J. I. Packer
Within the Churches of the Reformation, the terms Calvinism and Arminianism are traditionally used as a pair, expressing an antithesis, like black and white, or Whig and Tory, or Roman and Protestant. The words are defined in terms of the antithesis, and the point is pressed that no Christian can avoid being on one side or the other. Among evangelicals, this issue, though now 350 years old (if not, indeed, 1900 years old), remains live and sometimes explosive. Calvinism and Arminianism are still spat out by some as anathematizing swear words (like fundamentalism on the lips of a liberal), and there are still places where you forfeit both fellowship and respect by professing either. There remain Presbyterian churches which ordain only Calvinists, and Methodist and Nazarene bodies which ordain only Arminians, and the division between “general” (Arminian) and “particular” (Calvinistic) still splits the English Baptist community. In evangelism, cooperation between evangelicals is sometimes hindered by disagreement and mistrust over this matter, just as in the eighteenth century the Calvinistic evangelicals and John Wesley’s party found it hard on occasion to work together. Nor is it any wonder that tension should exist, when each position sees the other as misrepresenting the saving love of God. The wonder is, rather, that so many Christians who profess a serious concern for theology should treat this debate as one in which they have no stakes, and need not get involved.
This paper seeks to understand and evaluate the Calvinist-Arminian antithesis. To that end, we shall address ourselves to three questions. First, what is Arminianism? Second, how deep is the cleavage between it and Calvinism and what has the Bible to say on the matters in dispute here? Third (assuming that by this stage we shall have seen reason to regard Arminianism as a pathological growth), what causes Arminianism and what is the cure for it? Before we tackle these questions, however, one caveat must be entered. Our concern is with things, not words. Our subject matter will oblige us to speak of Calvinism and Arminianism frequently, but it is no part of our aim to revive bad habits of slogan-shouting and name-calling. What matters is that we should grasp truly what the Bible says about God and His grace, not that we should parade brand labels derived from historical theology. The present writer believes, and wishes others to believe, the doctrines commonly labeled Calvinistic, but he is not concerned to argue for the word. One who has received the biblical witness to God’s sovereignty in grace is blessed indeed, but he is no better off for labeling himself a Calvinist, and might indeed be the worse for it; for party passion and love of the truth are different things, and are not always helpful to each other.
What Is Arminianism?1
Historically, Arminianism has appeared as a reaction against Calvinism, affirming, in the words of W. R. Bagnall, “conditional in opposition to absolute predestination, and general in opposition to particular redemption.”2 This verbal antithesis is not in fact as simple or clear as it looks, for changing the adjective involves redefining the noun. What Bagnall should have said is that Calvinism affirms a concept of predestination from which conditionality is excluded, and a concept of redemption to which particularity is essential, and Arminianism denies both. The difference is this. To Calvinism, predestination means foreordination, whereas to Arminianism it means only foresight of events not foreordained. On the Calvinist view, election, which is a predestinating act on God’s part, means the foreordaining of particular sinners to be saved by Jesus Christ, through faith, and redemption, the first step in working out God’s electing purpose, is an achievement actually securing certain salvation—calling, pardon, adoption, preservation, final glory—for all the elect. On the Arminian view, however, what the death of Christ secured was a possibility of salvation for sinners generally, a possibility which, so far as God is concerned, might never have been actualized in any single case; and the electing of individuals to salvation is no more than God noting in advance who will believe and qualify for glory, as a matter of contingent (not foreordained) fact. Whereas to Calvinism election is God’s resolve to save, and the cross Christ’s act of saving, for Arminianism salvation rests neither on God’s election nor on Christ’s cross, but on a man’s own cooperation with grace, which is something that God does not Himself guarantee.
Arminianism was born in Holland at the turn of the seventeenth century, and synodically condemned by the whole Reformed world at Dort in 1618. In England, an Arminian tradition of teaching lasted into, and right through, the eighteenth century. Arminianism was part of the Wesley family heritage, and John and Charles fought the Calvinists by prose and poetry throughout their evangelical ministry. The Arminian evangelical tradition has been maintained by Methodists and others up to the present day.
It is important to realize that both in its general tenor and in its practical effect the Arminianism of the “Belgic semi-Pelagians,”3 as John Owen called the Remonstrants and their supporters, was not by any means identical with the Arminianism of John Wesley, his Arminian Magazine (1778–), and his colleague John Fletcher. The following account of Wesley’s doctrine, taken from Fletcher’s First Check to Antinomianism (1771), will alert us to the difference:
He [Wesley] holds also General Redemption, and its necessary consequences, which some account dreadful heresies. He asserts with St. Paul, that Christ by the GRACE of God, tasted death for every man: and this grace he calls free, as extending itself freely to all. He frequently observes with the same apostle, that Christ is the Saviour of ALL men, but specially of them that believe; and that God will have ALL men to be saved, consistently with their moral agency, and the tenor of his gospel. With St. John he maintains, that God is love, and that Christ is the propitiation not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD . . . and with St. Peter, that the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance; yea, that God, without hypocrisy, commandeth ALL men, EVERYWHERE, to repent.
Thus far, Wesley’s position coincided completely with that of the Remonstrants, but Fletcher’s next point is this:
Thus far, Mr. W. agrees with Arminius, because he thinks that illustrious Divine agreed thus far with the Scriptures, and all the early Fathers of the Church. But if Arminius (as the Author of Pietas Oxoniensis affirms in his letter to Dr. Adams) “denied that man’s nature is totally corrupt, and asserted that he hath still a freedom of will to turn to God, but not without the assistance of grace,” Mr. W. is no Arminian, for he strongly asserts the total fall of man, and constantly maintains that by nature man’s will is only free to evil, and that divine grace must first prevent, and then continually further him, to make him willing and able to turn to God.4
These sentences point us to the basic difference between the Remonstrant and the Wesleyan Arminianisms. In seeing man’s act as contingent so far as God is concerned, and in thinking that moral agency presupposes “freewill” in the special and particular sense of indeterminacy of action, the two were agreed. In claiming that all men actually have power to respond to such revelation from God as reaches them, and that revelation sufficient to save actually reaches every man, whether he hears the gospel or not, they were agreed also. (Historic Calvinism would query all these positions.) But the two Arminianisms divided over the question whether capacity for response to God had been wholly lost at the fall. Wesley said it had, but held that it was now restored to every man as a gift of grace. The Remonstrants said it had never been wholly lost, and “total inability” had never been a true diagnosis of man’s plight in Adam. Sin, said the Remonstrants in effect, has made man weak in the moral and spiritual realm, but not bad: he still has it in him to reach out, however sluggishly, after what is right, and God in fact helps him, powerfully if not decisively, in each particular right choice. Wesley agreed that God helps to actualize an existing capacity in every right choice, but maintained that this capacity only existed now because it had been supernaturally restored to all the race in consequence of the cross. While accepting Remonstrant synergism, in the sense of seeing man’s co-operation in right action as something distinct from, and independent of, God’s energizing, Wesley insisted that the capacity to cooperate was itself a love gift from God to sinners, and that the Calvinistic doctrine of original sin, as involving loss of this capacity entirely, had not been a whit too strong.
The effect of this difference was to give the two Arminianisms contrasting thrusts. The Remonstrant thrust was to upgrade nature, minimize sin, and recast Christianity as a moralism of grace (that is, a system, like Roman Catholicism, in which grace makes possible saving moral endeavor: in New Testament terms, a Judaizing Christianity which is really “another gospel”). The end of this road, as the century following Dort showed, was Deism—salvation by merit of morality without grace at all. The Wesleyan thrust, however, was explicitly anti-deistic and in intention, if not entirely in effect, anti-moralistic too. Wesley maximized sin in order to magnify grace. He challenged the then standard Anglican moralism, of which he had himself once been a victim, by affirming present justification through faith in Christ alone, and by adding that true Christian morality was the fruit of justifying faith, and that self-abandoning trust was of this faith’s very essence. Where Remonstrant Arminianism had been humanistic and rationalistic in motivation, delimiting God’s sovereignty of set purpose in order to assert man’s autonomy and self-determination, Wesleyan Arminianism was directly religious in motivation—more religious than theological, in fact—seeking only to exhibit the love of God in salvation and the power of faith in everyday life and practice. Remonstrant Arminianism, like later Baxterianism, took a voluntaristic view of faith as essentially commitment to new obedience, a view which assimilates faith to repentance and makes it both look and feel like a human work determining salvation. Wesleyan Arminianism, however, like earlier Reformation theology, both Lutheran and Calvinist, distinguished faith from repentance, defining it as assured trust in Christ, correlative to the witness of the Holy Spirit, and springing from the sense of hopelessness and helplessness which God’s law induces. Having thus excluded all self-reliance from the psychology of faith, Wesley seems never to have seen the oddity of continuing to profess a theology which obliged him to view faith as a man’s own work of response to God. There was, in truth, beneath the surface clearness and practicality of his mind a great deal of muddle at the theoretical level. Certainly, however, his view of the nature of faith made his professed Arminianism as fully evangelical, and as little legalistic, as it is possible for a synergistic system to be. We shall mark the difference between it and the Remonstrant position by calling them evangelical and rationalistic Arminianisms respectively.
We shall now glance at their history, taking the latter first.
Rationalistic Arminianism was a revival of the semi-Pelagian reaction to Augustinianism which was developed in the fifth century by John Cassian and Faustus of Ries. It was a movement of recoil from the high doctrine of predestination taught by Luther and Calvin and systematized—perhaps too thoroughly—by Beza. Arminianism emerged in Holland, but not as an isolated phenomenon; similar reactionary theologies appeared at about the same time in England, as we shall see, and in German Lutheranism. It was part of a Europe-wide encroachment on the theology of the Reformation by the rationalism of the Renaissance.
The story is this. In 1589 a brilliant young Amsterdam clergyman, who had studied for a year with Beza in Geneva, Jakob Hermandzoon (Arminius) by name, was asked to answer an attack by a certain Koornhert, of Delft, on the supralapsarian view of predestination. (This was the view that God’s election of some to salvation and non-election of others envisaged men, not as fallen, but simply as rational creatures, and so was logically prior in God’s thinking to His decision to permit the Fall.) It was assumed that Beza’s pupil would hammer Koornhert hard; but Arminius’s restudy of the issues led him to agree with Koornhert. The expected reply never appeared. Instead, for the next twenty years till his death in 1609, at the age of 49, Arminius maintained, discreetly but decidedly, the “Arminian” view of election and a semi-Pelagian view of man.
In 1610, a group of his followers issued a public Remonstrance, a manifesto stating on five theological issues “Arminian” views for which they claimed toleration and protection. Eventually the Synod of Dort (1618–19) pronounced against them all, affirming in opposition five counter-theses of its own. These “five points of Calvinism,” made memorable by the mnemonic TULIP, are the Total depravity of man in sin (total in extent, of course, not in degree); the Unconditional and decisive character of God’s election of sinners to salvation; the Limited scope (but definite and effective nature) of Christ’s redemptive achievement on the cross; the Irresistible and efficacious quality of the grace that leads sinners to repentance and faith; and the certain Perseverance, through divine preservation, of all regenerate persons to final glory.5 The overall thrust of the Dort deliverances is to make the double point that it is God who saves us by fulfilling His plan of election, and Christ who saves us by His effective purchase of us on Calvary, and that in no sense do we save ourselves: salvation is wholly of the Lord, first to last a gift of free sovereign mercy. A. W. Harrison rightly describes the canons of Dort as “rather one of the classic statements of Calvinism than an exposition of Arminian error”;6 their main value and significance lies in their positive affirmations, which controlled the presentation of the Reformed faith in Europe for a period of more than a century.
Dort having spoken, the Arminians were temporarily exiled; but in 1626 they were able to return and open a theological seminary at Amsterdam, where Episcopius, Curcellaeus (Courcelles), and Limborch, three brilliant men, taught in succession. Philip Schaff’s description of Arminianism as standing for “an elastic; progressive, changing liberalism”7 was, however, true of the Seminary. The continental Arminian school drifted rapidly into undogmatic moralism, of a deistic or Socinian type.
In England, Peter Baro (Baron), a French refugee who had become Lady Margaret Professor for Divinity at Cambridge, caused a stir in 1579 by arguing from the case of Nineveh in the book of Jonah the thesis which in substance Arminius was to maintain ten years later—that “God predestined all men to eternal life, on condition of their faith and obedience.”8 William Barrett preached the same doctrine in 1595, and the resulting explosion caused the nine Lambeth Articles to be composed. These, the nearest English counterpart to the Dort canons, were a semi-official statement of what was then regarded as Anglican orthodoxy on predestination and grace.9 At the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, John Rainolds, the Puritan leader, asked for the Lambeth Articles to be added to the Thirty-nine, but King James said no.
Soon came a massive reaction away from Calvinism along the lines that Baro and Barrett had marked out. This was due partly to official encouragement of Arminians from the top by Laud and others, partly to the attractive combination of moralism and natural theology put out by the Cambridge Platonists, and partly, no doubt, to the Englishman’s congenital instinct toward Pelagianism. After the Restoration, Calvinism had the status only of an oddity maintained by nonconformists: the divines of the establishment were, with very few exceptions, Arminians. One result was the corrupting of the doctrine of justification by faith in the Church of England. The later Reformation teaching that Christ’s righteousness imputed was the “formal cause” of justification was replaced by the Arminian thought of Christ’s personal righteousness as the meritorious cause of the present possibility of self-salvation. Faith became not the means but the condition of justification, and was understood moralistically as “all the obedience required by the gospel.” This phrase comes from Bishop Bull, who, like Luther, interpreted James as teaching that sanctification was the ground of justification; only whereas Luther concluded from this that James was not fit to be in the Bible, Bull argued that James was the norm, and Paul should be interpreted in line with him.10 Bull’s older contemporaries, Hammond, Thorndike, and Jeremy Taylor, had substantially taught the same, and this view became standard. By Wesley’s day the true meaning of justification by faith had been forgotten almost universally in the Church of England.
This brings us to evangelical Arminianism, which had as part of its purpose the restoring of the truth of justification to its rightful place once more.
John Wesley learned moralistic Arminianism from his parents as part of the family doctrine. Both Samuel and Susanna had moved out from Calvinistic nonconformity into Arminian Anglicanism, and were sharply hostile to the teaching they had left behind. (The psychology of such hostile attitudes is well known.) A letter from Susanna to John in 1725, when he was twenty-two, states exactly the view of predestination, and of the meaning of article 17 of the Thirty-nine, which he always upheld in later life:
The doctrine of predestination as maintained by rigid Calvinists, is very shocking . . . because it charges the most holy God with being the author of sin. . . . I do firmly believe that God from all eternity hath elected some to everlasting life, but then I humbly conceive that this election is founded in His foreknowledge, according to Romans 8:29, 30 . . . Whom in his eternal prescience God saw would make a right use of their purses, and accept of offered mercy, He did predestinate. . . . nor can it with more reason be supposed that the prescience of God is the cause that many finally perish than that our knowing the sun will rise tomorrow is the cause of its rising.11
However, John’s association with the Moravians, which led to his Aldersgate Street experience of 1738, knocked all the moralism and self-effort out of his Arminianism, and brought in its place a clear emphasis on instantaneous justification through faith as part of an instantaneous new birth, without which there was no true religion. As we hinted earlier, Wesley’s stress when presenting conversion as the entrance to authentic Christian life (unlike that of some today who would see themselves as Wesley’s successors) was on man’s utter and helpless dependence on God to give faith and bring about new birth. This was because Wesley thought of faith, not as decision (to use the modern catchword), but as a compound of trust and assurance, the subjective consequence of the Spirit’s inner witness. What the Spirit witnessed to in giving faith was the promise of pardon and adoption as applying to oneself. Calvin, speaking here for all the Reformers, had defined faith as “a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favour towards us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.”12 Wesley’s teaching on faith represents a return to this, a return from the world of synergism and self-determination to that of monergism and sovereign grace.
It was Wesley’s Aldersgate Street experience that determined his view of faith. There, as his heart was “strangely warmed” through the reading of Luther on Romans, he entered into what his Moravian friends had told him that real faith was: namely, assurance of pardon and acceptance through the cross. “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine. . . .” Habitually (though not with perfect verbal consistency) Wesley taught that this assurance is an integral element in the faith that God gives—the faith, that is, that saves.13 Repentance was to him faith’s precondition, sorrow for sin and reform of manners. Sometimes, indeed, as in his 1744 Conference Minutes, he would describe repentance as “a low state of faith,” or as the faith of a servant in contrast with that of a son (compare Gal. 4:1–7; Rom. 8:15–16); his basic thought, however, was that, whereas repentance is a state of seeking God, faith is the state of finding him, or rather of being found by him. A person seeking God can do no more than wait on God, showing the sincerity of his quest by the earnestness of his prayers and the tenderness of his conscience, till the light of assurance dawns in his heart. Such teaching is similar to the Puritan doctrine of “preparatory works,” and led to similar practice in counseling troubled souls: it is a far cry from Dutch Arminianism.
Yet Wesley would never let the world forget that he wanted his teaching taken in an Arminian sense, because Calvinism in all its forms was anathema to him; and this caused him much trouble, mostly unnecessary and of his own making. He always caricatured Calvinism in the same three ways—as antinomian, making holiness needless; as restricting the preaching of God’s love to the world (for some reason he was always sure that according to Calvinism only “one in twenty” is elect); and as fatalistic, destroying moral responsibility and denying the connection between means and ends in the spiritual realm. At the end of his life he wrote:
Q. 74. What is the direct antidote to Methodism, the doctrine of heart-holiness?
A. Calvinism: All the devices of Satan, for these fifty years, have done far less toward stopping this work of God, than that single doctrine. It strikes at the root of salvation from sin, previous to glory, putting the matter on quite another issue. [That is, Wesley takes Calvinism to say that men may be saved without holiness by virtue of their election.]
Q. But wherein lie the charms of this doctrine? What makes men swallow it so greedily?
A. It seems to magnify Christ, although in reality it supposes Him to have died in vain. For the absolutely elect must have been saved without Him; and the non-elect cannot be saved by Him.14
Misrepresentations like this, from a godly man who over fifty years had had many Calvinistic friends and abundant opportunity to read Calvinistic books, argue a degree of prejudice and closed-mindedness which is almost pathological. Perhaps John’s invincible ignorance (shared by Charles) as to what Calvinism really was should be seen as a lifelong haunting by the ghost of Susanna. At all events, it became a rod for his back, and for the backs of many others too.
Wesley’s first anti-Calvinist eruptions were occasioned by troubles in the Fetter Lane and Kingswood Societies in 1740–41. There were some sharp exchanges, and John, with Charles’s help, produced a volume entitled Hymns on God’s Everlasting Love, in which, along with some vintage Wesley paeans, ditties of this sort were reeled off:
God, ever merciful and just,
With new-born babes did Tophet fill;
Down into endless torments thrust,
Merely to show his sovereign will.
This is that Horrible Decree!
This is that wisdom from beneath!
God (O detest the blasphemy!)
Hath pleasure in the sinner’s death.15
Comment on the tone and content of such lines, and on the degree of pastoral wisdom which they show as a contribution to domestic debate within a young evangelical movement, is surely superfluous.
For all the inflammatory gesture made on both sides, the 1741 debate died down; but in 1770 came bigger trouble. Wesley’s Conference Minutes, wishing to make the point, against real or supposed Calvinistic Antinomians, that salvation through faith is also, and necessarily, salvation in holiness, were so drafted as to appear to teach, Roman-style, that a man’s own works are the ground of his acceptance with God. Having reaffirmed that “we have leaned too much toward Calvinism” in playing down the fact that a man must be faithful and labor for life and bring forth works of repentance if he is to be saved, the Minutes proceed thus:
Once more review the whole affair:
(1) Who of us is now accepted with God? He that now believes in Christ with a loving, obedient heart.
(2) But who among those that never heard of Christ? He that, according to the light he has, “feareth God and worketh righteousness.”
(3) Is this the same with “he that is sincere”? Nearly, if not quite. [The Arminian doctrine of “universal sufficient grace” here comes to the surface.]
(4) Is not this salvation by works? Not by merit of works, but by works as a condition.
(5) What have we been disputing about for these thirty years? I am afraid about words . . .
(6) As to merit itself, of which we have been so dreadfully afraid. We are rewarded according to our works, yea because of our works. How does this differ from, “for the sake of our works”? And how does this differ from secundum merita operum? which is no more than, “as our works deserve.” Can you split this hair? I doubt [i.e. I rather think] I cannot . . .
(8) Does not talking . . . of a justified or sanctified state, tend to mislead men; almost naturally leading them to trust what was done in one moment? Whereas we are every moment pleasing or displeasing to God, according to our works . . .16
These Minutes sparked off the heated and tragic controversy of the next five years, in which Wesley’s lieutenants John Fletcher and Thomas Olivers exchanged fierce literary punches with Toplady, the Hill brothers, and Berridge, while the Calvinist and Arminian segments of the revival movement drifted further and further apart. One comment only, however, is relevant for us: and that is, that it is no more right to dismiss these Minutes as theologically inept (even though the 1771 Conference admitted that they had been upgraded), than it is right, with A. W. Harrison, to call them “apparently innocuous.”17 They are in truth an object lesson on the tensions and incoherencies that necessarily arise as soon as an Arminian, committed as he is to treating man’s response to the gospel as a contribution of man’s own, and his continuance in grace as contingent on his continued response, tries to state the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith without works. The doctrine he states, whatever he calls it, will appear as justification by works in fact. No man, however confident in manner, can really square this circle. Wesley’s various attempts to do so (and he made quite a number) put one in mind of the parody of the Scout song:
They said it couldn’t be done:
He said, “There’s nothing to it!”
He tackled the job with a smile—
And couldn’t do it.
Which brings us to our next section.
The Cleavage between Calvinism and Arminianism
Views differ here. Some maximize the cleavage in terms of theological black and white. In the seventeenth century, for example, Prynne spoke of “Arminian thieves and robbers,” and Francis Rous told Parliament that “an Arminian is the spawn of a Papist”; and in the eighteenth century the Wesleys, as we saw, told the world that Calvinism was blasphemous, devilish, and spiritually ruinous. Many since have echoed both estimates, and left the matter there. A more discerning approach, however, is that exemplified by William Ames, one of the periti of Dort, who wrote: “The view of the Remonstrants, as it is taken by the mass of their supporters, is not strictly a heresy [that is, a major lapse from the gospel], but a dangerous error tending toward heresy. As maintained by some of them, however, it is the Pelagian heresy: because they deny that the effective operation of inward grace is necessary for conversion.”18 Ames’s words alert us to the fact that Arminianism varies, so that blanket judgments are not in order: each version of post-Reformation semi-Pelagianism must be judged on its own merits. Ames is right. The facts surveyed in this paper show clearly the need for discrimination. Thus, it is surely proper to be less hard on Wesleyanism than on any form of Dutch Arminianism, just because (to the loss of clarity and consistency, yet to the furtherance of the gospel) Wesley’s teaching included so much Reformation truth about the nature of faith, the witness of the Spirit, and effectual calling. Wesley’s Arminianism, we might say, contained a good deal of its own antidote! Its evangelical and religious motivation, also, puts it in a different class from the Remonstrant position.
But why should Arminianisms vary in this way? The final answer is: not because Arminians are personally erratic, but because all Arminian positions are intrinsically and in principle unstable. Arminianism is a slippery slope, and it is always arbitrary where one stops on the slide down. All Arminianisms start from a rationalistic hermeneutic which reads into the Bible at every point the philosophic axiom that to be responsible before God man’s acts must be contingent in relation to him. All Arminianisms involve a rationalistic restriction of the sovereignty of God and the efficacy of the cross, a restriction which Scripture seems directly to contradict. All Arminianisms involve a measure of synergism, if not strong (God helps me to save myself) then weak (I help God to save me). All Arminianisms imply the non-necessity of hearing the gospel, inasmuch as they affirm that every man can be saved by responding to what he knows of God here and now. The right way to analyze the difference between Arminianisms is to ask how far they go in working out these principles, and how far they allow evangelical checks and balances to restrain them.
On all this, we have just two comments to make.
First, the Bible forbids us to take a single step along the Arminian road. It clearly affirms the positions which Dort highlighted: God’s absolute sovereignty; human responsibility without any measure of contingency or indeterminacy (look at Acts 2:24!); and a direct connection between the work of Christ in obtaining and applying redemption. The very name of Jesus is itself an announcement that “he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). It does not tell us that He will make all men savable, but that He will actually save those who are His. And it is in these terms that the Bible speaks throughout.19
Second, if we travel the Arminian road, there are three precious things that we necessarily lose. These are: the clear knowledge of God’s sovereignty in our salvation, the clear sight of Christ’s glory as the Savior of His people, and the clear sense of the Christian’s eternal security in the covenant of grace. These are sad, and saddening losses, which impoverish the children of God in the same way that Roman Catholicism impoverishes them. There is more comfort and joy for God’s children set forth in the Scriptures than the Roman and Arminian theologies allow them to possess. At this point, at least, Rous’s verdict stands: Romanism and Arminianism show themselves to be all too much akin.
We conclude, then, that Arminianism should be diagnosed, not as a creative alternative to Reformation teaching, but as an impoverishing reaction to it, involving a partial denial of the biblical faith in the God of all grace. The lapse is less serious in some cases, more so in others, but in every case it calls for responsible notice and compassionate correction. The logical conclusion of Arminian principles would be pure Pelagianism, but no Arminian takes his principles so far (otherwise one would call him a Pelagian, and be done with it). Calvinists should therefore approach professed Arminians as brother evangelicals trapped in weakening theological mistakes, and seek to help them to a better mind. So we move to our final brief section.
The Causes of Arminianisms and Their Cure
What are the causes of Arminianisms, and what is the cure for them? Satanic malice and the natural darkness of the human mind are no doubt contributory causes of Arminianism, in its various forms; but what has directly produced it in history is reaction against an image (often incorrect) of Calvinism. Arminians appear as men concerned to do justice to four biblical realities: the love of God, the glory of Christ, the moral responsibility of man, and the call to Christian holiness. The reason why they affirm universal redemption, universal sufficient grace, man’s ability to respond to God, man’s independence in responding, and the conditional character of election, is because they think these assertions necessary as means to their avowed end. Calvinists believe that the Arminian method of safeguarding these four realities actually imperils them, and can argue strongly to this effect, but they can only expect to be listened to if they are showing equal concern for these realities themselves. And if their Calvinism appears hard, cold, and academic, lacking love for God and man, lacking passion for evangelism, lacking both the tender conscience and the burning heart, they must not wonder if their arguments fail to carry conviction. It is to be feared that much of the Arminianism in this world has been due in part, at any rate, to recoil from an unspiritual Calvinism. We are deliberately, in this paper, avoiding any attempt to generalize about our situation today, but those who find themselves up against Arminianism (or perhaps it calls itself anti-Calvinism) at the present time would do well to ask whether Calvinists themselves have not had something to do with bringing it into being, by not advancing their doctrine with holy and loving attitudes and actions.
How can Arminianisms be cured? Only God can finally set men’s heads right, just as only He can ever set our hearts right. But if we, who stand on the Calvinist side, can learn afresh to explain that true theology must be confessional, a faithful echo of the Bible, neither adding nor subtracting; and that the reality of human moral agency and responsibility in a world where God is Lord is one of the mysteries of creation, which we acknowledge, but do not pretend to understand; and that total inability to respond to God is indeed part of the human tragedy; and that the redeeming love of God is not an impotent goodwill that can be thwarted, but a sovereign resolve that not even Satan can stop; and that there is in every regenerate heart a testimony confirming the biblical insistence that it is the Triune God, and He alone, who saves us; and that God in the gospel offers pardon and life to every man who hears it, and that none who hears misses this blessing save by his own unbelief; and that expectant evangelism is every Christian’s duty; and that it is the very knowledge that it is God who saves, and that He does not send His word forth for nothing, that upholds our expectancy; and that the reprobates are faceless men so far as we are concerned, so that we can never be sure we have met even one of them—then we may hope to see the children of God returning in increasing numbers from the dry places of Arminianism to the “old paths, wherein is the good way,” where they will find rest for their souls and power for their lives.
Excerpt - J.I. Packer, Puritan Papers - Vol. 5, 1968-1969