G. A. Chan
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Article I: God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son, before the foundation of the world, has determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus....
Article III: Man has not saving faith of himself, nor the energy of his free will, in as much as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving faith eminently is)....
Article IV: The grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and co-operative grace, can neither think, will nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ....
If you think these are three of the five points of Calvinism, think again. They are three of the five points of Arminianism, not Calvinism. “Arminianism?!” you say. “I thought Arminians deny predestination! But Article I seems to affirm it. And I thought the Arminians affirm free will! But both Article III and IV seem to deny free will.”
If anything can be said about Arminian theologians, it is that they, like Roman Catholic theologians, can be subtle. By comparison, the Pelagians seem positively virtuous in their candor about free will and the ability of man.
James Arminius was born in 1560, in Oudewater, the Netherlands. In 1582, he studied under Beza in Geneva, the successor to John Calvin. There he met Uitenbogaert, who would later become one of his staunchest allies and promoters of his heresy. When asked in 1591 to study and refute the views of Coornhert and some ministers of Delft who fiercely opposed Calvinism, Arminius was converted to their errant views instead. But Arminius tried to hide his defection from Calvinism. He delayed indefinitely the requested refutation, making many excuses.
It is true that James Arminius was not the first Arminian. Cassian of Marseilles in the 5th century promoted almost exactly the same semi-Pelagian system. Bolsec in 1552 in Geneva, and Corvinus in Holland twenty years before Arminius, had the same heresy. Free-willism had been deeply entrenched in Roman Catholicism for centuries. Both Luther and Calvin had to battle free-willism nearly a century earlier against Erasmus (also from Holland), Pighius, and Georgius, respectively.
In 1588 Arminius was ordained in Amsterdam and soon after 1591 began to preach his heresy from the pulpit. He wanted to maintain both salvation by grace alone and the free will of man. Arminius, unlike some of his disciples, was deceptive, not stupid. Whenever Plancius opposed him, Arminius would profess adherence to the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession.
In 1602, Arminius was appointed professor of theology at the Academy of Leiden. His appointment was challenged by Franciscus Gomarus, a brilliant professor of theology at Leiden, but to no avail. Once again Arminius professed to subscribe to the Reformed creeds, and promised never to teach any contrary and erroneous views. Gomarus was a stern and crude man, and sometimes lost his temper. Arminius feared him, and was cautious in the classroom. He would often present and quote the Reformers, and then give equal time to opposing views. Then, afterwards, he would refute and discredit the Reformers. In private home groups he boldly taught his heresy to his students. His students were fond of him because, unlike Gomarus, Arminius had a pleasing personality.
Arminius died in October 1609, ten years before the Synod of Dort, without ever being declared a heretic. (Pelagius, on the other hand, was condemned on three separate occasions as a heretic for his brand of free-willism.) By trying to avoid all public debates, by carefully choosing his words when under investigation, and by constantly giving lip service to the Reformed creeds, he gave the impression, publicly at least, that he was orthodox. After his death, Uitenbogaert carried on his legacy. Arminians who had obtained ordination succeeded in deposing many orthodox pastors. In 1610, Uitenbogaert called together the Arminians at the city of Gouda to draw up a document known as the Remonstrance. In it the Arminians, known as the Remonstrants, claimed to desire no change in the accepted Reformed creeds, except merely to revise a few items. The Remonstrance offered five articles, the five points of Arminianism, which we will examine presently.
Four centuries later, the Arminians have neither changed their doctrines nor their methods, except that few call themselves Arminians or Remonstrants. In fact, many of them, like Arminius himself, claim to be Reformed and Calvinist. This writer, appointed to teach Sunday School on the book of Ephesians, was told that if he had to bring in some points of Calvinism, he was to teach both Calvinism and free-willism on equal footing. When this writer refused, he was promptly laid off his job as a Sunday School teacher. The pastors of this church, not to mention their wives, incessantly denied being Arminians, despite the fact that their teaching was decidedly and blatantly Arminian. A friend once told this writer that his pastor from the Christian and Missionary Alliance never quoted the Reformers except at their worst, in order to present them as ogres and villains. Another pastor who graduated from Westminster Seminary would one week preach on predestination, and another week preach on universal atonement. The serpentine character of the Arminians is hidden behind such evasive terms as paradox, mystery, and tension. Some Arminians even misuse and misrepresent the doctrine of infralapsarianism to disguise their errors.
The Synod Of Dort
“The Arminian controversy is the most important which took place within the Reformed Church.... Calvinism represented the consistent, logical, conservative orthodoxy; Arminianism an elastic, progressive, changing liberalism.”
The necessity and urgency of a national synod to refute the five points of Arminianism is a symptom of an already weak church. Had church discipline been more promptly exercised, had there been less naivete in believing and tolerating double-talk, perhaps the tares would not have taken root among the wheat. How is it that so many of Arminius’ students were ordained to the ministry and given license to propagate their errors, and to persecute and silence orthodox pastors? Perhaps their ordinations were based on seminary graduation instead of thorough investigation by comgregations, sessions, and presbyteries. Perhaps their continuation in the ministry was due to lazy indifference and unbiblical toleration on the part of the elders and deacons of the churches. One thing is certain today: A Christian, even within Reformed circles, without some Arminian ideas, is a rare bird.
The king of England, James I (of the renowned King James Version) also pressed for a synod to deliberate on the five points of Arminianism. When the Arminians recommended Vorstius, a Socinian from Germany, to fill the chair at Leyden vacated by Arminius, King James I wrote letters to the States General of the Netherlands opposing his appointment:
In short, since God has been pleased to dignify me with the title “Defender of the Faith,” if Vorstius is kept any longer, we shall be obliged not only to separate from those heretical churches, but also to consult all the other Reformed churches, in order to know which is the best way of extirpating and sending back to Hell those cursed heresies which have recently sprung up; we shall be forced to forbid the young people of our kingdom to frequent such an infected University as that of Leyden (Scott, 24-25).
Meanwhile, the Arminians were pressing for tolerance. Thomas Scott wrote concerning their call of tolerance, “The toleration which these men pleaded for was precisely like that which the Papists demand as emancipation-that is, power and full liberty to draw over others to their party by every artful means, till they become strong enough to refuse toleration to all other men” (Scott, 178).
An international synod was convened at the city of Dort (or Dordrecht), where the independence of the United Provinces had been declared in 1572. The Synod of Dort was convened November 13, 1618, beginning the first day with a day-long fast, and it lasted until May 9, 1619. The Netherlands were represented by 56 ministers and elders, plus five theological professors. There were also an additional 25 theologians from foreign countries, including Great Britain, Switzerland, and Germany. Delegates were invited from the Reformed churches of France, but the king of France, Louis XIII, refused to permit the Huguenots leave. Therefore, there were written responses from those and other foreign theologians who could not attend the Synod. Also present were political officials who took no part in the deliberation. There was a total of 154 formal sessions, besides numerous conferences. The sessions were opened to the public. Philip Schaff wrote, “In this respect it is even more important than the Westminster Assembly of Divines, which was confined to England and Scotland, although it produced superior doctrinal standardsÖ” (514). The Articles of Dort were not a remote, insignificant, local phenomenon. Nor was the Synod in any way a hasty, haphazard deliberation. By any standard, the Articles of Dort were a broad-based, unified, and scholarly declaration of all the Protestants against Arminian free-willism.
The Remonstrants, who were chiefly of the wealthy class, were present as well, and were allowed to offer rebuttals. But they refused to answer, used delaying tactics, refused to recognize the authority of the Synod, and were generally disruptive. They were finally dismissed from the Synod on January 14, 1619. After the Synod concluded, the Arminians deprecated the Articles of Dort by resorting to caricatures, publishing a great number of tracts attacking the orthodox view. For example, Peter Heylin, an Arminian, undertook to write a history of Dort with extreme distortion and misrepresentation. Motley also wrote “caricatures of the Synod of Dort in a manner unworthy of an impartial historian” (Schaff, 515). Behold what manner of love and tolerance the Arminians preached and practiced! Today, the caricatures and misrepresentations of Calvinism have carried the day.
The first Article of the Remonstrance, quoted earlier, seems to affirm predestination before the foundation of the world. If one reads it closely, however, he will see that it is not the same unconditional predestination which the Bible affirms. The Arminians believe (C. S. Lewis, also) that predestination is conditional, based on foreknowledge. A pastor who graduated from the Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York, once preached on Ephesians 1, saying, “God predestinates, because God foreknows.” In other words, God peers ahead through time to see who will accept the Gospel and believe, and who will not. Those whom he foresees accepting the Gospel in the future are those he chooses and elects to be saved. This kind of “predestination” is based on the condition of future faith. God had to look through time, like previewing a film, to see who would decide for Christ. But who made the film? Who made the future? This is called the prescient view of predestination, of which R. C. Sproul rightly says, “The prescient view of predestination is not an explanation of predestination, but a denial of predestination, pure and simple.” If God is the one who made the film, the future, then prescience as the basis for predestination is untenable. But if God did not make the future, who did?
Against the Arminian view of conditional predestination the Synod of Dort counters:
This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as the prerequisite, cause, or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc.. Therefore, election is the fountain of every saving good; from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as fruits and effects, according to that of the apostle: “He hath chosen us (not because we were [or would be], but) that we should be holy, and without blame, before him in love.” Ephesians 1:4. (Head I, Of Divine Predestination, Article 9).
Please notice that faith is the fruit and effect of predestination, not the condition or prerequisite of predestination as the Arminian position says. The Biblical doctrine is that God chose the elect in order to give them (not because of their) faith, repentance, etc. Commenting on Ephesians 1:4, Calvin wrote:
Besides, the fact that they were elected “to be holy” plainly refutes the error that derives election from foreknowledge, since Paul declares all virtue appearing in man is the result of election.... [S]ay: “since he foresaw that we would be holy, he chose us,” and you will invert Paul’s order. Therefore you can safely infer the following: if he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we would be so.
The Remonstrants argued that predestination tends toward pride. They cited the example of the Jews. The nation of Israel was proud that they were a chosen race, boasting of their Abrahamic ancestry. However, John the Baptist said to them, “Do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” Do you see the point? John was saying that children of Abraham, children of faith, are not begotten by natural, biological descent. The true children of Abraham are begotten by grace supernaturally. The fact is, the Jews were proud because they thought they were chosen by God because of their race. Race had become to them a condition for God’s choice. They were proud of their race, their ancestry, their meeting the condiions for election.
Biblical predestination, far from inducing pride, precludes it. There is nothing in the creature warranting God’s choice. The Arminian view of predestination-the prescient view of conditional election-induces pride. “God chose me, not you, because I understood the Gospel; because I exercised my free will properly.” Conditional election gives the sinner grounds for boasting. Hoeksema wrote, “It is a very common phenomenon in the battle for the truth, namely, that heretics seek to calumniate the truth with the very faults which characterize their own false doctrine” (214).
The second Article of the Remonstrance states: “Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16.... And I John 2:2....”
John 3:16 is a verse constantly on the lips of the Arminians who twist it to “prove” that God loves everyone and Christ died for everyone. In The Cause of God and Truth, John Gill disproved that the word world means everyone. In Arminian theology, God loves everyone and wants to save everyone. Christ’s death is not an actual payment for sins, not an effective atonement, but merely an offer to pay. God gives everyone the free will to choose to accept the offer or to reject it. God then respects their free choices.
But genuine love does everything within its ability to save and benefit the loved one. If the Arminian god loves everyone and yet does not save everyone, only one other conclusion is left: He can’t. The Arminian god is not omnipotent. He wanted to save everyone. And he tried to save everyone. He really tried. But he couldn’t. A god who is not omnipotent is an idol, not the Almighty God of the Bible who accomplishes whatsoever he desires (Psalm 33:11; 135:6).
The other verse listed by the second article of the Remonstrance is 1 John 2:2, which seems to imply universal redemption. While writing this essay, I heard a Chinese pastor, a seminary founder and author of two books on hermeneutics, interpret 1 John 2:2 to mean that “Christ atoned for the sins of us Christians; and not only for us Christians, but also for everyone else [non-Christians].” John Gill cleans the Arminian cobwebs from this verse also, and I summarize his argument: (1) John uses the word world in many different senses. For example: all of creation, John 1:10; the planet Earth, John 16:28; the wicked only, John 17:9; the elect only, John 1:29; 6:33, 35; etc. Gill says, “.... the word world is always used in the Apostle John’s writings in a restricted and limited sense....” (2) The whole world is a phrase frequently used by Jews in a limited sense. (3) The Scripture uses the term in a limited sense. For example: the Roman empire only, Luke 2:1; a hyperbole in Romans 1:8; the non-elect only, Revelation 12:9; etc. (4) 1 John 2:2 speaks of Christ’s propitiation for sins. If everyone without exception is meant, then the sins of everyone without exception would be atoned for and pardoned, and every person would be justified. (5) John was a Jew writing to Jews. The phrase whole world frequently refers to the Gentiles (compare Romans 11:12,15). John was saying that Christ’s propitiation is not for Jews only, but for Gentiles, also (64-66).
Against the Remonstrance, the Articles of Dort proclaim:
For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation...... (Head II, Of the Death of Christ, Article 8, emphasis added.)
Applying Euler’s circles, there are only five logical possibilities concerning the atonement:
Figure 1. Christ atoned for all the sins of all people.
Figure 2. Christ atoned for some of the sins of all people.
Figure 3. Christ atoned for some of the sins of some people.
Figure 4. Christ atoned for all the sins of some people.
Figure 5. Christ atoned for no one.
Fig. 1 Fig. 2 Fig. 3
Fig. 4 Fig. 5
A = Christ’s Atonement S = Sin P = People
Figure 5 would clearly mean that salvation is 100 percent by works. This is Liberalism, Paganism, Pelagianism. Figures 2 and 3 would mean that some additional atonement is needed for the sins for which Christ did not die. Works again enter, and grace is neither grace nor alone. Figure 2 is the logically implied position of the Arminians, though they claim Figure 1 is their position. If we assume that Figure 1 is the Arminian position, that Christ atoned for all the sins of all people, the question arises, Why then do some people go to Hell? The Arminians answer, Because they do not believe and do not repent. But are not unbelief and unrepentance sins? If Christ atoned for all the sins of all people, then he atoned for the sins of unbelief and unrepentance also. So, we ask again, why do some people still go to Hell? Arminians are cornered by logic, and must either accept universal salvation, which is denied by explicit statements of Scripture (but which many recent Arminians have in fact adopted), or else admit that their position is really Figure 2. The only alternative left for salvation to be truly by grace alone by Christ alone and by faith alone is Figure 4, which is the Biblical position, and the position of all the Protestants at Dort.
Depravity and Grace
The third Article of the Remonstrance has already been stated. This third point of the Remonstrance, taken all by itself, sounds quite Calvinistic. But the fourth Article of the Remonstrance goes on to say, “This grace is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good.... But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible....” The free will which the third Article seems to deny, the fourth Article affirms. In fact, the free will affirmed by the fourth Article is so potent that it can resist even God. God, on the other hand, cannot resist man’s free will. Man, not God, has the irresistible will.
At this point I would like to issue a challenge to any free-willers who might still be reading this essay: If believing is an act of free will as the Arminians claim-if believing and accepting, or disbelieving and rejecting, are in the power of free will-then I challenge you to do this: Choose to believe in Calvinism and reject Arminianism. Choose to believe that man has no free will, that God is the ultimate cause of all man’s decisions. Go ahead. Exercise your free will. “But,” you object, “I can’t believe something that’s not true!” I didn’t think so. Thank you for admitting that you cannot believe, that your alleged free will is a product of your imagination, that believing something is completely dependent on whether you think it to be true or not.
Before we go any further, some definitions are in order. Will is defined as the ability or power to choose. What, then, is free will? What is the will free of? Arminians mean that it is free of God’s control. They do not use the phrase to mean that man’s will is free of physical or chemical causation. They accuse Calvinists of making men to be mere robots or puppets because God controls them. But a puppet or robot has no will at all, and does not make choices. Calvinists affirm that men make choices, but that their wills are not free from God’s control.
The second accusation is the other side of the same coin: Calvinists make God a tyrant, forcing people against their wills. This is not true either. Almighty God can simply change the will-or more accurately, the mind, so that it now understands to be true what it formerly thought was false, and believes it. This is not “against the will,” because the mind has been enlightened and now believes truth, not falsehood.
The Synod of Dort called free will “the proud heresy of Pelagius.” R. C. Sproul thinks that charging Arminianism with the heresy of Pelagius was “severe and unfair” on the part of Dort. Perhaps R. C. Sproul is severe and unfair to the Synod of Dort instead.
Head III - IV, Article 12 reads: “[Conversion] is in no wise effected merely by external preaching of the Gospel, by moral suasion, or such mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or not.....” It is not that God does 99 percent and it’s up to man to do his 1 percent. Salvation is not a cooperative effort. It is wholly the work of God. This is the meaning of salvation by grace alone. Calvin writes: “He [God] does not move the will in such a manner as has been taught and believed for many ages-that it is afterward in our choice either to obey or resist the motion-but by disposing it efficaciously... (Institutes, II,III,10).
Article 14 under the same Head reads: “Thus, therefore, faith is a gift of God, not because it is offered by God to the will of man; not even because God confers only the power of believing, and then expects (awaits) the consent, or indeed the act of believing, from the will of man; but because he, who works both to will and to do [Philippians 2:13], and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also (or believing itself).” Both the willingness and the actual act of believing, both the willingness and the actual act of accepting, are themselves the very gifts which God produces in man. This gift of faith God gives to the elect only.
The last Article of the Remonstrance, concerning the perseverance of the saints, states: “.....But whether they [the saints] are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the principle of their being in Christ...., of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of mind.”
That the Remonstrants could not be positive about the perseverance of the saints is a logical consequence of their system. After all, if man has free will, what is to prevent him from changing his mind and degenerating himself tomorrow? In fact, the Remonstrant cannot logically be sure he will persevere even in Heaven! What is to prevent him from sinning in Heaven? Sure, Satan and his minions will be bound up forever in Hell, and, therefore, he cannot incite anyone in Heaven with temptations to sin. But even without Satan’s suggestions, man still will have his memories-memories of all the enticing sins and evil from his experience. Further, a tempter is not absolutely necessary. Remember Satan. No one tempted this once perfect and holy angel to sin. So what is to prevent the Remonstrants with their free will from sinning even in Heaven? Would they say that they will not have free will in Heaven? Then, by their own arguments, they will become robots and puppets.
If free will is true, Christians must now, and forever, live in fear and doubt. Arminians have no theological right to sing a hymn such as “Blessed Assurance.” But, on the other hand, if God is the controller of the mind, then Christians can rest assured that God, who cannot lie, will keep his promises to preserve his saints forever.
Calvinism is a complete system. The five points of Arminianism are a small system. (The five points of Arminianism are inconsistent with other Christian doctrines, and contemporary Arminians are busy abandoning the rest of Christianity.) Break any point in the system, and you break the whole system. The Remonstrants knew that if they could plant merely one doubt about the sovereignty of God, that seed would growe and overturn the whole of the Reformed faith. The Remonstrants stated their first two Articles ambiguously. They stated their third Article in a Reformed way, but then negated it in their fourth Article. Then, in their fifth Article, they raised doubts. One cannot but conclude that this is intentional deception. And for any Reformed Christian to allow one point, even half a point (for example, God desires to save everyone but decrees to save only the elect), of the Arminian system in, they allow the Deceiver to have a foothold in the churches. It will be only a matter of time before the whole system slips away, leaving only the empty sound of Reformed words without doctrine echoing in the air. Be forewarned: One can smile and smile, and be an Arminian!
Two-Point Calvinists, or Three-Point Arminians?
Against the five Articles of the Remonstrance, the united voices of Protestants at the Synod of Dort declared what has come to be known as the five points of Calvinism, symbolized by the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity-sin has affected and stained every part of man; Unconditional Election-predestination is an eternal decree not conditioned on foreseen good nor evil; Limited Atonement-Christ actually paid (not merely offered to pay, not merely made payment possible) the full penalty for the elect only; Irresistible Grace-the Holy Spirit actually gives and applies (not merely offers, leaving the acceptance or rejection to man) the gifts of faith, repentance, etc., to the elect; and Preservation of the Saints-God is the one who preserves the saints in truth.
Is there such an animal as a one-, two-, three-, or four-point Calvinist? No. To be a Calvinist, one must believe all five points. All are essential to the definition; if one part of the definition is missing, then one cannot be a Calvinist. Some dispensationalists claim to be four-point Calvinists. On this, R. C. Sproul aptly says, “In my discussions with Dispensational thinkers, I have probed their four-point Calvinism, having had difficulty understanding how a person can hold to the four points they espouse and yet reject the fifth. In some of these discussions, I discovered what appeared to be a misunderstanding of the four points [which they accept] and a clear understanding of the fifth [which they reject].” However, Sproul did caution that “the universe of my experience provides an inadequate basis from which to draw final conclusions...” (190). The “fifth point,” of course, is always the doctrine of limited atonement-more clearly called definite or effective atonement. And to deny this point involves a denial that Christ’s atonement was effective at all.
Are Arminians Christians? Sproul answers, “ ‘Yes, barely.’ They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency” (25). Another theologian thinks that Arminians are saved by “blessed inconsistency.” But what is to prevent the equally possible, and perhaps more Biblical, conclusion, that Arminians are lost by cursed inconsistency? Did not the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, curse everyone, even an angel, who teaches a false gospel? (See Galatians 1:8, 9.) Arminianism has a false gospel; it is not Christianity; and if a member of an Arminian church makes it to Heaven, he does so despite his church’s teaching, not because of it. There may be some Christians in Arminian churches, just as there may be some Christians in Roman Catholic churches, but they are Christians despite their churches’ teachings.
“May Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, seated at the Father’s right hand, gives gifts to men, sanctify us in the truth, bring to the truth those who err, shut the mouths of the calumniators of sound doctrine, and endue the faithful minister of his Word with the spirit of wisdom and discretion, that all their discourses may tend to the glory of God, and the edification of those who hear them. Amen.” (The Conclusion of the Articles of Dort)