Assurance, Faith and Falling Away
    Editied from the Works of Arminius by One Methodist
Assurance, Faith and Falling Away
Editied from the Works of Arminius by One Methodist.
ONE METHODIST VOL. 2 NO. 12 August 2000


May every one who is a true believer be assured in this life of his individual salvation; and is it his duty to have this assurance?


Does justifying faith precede, in the order of nature, remission of sins, or does it not? And can any man be bound to any other faith than that which justifies?


Since God promises eternal life to all who believe in Christ, it is impossible for him who believes, and who knows that he believes, to doubt of his own salvation, unless he doubts of this willingness of God [to perform his promise.] But God does not require him to be better assured of his individual salvation as a duty which must be performed to himself or to Christ; but it is a consequence of that promise, by which God engages to bestow eternal life on him who believes.


In the Opposite Question, I had regard to the expression, is it his duty? for about its possibility there is no contention. But justifying faith is not that by which I believe that my sins are remitted; for thus the same thing will be the object and the effect of justifying faith. By this [justifying faith] I obtain remission of sins, therefore it precedes the other object; [the remission of sins;] and no one can believe that his sins are remitted, unless he knows that he believes by a justifying faith. For this reason, also, no one can believe that his future sins will likewise be remitted, unless he knows that he will believe to the end. For sins are forgiven to him who believes, and only after they have been committed; wherefore the promise of forgiveness, which is that of the New Testament, must be considered as depending on a condition stipulated by God, that is faith, without which there is no covenant.


May true believers entirely lose faith for a season?


May any man who has faith and retains it, arrive at such a moment, as, if he were then to die, he would be damned?


Believers are sometimes so circumstanced, as not to produce, for a season, any effect of true faith, not even the actual apprehension of grace and the promises of God, nor confidence or trust in God and Christ; yet this is the very thing which is necessary to obtain salvation. But the apostle says, concerning faith, in reference to its being a quality and a capability of believing, "some, having cast away a good conscience concerning faith, have made shipwreck."


With respect to the Question, let a distinction be made between faith as it is a quality or habit, and between the same as it is an art. Actual believing justifies, or the act of believing is imputed for righteousness. Because God requires actual faith; for our capability to perform which, He infuses that which is habitual. Therefore, as actual faith does not consist with moral sin, he who falls into mortal sin may be damned. But it is possible for a believer to fall into mortal sin, of which David is seen as an instance Therefore, he may fall at such a moment as, if he were then to die, he would be damned. 'If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.' Therefore, if it does condemn us, we have no confidence, we cannot have any; because 'God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.' What is said about the impossibility of this event, because, God has determined not to take such persons out of the world at that moment, conduces nothing in favor of their hypothesis. For this is opposed to final destruction, not to temporary, and to their total destruction for a season, which is the subject of the question.


1. Faith, that is, justifying faith, is not peculiar to the elect.

2. It is possible for believers finally to decline and fall away from faith and salvation.


The connection between these two articles is so intimate, that when the first of them is granted, the second is necessarily inferred; and, in return, when the latter is granted, the former is to be inferred, according to the intention of those persons who framed these articles. For if "faith be not peculiar to the elect," and if perseverance in faith and salvation belong to the elect alone, it follows that believers not only can, but that some of them actually do, "fall away from faith and salvation." And, on the contrary, if it be "possible for believers finally to fall away from faith and salvation," it follows that "faith is not peculiar to the elect," they being the individuals concerning whom the framers of these articles assert, that it is impossible for them not to be saved. The reason of the consequence is, because the words faith and believers, according to this hypothesis, have a wider signification than the words election and the elect. The former comprehend some persons that are not elect, that is, "some who finally fall away from faith and salvation." No necessity, therefore, existed for composing both these articles; it was quite sufficient to have proposed one. And if the authors of them had sought for such amplification, as had no real existence, but consisted of mere words, it was possible to deduce the Second from the First in the form of a consectary. Thus it is evident that the multitude of the articles, was the great object to be attempted for the purpose of making it appear as if those persons erred in very many points, whom the too sedulous curiosity of the brethren is desirous without cause, of rendering suspected of heresy.

1. But, to treat of each article singly, I declare, respecting the First, that I never said, either in public or in private, "Faith is not peculiar to the elect." This article, therefore, is not attributed to its proper author; and thus is committed a historical error. I add, even if I had made such a declaration as this, a defense of it would have been ready. For I omit the scriptures, from which a more prolix discussion of this subject might be formed; and since the Christian Fathers have with great semblance of truth defended their sentiments from that divine source, I might employ the consent of those Fathers as a shield toward off from myself the charge of novelty; and the Harmony of Confessions, which are severally the composition of those Churches that have seceded from Popery, and that come under the denomination of"Protestants" and "the Reformed," I might adopt for a polished breast-plate, to intercept or turn aside the dart of heresy which is hurled against me. Neither should I be much afraid of this subject being placed for adjudication in the balances of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.

1. Let St. Augustine, Prosper, and the author of the book entitled The Vocation of the Gentiles, be brought forward to bear testimony respecting "the consent of the Fathers."

  1. Augustine says, "It is wonderful, and indeed most wonderful, that God does not bestow perseverance on certain of his sons, whom he hath regenerated in Christ, and to whom he has given faith, hope and love;
while he pardons such great acts of wickedness in sons that are alienated from him, and, by imparting his grace, makes them his children." (De Corrept. et Gratia, cap. 8.)
  • Prosper says, "It is a lamentable circumstance which is proved by many examples, that some of those persons who were regenerated in Christ Jesus, have relinquished the faith, and, ceasing to preserve their former sanctity of manners, have apostatized from God, and their ungodly course has been terminated under his displeasure and aversion." (Ad Capita Galatians resp. 7.)
  • The author of The Vocation of the Gentiles says, "God bestows the power of willing to obey him, in such a manner as not to take away, even from those who will persevere, that mutability by which it is possible for them to be unwilling [to obey God]. If this were not the case, none of the believers would have departed from the faith." (Lib. ii, c. 9.)
  • 2. The harmony of confessions might in the following manner, contribute to my defense: This dogma states that "faith is the peculiar property of the elect," and that "it is impossible for believers finally to decline from faith and salvation." Now, if this be a dogma necessary to salvation, then that Confession which does not contain it, or which asserts some thing contradictory to it, cannot be considered as harmonizing with the rest on the subject of religion. For wherever there is harmony, it is proper that there should be neither defect nor contradiction in things pertaining to salvation. But the Augustan or Lutheran Confession says that "it condemns the Anabaptists, who deny that those persons who have once been justified, can lose the Holy Spirit." Besides, Philip Melancthon with his followers, and the greater portion of the Lutheran Churches, are of opinion, that faith is bestowed even on the non-elect." Yet we are not afraid of acknowledging these Lutherans for brethren.

    3. The Belgic Confession does not contain this dogma, that "faith is peculiar to the elect ;" and without controversy it cannot be deduced from our catechism. For when it is said, in the article on the Church, "I believe that I shall perpetually remain a member of the Church;" and, in the first question, "God keeps and preserves me in such a manner, as to make all things necessarily subservient to my salvation;" those expressions are to be understood of a believer, in reference to his actual believing. For he who is truly such a one, answers to the character of a Christian. But no man is such except through faith. Faith is therefore presupposed in both the expressions.

    2. With regard to the Second Article, I say, that a distinction ought to be made between power and action. For it is one thing to declare, that "it is possible for the faithful to fall away from faith and salvation," and it is another to say, that "they do actually fall away." This distinction is of such extensive observance, that even antiquity itself was not afraid of affirming, concerning the elect and those who were to be saved, "that it was possible for them not to be saved;" and that "the mutability by which it was possible for them not to be willing to obey God, was not taken away from them," although it was the opinion of the ancients, "that such persons never would in reality be damned." On this very subject, too, the greater part of our own doctors lay down a difference. For they say, "that it is possible for such persons to fall away, if their nature, which is inclined to lapses and defection, and if the temptations of the world and Satan, be the only circumstances taken into consideration: but that they will not finally fall away, because God will bring back to himself his own elect before the end of life." If any one asserts, "that it is not possible for believers, in consideration of their being elect persons, finally to fall away from salvation, because God has decreed to save them," I answer, the decree concerning saving does not take away the possibility of damning, but it removes damnation itself. For "to be actually saved," and "a possibility of not being saved," are two things not contrary to each other, but in perfect agreement. I therefore add, that in this way I have hitherto discriminated these two cases. And at one time I certainly did say, with an explanation subjoined to it, "that it was possible for believers finally to decline or fall away from faith and salvation." But at no period have I asserted, "that believers do finally decline or fall away from faith or salvation." This article, therefore, is ascribed to one who is not its author; and it is another offense against historical veracity.

    I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences.

    1. "It is possible for believers to decline from the faith ;" and
    2. "It is possible for believers to decline from salvation."

    For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted; it being impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, that power of God would be conquered which he has determined to employ in saving believers. On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, that is, provided they still continue unbelievers. Therefore, whether this hypothesis be granted or not, the enunciation cannot be accurately expressed. For if this hypothesis (their perseverance in faith) be granted, they cannot decline; but if it be not granted, they cannot do otherwise than decline.

    But that first enunciation includes no hypothesis; and therefore an answer may be given to it simply, either that it is possible, or that it is impossible. For this cause, the second article ought to be corrected in the following manner: "It is possible for believers finally to fall away or decline from the faith;" or rather, "Some believers finally fall away and decline from the faith." This being granted, the other can be necessarily inferred, "therefore they also actually decline from salvation." Respecting the truth of this [Second] article, I repeat the same observations which I made about the First. For the following expressions are reciprocal to each other, and regular consequences: "Faith is peculiar to the elect," and "believers do not finally fall away from the faith." In like manner, "Faith is not peculiar to the elect," and "Some believers finally decline from the faith."


    There is only one greater folly than that of the fool who says in his heart there is no God, and that is the folly of the people that says with its head that it does not know whether there is a God or not. -Otto von Bismarck, Prime Minister of Prussia (1815-1898)

    Man may dismiss compassion from his heart, but God never will. -William Cowper, Hymnwriter (1731-1800)

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