A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Arminians
ARMINIANS. They derive their name from James Arminius, who was born in Holland 1560. He was the first pastor of Amsterdam, afterwards professor of divinity at Leyden; and attracted the esteem and applause of his very enimies by his acknowledged candour, penetration and piety. He had been a pupil of Theodore Beza, who adhered to the Calvinistic doctrines in the strictest manner, but Arminius thinking the tenets of Calvin, with regard to free-will, predestination and grace, contrary to the mild and amiable perfections of the Deity, began to express his doubts concerning them in the year 1591; and upon further inquiry, adopted sentiments more nearly resembling those of the Lutherans, than of the Calvinists.
The principal tenets of the Arminians are comprehended in five articles, to which are added a few of the arguments they make use of in defence of their sentiments.
I. That God has not fixed the future state of mankind by an absolute, unconditional decree; but determined from all eternity to bestrew salvation on those, who he foresaw would persevere unto the end in their faith in Jesus Christ; and to inflict everlasting punishments on those, who should continue in their unbelief, and resist unto the end his divine succours.
For, as the Deity is just, holy and merciful; wise in all his counsels, and true in all his declarations to the sons of men, it is inconsistent with his attributes, by an antecedent decree, to fix our commission of so many sins in such a manner, that there is no possibility for us to avoid them. And he represents God dishonourably, who believes,that by his revealed will he hath declared he would have all men to be saved, and yet by an antecedent secret will, he would have the greater part of them to perish. That he has imposed a law upon them, which he requires them to obey on penalty of his eternal displeasure, though he knows they cannot do it without his irresistible grace; and yet is absolutely determined to withhold this grace from them, and then punish them eternally for what they could not do without his divine assistance.
II. That Jesus Christ, by his death and sufferings, made an atonement for the sins of all mankind in general, and of every individual in particular; that, however, none but those who believe in him can be partakers of their divine benefit.
That is, the death of Christ put all men in a capacity of being justified and pardoned, upon condition of their faith, repentance, and sincere obedience to the laws of the new covenant.
For the scriptures declare, in a variety of places, that Christ died for the whole world. John iii. 16, 17. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed on him, might not perish, but have everlasting life, &c. 1 John ii. 2. He is the propitiation, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. And the apostle expresses the same idea in Heb. ii. 9, when he says, Christ tasted death for every man. Here is no limitation of that comprehensive phrase.
If Christ died for those who perish, and for those who do not perish, he died for all. That he died for those who do not perish, is confessed by all; and if he died for any who may or shall perish, there is the same reason to affirm that he died for all who perish. Now that he died for such, the scripture says expressly in 1 Cor. viii. 11. And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died. Hence it is evident, Christ died for those who perish, and for those who do not perish: therefore he died for all men.
III. That mankind are not totally depraved; and that the sin of our first parents is not imputed to us, nor shall we be hereafter punished for any but our own personal transgressions.
For, if all men are utterly unable to do good, and continually inclined to all manner of wickedness, it follows they are not moral agents. For how are we capable of performing our duty, or of regulating our actions by a law, commanding good and forbidding evil, if our minds are bent to nothing but what is evil? Then sin must be natural to us; and if natural, then necessary with regard to us; and if necessary, then no sin. For what is natural to us, as hunger, thirst, &c. we can by no means hinder; and what we can by no means hinder, is not our sin. Therefore mankind are not totally depraved.
That the sin of our first parents is not imputed to us is evident, because as the evil action they committed was personal, so must their real guilt be personal, and belong only to themselves, and we cannot in the eye of justice and equity be punishable for their transgressions. See Jer. xxxi. 29, 30.
IV. That there is a measure of grace given to every man to profit withal, which is neither irresistible nor irrevocable; but is the foundation of all exhortations to repentance, faith, &c. For if conversion be wrought only by the overpowering operation of God, and man is purely passive in it, vain are all the commands and exhortations to wicked men to turn from their evil ways; to cease to do evil, and learn to do well; to put off the old man, and put on the new. See Isai. i. 16. Dent. x. 16. Eph. iv. 22, and various other passages of scripture to the same purpose. Were an irresistible power necessary to the conversion of sinners, no man could be converted sooner than he is; because before this irresistible action came upon him, he could not be converted, and when it -came upon him he could not resist its operation. And therefore no man could reasonably be blamed for having lived so long in an unconverted state, and it could not be praiseworthy in any person who was converted, since no man can resist an overpowering operation.
V. That true believers may fall from their faith, and forfeit finally their state of grace.
For, the doctrine of a possibility of the final departure of true believers from the faith is expressed in Heb. vi. 4, 5, 6. It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, &c. if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance. See also 1 Cor. ix. 27. 2 Pet. ii. 18—20. And many other passages of scripture to the same purpose.
All commands to persevere and stand fast in the faith, show that there is a possibility that believers may not stand fast and persevere unto the end. All cautions to Christians not to fall from grace, are evidences and suppositions that they may fall. For what we have just reason to caution any person against, must be something which may come to pass, and be hurtful to him. Now such caution Christ gives his disciples, Luke xxi. 34. To those who had like precious faith with the apostles, St. Peter saith, Beware, lest, being led away by the errour of the wicked, you fall from your own steadfastness. 2 Pet. iii. 17. Therefore he did not look upon this as a thing impossible; and the doctrine of perseverance renders those exhortations and motives insignificant, which are so often to be found in scripture.
In these points, which are considered as fundamental articles in the Arminian system, the doctrine of free-will, as implying a self-determining power in the mind, is included. See Freewillers and Pelagians.
- Mosheiin's Eccles. Hist. vol. v. p. 3, 7, 8. Whitby on the Five Pints, p 106, 107, &c. Taylor on Original Sin, p. 13—125. Stackhouse's Body of Divinity. Correspondence between Clarke and Leibnitz, and between Priestley and Price.