John Hales Turns Arminian

John Hales was born in Bath, UK, on April 19, 1584. He was educated at Cambridge, and became a Greek lecturer before becoming a leading Church of England theologian, “one of the best Greek scholars of his day” … and a thorough going Calvinist. So much so, he was invited to share in the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), a gathering of Reformed (Calvinistic) theologians who opposed the Remonstrants (or Arminians … those who opposed some of Calvin’s distinctive teachings).

The differences were vigorously debated, and the Arminians were condemned as teachers of heretical doctrine.

But John Hales weighed the debate carefully in his mind. Had Christ accomplished salvation by His death only for the elect – or did He provide salvation for all mankind … if they chose to believe in Him?

And he who had come to the Synod a convinced Calvinist changed his mind – “as he says in one of his own vivid phrases, ‘I bade John Calvin goodnight‘.” (Arminianism. by A. Harrison, page 90).

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John Hales returned to England and was made Prebendary of Windsor by Archbishop Laud.  But when he refused to acknowledge the Commonwealth “he was deprived of his living, fell into poverty and had to sell his library!” (Dictionary of Literary Biographies, page 298).

Hales had spent his time among his books and in the company of literary men, among whom he was highly reputed for his common sense, his erudition and his genial charity. He was called “one of the clearest heads and best-prepared breasts in Christendom.” For all that he also loved solitude and was content to be one of those who possessed their souls in peace.

Hales was disturbed by the spirit of controversy which prevailed in his day. He saw that theological dispute was not the calling of the church. He dreamed of a common liturgy which omitted all the things about which men differed and argued.

While Hales’ writings are clear he was always reluctant to put pen to paper until it was necessary to do so. He did not believe that men should write indiscriminately, but purposefully and in great moderation.

John Hales died in Eton on May 19, 1656.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

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Jacob Arminius in Pursuit of Doctrinal Truth

This is the day that … Jacob Arminius was born in 1560.

Born Jacob Harmenszoon in Oudewater, Holland, the death of his father during Jacob’s infancy devastated the middle-class family. Then the Spanish massacre of Oudewater in 1575 claimed the lives of his mother and siblings.

Raised by friends, he eventually Latinized his name, after a 1st Century Germanic leader who resisted the Romans. Thus the Arminius name became a rallying point for those who resist Calvinist teachings, as Jacob did during his life.

During his studies he spent time in Geneva from 1592, under Beza, the 62 year-old who succeeded Calvin. Beza is responsible for introducing into Calvinist thought the particular emphases of predestination, the sovereignty of God and various ritualistic practices.

He later returned to Amsterdam and pastored the Old Church congregation. In 1590 he married the aristocratic Lijsbet Reael who ensured he kept close contact with the most influential merchants and leaders of the city.

He ministered in Amsterdam for 15 years and in Leiden for 6. He practiced his belief that being a pastor does more for the minister’s holiness than engagement in theological wrangling.

During that time he began to question the distinctive teachings of John Calvin, of which Holland was a stronghold.

Aminius left the pastorate and became Professor of Theology at Leiden, where his attack on Calvin’s view of predestination led to violent controversy.  The student body and Reformed pastors became polarised over the issue.

After his death in 1609 his followers issued a “Remonstrance” – so called because it remonstrated with Calvin’s teaching.  And the Reformed churches countered with their “Synod of Dort” condemning Arminians as heretics.

They were stormy days indeed, and in some circles today the battle still rages.

Note that Arminius had great regard for Calvin’s teachings in general. It seems that the points emphasised by Beza distorted something of the spirit of Calvin’s own insights. In affirmation of Calvin note this quote from Arminius. “I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read…. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed to us in the writings of the Fathers.”

Note too that Arminius, although a highly intellectual and widely studied man, was not distracted with theology for its own sake. His sole ambition was “to inquire in the Holy Scriptures for divine truth…for the purpose of winning some souls for Christ.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

William Farel Brings Calvin to Geneva

This is the day that … William Farel died in 1565.

Farel started his religious career as a disciple of Catholic priest Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, who promoted reform within the Catholic Church. When Farel’s ideas became more strident he left for Switzerland.

He brought the teaching of the Reformers to Geneva (Switzerland) – even rejoicing to see the Town Council pronounce Protestantism as the official religion! (21 May, 1536). Thus Geneva became the ‘Protestant Rome’.

When he heard that John Calvin, already famous as author of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, was passing through, Farel confronted the 27 year-old theologian in an inn.

He demanded that Calvin remain there and lead in the spiritual life of the city. Calvin replied that he was on his way to Germany to further his studies.

“May God curse your studies,” Farel replied vehemently, “if now in her time of need you refuse to lend your aid to His church.”

Calvin was struck with terror, as he himself later recorded. He stayed!

And with Farel at his side they led Geneva in what has been called “Reformed Theology”.

The strictures of the new Protestant Republic which Farel and Calvin drew up created negative reaction, and so they both ended up leaving Geneva in 1538. However Farel persisted in working to get Calvin back to Geneva to lead the Reformation process from there. This he succeeded in doing in 1541.

The Reformation Wall in Geneva features statues of four men: Farel, Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox. William Farel outlived Calvin by 15 months – dying at the age of 76.

His biographer writes: “Those who visited him in his last illness had a foretaste of Heaven. Christ had been magnified in his body, both by life and by death…”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Calvinism is Born

This is the day that … John Calvin was born in 1509, in Noyon, France.

He was to become the outstanding theologian of the Protestant Reformation … although not all Protestants would agree with some of his doctrines. But it must be confessed that many a giant of Christian history acknowledges the impact of Calvinism upon his life. Knox, Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and James Packer are names that immediately spring to mind. “The longer I live,” wrote Spurgeon, “the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system (of theology) is the nearest to perfection.”

Calvin was one of the few reformers who were not an ex-priest. He studied law in France – had a “sudden conversion” in his early 20’s, and in 1536 published the first edition of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion. This volume has been described as among the “world’s 10 most influential works”.

From 1541 until his death (on 27 May, 1564), Calvin dominated the social and religious life of Geneva … despite the fact that he held no government position, nor was an actual citizen until 1559.

From the pulpit of St Peter’s Cathedral he preached his way through book after book of Holy Writ, lecturing to theological students and preaching five times a week. Taken down by a stenographer, these messages have found their way into print. There is a commentary on every book of the Bible – except Revelation! For example, Calvin preached 200 consecutive sermons on the book of Deuteronomy – published by Banner of Truth in a 1,300 page facsimile edition of the 1583 original.

It was said by his friend, Beza, that when Calvin preached “every word weighed a pound”.

Harsh discipline was meted out (at least, by today’s standards) to law-breakers, a system of education was devised, a prosperous trade in cloth and velvet was established with other countries, even a sewerage system was introduced that made Geneva “one of the cleanest cities in Europe” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 131).

And his Institutes grew from six chapters to 79.

W. Stanford Reid writes that Calvin became “the dominant figure of the Protestant Reformation in the middle of the (16th) century” (John Calvin – His Influence in the Western World) – an assessment surely none would question.

When he died in 1564 he was buried in a common cemetery without a headstone, according to his wishes. His gravesite is unknown to this day (Christian History magazine, Volume 5/4).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.