Semi-arminianism is Arminianism in a reformed dress. It is a type of Arminianism that looks like a lamb but is really a wolf. To make good this statement requires that we first have regard to Arminianism proper. Its basic tenets are the following:
1) Faith is a condition to salvation.
2) The will of man is morally free, that is, depraved man can will to reject Christ or to believe in His name and be saved as he, man, chooses.
3) To say that God determines man’s choices is to reduce man, conceptually, to a stock and a stone. God’s counsel therefore, is not the cause and fountain of man’s good choice, will, decision, determination to be saved. Accordingly, this good choice is not worked in man by God, but originates in man himself.
4) From all eternity God determined to bestow salvation on those whom He foresaw that they would fulfill the condition set by Him, namely, that they believe; and to inflict everlasting punishment on those who should continue in their unbelief, and resist unto the end His divine-succors, so that election was conditional, and reprobation in like manner the result of foreseen infidelity and persevering wickedness.
5) Jesus Christ, by his suffering and death, made an atonement for the sins of all mankind in general, and of every individual in particular; that, however, none but those who believe in Him can be partakers of His benefits.
6) The truly regenerate may lose true justifying faith, forfeit their state of grace, and die in their sins.
7) Grace accordingly is resistible.
8) God in His mercy and thus well-meaningly offers His grace to all.
9) The preaching of the Gospel is grace to all.
10) The promises of God are conditional.
Any nine of these ten propositions are necessarily implied in any one of them. What it means is that also the system of thought of heresy is one organism of thought; it is the one lie, so that, for example, to say that faith is a condition to salvation is to say all the rest.
Every one of these ten propositions are contained in Rawlson’s “Elements of Divinity” as defended by him. Rawlson, we should know, was an avowed Arminian.
Arminianism is a deceptive and misleading heresy. For it, too, wears a reformed dress; though a wolf, it, too, looks somewhat like a lamb. This is owing to the fact that often its thought processes are along lines that have a thoroughly Scriptural and Reformed sound. Allow me to quote a little from Rawlson’s work to shew how true this is. In the chapter on the effects of the fall of man we come upon statements such as the following:
“The true doctrine upon this subject, which we shall endeavor to sustain by evidence, is this: that all mankind are by nature so depraved as to be totally destitute of spiritual good, and inclined only to evil continually.” And then this, “That spiritual death, or the loss of divine image from the soul (which are but other words for total depravity) was included in that penalty, has already been shown in the preceding chapter. The argument then amounts to demonstration, that all mankind are by nature in a state of moral pollution, properly expressed by the phrase total depravity… Now if all men are not involved in the penalty, we must flatly deny the word of God, which plainly and repeatedly represents death, in every sense of the word, as a penal infliction, a judicial sentence pronounced upon the guilty, as a just punishment for sin.” End of quotation. This is the true doctrine of the Scriptures, isn’t it? Concerning repentance Rawlson has this to say, “To suppose that the carnal mind can turn itself to God, by its own innate, underived energy, work out repentance unto salvation, is to set aside the doctrine of total depravity, and contradict those Scriptures which refer to God as the author of repentance.” End of quote. This, too, is stating the matter as soundly as one could wish, isn’t it?
According to Arminianism, faith, too, is a gift of God. Says Rawlson, “And as God is the proper author and finisher of faith, because it is through His merciful arrangement, and by the aid of divine grace imparted, that we are enabled to believe, we may therefore say with propriety that in these acceptations faith is the gift of God.”
Of justification, he has this to say, “Justification changes our relation to law – it removes our condemnation, but does not change our nature, or make us holy. This is sanctification, which is, indeed, the immediate fruit of justification.”
In the chapter on regeneration one may read, “The native state of the heart is hatred to God…It is only divine grace, regenerating the soul, that can slay this enmity, turn back our nature’s rapid tide, and cause the affections of the soul to flow out after God and heavenly objects.”
And finally this from Rawlson’s pen, “Nothing that man can do can avail anything toward purchasing salvation by merit; for when we have done all that we can do, we are unprofitable servants. The work of salvation in all its stages, can be performed either in whole or in part, by none but God, and this is entirely a work of grace…”
Truly, how much this wolf resembles a lamb.
But, of course, there is a question here. It is this: If God is the author of repentance and faith, how can faith then still be a condition unto salvation? Rawlson has the answer. It is this: The power and grace to repent and believe is an endowment of God. God, therefore, may be said to be the author of repentance and faith. But God is not the author, originator, of the good will, decision, determination to put His endowment into use by actually repenting and believing. This is of man; it is the condition that man must fulfill. (See above under propositions 2 and 3). If he does so, God will perfect his salvation by justifying, regenerating and sanctifying him and by ultimately crowning him with life in glory but always and only on the condition that man continue of himself to decide to put God’s endowment – power and grace – into use by actually repenting, believing, seeking, knocking, praying, striving, etc. And this, of course, must mean that faith as an act is also out of man. According to Rawlson (and all Arminians) in the point of view that man as assisted by God’s power and grace decides to believe and also believes actually, God may be said to be the author of faith as an act. But in the point of view that the act of faith is the expression of man’s sovereign decision to utilize God’s good gift (power and faith) by actually believing, man and not God is properly the author, the originator of repentance and faith as acts. And so, if, on the other hand, man sovereignly decides not to put God’s good endowment – power and grace – into use by actually repenting and believing, God can do nothing about it except cast the profligate into eternal perdition. God stands helpless over against man’s determination not to be saved. This verily is the idea. And this is Arminianism. Arminianism is a horrible heresy. It dethrones God and deifies man by seating his will in God’s throne. The Arminian will let God do everything for the sinner except one thing, namely originate and sustain in man the good will, decision, determination to be saved of God. Of this good will and decision, man and not God is the author. O yes, God will save you, O sinner. He is exceeding willing. But, and mark you, but you must believe, that is, decide to believe by actually believing. This is the condition that you must fulfill and then God will do all the rest.
It is interesting to note how Rawlson puts all these ideas into words. He writes, “And as God is the proper author and finisher of our faith, because it is through His merciful arrangement, and by the aid of divine grace imparted, that we are enabled to believe, we may therefore say with propriety that in these acceptations faith is a gift of God. But all this is far from admitting that faith is in no sense the act of the creature. Indeed, that it is the act of the creature in an important sense, is implied clearly in what has just been presented. For, after all that God has done, man must act – his agency must be put forth, or faith cannot exist. Not that he of himself can do any good thing – his sufficiency is of God; but through Christ strengthening him, he can and must exert an agency in believing. God has never promised to believe for any man; nor can any man ever possess faith till through grace he exercise the ability with which God has endowed him. From what has been said, we think it evident wherein faith is both the gift of God and the act of the creature.”
This is familiar language, isn’t it? We have heard it before, have we not, from those who accuse us of minimizing the activity of faith? It ought now to be plain why in his sermonizing the Arminian preacher spends all his time telling his hearers that they must do something – repent, believe, strive, pray, seek, knock – why in his preaching he lays all the emphasis on the activity of faith. According to his conception, the sinner himself sovereignly determines by his repenting or not repenting whether or not God is going to be able to save him. If the sinner does not repent and believe, God stands helpless and the result is that the sinner perishes in his sins without God being able to do anything about it. This is his conception.
But, one may say, should not the human proclamatory of the Gospel continually, without ceasing, call sinners to repentance and exhort God’s believing people to lay off sin, put on Christ and walk in newness of life? Yes, of course, he should, but not certainly as moved by that Arminian conception but as moved by the right conception. And this right conception is that our repentance in all its parts, thus not alone the grace and power to repent but the good will, decision to repent and our actual repenting as well, is out of God and that, therefore, He, through Christ Who loved us and gave Himself for us, is the sole author of it. And what is true of repentance is also true, of course, of our believing and praying and striving and seeking and knocking.
This is the right conception. And this conception must also be preached always and continually. It must constitute the content of every sermon preached. For it is the Gospel, the only true Gospel.
Of course, it is we and not God that repent. But this does not mean that, as the Arminians say, we in part are the author of our repentance. Our repentance in all its parts is solely God’s work in us. This, I said, is the only true Gospel. But this true Gospel the Arminian preacher will not proclaim. And if he is one of those reformed Arminian preachers, occupying a pulpit in a church that has this true Gospel on the books, he will, of course, not openly deny this true Gospel. He will even insist that he believes it. But he will keep silent about this true Gospel in the pulpit as much as he dares and devote all his time to telling his hearers that they must do something. And hereby it becomes evident that the man is an Arminian at heart engaged in preaching Arminianism not so much by what he says as by what he does not say. He refrains, as much as he dares, from bringing this true Gospel in the pulpit and is forever telling his hearers that they must do something. And his excuse for not preaching this true Gospel any more than he does is that it is not necessary seeing that everybody knows about it anyway.
Truly Arminianism is a subtle and misleading heresy, owing to the fact that, as was said, though a wolf, it resembles a lamb. But if Arminianism is subtle and misleading, much more so this Reformed (so-called) or Semi-Arminianism. This is owing to the fact that, though also a wolf, looks a good deal more like a lamb; it is owing to the fact that it has two faces, the one Reformed and the other Arminian. Let us make good this statement.
On the one hand it maintains 1) that faith is a condition unto salvation, in the language of De Wolf that “God promises to every one of you that, if you believe, you will be saved,” and, “our humbling ourselves is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom;” 2) that God’s promises are conditional and unto all; 3) that God in His mercy offers His salvation unto all soul for soul; 4) that the preaching of the Gospel is grace unto all.
In these propositions are necessarily implied all the rest of the Arminian tenets cited above, such as that the will of man is morally free, that Christ died for all, and that election and reprobation are conditional.
On the other hand, it is also maintained by this Reformed Arminianism 1) that election and reprobation are unconditional; 2) that the will of man is morally bound; 3) that Christ died only for His elect.
Now these two sets of propositions are contrary. They can no more be harmonized than the two propositions All men are mortal and no men are mortal. Hence both cannot be believed. If this so-called Reformed Arminianism believes the truth, why then does it not shed its Arminian face? And so it could also be asked, if this so-called Reformed Arminianism believes the lie, why does it not shed its Reformed face? For this double-faced, double-tracked theology is a horrible thing, wonderfully deceiving, calculated only to mislead.