain to us what he means by the natural as opposed to the supernatural aspects of the ‘image’ (p. 148). Does he really think that there are humans without any knowledge of God, an idea which would seem to be ruled out by Rom. 1.18-32?

KEITH: Arminius definitely would agree with an innate knowledge of God’s existence that is consistent both with Romans 1 and with Calvin’s sensus divinitatis. In fact, in one of his disputations, Arminius offers ten axioms or arguments that demonstrate God’s existence.

The image of God includes aspects that are essential or natural to human nature, such as the faculties of the soul, especially the human intellect, will, and affections. The supernatural, or accidental (that is, non-essential), qualities of the image include righteousness and holiness. In this context, “knowledge of God” means the saving knowledge of God, more than simply an awareness of his existence. Although the whole image was negatively affected by the fall, these supernatural aspects of the image were lost in the fall, to be regained through regeneration by the Holy Spirit. If it helps, think of Arminius’ distinction between the natural and supernatural aspects of the image as analogous to the patristic (Irenaean) distinction between the image and likeness of God. The likeness was lost and needs restoration.