Page images

of their sap in Egyptian soil, the one reaching us through the ancient Greeks and the other through Moses and the Prophets, but until more is known of the monotheism of Akhnaton and more too of the original teaching of Moses himself, it will not be possible to claim any true relationship between these two great thinkers.



The Works of James Arminius, D.D. Translated from the

(London : Longman, vols. I and 2, 1825, 1828. Baker,
vol. 3, 1875.)

3 vols.

The visitor to the picturesque little Dutch town of Dordrecht would doubtless be attracted to the fine old church for which it is noted. Should he be able to understand Dutch, he would in all probability learn during his visit that the church was the scene, early in the Seventeenth century, of the opening and closing sessions of a famous Synodthe Synod of Dort, which resulted in the condemnation of the doctrines known as Arminianism. It is more than probable that to the majority of visitors such information would be neither very enlightening nor particularly interesting. The Synod and its raison d'être have long since sunk into the oblivion of antiquity, and are not among the subjects which command very much attention at the present day. And yet it is just possible that the question is really not quite so obsolete as might on first thoughts be supposed; but that on the contrary the teaching of Arminius and his followers raised problems which even now are by no means finally solved, and so on that account still merit consideration.

James Arminius was born at Oudewater in the year 1560. After a course of study at Leyden, he went, at the age of twenty-two, to Geneva, and there came under the influence of Beza, and absorbed the strict predestinarian doctrines which that teacher, following Calvin, was then propagating. In 1588 he was summoned to Amsterdam to fill the position of minister to the ‘Reformed Congregation' in that city. It was some time after this appointment that there was sent to him a copy of a pamphlet which was being circulated by certain ‘Brethren of the Church of Delft,' and which was entitled 'An Answer to some of the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Arguments adduced by Beza and Calvin ; from a Treatise concerning Predestination, on the Ninth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.'

The copy was sent to Arminius with the request that he would undertake to write a reply in defence of Beza and against the Delft brethren. He was well qualified for the work, for having but recently left the University of Geneva, the teaching and the arguments of Beza were still prominent in his mind. But, as is well known to the student, he was destined never to carry out the task for which he seemed so well suited, for (in the words of Bertius, in his ‘Funeral Oration') while he was contriving a proper refutation, and had begun accurately to weigh the arguments on both sides, and to compare different passages of Scripture together--while he was thus harassing and fatiguing himself, he was conquered by the force of truth, and at first became a convert to the very opinions which he had been requested to combat and refute.' Afterwards, however, his inquiries and careful examination into the subject led him to disagree somewhat with the doctrines as promulgated by the Delft brethren, and to formulate his own opinions which he maintained for the rest of his life.

An inquiry into the nature of Arminius' teaching must of necessity be preceded by a statement of the position from which he broke away. In his ‘Declaration of his Sentiments' which he made before the States of Holland in a full assembly at the Hague in 1608, he examines his former position, i.e. the rigid predestinarian position of Beza and others of the sterner Calvinist teachers, in great detail. He says that although he is unable to make mention of every single item in the doctrines of those whom he is opposing, he regards them as capable of being summed up under four principal heads, with all of which he is in disagreement, and which he states as follows :'1. That God has absolutely and precisely decreed to

save certain particular men by His mercy or grace, but to condemn others by His justice : And to do all this without having any regard in such decrees to righteousness or sin, obedience or disobedience, which could possibly exist on

the part of one class of men or of the other. 2. That, for the execution of the preceding decree, God

determined to create Adam, and all men in him, in an upright state of original righteousness; besides which He also ordained them to commit sin, that they might thus become guilty of eternal conde nnation and be deprived of original

righteo-sness. 3. That those persons whom God has thus positively

willed to save, He has decreed not only to salvation but also to the means which pertain to it; (that is, to conduct and bring them to faith in Christ Jesus, and to perseverance in that faith ;) and that He also in reality leads them to these results by a grace and power which are irresistible, so that it is not possible for them to do otherwise

than believe, persevere in faith, and be saved. 4. That to those whom, by His absolute will, God has

foreordained to perdition, He has also decreed to deny that grace which is necessary and sufficient for salvation, and does not in reality confer it upon them; so that they are neither placed in a possible condition nor in any capacity of believing or of being saved.

This summary reveals the nature of the subject which Arminius set himself to deal with; and it must be remembered that the doctrines involved were ones which Arminius himself had at first embraced. Consequently his position in regard to them after he had broken away was for a time a negative one: he doubted increasingly their validity ; but it was only after careful study and much labour that he was able to oppose to them a definite system of his own.

It has been well said that Arminius forms a connecting link between Athanasius and Augustine.1 Athanasius

1 Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Reli; 'on and Ethics, vol. i. Art. * Arminianism' (by F. Platt),

[ocr errors]

stands for the truth of the Church's doctrine regarding the true nature of God; Augustine is the teacher of the Teal significance of the nature of man. Arminius concerned himself with the problem of the true nature of the relations which exist between man and God. His system recognized and expounded the developed doctrines of God and of man, which the Church had long accepted as established positions, but which her theologians had never satisfactorily related. . . The aim of Arminius was to express with dialectic vigour the only doctrinal position consistent with the necessary relations between God and man. ... The mission of Arminianism was to shew how God could be what the Church taught He was, and man what the Church declared him to be, at one and the same time. And the me hod by which Arminius reached his solution was by an insistence from the outset on the necessity of an ethical prirciple governing the whole of God's relations with mankind.

This demand of Arminius that God's attitude towards man must be moral is really the root reason for his refusing to remain the disciple of Beza and an upholder of the sterner Calvinism. It was his great argument against this teaching that it could not support a moral relation between God and man. The method of his attack was as follovs:

The fundamental point in Predestinarianism was that 'the eternal decree of God in predestination was positively and absolutely to elect to eternal salvation certain persons whon He had not then decreed to create. That is to say, God's relation to man was primarily and essentially an attitude in which He definitely willed eternal life to certain parti:ular human beings, and also eternal destruction to otheis; and this willing preceded and was the purpose of Crea:ion. Arminius claims that such a doctrine is repugnant to the whole nature of God, and in particular to His Wisdom, to Eis Justice and to His Goodness. In his own words, it is repugnant to His Wisdom because it represents God as decreeing something for a particular end (or purpose) which neither is nor can be good; which is, that God

« PreviousContinue »