The Shadow of James Arminius


This article is part of a series on James Arminius.

Arminius had passed from the scene. But it must be remembered, the school of thought did not originate with him. And it did not end when his voice was silenced. Uitenbogaert assumed the leadership and those who believed as Arminius did naturally gathered around him. Very soon a summary of their concerns was drawn up, probably by Uitenbogaert.

The Remonstrance of 1610

The followers of Arminius’ teaching expressed five points of disagreement with the high-Calvinist position. “A plea for moderation and Christian peace in the church, this document was drafted and signed by thirty-four ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church and directed to the government of Holland.”

It was an effort at reconciliation. They wanted official recognition of five points:

  1. That those who believe in Christ are saved and those who do not are damned, and that neither is the result of divine predestination.
  2. That Christ died on the cross for the redemption of all men, not just of the elect.
  3. That man receives saving faith not from his own free will but from the grace of God by rebirth and renewal.
  4. That all good works are solely due to the grace of God.
  5. That although man can remain in a state of grace and will be sustained and protected by the Holy Spirit, it is possible for him, through his own negligence, to lose that state.1

It became known as the Remonstrance of 1610.

Van Holk also lists five key areas in Remonstrant theology: tolerance, biblical interpretation, the place of conscience in moral and religious matters, the influence of humanisn and rationalism, and universal grace.2 Once again it is evident that

The Arminian system is an attempt to formulate a protest from an ethical point of view. The end sought is the maintainance of human responsibility and the moral conditions of praise and blame, reward and penalty, while still upholding salvation by grace.”3

Principal Tulloch remarks, “Arminianism sprang from the moral rather than from the intellectual side of the Protestant conscience.”4 The Remonstrants were being true to their master.

The Remonstrance was accepted by the States of Holland. It was decided that ministers of Remonstrant opinions should be free from censure, and that in examining new ministers, questions should not go beyond the five articles. It was an attempt to quell the strife, but it was the occasion of furious indignation. The Calvinists determined to keep young men of Arminian sentiments out of the ministry!5

Tensions increased until the Synod of Dort (1618-1619). Then the whole affair ruptured. The Remonstrants were not seated in the synod. They were called in as the accused! Remonstrant sympathizers had been gradually eliminated from positions of power until the Calvinists had the upper hand. The Remonstrant doctrines were condemned and the preachers were forbidden to preach. Many had to flee the country.

How often “the heresy of one generation becomes the orthodoxy of the next!”6

We must be reminded again that the Remonstrance “was not an act of insurgency by those who were against the church. It was an act of ministers of the church, addressed to the States of Holland, in response to the action of the States on November 23, 1608.”7 As Bangs declares elsewhere

There was one broad stream of Dutch Reformed life and thought which was declared out of bounds by Dort. At the time it was called Remonstrantism or Arminianism, but it antedated both the Remonstrance of 1610 and Arminius….There [had been] an intermingling of the “Dutch National Reformation” and more strictly Calvinist-Reformed currents, and they did not get separated until Dort.8

Unfortunately, Arminianism did not stay Arminian.  H. Orton Wiley distinguishes between early Arminianism (represented in Arminius and John Wesley) and later Arminianism (represented in the Remonstrants).9 Goeffrey Nutall has divided English Arminianism between “Arminianism of the head” (General Baptists and Dissenters; held Socinian tendencies) and “Arminianism of the heart” (John Wesley, Methodists; produced a great missionary thrust).10 However, Wiley has off-handedly commented that the Arminians of Holland are “really not Arminians, in the sense of Arminius.”11

H. Y. Groenewegen once declared that Arminianism could be summed up as: anti-clerical, anti-confessional, and anti-dogmatic!12

And J. Luther Adams an American Unitarian from Harvard claims Arminian heritage and says “Many are the spiritual children of the Dutch Republic and also of Arminius who have contributed to the heritage of Massachusetts and of America in both politics and religion.”13

No wonder Godbey explains

Arminius must be distinguished from the differing theological currents that have been characterized as Arminian, and the basic structure and emphases of his theology must be set forth over against frequent historical misinterpretations.14

Arminianism in England

This is an anachronism.  The same conflict as we have seen in Holland was developing in England.  As early as 1555, English refugees who had fled from Mary were exposed to these issues in Frankfurt.  “. . . the party divisions [of Puritans against the high church] clearly antedate the work of Arminius.”15  William Perkins and Peter Baro were at it in 1595.  Later this movement came to be called Arminian.  Wiley claims that the popular connection of Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism or semi-Socinianism in England is unwarranted.16  J. Luther Adams, however, freely conjoins a High-Church Puritan movement, left-wing movements of seventeenth-century England, Methodism, Congregationalism, Unitarianism, the Enlightenment, the Evangelical Awakening, and eventually modern higher criticism, and the modern scientific outlook.17

Gordon Wakefield relates that King James was “a Calvinist abroad and an Arminian at home–doubtless because he was always in support of established governments and hated nonconformists.”18 He analyzes the movement and presents three phases: Prelatical, Rational, and Evangelical.19

Arminianism in Wesley and the Methodists

John Wesley found the theology of Arminius a vehicle ready to be filled and activated. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop says, “Wesleyanism is Arminian orthodoxy infused with the warmth and power of the Holy Spirit.”20 Indeed it may be asserted that Wesley’s “set purpose was to revert to the religious insights of the Dutchman whilst shunning his rationalistic disciples. With this emphasis that all is of grace, Wesley represents the high peak of Evangelical Arminianism.”21 From the other side, Wakefield remarks that “Arminianism is safest when it is ready to admit with Wesley in 1745: ‘The true Gospel touches the very edge of Calvinism.'”22

“The practical application of the doctrine in a crusade for the salvation of a world parish, which is Wesley’s greatness, not merely wrought an eighteenth-century miracle which has not yet exhausted its effect, but also ensured the eventual prevalence of true and ‘evangelical’ Arminianism in theological thought.”23

Arminianism Today

The church owes real gratitude to Arminius for “liberating Biblical Exegesis from the bondage of pure dogmatic theology.”24 Today over half of the Protestant church “agrees with Arminius in those positions wherein he differs from Calvin.”25 Most Calvinists have Arminianized on four of the five points, only retaining the perseverance of the saints, according to W.T. Purkiser. He calls it “The Lengthening Shadow of Arminius.”26 If A. Mitchell Hunter could say in 1920 that “pious Calvinists preach like Arminians, as pious Arminians pray like Calvinists,”27 what would he say today?

Should we conclude that the Arminians and Calvinists have beaten their swords into pruning hooks to study war no more? Not exactly! There is still a friendly friction as is evidenced in the “Feature Interview” of Christianity Today (October 12, 1959). One can almost hear the tea kettle whistle as the four theologians debate the issue of Divine election! Thankfully we have found more civil means of expressing ourselves than legislating the banishment of our opponents.

What then is the mission of Arminians today? H. Orton Wiley asserts that “Arminian principles underlie all true evangelism.”28 If that is true, and I believe it is, Arminians should be ablaze with missionary zeal! Purkiser delivers three hard punches:

Arminianism is a theology for a world in crisis.
Arminianism is a theology for intense evangelism.
Arminianism is, in fact, the theology of “Evangelism First!”29

Nothing could honor Arminius and his Christ any more!



  1. Lambertus Jacobus van Holk in McCulloh, ed., Man’s Faith and Freedom, p.28.
  2. Ibid., p.30.
  3. Fisher, History of Christian Doctrine, pp.339-340.
  4. J. Tulloch, Rational Theology and Christian Philosophy in England in the Seventeenth Century, 1:18. Quoted in Alfred H. Pask, “The Influence of Arminius on John Wesley,” London Quarterly and  Holborn Review 185 (October 1960), p.263.
  5. Harrison, Arminianism, pp.50-51.
  6. Pearse, The Orthodox Devil, p.11.
  7. Bangs, Arminius, p.318.
  8. Carl Bangs, “Arminius as a Reformed Theologian,” Quoted in Sell, The Great Debate, p.5.
  9. H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, 3 vols. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill, 1969), 11:107. Cited with approval by Carl Bangs, “Recent Studies in Arminianism,” Religion in Life 32 (1963):421-428. Also by John Hicks, “The Theology of Grace in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch” (Ph.D. dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985), p.10.
  10. Geoffrey F. Nutall in McCulloh, ed., Man’s Faith and Freedom, pp.60-61. Cited also by Sell, The Great Debate, p.6.
  11. Carl F. H. Henry et. al., “Feature Interview,” p.6.
  12. Cited in McCulloh, ed., Man’s Faith and Freedom, p.30.
  13. McCulloh, ed., Man’s Faith and Freedom, p.88.
  14. Godbey, “Arminius and Predestination,” p.493.
  15. Bangs, “Arminius and the Reformation,” p.160-161.
  16. Wiley, “Four Hundredth Anniversary,” p.5.
  17. McCulloh, ed., Man’s Faith and Freedom, p.91.
  18. Gordon S. Wakefield, “Arminianism in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” London Quarterly and Holborn Review 185 (October 1960): 254-255.
  19. Ibid., p.258.
  20. Wynkoop, Foundations, p.68.
  21. Sell, Great Debate, p.70.
  22. Wakefield, “Arminianism,” p.258.
  23. Pask, “Influence of Arminius on Wesley,” p.263.
  24. Guyer, James Arminius, p.141.
  25. Wiley, “Four Hundredth Anniversary,” p.4.
  26. W. T. Purkiser, “The Lenthening Shadow of Arminius,” Herald of Holiness (October 5, 1960), p.13.
  27. A. Mitchell Hunter, The Teaching of Calvin (Glasgow: Maclehose, 1920), p.129. Quoted in Sell, Great Debate, p.123, footnote 53.
  28. Wiley, “Four Hundredth Anniversary,” p.5
  29. Purkiser, “Lengthening Shadow,” p.13.