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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : 8. My reasons for refusing a Conference.

The Works Of James Arminius Vol 1 by James Arminius

8. My reasons for refusing a Conference.

Most noble and potent Lords, this is a true narration of those interviews and conferences which the brethren have solicited, and of my continued refusal: from the whole of which, every person may, in my opinion, clearly perceive that there is no cause whatever for preferring an accusation against me on account of my behaviour throughout these transactions; especially when he considers their request, with the manner in which it was delivered, and at the same time my refusal with the reasons for it; but this is still more obvious from my counter-proposal.

1. Their request, which amounted to a demand upon me for a declaration on matters of faith, was not supported by any reasons, as far as I am enabled to form a judgment. For I never furnished a cause to any man why he should require such a declaration from me rather than from other people, by my having taught any thing contrary to the word of God, or to the Confession and Catechism of the Belgic Churches. At no period have I ceased to make this avowal, and I repeat it on this occasion. I am likewise prepared to consent to an inquiry being instituted into this my profession, either by a Provincial or a National Synod, that the truth of it may by that means, be made yet more apparent -- if from such an examination it may be thought possible to derive any advantage.

2. The manner in which their request was delivered, proved of itself to be a sufficient obstacle, because it was openly made by a deputation. I was also much injured by the way in which the Synod prejudged my cause; for we may presume that it would not through its deputies invite any man to a conference, unless he had given strong grounds for such an interview. For this reason I did not consider myself at liberty to consent to a conference of this description, lest I should, by that very act, and apparently through a consciousness of guilt, have confessed that I had taught something that was wrong or unlawful.

3. The reasons of my refusal were these:

First. Because as I am not subject to the jurisdiction either of the North Holland Synod or that of South Holland, but have other superiors to whom I am bound to render an account of all my concerns, I could not consent to a conference with deputies, except by the advice of those superiors and at their express command: especially since a conference of this kind was not incumbent on me in consequence of the ordinary discharge of my duty. It was also not obscurely hinted by the deputies, that the conference, [in 1605,] would by no means be a private one; but this they discovered in a manner sufficiently intelligible, when they refused to enter into a conference with me, divested of their title of |deputies.| I should, therefore, have failed in obedience to my superiors, if I had not rejected a conference which was in this manner proposed. I wish the brethren would remember this fact, that although every one of our ministers is subject as a member to the jurisdiction of the particular Synod to which he belongs, yet not one of them has hitherto dared to engage in a conference, without the advice and permission of the magistrates under whom he is placed; that no particular magistrates have ever allowed any minister within their jurisdiction to undertake a conference with the deputies of the Churches, unless they had themselves previously granted their consent; and that it was frequently their wish, to be present at such conference, in the persons of their own deputies. Let it be recollected what transpired at Leyden, in the case of Coolhasius [Koolhaes,] at Gouda with Herman Herberts, at Horn in the case of Cornelius Wiggeri, [Wiggerston,] and at Medenblick in the case of Tako, [Sybrants.]

The second reason by which I was dissuaded from a conference, is this: I perceived that there would be a great inequality in the conference which was proposed, when, on the contrary, it is necessary that the greatest equality should exist between the parties who are about to confer together on any subject. For (l.) they came to me armed with public authority; while, with respect to myself, everything partook of a private character. And I am not so ignorant in these matters as not to perceive the powerful support which that man enjoys who transacts any business under the sanction of the public authority. (2.) They were themselves three in number, and had with them two deputies of the Synod of North Holland. On the other hand, I was alone, and destitute not only of all assistance, but also of persons who might act as witnesses of the proceedings that were then to have commenced, and to whom they as well as myself might have safely entrusted our several causes. (3.) They were not persons at their own disposal, but compelled to depend on the judgment of their superiors; and they were bound most pertinaciously to contend for those religious sentiments, which their superiors had within their own minds determined to maintain. To such a length was this principle extended, that they were not even left to their own discretion -- to admit the validity of the argument which I might have adduced, however cogent and forcible they might have found them to be, and even if they had been altogether unanswerable. From these considerations I could not see by what means both parties could obtain that mutual advantage, which ought properly to accrue from such a conference. I might have gained some beneficial result from it; because I was completely at liberty, and, by employing my own conscience alone in forming a decision, I could, without prejudice to any one, have made those admissions which my conviction of the truth might have dictated to me as correct. Of what great importance this last circumstance might be, your Lordships would have most fully discovered by experience, had any of you been present in the Preparatory Convention, as the representatives of your own august body.

My third reason is, that the account which they would have rendered to their superiors after the conference, could not but have operated in many ways to my injury, whether I had been absent or present at the time when they delivered their report. (1.) Had I been absent, it might easily have happened either through the omission or the addition of certain words, or through the alteration of others, in regard to their sense or order, that some fact or argument would be repeated in a manner very different from that in which it really occurred. Such an erroneous statement might also have been made, either through the inconsiderateness which arises from a defect in the intellect, through the weakness of an imperfect memory, or through a prejudice of the affections. (2.) And indeed by my presence, I could with difficulty have avoided or corrected this inconvenience; because a greater degree of credit would have been given to their own deputies, than to me who was only a private individual.

Lastly. By this means I should have conveyed to that assembly, [the Provincial Synod,] a right and some kind of prerogative over me; which, in reference to me, it does not actually possess; and which, consistently with that office whose duties I discharge, it would not be possible for me to transfer to the Synod without manifest injustice towards those persons under whose jurisdiction it has been the pleasure of the general magistracy of the land to place me. Imperious necessity, therefore, as well as equity, demanded of me to reject the terms on which this conference was offered.

4. But however strong my sentiments might be on this subject, I gave these deputies an opportunity of gaining the information which they desired. If it had been their wish to accept the private conference which I proposed, they would have become possessed of my sentiments on every article of the Christian Faith. Besides, this conference would have been much better adapted to promote our mutual edification and instruction, than a public one could be; because it is customary in private conferences, for each person to speak everything with greater familiarity and freedom, than when all the formalities of deputations are observed, if I may so express myself. Neither had they the least reason to manifest any reluctance on this point; because every one of them was at liberty, (if he chose,) to enter into a private conference between him and me alone. But when I made this offer to all and to each of them, I added as one of my most particular stipulations, that, whatever the discussions might be which arose between us, they should remain within our bosoms, and no particle of them should be divulged to any person living. If on these terms they had consented to hold a conference with me, I entertain not the smallest doubt that we should either have given each other complete satisfaction: or we should at least have made it apparent, that, from our mutual controversy, no imminent danger could easily arise, to injure either that truth which is necessary to salvation, piety, or Christian peace and amity.

9. The complaint concerning my refusal to make a declaration of my sentiments, does not agree with the rumors concerning me which are in general circulation.

But omitting all further mention of those transactions, I am not able entirely to satisfy myself by what contrivance these two complaints appear consistent with each other. (1.) That I refuse to make a profession of my sentiments; and yet (2.) Invectives are poured forth against me, both in foreign countries and at home, as though I am attempting to introduce into the Church and into the Christian religion, novel, impure and false doctrines. If I do not openly profess my sentiments, from what can their injurious tendency be made evident? If I do not explain myself, by what method can I be introducing false doctrines? If they be mere groundless suspicions that are advanced against me, it is uncharitable to grant them entertainment, or at least to ascribe to them such great importance.

But it is cast upon me as a reproach, |that I do certainly disclose a few of my opinions, but not all of them; and that, from the few which I thus make known, the object at which I aim is no longer obscure, but becomes very evident.|

In reference to this censure, the great consideration ought to be, |can any of those sentiments which I am said to have disclosed, be proved to stand in contradiction either to the word of God, or the Confession of the Belgic Churches| (1.) If it be decided, that they are contrary to the Confession, then I have been engaged in teaching something in opposition to a document, |against which never to propound any doctrine,| was the faithful promise which I made, when I signed it with my own hand. If, therefore, I be found thus criminal, I ought to be visited with merited punishment. (2.) But if it can be proved, that any of those opinions are contrary to the word of God, then I ought to experience a greater degree of blame, and to suffer a severer punishment, and compelled either to utter a recantation or to resign my office, especially if those heads of doctrine which I have uttered, are of such a description as to be notoriously prejudicial to the honour of God and the salvation of mankind. (3.) But if those few sentiments which I am accused of having advanced, are found neither to be at variance with the word of God nor with the Confession, which I have just mentioned, then those consequences which are elicited from them, or seem dependent on them, cannot possibly be contradictory either to the word of God or to the Belgic Confession. For, according to the rule of the schoolmen, |if the consectaries or consequences of any doctrine be false, it necessarily follows that the doctrine itself is also false, and vice versa.| The one of these two courses, therefore, ought to have been pursued towards me, either to have instituted an action against me, or to have given no credit to those rumors. If I might have my own choice, the latter course is that which I should have desired; but of the former I am not at all afraid. For, how extensively soever and in all directions those Thirty-One Articles which concern me have been dispersed to my great injury and disparagement, and though they have been placed in the hands of several men of great eminence, they afford sufficient internal testimony, from the want of sense and of other requisites visible in their very composition, that they are charged upon me through a total disregard to justice, honour and conscience.

10. The principal reasons why I durst not disclose to the deputies my opinions on the subject of Religion.

But some person will perhaps say: |for the sake of avoiding these disturbances, and partly in order by such a measure to give some satisfaction to a great number of ministers, you might undoubtedly have made to your brethren an open and simple declaration of your sentiments on the whole subject of religion, either for the purpose of being yourself maturely instructed in more correct principles, or that they might have been able in an opportune manner to prepare themselves for a mutual conference.|

But I was deterred from adopting that method, on account of three inconveniences, of which I was afraid:

First,. I was afraid that if I had made a profession of my sentiments, the consequence would have been, that an inquiry would be instituted on the part of others, with regard to the manner in which an action might be framed against me from those premises. Secondly. Another cause of my fear, was, that such a statement of my opinions would have furnished matter for discussion and refutation, in the pulpits of the Churches and the scholastic exercises of the Universities. Thirdly. I was also afraid, that my opinions would have been transmitted to foreign Universities and Churches, in hopes of obtaining from them a sentence of condemnation, and the means of oppressing me.| That I had very weighty reasons to fear every one of these consequences together, it would not be difficult for me clearly to demonstrate from the Thirty-One Articles, and from the writings of certain individuals.

With respect to |the personal instruction and edification,| which I might have hoped to derive from such a disclosure, it is necessary to consider, that not only I but many others, and even they themselves, have peculiar views which they have formed on religious topics; and, therefore, that such instruction cannot be applied to any useful purpose, except in some place or other where we may all hereafter appear together, and where a definitive sentence, as it is called, both may and must be pronounced. With respect to |the opportune and benefiting preparation which my brethren ought in the mean time to be making for a conference,| I declare that it will at that time be most seasonable and proper when all shall have produced their views, and disclosed them before a whole assembly, that thus an account may be taken of them all at once, and they may be considered together.

Since none of these objections have any existence in this august assembly, I proceed to the declaration of my sentiments.

Having in this manner refuted all those objections which have been made against me, I will now endeavour to fulfill my promise, and to execute those commands which your Lordships have been pleased to lay upon me. I entertain a confident persuasion, that no prejudice will be created against me or my sentiments from this act, however imperfectly I may perform it, because it has its origin in that obedience which is due from me to this noble assembly, next to God, and according to the Divine pleasure.

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