Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation. The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609. By Stanglin, Keith D. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007, xviii + 285 pp., $143.00 hardback.
A number of studies on Arminius have come out in the last few decades. The author of this published dissertation gives us a survey of these works in the following online report: http://www.martinsvianna.net/dossies/TRENDS_IN_ARMINIUS_STUDIES.pdf. The present study focuses on the pastoral concern of assurance of salvation that was of great importance to Jacob Arminius. It is based on Stanglin’s Ph.D. work in 2006 at Calvin Theological Seminary in conjunction with research done at Universiteit Leiden in 2004.
Part one begins by focusing on the public and private disputations of Arminius in the context of his teaching at Leiden University. He is compared and contrasted with his colleagues and identified as a scholastic theologian in the early years of the Reformed orthodoxy. The author demonstrates why Arminius was motivated to speak, write and defend his position against Gomarus, Kuchlinus and Trecaltius, colleagues who held superlapsarian views on predestination. Arminius was concerned that God would be accused of being the ultimate author of evil and that believers would fail to find assurance of salvation in a deterministic system of theology, hidden and inscrutable to the logic of humans.
Part two of the study looks at the ontology of salvation and part three at its epistemology. Arminius wanted the doctrine of predestination to be formulated in such a way that it led the believer to assurance. He defined assurance not as security but as certainty, based on simple faith primarily and by evidence of good works secondarily. Security was seen as a “lack of care,” a definition going back to Augustine and traced through to John Calvin, who called it “carnal security.” Security and despair are twin evils that war against assurance. Security leads to overconfidence or pride in the Christian walk, while despair goes in the opposite direction toward doubt and disbelief.
Arminius recognized that one’s views on predestination influenced one’s entire soteriology, especially regarding the history and order of salvation. His desire was to harmonize the twofold love of God, that is love for justice and for humanity, in such a way that the ways of God could be defended with mankind. The connection of all of this with assurance was obvious to him. Predestination was conditioned on God foreseeing human faith, while at the same time balancing faith as a pure gift from God, capable of being resisted yet accepted by the human will. Assurance was the normative consequence of such faith (p. 100).
Because humans can resist the will of God, apostasy is possible. David’s killing of Uriah presents an example for Arminius of one true believer who did for a while fall away from God. If David had not repented prior to his death, he would have been damned (Works 2:725). There is thus a certain class of sins that effect apostasy (p. 137). Nevertheless, Arminius believed that true believers persevere in the faith, and hence distinguished between believers (false or temporary?) and the elect (pp. 140-41).
What undermines assurance in believers is false security. In general, the Reformed, according to Arminius, contributed to this problem through the doctrine of unconditional election. If God’s good will and particular predestination is unconditional and unknown, this leads to agnosticism. How does one know that God is willing to save anyone? If God truly loves all of humanity, however, and his election is conditioned on human faith, there can be no question regarding favoritism or injustice (p. 232). For Arminius, doubt remains for the believer as to the future. Only God can know for sure who will persevere in true faith. For the Reformed, however, the future is guaranteed, but is the believer truly elect? Did God will to save a certain person? An answer is impossible, undermining assurance for one’s status on assurance from an a priori perspective (p. 233).
Keith Stanglin concludes his study with an interesting question: “Can we number Arminius among the Reformed?” He was in virtual agreement with his colleagues at Leiden on the operations of grace, with the exception of its resistibility. In addition, he believed that election was conditioned upon a person’s acceptance or rejection of God’s grace, which was in contrast to what his colleagues taught. Arminius believed that he was faithful to his Reformed tradition and confessions. He died in good standing as a Reformed theologian at the University of Leiden. He believed that he was broadening the scope of Reformed tradition, and that his view of “conditional predestination had a chance for survival” (p. 242). His overall impact on evangelicalism is immeasurable, and this essay does an excellent job of informing us of its place within the historical and theological context of his times.