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The Canons of Dort, Third/Fourth Head of Doctrine, Refutation of Errors, Article One

Rejection of the Errors

Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod rejects the errors of those

(I) Who teach that, properly speaking, it cannot be said that original sin in itself is enough to condemn the whole human race or to warrant temporal and eternal punishments.

For they contradict the apostle when he says: Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death passed on to all men because all sinned (Rom. 5:12); also: The guilt followed one sin and brought condemnation (Rom. 5:16); likewise: The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).


The first error of the Arminians addressed by the Canons is the notion that although the human race is fallen in Adam, Adam’s act of rebellion and the resulting “original sin” is not the basis upon which the unbelieving members of the human race will be condemned.

According to the Arminians, Adam’s sinful act plunged the human race into sin and condemnation, but the death of Jesus Christ (they contend) remits the guilt of that original sin. Since people are actually condemned to eternal punishment, however, it is not because of imputed or inherited guilt from Adam’s sin. Having remitted the guilt of Adam’s sin and removed the grounds for God’s just condemnation of the entire human race, it is now left up to the individual sinner to believe in Jesus Christ (as enabled by prevenient grace secured by Jesus Christ) and thus be saved. Should the sinner reject the Savior, they are lost.

Those who are condemned, the Arminians teach, are condemned by rejecting Jesus Christ and are punished for actual sins only, not because of the imputed guilt and inherited corruption resulting from Adam’s act.  “Fairness” supposedly dictates that we can only be held responsible for our own acts, not for the actions of another. This denial of the imputation of the guilt of Adam’s sin to all of his descendants sets up a very dangerous theological precedent, which, as we will see, has grave consequences for the gospel.

That this is the case, becomes very clear when looking at the efforts
of several Arminian theologians in the period preceding the writing of the Canons, in dealing with the question of the death of infants, and of those who never hear the gospel. These are two groups who, in the Arminian scheme, escape condemnation on the basis of Adam’s sin. Since neither infants nor those who don’t hear the gospel perish because of the guilt of Adam’s sin, the Arminians find the death of members of either of these categories to be problematic.

Regarding infant death, the Arminians argue that since all infants die without actual sin, they are saved since there is no guilt imputed to them for Adam’ sin. According to Arminius’ defense of his own controversial views: “since infants have not transgressed this covenant (that God made with Adam, Noah and Jesus Christ), they do not seem to be obnoxious to condemnation; unless we maintain . . . that it is the will of God to condemn them for the commission of sin” which they themselves did not commit.

This amounts to the age-old accusation that it is not fair for God to punish someone for the sins of another—an argument which ultimately boomerangs on the Arminian, since it is on this same basis that Jesus Christ bears the guilt of our sins. Arminius goes on to say, “when Adam sinned in his own person and with his free will, God pardoned that transgression; there is no reason then why it is the will of God to impute this sin to infants, who are said to have sinned in Adam.” (James Arminius, The Works of James Arminius, trans. James Nichols and William Nichols, reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker book House, 1986, II.11).

There is no question then whether the Arminians do in fact teach what the authors of the Canons accuse them of teaching, namely that the human race is not condemned because of the guilt of Adam’s sin. This seriously undermines the teaching of Scripture regarding the effects of Adam’s sin upon the human race.

The same kind of argument is offered by Arminius in response to the Reformed accusation that the Arminians teach that God condemns the “heathen” who do not hear the gospel on the ground of actual sin only, because the guilt of original sin, having been remitted, cannot be imputed to them. Arminius argues that according to Romans 1-2, all men and women without exception have a knowledge of God upon which they can and must act.  Arminius gladly accepts the Pelagian dictum of the schoolmen (the medieval scholastic theologians) with but a slight the modification—“God will bestow more grace upon that man who does what is in him by the power of divine grace which is already granted to him, according to the declaration of Christ, `To him that hath shall be given’” (Arminius, The Works of James Arminius, II.16).

According to Arminius, natural revelation does not serve to condemn, quite contrary to the apostle Paul, who clearly teaches that it does.  Rather, says Arminius, those who know God from natural revelation do indeed receive a measure of grace.  But they must act upon this grace and seek additional grace in order to respond in faith. If not they perish in unbelief because they choose not to take avail of God’s prevenient grace, which Arminius connects to general revelation.

This is self-evidently a synergistic scheme in which salvation results not from a sovereign and gracious act of God, but one in which salvation flows from cooperation between the grace of God and the fallen human will.  At its fundamental point, Arminianism is not a religion of sola gratia, but is a religion in which man and God cooperate in such a way that fallen humans must themselves act to be saved, with God’s help.

In the case of infant death, as well as in the case of the death of those who do not hear the gospel, the Arminians must argue that the ground for any condemnation is actual sin only. According to the Arminians, infants go to heaven then because they cannot sin, and must be regarded, therefore, as innocent before God.  The so-called “heathen” perish because they do not act upon natural revelation and universal prevenient grace made available to them, not because they are guilty in Adam.  If the heathen do not act upon this prevenient grace, they will not receive additional grace and will perish.  Nevertheless, such people are only punished for their actual sins, especially the supreme sin of rejecting Jesus Christ.

In this synergistic conception of salvation, God contributes an impersonal but universal prevenient grace, and then waits for the sinner to take avail of that grace.  God responds in turn, by giving the sinner even more grace.  In any case, such grace is not seen as effectual, as it remains to the sinner to act, and for God merely to respond.

But this is not what the Scriptures teach.  As the authors of the Canons make plain, in Romans 5:12-19, Paul teaches that through the disobedience of the one man, the many were declared (or regarded as) sinners.  In fact, sin enters the world through Adam’s act, and as a result the entire human race comes under condemnation.  How can the actions of the one man (Adam), render “all” of humanity to be sinners, unless Adam’s guilt is imputed, or reckoned to all of his descendants.  Romans 6:23 is also illustrative here, since death is said to be the wage of sin.  Death results from human sin, not from human finitude, which is, as we will see, the logical conclusion of the Arminian teaching.

In Psalm 51:5 we read these words:  “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  While the Arminian will agree with the Psalmist’s assertion, they will turn right around and argue that Christ’s death removes this guilt.  The only problem with this is there is not a single text anywhere in Scripture which teaches such a thing! 

In Psalm 58:3, we are told, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”  Moses tells us in Genesis 6:5 that the reason for the cataclysm known as the “flood,” stems from the fact that “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” If the wickedness of the people’s hearts brought about the flood, it is clear that we are guilty for the sinful condition, as well as for our own actual sins. God judged the world with the waters of the flood because of the sinful condition, as well as for actual sins!

The New Testament is equally clear.  In Romans 3:11, the apostle Paul, citing a litany of Old Testament texts, tells us that “ no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  In Ephesians 2, Paul speaks of the human race as “dead in sins and trespasses,” and that we are by nature objects of wrath, because we are enslaved to our sinful cravings.  In Colossians 2:13, Paul speaks of God making us alive in Christ when we were dead in sin and in the uncircumcision of our sinful nature.  In John’s gospel, the apostle makes plain that, “no one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws him,” and that “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”  How does that bad tree become a good tree?  Does the bad tree will itself into a good tree?  How does Lazarus prepare himself for resurrection? Does Lazarus begin unwrapping the bandages and chiseling away at the inside of the tomb!

Even from this short survey of biblcal passages, it is obvious that the Arminian position has no basis whatsoever in Scripture.  The human race is guilty for Adam’s sin and original guilt is not a figment of the Reformed mind (as Arminius contends) but is the clear teaching of scripture.

But the most obvious refutation of the Arminian view, unfortunately, is the grim fact of infant death.  If infants cannot sin—which leads to death—why, then, do infants tragically die?  The Arminian must state that infant death results from human finitude or from the sins of another against the infant.  Yet scripture clearly teaches that death is a result of sin!  And if infants cannot sin, why do infants die?  Tragically, infants die because of Adam’s sin, and this point alone, thoroughly and utterly refutes the Arminian notion that the human race is not under universal condemnation for Adam’s sin.

Reader Comments (9)

I think we would do well to listen to Arminians as the experts of their own view. Therefore, given that modern (conservative protestant) Arminians will tell you until they are blue in the face that salvation is by grace through faith _alone_ in Christ, not by works at all, I think we would do well not to accuse the Arminian of teaching salvation by some sort of work of faith. Arguing that Arminians hold to a logical inconsistency is another matter.
May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJason

In all seriousness, have you considered putting this into a book format? Sam Waldron has a book that is a commentary on the LBCF 1689. It is helpful. I think this series of posts is something similar. I know I would purchase it.

God Bless
May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHoward
Dr. Riddlebarger is right. Jason is not. Read the summation again, Jason.
May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFrederick
Great write up. The Arminian's are always trying to prove that man cooperates with God in his salvation. They get upset when I tell them that if they have to cooperate with God in their salvation, then they have to get some of the credit for their salvation, and it is no longer grace that saves them. We don't contribute one thing to our salvation, not even our faith. Even that is a free gift. (Phil: 1:29)

What happens to those that don't hear the Gospel message? Well, the Bible teaches us that the only way of salvation, is to believe in Christ. If they don't hear the Gospel and believe, they are condemned, based on Romans 5, and many other passages, which you cite.

Since we are born in sin, and we are accountable for it, this is one of the main reasons why Lutherans baptize infants. There is no age of accountability for baptism. Everyone needs it. Baptism is a means, which God uses to create faith in the infant. Baptism and the Word of God. This is called the sacramental union.

Luther teaches that the baptismal waters without the Word, is dead water. So, the baby is passive (as we are) as God uses His Word, combined with the waters, to create faith in the sinful baby. Yes, a person can also be saved without baptism, which would include me and many others.

Not all babies that are baptized, are saved. That would clearly go way beyond what the Scriptures teach. But, we trust in God, that the waters of baptism, and His word, with His Grace, will save the child.

The Scriptures do not teach that every baby that dies, automatically goes to heaven. Like Kim stated. God can send us all to hell, based on original sin alone. Regarding babies; God is a fair and just God, and we better just stick with the Scriptures!
May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd Cadle
ad fontes my friend (to the sources), Arminius is the best source for Arminian teaching, not his modern adherents. The sermon addresses Arminianism in the historical context of the Canons of Dort, not what Arminianism has morphed into today.
May 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdsanger
I always remember a great quote from Calvin:

"Although babies are cute, they are still venomous snakes."
May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd Cadle
@Frederick - It would be helpful to say how "Jason is wrong". The burden of proof is on you, eh?

@dsanger - Sorry for any lack of clarity. Posts like these usually turn into bashing Arminians for what they DON'T believe, and I became defensive (though I am not an Arminian). My apologies.

@OP: The OP says "At its fundamental point, Arminianism is not a religion of sola gratia, but is a religion in which man and God cooperate in such a way that fallen humans must themselves act to be saved, with God’s help" based only on the idea that faith is a _choice_ made by humans, if I follow correctly. Does _Arminius_ claim that faith or choosing to have faith is a work? Or is that a logical conclusion on which the OP and Arminius disagree?

This is closer to what I wanted to get at in my first post; sorry for getting completely off that subject.

@Lloyd Cadle: Are you saying that Lutherines commit the ritual of baptism because it is spiritual baptism by the Spirit that gives faith?
May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJason

When the waters of baptism are combined with the Word, the Holy Spirit creates the faith to believe in Christ.

When the Gospel is proclaimed without baptism, the Holy Spirit also creates the faith to believe in Christ. When baptism is performed without the Word, nothing happens.

Baptism is not a Lutheran ritual, is is a commandment (Matt. 28:19).
May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd Cadle
Lloyd: Actually we do contribute something to our salvation.......sin....hehe
May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

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