A Display of Arminianism

John Owen



I SHALL shut up all this discourse concerning the meritorious cause of salvation, with their shutting out of Christ from being the only one and absolutely necessary means to bring us unto heaven, to make us happy. This is the last pile they erect upon their Babylonish foundation, which makes the idol of human self-sufficiency every way perfect, and fit to be sacrificed unto. Until these proud builders, to get materials for their own temple, laid the axe to the root of Christianity, we took it for granted that “there is no salvation in any other,” because “there is none other name under heaven given unto men whereby we must be saved,” Acts 4:12. Neither yet shall their nefarious attempts frighten us from our creed, nor make us be wanting to the defense of our Savior’s honor. But I shall be very brief in the consideration of this heterodoxy, nothing doubting but that to have repeated it is fully to have confuted it, in the judgment of all pious Christians.

First, then, They grant salvation to the ancient patriarchs and Jews, before the coming of Christ, without any knowledge of or faith in him at all; nay, they deny that any such faith in Christ was ever prescribed unto them or required of them.1 “It is certain that there is no place in the Old Testament from whence it may appear that faith in Christ as a Redeemer was ever enjoined or found in any of them,” say they jointly in their Apology; the truth of which assertion we shall see hereafter. Only they grant a general faith, involved under types and shadows, and looking on the promise as it lay hid in the goodness and providence of God, which indirectly might be called a faith in Christ: from which kind of faith I see no reason why thousands of heathen infidels should be excluded. Agreeable unto these assertions are the dictates of their patriarch Arminius, affirming,2 “that the whole description of the faith of Abraham, Romans 4, makes no mention of Jesus Christ, either expressly or so implicitly as that it may be of any one easily understood.” And to the testimony of Christ himself to the contrary, John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad,” he answereth, “He rejoiced to see the birth of Isaac, who was a type of me,” — a goodly gloss, corrupting the text.

Secondly, What they teach of the Jews, that also they grant concerning the Gentiles living before the incarnation of Christ; they also might attain salvation, and be justified without his knowledge.3 “For although,” saith Corvinus, “the covenant was not revealed unto them by the same means that it was unto the Jews, yet they are not to be supposed to be excluded from the covenant” (of grace), “nor to be excluded from salvation; for some way or other they were called.”

Thirdly, They are come at length to that perfection in setting out this stain of Christianity, that Bertius, on good consideration, denied this proposition,4 “That no man can be saved that is not ingrafted into Christ by a true faith;” and Venator to this question,5 “Whether the only means of salvation be the life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ?” answereth, “No.” Thus they lay men in Abraham’s bosom who never believed in the Son of Abraham; make them overcome the serpent who never heard of the Seed of the woman; bring goats into heaven, who never were of the flock of Christ, never entered by him, the door; make men please God without faith, and obtain the remission of sins without the sprinkling of the blood of the Lamb, — to be saved without a Savior, redeemed without a Redeemer, — to become the sons of God, and never know their elder Brother; — which prodigious error might yet be pardoned, and ascribed to human imbecility, had it casually slipped from their pens, as it did from some others.6 But seeing it hath foundation in all the grounds of their new doctrine, and is maintained by them on mature deliberation,7 it must be looked on by all Christians as a heresy to be detested and accursed. For, first, deny the contagion and demerit of original sin; then make the covenant of grace to be universal, and to comprehend all and every one of the posterity of Adam; thirdly, grant a power in ourselves to come unto God by any such means as he will appoint, and affirm that he doth assign some means unto all, — and it will naturally follow that the knowledge of Christ is not absolutely necessary to salvation, and so down falls the preeminence of Christianity; its heaven-reaching crown must be laid level with the services of dunghill gods.8 

It is true, indeed, some of the ancient fathers, before the rising of the Pelagian heresy, — who had so put on Christ, as Lipsius speaks, that they had not fully put off Plato, — have unadvisedly dropped some speeches seeming to grant that divers men before the incarnation, living meta. lo,gou, “according to the dictates of right reason,” might be saved without faith in Christ; as is well showed by learned Casaubon in his first exercitation on Baronius. But let this be accounted part of that stubble which shall burn at the last day, wherewith the writings of all men not divinely inspired may be stained. It hath also since (as what hath not?) been drawn into dispute among the wrangling schoolmen; and yet, which is rarely seen, their verdict in this particular almost unanimously passeth for the truth. Aquinas9 tells us a story of the corpse of a heathen, that should be taken up in the time of the Empress Irene and her son Constantine, with a golden plate on his breast, wherein was this inscription: — “Christ is born of a virgin, and I believe in him. O sun, thou shalt see me again in the days of Irene and Constantine.” But the question is not, Whether a Gentile believing in Christ may be saved? or whether God did not reveal himself and his Son extraordinarily to some of them? for shall we straiten the breast and shorten the arm of the Almighty, as though he might not do what he will with his own; but, Whether a man by the conduct of nature, without the knowledge of Christ, may come to heaven? the assertion whereof we condemn as a wicked, Pelagian, Socinian heresy, and think that it was well said of Bernard,10 “That many laboring to make Plato a Christian, do prove themselves to be heathens.” And if we look upon the several branches of this Arminian novel doctrine, extenuating the precious worth and necessity of faith in Christ, we shall find them hewed off by the two-edged sword of God’s word. 

FIRST, For their denying the patriarchs and Jews to have had faith “in Christum exhibendum et moriturum,” as we in him “exhibitum et mortuum,” it is disproved, —

First, By all evangelical promises made from the beginning of the world to the birth of our Savior; as that, Genesis 3:15, “The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head;” and chapter 12:3, 49:10; Psalm 2:7,8,110; with innumerable others concerning his life, office, and redeeming of his people: for surely they were obliged to believe the promises of God.

Secondly, By those many clear expressions of his death, passion, and suffering for us, as Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 53:6-10, etc., 63:1-3; Daniel 9:26. But what need we reckon any more? Our Savior taught his disciples that all the prophets from Moses spake concerning him, and that the sole reason why they did not so readily embrace the faith of his passion and resurrection was because they believed not the prophets, Luke 24:25,26; showing plainly that the prophets required faith in his death and passion.

Thirdly, By the explicit faith of many Jews, as of old Simeon, Luke 2:34; of the Samaritan woman, who looked for a Messiah, not as an earthly king, but as one that should “tell them all things,” — redeem them from sin, and tell them all such things as Christ was then discoursing of, concerning the worship of God, John 4:25.

Fourthly, By the express testimony of Christ himself. “Abraham,” saith he, “rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad,” John 8:56. His day, his hour, in the Scripture, principally denote his passion. And that which he saw surely he believed, or else the father of the faithful was more diffident than Thomas, the most incredulous of his children. 

Fifthly, By these following, and the like places of Scripture: Christ is a “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” Revelation 13:8; slain in promises, slain in God’s estimation and in the faith of believers. He is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever,” Hebrews 13:8, under the law and the gospel.

“There is none other name under heaven given unto men, whereby we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.

Never any, then, without the knowledge of a Redeemer, participation of his passion, communication of his merits, did ever come to the sight of God; no man ever came to the Father but by him. Hence St Paul tells the Ephesians that they were “without Christ,” because they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,” Ephesians 2:12; intimating that God’s covenant with the Jews included Christ Jesus and his righteousness no less than it doth now with us. On these grounds holy Ignatius called Abel11 “A martyr of Christ;” he died for his faith in the promised Seed. And in another place,12 “All the saints were saved by Christ; hoping in him, and waiting on him, they obtained salvation by him.” So Prosper, also,13 “We must believe that never any man was justified by any other faith, either before the law or under the law, than by faith in Christ coming to save that which was lost.” Whence Eusebius contendeth14 that all the old patriarchs might properly be called Christians; they all ate of the same spiritual meat, and all drank of the same spiritual drink, even of the rock that followed them, which rock was Christ.

SECONDLY, If the ancient people of God, notwithstanding divers other especial revelations of his will and heavenly instructions, obtained not salvation without faith in Christ, much less may we grant this happiness without him to them who were deprived of those other helps also. So that though we confess the poor natural endeavors of the heathen not to have wanted their reward (either positive in this life, by outward prosperity, and inward calmness of mind, in that they were not all perplexed and agitated with furies, like Nero and Caligula; or negative in the life to come, by a diminution of the degrees of their torments, — they shall not be beaten with so many stripes), yet we absolutely deny that there is any saving mercy of God towards them revealed in the Scripture, which should give us the least intimation of their attaining everlasting happiness. 

For, not to consider the corruption and universal disability of nature to do anything that is good (“without Christ we can do nothing,” John 15:5), nor yet the sinfulness of their best works and actions, the “sacrifice of the wicked being an abomination unto the LORD,” Proverbs 15:8 (“Evil trees cannot bring forth good fruit; men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles,” Matthew 7:16, 17); — the word of God is plain, that “without faith it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6; that “he that believeth not is condemned,” Mark 16:16; that no nation or person can be blessed but in the Seed of Abraham, Genesis 12:3. And the “blessing of Abraham” comes upon the Gentiles only “through Jesus Christ,” Galatians 3:14. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” John 14:6. “None cometh to the Father but by him.” He is the “door,” by which those that do not enter are “without,” with “dogs and idolaters,” Revelation 22:15. So that “other foundation” of blessedness “can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 3:11. In brief, do but compare these two places of St. Paul, Romans 8:30, where he showeth that none are glorified but those that are called; and Romans 10:14, 15, where he declares that all calling is instrumentally by the preaching of the word and gospel; and it will evidently appear that no salvation can be granted unto them on whom the Lord hath so far poured out his indignation as to deprive them of the knowledge of the sole means thereof, Christ Jesus. And to those that are otherwise minded, I give only this necessary caution, — Let them take heed, lest, whilst they endeavor to invent new ways to heaven for others, by so doing, they lose the true way themselves.

S.S. Lib. Arbit.
“O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things?” Luke 24:25, 26. “There is no place in the Old Testament whence it may appear that faith in Christ as a Redeemer was either enjoined or found in any then,” Rem. Apol.
“Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad,” John 8:56. “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities,” Isaiah 53:11. See the places before cited. “Abraham’s faith had no reference to Christ,” Annin.
“At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world,” Ephesians 2:12. “The Gentiles living under the Old Testament, though it was not revealed unto them as unto the Jews, yet were not excluded from the covenant of grace, and from salvation,” Corv.
“There is none other name under heaven given unto men, whereby we must be saved,” but only by Christ, Acts 4:12. “I deny this proposition, That none can be saved that is not ingrafted into Christ by a true faith,” Bert.
“The blessing of Abraham cometh on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ,” Galatians 3:14. “He that believeth not is condemned,” Mark 16:16. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” Hebrews 11:6. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 3:11. “To this question, Whether the only way of salvation be the life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ? I answer, No,” Venat.


  1. “Certum est locum nullum esse, unde appareat fidem istam, sub Vet. Test., praeceptam fuisse ant viguisse.” — Rem. Apol., cap. 7. p. 91.
  2. “Consideretur omnis descriptio fidei Abrahae, Romans 4; et apparebit in illa Jesu Christi non fieri mentionem, expresse, sed illa tantum implicatione, quam explicare cuivis non est facile.” — Armin. “Gavisus est videre natalem Isaac, qui fuit typus mei.” — Idem.
  3. “Gentes sub Veteri Testamento viventes licet ipsis ista ratione qua Judaeis non fuit revelatum, non tamen inde continuo ex faedere absolute exclusae sunt, nec a salute praecise exclusi judicari debent, quia aliquo saltem mode vocantur.” — Corv. Defens. Armin. ad Tilen., p. 107.
  4. “Nego hanc propositionem: neminem posse salvari, quam qui Jesu Christo per veram fidem sit insitus.” — Bert, ad Sibrand., p. 133.
  5. “Ad hanc queestionem an unica via salutis, sit vita, passio, mors, resurrectio, et as-censio Jesu Christi? respondeo, Non.” — Venat., apud Fest. Hom. et Peltium.
  6. Zulng. Profes. Fid. ad Reg. Gall.
  7. Art. of the Church of Eng., art. xvii.
  8. “Nihil magis repugnat fidei, quam sine fide salvum esse posse quempiam hominum.” — Acost. de Indo. Salu. Proc.
  9. Aquin. 2, 2ae q. 2, a. 7, c. — “ Christus nascitur ex virgine, et ego credo in eum. O sol, sub Irenae et Constantini temporibus iterum me videbis.”
  10. “Dum multum sudant nonnulli, quomodo Platonem faciant Christianum, se probant esse ethnicos.” — Bern. Epist.
  11. Paradoqei,j ge( tw/n dia. Cristo.n avnairouma,noin( avpo. tou/ ai[matoj  ;Azel tou/ dsikai,ou. — Ignat. Epist. ad Ephes. [cap. 12.]
  12. Pa,ntej ou-n ei` a[gioi evn Cristw|/ evsw,qhsan( evlpi,santaj eivj auvto.n kai. auvto.n avmagei,nantej( kai. di v auvtou/ swthei,aj e;tucon. — Epist, ad Philippians [cap. 5.]
  13. “Non alia fide quemquam hominum, sive ante legem sive legis tempore, justificatum esse, credendum est, quam hac eadem qua Dominus Jesu,” etc. — Prosp. ad Ob. 8., Gallorum.
  14. “Omnes ergo illos qui ab Abraham sursum versus ad primum hominem, generationis ordine conscribuntur, etsi non nomine, rebus tamen, et religione Christianos fuisse, si quis dicat, non mihi videtur errare.” — Euseb. Hist. Eccles., lib. 1. cap, 4.