A Display of Arminianism

John Owen



How little or nothing at all it is that the Arminians assign to the grace of God, in performing the great work of our conversion, may plainly appear from what I have showed already that they ascribe to our own free-will, so that I shall briefly pass that over, which otherwise is so copiously delivered in holy Scripture that it would require a far larger discussion. A prolix confirmation of the truth we profess will not suit so well with my intention; which is merely to make a discovery of their errors, by not knowing the depths whereof so many are deceived and inveigled. 

Two things, in this great conjunction of grace and nature, the Arminians ascribe unto free-will: — first, A power of co-operation and working with grace, to make it at all effectual; secondly, A power of resisting its operation, and making it altogether ineffectual; God in the meantime bestowing no grace but what awaits an act issuing from one of these two abilities, and hath its effect accordingly. If a man will co-operate, then grace attains its end; if he will resist, it returns empty. To this end they feign all the grace of God bestowed upon us for our conversion to be but a moral persuasion by his word, not an infusion of a new vital principle by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, granting this, I shall most willingly comply with them in assigning to free-will one of the endowments before recited, — a power of resisting the operation of grace; but instead of the other, must needs ascribe to our whole corrupted nature, and everyone that is partaker of it, a universal disability of obeying it, or coupling in that work which God by his grace doth intend. If the grace of our conversion be nothing but a moral persuasion, we have no more power of obeying it in that estate wherein we are dead in sin, than a man in his grave hath in himself to live anew and come out at the next call. God’s promises and the saints’ prayers in the holy Scripture seem to design such a kind of grace as should give us a real internal ability of doing that which is spiritually good. But it seems there is no such matter; for if a man should persuade me to leap over the Thames, or to fly in the air, be he never so eloquent, his sole persuasion makes me no more able to do it than I was before ever I saw him. If God’s grace be nothing but a sweet persuasion (though never so powerful), it is a thing extrinsical, consisting in the proposal of a desired object, but gives us no new strength at all to do anything we had not before a power to do. But let us hear them pleading themselves to each of these particulars concerning grace and nature. And, —

First, for the nature of grace:1 “God hath appointed to save believers by grace, — that is, a soft and sweet persuasion, convenient and agreeing to their free-will, — and not by any almighty action,” saith Arminius. It seems something strange, that “the carnal mind being enmity against God,” and the will enthralled to sin, and full of wretched opposition to all his ways, yet God should have no other means to work them over unto him but some persuasion that is sweet, agreeable, and congruous unto them in that estate wherein they are. And a small exaltation it is of the dignity and power of grace, when the chief reason why it is effectual, as Alvarez observes, may be reduced to a well-digested supper or an undisturbed sleep, whereby some men may be brought into better temper than ordinary to comply with this congruous grace. But let us for the present accept of this, and grant that God doth call some by such a congruous persuasion, at such a time and place as he knows they will assent unto it. I ask whether God thus calleth all men, or only some? If all, why are not all converted? for the very granting of it to be congruous makes it effectual. If only some, then why them, and not others? Is it out of a special intention to have them obedient? But let them take heed, for this will go near to establish the decree of election; and out of what other intention it should be they shall never be able to determine. Wherefore2 Corvinus denies that any such congruity is required to the grace whereby we are converted, but only that it be a moral persuasion; which we may obey if we will, and so make it effectual. Yea, and Arminius himself, after he had defended it as far as he was able, puts it off from himself, and falsely fathers it upon St. Austin. So that, as they jointly affirm,3 “they confess no grace for the begetting of faith to be necessary, but only that which is moral;” which one of them interpreteth to be4 “a declaration of the gospel unto us;” — right like their old master, Pelagius. “God,” saith he,5 “worketh in us to will that which is good and to will that which is holy, whilst he stirs us up with promise of rewards and the greatness of the future glory, who before were given over to earthly desires, like brute beasts, loving nothing but things present, stirring up our stupid wills to a desire of God by a revelation of wisdom, and persuading us to all that is good.” Both of them affirm the grace of God to be nothing but a moral persuasion, working by the way of powerful, convincing arguments; but yet herein Pelagius seems to ascribe a greater efficacy to it than the Arminians, granting that it works upon us when, after the manner of brute beasts, we are set merely on earthly things. But these, as they confess that, for the production of faith,6 it is necessary that such arguments be proposed on the part of God to which nothing can probably be opposed why they should not seem credible; so there is, say they, required on our part a pious docility and probity of mind. So that all the grace of God bestowed on us consisteth in persuasive arguments out of the word; which, if they meet with teachable minds, may work their conversion.

Secondly, Having thus extenuated the grace of God, they affirm,7 “that in operation the efficacy thereof dependeth on free-will:” so the Remonstrants in their Apology.8 “And to speak confidently,” saith Grevinchovius, “I say that the effect of grace, in an ordinary course, dependeth on some act of our free-will.” Suppose, then, that of two men made partakers of the same grace, — that is, [who] have the gospel preached unto them by the same means, — one is converted and the other is not, what may be the cause of this so great a difference? Was there any intention or purpose in God that one should be changed rather than the other? “No; he equally desireth and intendeth the conversion of all and every one.” Did, then, God work more powerfully in the heart of the one by his Holy Spirit than of the other? “No; the same operation of the Spirit always accompanieth the same preaching of the word.” But was not one, by some almighty action, made partaker of real infused grace, which the other attained not unto? “No; for that would destroy the liberty of his will, and deprive him of all the praise of believing.” How, then, came this extreme difference of effects? who made the one differ from the other? or what hath he that he did not receive? “Why, all this proceedeth merely from the strength of his own free-will yielding obedience to God’s gracious invitation, which, like the other, he might have rejected: this is the immediate cause of his conversion, to which all the praise thereof is due.” And here the old idol may glory to all the world, that if he can but get his worshippers to prevail in this, he hath quite excluded the grace of Christ, and made it “nomen inane,” a mere title, whereas there is no such thing in the world.

Thirdly, They teach, that notwithstanding any purpose and intention of God to convert, and so to save, a sinner, — notwithstanding the most powerful and effectual operation of the blessed Spirit, with the most winning, persuasive preaching of the word, — yet it is in the power of a man to frustrate that purpose, resist that operation, and reject that preaching of the gospel. I shall not need to prove this, for it is that which, in direct terms, they plead for; which also they must do, if they will comply with their former principles. For granting all these to have no influence upon any man but by the way of moral persuasion, we must not only grant that it may be resisted, but also utterly deny that it can be obeyed. We may resist it, I say, as having both a disability to good and repugnancy against it; but for obeying it, unless we will deny all inherent corruption and depravation of nature, we cannot attribute any such sufficiency unto ourselves.

Now, concerning this weakness of grace, that it is not able to overcome the opposing power of sinful nature, one testimony of Arminius shall suffice:9 “It always remaineth in the power of free-will to reject grace that is given and to refuse that which followeth; for grace is no almighty action of God, to which free-will cannot resist.” Not that I would assert, in opposition to this, such an operation of grace as should, as it were, violently overcome the will of man, and force him to obedience, which must needs be prejudicial unto our liberty; but only consisting in such a sweet effectual working as doth infallibly promote our conversion, make us willing who before were unwilling, and obedient who were not obedient, that createth clean hearts and reneweth right spirits within us.

That, then, which we assert, in opposition to these Arminian heterodoxies, is, That the effectual grace which God useth in the great work of our conversion, by reason of its own nature, — being also the instrument of and God’s intention for that purpose, — doth surely produce the effect intended, without successful resistance, and solely, without any considerable co-operation of our own wills, until they are prepared and changed by that very grace. The infallibility of its effect depends chiefly on the purpose of God. When by any means he intends a man’s conversion, those means must have such an efficacy added unto them as may make them fit instruments for the accomplishment of that intention, that the counsel of the Lord may prosper, and his word not return empty. But the manner of its operation, — that it requires no human assistance, and is able to overcome all repugnance, — is proper to the being of such an act as wherein it doth consist. Which nature and efficacy of grace, in opposition to an indifferent influence of the Holy Spirit, a metaphorical motion, a working by the way of moral persuasion, only proposing a desirable object, easy to be resisted, and not effectual unless it be helped by an inbred ability of our own (which is the Arminian grace), I will briefly confirm, having premised these few things: —

First, Although God doth not use the wills of men, in their conversion, as malign spirits use the members of men in enthusiasms, by a violent wrested motion, but sweetly and agreeably to their own free nature; yet in the first act of our conversion the will is merely passive, as a capable subject of such a work, not at all concurring cooperatively to our turning. It is not, I say, the cause of the work, but the subject wherein it is wrought, having only a passive capability for the receiving of that supernatural being, which is introduced by grace. The beginning of this “good work” is merely from God, Philippians 1:6. Yea, faith is ascribed unto grace, not by the way of conjunction with, but of opposition unto, our wills: “Not of ourselves; it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves; our sufficiency is of God,” 2 Corinthians 3:5. “Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned,” Lamentations 5:21.

Secondly, Though the will of man conferreth nothing to the infusion of the first grace, but a subjective receiving of it, yet in the very first act that is wrought in and by the will, it most freely cooperateth (by the way of subordination) with the grace of God; and the more effectually it is moved by grace, the more freely it worketh with it. Man being converted, converteth himself.

Thirdly, We do not affirm grace to be irresistible, as though it came upon the will with such an overflowing violence as to beat it down before it, and subdue it by compulsion to what it is no way inclinable [unto.] But if that term must be used, it denoteth, in our sense, only such an unconquerable efficacy of grace as always and infallibly produceth its effect; for who is it that can “withstand God?” Acts 11:17. As also, it may be used on the part of the will itself, which will not resist it: “All that the Father giveth unto Christ shall come to him,” John 6:37. The operation of grace is resisted by no hard heart; because it mollifies the heart itself. It doth not so much take away a power of resisting as give a will of obeying, whereby the powerful impotency of resistance is removed.

Fourthly, Concerning grace itself, it is either common or special. Common or general grace consisteth in the external revelation of the will of God by his word, with some illumination of the mind to perceive it, and correction of the affections not too much to contemn it; and this, in some degree or other, to some more, to some less, is common to all that are called. Special grace is the grace of regeneration, comprehending the former, adding more spiritual acts, but especially presupposing the purpose of God, on which its efficacy doth chiefly depend.

Fifthly, This saving grace, whereby the Lord converteth or regenerateth a sinner, translating him from death to life, is either external or internal. External consisteth in the preaching of the word, etc., whose operation is by the way of moral persuasion, when by it we beseech our hearers 

“in Christ’s stead that they would be reconciled unto God,” 2 Corinthians 5:20;

and this in our conversion is the instrumental organ thereof, and may be said to be a sufficient cause of our regeneration, inasmuch as no other in the same kind is necessary. It may also be resisted in sensu diviso, abstracting from that consideration wherein it is looked on as the instrument of God for such an end.

Sixthly, Internal grace is by divines distinguished into the first or preventing grace, and the second following cooperating grace. The first is that spiritual vital principle that is infused into us by the Holy Spirit, that new creation and bestowing of new strength, whereby we are made fit and able for the producing of spiritual acts, to believe and yield evangelical obedience:

“For we are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” Ephesians 2:10.

By this God “gives us a new heart, and a new spirit he puts within us;” he “takes the stony heart out of our flesh, and gives us an heart of flesh;” he “puts his Spirit within us, to cause us to walk in his statutes,” Ezekiel 36:26, 27.

Now, this first grace is not properly and formally a vital act, but causaliter only, in being a principle moving to such vital acts within us. It is the habit of faith bestowed upon a man, that he may be able to eliciate and perform the acts thereof, giving new light to the understanding, new inclinations to the will, and new affections unto the heart: for the infallible efficacy of which grace it is that we plead against the Arminians. And amongst those innumerable places of holy Scripture confirming this truth, I shall make use only of a very few, reduced to these three heads: —

First, Our conversion is wrought by a divine, almighty action, which the will of man will not, and therefore cannot resist. The impotency thereof ought not to be opposed to this omnipotent grace, which will certainly effect the work for which it is ordained, being an action not inferior to the greatness of his “mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead,” Ephesians 1:19, 20. And shall not that power which could overcome hell, and loose the bonds of death, be effectual for the raising of a sinner from the death of sin, when by God’s intention it is appointed unto that work? He accomplisheth “the work of faith with power,” 2 Thessalonians 1:11. It is “his divine power that giveth unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” 2 Peter 1:3. Surely a moral, resistible persuasion would not be thus often termed the “power” of God, which denoteth an actual efficacy to which no creature is able to resist.

Secondly, That which consisteth in a real efficiency, and is not at all but when and where it actually worketh what it intendeth, cannot without a contradiction be said to be so resisted that it should not work, the whole nature thereof consisting in such a real operation. Now, that the very essence of divine grace consisteth in such a formal act may be proved by all those places of Scripture that affirm God by his grace, or the grace of God, actually to accomplish our conversion: as Deuteronomy 30:6, 

“And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”

The circumcision of our hearts, that we may love the Lord with all our hearts, and with all our souls, is our conversion, which the Lord affirmeth here that he himself will do; not only enable us to do it, but he himself really and effectually will accomplish it. And again, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts,” Jeremiah 31:33. “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me,” chap. 32:40. He will not offer his fear unto them, but actually put it into them. And most clearly, Ezekiel 36:26, 27:

“A new heart also 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 put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.”

Are these expressions of a moral persuasion only? Doth God affirm here he will do what he intends only to persuade us to, and which we may refuse to do if we will? Is it in the power of a stony heart to remove itself? What an active stone is this, in mounting upwards! What doth it at all differ from that heart of flesh that God promiseth? Shall a stony heart be said to have a power to change itself into such a heart of flesh as shall cause us to walk in God’s statutes? Surely, unless men were willfully blind, they must needs here perceive such an action of God denoted, as effectually, solely, and infallibly worketh our conversion; “opening our hearts, that we may attend unto the word,” Acts 16:14; “giving us in the behalf of Christ to believe on him,” Philippians 1:29. Now, these and the like places prove both the nature of God’s grace to consist in a real efficiency, and the operation thereof to be certainly effectual.

Thirdly, Our conversion is a “new creation,” a “resurrection,” a “new birth.” Now, he that createth a man doth not persuade him to create himself, neither can he if he should, nor hath he any power to resist him that will create him, — that is, as we now take it, translate him from something that he is to what he is not. What arguments do you think were sufficient to persuade a dead man to rise? or what great aid can he contribute to his own resurrection? Neither doth a man beget himself; a new real form was never yet introduced into any matter by subtle arguments. These are the terms the Scripture is pleased to use concerning our conversion: — “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,” 2 Corinthians 5:17. The “new man after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” Ephesians 4:24. It is our new birth: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth,” James 1:18. And so we become “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever,” 1 Peter 1:23. It is our vivification and resurrection: “The Son quickeneth whom he will,” John 5:21, even those “dead,” who “hear his voice and live,” verse 25. “When we were dead in sins,” we are “quickened together with Christ by grace,” Ephesians 2:5; for “being buried with him by baptism, we are also risen with him through the faith of the operation of God,” Colossians 2:12. And “blessed and holy is he that hath part in that first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”

Tw/| Qew|/ avristomegi,stw| do,xa.


  1. “Deus statuit salvare credentes per gratiam, id est, lenem ac suavem liberoque ipsorum arbitrio convenientem seu congruam suasionem, non per omnipotentem actionem seu motionem.” — Armin. Antip., p. 211.
  2. Corv. ad Molin. — “His ita expositis ex mente Augustini,” etc. — Armin. Antip. De Elec.
  3. “Fatemur, aliam nobis ad actum fidei eliciendum necessariam gratiam non agnosci quam moralem.” — Rem. Act. Synod. ad Art. 4.
  4. “Annuntiatio doctrinae evangelicae.” — Popp. August. Port. p. 110.
  5. “Operatur in nobis velle quod bonum est, velle quod sanctum est, dum nos terrenis cupiditatibus deditos mutorum more animalium, tantummodo praesentia diligentes, futurae gloriae magnitudine et praemiorum pollicitatione, succendit: alum revelatione sapientiae in desiderium Dei stupentem suscitat voluntatem, dum nobis suadet omne quod bonum est.” — Pelag., ap. Aug. de Grat. Ch. cap. 10.
  6. “Ut autem assensus hic eliciatur in nobis, duo in primis necessaria sunt: — 1. Argumenta talia ex parte Dei, quibus nihil verisimiliter opponi potest cur credibilia non sint. 2. Pia docilitas animique probitas.” — Rem. Declar., cap. 17. sect. 1.
  7. “Ut gratia sit efficax in actu secundo pendet a libera voluntate.” — Rem. Apol., p. 164.
  8. “Imo ut confidentius again, dico effectum gratiae, ordinaria lege, pendere ab actu aliquo arbitrii.” — Grevinch, ad Ames., p. 198.
  9. “Manet semper in potestate Lib. Arbit. gratiam datam rejicere et subsequentem repudiare, quae gratia non est omnipotentis Dei actio, cui resisti a libero hominis arbitrio non possit.” — Armin. Antip., p. 243.