Arminianism and the Patience of God

What is Arminianism?

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Jacob Arminius was a Dutch theologian who lived in the late 1500s. His theology became quite popular, largely because Jacob Arminius, alongside being a theologian, was also a song writer. He wrote many a hymn loaded with his theology. Critically, he also wrote children’s songs. So two key side points, if you want to protect your ministry from heresy, guard your music and guard your children’s work. Because his songs were popular and, at least for the culture of the time, catchy, Christians embibed his theology without even realising it. The problem, for both Calvin and Arminius was the question of how human free will and responsibility relates to the sovereignty of God. For Jacob Arminius, the emphasis was on human will. It’s a sticky question. Do we have free will? Are we responsible for our actions? If yes, then how can God be sovereign? If God is fully sovereign in our salvation, in short if the Calvinistic doctrines of TULIP were true, then how can human will be free and how can we be responsible. You see, here is what Calvin argues, commonly shortened to the acronym TULIP:

T — Total Depravity

U — Unconditional Election

L — Limited Atonement

I — Irresistable Grace

P — Perseverance of the Saints

And so, in Arminian Theology, none of this is true to the extent that it is in Calvinism. He would not have outright denied that God was sovereign, but in effect he taught and believed (and sung!) that a person had totally free will and was totally responsible for all that they did and therefore it was on them, to choose Christ. To choose repentance and faith and to choose to follow Jesus. And, it was ultimately on them to keep choosing Christ thereafter.

Why Arminianism is ‘neater’

For Jacob Arminius, this was key. The total sovereignty of God and human will/responsibility could not be held together. How could people be held responsible for rejecting Christ if they lacked the capacity to do anything else? Why would the Bible so frequently warn against apostasy if it were not a real threat?

Where the problems come in

Because the New Testatament is clear, across the board on the total sovereignty of God in Salvation. And by salvation, I mean from start to finish. Incorporating the cross, the ressurection, the proclamation of the gospel, the regeneration and new birth of believers, their perseverance as Christians and all the way through to our final glorification and eternity.

The images of the unbeliever.

The descriptions of the unbeliever

The Sovereignty of God in Salvation

And from this, and other passages, we conclude that salvation belongs to our God (Rev 7:10)

The sovereignty of God in our perseverance

Then there are the classic verses in Romans chapter 8. In many ways they speak for themselves!

Romans 8:28–30 (ESV): And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified

Here Paul states the unbroken chain of our salvation, a chain where every link is the responsibility and work of God and a chain therefore, with no weak links.

What would Arminianism lead us to conclude?

About God

About the cross

Further, we conclude that the cross is not actually sufficient to save anyone. It is necessary, but not quite enough. It’s like a buffet in front of a man on the brink of starvation. Yes salvation is there, but in order to live, the man must eat.

About our assurance

Ultimately, we are left in a perilous place.

Arminianism and the patience of God

When we read 2 Peter 3v9, we read that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This is often taught as a spur to evangelism. Every day is a great day to tell people the gospel! It is also taught as a reason to give thanks — “Give thanks that Jesus did not come back the day before you got converted!”

There is a danger here. The danger is that the picture we form is one of God waiting until the last possible second, desperate for more to be saved. Like in the movies, when the guy has to shut the gate to prevent some threat (fire/explosion/dinosaur/monster/flood of water/etc etc) from coming in but he leaves it until the last possible second so as many as possible might be saved.

The picture is of a God who holds the keys to salvation but is helpless to effect that salvation and is limited to watching and waiting, hoping against hope that people might be saved.

This is Arminianism. With all the problems that come with it.

So, when we read this verse, and others like it and when we teach them. Be careful. This is where developing our knowledge of the Bible and thinking biblically can be really helpful and prevent us from inadvertantly believing things that skew our understanding of God and the gospel to some dangerous places.

We CAN give thanks for God’s patience with us when we read 2 Peter 3. This IS a spur to evangelism and prayer. Because God is patient with us. Scripture teaches that God has set a day. We do not know when but we know it is in the future. We know this becuase if it was now we’d know and if it had happened, we’d know. God has set a day, a day that He knows. And God is patient, mercifully patient, that this day is in the future with all the sin and suffering that continues to run rampant in His world. He has set it in the future becuase that’s when it needs to be in order for God to save His people. We can give thanks for His patience with His world, His mercy in the gospel and His grace shown to us in our salvation. We can give thanks for this because of the wonderful truth that God set the day, deliberately, in order that we His people, would hear the gospel, receive the Spirit and repent. And we should crack on with telling others the gospel. If the delay to the return of Christ is because of God’s patience, then there are still those whom God predestined and foreknew that God will save as they believe the gospel and repent. As God gives them His Spirit. In that unbroken chain, strong with the full power and might of a Sovereign God, hearing the gospel is a key part of that chain. Not a weak link as it does not depend on us, but an equally strong link as it depends on God’s work both in and though us and in and through His people who hear our words. We do not know who they are, but God does.

And so, we end up in the same place, but with better reasons and without that pesky heresy. The patience of God is something we can give thanks for, praise God for and does spur us on and give us great encouragement as we tell others the gospel.

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