A Short History of the Rise and Progress of Arminianism

Note: I read this preface to the book The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination by Zanchius Translated From Latin by Toplady and ended with a Letter to Wesley and liked it so much that I typed it by hand into this website..  You can download this from our books section.

     Of all the devices formed by Satan, and employed to sully the glory of divine truth, that which is now commonly called ARMINIANISM, is the most ancient, the most dangerous, and the most successful.  Since the fall of man, it has existed in the world, in every age and in every country.  It may be called the Religion of our fallen nature; and will never want friends and advocates on earth, so long as the spirit of error and the corrupt heart are permitted to exert their wicked influence.  It is a system of principles, stated in direct opposition to the sovereignty of God, displayed in the distribution of his favours among men ; and is utterly eversive of the whole plan of grace revealed in the gospel.  It proclaims open war against the essential prerogative of Deity -- his absolute right of determining the final state of rational beings, considered as guilty and fallen ; and makes the divine purpose entirely dependent on the creature's will.  The great God is impiously dethroned, that the vile idol of free will may be exalted in his room.  The proud usurper, being seated on the throne, dares to arraign at his bar, every thing human and divine ; and presumes to judge, approve, or condemn every article of the divine testimony, and every piece of divine conduct, as they appear right or wrong to the corrupt heart -- the depraved will. 

     This is a system founded in ignorance, supported by pride, fraught with atheism, and will end in delusion.  But it is well calculated to gain general consent among all who were never thoroughly convinced of the evil of sin, nor felt the burden of guilt pressing their consciences ; nor have seen the purity of the divine law, their own lost and helpless state, and the absolute necessity of Christ's righteousness for justification and eternal life.  The carnal heart is naturally proud, and regards, with fond attention, whatever tends to flatter its vanity and self-importance.  Such is the palpable tendency of the Arminianism scheme.  It gently whispers us in the ear, that, even in a fallen state, we retain both the will and the power of doing what is good and acceptable to God :-- that Christ's death is accepted by God as an universal atonement for the sins of all men ; in order that every one of may, if he will, save himself by his own free will, and good works :-- that, in the exercise of our natural powers, we may arrive at perfection even in the present life, &c.  These, and the like unscriptural tenets, are so much adapted to the legal bias of the corrupt heart, that we need not wonder at the favourable reception they have met with in every period of the church.

     If we consult the history of past ages, it will be found, that this set of corrupt principless has always occupied a chief place in the faith and profession of corrupt churches.  In the latter times of the Jewish church, the body of that people were so strongly attached to this legal scheme, that they utterly rejected Christ and his righteousness, and went about to establish a righteousness of their own.  The gospel church was no sooner planted, than the spirit of error began to work.  The Arminian leaven in the heart was set a working by the Arminian or Judaizing teachers of these days, which produced such a strong fermentation in some churches, that they seem to have almost entirely departed from the faith.  Of this melancholy change the church of Galatia presents an affecting instance.  The apostles and other ministers of Christ, by their sermons, their disputations, and writings, laboured hard to stem the torrent, and prevent the infection from spreading through the church : But alas, this mystery of iniquity continued to work, through the fostering care of the father of lies, and by the craft and assiduity of his numerous emissaries.  During the three first centuries of the Christian church, it was continually on the increase ; and, about the beginning of the fourth, it broke out with open violence under the name of the Arian heresy. 

     This was little else but a new name clapt upon an old mass of error which had been lying in detached fragments, up and down in the Christan world from the beginning.  By Arius they were all gathered up and artfully formed into one complete system of falsehood and blasphemy.  His opposition was chiefly directed against the doctrines of Christ's Eternal Sonship--of His co-essentiality and co-equality with the Father : but his system included in its bosom the very essence of the Socinian and Arminian errors.

     In the year of our Lord 325, the pastors of the church assembled in a general Council at Nice, in Bythinia, to concert measures for checking the spreading infection.  They drew up that admirable form of sound words, called the Nicene Creed, or Confession of Faith.  It was subscribed by all present ; and even by Arius himself, that temporizing arch-heretic ; merely to serve a present turn, and with a fixed design of throwing off the mask as soon as a favourable opportunity should offer.  In a few years he openly retracted ; and, gaining the ear of the Roman emperor, he filled the church with tumult and blood, and attempted to banish truth, and exterminate its professors from the earth.

     The spirit of error and delusion seemed to be let loose from all restraint.  Multitudes of new heresies suddenly sprung up in almost every corner of the church.  Pelagius, a British monk, in the beginning of the 5th century appeared on the stage to plead the cause of error and decry the doctrines of grace.  The Scripture doctrine of absolute and unconditional Predestination he boldly denied - asserting that God was directed in determining the final state of sinful men by his foreknowledge of human actions -- Original Sin, both imputed and inherent, he counted a mere figment -- He maintaained the modern Arminian tenet of Free Will in its utmost extent ; affirming that a man retains full power to chuse what is good, and to do what is well-pleasing to God, without any supernatural aid - That men in the present state may attain sinless perfection if they only suitably improve their natural powers, and the common means of grace - That Justification before God is by works, and not by faith in the righteousness of Christ.

     This many-headed monster was hatched long before the days of Pelagius ; but never till then did it assume an aspect so alarming and formidable.  Its venom soon overspread the whole continent of Europe, and reached the British Isle.  As every poison has its antidote, so the cause of truth did not then want many noble champions, who stood up in its defence.  Among others the Lord raised up the justly celebrated Austin, who, with a bold and well directed stroke, cut off this Hydra's head.  But the deadly infection had already spread too wide to be easily cured.  It lurked in the bowels of a corrupt and apostatizing church, until it made its way to the Papal chair, gained the consent of the general councils, and became the avowed creed of the antichristian church.

     At the commencement of the protestant reformation, the standard was again lifted up in defence of the doctrines of grace.  The scriptures, which for many ages had lain concealed in the musty cabinet of dead languages, were now translated into the vulgar tongue of every country where the reformation got footing.  The invention of printing greatly accelerated the diffusion of knowledge ; and the writings of the ancient fathers, particular of Austin, were eagerly sought after, carefully read, and publicly taught by the most illustrious reformers, such as CalvinLutherZuingliusBucerMelancthonZanchius, and others.  Men were filled with astonishment of their former ignorance and infatuation.  Satan fell, as lightning from heaven, before the preaching of the everlasting gospel. His kingdom was full of darkness ; but his heart burned with rage, and he set every engine to work to prevent the total ruin of his interest and empire.  He moved earth and hell against the witnesses of Christ, and the earth was soaked with the blood of the saints.  But truth prevailed over all the fury of persecution.

     The old and more successful method of opposing the cause of God was then tried.  Floods of error broke in upon the church.  Socinus, a man of great cunning and considerable learning, sent abroad a new edition of the old Arian heresy, with additional strokes of bold blasphemy.  After him arose Arminius, in Holland, who revived in a new dress the old Pelagian heresy.  It caused great convulsions in the seven United Provinces ; and occasioned the meeting of the famous Synod of Dort, at which the errors of Arminius and hs party were solemnly tried, and condemned.  But the old leaven continued still to ferment in the bowels of the church.  It stole into Britain about the beginning of the last century ; but dared not openly to shew its blotched face, until Archbishop Laud introduced it to court, and made it the Shibboleth of his party.  The execution of that haughty and arbitrary prelate, with the dispersion of his powerful faction, had nearly cleared the island of the Armininan plague : when lo, a second inundation broke in upon the land, at the restoration of king Charles II.  By his debauched court, every thing serious was treated with buffoonery and scorn ; but, because the Arminian clergy were found more pliant tools for the ruling party ; divines of this stamp were generally preferred to the more considerable ecclesiastical benefices.  England was soon overrun with Arminianism, and the old-fashioned doctrines of grace were every where run down as gross fanaticism, and their abettors stigmatized with the name of enthusiasts.

     The noxious weed was openly transplanted into our Scotch soil after the restoration ; when our Presbyterian pulpits were invaded and forcibly seized by an army of curates of the corrupt communion of the Church of England.  The prelatical form of church government was indeed pulled down in North Britain, at the revolution : but not a few of the episcopal incumbents were continued in their charges, upon very general and equivocal terms.  From this impure source has sprung much of that corruption of doctrine which now overspreads the whole land.

     Deism, or absolute Scepticism seem, in the present day, to be the prevailing and fashionable creed among many who move in the higher spheres of life.  Socinianism has of late years made very rapid progress among professors of different descriptions.  But Arminianism of all others, is the most prevalent ; and may be styled the vulgar error.  It comes soliciting our acceptance with all the false charms of a harlot, decked out in such captivating colours, as too well suit the vitiated and depraved taste of corrupt nature.  It finds an advocate in every man's bosom.  Its cause is plead by all the strength and subtlety of carnal reason. 

     As a seasonable antidote against this growing evil, the following short treatise and sermon are sent abroad, warmly recommended to the attention of the public.  Many volumes have been wrote, on the Arminian controversy : but I have met with nothing that more completely, and in so concise a manner, cuts it up by the roots.  This valuable translation of Zanchy, on predestination, came into my hands about two years ago ; with some other pieces of Mr. Toplady's own works.  The manly boldness of the learned translator and author, his fervent zeal for purity of gospel doctrine, and his masterly way of dissecting and exposing error very much struck and pleased me.*  I felt much regret that his writings should be so little known in Scotland, where they are so much needed.   To have republished all his works would have required several volumes, and consequently put it out of the reach of the poor to become acquainted with them.  Besides, they are not all equally adapted to general edification.  Some of them are professedly composed for the meridian of England ; and directly pointed against the reigning errrors of the English clergy.  The two pieces selected are no less suited to the state of matters on this, than on the other sided of the Tweed.  This edition is chiefly intended for the accomodation of such as are in narrow worldly circumstances, and can spare very little for the purchase of books.  It is put into circulation at one fourth of the original cost of the London edition.  May the Divine Spirit make it extensively useful for convincing and reclaiming the erroneous, and for comforting and confirming all the true frineds of the precious doctrines of grace, through the churches of Christ.


Nov. 9, 1793.

* The greatest men have their peculiarities, their favourite modes of expression, and are liable to be mistaken in some things.  The admirable Augustus Toplady, with all his excellencies, is not an unexceptional author, either as to matter or manner.  But where shall we find such among uninspired men? Humanum est errare.

Topics: Gospel Distinctives
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