Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism

John L. Girardeau


PREDESTINATION, in the Scriptures and in theological treatises, has two senses - one wide or general, the other narrow or special. In the wide or general sense, it signifies the decrees of God, terminating either efficiently or permissively on all beings, acts and events. The universe, intelligent and unintelligent, is its object. It is the plan in accordance with which God creates and governs all finite beings, and all their properties and actions. In the narrow or special sense, it signifies the decrees of God, terminating on the destinies of intelligent, moral beings-angels and men. In a still more restricted sense, it signifies the decrees of God terminating on the destinies of men. In this last sense, predestination is, by Calvinistic theologians, regarded as a generic decree including under it Election and Reprobation as specific decrees: the former predestinating some human beings, without regard to their merit, to salvation, in order to the glorification of God's sovereign grace ; the latter foreordaining some human beings, for their sin, to destruction, in order to the glorification of God's retributive justice.

The design of the First Part of this discussion is the exposition and defence of the Calvinistic doctrines of Election and Reprobation; special reference being had to the objections advanced against them by the Evangelical Arminian Theology, which will be put upon trial and summoned to answer for the difficulties inherent in itself. This special examination of that theology is warranted upon two grounds, - first, because it proposes to found its proofs directly upon the Scriptures, and is on that account the most formidable, as it is the most obtrusive, assailant of the Calvinistic scheme ; secondly, because there is a demand in our own times for a careful consideration of the Evangelical Arminian doctrines, as differing in some respects from those of the Remonstrants, and as now having had sufficient opportunity to develop themselves into a coherent and peculiar theological system, commanding the suffrages of a large section of the Church of Christ. Did the present school of Arminians precisely coincide in doctrine with that earlier one which articulated its theology in opposition to the Synod of Dort, it might well be regarded as a superfluous office to subject its views to a particular examination. But the system of Wesley and Watson is not identical with that of Episcopius and I,imborch ; and the polemic treatises of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are not altogether suited to meet the present phases of the Arminian theology.

In addition to these considerations it deserves to be noticed, that at the time of the Remonstrant controversy the defenders of Calvinism swung, between the Supralapsarian and Sublapsarian methods of conceiving the divine decrees. Francis Junius, for instance, in his discussion with James Arminius, on Predestination, endeavored to vindicate both these modes of viewing the decrees as reducible to unity upon the same doctrine. This placed him at a disadvantage which was observed by the keen eye of his subtle antagonist, and employed against him not without considerable effect. And while the Synod of Dort was Sublapsarian, it so happened that the chief opponents of the Remonstrants were pronounced Supralapsarians ; as, for example, Gomarus, Voetius, Twisse, and Perkins. The natural result was, that the type of doctrine which the Arminian divines felt called upon to attack was the Supralapsarian. To this day, the objections urged by Arminians against the Calvinistic doctrine of decrees are mainly directed against the Supralapsarian and Necessitarian theories. But it must be borne in mind that the doctrines of Calvinism have been always more or less cast in the mould of Sublapsarianism. They have had a definite development, according to that type, in the Symbolic Formularies of the Reformed Church, and in the works of representative theologians. This frees the Calvinist from the embarrassment resulting from the attempt to defend differing and incongruous views of the divine decrees, and gives him the advantage of appealing to the Calvinistic standards, as being either implicitly or explicitly Sublapsarian in their utterances.

The charge has been frequently made that the Calvinistic apologists of later times have modified the severer aspects of their system under the pressure of controversy. This is a mistake. It has arisen from the persistent determination of Arminian writers to take Supralapsarianism and Necessitarianism as symbolic Calvinism. When, therefore, the true exponents of Calvinism defend their system from another point of view, they are twitted with compromising the Calvinistic system. But surely the Calvinistic Confessions and the views of the vast majority of Calvinistic divines ought, by fair adversaries, to be construed as representatives of the system. Did the Calvinist treat the Wesleyan Arminian doctrines as identical with the Remonstrant, would not the blunder be exposed and the injustice resented?

It is not intended to imply that Arminians have always correctly represented the position of the Supralapsarians. On the contrary, the affirmation of the latter, that God dooms men to punishment for their sin, has seldom had due consideration given it by Arminian writers. This only makes the charge of injustice in the conduct of the controversy all the graver, since not only the views of Supralapsarians, but their misapprehended views, are attributed by the mass of Arminian controversialists to Sublapsarian Calvinists.

In this discussion, the Sublapsarian view of the divine decrees will be adhered to, under the conviction that it is characteristic of the system of doctrine stated in all of the Calvinistic Confessions which speak definitely on the question, and maintained by the great majority of Calvinistic theologians.

The treatment of the subject will be distributed into the following sections: First, the doctrine of Election, stated and proved; Secondly, the doctrine of Reprobation, stated and proved ; Thirdly, Objections to these doctrines, derived from the Moral Attributes of God, answered; Fourthly, Objections derived from the Moral Agency of man, answered.