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Prefatory note.

The relation of man to his Creator has engaged the attention of earnest and thoughtful minds, from the days of the patriarch of Uz to the most recent controversies of modern times. The entrance of sin into the world has vastly complicated this relationship; so that, considered in its various bearings, it involves some of the most difficult problems with which the human intellect has ever attempted to grapple. The extent to which the intellect itself has been weakened and beclouded by the corruption of our nature, renders us the less able to penetrate into the deep mysteries of human duty and destiny. Whether man sins now as essentially affected with the taint of the first sin, and involved in the responsibilities of the first sinner, or sins wholly on his own account and by his own free act, under the bias of no connection with Adam, except what connection obtains between example on the one hand and imitation on the other? whether, on the supposition of a scheme of saving grace, grace is simply divine and external aid to the will of man, already operating freely in the direction of what is good, and so establishing a meritorious claim upon God for the bestowal of such aid, or a supernatural influence creating in man the very liberty itself to will and to do what is good? and whether, in the latter view of divine grace, as bestowed in divine sovereignty, and therefore according to a divine purpose, it can be reconciled with human responsibility? — are the questions which produced the sharp encounter of keen and conflicting wits between Pelagius and Augustine of old.

Towards the middle of the ninth century, these questions again assumed distinctive prominence in the history of theological speculation. Gottschalc, a monk of Orbais, distinguished himself by his advocacy of the doctrines of Augustine. It was the doctrine of predestination chiefly on which he insisted; and the controversy in his hands assumed this peculiar modification, that not merely the application of gracious influence, but the reference of the atonement, was exhibited as under the limit and regulation of the divine sovereignty and purpose. Not that in this respect he was at variance with Augustine, but the point seems to have been specially and formally mooted in the discussions of this age. His view of predestination embraced an element which may be reckoned an advance on the Augustinian doctrine; for according to him, predestination was twofold, comprehending the punishment of the reprobate as well as the salvation of the elect; but while he held the predestination of men to the punishment of their sin, he was far from holding, as his opponents alleged, that they were predestinated to the commission of sin. Council warred with council in the case of Gottschalc. Gottschalc himself expiated by a death in prison his audacious anticipation of the rights of private judgment and free inquiry in a dark age.

The next revival of the same controversy in substance, though under certain modifications, took place after the Reformation. It is remarkable that at this period discussion on these weighty questions sprang up almost simultaneously in three different parts of Europe, and in three schools of theology, among which a wide diversity existed. The shackles of mediæval ignorance were burst asunder by the awakening intelligence of Europe; and if we except the controversy between Protestantism and Popery, on which the Reformation hinged, no point could more naturally engage the mind, in the infancy of its freedom, than the compatibility of the divine purpose with human responsibility; on the solution of which problem the nature of redemption seemed to depend, and around which, by the spell of the very mystery attaching to it, human speculation in all ages had revolved. When an interdict still lay on theological inquiry, Thomists and Scotists had discussed it in its metaphysical form, and under a cloud of scholastic subtleties, lest the jealousies of a dominant church should be awakened. But now, when a measure of intellectual freedom had been acquired, and the dispute between free-will on the one hand and efficacious grace on the other involved a practical issue between Rome and Geneva, the question received a treatment almost exclusively theological.

3First, perhaps, in the order of time, this discussion was revived in Poland, and in connection with the heresies of Socinus. The divinity of Christ, the nature of the atonement, and the corruption of human nature, are all doctrines essentially connected. It is because Christ is divine that an adequate satisfaction has been rendered, in his sufferings, to the claims of divine justice; and such an atonement is indispensable for our salvation, if man, because dead in sin, has no power to achieve salvation by any merit of his own. A denial of the total corruption of our nature seems essential to the Unitarian system; so far there is common ground between the systems of Pelagius and Socinus. It is not wonderful that this measure of identity should develop consequences affecting the doctrine of the divine purposes and of predestination though it is beyond our limits to trace either the necessary or the historical evolution of these consequences. Spanheim, in his “Elenchus Controversiarum,” p. 237, ascribes the origin of the Arminian controversy in Holland to certain emissaries, Ostorodius and Voidovius, dispatched by the Polish Socinians into the Low Countries, for the purpose of propagating the tenets of their sect. Their tenets respecting the Trinity and the atonement took no root in these countries; but Spanheim affirms that it was otherwise in regard to certain opinions of Socinus, “quæ ille recoxit ex Pelagii disciplinâ,” on predestination, free-will, and the ground of justification before God.

About the same time, the Church of Rome was shaken to its centre by the same controversy. The Jesuits had always Pelagian leanings, and in the Council of Trent their influence was triumphant, and, so far as its decrees stereotype the Romish creed, sealed the doom of the waning authority of Augustine. Louis Molina, in 1588, made an attempt in his lectures on “The Concord of Grace and Free-will ” to unite the conflicting theories. The Jesuits regarded his attempt with no small favour. A lengthened controversy arose, in which Molinism, as partly a deviation from, and partly a compromise of, the fundamental principles of the Augustinian system, was effectually assailed by the piety of Jansen, the learning of Arnauld, and the genius of Pascal, till the bull Unigenitus secured a lasting triumph for Jesuitism, by the authoritative condemnation of the doctrines of Augustine, as declared in the collection of extracts from his writings which Jansen had published under the title “Augustinus.”

But it was in Holland that the controversy on this point arose which had the chief influence on British theology, and reduced the questions at issue to the shape under which they are discussed by Owen in his “Display of Arminianism.” On the death of an eminent theologian of the name of Junius, Arminius was called to the vacant chair in the University of Leyden. Gomar, a professor in the same university, and the Presbytery of Amsterdam, opposed his appointment on the ground of his erroneous principles. On giving a pledge that he would teach nothing at variance with the Belgic Confession and Catechism, he was allowed to enter on his office as professor in 1603. Gomar and he again fell into a dispute on the subject of predestination, — the origin of prolonged troubles and controversies in the Church of Holland. Gomar and his party were supported by the majority of the clergy in the church. Arminius depended upon the political support of the state. The former sought a national synod to adjudicate on the prevailing controversy. The latter, having the ear of the state, contrived to prevent it. Stormy scenes ensued, amid which Arminius died, and Episcopius became the leader of the Remonstrants, as his followers were called, from a remonstrance which they submitted in 1610 to the States of Holland and West Friesland. The Remonstrants levied soldiers to sustain their cause, and the provinces resounded with military preparations. At last, profiting by the confusion, Maurice, the head of the house of Orange, by a series of daring and reckless movements, seized upon the government of the States. In deference to Gomar and his party, he convened a general synod on the 13th November 1618. The doctrines of Arminius were condemned, and five articles were drawn up and published as the judgment of the synod on the points in dispute. The first asserts election by grace, in opposition to election on the ground of foreseen excellence; in the second God is declared to have willed that Christ should efficaciously redeem all those, and those only, who from eternity were chosen to salvation; the third and fourth relate to the moral impotence of man, and the work of the Spirit in conversion; and the fifth affirms the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The Church of France embodied these articles among her own standards. The Church of Geneva as cordially acquiesced in them.

Four English deputies, Drs Carleton, Hall, Davenant, and Ward, together with Dr Balcanquhal from Scotland, by the command of James VI., repaired to Holland, and 4took their place in the Synod of Dort, in accordance with a request of the Dutch Church to be favoured with the aid and countenance of some delegates from the British Churches. The proceedings of the Synod of Dort had the sanction of these British divines. No doubt can be entertained that the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England were not Arminian; but on the elevation of Laud to the see of Canterbury, Arminianism grew strong within its pale. A royal prohibition was issued against all discussion of the controverted points in the pulpit. All ecclesiastical preferments at the disposal of the Crown were bestowed on those who leaned to Arminian views. “The fates of our church,” says Owen, in the note to the reader prefixed to the following treatise, “having of late devolved the government thereof into the hands of men tainted with this poison, Arminianism became backed with the powerful arguments of praise and preferment, and quickly prevailed to beat poor naked truth into a corner.” It would, however, be neither fair nor correct if the statement of these facts left an impression that Arminianism made progress solely through the help of royal and prelatic favour. It was embraced and supported by some authors to whom no sinister motives can be imputed; and the cause has never found an abler advocate than John Goodwin whose name, for his publications against the royal interest, was associated with that of Milton in the legal proceedings instituted against them both at the Restoration.

At this juncture, Owen felt it his duty to oppose the innovations on the received doctrine of the church, by the publication of a work in which the views of the Arminians are exhibited on all the leading topics of the controversy, with the exception of three points, relating to universal grace, justification, and the perseverance of the saints. He substantiates his statements regarding the Arminian tenets by copious quotations from the works of the Dutch Remonstrants; and contrasts them, at the close of each chapter, with passages from Scripture. Exception may be taken to this course, as the sentence of any author, detached from the context, may convey a meaning which is essentially modified by it. Some of these quotations are so far accommodated by Owen as to present a full statement of a particular opinion, instead of appearing in the parenthetic and incidental form which they present in the original works, as merely parts of a sentence. We did not feel it needful to interfere with them in this shape; for, so far as we can judge, our author evinces perfect integrity in all the quotations to which he has recourse, and the slight alterations occasionally made on them never superinduce a dishonest or mistaken gloss on the views of the authors from whom the passages are selected. It may be questioned if Owen sufficiently discriminates the doctrine of Arminius from the full development which his system, after his death, received in the hands of his followers. Sometimes, moreover, opinions possessing the distinctive features of Pelagianism are confounded with Arminianism, strictly so called. Our author, perhaps, may be vindicated on the ground that it was his object to exhibit Arminianism as current and common in his day; and his quotations seem to prove that his Display of it was not far from the truth, though, from the refinement of modern discrimination on some of the points, many an Arminian would hardly subscribe to some of the statements as a correct representation of his creed, and a Calvinistic author is under obvious temptation to run up Arminian views into what he may esteem their legitimate consequences in the extravagance of the Pelagian theory. The style is simple; some polish appears in the composition; and occasionally a degree of ornament and pleasantry is employed (as when he enters on the question of Free-will, chap. xii.), which is rare with Owen, who perhaps prided himself on the studious rejection of literary elegance. It could be wished that he had risen superior to the vice of the age in such discussions, by manifesting less acerbity of temper and diction in the refutation of the views which he combats in this work. It was Owen’s first publication (1642), and immediately brought him into notice. The living of Fordham in Essex was conferred upon him by the Committee of Religion, to whom the work is dedicated. — Ed.

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