Arrogant Calvinists, Humble Arminians

It’s sad but true: Sometimes Christians who hold firmly to solid doctrine do so arrogantly. Sometimes people with good theology have bad behavior. Those of us in Reformed and Presbyterian churches don’t always have a consistent balance of doctrine and everyday life. I believe that the reality of salvation by grace alone is one of the great truths of Scripture, but my words and actions are not always gracious. I confess that God has saved me according to his great mercy, but I’m not always merciful. Anyway, John Newton wrote very well of this in a letter to his friend in October 1771. I’ve edited it slightly for readability:

You say, ‘I have aimed to displease the Arminians.’ I had rather you had aimed to be useful to them, than to displease them.  There are many Arminians who are so only for lack of clearer light.  They fear the Lord and walk humbly before him.  And as they go on, by an increasing acquaintance with their own hearts and the word of God, their objections and difficulties gradually subside.  And in the Lord’s time (for he is the only effectual teacher) they receive the doctrines of grace which they were once afraid of.

Now these should not be displeased, by our endeavoring to declare the truth in terms the most offensive to them which we can find. We should rather seek out the softest and most winning way of encountering their prejudices.  Otherwise, we make a parade and grow big with a sense of our own wisdom and importance, but we shall do little good. Our Lord (you know) taught his disciples as they were able to bear it; he did not aim to displease them though it is pretty plain they had a good deal of the Arminian spirit in them for some time after they began to follow him.  

You will perhaps say, ‘A humble Arminian, surely that is impossible!’ I believe it’s not more impossible to find a humble Arminian than a proud and self-sufficient Calvinist.  The doctrines of grace are humbling, that is in their power and experience. But a man may hold them all in their entirety, and be very proud.  He certainly is so if he thinks his assenting to them is proof of his humility, and despises others who are proud and ignorant in comparison of himself.

John Newton, Wise Counsel, p. 15.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

%d bloggers like this: