A Display of Arminianism

John Owen



THE soul of man, by reason of the corruption of nature, is not only darkened (Ephesians 4:18; John 1:5; 1 Corinthians 2:14) with a mist of ignorance, whereby he is disenabled for the comprehending of divine truth, but is also armed with prejudice and opposition against some parts thereof,1 which are either most above or most contrary to some false principles which he hath framed unto himself. As a desire of self-sufficiency was the first cause of this infirmity, so a conceit thereof is that wherewith he still languisheth; nothing doth he more contend for than an independency of any supreme power, which might either help, hinder, or control him in his actions. This is that bitter root from whence have sprung all those heresies2 and wretched contentions which have troubled the church, concerning the power of man in working his own happiness, and his exemption from the over-ruling providence of Almighty God. All which wrangling disputes of carnal reason against the word of God come at last to this head, Whether the first, and chiefest part, in disposing of things in this world, ought to be ascribed to God or man? Men for the most part have vindicated this pre-eminence unto themselves,3 by exclamations that so it must be, or else that God is unjust, and his ways unequal. Never did any men, “postquam Christiana gens esse caepit,” more eagerly endeavor the erecting of this Babel than the Arminians, the modern blinded patrons of human self-sufficiency; all whose innovations in the received doctrine of the reformed churches aim at and tend to one of these two ends: — 

FIRST, To exempt themselves from God’s jurisdiction, — to free themselves from the supreme dominion of his all-ruling providence; not to live and move in him, but to have an absolute independent power in all their actions, so that the event of all things wherein they have any interest might have a considerable relation to nothing but chance, contingency, and their own wills; — a most nefarious, sacrilegious attempt! To this end, — 

First, They deny the eternity and unchangeableness of God’s decrees; for these being established, they fear they should be kept within bounds from doing any thing but what his counsel hath determined should be done. If the purposes of the Strength of Israel be eternal and immutable, their idol free-will must be limited, their independency prejudiced; wherefore they choose rather to affirm that his decrees are temporary and changeable, yea, that he doth really change them according to the several mutations he sees in us: which, how wild a conceit it is, how contrary to the pure nature of God, how destructive to his attributes, I shall show in the second chapter. 

Secondly, They question the prescience or foreknowledge of God; for if known unto God are all his works from the beginning, if he certainly foreknew all things that shall hereafter come to pass, it seems to cast an infallibility of event upon all their actions, which encroaches upon the large territory of their new goddess, contingency; nay, it would quite dethrone the queen of heaven, and induce a kind of necessity of our doing all, and nothing but what God foreknows. Now, that to deny this prescience is destructive to the very essence of the Deity, and plain atheism, shall be declared, chapter the third. 

Thirdly, They depose the all-governing providence of this King of nations, denying its energetical, effectual power, in turning the hearts, ruling the thoughts, determining the wills, and disposing the actions of men, by granting nothing unto it but a general power and influence, to be limited and used according to the inclination and will of every particular agent; so making Almighty God a desirer that many things were otherwise than they are, and an idle spectator of most things that are done in the world: the falseness of which assertions shall be proved, chapter the fourth. 

Fourthly, They deny the irresistibility and uncontrollable power of God’s will, affirming that oftentimes he seriously willeth and in-tendeth what he cannot accomplish, and so is deceived of his aim; nay, whereas he desireth, and really intendeth, to save every man, it is wholly in their own power whether he shall save any one or no; otherwise their idol free-will should have but a poor deity, if God could, how and when he would, cross and resist him in his dominion. Concerning this see chapter the fifth. “His gradibus itur in coelum.” Corrupted nature is still ready, either nefariously, with Adam, to attempt to be like God, or to think foolishly that he is altogether like unto us, Psalm 50; one of which inconveniences all men run into, who have not learned to submit their frail wills to the almighty will of God, and captivate their understandings to the obedience of faith. [See chapter fifth.]

SECONDLY, The second end at which the new doctrine of the Arminians aimeth is, to clear human nature from the heavy imputation of being sinful, corrupted, wise to do evil but unable to do good; and so to vindicate unto themselves a power and ability of doing all that good which God can justly require to be done by them in the state wherein they are, — of making themselves differ from others who will not make so good use of the endowments of their natures; that so the first and chiefest part in the work of their salvation may be ascribed unto themselves; — a proud Luciferian endeavor! To this end, — 

First, They deny that doctrine of predestination whereby God is affirmed to have chosen certain men before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy, and obtain everlasting life by the merit of Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace, — any such predestination which may be the fountain and cause of grace or glory, determining the persons, according to God’s good pleasure, on whom they shall be bestowed: for this doctrine would make the special grace of God to be the sole cause of all the good that is in the elect more than [in] the reprobates; would make faith the work and gift of God, with divers other things, which would show their idol to be nothing, of no value. Wherefore, what a corrupt heresy they have substituted into the place hereof see chapter the sixth. 

Secondly, They deny original sin and its demerit; which being rightly understood, would easily demonstrate that, notwithstanding all the labor of the smith, the carpenter, and the painter, yet their idol is of its own nature but an unprofitable block; it will discover not only the impotency of doing good which is in our nature, but show also whence we have it: see chapter the seventh.

Thirdly, If ye will charge our human nature with a repugnancy to the law of God, they will maintain that it was also in Adam when he was first created, and so comes from God himself: chapter the eighth. 

Fourthly, They deny the efficacy of the merit of the death of Christ; — both that God intended by his death to redeem his church, or to acquire unto himself a holy people; as also, that Christ by his death hath merited and procured for us grace, faith, or righteousness, and power to obey God, in fulfilling the condition of the new covenant. Nay, this were plainly to set up an ark to break their Dagon’s neck; for, “what praise,” say they, “can be due to ourselves for believing, if the blood of Christ hath procured God to bestow faith upon us?” “Increpet to Deus, O Satan!” See chapters nine and ten. 

Fifthly, If Christ will claim such a share in saving of his people, of them that believe in him, they will grant some to have salvation quite without him, that never heard so much as a report of a Savior; and, indeed, in nothing do they advance their idol nearer the throne of God than in this blasphemy: chapter eleven. 

Sixthly, Having thus robbed God, Christ, and his grace, they adorn their idol free-will with many glorious properties no way due unto it: discussed, chapter twelve, where you shall find how, “movet cornicula risum, furtivis nudata coloribus.” 

Seventhly, They do not only claim to their new-made deity a saving power, but also affirm that he is very active and operative in the great work of saving our souls, — 

First, In fitly preparing us for the grace of God, and so disposing of ourselves that it becomes due unto us: chapter thirteen. 

Secondly, In the effectual working of our conversion together with it: chapter fourteen. 

And so at length, with much toil and labor, they have placed an altar for their idol in the holy temple, on the right hand of the altar of God, and on it offer sacrifice to their own net and drag; at least, “nec Deo, nec libero arbitrio, sed dividatur,” — not all to God, nor all to free-will, but let the sacrifice of praise, for all good things, be divided between them.


  1. John 6:42, 7:52. “Natura sic apparet vitiata ut hoc majoris vitii sit, non videre.” — Aug.
  2. Pelag. Semipelag. Scholastic.
  3. “In hac causa non judicant secundum aequitatem, sed secundum affectum commodi sui.” — Luth, de Arbit. Serv.