Question, "What Is an Arminian?" Answered by a Lover of Free Grace
To say, "This man is an Arminian," has the same effect on many
hearers, as to say, "This is a mad dog." It puts them into a fright at
once: They run away from him with all speed and diligence; and will hardly stop,
unless it be to throw a stone at the dreadful and mischievous animal.
The more unintelligible the word is, the better it answers the purpose. Those on
whom it is fixed know not what to do: Not understanding what it means, they
cannot tell what defence to make, or how to clear themselves from the charge.
And it is not easy to remove the prejudice which others have imbibed, who know
no more of it, than that it is "something very bad," if not "all
that is bad!"
To clear the meaning, therefore, of this ambiguous term, may be of use to many:
To those who so freely pin this name upon others, that they may not say what
they do not understand; to those that hear them, that they may be no longer
abused by men saying they know not what; and to those upon whom the name is
fixed, that they may know how to answer for themselves.
It may be necessary to observe, First, that many confound Arminians with Arians.
But this is entirely a different thing; the one has no resemblance to the other.
An Arian is one who denies the Godhead of Christ; we scarce need say, the
supreme, eternal Godhead; because there can be no God but the supreme, eternal
God, unless we will make two Gods, a great God and a little one. Now, none have
ever more firmly believed, or more strongly asserted, the Godhead of Christ,
than many of the (so called) Arminians have done; yea, and do at this day.
Arminianism therefore (whatever it be) is totally different from Arianism.
The rise of the word was this: JAMES HARMENS, in Latin, Jacobes Arminius,
was first one of the Ministers of
The errors charged upon these (usually termed Arminians) by their
opponents, are five: (1.) That they deny original sin; (2.) That they deny
justification by faith; (3.) That they deny absolute predestination; (4.) That
they deny the grace of God to be irresistible; and, (5.) That they affirm, a
believer may fall from grace.
regard to the two first of these charges, they plead, Not Guilty. They are
entirely false. No man that ever lived, not John Calvin himself, ever asserted
either original sin, or justification by faith, in more strong, more clear and
express terms, than Arminius has done. These two points, therefore, are to be
set out of the question: In these both parties agree. In this respect, there is
not a hair's breadth difference between Mr. Wesley and Mr. Whitefield.
But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with
regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe
absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.)
God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons,
and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians
hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written
word, "He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be
condemned:" And in order to this, "Christ died for all, all that were
dead in trespasses and sins;" that is, for every child of Adam, since
"in Adam all died."
The Calvinists hold, Secondly, that the saving grace of God is absolutely
irresistible; that no man is any more able to resist it, than to resist the
stroke of lightning. The Arminians hold, that although there may be some moments
wherein the grace of God acts irresistibly, yet, in general, any man may resist,
and that to his eternal ruin, the grace whereby it was the will of God he should
have been eternally saved.
The Calvinists hold, Thirdly, that a true believer in Christ cannot possibly
fall from grace. The Arminians hold, that a true believer may "make
shipwreck of faith and a good conscience;" that he may fall, not only
foully, but finally, so as to perish for ever.
Indeed, the two latter points, irresistible grace and infallible perseverance,
are the natural consequence of the former, of the unconditional decree. For if
God has eternally and absolutely decreed to save such and such persons, it
follows, both that they cannot resist his saving grace, (else they might miss of
salvation,) and that they cannot finally fall from that grace which they cannot
resist. So that, in effect, the three questions come into one, "Is
predestination absolute or conditional?" The Arminians believe, it is
conditional; the Calvinists, that it is absolute.
Away, then, with all ambiguity! Away with all expressions which only puzzle the
cause! Let honest men speak out, and not play with hard words which they do not
understand. And how can any man know what Arminius held, who has never read one
page of his writings? Let no man bawl against Arminians, till he knows what the
term means; and then he will know that Arminians and Calvinists are just upon a
level. And Arminians have as much right to be angry at Calvinists, as Calvinists
have to be angry at Arminians. John Calvin was a pious, learned, sensible man;
and so was James Harmens. Many Calvinists are pious, learned, sensible men; and
so are many Arminians. Only the former hold absolute predestination; the latter,
One word more: Is it not the duty of every Arminian Preacher, First, never, in
public or in private, to use the word Calvinist as a term of reproach;
seeing it is neither better nor worse than calling names? -- a practice no more
consistent with good sense or good manners, than it is with Christianity.
Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by
showing them the sin and folly of it? And is it not equally the duty of every
Calvinist Preacher, First, never in public or in private, in preaching or in
conversation, to use the word Arminian as a term of reproach? Secondly. To do
all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the
sin and folly thereof; and that the more earnestly and diligently, if they have
been accustomed so to do? perhaps encouraged therein by his own example!