Thursday, January 8, 2009

Chapter 11 Part 3

The Life of James Arminius
Chapter 11, Part 3 of 3 (p. 266-277).

This biography of James Arminius was written in Latin by Caspar Brandt, published by Gerard Brandt in 1724, and translated to English by John Guthrie in 1854.

Arminius finding himself in this manner contending from day to day against the slanders of adversaries, used to complain to himself that he was set down by his brethren as a sort of mere 'filth and offscourings;' while by those who at this time enjoyed his intimacy, he was heard on several occasions uttering with a groan, and adapting to his own infelicitous lot, these words of the prophet Jeremiah: 'Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast born me a man of strife, and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me.' [Jer. xv. 10.].

Meanwhile, consulting at once for his reputation and for the tranquillity of the church, it pleased the Rulers of Holland to summon Arminius before their Assembly on the 30th of October, and to order him, in fulfilment of the pledge he had lately given, to deliver to them, briefly and perspicuously, orally, and in writing, his own opinion on all the heads of doctrine in reference to which he stood somewhat in doubt. Joyfully obedient to this mandate, on the day appointed he repaired to the Hague, and before that august assembly of the Illustrious Fathers of his country, he expounded, in a lengthened oration, his opinions respecting Divine Predestination, the Grace of God, Free Will, the Perseverance of the Saints, the Certainty of Salvation, the Perfection of Man in this life, the Deity of the Son, Justification, and the Reformation of the Confession and Catechism. The subject, however, on which he deemed it of special importance to insist, was that of Predestination; and therefore, besides fortifying hie own opinion on this point by a variety of reasons, he also asserted, at great length, the magnitude of the difficulties which beset the doctrine that was delivered by many divines of the Reformed Church. He showed and proved that a sentiment was propounded by some which conflicted with the nature of God, and his wisdom, justice, and goodness — with the nature of man and his free will — with the work of creation — with the nature of eternal life and death — and, finally, with the nature of sin; that it was subversive of divine grace, opposed to the glory of God, and obstructive to the salvation of men; that it made God the author of sin, hindered sorrow on account of sin, did away with all pious solicitude, diminished the desire of piety, quenched the ardour of prayer, generated despair, inverted the gospel, impeded the ministry of the divine word, and, in fine, shook the foundations not of the Christian religion only, but of all religion whatsoever [Vid. Declar. Arm. coram Ord.]. After expounding these particulars in a manly tone, and in succinct order, he at length brought his oration to a close in these striking words, so indicative of a mind devoted to the maintenance of Christian peace:— 'Such, my most noble, most potent, most wise, and most prudent Lords, is what I have thought it dutiful to lay before your Highnesses. At the same time, also, I give thanks to this most noble and potent Assembly (to which, after God, I acknowledge myself bound to render an account of all my actions,) that it has vouchsafed to listen to me with clemency and patience. Still further, I solemnly declare that from my inmost soul I am prepared to enter into friendly and fraternal conference on these and all other points, respecting which any controversy may exist or ever occur, with my reverend brethren, at whatever time, in whatever place, and on whatever occasion shall to this illustrious Assembly seem good. Moreover, I promise to maintain in all these conferences a bearing flexible and fair, prepared alike to learn and to teach. Besides, when, on all the doctrines which may fall to be discussed, it comes to be inquired, in the first place, whether that which is the subject of debate be true, and the next place whether the belief of it ought to be regarded as necessary to salvation, I, for my part, solemnly promise and vow that no article, however I may prove it by the most solid arguments to be agreeable to the Word of God, shall by me be obtruded on my brethren who think differently as a thing to be believed, unless I clearly prove from the Divine Word, and that quite as clearly as I have proved its truth, that it is also necessary to salvation that every Christian should so believe it. If my brethren shall be ready to do the same, it will be no easy matter, in my judgment, for any controversy or schism to exist amongst us. To these things I add — in order that all apprehension, so far as I am concerned, may be removed from this noble convention, now occupied and oppressed with weighty affairs, as those on whom the safety of our country, and of the Reformed Churches, in the highest degree depends — that the errors must needs be very many and grievous which I will not forbear with in my ministerial brethren; for I am not one who would lord it over another's faith, but one who would merely be a servant to those believing, that in them may increase the knowledge of the truth, together with piety, peace, and joy in Jesus Christ our Lord. But if my brethren be of another mind, and think that I ought not to be borne with, and that no place should be allowed to me among them, I nevertheless hope that no division will arise by reason of me, seeing that too many divisions, alas, already abound among Christians, and it becomes every one rather to strive with all his might to get these same diminished and extinguished. But in this event, I will in patience possess my soul; and though it shall still be my aim to live for the good of our common Christianity, as long as the ever-blessed God may be pleased to prolong my life, I will cheerfully resign my office, mindful of this: Sat Ecclesiae, sat Patriae Datum: For the Church, and for my Country, my part has been discharged.'

Here ended Arminius. His oration, though listened to with great admiration and applause, from the modesty of the speaker, gave rise nevertheless to a diversity of judgments; some being of opinion that he had spoken nothing but what the exigency of just defence had demanded, while others accused him of over-much confidence, and of having used the sword rather than the shield.

At that time, and in the very month in which Arminius had delivered this declaration, in writing, into the hands of the States, the Synod of South Holland, held at Dort, decided that it should forthwith be sternly insisted on, that those pastors who had a leaning to Arminius should disclose whatever scruples or strictures they might have, relative to the Confession and Catechism, within the space of the month following that on which they received intimation, on pain of ecclesiastical censure to be inflicted on the contumacious [Praefat. Act. Synod Dordr.—Trigl. Hist. p. 416, 417.]. They further resolved that the same demand 'should in like manner be made of the Professors of Sacred Literature in the Leyden Academy, and of Peter Bertius, the moderator of the Theological College. The affair was pushed with great vehemence at the time, some breaking out very intemperately against those of their brethren who differed from them in opinion; so much so, indeed, that Ruard Acronius, pastor of the church at Schiedam was not afraid to call Francis Lansberg, who was simply striving to direct the counsels of this Assembly towards peace, a sink of dissensions [Uitenb. Hist. Eccles. p. 446.]. The States, however, apprehensive lest, by this ecclesiastical statute, their own decree to have the above-named writings revised in a National or Provincial Synod, should be eluded, and all but set at nought, gave orders in a letter addressed to the several Classes, dated Nov. 23, that whatever observations any one might have, were to be transmitted to them sealed, and entrusted to their custody against a Provincial Synod. By this step an end was forthwith put, in South Holland at least, to these hasty and ill-timed altercations, about subjecting those writings to a re-examination. Notwithstanding these things, however, the churches of North Holland did not abate one jot of their zeal. For new forms of subscription were coined by them, which every Classis drew up according to its own mind; and that, too, so craftily that neither copy nor form of the subscription was granted, nor the day indicated to him who demanded the day. In other places, also, new tests were proposed, and promises exacted to explain the Catechism as it had been explained in the Church during the time of the Spanish persecution [Vid. Press. Declar. Rem. p. 63.]. And that statutes of this description might not pass for spent thunderbolts, they actually went the length, in the Classis of Alkmaar, of interdicting the pulpit, and a seat in the Classis, to four ministers — Adrian Van Raepherst, Arnold Folkartson, John Evertson Van Velsen, and William Lomannus, who were favourable to Arminius, and refused to subscribe these new formularies:— a stretch of authority of which the supreme magistracy in the first instance had not been made aware, and which they straightway, withal, disapproved and contravened [Uitenb. Hist. Eccles. p 454.].

In addition to all this, the deputies of both Synods further resolved to convey by letter an urgent request to Gomarus that he would come to the aid of the afflicted Church (we may be permitted here to use their own words), and not shrink from assaulting, in open conflict, Arminius himself, who in the public Assembly of the rulers had uttered so many things against the common opinion of the Church. This divine thought that the request was one which ought on no account to be refused; and having previously obtained liberty to speak, on the 12th of December he presented himself before the Assembly of the States of Holland and West Friesland, and delivered himself of a vehement oration against Arminius. He accused him of 'various heresies and gross errors under which he laboured in reference to the received doctrine concerning the grace of God and the free will of man; concerning the justification of man in the sight of God; concerning the perfection of man in this life; concerning predestination; concerning original sin, and other points connected with the forenamed doctrines; how well in certain things he agreed with the Pelagians and Jesuits, while in others his views were worse and still more corrupt than theirs; what just grounds he had moreover given for the suspicion that he also cherished corrupt opinions concerning the authority of the Sacred Scriptures; concerning the Holy Trinity; concerning the incarnation and satisfaction of Christ; concerning the Church; concerning faith, regeneration, and good works, and other subjects of great importance. By what arts, still further, did he disseminate his opinions! When publicly asked, for example, and adjured by the churches to lay open his doubts, he had nevertheless to that hour concealed his own sentiments, but had diligently inculcated them in private to such pastors as he hoped to be able to gain over to them, as well as to his students; the principal arguments by which the orthodox doctrine is usually built up he set himself to invalidate; but to those of Jesuits, and other adversaries with which they attack the doctrine of the Reformed Churches, he lent his support; he struck into the minds of his disciples a variety of doubts respecting the truth of the received doctrine, and first suspended it, along with the heterodox doctrine, as if in aequilibrio, and then utterly rejected it; after having called the Pope of the Romanists antichrist and an idol, straightway, to please the Jesuits, he further calls him his brother, and a member of that church which is the mother of the faithful; that he shunned the light, — never to this hour having consented to give forth any declaration of his soundness and agreement in doctrine, although very often affectionately and fraternally urged by the churches to do so; that he had laboured hard to prevent his errors, which had been detected before the Supreme Court, from becoming known to the churches; that, spurning the judgment and decrees of Synods, Classes, and Consistories, he had leaped at the first emergency to the tribunal of the Supreme Magistrate, and studied by courtly arts to conciliate favour for himself, but procure hatred for the churches. He (Gomarus) was not insensible how very difficult it was, and how hazardous a task, to encounter those who, while studying innovations, were in blushing honour at the Court, and rejoiced in a courtly trumpeter [Alluding to Uitenbogaert.] of his innocence and virtue; and that Constantine himself, in olden time, had attached such importance to the eloquence and surreptitious arts of that courtly preacher, Eusebius, as to be influenced by his vote in the Council of Nice to acquit Arius after he had been condemned. Still, however, trusting to the goodness of his cause, he hoped better things of the constancy of the States; and inasmuch as the students of theology in the Leyden Academy, and many pastors up and down, were daily swerving from the orthodox doctrine, strifes and contentions prevailed, the churches were disturbed, and the citizens were split up into parties, he abjured them as speedily as possible to convoke the promised National Synod, in which, after a legitimate investigation into the causes of the evils, an appropriate remedy might at length be applied to the same.' [E Praefat. Act. Synod. Dordr.—Uitenb. Hist. Eccles. p. 455. et seqq.].

This is a summary of that oration which was delivered by Gomarus; and by most of the magnates it was regarded as abundantly stinging, containing, as it did, many things that were offensively spoken, and of which Arminius, on more occasions than one, had, by arguments the most solid, cleared himself of all suspicion, — particularly in regard to those things that were advanced respecting the Pope of Rome. For this reason the States resolved that this oration should be kept under the seal of silence, and that no copy of it should be handed to Arminius, lest occasion might be furnished for further alienation of spirit. Nay, on accurately weighing the whole affair, they began to shrink more and more from, the idea of convoking a Synod, and to decline convoking it at this time as useless to the Church and to the country. For they happened to be perplexed by very serious disputes concerning the truce, in which the Grand Pensionary of Holland, Oldenbarneveldt, and the illustrious Commander of the Army and Prefect of Military Affairs, Prince Maurice, were far from being at one. A further obstacle presented itself in the disposition evinced by so many ministers of religion to trample under foot and set at nought the authority of the Supreme Powers in relation to sacred things, assailing with special virulence the primary decree already mentioned, in terms of which it had been agreed that a Synod of the kind contemplated might be held with advantage. Besides, they had reason to fear that the minds of the ecclesiastics were too much exasperated by these very serious discussions respecting matters of faith, to warrant the hope, now that things had reached such a pass, of any remedy being applied by a formal convention of that kind to the contagion that rioted throughout the Church. Nay more, considering that the blasts of contention were increasing in violence, and that in various quarters some, in an attitude of open hostility, were doing their utmost to compass the ejection of their fellow-pastors from the Church, the most of those who sat at the helm of the State thought it very hard indeed to expose to the rage of a few the reputation and worldly prospects of those who had amply approved themselves as citizens most obedient to their mandates; as pastors most acceptable to their churches; and as leaders of the Reformed religion, by no means inactive, even at the time when the destiny of the Low Countries quivered on the point of the sword. When at this time, therefore, the pastors sent by the Classes of Holland importuned them to convoke a Provincial Synod, the rulers, perceiving that they were goaded on by a most inordinate desire for the condemnation of Arminius and his followers, rejected their petition, adding, 'that they had no objection to give their sanction to a Synod at any time, provided it would abstain from the rash and precipitate condemnation of brethren, and yield to the wish of the rulers that they would not molest their fellow-pastors on account of these controversies until the matter should be more fully investigated and examined in a National Synod, and an agreement come to by which the churches might regain their common tranquillity and concord.' [Resp. ad Epist. Wal. p. 18. 19.]. Reverting to this circumstance at a subsequent period, H. Grotius, that brilliant star and prodigy of the Low Countries, remarked, — and apparently with truth, — that the States had the same reason for dreading the Synod as that which formerly led the very sagacious Philip, Prince of Hesse, when invited to a Synod by Flacius Illyricus and other theologians of Jena, to reply, 'that as long as there existed that violence of spirit, and that rage for condemning those who differed from them in opinion, even in the least degree, — a disposition which every day exemplified, — no good could be expected from such conventions.' [Grot. pietas Ord. p. 51.].

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