Arminius and Arminianism

In my last article on the above-mentioned subject I referred to various conferences that were held between Arminius and others on the question of his belief and doctrine. I should have stated, perhaps, that several such conferences were attempted, but that, in actual fact, only two were held: 1) a conference between Gomarus and Arminius in the presence of four ministers and of the civil magistrates; and 2) an appearance of Arminius before the civil magistrates, in which he expounded and defended his views on predestination and related doctrines. Other conferences were, indeed, held, but Arminius refused to express and defend his views before the members of those conferences.

As to the first conference, namely, the one between Gomarus and Arminius, held in the presence of the civil magistrates and four ministers, the result was, evidently, very unsatisfactory to Gomarus. It clearly assumed the nature of a controversy rather than of a conference. Gomarus even states that with views, which Arminius propounded “he durst not appear in the presence of his Maker.” He also stated that, if these views of Arminius were not immediately prevented and condemned, the result would be a schism in the churches.

There were, however, several other conferences attempted, but these failed because Arminius refused to enter into any discussion of his views before them. The reasons for this refusal he also indicated at his appearance before the magistrates. I briefly give account of them here (see for this The Writings of Arminius, Vol. I, pp. 204 ff.):

1. He declares that those who requested him to give an account of his views never gave any reason why he should do so. He never taught anything contrary to the Word of God or to the Confessions of the Church.

2. He objects to the manner in which such a conference was proposed. For it was proposed by deputies of the (Particular) Synod, which meant, of course, that his case was already prejudged by that Synod. To agree to such a conference would, on his part, amount to a confession of guilt.

3. He declares that he is not subject to the jurisdiction of any Particular Synod but only to his superiors, i.e., the magistrates.

4. He declares that there would be the greatest inequality in such a conference. For as to the deputies, they would be vested with authority, while he would attend such a conference as a private character. Moreover, they were five in number, while he would stand alone, even without any witnesses. Besides, they could not argue freely or produce any counterarguments to what he, Arminius, might propose. “I could, without prejudice to anyone, have made those admissions which my conviction of the truth might have dictated to me as correct.”

5. Then, too, who could guarantee that those synodical deputies would report correctly as to what had taken place and as to what had been said at those conferences? They might, either willingly or unwillingly, have falsified what had been going on at the conferences.

6. Finally, ha reiterates strongly what had already been said under 3) namely, that no Provincial Synod had any jurisdiction over him, but that this jurisdiction belonged to the magistrates which had also appointed him.

What shall we say to all this?

There is, undoubtedly, some truth in what Arminius avers, especially in the argument that no Provincial Synod had any jurisdiction over him, but that he was under his superiors, the civil magistrates.

Nevertheless, this cannot have been the chief reason why he refused those conferences. I am confident that the chief reasons were:

1. That Arminius knew very well that he was guilty and that he did depart from the Word of God and the then existing Confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Netherland or Belgic Confession. He wanted to gain time in order that he might gain as many adherents to his false doctrine as possible. This will be very evident from the sequel of this history.

2. He, undoubtedly, knew that the civil magistrates were largely in favor of him and of his views. This is plain from the difficulty our fathers had convoking a National Synod to which also the magistrates had to give their consent.

I do not believe that any man in the Reformed Churches would hesitate to express his conviction on any of the Reformed doctrines if he were convinced, in his heart that he held to the truth of Scripture and the Confessions. But this Arminius did not do. He may have been, as I said before, a very amiable character. But he was not honest. And honesty in regard to the truth of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions is far more important than amiability of character.

But let us now return to the appearance of Arminius before the civil magistrates and to what he said there.

First of all he spoke on the subject of predestination. He tells us that he will, first of all, explain what is taught on this subject “by certain persons in our churches” and, after that, he will express his own views.

That he will speak on this subject stands to reason, for that is the main subject concerning which he was accused of entertaining heretical views. Already when he was minister of the church in Amsterdam, when he preached on Romans, as we have explained before, some of the members were very much in doubt whether or not he was Reformed. And as we have explained in the present editorial, Gomarus certainly considered him guilty of heresy. For this reason it was quite proper for Arminius to begin by setting forth his views on predestination.

However, as we have stated, he begins by explaining the views of others. And, first of all, he rejects the views of the Supralapsarians, the view that God’s election and reprobation was before creation and before the fall of man, that is, of course, as far as the decree of predestination is concerned.

But he does not only reject supralapsarianism, but also infralapsarianism. He distinguished two kinds of the latter view. Although, according to Arminius, both the latter kinds of predestination aim to avoid making God the author of sin and of presenting the fall of Adam as necessary, yet they fail in this attempt and he writes in conclusion: “But let it be granted, that the necessity of the fall of Adam cannot be deduced from either of the two latter opinions, yet all the preceding arguments which have been produced against the first opinion [supralapsarianism, H.H.], are, after a trifling modification to suit the varied purpose, equally valid against the two latter. This would be, very apparent, if, to demonstrate it, a conference would be instituted.” We will not go into, the objections which Arminius produces against supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. We are rather interested in his own view. We naturally ask the question: does Arminius, who condemns both supra and infra, still believe in predestination, in election and reprobation as revealed in Scripture and as maintained in the Reformed Confessions as they at that time already existed and as they were adopted by the Reformed Churches?

He introduces the publication of his own “Sentiments on Predestination” in the following paragraph: “I have hitherto been stating my own opinions concerning the article of Predestination which are inculcated in our churches and in the University of Leyden, and of which I disapprove. I have at the same time produced my own reasons, why I form such an unfavorable judgment concerning them ; and I will now declare my own opinions on this subject, which are of such a description as, according to my views, appear most conformable to the Word of God” (The Writings of Arminius, Vol. I, p. 247).

Now, what are those “sentiments on Predestination” which Arminius proposes and are supposed to be Reformed?

He first of all makes four propositions and I shall quote them literally lest I be accused of misinterpreting him. The quotations are all from the work I quoted before, pp. 247-248:

“I. The First absolute decree of God concerning the salvation of sinful man, is that by which he decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, for a Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and communicate it by his own virtue.

“II. The Second precise and absolute decree of God, is that by which he decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for his sake and through him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and believers as persevere to the end; but to leave in sin, and under wrath, all impenitent persons and unbelievers, and to damn them as aliens from Christ.

“III. The Third divine decree is that by which to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the Means which were necessary for repentance and faith; and to have such administration instituted (1.) according to the Divine Wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both of his mercy and severity and (2.) according to Divine Justice, by which he is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and put it in execution.

“IV. To these succeeds the Fourth decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would by his preventing grace, believe, and through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.”

Then follow a number of explanations which we shall not quote literally here, but of which we mention only the following:

1. Arminius claims that the above four propositions are the sum and substance of the gospel. That this is not true ought to be plain to any Reformed reader. Nevertheless, I aim presently to explain why those four propositions are contrary to Scripture as well as to the Reformed Confessions as they existed at the time of Arminius.

2. He also states that it is not necessary to have these four propositions examined since Scripture, in so many words, clearly teaches them. But, nevertheless, they were examined by the Synod of Dordrecht 1618-19, and they were found wanting.

3. Arminius claims that those propositions have constantly been acknowledged by all Christian teachers. This certainly is not true, as Arminius ought himself to know very well. We may refer to Augustine and Calvin and other of the Reformers.

4. He claims that the teachings of the four propositions is in harmony with the confessions of the Protestant Churches. Also this is not true.

5. He claims, too, that the teaching of the four propositions is in harmony with the Dutch Confessions: the Netherland or Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. This he attempts to prove. And of this I hope to write in the next issue of our magazine, D.V.