It was not long after Arminius’ ordination at Amsterdam in 1588 that his erroneous views began to come to light. The occasion of this was Coornhert’s agitation against the doctrine of election. Arminius, whose views were not at this time in question as yet and who was accepted as being truly Reformed, was asked to refute the views of Coornhert and to defend the teachings of his former teacher, Beza. And according to his own admission to his friend Wtenbogaert, when he began to make a study of the subject and to prepare for this defense of the Reformed view of predestination, he more and more felt himself inclined toward the view of his opponent. He began to feel that the truth of predestination must be entirely reconstructed. The divine good pleasure must not be the basis upon which it rests, but man’s free will. Those who believe are the elect, those who are worthy of the divine preference. At the same time he wanted to maintain that our salvation rests upon Christ alone, and that purely through the grace of the Holy Spirit do we become partakers of faith unto the forgiveness of sins and renewal of life.
It stands to reason that the youthful minister of Amsterdam could not very well prevent his erroneous views from breaking out in the pulpit. They had become a matter of conviction with him. At the time Arminius in his preaching was busy with an exposition of the Epistle to the Romans. Already in connection with chapter one he had rather crassly stated that the Reformed people, in their condemnation of the meritorious character of good works, had also thrown the good works themselves overboard. But coming from a man who strongly emphasized sanctification of life, this could be understood. However, he is alleged to have expressed Pelagian views on the natural man in a sermon on Romans 7:14, “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.” And still further, when he preached on the words of verse 18, “For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not,” he applied this not to the regenerated, but to the natural man, be it that he had come under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
As might be expected, the public proclamation of such views could not long remain unchallenged, even though Arminius did his utmost to quiet the fears of the people and to pour oil on the troubled waters of public opinion. Arminius was careful in expressing himself, was an able, though not profound scholar, and seems also to have been a popular man in the pulpit. But many of his people were quite capable of recognizing heresy when they heard it, especially when it concerned the truth of predestination. And so it was inevitable, on the one hand, that when Arminius arrived at the ninth chapter of the letter to the Romans in his expositions of that book, he was unable entirely to hide his erroneous views; and it was equally inevitable, on the other hand, that the waters of the ecclesiastical sea in Amsterdam would become more turbulent and stormy the moment the wind of a false doctrine of predestination should disturb them. Nevertheless, Arminius, though he himself must have realized that there was a conflict between his views and the accepted view of the Reformed Churches, steadfastly maintained that he was in full harmony with the Catechism and the 37 Articles. This, however, did not prevent the able and brilliant Plancius, his fellow minister in the congregation of Amsterdam, from untiringly opposing him and attacking his heretical views.
It was while the trouble in Amsterdam was still unsettled that something happened which was of inestimable benefit to the heretical cause of the Arminians, but which ultimately resulted in bringing the whole controversy into the open and forcing a show-down. The very man whose views were being challenged as anti-Reformed was appointed professor of Theology at the University of Leiden. How any right-thinking authorities could ever conceive of appointing a man with such a dark cloud of suspicion hanging over his head is hard to imagine. But appointed he was. Naturally, the appointment was challenged in as far as that was possible. At Amsterdam objections were raised. And from Leiden the strong objections of Franciscus Gomarus, that champion of supralapsarianism, thundered forth. Gomarus was also professor at Leiden, and his influence at that time was still strong. However, two factors were influential in paving the way to the chair of theology for Arminius. In the first place, the university was not under ecclesiastical, but state control. And in the second place, the crafty Arminius succeeded to quiet temporarily the fears of the staunch and outspoken Gomarus concerning his orthodoxy. And so the heretic from Amsterdam was elevated to the chair of theology at Leiden. This was in 1602.
The consequences of this event were far reaching. The position at Leiden was an ideal one from which to further the cause of Arminianism. As we said, the school was controlled by the state. The appointment of professors and also the disciplining of professors was the prerogative of the state solely. This afforded Arminius a protected position from which to promulgate his corrupt views. For as things turned out, the government until shortly before the convocation of the Synod of Dordt was in the hands of men who were consistently pro-Arminian. And the new professor was quick to take advantage of his position. Besides, he was an adept practitioner of deceit and underhanded tactics, like many a heretic. The peace between Gomarus and Arminius was of short duration. Arminius soon began to develop his views, and to instill them especially privately in sessions with his students at his home; for he feared the wrath of Gomarus, and was very cautious in his classroom instruction at the first. Gradually Arminius became bolder, and ere long he more openly made the rostrum of his classroom the sounding-board for his heretical views. Gomarus became his strong and determined opponent. Nor could the controversy that split the school be kept secret. Soon the whole country was in turmoil. Many a conference was held in order to effect a reconciliation and to settle the dispute in a peaceable way. And even in the year 1609, when Arminius was confined to his home because of illness, these efforts did not cease. But the breach between the professorial disputants was never healed. And in October of the year 1609 the schismatic professor Jacobus Arminius died.
The die was cast!
Whether Arminius, as his friends claim, was genuinely of a meek and quiet spirit is open to question. That he was a brilliant scholar, that he was a well-educated man, that he was of pleasing personality, refined in manners and appearance, and that too in contrast to Gomarus, who was of a stern nature, sometimes crude, and not always able to control his temper,—these things can hardly be doubted. And all this made him a popular teacher, able to exert a deep and lasting influence on the hearts and minds of many a prospective minister. Honest before the church he served, either as minister or professor, he cannot be called. His methods were insidious; secretly, not openly, did he work. Against his own better knowledge, he constantly tried to leave the impression that he was in harmony with the Reformed Standards, meanwhile making good use of the added opportunity to introduce his poisonous doctrine. And of course, he led many astray. For there is no more advantageous position from which to inculcate heresy in the churches than a theological school. Not only upon the relatively few students could he exert a tremendous influence. But when these students graduated and entered the service of the churches, it was as though so many copies of Arminius, both as to doctrine and as to tactics, were spread abroad in the churches. Also in the church there is nothing so damaging as a fifth column. This, together with the fact that the government lent protection to the Arminians, accounts for the swift decline and disintegration of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
That their spiritual leader died did not noticeably affect the Arminian movement. Its own momentum carried it forward. And besides, a very able leader appeared on the scene in the person of the influential court preacher, Wtenbogaert. Under his leadership the forces of .Arminianism were consolidated, and a well-organized party was formed in the churches. For at his instigation the Arminians came together in the year 1610 in the city of Gouda, to draw up the document which was to be known ever after as the Remonstrance. In it the Arminians, with characteristic craftiness, alleged that they did not at all purpose to change the confessions, but that they merely sought revision. They had no objections to the creeds, but they had indeed certain remarks or observations to make. However, these so-called observations were of such a serious nature that they assailed the very heart of the gospel maintained in the Reformed confessions.
But we shall let the Remonstrants speak for themselves by quoting their Five Points.