A Question About Perseverance of the Saints
November 15, 2023, 11:55 AM

Question: In the statement “For Arminius the believer's security is conditional—'provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves.’” What would “be not wanting to themselves” mean?

Answer: Greetings and thank you for your question. So, perhaps a little historical context is in order. Jacob Arminius (born Jakob Hermanszoon, 1560-1609) was a Dutch pastor and theologian of the Protestant Reformation. He was born four years before the death of John Calvin (1509-1564), so it's probably more accurate to say that Arminius is part of the second-generation post-Reformation group of scholars and theologians. He was a student and then professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands (the same university that produced Herman Bavinck and Abraham Kuiper). He began to have some reservations with the Calvinist doctrine of the Dutch Reformed Church in his day as laid out in the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Controversy surrounding his doctrine, which later became known as Arminianism, and his followers (Arminians) came to a head in 1610 (a year after his death). The early Arminians issued a formal "remonstrance" (i.e., a protest) against several points of doctrine, which later became known as the Five Articles of the Remonstrance. Those five points of doctrine were:

  1. Conditional Election: Election by God is conditioned upon foreseen faith in the believer.
  2. Unlimited Atonement: Christ died for the sins of all people, but only those who have faith will be saved.
  3. Total Depravity: Mankind is born in sin and unable to do the will of God unless and until his free will is enabled by God's prevenient grace.
  4. Resistible Grace: While God's prevenient grace enable man's free will to believe, man can freely choose to resist God's grace in salvation.
  5. Conditional Preservation: A believer's preservation and perseverance in the faith is conditioned upon his remining united to Christ.

It is this 5th point that is the heart of your question regarding the quote from Jacob Arminius. Arminius wrote the following regarding Conditional Preservation:

  • "[Security is conditional] provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves."
  • "God resolves to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and to save in Christ, on account of Christ, and through Christ, those who persevere [in faith], but to leave under sin and wrath those who are impenitent and unbelievers, and to condemn them as aliens from Christ."
  • "[God] wills that they, who believe and persevere in faith, shall be saved, but that those, who are unbelieving and impenitent, shall remain under condemnation."

In the Articles of the Remonstrance, Arminius' followers took it a step further:

  • "That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by not craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ's hand, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28: 'Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.' But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with full persuasion of our minds."

As you read through these quotes, you get a better picture of what the phrase "be not wanting to themselves" means. To "not be wanting" is to not have lack of what you need. Think of the words of the 23rd Psalm: "The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want." Because God is my Shepherd, I will not be lacking anything I need for He provides for all my needs. So, to "be not wanting to themselves" means if you do your part, your salvation is secure; if you strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil (with the help that the Spirit provided, as long as you inquire of it).

On the surface, this sounds biblical, right? Think of Paul's words in Philippians 2:12: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." We got to be "working out" our own salvation. Yes, we need the Holy Spirit, but the responsibility rests in me to work out my salvation.

Notice, though, how the Arminian position, though well-intentioned, turns the focus of our salvation from Christ and His finished work to ourselves and our ability to persevere. Do we need to persevere? Yes. Do we need to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?" Yes. Do I, for a second, think that any of this relies on me and my ability to "stand prepared for the battle, implore His help, and be not wanting" to myself? No, absolutely not! I do not at all deny the passages in Scripture that call me to persevere in my faith. What I deny is my ability in my flesh to "be not wanting" to myself. The Reformers bled and died to preserve the truths of Sola Fide and Sola Gratia. While we tend to think that the Reformation was fought over the subject of Justification (which it was), this is not to sever its link with other doctrines such as Sanctification and Glorification.

Paul, in Romans 8:29-30, makes this very clear when he says, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." Without getting to technical in the way Paul's Greek is constructed, the sentence has the force of effectively saying, "For whom He foreknew...these He also glorified." There is no loss along the way of this "golden chain of salvation." Some may ask, "What about Philippians 2:12 and working out our own salvation?" To which I reply, "Read the next verse, 'For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure'" (Philippians 2:13 NKJV). The reason I can work out my salvation is because God is working in me. I am simply working out what He is working in me.

One of the favorite OT verses that NT writers quote is Habakkuk 2:4: "Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith." (Cited in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38). The Christian life is one of faith in Christ from beginning to end. It is the life of faith that necessarily produces the fruit of Christian obedience and holy living. We will struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil (see Romans 7), but we will persevere because it is the Holy Spirit who preserves us, not because we "be not wanting" to ourselves.

I close with the beloved words of the Heidelberg Catechism which asks in its first question, "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" The answer: "That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has delivered me from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, also assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him." Do you think you can fully and finally fall away if Christ has "fully paid for all your sins" and "watches over" you and guarantees you of eternal life? The answer to that is "no."

I hope this helps.

~ Pastor Carl

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