A Display of Arminianism

John Owen



THE second part of this controversy is in particular concerning grace, faith, and holiness, sincere obedience to the precepts of the new covenant, all whose praise we appropriate to the Most High by reason of a double interest, — first, Of the merit of Christ, which doth procure them for us; secondly, Of the Holy Spirit, which works them in us. The death of Christ is their meritorious cause; the Spirit of God and his effectual grace their efficient, working instrumentally with power by the word and ordinances. Now, because this would deprive the idol of his chiefest glory, and expose him to open shame, like the bird “furtivis nudata coloribus,” the Arminians advance themselves in his quarrel, and in behalf of their darling quite exclude both merit of Christ and Spirit of God from any title to their production.

First, For the merit of Christ Whereas we affirm that God “blesseth us with all spiritual blessings in him,” or for his sake, Ephesians 1:3, amongst which, doubtless, faith possesseth not the lowest room; that “he is made unto us righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption;” that “he was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;” that he is “the Lord our righteousness,” and glories to be called by that name (and whatever he is unto us, it is chiefly by the way of merit); that “to us it is given u`pe.r Cristou/, for Christ’s sake, to believe on him,” Philippians 1:29, where u`pe.r Cristou/ is plainly referred to di,dotai, [evcari,sqh,?] “is given,” — as if the apostle should have said, “Christ is the meritorious cause of the bestowing of those good gifts, faith and constancy unto martyrdom, upon you;” — when, I say, we profess all these to be the proper and immediate products of the passion and blood of Christ, these turbulent Davusses come in with a prohibition, and quite expel it from having any interest therein.

“There1 is nothing more vain, nothing more foolish,” say they in their Apology, “than to attribute our regeneration and faith unto the death of Christ; for if Christ may be said to have merited for us faith and regeneration, then faith cannot be a condition whose performance God should require at the hands of sinners under the pain of eternal damnation.” And again,2 “If faith be the effect of the merit of Christ, it cannot be our duty.” No? Suppose, then, that the church should pray that it would please God, for Christ’s sake, to call home those sheep that belong to his fold not as yet collected, — that he would grant faith and repentance, for the merit of his Son, to them that are as yet afar off, — were this an altogether vain and foolish prayer? Let others think as they please, it is such a vanity as I desire not to be weaned from; nor any one else, I believe, that loves the Lord Jesus in sincerity. Oh, that Christians should patiently endure such a diminution of their Savior’s honor, as with one dash of an Arminian pen to have the chief effects of his death and passion quite obliterated! If this be a motive to the love and honor of the Son of God, if this be a way to set forth the preciousness of his blood, by denying the efficacy thereof in enabling us by faith to get an interest in the new covenant, most Christians in the world are under a necessity of being new catechised by these seraphical doctors. Until when, they must give us leave to believe, with the apostle, that God “blesseth us with all spiritual blessings in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3; and we will take leave to account faith a spiritual blessing, and, therefore, bestowed on us for Christ’s sake. Again; since our regeneration is nothing but a “purging of our consciences from dead works that we may serve the living God,” which being done by “the blood of Christ,” as the apostle witnesseth, Hebrews 9:14, we will ascribe our new birth, or forming anew, to the virtue of that grace which is purchased by his blood; that “precious blood” it is which “redeemeth us from our vain conversation,” 1 Peter 1:18,19, by whose efficacy we are vindicated from the state of sin and corrupted nature wherein we are born. 

The Arminians have but one argument, that ever I could meet with, whereby they strive to rob Christ of this glory of meriting and procuring for us faith and repentance; and that is, because they are such acts of ours as in duty and obedience to the precepts of the gospel we are bound to perform;3 and this they everywhere press at large, “usque et usque.” In plain terms, they will not suffer their idol to be accounted defective in any thing that is necessary to bring us unto heaven. Now, concerning this argument, that nothing which God requireth of us can be procured for us by Christ, I would have two things noted: — First, That the strength of it consists in this, that no gift of God bestowed upon us can be a thing well pleasing to him, as being in us, for all his precepts and commands signify only what is well-pleasing unto him that we should be or do; and it is not the meriting of any thing by Christ, but God’s bestowing of it as the effect thereof, which hinders it from being a thing requirable of us as a part of our duty: which I shall consider hereafter. Only now observe, that there being nothing in us, by the way of habit or act, from the beginning of our faith to the consummation thereof, from our new birth until we become perfect men in Christ by the finishing of our course, that is not required of us in the gospel, all and every grace whereof we are in this life partakers are, by this means, denied to be the gifts of God. Secondly, Consider the extent of this argument itself. Nothing whose performance is our duty can be merited for us by Christ. When the apostle beseecheth us to be “reconciled unto God,” I would know whether it be not a part of our duty to yield obedience to the apostle’s exhortation? If not, his exhortation is frivolous and vain: if so, then to be reconciled unto God is a part of our duty; and yet the Arminians sometimes seem to confess that Christ hath obtained for us a reconciliation with God. The like may be said in divers other particulars. So that this argument either proveth that we enjoy no fruit of the death of Christ in this life, or (which is most true) it proveth nothing at all; for neither the merit of Christ procuring nor God bestowing any grace in the habit doth at all hinder but that, in the exercise thereof, it may be a duty of ours, inasmuch as it is done in us and by us. Notwithstanding, then, this exception, — which cannot stand by itself alone without the help of some other not as yet discovered, — we will continue our prayers, as we are commanded, in the name of Christ; that is, that God would bestow upon us those things we ask for Christ’s sake, and that by an immediate collation, yea, even then when we cry with the poor penitent, “Lord, help our unbelief,” or with the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith.” 

Secondly, The second plea on God’s behalf, to prove him the author and finisher of all those graces whereof in this life we are partakers, ariseth from what the Scripture affirmeth concerning his working these graces in us, and that powerfully, by the effectual operation of his Holy Spirit. To which the Arminians oppose a seeming necessity that they must needs be our own acts, contradistinct from his gifts, because they are in us and commanded by him. The head, then, of this contention betwixt our God and their idol about the living child of grace is, whether he can work that in us which he requireth of us. Let us hear them pleading their cause: —

“It4 is most certain that that ought not to be commanded which is wrought in us; and that cannot be wrought in us which is commanded. He foolishly commandeth that to be done of others who will work in them what he commandeth,” saith their Apology. O foolish St Prosper, who thought that it was the whole Pelagian heresy to say,5 “That there is neither praise nor worth, as ours, in that which Christ bestoweth upon us!” Foolish St Augustine, praying,6 “Give us, O Lord, what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt!” Foolish Benedict, bishop of Rome, who gave such a form to his prayer as must needs cast an aspersion of folly on the Most High!7 “O Lord,” saith he, “teach us what we should do; show us whither we should go; work in us what we ought to perform.” O foolish fathers of the second Arausican council, affirming,8 “That many good things are done in man which he doth not himself; but a man doth no good which God doth not so work that he should do it!” And again, “As often as we do good, God worketh in us and with us, that we may so work.” In one word, this makes fools of all the doctors of the church who ever opposed the Pelagian heresy, inasmuch as they all unanimously maintained that we are partakers of no good thing in this kind without the effectual powerful operation of the almighty grace of God, and yet our faith and obedience, so wrought in us, to be most acceptable unto him. Yea, what shall we say to the Lord himself, in one place commanding us to fear him, and in another promising that he will put his fear into our hearts, that we shall not depart from him? Is his command foolish, or his promise false? The Arminians must affirm the one or renounce their heresy. But of this, after I have a little farther laid open this monstrous error from their own words and writings.

“Can9 any one,” say they, “wisely and seriously prescribe the performance of a condition to another, under the promise of a reward and threatening of punishment, who will effect it in him to whom it is prescribed? This is a ridiculous action, scarce worthy of the stage.” That is, seeing Christ hath affirmed that “he that believeth shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned,” Mark 16:16, whereby faith is established the condition of salvation, and unbelief threatened with hell, if God should by his Holy Spirit ingenerate faith in the hearts of any, causing them so to fulfill the condition, it were a mere mockery, to be exploded from a theater as an unlikely fiction; which, what an aspersion it casts upon the whole gospel of Christ, yea, on all God’s dealings with the children of men ever since, by reason of the fall, they became unable of themselves to fulfill his commands, I leave to all men’s silent judgment. Well, then, seeing they must be accounted avsu,stata, things inconsistent, that God should be so righteous as to show us our duty, and yet so good and merciful as to bestow his graces on us, let us hear more of this stuff, “Faith10 and conversion cannot be our obedience, if they are wrought in us by God,” say they at the Hague; and Eplscopius,11 “That it is a most absurd thing to affirm that God either effects by his power, or procureth by his wisdom, that the elect should do those things that he requireth of them.” So that where the Scripture calls faith the gift and work of God, they say it is an improper locution, inasmuch as he commands it; properly, it is an act or work of our own. And for that renowned saying of St Augustine, that12 “God crowneth his own gifts in us,” “it is not to be received without a grain of salt;” that is, some such gloss as wherewith they corrupt the Scripture. The sum at which they aim is, that to affirm that God bestoweth any graces upon us, or effectually worketh them in us, contradicteth his word requiring them as our duty and obedience. By which means they have erected their idol into the throne of God’s free grace and mercy, and attribute unto it all the praise due to those many heavenly qualifications the servants of God are endowed withal, for they never have more good in them, no, nor so much, as is required; all that they have or do is but their duty; — which, how derogatory it is to the merit of Christ, themselves seem to acknowledge, when they affirm that he is no otherwise said to be a Savior than are all they who confirm the way to salvation by preaching, miracles, martyrdom, and example. So that, having quite overthrown the merits of Christ,13 “they grant us to be our own saviors in a very large sense,” Rem. Apol., fol. 96. All which assertions, how contrary they are to the express word of God, I shall now demonstrate.

There is not one of all those plain texts of Scripture, not one of those innumerable and invincible arguments, whereby the effectual working of God’s grace in the conversion of a sinner, his powerful translating us from death to life, from the state of sin and bondage to the liberty of the sons of God, which doth not overthrow this prodigious error. I will content myself with instancing in some few of them which are directly opposite unto it, even in terms: —

First, Deuteronomy 10:16, The Lord commandeth the Israelites to “circumcise the foreskin of their hearts, and to be no more stiff-necked;” so that the circumcising of their hearts was a part of their obedience, — it was their duty so to do, in obedience to God’s command. And yet, in the 30th chapter, verse 6, he affirmeth that “he will circumcise their hearts, that they might love the LORD their God with all their hearts.” So that, it seems, the same thing, indiverse respects, may be God’s act in us and our duty towards him. And how the Lord will here escape that Arminian censure, that if his words be true in the latter place, his command in the former is vain and foolish, “ipse viderit,” — let him plead his cause, and avenge himself on those that rise up against him.

Secondly, Ezekiel 18:31, “Make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” The making of a new heart and a new spirit is here required under a promise of a reward of life, and a great threatening of eternal death; so that so to do must needs be a part of their duty and obedience. And yet, chapter 36:26,27, he affirmeth that he will do this very thing that here he requireth of them: “A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh; and I will cause you to walk in my statutes,” etc. In how many places, also, are we commanded to “fear the Lord!” which, when we do, I hope none will deny it to be a performance of our duty; and yet, Jeremiah 32:40, God promiseth that “he will put his fear in our hearts, that we shall not depart from him.”

Thirdly, Those two against which they lay particular exceptions, faith and repentance, are also expressly attributed to the free donation of God: He “granteth unto the Gentiles repentance unto life,” Acts 11:18; and of faith directly, “It is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8. To which assertion of the Holy Spirit I shall rather fasten my belief than to the Arminians, affirming that it is no gift of God because it is of ourselves; and yet this hindereth not but that it may be styled, “Our most holy faith,” Jude 1:20. Let them that will, deny that any thing can properly be ours which God bestoweth on us; the prophet accounted them not inconsistent when he averred that “the LORD worketh all our works in us,” Isaiah 26:12. They are our works, though of his working. The apostle labored; though it was not he, but “the grace of God that was with him,” 1 Corinthians 15:10. He “worketh in us kai. to. ze,lein kai. to. evnergei/n of his good pleasure,” Philippians 2:13; and yet the performance of our duty may consist in those acts of our wills and those good deeds whereof he is the author. So that, according to St Austin’s counsel,14 we will still pray that he would bestow what he commandeth us to have.

Fourthly, 1 Corinthians 4:7, “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” Every thing that makes us differ from others is received from God; wherefore, the foundation of all difference in spiritual things between the sons of Adam being faith and repentance, they must also of necessity be received from above. In brief, God’s “circumcising our hearts,” Colossians 2:11, his “quickening us when we are dead,” Ephesians 2:1,2, begetting us anew, John 1:13, making us in all things such as he would have us to be, is contained in that promise of the new covenant, Jeremiah 32:40,

“I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me;”

and is no way repugnant to the holy Scripture, declaring our duty to be all this that the Lord would have us. And now, let all men judge whether, against so many and clear testimonies of the Holy Ghost, the Arminian reasons, borrowed from the old philosophers, be of any value. The sum of them all you may find in Cicero, his third book De Natura Deorum.15 “Every one,” saith he, “obtaineth virtue for himself; never any wise man thanked God for that: for our virtue we are praised; in virtue we glory, which might not be were it a gift of God.” And truly this, in softer terms, is the sum of the Remonstrants’ arguments in this particular.

Lastly, Observe, that this error is that which, of all others, the orthodox fathers did most oppose in the Pelagian heretics; yea, and to this day,16 the more learned schoolmen stoutly maintain the truth herein against the innovating Jesuits. With some few of the testimonies of the ancients I will shut up this discourse.17 “It is certain that when we do any thing, we do it,” saith St Augustine; “but it is God that causeth us so to do.” And in another place,18 “Shall we not account that to be the gift of God, because it is required of us under the promise of eternal life? God forbid that this should seem so, either to the partakers or defenders of grace;” where he rejecteth both the error and the sophism wherewith it is upholden. So also Coelestius, bishop of Rome, in his epistle to the bishops of France.19 “So great,” saith he, “is the goodness of God towards men, that he will have those good things to be our good duties” (he calls them merits, according to the phrase of those days) “which are his own gifts;” to which purpose I cited before two canons out of the Arausican council. And St Prosper, in his treatise against Cassianus the semi-Pelagian, affirmeth it to be a foolish complaint of proud men20 “that free-will is destroyed, if the beginning, progress, and continuance in good be said to be the gifts of God.” And so the imputation of folly, wherewith the Arminians in my first quotation charge their opposers, being retorted on them by this learned father, I refer you to these following excerpta for a close: —

S.S. Lib. Arbit.
“Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked,” Deuteronomy 10:16. “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed,” chapter 30:6. — “Make you a new heart and a new spirit, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Ezekiel 18:31. “A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you,” chapter 36:26. “This is most certain, that that ought not to be commanded which is wrought in us. He foolishly commandeth that to be done of others who will work in them what he commandeth,” Rem. Apol.
“If ye will fear the LORD, and serve him, then shall ye continue following the LORD your God,” 1 Samuel 12:14. “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me,” Jeremiah 32:40. “It is absurd to affirm that God either worketh by his power, or procureth by his wisdom, that the elect should do those things which God requireth of them,” Episcop.
“Thou hast wrought all our works in us,” Isaiah 26:12. “God worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Philippians 2:13. “Faith and conversion cannot be acts of our obedience if they are wrought by God in us,” Rem. Coll. Hag. “That God should require that of us which himself will work in us is a ridiculous action, scarce fit for a stage,” Rem. Apol.
“He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3. “That saying of Augustine, that ‘God crowneth his own gifts in us,’ is not easily to be admitted,” Ibid.
“Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ to believe on him,” Philippians 1:29. “The blood of Christ purgeth our consciences from dead works to serve the living God,” Hebrews 9:14. “There is nothing more vain and foolish than to ascribe faith and regeneration to the merit of Christ,” Idem.


  1. “Nihil ineptius, nihil vanius, quam regenerationem et fidem merito Christi tribuere; si enim Christus nobis meritus dicatur fidem et regenerationem, tum fides conditio esse non poterat quam a peccatoribus Deus sub comminatione morris aeternae exigeret.” — Rem. Apol., cap. 8. p. 95.
  2. “Si fides sit effectum meriti Christi, non potest esse actus officii nostri.” — Idem.
  3. Rem. Apol., ubi sup.; Corv. ad Molin., cap. 28. sect. 9.
  4. “Illud certissimum est, nec jubendum esse quod efficitur, nec efiiciendum quod jubetur. Stulte jubet et vult ab alio fieri aliquid, qui ipse quod jubet in eo efficere vult.” — Rem. Apol., cap. 9. p. 105, a.
  5. “At exigua conclusione pene tu totum Pelagianum dogma confirmas, dicendo, nullius laudis esse ac meriti; si id in eo Christus quod ipse donaverat praetulisset.” — Prosp. ad Collat., cap. 36.
  6. “Da, Domine, quod jubes, et jube quod vis.” — Aug.
  7. “O Domine, doce nos quid agamus; quo gradiamur ostende; quid efficiamus operare.” — Ben. Pap. in Concil. Legunstad.
  8. “Multa in homine bona fiunt. quae non facit homo: nulla vero facit homo bona, quae non Deus praestet ut faciat.” — Consil. Arau. 2. can. 20. “Quoties enim bona agimus, Deus in nobis et nobiscum, ut operemur, operatur.” — Can. 9.
  9. “Anne conditionem quis serio et sapienter praescribet alteri, sub promisso praemii et poenae gravissimae comminatione, qui eam, in eo cui praescribit efficere vult! Haec actio tota ludicra, et vix scena digna est.” — Rem. Apol., cap. 9. p. 105, a.
  10. “Fides et conversio non possunt esse obedientia, si tantum ab aliquo, in alio, efficiantur.” — Rem. Coll. Hag., p. 196.
  11. “Absurdem est statuere Deum ant efficere per potentiam, aut procurare per sapientiam, ut electi ea faciant, quae ab ipsis, ut ipsi ea faciant, exigit et postulat.” — Episcop., Disp. Pri. 8. thes. 7.
  12. Apol., cap. 9. ubi. sup. — “ Deum dona sua in nobis coronare, dictum hoc Augustini nisi cum grano salis accipiatur, neutiquam est admittendum.” — Idem, ibid p. 115.
  13. “Atqui dices, sic servatores nostri essent omnes,” — eodem sensu quo Christus, — “saltem ex parte qui praeconio, miraculis, et exemplo salutis viam, confirmant; esto, quid tum? “ — Rem. Apol., cap. 8. [p. 94.]
  14. “Petamus ut det quod ut habeamus jubet.” — Aug.
  15. “Virtutem autem nemo unquam acceptam deo retulit. Nimirum recte: propter virtutem enim jure laudamur, et in virtute recte gloriamur. Quod non contingeret, si id donum a Deo, non a nobis haberemus.” — Cicero De Nat. Deor. 3. 36,
  16. Alvarez, Disput. 81., ubi Aug., Thom., alios, citat.
  17. “Certum est nos facere cum facimus; sed ille facit ut faciamus.” — Aug. de Grat., et Lib. Arbit., cap. xvi.
  18. “ — Neque id donum Dei esse fateamur, quoniam exigi audivimus a nobis, praemio vitae si hoc fecerimus oblato? Absit, ut hoc placeat participibus et defensoribus gratiae.” — Aug, de Praedest. Sanc., cap. 20.
  19. “Tanta est erga homines bonitas Dei, ut nostra velit esse merita quae sunt ipsius dona.” — Coelest. Epist. ad Ep. Gal., cap. 12.
  20. “Non enim conturbat nos superbientium inepta querimonia; quia liberum arbitrium causantur auferri: si et principia, et profectus, et perseverantia in bonis usque ad finem Dei dona esse dicantur.” — Prosp. ad Collat., p. 404.