LETTER TO THE EDITOR
With reference to Three Reasons Why Arminians Are not Saved, accurate warnings against the spread of Arminianism in our Reformed churches are needy. However, in making Arminians free game, you have overshot the mark and also shot yourself in your own foot. There are three reasons for this. You have disregarded the doctrine of God's sovereignty; you have unwittingly striven to tie God's hands; and you have unknowingly made man the arbiter of his own step into eternity. These are strong, culpable, Arminian symptoms and, according to your definitions which I cannot possibly accept, would prove that you are not saved.
You argue that Arminians are not saved because they do not believe the truth. God, however, in His sovereignty justifies the ungodly and saves sinners at enmity with Him, knowing that after conversion they still see through a glass darkly and need to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Nowhere in the Bible is it suggested that a knowledge of the truth is a human condition of salvation. All men are Arminians by nature, as Toplady pointed out in his anti-Arminian works. I thus read 2 Thess. 2 rather differently to [sic] you. Paul is not contrasting damned Arminians with saved Calvinists but the damnation applies to fallen man from whom God has chosen His elect. These elect are still damnable in themselves, i.e. still Arminian in themselves, but now have been given the righteousness of Christ as their protecting shield and clothing. They have received the glory of Christ! These converts are now urged to stand fast in the doctrines. It is obvious that these doctrines have not saved the converts but are part of the programme of education and sanctification set apart for them by the Spirit. In departing from the A.V. you seem to have confused (the lie) in verse 11 with (the unrighteousness) in verse 12. This is what comes of using several different versions to make a patchwork quilt of a single personal theology. always refers to a lack of righteousness or to injustice and not to doctrine, false or otherwise, as you seem to argue.
You appear to doubt election. You allow man to chose [sic] his own way and then walk in it and thus make it impossible for God to break in and alter that man's life and belief whether as a sinner or saint. The doctrine of God's chastisement and instruction of His people does not appear to enter your theology. Yet you wish to practice what you deny God and exercise discipline on your members. All your saints were perfect Calvinists before conversion and all remain such. I believe you ought to read Paul on the struggles between the man of sin and the new man here. It will sober you down no end. In showing how stubborn man can be against God, you are treating God as if He cannot break into the devil's circle man has created for himself and rescue him from his misery.
You argue for a Fullerite-Wesleyan theology that belief in certain doctrines must precede and indeed secure conversion as its natural consequence. Or how else shall I understand your argument on column 3 in spite of the editorial contradiction in the reply to Brother Snell? Indeed, though you quote Hebrews 11:6 you appear to be arguing contrary to its teaching and again rejecting God's sovereignty in the matter. It is not any pre-conversion faith which pleases God and makes us righteous, though Wesley may plead that it is (see his commentary on Abraham's faith). Here your argumentation is based on a false antithesis. Even if you argue that demons believe some things but not the right things, this does not prove that one must believe all the right things on the list of conditions to be saved. Most people seem to be converted like Paul. They were in absolute unbelief and suddenly they experienced God in their lives. My conversion certainly did not find me orthodox! I did believe that Christ has met all the conditions for me.
Toplady was a fierce Arminian himself for two years or so after conversion. You would doubt Toplady's conversion. He did not, but gave a wonderful testimony in his teenage poetry of the triumph of faith in his life. Toplady's contemporaries John Ryland Sen. and James Hervey were also Arminians for several years after conversion. Indeed, should you look into the biographies of God's saints, you will find that, in spite of a knowledge of the doctrines of grace, many kept to their Arminianism for relatively long periods. You would have sent all these men to hell during such periods.
Most of God's children never come to an understanding of the whole truth in this life and may even at death, as the Puritans say, be 'put to bed in the dark.' Think also of the case of Andrew Fuller. Nobody can accuse me of leniency against this man's false doctrines after writing my Law and Gospel in the Theology of Andrew Fuller. His views are on the far side of Arminianism, but he had a glorious conversion and a triumphant death and God was very gracious to him savingly. Are you making God so weak that he can only drop such wayward children, heavy with sin, into hell? Toplady, you will remember again, argued that there are many Christians who are Arminians on earth but in glory we shall not find a single Arminian! Think also of Toplady's controversy with Arch-Arminian Thomas Oliver, yet Toplady was pleased to have met him and to discover that there was a real work of grace in his heart. You, I am sure, have sung The God of Abraham Praise and perhaps dropped a tear on singing it. This however, was written by Oliver whom you have committed to the flames.
I, too, was an Arminian for some three years after conversion. The Lord gave me a mighty shaking when he sought me out and many gracious signs I received of His saving grace. You, according to your article, would argue that I was still unsaved but became saved on exercising the right conditions concerning the doctrines of grace. Strange! They came so gradually to me that I hardly noticed it. I prefer on good grounds to date my conversion to the time Christ my Saviour was revealed to me in my sin and shame.
Please forgive me for appearing harsh. I am only using your harsh criteria against yourself. Personally, I would certainly treat you as a brother and not as one unsaved in spite of your making three Arminian mistakes.
Yours in the transforming work of the gospel,George M. Ella
Many thanks to Mr. Ella for giving our readers an excellent example of the opposition that we face in proclaiming the true gospel. I would like to use this as a teaching opportunity for our readers, so my response will be to you, the reader, rather than to Ella. (I have already responded personally to him, and he has gone so far as to say that Ryland became a professing atheist for a time after his conversion!)
First, we need to realize the primary accusation that Ella is leveling against those who believe that Arminians are not saved. He is saying that we believe that "knowledge of the truth is a human condition of salvation," "All your saints were perfect Calvinists before conversion and all remain such," "belief in certain doctrines must precede and indeed secure conversion as its natural consequence," "pre-conversion faith ... pleases God and makes us righteous," "one must believe all the right things on the list of conditions to be saved," and God's people "became saved on exercising the right conditions concerning the doctrines of grace."
I hope that by putting all these quotes together, you will see how serious this accusation is. Even though Ella would still say that we are saved, he is accusing us of holding to a conditional salvation, which would mean that we are not saved. The reason that he would still call us brothers is that he would call Arminians -- those who hold to conditional salvation -- his brothers as well. Ella is accusing us of damnable heresy. He is saying that we are denying God's sovereignty and tying His hands by asserting the blasphemy that God is unable to save someone unless that person already believes the doctrines of grace.
We categorically deny these accusations. A Christian would never say that salvation is conditioned on something in the sinner or that belief in certain doctrines is a prerequisite to salvation. We have never said such blasphemous things in our newsletter.
What would lead someone to make such accusations? It is a misunderstanding of what the gospel is and a denial that the true gospel is inevitably believed upon conversion. The gospel that is to be believed is salvation conditioned solely on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes this gospel shall be saved, and everyone who does not believe this gospel (e.g., believes that salvation is conditioned in any part on the sinner) shall be damned (Mark 16:16). Knowledge of the truth of the gospel is not something that may or may not come along in a believer's lifetime. This knowledge -- this truth -- this doctrine -- is what is believed upon conversion. It is this truth that makes us free (John 8:32).
It is the miracle of regeneration that enables a man to truly believe the gospel and its doctrines. Do all believers know how to systematize these doctrines into five points? No. But all believers will not believe anything contrary to the doctrines of grace and will embrace all of them when they hear them.
If anyone comes bringing a "gospel" that makes any part of salvation conditioned on the sinner, he is accursed (Gal. 1:8-9), and he who does not hold to right gospel doctrine does not have God (2 John 9). He who calls these God-haters his brothers is a participant in their evil deeds (2 John 11).
Many who speak peace to Arminians give examples of others and themselves who were supposedly saved and still held to salvation conditioned on the sinner for a period of time after a "conversion experience." In other words, they believe that for a period of time in their Christian lives, they believed a false gospel, and then they "came into" the true gospel by some acceptance of the doctrines of grace without a change of heart. They do not believe that belief in the true gospel is the supernatural effect of regeneration. The truth is that if their "conversion experience" did not result in a belief in the true gospel, it was a false conversion.
How does Ella judge saved and lost? Apparently, his judgment is not based on whether or not the person believes the gospel, because he gives examples of people who (he says) believed in salvation conditioned on the sinner after they were saved. He believes that God, when He saves someone, has that one continue to believe in a false god and a false salvation and then might have him gradually "grow into" belief in the true God and true salvation at some point.
Ella states that he was an Arminian but also believed that Christ had met all the conditions. This is impossible. Arminians do not believe that Christ met all the conditions; those who believe in universal atonement do not believe that Christ's blood demanded the salvation of everyone for whom He died. Arminians believe that Jesus' blood made it possible for the condition to be met by sinners. Arminians believe that God saved them because they chose God.
It is true that all men are Arminians by nature. They are all caught up in a self-righteous religion of works, and their deeds are evil. Upon conversion, they no longer are in a self-righteous religion of works (Arminianism). Yet Ella states that believers remain Arminians after conversion but are given the righteousness of Christ as a shield and clothing. This is a denial of the work of God in changing a sinner's heart (including the mind). One thing that is most definitely changed upon conversion is the person's belief in the ground of salvation. He might be in error about many other things, but his new heart believes that Christ met all the conditions for his salvation and that his salvation is in no way conditioned on him. Using Ella's reasoning, it could be said that people could remain in the false gospels of Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Buddhism, or Islam (and even atheism) after conversion, as long as they are "given the righteousness of Christ as their protecting shield and clothing," even if they know nothing of the righteousness of Christ being the only ground of salvation. Romans 10:1-3 opposes such thinking.
Ella says, "Are you making God so weak that he can only drop such wayward children, heavy with sin, into hell?" According to Ella, we make God a weakling if we believe that God condemns those who believe a false gospel to hell. This is serious indeed. Again, using Ella's reasoning, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and the like must also be spared God's judgment, or else God is a weakling. After all, "Are you making God so weak that he can only drop Roman Catholics, Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims, and atheists into hell?" In this thinking, hell does not exist for God's justice but because God is too weak to save those who believe salvation conditioned on the sinner. I trust you, the reader, see how serious this is.
For some strange reason, people who would speak peace to Arminians also like to bring up the fact that Arminians wrote these great (and apparently tear-jerking to some) hymns, with the idea that this fact should convince us that these Arminian hymn-writers were saved. So what if Thomas Oliver wrote a well-known hymn -- big deal! If he was an Arminian when he died, then he is now in hell. (By the way -- we sing only Psalms during our worship time, so we're confident we don't sing songs by Arminian authors.) Once again, we see that Ella does not judge saved and lost by God's truth (belief in the true gospel) but by Satan's lie (outward appearance and reputation).
Regarding Ella's promotion of his book, Law and Gospel in the Theology of Andrew Fuller, I would encourage you to read David Engelsma's review of it in the latest Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (v. 31, n. 1, pp. 65-69). Engelsma says that it "is so poorly written that it proves to be of dubious worth for the purpose," "is theologically confused and confusing," and "lacks order, system, definition, succinct summary, and pointed criticism in light of Scripture and the Reformed confessions." Enough said.
Ella also writes for New Focus magazine. Interestingly, in contrast to Ella's view of Arminians, New Focus published a short article by Don Fortner (v.2, n. 3, p. 15) that stated, "To receive, believe, or embrace such doctrine [free-willism] will be damning to your soul," and "If any man preaches anything contrary to these things [the doctrines of grace], he is a false prophet and a deceiver of men's souls. Let him be damned." Is it possible that one can be a false prophet and embrace soul-damning doctrines after conversion? Apparently Ella thinks so.
Ella ends the letter, "Yours in the transforming work of the gospel." What kind of transformation is it if, after God saves a sinner, the sinner continues to believe that some part of his salvation was conditioned on himself and is "put to bed in the dark" continuing to believe this?
In this letter we see first-hand The Savage Brutality of Tolerant Calvinism -- Promoting Satan's Lie.
I hope this has been of help to our readers. I realize that I did not go into everything that Ella wrote (e.g., his comments about the Greek wording); I could write quite a lot more about this letter. Please write to me if you would like me to address more of the issues in the letter that I did not cover this time. And please feel free to write in your own comments about this letter; perhaps we could have a section of responses to this letter if we receive enough of them.
As you can see, it all boils down to the gospel. May we always be on the alert for these people who would compromise the gospel, and may we always be ready to give an answer. -- The Editor