"It should be clearly understood that even faith itself is not the basis of justification." -- Dr. Gordon H. Clark
"James Arminius was born in 1560, in Oudewater, the Netherlands. In 1582, he studied under Beza in Geneva, the successor to John Calvin. There he met Uitenbogaert, who would later become one of his staunchest allies and promoters of his heresy. When asked in 1591 to study and refute the views of Coornhert and some ministers of Delft who fiercely opposed Calvinism, Arminius was converted to their errant views instead. But Arminius tried to hide his defection from Calvinism. He delayed indefinitely the requested refutation, making many excuses."
- See more at: Five Points, by G.A. Chan
In a recent post over at the Society of Evangelical Arminians, Roger Olson said:
“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers [italics added], I conclude that in this sense it may be well and properly said, To a man who believes Faith is imputed for righteousness through grace,–because God has set forth his Son Jesus Christ to be a propitiation, a throne of grace [or mercy-seat] through faith in his blood.” (p. 700)
What more or different could Reformed or any other critics want from Arminius on this subject? This statement blatantly contradicts the common Reformed calumny that Arminius did not believe in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in justification. It even affirms, as Reformed critics want, that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to believers in justification. (See: Roger Olson, “Arminius’s Reformed Doctrine of Justification”)
Of course, John Wesley also claimed to believe in justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness. But the issue is not that Arminius and the later Arminianism of John Wesley did not "claim" to believe in imputed righteousness. The issue is the theological system deduced by the Arminians. And in the quote above we can see plainly that Olson avoids using the word "elect." He says that Arminius said "believers" are the sole recipients of imputed righteousness.
But this is a petitio principii, or begging the question. Arminius managed to conceal his true position through equivocations and misdirection. So saying that Arminius believed in imputed righteousness seems correct until we look into the total system that Arminius was teaching. The Canons of Dort rejected Arminianism for a reason. But if we take Olson at his word, the Reformed divines at the Synod of Dort did not know what they were talking about. Arminius and the Remonstrandts were Reformed and the Calvinists were not. How ridiculous! All the Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, believed in absolute predestination.
So the doctrine of imputed righteousness, if interpreted according to Arminianism, would reject the system of theological and propositional truth deduced from the Scriptures. The doctrine of imputed righteousness according to the Arminians says that man has the power to choose capriciously and arbitrarily whether or not he or she will believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing to determine anyone to believe or not believe the Gospel. The Arminians say that original sin and total inability is canceled out by prevenient grace that restores every sinner to a place where he or she has libertarian free will. This is a version of the ancient Pelagian heresy that says that no one is a sinner. Arminians concede that people are born with a natural bent toward sinning but they are not really blinded by sin or enslaved by it. What they have is libertarian free will. So prevenient grace does not cause anyone to believe. It frees them from God's irresistible grace so now they must decide for themselves apart from anything determining them to sin or to faith. It's nothing more than Pelagianism.
So the good work that folks must do, according to the Arminians, is the good work of causing themselves to believe. They are neutral and can choose either way. Faith is the one good work you must do in order to be imputed righteous.
In short, the cause of imputed righteousness in the Arminian scheme is not all of God's grace at all. Instead it is a generic grace that restores the Pelagian view to prominence. Can you say semi-pelagianism?
In the Bible, however, we learn that men are all given over to original sin because of Adam's federal headship over the whole human race:
Romans 5:12 (KJV 1900)Worse, God cursed the souls of everyone born from Adam by causing that sin to be passed on from the souls of the parents to every child born to them. Traducianism means that no one is born without a sinful soul:
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
Psalm 58:3 (KJV 1900)
3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
Psalm 51:5 (KJV 1900)
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me.
According to Scripture, no one is able to seek God:
Psalm 14:1–3 (KJV 1900)
1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, There is none that doeth good. 2 The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. 3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: There is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Romans 8:7 (KJV 1900)
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
John 6:44 (KJV 1900)
44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
So in regards to Olson's remarks above, it can be clearly seen that Olson conditions imputed righteousness upon the doctrine of libertarian free will:
I conclude that in this sense it may be well and properly said, To a man who believes Faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, .... Ibid.Olson's clever misdirection is a petitio principii because he thinks the Arminian system of theology teaches the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But the real question is what is the propositional system of doctrinal truth taught in Scripture? Scripture teaches the doctrine of unconditional election in eternity before time. Olson is teaching that election is conditioned on God's looking forward in time to see who will believe. This is a direct contradiction of the eternal being of God who never changes. God is eternally immutable and so is God's omniscience or knowledge. God never learns anything new. To say that men elect themselves and cause God to impute righteousness to them is itself a form of works righteousness. Worse, it is the same doctrine taught by the Roman Catholic Church! Olson should do the right thing and stop being a schismatic and go back to Rome.
Imputed righteousness is not based on libertarian free will, according to the Scriptures. Instead, the Bible teaches that God from all eternity elected individuals by name and that He will cause all of them to believe. The goats cannot believe because they are not sheep who belong to Jesus, who were given to Jesus by the Father:
John 10:11 (KJV 1900)
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
John 10:15 (KJV 1900)
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
John 10:25–30 (KJV 1900)
25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. 26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and my Father are one.
The elect are elect from all eternity and their salvation was eternally decided in the covenant of redemption made before the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:20). Since faith is a gift of God, it follows that Olson's entire argument falls of its own weight. (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is not a work we do to save ourselves. No, the Bible says that faith is the result of regeneration, a monergistic work of God in the hearts of believers and that effectual call is not cooperated with by way of a common or generic faith but is instead a monergistic work of God apart from any synergistic cooperation whatsoever. (John 6:29; John 3:3-8; Matthew 22:14; Ezekiel 11:18-19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Titus 3:5-7).
Salvation is all of God's grace, not partly your efforts and partly God's efforts to save you. God saves apart from any conditional election or cooperation of the will:
John 1:13 (KJV 1900)The Bible stands as the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27). So for Arminians like Olson to pull a few verses out of context and then divorce those verses from the system of theological and propositional truths revealed in all the inspired Scriptures, which are all profitable for doctrine, is to promote a broken and contradictory theology that is self-refuting in light of the Scriptures. As the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark once said:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Romans 9:16 (KJV 1900)
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
What should be particularly noted in this section is how the doctrine of perseverance fits with all the other doctrines. God is not irrational or insane. What he says hangs together; it forms a logical system. Election, total depravity, effectual calling, sovereign grace, and perseverance are mutually consistent. God does not contradict himself. [Gordon H. Clark. Philippians. (Hobbs: Trinity Foundation, 1996). P. 16].
The doctrine of imputed righteousness must fit with the entire system of propositional truths taught in the Bible, not isolated as a stand alone aggregate out of context of the system. What Olson does not say above is that he also believes that faith is defectible and that salvation can be lost. So imputed righteousness does not, according to Olson's theology, ultimately save. Election is conditional and therefore election itself can be lost tomorrow. The Arminians can offer no true assurance of salvation because capricious sinners could change their mind, being indued with libertarian free will. Salvation is all a matter of which way the capricious will of man falls. After all, God cannot seal His own unto eternal salvation. But is that what the Bible says? (John 3:16).
Even in the light of the foregoing, if we take Olson at his word, Arminians do not hold the same view of justification that the Protestant Reformers held. Arminians make justification contingent on the work of faith that they do for themselves. Faith, according to Olson, is not the result of a monergistic regeneration, but a work done by free will that causes God to impute righteousness to the libertarian believer who operates independently of God. Worse that than, the Arminians agree with Rome that God does not require perfect sinlessness or perfect obedience:
The Arminians, even though they were born Protestants, broke away from the Lutheran and Calvinistic teaching and took one or more steps backward toward Rome. They held that the demands of the law were lowered to the level of "evangelical" obedience and on the basis of this quite human obedience, we are justified. But in addition to running counter to the previous references which exclude works, this impinges on the holiness of God by picturing him as satisfied with less than perfection. The Scripture does not teach that God lowers his requirements. On the contrary, God requires and supplies complete sinlessness. Christ not only bore our penalty on the cross, but in his life he perfectly obeyed his Father. It is the personal righteousness of Christ's sinless obedience that is put to our account, on the basis of which we are declared not guilty. Read the same references again. Cf. also Titus 3:5-7; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9; and even Jeremiah 23:6, for, remember, the Gospel is in the Old Testament and with it justification by faith. [Gordon H. Clark. 1965. 2nd edition. What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 2001) P. 124.]
As a final note, do not overlook that since Arminians place faith in the Pelagian ability to choose to believe or not to believe, their definition of imputed righteousness by faith makes faith itself the basis of imputation, not the cross:
. . . A judge acquits a man when he declares that the man is not guilty. Justification then is a judicial act. It is God's declaration that this sinner is not guilty, but righteous.
But how can this be so? How can the sinner be righteous? It should be clearly understood that even faith itself is not the basis of justification. The ground or basis of justification is the object in which the faith rests; that is, Christ and his righteousness. God acquits a sinner, declares him not guilty, on the basis of Christ's righteousness having been imputed to him.
The Arminians then do not believe in the same doctrine of imputed righteousness that the original Reformers believed. Their view is more in line with Rome's view that God does not expect perfect obedience after all. Worse, the Arminians do not believe that salvation is a gift of God at its initial beginning by way of regeneration. Instead, not only do Arminians make election conditioned on faith but they make--by implication--faith the basis or ground of justification. Olson nor Arminius therefore do not believe in the doctrine of imputation by faith alone. A further error of the Arminians is making faith itself the basis of justification. That could not be further from the truth. I can confirm this by quoting Olson's own words:
"I conclude that in this sense it may be well and properly said, To a man who believes Faith is imputed for righteousness . . ." Roger Olson, Ibid.
Therefore, by Olson's own admission his view is not Reformed. The Reformed view is that faith is the instrumental means by which God applies the benefits of Christ's active and passive obedience to the elect believer. Faith does not justify! The cross justifies. The benefits of the cross are the objective basis for justification.
CHAPTER XI—Of Justification
1. Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: (Rom. 8:30, Rom. 3:24) not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, (Rom. 4:5–8, 2 Cor. 5:19,21, Rom. 3:22,24–25,27–28, Tit. 3:5,7, Eph. 1:7, Jer. 23:6, 1 Cor. 1:30–31, Rom. 5:17–19) they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. (Acts 10:44, Gal. 2:16, Phil. 3:9, Acts 13:38–39, Eph. 2:7–8)
2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: (John 1:12, Rom. 3:28, Rom. 5:1) . . .
The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
Salvation is all of God! Soli Deo Gloria!
Charlie J. Ray