Arminius and Arminianism
In my last editorial I was discussing the “sentiments” of Arminius concerning predestination and related doctrines as he explained them before the magistrates who, at that time, had final authority, not only over the State, but also over the Church.
He presented before them four propositions which I quoted verbatim. And under them Arminius presented some twenty explanatory articles in which he defended the four above named propositions. I wrote that I was going to explain and criticize especially the sixth of these explanatory articles.
Before I do this, however, the reader must understand clearly that Arminius, in his four propositions, presents predestination, both election and reprobation, as based on the foreknowledge of God. The Most High did not sovereignly, in His eternal decree of predestination, election and reprobation, determine who should be saved and who should be damned, regardless of the merits and demerits of man; but He determined that those should be saved whom He foreknew and foresaw that they would believe in Christ and repent, and likewise, that those should be damned whom He foreknew and foresaw that they would not believe and repent. That such is his teaching is evident from the propositions which I quoted especially from the second and fourth. In the second he writes that God decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe . . . and “to effect the salvation of such penitents and believers as persevered to the end; but to leave in sin, and under wrath, all impenitent and unbelievers, and to damn them as aliens from Christ.” The fourth proposition is virtually the same. In it he states that “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 . . . and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.”
And this Arminius repeats again and again in all his writings, as we shall have occasion to show in later connections.
Now, this he attempts to prove as being in harmony with the Reformed Confessions. Writes he:
“It likewise agrees most excellently with the Dutch Confession and Catechism. This concord is such, that, if in the Sixteenth article these two expressions ‘those persons whom’ and ‘others’ be explained by the words ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers,’ these opinions of mine on predestination will be comprehended in that article with the greatest clearness. This is the reason why I directed the thesis to be composed in the very words of the Confession, when, on one occasion, I had to hold a public disputation before my private class in the University. This kind of predestination also agrees with the reasoning contained in the twentieth and fifty-fourth question of the Catechism.”
But let us see how true or untrue this is.
The sixteenth article of the Belgic or Netherland Confession reads as follows:
“We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin, by the sin of our first parents, God did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just; Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all, whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness, hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord without any respect to their works: Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.”
Now, how does Arminius wish to change the words of this part of the Confession? Thus, that instead of reading “all whom” or according to the French version “those whom,” “ceux que,” we must read “believers,” and instead of reading “others,” we must read “unbelievers.” The sentences as a whole, therefore, would read: “Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from perdition believers whom he in his eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness, hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord without any respect to their works: Just, in leaving unbelievers in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.”
This appears rather ingenious on the part of Arminius.
But, in the first place, we may say that the Confession does not say this and Arminius has no right to change the words of the Confession. He has to leave the very words of the Confession as they stand. If he wanted a change, he would have to put in a gravamen and ultimately, let Synod decide upon such a proposed change.
In the second place, however, this would be quite a fundamental change in the words of the Confession. It would mean, indeed, that, instead of believing in the absolute sovereignty of the counsel of predestination, we would have to make that counsel dependent on the will of man, on the contingency that man would believe or not. Indeed, in that case, it would be true, as Arminius would have it, that in His counsel God foreknew and foresaw from all eternity who would believe and who would not believe.
But, in the third place, the change which Arminius would propose does not even fit in the rest of this article of the Confession. Just consider what the confession states: 1. The counsel of God is eternal and unchangeable. 2. The counsel is of mere goodness. 3. The counsel of election is without any respect to the works of men, i.e., of course, also of the works of faith and unbelief. Hence, in order to change this sixteenth article of the Netherland Confession, the entire article would have to be re-written.
Did not Arminius know this? He certainly must have for all his writings reveal that he was quite a logical thinker. What then? In my opinion, as I said before, he was not honest. Instead of confessing that he did not agree with the Confession, and instead of admitting that the Reformed theologians and people of that time never believed God’s counsel of predestination to be a mere matter of the foreknowledge of God, he made it appear as if he had the Confession on his side.
But Arminius also refers to the twentieth and fifty-fourth question of the Heidelberg Catechism.
The twentieth question and answer read as follows:
“Are all men then, as they perished in, Adam, saved by Christ?
“No; only those who are engrafted into him, and receive all his benefits, by a true faith.”
This question of the Catechism has nothing to do with the question concerning the basis of the foreknowledge of God in regard to predestination. It speaks, indeed, of faith. But it speaks of faith as a gift of God. For, before it declares that they, believers, receive all his benefits by a true faith, it teaches that “they are engrafted into him.” Hence, faith is a gift of God that is in no wise dependent on the will of man but only upon the sovereign grace of God.
Does not Arminius know this?
But, nevertheless, he camouflages this Reformed doctrine in such a way that he maintains the error that the decree of election is based on the foreknowledge of God. For he teaches, of course, that “those persons will be saved or they have been predestinated, who, God foreknew, would believe by the assistance of his preventing grace and would persevere by the aid of his subsequent grace,” to put it clearly: God will give faith to those who will have it. Not only this, but even when he has received the gift of faith, he can still lose it and fail to persevere.
But this certainly is not the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism in the twentieth question and answer.
How Arminius could appeal to the fifty-fourth question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism is a mystery to me. This question and answer speaks of the Church. And although it is well known, I quote it here:
“What believest thou concerning the holy catholic church of Christ?
“That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves unto himself by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith, and that I am and for ever shall remain a living member thereof.”
It ought to be evident that Arminius did not believe a word of all this. The Catechism teaches here: 1. That the church is gathered by the Son of God, who gathers, defends, and preserves His Church. Hence, the church is surely gathered and kept unto the end. Arminius did not believe this. 2. That this church is chosen to everlasting life. Also this Arminius did not believe: he believed that election is based on the foreknowledge of God. 3. The Catechism teaches that once a believer is a member, he will forever remain a living member. Also this Arminius did not believe. Faith can be lost.
Hence, I say once more that I cannot understand how Arminius could possibly base his doctrine on this question and answer of the Catechism.
Rank Arminianism in Calvin Seminary
There was a rumor that Harold Dekker, associate professor in missions in Calvin Theological Seminary, must have said to his class of students that if they did not believe that God loved all men, they would have no place in his class.
This I could hardly believe.
But after reading an article in the Reformed Journal, written by the above named professor, I am compelled to believe it.
The article is written under the caption: “God So Loved . . . All Men!”
I will first give a brief outline of the article in order, in the next number of our magazine, to express my opinion and criticism.
In an introductory paragraph the author writes that the “most basic and comprehensive principle is the love of God.” Missions have their motivation, their methodology and their message from the love of God.
The greatness and unlimitedness of the love of God is revealed in the fact that He sent His only begotten Son into the world. And he asks the question whether so great a love can be limited in its scope. In other words, “can an unrestricted love be restricted in those whom it loves.” His answer is: this is neither possible nor biblical. According to Scripture God loves all men.
This universal love of God is, according to the author, revealed in the Old Testament as well as in the New. This is also evident from the sincere gospel invitation or offer to all men. Also the Canons of Dordrecht clearly speak the same truth. Besides, this sincere invitation proves the desire on the part of God that it will be accepted by all. Also Calvin teaches this: He would have all men to be saved. It is a regrettable fact that some theologians in order to maintain a limited election, give a limited interpretation to the passages of Scripture that plainly speak of the love of God to all men.
Finally, he devotes all the rest of the article to the question of limited atonement. He criticizes in this connection Berkhof who, in his Systematic Theolog, teaches that the atonement is limited, that is, that Christ did not die for all men but only for the elect. But Scripture, according to Dekker, teaches that Christ died for all men, for all, for the whole world.
In this connection he also quotes the Canons, although it is not very clear what he intends to prove by this quotation. As was the case with Arminius and still is the case with all that do not believe in sovereign election, so also Dekker speaks a double language. On the one hand, he writes: “When it comes to the efficacy of the atonement there can be no doubt that its existential limitation is to be explained ultimately in terms of the sovereign disposition of divine grace.” On the other hand he, evidently, wants to maintain that Christ died for all men. For he writes: “The doctrine of limited atonement as taught by Berkhof and others has commonly been used to place a taboo on the proposition that Christ died for all men and on any statement by a missionary to unbelievers such as ‘Christ died for you.’ Supposedly such language is Arminian. Actually it is not necessarily so. There is no warrant in Scripture or the Reformed confessions for disallowing such expressions when they are used in any one of the first three meanings explained above. If the church is unwilling to say in any sense that Christ died for all men and refuses to say to unbelievers, in addition to ‘God loves you,’ ‘Christ died for you,’ it places the infinite love of God under an illegitimate restriction.
“The doctrine of limited. atonement as commonly understood and observed in the Christian Reformed Church impairs the principle of-the universal love of God and tends to inhibit missionary spirit and activity. God so loved all men that he gave his only begotten Son! May this great truth permeate the life and witness of the Church in full power.”
Next time our comment, D.V.