The Arminian or Remonstrant Struggle

Having stated in the third and last part of the introduction to their “Remonstration” what particular doctrines of the Calvinists especially grieved them, the Remonstrants—Wtenbogaert and his party—proceed to possit what they believe. This they do in five articles, known to posterity as the Five Articles of the Remonstrants. The obvious purpose of these propositions is to show that the Remonstrants are good orthodox people and that there is no appreciable difference between their teaching and that of the Calvinists.

Article I has to do with Predestination.

“We believe that God by an eternal and unchangeable decree in Christ Jesus His Son, before the foundation of the world, decided from fallen and sinful humanity to save in Christ and for Christ’s sake and through Christ all such who by the grace of the Holy Spirit would believe in Christ and in that faith and in the obedience of faith through , this same grace persevere to the end.”

“Wij gelooven, dat God, door een eeuwig en onveranderlijk besluit, in Jezus Christ,us, zijnen zoon, eer’s werelds grond gelegd was, besloten heeft uit het gevallen zondig menschelijk geslacht diegenen in Christus, om Christus’ wil en door Christus zalig te maken, die door de genade des Heiligen Geestes in Jezus geloven en in dat geloof en in de ge- hoorzaamheid des geloofs door diezelfde genade ten einde toe volharden zouden.”

If we think this to be sound doctrine we will especially be impressed by the orthodoxy of the third of these five articles.

“We believe that man does not have the saving faith of himself, nor out of the strength of his free will, considering that in the state of deviation and sin he out and of himself cannot think, will or do any good that is truly good (as especially saving faith), but that it is necessary that in his mind, inclinations, will and all his strength he be reborn of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in order that he may rightly understand, think, will and perform the truly good according to the word of Christ: John 15:5. Without me thou cans’t do nothing,

“Wij gelooven dat de mensch het zalig- makend geloof van zich zelven niet heeft, noch uit kracht van zijnen vrijen wil, alzoo hij in den staat der afwijking en der zonde niets goeds, dat waarlijk goed is (gelijk inzonderheid het zaligmakend geloof) uit en van zich zelven kan denken, willen of doen, maar dat het noodig is, dat hij van God in Christus door zijn Heiligan Geest worde herboren en vernieuwd in zijn verstand, genegenheden, wil en alle krachten, opdat hij het ware goed recht moge verstaan, bedenken, willen en volbrengen, naar het woord van Christus: John 15:5. Zander mij hunt gij niets doen.”

Let us get before us just what the Remonstrants here profess as their faith.

  1. There are such things as election and reprobation (see the introduction to their “Remonstration.”
  2. Election is God’s eternal and unchangeable decree whereby He decided to save all such who—mark you well, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit should believe in Christ.
  3. Grace is not of man, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith is not of man; it is God’s gift.
  4. The unregenerate, natural man cannot of and out of himself think will or perform any good that is truly good. That is to say, the natural man is spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins and thus, unless he be born again by the Spirit of Christ, can only produce out of himself moral and spiritual corruption.

This has the semblance of sound doctrine. It makes the natural man as depraved as the Scriptures say that he is, and grace and election as sovereign as any supralapsarian even of the type of Gomarus can conceive. For certainly if the natural man is totally depraved, and he must be, if as the Remonstrants here state he cannot of and out of himself think, will and perform any good that is truly good, then in that case grace and election must of necessity be strictly sovereign; and then it is also correct to say with Gomarus that election is the decree of God Whereby He predestined out of the whole human race a certain number of persons unto everlasting life without any respect to their faith and obedience.

Identical sentiments receive expression in the fourth article of the series.

“We believe that this grace of God is the principle, progress and completion of all good, also in so far as without this previous, revivicating, accompanying and co-operating grace the regenerated person can neither think, will and perform the good nor also resist any temptation, so that all conceivable good deeds or workings must be ascribed to the grace of God.”

“Wij gelooven, dat deze genade Gods het beginsel, den voortgang en de volbrenging van alle goed is, ook in zoover de wedergeboren mensch zelf zonder deze voorgaande of voorkomende, opwekkende, volgende en medewerkende genade noch het goede denken, willen of doen kan, noch ook eenige verzoeking kan wederstaan, zoodat alle goede daden of werkingen, die men maar bedenken kan aan de genade Gods in Christus moeten toegeschreven worden …”

Apparently the thrust also of these sentences is: Man is nothing, grace is all. God’s is all the glory.

On reading this material most of the Calvinists were satisfied and even elated. Remarks such as these were heard: These people are reformed. Wtenbogaert and his party admit, don’t they, that all is of grace. They believe an eternal and unchangeable decree and they set forth Christ as the sole ground of salvation and salvation as worked by Him alone. These are the things that are essential. Let everything that goes above and beyond these things remain private opinion. Let us then have peace. Why controvert about private opinions.

Such were the reasonings. And it is not a wonder. Even Wtenbogaert’s definition of election, stating as it does that God decided to save all such who by the grace of His Holy Spirit should believe in Christ, bears the semblance of the truth. Apparently the worst that can be said about the definition is that it is new. Yet nobody really interested in setting forth the truth about election, would so define it. For the definition no clear and definite answers to the questions whether grace is sovereign and thus whether the divine decree of election is also and actually the fountain and cause of faith.

The sad fact is that Wtenbogaert and his party were again equivocating. They were masking themselves with the truth and the near truth to throw their critics off-guard. And with what success, we have just seen. All but a few Calvinists concluded that they were men sound enough in their thinking. The trouble with these Calvinists was that for some reason or other they refused to take notice of the real thrust of Wtenbogaerts sentences, of their true underlying meaning.

What Wtenbogaert really had in mind is glaringly evident from the other articles of the series.

Art. 2.

“We believe that by virtue of God’s eternal decree Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, died for every man, in the sense that by His crucifixion He merited reconciliation and pardon of sins for all, but in this sense, however, that no one, except they who believe, actually enjoy the pardon of sins. I John 2:2. And he is the propitiation for our sin; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”

“Wij gelooven dat krachtens Gods eeuwig besluit Jezus Christus, de Zaligmaker der wereld, voor ieder mensch gestorven is, alzoo dat Hij voor alien door den kruisdood de verzoening en de vergeving der zonden verworven heeft, alzoo nochtans dat niemand de vergeving der zonden werkelijk geniet dan de gelovige. I John 2:2. ‘Hij is de verzoening voor onze zonden en niet alleen vooy de onze, maar voor die der gansche wereld.’ ”

Art. 4. in its entirely reads:

“We believe that this grace of God is the principle, progress and completion of all good, also in so far as without this previous, revivicating, accompanying and co-operating grace the regenerated person can neither think, will and perform the good nor resist any temptation, so that all conceivable good deeds or workings must be ascribed to the grace of God.” But now take notice, “But regarding the manner of the working of this grace, this is not irresistible. For we read of many that they have resisted the Holy Spirit. Acts 7 and elsewhere in many places.”

Art. 5.

“We believe that they who by a true faith are grafted into Jesus Christ and by reason thereof have become partakers of His life- giving Spirit, have abundant strength to strive against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh and to secure the victory, to be sure always by the assistance of the grace of Christ’s Spirit; and that Jesus Christ always assists them in all temptations, offers them His hand, and if only they are prepared to strive and desire His help always and without fail, will make them to stand and so to stand that neither by Satan’s guile nor by his violence can they be mislead or plucked out of Christ’s hand. See the word of Christ in John 10: ‘no one shall pluck them out of my hand.’ ”

“But whether through neglect they cannot forsake the principle of their being in Christ, again cleave to this present world, depart from the holy doctrine once delivered them, lose their good conscience, and neglect the grace (of God), that should first have to be made a matter of investigation from the Scriptures, before we could teach it with full confidence.”

“Wij gelooven dat, die Jezus Christus door een waar geloof zijn ingelijfd en overzulks Zijn levendmakenden Geest deelachtig zijn geworden, overvloedige kracht hebben om tegen den Satan, de zonde, de wereld en hun eigen vleesch te strijden en de overwinning te verkrijgen, welverstaande altijd door den bijstand van de genade van dien Geest; en dat Jezus Christus hen door zijn Geest in alle verzoekingen bijstaat, de hand biedt en, zoo zij maar alien ten strijd bereid zijn en zijn hulp begeeren en in geen gebrek zijn, staande houdt, alzoo dat ze door list noch geweld des Satans verleid of uit Christus’ handen getrokken kunnen worden; zie het woord van Christus bij Johannes 10: ‘Niemand zal ze uit mijne hand rukken.’ ”

“Maar of ze door nalatigheid het beginsel van hun zijn in Christus niet kunnen verlaten, de tegenwoordige wereld weer aanhangen, van de heilige leer, hun eenmaal gegevan, afwijken, de goede conscientie verliezen en de genade verwaarlozen, dat zou eerst nader uit de Schrift moeten onderzocht zijn, eer wij het met voile verzekerheid onzes gemoeds zouden kunnen leeren.”

The teaching of these articles—2, 4, and 5. Just what is it? Concisely stated, it is this:

Art. 2. Christ merited for all the right to the benefits of His death. Legally therefore all are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, and accordingly are objectively saved—saved to the uttermost—in Christ unto God. Yet, only the believers are actually saved, and saved on the condition of their faith and repentance.

Art. 4. Man can resist God’s grace. This can mean but one thing, namely that man can make it impossible for God to save him by his unwillingness to be saved.

Art. 5. The reborn man can again lose the new life once implanted in his heart by rejecting and departing from it.

These teachings clearly enough indicate what Wtenbogaert and his party meant to be telling their government in the first of the five articles. Verily this: that God, by an eternal and unchangeable decree, resolved to save in Christ all such persons who of and out of themselves and as assisted by God’s grace should choose to believe in God’s Son and be saved. This is predestination of Wtenbogaert and his party—a predestination that is based on God’s foreknowledge of the use that men of and out of themselves should choose to make of God’s grace.

It is said and held generally that the sum of the doctrine of the third article of the series (quoted above) is that “all is of grace.” Actually, however, this third article as to its real teaching is as bad as the others. And it cannot well be otherwise seeing that underlying also this article is first the conception that man is free in his willing—free in the sense that he can choose to serve God or darkness, choose to accept or reject the aid to salvation that the grace of God affords him; and second the conception that all the good choices of man—his choice to believe, his choice to yield himself to God and be saved—are of and out of man and thus originate in man; and third the conception that, if a man has once made up his mind not to be saved, all God’s efforts to save him are vain.

This third article states that saving faith is not of man. But faith as Wtenbogaert and his party conceived of it, is a figment of Wtenbogaert’s own imagination. For it is faith minus the good choice and power of man’s will to believe. These, this choice and power, are of man. Such is the real idea of article 3. The article itself clearly indicates this by the following statement occurring in it, “We believe that man does not have the saving faith of himself, nor”—mark you well—”nor from the power of his free will . . .” Thus, according to Wtenbogaert, man has a free will, and this will of man has power—power to choose Christ and his salvation. But what is faith minus this goodwill, power, choice to be saved? It is nothing. It doesn’t exist.

The article goes on to say (see above) that out and of himself man in the state of sin can neither will nor think nor perform the truly good. Yet, according to this same teacher, man of himself can think and will to choose for Christ in rejection of darkness and the lie, which can only mean that after all man of himself can indeed think and will and perform the truly good. For certainly a better work than that of Choosing for Christ is not well conceivable. And if a man of and out of himself is capable of works of this nature why then should he still have need of being reborn and renewed of God’s Spirit in his mind, inclinations, will and power in order that, as the article maintains, he may understand, mind, will and perform the really good.

The article closes, it will be noticed, with a quotation from John’s Gospel: “without me thou canst do nothing.” Yet certainly, according to the author of these articles, man of himself can do nearly everything regarding the matter of his salvation. He can originate his good choice to be saved as though he were God. And at every point of the way to glory the sole determining factor of man’s steadfastness is again man’s very own will. Of and out of himself he chooses and continues to choose not to reject and forsake and thereby lose the principle of grace within him.

What a pious fraud this third article turns out to be. How all but a few Calvinists, on reading this article, could wax enthusiastic, and in their enthusiasm hail Wtenbogaert and his party as men of sound doctrine is a conundrum. But so it goes. And so also, sad to say, it continues to go. It is with an eye to this third article that the historian Walker remarks, “It (Arminianism) was at one with Calvinism in denying the ability of men to do anything really good of themselves—all is of divine grace. Hence the Arminians were not Pelagians.”

But essentially they were Pelagians. For with Pelagius, the Arminians—Wtenbogaert and his party—held to the freedom of the will. Also their slogan was, “If I ought, I can.” Pelagius said, “as often as I speak of the principles of virtue and a holy life, I am accustomed first of all to call attention to the capacity and character of human nature and to show what it is able to accomplish; and from this to arouse the feelings of the hearer, that he may strive after different kinds of virtue.” This, too, was necessarily the attitude of the Arminians, and of every one who holds in his thinking to the freedom of the human will in this Pelagian and Arminian sense.

The Arminians’ conception of a true Christian is that of a man with a free will, thus of a man who truly loves and serves God but who at any time can reverse himself and reject God to serve sin and darkness, yield his members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. But this certainly is not the right conception. It clashes with the teachings of the Scriptures on this point. According to holy writ, the believer is grafted into Christ by a faith that is living and indestructible and that therefore cannot cease. His will therefore is anything but free in this Arminian sense. Never can he will to reverse himself to return to the old ways of sin. For he is a new creature in Christ now and everlastingly. True, he still has his sinful flesh in which there dwells no good thing. And therefore also, in the language of the Form, he feels many infirmities and miseries in himself, as namely, that he has no perfect faith, and that he does not give himself to serve God with that zeal as he is bound, but has daily to strive with the weakness of his faith, and evil lusts of his flesh. But for all that, he is a true child of God still, as is evidenced by the fact that, in the language of this same form, he is sorry for these weaknesses, and earnestly desires to fight against his unbelief, and live according to all the commandments of God. A Christian that can reverse himself again to yield his members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin is simply not a Christian. No man’s will is free in this Arminian sense, much less the will of the Christian. “Whosoever is born of God doth not- commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (I John 3:9).

This precisely is the point to Paul’s reasoning in Rom. 6. “What shall we say then? shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death. . .?

The fifth article of the “Remonstration” contains this quotation from John’s Gospel, “No one shall pluck them out of my hands,” no one, Wtenbogaert should have added, but the Christian man himself. For that was his teaching. Strange therefore that in quoting this passage in support of his heresy he was not aware that he overturned the very words of Christ Himself .

Let us now get before us in their order the five articles of the Remonstrants as to the substance of their teaching.

Art. 1. Predestination is based on divine foreknowledge of the use that men of themselves would chose to make of the means of grace.

Art. 2. Christ died for all, though none receive the benefits of his death except the believers.

Art. 3. Men are incapable of doing anything really good of themselves—all is of divine grace.

Art. 4. Grace is resistible.

Art. 5. True believers can fall from grace.

Of course, as lifted out of the thought-structure of Arminius, and as occupying its own place in the thought-structure of the Scriptures, this third proposition or articles is sound doctrine. But certainly in the mouth of Arminius it is heresy, the reason being that in his mouth the term “grace”, and with it such terms as faith, and counsel, etc., etc., take on new meanings—new as compared with the meanings that these terms have in the Scriptures—thus meanings of Arminus’ own invention. A man may get himself on the housetop and shout until he is hoarse that all is of grace etc., and still in the point of view of his definition of terms be proclaiming the lie. The question is: what is the man’s thought-structive in which he lives and moves and thinks and speak—that of the truth or of the lie.