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Highlighting the Remonstrant Error on Justification by Faith

One of the featured articles in the Fall 2023 issue of the PRT Journal is "The Issue of Justification by Faith in the Remonstrant Controversy" by Rev. Josh Engelsma (PRTS, 2014).

At the beginning, Rev. Engelsma points out that the Remonstrant (Arminian) controversy is usually remembered for its five points that attacked salvation by sovereign grace, which the Synod of Dordt answered with its classic five-point apologetic, also known as the five points of Calvinism, or TULIP. But equally significant was the controversy over justification by faith. He summarizes it this way:

"To summarize briefly the controversy surrounding justification, the

Remonstrants taught that, while the work of Jesus Christ is necessary

to make it possible that God justify the sinner, when God actually

justifies the sinner, He does not impute to him the righteousness of

Christ. Instead, what it is imputed to the sinner for righteousness is

his faith or act of believing. God counts the believer’s faith itself as

righteousness. The focus for the Remonstrants was on faith itself. In

contrast, the reformed taught that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to

the believer for righteousness, and that faith is merely an instrument

by which the believer lays hold of Christ and His righteousness. The

focus for the reformed was on Christ."

Later in the article, Rev. Engelsma highlights the main errors in the Remonstrant teaching. We quote that section below; you are encouraged to read the entire article at the link provided above.

"What can be proved with more certainty is Arminius’ (and the

Remonstrants’) erroneous view of faith in relation to justification.

Three key elements of this wrong view can be highlighted.

"First, Arminius and the Remonstrants taught that it is not the righ-

teousness of Jesus Christ that is imputed by God to the believer in jus-

tification, but that God imputes faith itself and the act of believing for

righteousness. This view was based on their wrong understanding of

Genesis 15 and the idea of God counting Abraham’s faith for righteous-

ness. As has been shown, reformed theologians understood Genesis 15

to mean not that Abraham’s faith itself was his righteousness, but that

Abraham’s faith had as its object Jesus Christ and His righteousness,

and that righteousness of Christ was imputed to Abraham.

"Second, Arminius and the Remonstrants taught an erroneous view

of faith in relation to justification. They spoke of faith as a “condition”

that man must fulfill, as a “work” that God is willing to accept in the

place of perfect obedience to the law. This is very different from the

biblical and reformed language of faith as a “means” or “instrument”

whereby the believer simply rests in and receives Christ and His


"Third, the erroneous view that Arminius and the Remonstrants had

of justification was related to their errors on predestination and the

other doctrines of grace. Aza Goudriaan insightfully argued,

'But what the debate on justification suggests is that the Arminian

concentration on human activity not only meant that the focus was

not on the sovereign God who predestines, but also that it was not on

the righteousness of Christ. It could be argued, in other words, that

the Arminian views on predestination and on justification by the act of

faith have a common drive or share the same motivation: an insistence

on human activity. The insistence on human acts leads to teaching a

predestination of persons who will believe and a justification of those

who have the act of faith. Hence, the sovereign predestination of God

and the work of Christ are both re-defined or put into the background.

In this way, Arminian theology gravitates toward anthropocentrism (in

the human act of faith) rather than to Theo-centrism (as articulated, for

instance in a sovereign divine predestination of individuals) or Chris-

to-centrism (as expressed, for example, in a justification of believers

by imputation of the work of Christ).'

"Arminius’ view was contrary to the teaching of the confessional

standards of the Dutch reformed churches to which he belonged."

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