Getting Acquainted with Arminius,
John S. Knox
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2013. Volume 31.
Date Posted July 4, 2013
The Declaration of Sentiments contains ten chapters which Arminius compiled in his defense. Last issue covered Sections 8-9.
SECTION X - "THE REVISION OF THE DUTCH CONFESSION AND THE HEIDELBERG CATECHISM"
The last chapter of Arminius' Declaration of Sentiments focuses on the possibility of the calling of a national Synod in Holland. Basically, this section elaborates on the desires of Arminius. First, it is an endorsement for a national Synod for a variety of reasons to be explained shortly. Second, it is an appeal for proper conduct to be maintained in the activities of the Synod. Third, it calls for proper and reasonable discussion, debate, and doctrinal investigation. Fourth, it pleads for Confessional simplicity and clarity.
Contrary to what his opponents may have thought, Arminius was more than eager for a national Synod to be called. He states, "It is obviously agreeable to reason as well as to equity, and quite necessary in the present posture of affairs, that such a measure should be adopted." Arminius does not fear the idea of a holistic examination of the doctrinal confession of the Dutch Church. It could help ease the hostile environment he observes around him. Furthermore, a Synod could control supralapsarian thought containing "far too many particulars." It could also legitimize the idea that parts of the Bible are mysterious and above dogmatic thought. It could additionally promote an approach to theology that is not so myopic and rigid regarding doctrinal priorities.
Arminius further advises the Assembly to run the Synod reasonably and fairly.
If the Church be properly instructed in that difference which really does and always ought to exist between the word of God and all human writings, and if the Church be also rightly informed concerning that liberty which she and all Christians possess, and which they will always enjoy, to measure all human compositions by the standard rule of God's word, she will neither distress herself on that account, nor will she be offended on perceiving all human writings brought to be proved at the touch-stone of God's word.
This is the summation of what Arminius considers wrong with the current state of religious affairs in Holland. The inflexibility and fear of his opponents has so tainted the process that true doctrinal analysis is being stalled and hampered. The Reformed Church must be able to examine its doctrine or else contamination and calamity will sneak into the Confession. Despite this, Arminius does try to acknowledge the validity of some parts of his opponents' opinion.
Some points in the Confession are certain and do not admit of a doubt: these will never be called in question by anyone, except by heretics. Yet there are other parts of its contents which are of such a kind, as may with the most obvious utility become frequent subjects of conference and discussion between men of learning who fear God, for the purpose of reconciling them with those indubitable articles as nearly as is practicable.
Arminius is attempting to bridge the differences and to reach his opponents. He is an advocate for his understanding of Scripture and doctrine, but he is not trying to be heavy-handed about it. In his concluding address, Arminius testifies,
For I am not of the congregation of those who wish to have dominion over the faith of another man, but am only a minister to Believers, with the design of promoting in them an increase of knowledge, truth, piety, peace and joy in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Arminius created the Declaration of Sentiments with this in mind. Using Scripture, Reformed thought, the Confession, his opponents' words as well as his own, Arminius sought to successfully weave a defense of his theology and actions. Examining each section carefully, one can see the difficult task he had in defending himself against the Supralapsarians. He not only had to prove that he was innocent of their charges; he also had to demonstrate the weaknesses of their arguments. Like near-sighted sailors attempting to chart the stars, he felt their descriptions of God's plan were blurry and misleading. The Declaration was his attempt to bring the doctrinal truths expressed in the Bible into better focus.