The Arminian Confession of 1621: A Worshipful Confession of Faith

What I admire most about The Arminian Confession of 1621, all of which can be read on this site (link), thanks to permission from Calvinist translator Dr. Mark A. Ellis, is not merely its artful construction but its central worship of our triune God. In many confessions one finds noble declarations of theological positions with accompanying proof-texts and explanations. What we find in The Arminian Confession of 1621 is all of that with an additional tone of worship and adoration of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The chief architect of this Confession is Simon Bisschop (1583-1643), also known to us as Simon Episcopius, the latter name being a Latinzed derivation of Bisschop (a bishop in Greek and Latin is episkopēs and episcopālis respectively). Episcopius is Arminius' colleague, friend, and unintended successor; meaning, he is chosen by his colleagues to be their spokesman, given his obvious intellect, and resiliant disposition. Dr. Ellis confesses that reading this Confession is beneficial for the Calvinist, in the dispelling of "common misrepresentations, such as the Arminians" being "Socinians, an accusation the Arminians' opponents brought against them from the beginning of the conflict."1 This Confession dispels with notions of Arminian theology being Pelagian, semi-Pelagian, and a strict adherence to scholasticism.2 Nor, according to Calvinist scholar Richard A. Muller, are Arminius or the Remonstrants crypto Roman Catholics or Roman Catholic sympathizers.3

In their Confession, the Remonstrants via Episcopius intend it to be
nothing but clear and distinct statements methodically put forth, by which many or few opinions concerning the articles of the Christian religion may be disclosed, whether by mouth or by writing, and made known to the Christian world for the illumination of divine truth, the turning away of slander by which the innocent are oppressed, and the edification of churches in true faith and peace.4
They also insist that this Confession is in no wise intended to become
spiritual chains, stocks and shackles by which the consciences, tongues and pens of the declarers be bound and fastened, so that no one is permitted to recede from their phrases, manner of speaking, order, method, etc., and that no one who is found to interpret the divine Scripture, and express the opinions of his own mind, in other phrases, or other order of method, than what are expressed in them is immediately being suspected and accused of heterodoxy."5
Clearly, the Remonstrants do not take their cue from the Dortian Calvinists, whose intent is to define Christian orthodoxy and bind all others to their confessions. The Remonstrants are true advocates of religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and soul competency. They also intend to answer their critics: "Another purpose may be added that we might by this means the more suitably assert our orthodoxy and innocence against the unjust accusations of those who themselves at the same time follow grave and very hurtful errors." But this comment is very telling against their Calvinist detractors:
Foremost among others is fatal predestination and other points annexed to it (such as the killing of heretics). Yet they want to be seen as the only orthodox and the altogether pure Reformed who do not fear to fasten upon us not only errors but also heresies and blasphemies, while they indeed exercise a new domination in the church, and do not only make schisms and sects, but also everywhere incite dire persecutions and banishments against the innocent.6
Regardless, like the tenacity one finds in the apostle Paul, who endures all hardship for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2:10), the Remonstrants forge their Confession, with a resolve to edify the body of Christ. Yet what one is so unexpectedly delighted to find in this Confession is an exuberant and ennobling language of worship: a work both theological and doxological, that fills the mind with the Word of God, and fills the heart with worship.


For example, from "On the Knowledge and Essence of God," they not only deliberate on the nature, works and will of God, but also conclude that God is "most good, first in Himself, then towards His creatures. Because He is not only completely perfect by nature, and so completely lovely, but He is also very kind and liberal toward His creatures, although unequally, indeed sometimes also toward sinners." Toward believers in Christ, God is "truly most gracious, gentle, longsuffering, and merciful. Indeed, He is most eagerly disposed to communicate to them the highest and eternal good, of which there is nothing better or greater which can either be desired or had by them." God, in Christ, is "most just and impartial, and indeed of inflexible justice and equity, not so much because He always loves that in us which is right and equal, and hates all iniquity. It is for this He is called 'holy' in Scripture."7 Thus God's very nature induces us toward worship of His Person.

Because our triune God is "immense and omnipresent, let us everywhere walk circumspectly, reverently, and carefully, as in His sight." So this Confession is also devotional and spiritually practical regarding our relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit. Note the devotional phrase "as in His sight," which we also find in the Book of Common Prayer: "We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight." (BCP, 100, emphasis added) They continue: "Let us always pour out to Him our prayers and supplications, with all humility and submission, and a firm confidence of being heard. Let us not think, speak or do anything unless it is serious, grave and worthy of the presence of so great a Deity."8 So great a Deity indeed!


From "On the Providence [or Sovereignty] of God," the Remonstrants warn of the dangers of Calvinism and then conclude, "Furthermore, those who are truly godly, being rightly informed about all these things and patient in whatever adversity, will always give thanks to God in prosperity, and in addition, in the future they will freely and continuously place their greatest hope in God, their most faithful Father."9 Their worldview is drenched in a biblical motif, as they always keep at the center the love, providence, and grace of God, as well as His worthiness of being trusted in all of life.


From "Types of Good Works, and an Exposition of the Decalogue," the Arminians insist what is due God:
Such are acts of religious worship, namely, of due faith in God and Christ, together with hope, trust, love, fear, adoration, invocation and from this arise proportional praise and thanksgiving; likewise external sacrifice, oaths, vows, or other similar acts of holy devotion. For whoever gives such an honor to any thing or person, or performs such acts as these, he is said in Scripture to hold that thing or person for his god [and is then guilty of idolatry].10
Their sole concern is the worship of God and God alone. They continue:
Therefore the meaning of the commandment is that we must carefully avoid all idolatry, both internal and external, and on the contrary, that we must make religious worship to the one true God who revealed Himself to us in His Word, that is, that we correctly know, love and fear with holiness, submissively adore, humbly invoke, praise and celebrate Him with a grateful mind, and perpetually place all our hope and trust in Him alone as the only author and fountain of all good.11
Few confessions have I read that are more devotional and consumed in worship.

From "On Governing and Denying Ourselves, and Bearing the Cross of Christ," these early Arminians are zealous for holy living, and the denying of ourselves all ungodliness. But to what end? "Whosoever is motivated in this manner will in the end rightly imitate Christ." Is this not the attitude of the regenerate -- a heart that longs to imitate Christ? "And it will not be especially grievous for him to patiently bear the cross of Christ, that is, through shame, reproach, spoiling of goods, poverty, famine, nakedness, indeed through prisons, fires, wheels [of torture], crosses and swords, etc., after the example of his Commander and Lord (as often as is necessary and seems good to God), and proceed in this way to eternal and immortal glory and to a stable rest and happiness."12 But there is more:
For the pious meditation of this matter has added such courage and such enormous spirit to the ancient apostles and prophets, and other holy men of God (and to not a few faithful martyrs of Jesus Christ in our own age), that they often went rejoicing and cheerful to torments, be they ever so cruel [cf. Heb. 11:32-38]. And in the midst of fires and flames have blessed God, and Jesus Christ His Son, with songs and hymns. In fact, they went into these afflictions to be honored (and that under the hope of the glory of the sons of God) that they were considered worthy to suffer those evils for the sake of their Lord Jesus Christ [cf. Acts 5:39, 40, 41], and by their blood to seal His truth and illuminate His glory.13 (emphases added)
This brief post barely scratches the surface of the wondrous words of worship contained in The Arminian Confession of 1621. Indeed, the Remonstrants merely follow in the footsteps of their colleague and predecessor, who argues that theology, the proper study of God, is intended to display the immeasurable, unfathomable, inestimable goodness, love, and grace of God in Christ and through His Spirit -- that no other response is expected of us than that we should be "incited to sing forever the high praises of God" when we behold and enjoy "such large and overpowering goodness."14


1 Mark Ellis, "Introduction," in The Arminian Confession of 1621, trans. and ed. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2005), v.

2 Ibid., v-vii.

3 Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 29, 271.

4 The Arminian Confession, 8.

5 Ibid., 16.

6 Ibid., 23.

7 Ibid., 47-48.

8 Ibid., 49.

9 Ibid., 63.

10 Ibid., 84.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., 95.

13 Ibid.

14 Jacob Arminius, "Oration II. The Author and the End of Theology," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 1:364.