Getting to Know Later Remonstrant Philipp van Limborch

Dr. Roger E. Olson, in his Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, grants us insight into the theology of post-Remonstrant Dutch cleric Philipp van Limborch (1633-1712), a pastor of Gouda and Amsterdam, professor of the Remonstrant seminary in Holland, and close friend of John Locke (1632-1704).

I categorize Limborch as post-Remonstrant, meaning that his context is second-generation Arminianism (third-generation Reformation tradition), and thus some components of Arminian theology are nuanced -- in some areas altered altogether -- from the that of Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) and the Remonstrants (1580-1630); chief among whom are Simon Episcopius (1583-1643), Johannes Uytenbogaert (1577-1644), Johann van Oldenbarnevlt (1547-1619) and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).

Such theological alterations happened in Calvinist circles as well. Many second- and third-generation English Calvinists became Unitarians,1 as well as produced theological hyper-Calvinists like John Gill. Early-to-mid seventeenth century theologians did not always reflect in toto the theology of their predecessor (cf. Beza to Calvin, Arminius to Beza, and Episcopius to Arminius). The same is true for Limborch. Because so little information is in print today on this seventeenth-century Arminian theologian, I offer this breifly edited piece from Roger Olson's chapter, "Arminianism is a Human-Centered Theology," a Calvinistic charge which he more than aptly refutes and debunks.

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Philip Limborch. Now we come reluctantly to the special case of later Remonstrant leader and spokesman Philip Limborch, who defected from Arminius's theology, especially in this area of the human condition. The accusation that Arminianism has an optimistic anthropology is probably based on someone's reading of Limborch, who was repudiated (at this point) by all later classical Arminians, such as the nineteenth-century Methodist theologians and by twentieth-century Nazarene theologian [H. Orton] Wiley.

According to Limborch, who no doubt was influenced by the late-seventeenth-century Enlightenment and perhaps by Socinianism,2 the fall of humanity did not result in bondage of the will or total depravity, but only in a "universal misery," which inclines people toward sinful acts. He called this condition an "inherited misfortune" but failed to explicate its exact nature. It seems that for him, humans after Adam are born without guilt or such corruption as would make actual, presumptuous sinning inevitable [a Pelagian notion].

However, a network of sin within the human race seduces people to commit actual sins for which they become condemned [again, a Pelagian concept]. He explicitly denied inherited depravity or habitual sin (sin residing within the nature). Limborch seems a bit inconsistent at times because in some places he did admit to the reality of inherited original sin in human life:
But here it may be asked whether there be not any Original Sin with which all men are tainted at their birth? In answer to this we say that the phrase original sin is no where to be met with in Scripture and it is likewise very improper since it cannot properly be said that sin which is voluntary is innate to us.

But if by original sin they mean the misfortune which happened to mankind upon Adam's transgression we very readily grant it, though it cannot in proper sense be said to be sin. We likewise own that infants are born in a less degree of purity than Adam was created and have a certain inclination to sin which they derived not from Adam but from their next immediate parents.
This is a somewhat confusing statement about the human condition. However, in the larger context of Limborch's work, it seems to imply that after Adam's fall, humans are all influenced to sin by their parents even if they do not inherit a corrupt and sinful nature. Yet he did admit that infants are born in a "less degree of purity" than Adam.


PHILIPP VAN LIMBORCH

The upshot is that Limborch held a more optimistic view of humanity's condition than either Arminius or Episcopius. That can be seen clearly in his account of salvation, which is semi-Pelagian. According to him, "seeds of religion" remain in all people in spite of humanity's collective misery and misfortune because of Adam, and everyone may [inherently] exercise those seeds of religion to worship God truly.

For him, "All men are not by nature unteachable and wicked; for indocility is not owing to our nature, nor is it born with us, but 'tis acquired by a vicious education and a bad custom" [yet again, which is a Pelagian idea]. What could constitute a clearer denial of the doctrines of total depravity and absolute necessity of special grace for even the first exercise of a good will toward God?

Limborch also confused common grace and prevenient grace so that the latter does not need to be supernatural even though it does "excite" people's free will toward the good. All in all, Limborch deviated from Arminius so far that he does not deserve to be called a true Arminian. John Mark Hicks is right to distinguish clearly between Arminius on the one hand and Limborch on the other:
Arminius ought to be regarded as a [Reformed] theologian of the Reformation, but Limborch ... ought to be seen as [an advocate] of [an overt semi-Pelagian or inferential Pelagian] theology which undermines the distinctives of the Reformation. (emphasis added)
It is important to mark a clear line between true, classical Arminianism and [Limborch's brand of] Remonstrantism3 that follows Limborch and later Arminians of the head, most of who became deists, unitarians and free thinkers.

[Note: Remonstrantism does not refer to the early Arminians we call Remonstrants (Episcopius, Uytenbogaert, Grotius). The direct successors of Arminius, known as the Remonstrants, were orthodox Reformed Arminians. Some later so-called Arminians, of the Limborch variety, are those in the Remonstrantism against which Olson and Hicks are complaining.]4

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1 See Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 1999), 139; and J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. II (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1946), 31.

2 A charge due, likely, in part to his editing the compiled works of the Socinian heretic Samuel Przypkowski, the last volume named Bibliotheca antitrinitariorum. (link

3 Olson writes: "The only solution to the mystery of this myth about Arminianism [not being a theology of grace] may be the influence of Philip Limborch eclipsing Episcopius. Even people who never heard of Limborch generalized his theology onto all Arminians without distinguishing between his later Remonstrantism and true Arminianism." Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 167.

4 Ibid., 147-48.