The Lambeth Articles have never had full symbolical authority in the Church of England, but they are of historical interest as showing the ascendency of the predestinarian system of Calvin in the last decade of the sixteenth century.
As Calvin became more fully known in England, he acquired an authority over the leading divines and the Universities almost as great is that of St. Augustine during the reign of Edward VI., or, in the language of Hooker, as that of the 'Master of Sentences' in the palmy days of scholasticism, 'so that the perfectest divines were judged they which were skillfullest in Calvin's writings.' Hardwick, speaking of the latter part of the Elizabethan period, admits that 'during an interval of nearly thirty years the extreme opinions of the school of Calvin, not excluding his theory of irrespective reprobation, were predominant in almost every town and parish.' The stern, bold, uncompromising predestinarianism of the Geneva Reformer seemed to furnish the best antidote to the twin errors of Pelagianism and Popery. The Puritan party without an exception, and the great majority of the conforming clergy, understood the Articles of Religion as teaching his doctrines of free-will, election, and perseverance; but some of them thought them not strong enough.
The University of Cambridge was a stronghold of the Calvinistic system. It was taught there by Thomas Cartwright, the Margaret Professor of Divinity (who, however, was deposed in 1571 for Puritanic sentiments—d. 1603); William Perkins, Fellow and Tutor of Christ's College (d. 1602); and especially by Dr. William Whitaker (Whittaker), the Regius Professor of Divinity (d. 1595).
But in the same University there arose an opposition which created great stir. It began with Baro (Baron), a French refugee, who, by the favor of Burghley, was promoted to the Margaret Professorship of Divinity (1574). He inferred from the history of the Ninevites that God predestinated all men to eternal life, but on condition of their faith and perseverance. For this opinion, which he more fully explained in a sermon, he was cited before Dr. Goade, the Vice-Chancellor of the University; and although the proceedings were stopped by the interposition of Burghley, he retired to London (1596), where he died a few years afterwards. The same cause was taken up more vigorously by William Barrett, a fellow of Caius College, who, in a 'concio ad clerum,' preached in Great St. Mary's Church, April 29, 1595, indulged in a virulent attack on the honored names of Calvin, Beza, Peter Martyr, and Zanchius, and their doctrine of irrespective predestination.
The academic controversy was carried by both parties first to the Vice-Chancellor and heads of Colleges, and then to Archbishop Whitgift, of Canterbury. Whitgift, a High-Churchman and an enemy of Puritanism, seemed at first inclined to take part with Barrett, but yielded to the pressure of the University. Barrett was obliged to admit his ignorance and mistake, and to modify his dogmatic statements. He left England and joined the Church of Rome.
To settle this controversy, and to prevent future trouble, the heads of the University sent Dr. Whitaker and Dr. Tyndal (Dean of Ely) to London, to confer with the Archbishop and other learned divines. The result was the adoption of Nine Articles, at Lambeth, Nov. 20, 1595. They contain a clear and strong enunciation of the predestinarian system, by teaching—
1. The eternal election of some to life, and the reprobation of others to death.
2. The moving cause of predestination to life is not the foreknowledge of faith and good works, but only the good pleasure of God.
3. The number of the elect is unalterably fixed.
4. Those who are not predestinated to life shall necessarily be damned for their sins.
5. The true faith of the elect never fails finally nor totally.
6. A true believer, or one furnished with justifying faith, has a full assurance and certainty of remission and everlasting salvation in Christ.
7. Saving grace is not communicated to all men.
8. No man can come to the Son unless the Father shall draw him, but all men are not drawn by the Father.
9. It is not in every one's will and power to be saved.
The Articles were drawn up by Whitaker (who died soon afterwards), and somewhat modified by the Bishops to make them less objectionable to anti-Calvinists. Thus the fifth Article originally stated that true faith could not totally and finally fail 'in those who had once been partakers of it;' while in the revision the words 'in the elect' (i.e., a special class of the regenerated) were substituted. The Articles thus amended were signed by Archbishop Whitgift, Dr. Richard Fletcher, Bishop of London, Dr. Richard Vaughan, Bishop elect of Bangor, and others. They were also sent to Dr. Hutton, Archbishop of York, and Dr. Young, Bishop of Rochester. Hutton indorsed the first Article with 'verissimum,' and approved the rest with the remark that they could all be plainly collected or fairly deduced from the Scriptures and the writings of St. Augustine.
Whitgift sent the Lambeth Articles to the University of Cambridge (Nov. 24), not as new laws and decrees, but as an explanation of certain points already established by the laws of the land. But inasmuch as they had not the Queen's sanction (though he states that the Queen was fully persuaded of the truth of them, which is inconsistent with her conduct), they should be used privately and with discretion.
Queen Elizabeth, who had no special liking for Calvinism and dogmatic controversies, was displeased with the calling of a Synod without her authority, which subjected the Lambeth divines to prosecution. She commanded the Archbishop to recall and suppress those Articles without delay. At the Hampton Court Conference of King James and several prelates with the leaders of the Puritans (Jan., 1604), Dr. Reynolds made the request that 'the nine orthodoxal assertions concluded on at Lambeth might be inserted into the Book of Articles. It is stated that they were exhibited at the Synod of Dort by the English deputies, as the judgment of their Church on the Arminian controversy. But the anti-Calvinistic reaction under the Stuarts gradually deprived them of their force in England, while in Ireland they obtained for some time a semi-symbolical authority.
It is interesting to compare with the Lambeth Articles a brief predestinarian document of Calvin, recently discovered by the Strasburg editors of his works, and a fragment of Hooker on free-will, predestination, and perseverance. The former is stronger, the latter is milder, and presents the following slight modification of those Articles:
'It followeth therefore [says Hooker, at the close of his fragment]—
'1. That God hath predestinated certain men, not all men.
'2. That the cause moving him hereunto was not the foresight or any virtue in us at all.
'3. That to him the number of his elect is definitely known.
'4. That it can not be but their sins must condemn them to whom the purpose of his saving mercy doth not extend.
'5. That to God's foreknown elect final continuance of grace is given.
[Art. 6 of the Lambeth series is omitted by Hooker.]
'6. [7.] That inward grace whereby to be saved is deservedly not given unto all men.
'7. [8.] That no man cometh unto Christ whom God by the inward grace of his Spirit draweth not.
'8. [9.] And that it is not in every, no, not in any man's own mere ability, freedom, and power, to be saved, no man's salvation being possible without grace. Howbeit, God is no favorer of sloth; and therefore there can be no such absolute decree touching man's salvation as on our part includeth no necessity of care and travail, but shall certainly take effect, whether we ourselves do wake or sleep.'