A Display of Arminianism

John Owen



IN the last chapter we discovered the Arminian attempt of re-advancing the corrupted nature of man into that state of innocency and holiness wherein it was at first by God created; in which design, because they cannot but discern that the success is not answerable to their desires, and not being able to deny but that for so much good as we want (having cast it away), or evil of sin that we are subject unto more than we were at our first creation, we must be responsible to the justice of God, they labor to draw down our first parents, even from the instant of their forming, into the same condition wherein we are engaged by reason of corrupted nature. But, truly, I fear they will scarce obtain so prosperous an issue of their endeavor as Mohammed had when he promised the people he would call a mountain unto him; which miracle when they assembled to behold, but the mountain would not stir for all his calling, he replied, “If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain,” and away he packed towards it. For we shall find that our Arminians can neither themselves climb the high mountain of innocency, nor yet call it down into the valley of sin and corruption wherein they are lodged. We have seen already how vain and frustrate was their former attempt: let us now take a view of their aspiring insolence, in making the pure creatures of God, holy and undefiled with any sin, to be invested with the same wretchedness and perverseness of nature with ourselves.

It is not my intention to enter into any curious discourse concerning the state and grace of Adam before his fall, but only to give a faithful assent to what God himself affirmed of all the works of his hands, — they were exceeding good. No evil, no deformity, or anything tending thereunto, did immediately issue from that Fountain of goodness and wisdom; and therefore, doubtless, man, the most excellent work of his hands, the greatest glory of his Creator, was then without spot or blemish, endued with all those perfections his nature and state of obedience was capable of. And careful we must be of casting any aspersions of defect on him that we will not with equal boldness ascribe to the image of God.

Nothing doth more manifest the deviation of our nature from its first institution, and declare the corruption wherewith we are polluted, than that propensity which is in us to every thing that is evil; that inclination of the flesh which lusteth always against the Spirit; that lust and concupiscence which fomenteth, conceiveth, hatcheth, bringeth forth, and nourisheth sin; that perpetual proneness that is in unregenerate nature to every thing that is contrary to the pure and holy law of God. Now, because neither Scripture nor experience will suffer Christians quite to deny this pravity of our nature, this averseness from all good and propensity to sin, the Arminians extenuate as much as they are able, affirming that it is no great matter, no more than Adam was subject unto in the state of innocency. But, what! did God create in Adam a proneness unto evil? was that a part of his glorious image in whose likeness he was framed? Yea, saith Corvinus,1 “By reason of his creation, man had an affection to what was forbidden by the law.” But yet this seems injustice, that “God2 should give a man a law to keep, and put upon his nature a repugnancy to that law;” as one of them affirmed at the synod of Dort. “No,” saith the former author;3 “man had not been fit to have had a law given unto him, had he not been endued with a propension and natural inclination to that which is forbidden by the law.” But why is this so necessary in men rather than angels? No doubt there was a law, a rule for their obedience, given unto them at their first creation, which some transgressed, when others kept it inviolate. Had they also a propensity to sin concreated with their nature? had they a natural affection put upon them by God to that which was forbidden by the law? Let them only who will be wise beyond the word of God affix such injustice on the righteous Judge of all the earth. But so it seems it must be.4 “There was an inclination in man to sin before the fall, though not altogether so vehement and inordinate as it is now,” saith Arminius. Hitherto we have thought that the original righteousness wherein Adam was created had comprehended the integrity and perfection of the whole man; not only that whereby the body was obedient unto the soul, and all the affections subservient to the rule of reason for the performance of all natural actions, but also a light, uprightness, and holiness of grace in the mind and will, whereby he was enabled to yield obedience unto God for the attaining of that supernatural end whereunto he was created. No; but5 “original righteousness,” say our new doctors, “was nothing but a bridle to help to keep man’s inordinate concupiscence within bounds:” so that the faculties of our souls were never endued with any proper innate holiness of their own.6 “In the spiritual death of sin there are no spiritual gifts properly wanting in the will, because they were never there,” say the six collocutors at the Hague.

The sum is, man was created with a nature not only weak and imperfect, unable by its native strength and endowments to attain that supernatural end for which he was made, and which he was commanded to seek, but depraved also with a love and desire of things repugnant to the will of God, by reason of an inbred inclination to sinning. It doth not properly belong to this place to show how they extenuate those gifts also with which they cannot deny but that he was endued, and also deny those which he had, as a power to believe in Christ, or to assent unto any truth that God should reveal unto him; and yet they grant this privilege to every one of his posterity, in that depraved condition of nature whereinto by sin he cast himself and us. We have all now a power of believing in Christ; that is, Adam, by his fall, obtained a supernatural endowment far more excellent than any he had before. And let them not here pretend the universality of the new covenant until they can prove it; and I am certain it will be long enough. But this, I say, belongs not to this place; only, let us see how, from the word of God, we may overthrow the former odious heresy: —

God in the beginning “created man in his own image,” Genesis 1:27, — that is, “upright,” Ecclesiastes 7:29, endued with a nature composed to obedience and holiness. That habitual grace and original righteousness wherewith he was invested was in a manner due unto him for the obtaining of that supernatural end whereunto he was created. A universal rectitude of all the faculties of his soul, advanced by supernatural graces, enabling him to the performance of those duties whereunto they were required, is that which we call the innocency of our first parents. Our nature was then inclined to good only, and adorned with all those qualifications that were necessary to make it acceptable unto God, and able to do what was required of us by the law, under the condition of everlasting happiness. Nature and grace, or original righteousness, before the fall, ought not to be so distinguished as if the one were a thing prone to evil, resisted and quelled by the other; for both complied, in a sweet union and harmony, to carry us along in the way of obedience to eternal blessedness. [There was] no contention between the flesh and the Spirit; but as all other things at theirs, so the whole man jointly aimed at his own chiefest good, having all means of attaining it in his power. That there was then no inclination to sin, no concupiscence of that which is evil, no repugnancy to the law of God, in the pure nature of man, is proved, because, —

First, The Scripture, describing the condition of our nature at the first creation thereof, intimates no such propensity to evil, but rather a holy perfection, quite excluding it. We were created “in the image of God,” Genesis 1:27, — in such a perfect uprightness as is opposite to all evil inventions, Ecclesiastes 7:29; to which image when we are again in some measure “renewed” by the grace of Christ, Colossians 3:10, we see by the first-fruits that it consisted in “righteousness and true holiness,” — in truth and perfect holiness, Ephesians 4:24.

Secondly, An inclination to evil, and a lusting after that which is forbidden, is that inordinate concupiscence wherewith our nature is now infected; which is everywhere in the Scripture condemned as a sin; St Paul, in the seventh to the Romans, affirming expressly that it is a sin, and forbidden by the law, verse 7, producing all manner of evil, and hindering all that is good, — a “body of death,” verse 24; and St James maketh it even the womb of all iniquity, James 1:14,15. Surely our nature was not at first yoked with such a troublesome inmate. Where is the uprightness and innocency we have hitherto conceived our first parents to have enjoyed before the fall? A repugnancy to the law must needs be a thing sinful. An inclination to evil, to a thing forbidden, is an anomy, — a deviation and discrepancy from the pure and holy law of God. We must speak no more, then, of the state of innocency, but only of a short space wherein no outward actual sins were committed. Their proper root, if this be true, was concreated with our nature. Is this that obediential harmony to all the commandments of God which is necessary for a pure and innocent creature, that hath a law prescribed unto him? By which of the ten precepts is this inclination to evil required? Is it by the last, “Thou shalt not covet?” or by that sum of them all, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart,” etc.? Is this all the happiness of paradise, — to be turmoiled with a nature swelling with abundance of vain desires, and with a main stream carried headlong to all iniquity, if its violent appetite be not powerfully kept in by the bit and bridle of original righteousness? So it is we see with children now;7 and so it should have been with them in paradise, if they were subject to this rebellious inclination to sin.

Thirdly, and principally, Whence had our primitive nature this affection to those things that were forbidden it, — this rebellion and repugnancy to the law, which must needs be an anomy, and so a thing sinful? There was as yet no demerit, to deserve it as a punishment. What fault is it to be created?8 The operation of any thing which hath its original with the being of the thing itself must needs proceed from the same cause as doth the essence or being itself; as the fire’s tending upwards relates to the same original with the fire: and, therefore, this inclination or affection can have no other author but God; by which means he is entitled not only to the first sin, as the efficient cause, but to all the sins in the world arising from thence. Plainly, and without any strained consequences, he is made the author of sin; for even those positive properties which can have no other fountain but the author of nature, being set on evil, are directly sinful. And here the idol of free-will may triumph in this victory over the God of heaven. Heretofore all the blame of sin lay upon his shoulders, but now he begins to complain, Ouvk e`gw. ai;tio,j eivmi avlla. Zeu.j kai. moi/ra. “It is God and the fate of our creation that hath placed us in this condition of naturally affecting that which is evil. Back with all your charges against the ill government of this new deity within his imaginary dominion; what hurt doth he do but incline men unto evil, and God himself did no less at the first?” But let them that will, rejoice in these blasphemies: it sufficeth us to know that” God created man upright,” though he “hath sought out many inventions;” so that in this following dissonancy we cleave to the better part: —

S.S. Lib. Arbit.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them,” Genesis 1:27. “Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him,” Colossians 3:10. “ — which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” Ephesians 4:24. “There was in man before the fall an inclination to sinning, though not so vehement and inordinate as now it is,” Armin. “God put upon man a repugnancy to his law,” Gesteranus in the Synod. “Man, by reason of his creation, had an affection to those things that are forbidden by the law,” Corv.
“Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but he hath sought out many inventions,” Ecclesiastes 7:29. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” Romans 5:12. “The will of man had never any spiritual endowments,” Rem. Apol.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God tempteth no man: but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust,” James 1:13,14. “It was not fit that man should have a law given him, unless he had a natural inclination to what was forbidden by the law,” Corv.


  1. “Ex ratione creationis homo habebat affectum ad ea quae vetabantur.” — Corv. ad Molin., cap. 6. sect. 1.
  2. “Deus homini repugnantiam indidit adversus legem.” — Joh. Gest. in Synod. Confes.
  3. “Homo non est idoneus cui lex feratur, quando in eo, ad id quod lege vetatur, non est propensio, ac inclinatio naturalis.” — Corv. ad Molin., cap. 10. sect. 15.
  4. “Inclinatio ad peccandum ante lapsum in homine fuit, licet non ita vehemens ac inordinata ut nunc est.” — Armin. ad Artic. Respon.
  5. “Justitia originalis instar fraeni fuit, quod preestabat internae concupiscentiae ordinationem.” — Corv. ad Molin., cap. 8. sect. 1.
  6. “In spirituali morte non separantur proprie dona spiritualia a voluntate, quia illa nunquam fuerunt ei insita.” — Rem. Coll. Hag., p. 250.
  7. “Vidi ego zelantem parvulum qui nondum loquebatur, et intuebatur pallidus, amaro aspectu colluctaneum suum.” — Aug.
  8. “Operatio quae simul incipit cum esse rei, est ei ab agente, a quo habet esse, sicut moveri sursum inest igni a generante.” — Alvar., p. 199.