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This begins a series of articles based upon the earliest work of Puritan theologian John Owen, A Display of Arminianism. I could never think to improve upon one of the most outstanding thinkers in the history of the church. He was precise, articulate, full of love for the Scriptures, and witty. This is not intended to replace his work. On the contrary, I hope to whet your appetite to read the entire work yourself.

I write for three reasons.

First, though this work is one of Owen’s most accessible, his language is very academic. Having an introduction to it in the language of our day may help you to navigate through his work more easily. His Display is full of Greek and Latin (which I know nothing of) and the language of the Puritan era (which I am somewhat familiar with), both which can slow you down. I will try to help here as I can, using research and the comments of others as necessary to fill in the gaps.

Second, the topic is largely being ignored by much of the church today, as the influence of Arminius, (particularly through the revivalism of Charles Wesley, Charles Finney and others), has made “free will” the predominant defense of the modern doctrines of salvation, most of which I fear are leading millions of souls into hell. It has had a blinding effect upon much of evangelicalism and a deadening effect upon much of the reformed church.

Third, this damnable doctrine of free will is couched in modern terms and ideas that must be addressed in the context of our own language and preconceptions, though Owen has aptly paved the way with his work. I will not add anything new to the discussion doctrinally (Ecclesiastes 1:9) but hope to bring out the old paths using modern idioms and illustrations and challenge those of us who believe in free grace to be more courageous in rescuing professing Christians from this doctrine of demons.

Introduction

John Owen wrote this, his first work, in 1642, just prior the beginning of the English Westminster Assemblies (1643-1649). The full title is A DISPLAY OF ARMINIANISM: BEING A DISCOVERY OF THE OLD PELAGIAN IDOL FREE-WILL, WITH THE NEW GODDESS CONTINGENCY, ADVANCING THEMSELVES INTO THE THRONE OF THE GOD OF HEAVEN, TO THE PREJUDICE OF HIS GRACE, PROVIDENCE, AND SUPREME DOMINION OVER THE CHILDREN OF MEN; Wherein THE MAIN ERRORS BY WHICH THEY ARE FALLEN OFF FROM THE RECEIVED DOCTRINE OF ALL THE REFORMED CHURCHES, WITH THEIR OPPOSITION IN DIVERS PARTICULARS TO THE DOCTRINE ESTABLISHED IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND, ARE DISCOVERED AND LAID OPEN OUT OF THEIR OWN WRITINGS AND CONFESSIONS, AND CONFUTED BY THE WORD OF GOD.


Chapter One of Owen’s work is his introduction. He briefly describes each chapter of his short book and its purpose. The title itself would be too controversial or confrontational for our own day. First, he calls “Free-Will” an idol, something we would be unlikely to do. Many Presbyterians and Calvinists of our day seem to be somewhat “free-will” on the issue of free-will. At most we might say it is just a different point of view within the church than our own view of free grace:

"There’s usually a waystation" where it is said, "I believe that doctrine, but I don’t think it’s important for other Christians to believe it"

Owen then suggests that its companion doctrine,(the notion that God’s decrees are contingent upon the will of man) is a feminist pretender to the throne of God. I believe Owen’s title suggests he would reject the distinction we are apt to make between Pelagianism and Arminianism.

Display is divided into two parts, representing the two ends of Arminianism as Owen sees them. First, advocates of free will aim to remove themselves from the jurisdiction of God’s “all-ruling hand of providence” replacing it with “chance, contingency, and their own free wills,” making God himself subject to these things. Second, they rejected the utter fall of man in Adam. If they are saved, it is because they are smarter, wiser, more faithful than those who are lost, thereby gaining to themselves the glory which is due to God’s name.

Owen’s work was written only about 30 years after Arminius died. We live 369 years after Owen’s Display. I have been amazed of late how quickly the words “free will” come to the lips and pen when any Doctrines of Grace or Providence are even mentioned. Suggest that God has something to do with natural disasters, and free-will raises its head. Suggest that God chooses to save some and not others, and free-will fights with all of its strength. If you dare say that God sends troubles or judgments leading to death, hoards of “free-willers” will risk committing blasphemy by calling our God a monster. Others will say out loud they don’t want to serve a God that sends people to hell. Others are doubting the very existence of hell. Free-will leads not only to rejection of predestination, but eventually rejection of belief in God’s omniscience, hence the Open Theism movement.

"Free Will" is on display and we need to understand it.

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[Linked Image] to the Board. grin

Yes, Owen's treatise is magnificent and one which is inestimably one of his finest works, perhaps just behind his "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ".

For those who don't have a copy of Owen's Works, they can either read it online HERE, or download/save a .pdf copy of it from HERE


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Interesting little note on a personal experience I had last week:

My daughter get's out of Sunday School class and as we're headed out of the Church, she ask's me what the rapture is and if I would buy her the "Left Behind" series? she's 13 and she reads a lot. - as a side note, yes I realize what's in the Left Behind series; but for right now, it's better then nothing - Anyway, so I quickly thought about what she said they had discussed and this was all spurred on by the recent talk about the world ending.

So I asked her, "So what did the teacher say about who would be saved?" She told me that the teacher told everyone that "well if you want to be saved, you have to be a good person."

I quickly responded to my daughter and asked her; "well do you believe that?" Which of course puzzled her and being as she knows me and that I usually use a question to start a dialog, she slowly said... "ummmm no?" smile

So anyway, I started to talk to her and said, how do you know if your good enough to go to heaven? Then again, I shared the Gospel with her and she understood what I was saying and agreed with me. She realized that no matter how hard she tried; she would never be able to lead a sinless life and that she would never be reconciled to a Holy and Just God based on her own goodness.

She then the next day told me that she was listening to a Christian song and it was all about how we should be a good person; and she told me that she understood exactly what I meant and that she didn't agree with the song. Praise be to God.

Anyway I thought this was a pretty good example of a "free will" mindset. People who are not called, just can't understand and or accept "Justification by faith alone apart from any work of the Law."

Arminians believe that faith comes by works. Salvation is given to those who obey the law and believe and or have a personal relationship with Jesus. "If I believe in Jesus and I'm a good person, then I have true faith and will be saved."

But that just isn't the Gospel; because if you use the Law to be Justified, then you are in unbelief and your faith is just empty religion. You have just as much chance of being saved as the Buddhist or Hindu; because your doing exactly what they're doing.

The Apostle Paul exclaims to us that - I'm paraphrasing - "If anyone could gain eternal life through their self-righteousness it was me! I was a Pharisee of Pharisee's; I obeyed the Law so well everyday, I made Zen Buddhist's look sloppy! But I account that as NOTHING! It was worthless! Because, even I wasn't even close to being righteous enough; because one has to be perfectly righteous and there has only be one person and there will only ever be one person who has ever been able to do that."

I have spent many years trying to lead that kind of faith and it just doesn't work because there's just absolutely no assurance in it. It is not freedom it is bondage. Also when one starts to read and learn and try to understand the Bible; one starts to see that God's Word/Scripture makes absolute no sense in that light.

Anyway... just some thought. smile .... p.s. I'm not a theologian; I've read many Reformed authors and preachers, but I'm still not able to articulate everything perfectly, so please understand that I might have said something questionable, in which case, please feel free to correct me. smile I'm still learning.

Dave


Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. - Galatians 2:16
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Thank you, pilgrim.

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Thanks for responding as you did. Don't worry someone will correct you if mess up (online Presybyterians are like that).

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Here is a link to Luther's Bondage of the Will on SermonAudio just in case anyone want's to download them for their Mp3 player.

Here is a very good series on Arminianism I have found by William MacLean. - Arminianism from the Reformers and against it's modern proponents.

Dave


Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. - Galatians 2:16
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Oh, and on The Highway you can find Christopher Ness's excellent treatise, An Antidote to Arminianism

Another worthwhile read is Mark Herzer's Arminianism Exposed


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I am new to this web site and relatively new to Reformed Doctrine. I have been a christian for 35 years. I was raised in an agnostic jewish home. Since I was a small child I knew God was with me. I could feel Him and was comforted by what I His felt was His love and protection. When I was about 20 I wanted to kill myself, as I put the knife to my wrist that voice of my childhood said, "No! Don't do it! Your answer is Jesus". Now I had never heard the gospel and had never opened a bible so I didn't really know what it was all about other than knowing a few catholics growing up. Seemed a lot of weird nonsense to me. I went to a person I knew of at the time who was a chaplain on a ship. I went to his office and asked him to tell me who is this Jesus other that some weird jew of long ago. He gave me a bible and thus began my journey. I said all this to ask something that has troubled me off and on. When I met Him it was or felt like the same God I knew in my heart of my childhood only I didn't know His name or His plan. How can this be if He is not able to fellowship with us until we are born again? I would love to ask someone I know here where I live but there are no reformed churches near me, (although we are soon moving).
Also while I have you... Doesn't Revelation seem like it says in some places (chapter3 vs 5) that it depends on our works? I love calvinisim. It is so freeing and fills me with awe at the thought He chose me and will keep me, but I get little nagging fears it is too good to be true, like when I read revelation 3-5. Thank you for your time if you care to answer me.

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Originally Posted by rachel
I am new to this web site and relatively new to Reformed Doctrine.

Welcome to The Highway, Rachel. grin

Quote
I said all this to ask something that has troubled me off and on. When I met Him it was or felt like the same God I knew in my heart of my childhood only I didn't know His name or His plan. How can this be if He is not able to fellowship with us until we are born again?

Well, it's certainly possible God was drawing you to Himself even then, but did not cause you to be born again until years later. It's difficult to judge such subjective experiences. It is certain, however, that before you came to faith, you were dead in sin & under the wrath of God.

Quote
I would love to ask someone I know here where I live but there are no reformed churches near me, (although we are soon moving).

If you know where you are moving, make a post in the Church Locator forum & it may be possible to locate a Reformed church for you.

Quote
Also while I have you... Doesn't Revelation seem like it says in some places (chapter3 vs 5) that it depends on our works? I love calvinisim. It is so freeing and fills me with awe at the thought He chose me and will keep me, but I get little nagging fears it is too good to be true, like when I read revelation 3-5. Thank you for your time if you care to answer me.

"He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Rev. 3:5, ASV).

We should note that this verse is part of the letter to the church in Sardis. It seems that many in this church were declaring themselves to have faith, but were failing to do any works indicative of their faith (vv. 1-2). They were living their lives, one might say, as "Sunday Christians," with nothing in their behavior or attitudes that was substantially different from unbelievers. Christ is warning the church in Sardis that they must strengthen what remains (v. 2) & remember what they have received & heard, or He will come to judge them (v. 3). Essentially, the church in Sardis needed to read & apply the Epistle of James to themselves, & start practicing instead of merely professing their faith! Christ goes on in vv. 4-5 to comfort those faithful believers in Sardis who have persevered in good works, demonstrating that their faith is a heartfelt reality & not empty words. I'll point out here that these are the very kind of saints of whom Christ says:

"All that which the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the will of him that sent me, that of all that which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jh. 6:37-40, ASV).

Hope that helps. BigThumbUp


Kyle

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified.
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Good answers all, CIB.

Rachel, there is another place you can locate Reformed Churches by entering your Zip Code:

www.Sermonaudio.com This is also a wonderful website with thousands of sermons.

Last edited by DavidShedlock; Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:14 AM.
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Thank you all so much for the leads and helpful info! My husband graduates tomorrow, from the police academy so then we are going to see where the best job opens up for him and go from there. I am looking forward to finding a new church to dig into. Our last one was a PCUSA that was going to go PCA but backed out at the last minute, thus my husband and I felt we had to leave, although it broke our hearts to leave some of the people there. We had only been at the church a year since that is when we moved to Ga. from Michigan.


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