|Therefore also comprehended under the brand of Arminianism are the following evil forms of the same proud heresy: Universalism, Romanism, Pelagianism (naturalism), Socinianism (modernism), Amyraldianism (synergism), Baxterianism (hypothetical redemption), New School Presbyterianism (religious humanism), etc. (3)|
|According to the Pelagian conception regeneration is solely an act of the human will, and is practically identical with self-reformation. With some slight differences this is the view of modern liberal theology. A modification of this view is that of the Semi-Pelagian and Arminian. . . ." (4)|
Arminius is sometimes blamed for almost leading the Reformation off course: "Calvinism came in, Arminius nearly ruined it, and the Synod of Dort restored it." (5) First, let us look at the man who has been so maligned and then look at his teachings which have been misrepresented. Jacob Hermansz was a Dutch theologian of the late sixteenth century. We know him by his Latin name, Jacobus Arminius. In 1582 James Arminius arrived in Geneva to study under Calvin's son-in-law, and successor, Theodore Beza. Beza had made the Calvinistic position more rigid and had taught supralapsarianism - that the decrees of election and damnation came prior to the decree to create man. The fact is that the early Dutch reformers were not Calvinists when they overthrew Catholicism in 1566.
When James Arminius was installed as pastor in Amsterdam in 1587, Calvinism was not in control. Arminius had the reputation of being a brilliant preacher, a gifted Bible exegete, and a humble and dedicated Christian. His expositional preaching drew large crowds. As the city was opened to trade, new merchants arrived bringing in Calvinism and only toward the end of his fifteen year tenure as pastor did Calvinism become strong enough to create problems for Arminius. Two ministers from Delft had debated Dirck Coornhert, a Catholic humanist, and as a result felt it was necessary to modify Beza's rigid position. In 1589 they published a book which did so. As a former student of Beza, Arminius was asked to defend his teacher, although there is no evidence to suggest that Arminius had ever accepted the position of Beza. There had always been a diversity of opinion among Dutch theologians. However, the influx of Calvinistic teaching was growing. Arminius faced a crisis of conscience and he responded with integrity. He concluded that supralapsarianism made God the author of sin.
No one could refute his scholarship, but preachers began to openly attack him from the pulpit. His words were twisted out of context and his enemies tried to destroy his influence. In 1603 Arminius moved to Leiden to become professor theology at the university. He was considered the greatest scholar of his day and taught until his death in 1609. He was the first ever to receive the Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Leiden. Even at Leiden he was under attack from the Calvinist, Gomarus. Finally, Arminius asked for a public hearing, but he died before the synod convened. He was about 49 when he died, and his death was probably hastened by the stress he was under.
After his death, 42 of his followers wrote their manifesto, the Remonstrance, in 1610. In 1618-9 the Synod of Dort was convened and adopted a high Calvinistic statement which included the supralapsarian position of Beza. Although it was Arminius who had called for an open forum, there were 130 Calvinists present and 13 Remonstrants who were prisoners of the state and were given no vote. "The Remonstrants were at a disadvantage from the very start, and were summoned as defendants. They were denied seats in the council, and were treated throughout as accused parties." (6) Simon Episcopius, the successor of Arminius, delivered a speech of two hour length, so logical and magnanimous that it moved many hearers to tears. (7) Yet the Synod of Dort condemned Arminianism as heretical and as a result some 200 Remonstrant ministers were ousted from their pulpits. Some were banished and persecuted until 1625. (8)
Arminianism reintroduced the spirit of tolerance to the Church. The early Arminians were well educated and held strong convictions, but they displayed a different spirit. They had no animosity toward those who disagreed with them; they only asked that their views be permitted to exist. There were theologians in England who taught the essence of what Arminius taught before Arminius.
After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Arminianism held great influence within the Church of England. Over time, however, the Arminians became the more liberal party in the church. In seventeenth century England the Latitudinarians were considered Arminian. In the eighteenth century the term was associated with Socinianism. It was not until the Wesleyan Reformation that the pure doctrine of Arminius was restored and the tendencies of Pelagianism and Unitarianism removed. John Wesley published the first popular account of the life of Arminius in English and this came in the first issue of The Arminian Magazine in January, 1778. "Having looked at the life, the spirit, and the influence of Arminius, I conclude that we should hold him in the highest regard." John Fletcher concluded that among the theologians who endeavored to steer their doctrinal course between the Pelagian shelves and the Augustinian rock, "none is more famous, and none came nearer the truth than Arminius." (9)
But what about his doctrines which are misrepresented?
1. Arminius is misrepresented concerning total depravity Lars Qualben in A History of the Christian Church states that Jacob Arminius and his followers taught "Man was not totally depraved and could therefore co-operate with God in the spiritual regeneration." (10) " Arminianism , however, under its breath croons the siren song of man's essential goodness." (11) However, Samuel Wakefield, an early American Methodist theologian wrote, "True Arminianism, therefore, as fully as Calvinism, admits the total depravity of human nature." (12)
Let Arminius speak for himself.
|On account of this transgression, man fell under the displeasure and the wrath of God, rendered himself subject to a double death, and deserving to be deprived of the primeval righteousness and holiness in which a great part of the image of God consisted. (13)|
Arminius describes the effects of the first sin of the first man as "the withdrawing of that primitive righteousness and holiness. . . . The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity." (14) Again, Arminius explains the effects of the sin of our first parents.
|This was the reason why all men who were to be propagated from them in a natural way, became obnoxious to death temporal and death eternal, and devoid of this gift of the Holy Spirit or original righteousness: This punishment usually receives the appellation of "a privation of the image of God," and "original sin." (15)|
Kenneth Grider explains, "Original sin refers to a state of sin in us due to that original act of sin on Adam's part." (16) Wesley preached that anyone who denied original sin are but heathens still. He claimed this as "the first grand distinguishing point between heathenism and Christianity." (17) In Wesley's 272 page treatise, "The Doctrine of Original Sin," he declared without this doctrine "the Christian system falls at once." (18) Wesleyan-Arminians do affirm man's sinful nature, our basic inclination to sin, our total depravity which was inherited from Adam.
2. Arminius is misrepresented as teaching the absolute freedom of the will. R. J. Rushdoony equates humanism with Arminianism. He refers to the old humanistic dream that every man, by his own free choice, can effect his salvation. "If this sounds very much like Arminianism, it is because the same principle undergirds Arminianism and humanism: salvation as man's decision." (19) Christopher Ness accused Arminians of teaching that "saving grace is tendered to the acceptance of every man; which he may or may not receive, just as he pleases." (20) John MacArthur wrote,
|Pragmatism's ally is Arminianism, the theology that denies God's sovereign election and affirms that man must decide on his own to trust or reject Christ. That places on the evangelist the burden of using technique that is clever enough, imaginative enough, or convincing enough to sway a person's decision. . . . to teach or imply that human technique can bring someone to Christ is contrary to Scripture. (21)|
In Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will: (22) R. C. Sproul also equates Pelagianism directly with Arminianism. Although Sproul never gets around to defining the will, he argues for monergism as opposed to synergism. (23) Monergism, as defined by Sproul, means that God is the single actor in regeneration. He defines synergism as a relationship in which God assists and humans cooperate. This, he says, leads to absolute human autonomy. I fail to see how cooperation with means the same thing as autonomy from. Monergism has also been defined as the position that "the grace of God is the only efficient cause in beginning and effecting conversion." (24) Writing in the Beacon Dictionary of Theology , William Abraham said, "Wesleyan Arminianism is monergistic to the degree that all saving grace is acknowledged as coming from God, and that even man's free cooperation is made possible by prevenient grace." (25) Early Methodism taught that we were saved by free grace. Call it by either term, we could only cooperate as we were enabled by prevenient grace. This emphasis is neither Pelagianism nor absolute human autonomy. James Arminius declared:
|But in his lapsed and sinful state , man is not capable, of any by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good, but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing, and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace . (26)|
|In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. (27)|
|Free Will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without Grace. . . . I affirm, therefore, that this grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good: It is this grace which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will; which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the affections, and bends the will to carry into execution good thoughts and good desires. This grace goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and cooperated lest we will in vain. (28)|
John Wesley said that the will of a sinner is "free only to evil." (29) In another context Wesley stated that he came to the very edge of Calvinism: 1. In ascribing all good to the free grace of God 2. In denying all natural free will and all power antecedent to grace 3. In excluding all merit from man even for what he has or does by the grace of God. (30) Our emphasis in not upon free will, but upon God's grace, including prevenient grace. John Fletcher stated that Arminianism asserts "that obedient free will is always dependent upon God's free grace; and disobedient free will upon God's just wrath." (31) John Wesley wrote, "Natural free-will, in the present state of mankind, I do not understand: I only assert, that there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which 'enlightens every man that cometh into the world.'" (32) It is not historic Wesleyan-Arminianism which overemphasized free will, (33) it was the later teaching of Charles Finney, a Pelagian, who influenced the holiness movement at this point. (34) Robert Chiles surveyed three major transitions in American Methodism between 1790 and 1935. He concluded,
|The third major change in Methodist theology, 'from free grace to free will,' began with the Wesleyan doctrine of grace as free for all and in all and as the sole power of salvation. Steadily the areas of achievement assigned to man's freedom were increased. . . . Repentance and, eventually, faith came to be considered essentially human acts, not God's gifts, and salvation proper became man's divinely assisted effort to moralize and spiritualize his life. (35)|
3. Arminius is misrepresented as teaching a works salvation. Francis E. Mahaffy wrote, "An Arminian views salvation to be to a considerable extent, the work of man. He does not look upon man as dead in trespasses and sins . . . but rather as sick and in need of help. The evangelist brings a message to him to persuade him to use his own unfettered free will to come to Christ." (36) Christopher Wordsworth cautioned that "we must not fall into The Arminian error, which represents man's goodness, foreseen by God as the ground of God's predestination of the godly." (37) Louis Berkhof wrote in his Systematic Theology , "The Arminian order of salvation, while ostensibly ascribing the work of salvation to God, really makes it contingent on the attitude and the work of man." (38) J. I. Packer concluded, "Thus, Arminianism made man's salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being view throughout as man's own work and, because his own, not God's in him." (39) In contrast, Kenneth Grider stated that "we Arminian- Wesleyans are not Pelagians, since we believe in original sin and since we believe that prevenient grace is necessary to enable us to use our freedom for taking savory directions in our lives." Grider then clarifies what he means:
|This view means that we will not say to a congregation in an evangelistic service, "You do your part and God will do His part." Unregenerate persons cannot do any such thing until God first does His part of extending prevenient grace to them. This view also means that the Arminian-Wesleyan will not say, "God will meet you halfway." We cannot initiate our own salvation. being fallen creatures, inclined to evil and that continually, God must come all the way to where we are and initiate in us our "first faint desire" to turn to Christ - as John Wesley said. (40)|
|Evangelical faith is an assent of the mind, produced by the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel, in sinners, who through the law know and acknowledge their sins, and are penitent on account of them: By which they are not only fully persuaded within themselves, that Jesus Christ has been constituted by God the author of salvation to those who obey Him, and that He is their own Saviour if they have believed in Him; and by which they also believe in Him as such, and through Him on God as the Benevolent Father in Him, to the salvation of believers and to the glory of Christ and God. (42)|
|In the meantime what we are afraid of is this: lest any should use the phrase, "The righteousness of Christ," or, "The righteousness of Christ is 'imputed to me'," as a cover for his unrighteousness. We have known this done a thousand times. A man has been reproved, suppose for drunkenness: "O", said he, "I pretend to no righteousness of my own : Christ is my righteousness ." Another has been told, that "the extortioner, the unjust, shall not inherit the kingdom of God." He replies, with all assurance, "I am unjust in myself, but I have a spotless righteousness in Christ." And thus though a man be as far from the practice as from the tempers of a Christian, though he neither has the mind which was in Christ nor in any respect walks as he walked, yet he has armor of proof against all conviction, in what he calls the "righteousness of Christ." (45)|
|1. The election of Jesus Christ. God first decreed the salvation of sinful man by appointing his Son Jesus Christ for a Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death.
2. The election of the Church. God then decreed that he will receive into favor those who repent and believe in Christ and who persevere to the end, but to leave in sin and under wrath all who are impenitent and unbelievers and to damn them as aliens from Christ.
3. The appointment of means. Next God decreed to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means necessary for repentance and faith and to have such administration instituted according to His wisdom and justice.
4. The election of individuals. Finally, God in His foreknowledge knowing from all eternity who would through his preventing grace believe and through his subsequent grace would persevere through the means of grace and likewise knowing those who would not believe and persevere, decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. (48)
|Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will as you a few questions. . . . Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart? Yes, says the veteran, I do indeed. And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ? Yes, solely through Christ. But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works? No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last. Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power? No. What, then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms? Yes, altogether. And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom? Yes, I have no hope but in Him. Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; fir this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. (52)|
Across their ministry both Arminius and Wesley patiently denied that they were heretics, but were in agreement with historic Christianity and the great ecumenical church councils. Arminius declared, "If any one will point out an error in this my opinion, I will gladly own it: Because it is possible for me to err, but I am not willing to be a heretic." (53) Wesley also issued this appeal,
|Are you persuaded that you see more clearly than me? It is not unlikely that you may. Then treat me as you would desire to be treated upon a change of circumstances. Point me out a better way than I have yet known. Show me it is so, by plain proof of Scripture. (54)|
These men were not heretics, but reformers. Their authority was the Word of God. As we contend for their doctrine, let us also exemplify their spirit with them a quiet confidence that the Spirit of Truth is able to convince men. According to John Wesley this debate centers over whether predestination is absolute or conditional. Most of the popular "Bible teachers" today accept the premise of Arminius, but the conclusion of Calvin. Very few want to defend the notion that God practices arbitrary discrimination.
Mildred Wynkoop wrote, "One of Wesley's concerns was that there was something biblically defective about the Calvinism of his day. But his polemic was doctrinal, never personal. It was fearless and forceful, but never bitter. This 'break' with Calvinism was not a break in Christian fellowship but a correction of what he believed to be a false interpretation of Scripture." (55) Today we still share Wesley's concern that the doctrine of absolute predestination "is not only false, but a very dangerous doctrine, as we have seen a thousand times." (56) Yet we cannot legislate correct doctrine through force. Nor will we win the debate through name-calling and misrepresentation. (57) We do not deserve to have an influence unless we are faithful expositors of the Word of God. Let us stick to the issue. Our task is to set the standard of consistent biblical interpretation. May God enable us to accept the challenge and teach the Scriptures with integrity.
1. The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed., Thomas Jackson, ed. (1872; Rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 10:358.
2. quoted by Christopher Ness, An Antidote Against Arminianism (Internet copy from 1700 edition), p. 2.
3. Calvinism - The Truth (Grand Rapids: First Protestant Reformed Church, 1993), 3, 28.
4. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), p. 473. In his History of Christian Doctrine, Berkhof frequently combines Arminianism with Semi-Pelagianism or Socinianism. Since Pelagius and Socinian were heretics, this amounts to guilt by association. For a complaint against this practice, see Donald M. Lake, Jacob Arminius' Contribution to a Theology of Grace, Grace Unlimited, Clark H. Pinnock, ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1975), 239. In the same book Grant R. Osborne writes, "One of the tragedies of our current situation in evangelicalism is the emotive code-words or labels which we attach to certain positions and which enable us to automatically reject the totality of that position on the basis of the label. One of the worst of these "code-words" is "semi-pelagian" which means automatically that the position is a-biblical, and that the data within need not be studied further. To many strong Calvinists, any Wesleyan-Arminian position is automatically "semi-pelagian" ("Soteriology in the Epistle to the Hebrews," p. 165).
5. Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (1971; Rpt. Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1985), 21.
6. John F. Hurst, Short History of the Christian Church (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893), 320.
7. Frank L. Day, "Simon Episcopius and the Remonstrants of Holland," The Theologians of Methodism , W. F. Tillett, ed. (1895; Rpt. Salem, OH: Schmul, 1992), 18. See also "Account of the Proceedings of the Synod of Dort," added at notes to the 1996 printing of The Works of James Arminius : The London Edition , translated by James Nichols and William Nichols (1825-1875; Rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 1:489-90.
8. A good overview is provided by Daniel D. Corner in "The Synod of Dort Unmasked," chapter 4 of The Believer's Conditional Security (Washington, PA: Evangelical Outreach, 1997), 57-73.
9. The Works of the Reverend John Fletcher (1833; Rpt. Salem, OH: Schmul, 1974), 2:281.
10. (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1958), 351. See also the statement by Louis Berkhof, "Man has by nature an irresistible bias for evil. He is not able to apprehend and love spiritual excellence, to seek and do spiritual things, the things of God that pertain to salvation. This position, which is Augustinian and Calvinistic, is flatly contradicted by Pelagianism and Socinianism, and in part also by Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism (p. 248).
11. Harbach, p. 6.
12. Christian Theology (1862; Rpt. Salem, OH: Schmul, 1985), 290-1.
13. Works, 2:151.
14. Works, 2:156
15. Works, 2:375.
16. J. Kenneth Grider, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1994), 277.
17. "Original Sin," Sermon #44, III.1.
18. Works, 9:194.
19. Systematic Theology (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 1994), 2:923. He also said, "Anyone who uses the term 'free will' is importing the religion of Satan into Biblical doctrine" (1:524).
20. Ness, p. 32.
21. Our Sufficiency in Christ (Dallas: Word, 1991), 152.
22. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997?).
23. Allen C. Guelzo, "Sproul on the Will," Christianity Today, 2 March, 1998, pp. 59-61.
24. C. G. Fry, "Monergism," Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 729.
25. "Monergism," Beacon Dictionary of Theology, ed. Richard S. Taylor (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1983), 344.
26. Works, 1:659-60.
27. Works, 2:192
28. Works, 2:700.
29. "The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption," Sermon #9, II.7.
30. Works, 8:285
31. Fletcher's Works, 2:229.
32. Works, 10:229-30
33. Mildred Wynkoop, Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1967), 69.
34. William Burt Pope, A Compendium of Christian Theology (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1880), 3:74. 35. Theological Transition in American Methodism: 1790-1935 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1965), 186-7.
36. "Evangelism," The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Gary North, ed., Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter, 1981): 61.
37. quoted by Samuel Fisk, Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1973), 73. 38. Berkhof, p. 421.
39. "Introductory Essay," in John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (London: Banner of Truth, 1959), 3-4.
40. pp. 246-7.
41. Works , 2:701
42. Works , 2:400.
43. Journal , 22 June, 1740.
44. Works , 2:43-45. See also the comments of Carl Bangs, pp. 344-5.
45. "The Lord our Righteousness," Sermon #20, II.19.
46. "Original Sin," Sermon #44, III.1.
47. Journal , 14 May, 1765.
48. Works , 1:653. For an excellent commentary upon these sentiments of Arminius on predestination, see Wynkoop, p. 53-55 and the chapter on "Predestination" by her brother, Carl Bangs, pp. 350-355.
49. Works , 10:359-61.
50. Fletcher's Works , 2:283-363.
51. "On the Death of George Whitefield," Sermon #53, III.7.
52. quoted by J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1961), 13-14. 53. Works , 2:702.
54. "Preface" to Wesley's Sermons, 9.
55. Wynkoop, 13.
56. Letter to Lady [Maxwell], 30 Sept, 1788 in Works , 13:149-150.
57. While the Calvinists adopted the TULIP acronym to explain their position, they have also assigned to us the acronym LILAC which misrepresents our position:
|T - Total Depravity
U - Unconditional Election
L - Limited Atonement
I - Irresistible Grace
P - Preservation of the Saints
|L - Limited Depravity
I - I elect God
L - Limitless Atonement
A - Resistible Grace
C - Carnal Security
For more information you may contact Dr. Vic Reasoner .