[With the recent death of so prominent an Arminian as Billy Graham, and 2018 being the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort which so ably and nobly condemned Arminianism, we do well to read this editorial from the June 1937 of the Free Presbyterian Magazine. Though more than 80 years old, its message is far from out-of-date, and demonstrates “the horror with which our forefathers regarded Arminianism”.]
Careful observers of the theological literature which is pouring from the press in our time must be saddened by the extraordinary extent to which it is permeated by the leaven of Arminianism. What Arminianism failed to do in the arena of debate it has accomplished by peaceful penetration. It has saturated the theological thinking of Scotland to an extraordinary degree. The revival literature of today is full of it as is also the religious press generally.
Warnings from the pulpit and denunciation of the errors of Arminianism are not now heard as they once were in our country. Even in pulpits where the truth is preached it is to be feared that, in some cases, a faithful witness is not raised against Arminianism. The cause of this may be due in a measure to the fact that in defending the cause of truth new forms of error have to be exposed and assailed, with the result that the old enemy is left so far unmolested as if it were dead.
Unfortunately this is not so – Arminianism is very much alive in the pulpit and in the theological and religious press and in the modern evangelistic meeting. It is true, no doubt, there has been a revival of interest in Calvinistic teaching on the Continent and an effort is being made to revive interest in it in this country, but there can be little doubt notwithstanding all this that Arminianism is in the popular swim of things in our day. When it is borne in mind the horror with which our forefathers regarded Arminianism, the modern attitude to it indicates how far the professing Church has drifted from the position of the theologians of those days. The symbolic books of the Church of England – the Thirty-Nine Articles – and the symbolic books of the Church of Scotland – the Confession of Faith – are undoubtedly Calvinistic, but can it be said that all who sign these symbols are Calvinists at heart?
Of course, it may be said that as a Church we have been preserved from the leaven of Arminianism and that Arminianism is not taught or countenanced among us, and that there is, therefore, no necessity to stress the point of the danger of Arminian teaching finding its way among us. Granted that this is true, yet it must be borne in mind that living in an atmosphere permeated with Arminianism we are ready to be influenced by it and breathe in its poison atmosphere unawares; let us therefore suffer the word of exhortation.
The theological system that goes under the name of Arminianism received its name from a Dutch theologian – Jakob Hermanss – the Latinised form of whose name was Arminius. He was born at Oudewater (about 18 miles from Rotterdam) in 1560 and died at Leyden in 1609. In 1588 he was appointed preacher of the Reformed congregation at Amsterdam. While here his views underwent a change and his expositions of Romans 7 and 9 and his utterances on election and reprobation gave offence. His colleague, Plancius, opposed his views and disputes arose in the consistory which for a time were put a stop to by the burgomasters. Arminius was called to fill a professor’s chair at Leyden and in his lectures on predestination he stirred up considerable opposition, his chief opponent being Gomarus. The dispute spread among the students and the ministers.
The followers of Arminius refused to be called Arminians preferring to be called Remonstrants from their Remonstrantiae which was drawn up in 1610 after Arminius’s death (1609) and was an exposition and justification of their views. The Remonstrants held that they should not be hampered by subscription to the symbolical books but that free investigation of the Bible should be allowed. Their Remonstrance was met by a Counter-Remonstrance. The controversy went on for years raising considerable disturbance. When Prince Maurice countenanced the cause of the Counter-Remonstrants, a change took place as to the State attitude to the controversy and a national synod was called by the States-general at Dort (30th May, 1618).
The presentation of the case of the Arminians in Five Articles determined to a large extent the form in which the whole subject was afterwards discussed at the Synod of Dort under the Five Head:
- Predestination or election.
- On the death of Christ, the nature and extent of His redemption.
- On the cause of faith, that is, the power or agency by which it is produced.
- The mode of conversion, or the agency by which it is effected, and the mode of its operation.
- On perseverance.
On these great doctrines the Synod of Dort gave decisions condemning the Arminian positions. It would take up too much of our space to summarise the canons of the Synod of Dort and there is less need to do so inasmuch as the Calvinistic doctrines opposed to the Arminian are set forth with such clearness in our Confession of Faith. It is mainly the doctrines of conditional predestination, man’s ability to spiritual good and a universal atonement which has made its way into the theological thinking of our time.
No doubt some of Arminianism’s doctrines make a pleasing appeal to the natural man, but they are up against the clear statements of Scripture and the plain facts of experience. Take for instance the universal doctrine of the atonement – Christ dying equally for Judas as for Paul – what does it lead to? Either Christ failed in His work if He died for all and some are lost; or the Holy Spirit has failed in His work in applying Christ’s redemption. Both positions are monstrous and dishonouring to the Son and Spirit.
Dr Cunningham seems to us to have happily hit off the real inwardness of the Arminian error when he says:
“It is not very difficult to point out what may fairly enough be described as the fundamental characteristic principle of Arminianism – that which Arminianism either is, or has a strong and constant tendency to become; and this is, that it is a scheme for dividing or partitioning the salvation of sinners between God and sinners themselves, instead of ascribing it wholly, as the Bible does, to the sovereign grace of God, the perfect and all-sufficient work of Christ, and the efficacious and omnipotent operation of the Spirit . . . The encroachment they make upon the grace of God in the salvation of sinners varies, of course, according to the extent to which they carry out their views, especially in regard to man’s natural depravity, and the nature and necessity of the work of the Spirit in regeneration and conversion; but Arminianism, in any form, can be shown to involve the ascription to men themselves, more directly or more remotely, of a place and influence in effecting their own salvation, which the Bible denies to them and ascribes to God” (Historical Theology, ii, 377, 378).
This is a serious indictment against Arminianism for it virtually means that it robs God of His glory in the salvation of the sinner and denies that this salvation is all of grace from beginning to end.
Professor Watts, Belfast, used to say to his students that Arminianism fought none of the battles of the Reformation, and when it appeared on the stage it was as the sower of discord and disunion that it made its presence felt. In its early days Arminianism was on the defensive, powerfully attacked by the forces of Calvinism. Now the positions have for a long time been reversed. It is Calvinism that is now to a great extent on the defensive while Arminianism is only too surely conquering in churches where at one time it was banned as a dangerous enemy to scriptural truth.
Arminianism, in a word, is a direct challenge to the sovereignty of God. This is the rock against which it is spending its strength aud on which it will ultimately be broken to pieces. In this attack it has as its supports all those elements in our fallen nature which are at war with the divine sovereignty. It has never got a glimpse of the majesty of the divine truth that as sovereign Lord, God has a right to do what seemeth good with His creatures; and it has failed to grasp the utter ruin of man and the awful depths to which he has fallen. It denies to God the high place that is due to Him and exalts man to a position which is not his due. If it has ever candidly faced the Saviour’s words, “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight”, it has never been awed and subdued by them.