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The “World” and Arminian Universalism


Covenant Reformed News

July 2019 • Volume XVII, Issue 15


The “World” and Arminian Universalism

A reader writes, “In John 17:9, Jesus is praying for His disciples: ‘I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.’ But, later in that same chapter, He prays for the salvation of the world: ‘that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’ (21).”

The questioner continues, “Also Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36) is used as a refutation of our claim that all of His prayers are heard and granted by the Father: ‘See,’ it is asserted, ‘Jesus prays for something that doesn’t come to pass or is not granted by the Father. Surely this allows for other unanswered prayers … such as, Christ praying ‘that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’?”

I do not know exactly how long I have written in the News but it has got to be over twenty years. I suspect that in that time questions involving the “world” have been asked more than any other in a vain attempt to prove from Scripture a universal atonement made by our Lord and Saviour. (Christ’s priestly office includes both His sacrifice and His prayers on the basis of His sacrifice, so all efforts to prove a universal intercession of Jesus necessarily involve universal atonement.)

Arminians have no conception of the emphasis on organisms in Scripture and, therefore, will never be convinced that the “world” means anything other than every individual head for head. I shall try again. When I speak of “organisms,” I refer to the fact that, in the work of salvation, God does not deal with individuals isolated from other people in the creation. Perhaps it would be well if I would write some articles on this very truth, without which the Scriptures cannot be interpreted correctly.

At any rate, here is another attempt to deal with the same question of the universality of the cross and atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, a few remarks are in order concerning the prayers of Christ in which He supposedly prays for all men absolutely and thus He sometimes prays to the Father with petitions that are not answered.

I really find it difficult to imagine that anyone could possibly believe that our Lord Jesus Christ could pray to the Triune God and make a request that He refused to answer. It is wrong on the very surface.

Besides, the Arminian position calls Christ a liar, for it contradicts His express words: “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always” (John 11:41-42).

Moreover, if it were true that Christ was turned away from His Father, because He asked for something that His Father refused to grant, Christ is no longer the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. Does Christ, personally the eternal Son, not know all the will of the Triune God? Of course, He knows. Why then would He ask for something He knows He will not receive? The Arminian denies the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ when he teaches that He ever made a prayer to the Father that is unanswered.

Let the Arminian give that some serious thought, for to deny Christ, in fact or by implication, puts one in the camp of the Antichrist: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (I John 4:1-3).

But the Arminian commits the same deadly error when he claims that Christ died for all men, because the word “world,” so he says, means every man, woman and child; every aborted baby and every monster of iniquity (e.g., Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot). But I do not know of anyone, save a few ardent universalists, who believes that everyone is saved.

Of course, if the word “world” means every person that ever lived or will live in the world or in his mother’s womb, then it is also true, as has been shown by theologians since the time of Augustine (354-430), that Christ’s cross was ineffectual for the majority of people. And if it is ineffective for the majority of people, then why is it not also ineffectual for the elect—for you and for me?

The Arminian gets around this obvious truth by saying, “Jesus only died to make salvation available or possible, but salvation ultimately depends on the will of man and his acceptance of Christ.”

The Roman Catholic Church heartily embraces the heresy of free will because it is compelled to protect its awful doctrine of meriting with God. Erasmus, an enemy of the Reformation, wrote a book defending free will. Luther utterly destroyed its teachings in his The Bondage of the Will (1525). The German Reformer considered it, along with his commentary on Galatians, to be the two books he would most want to preserve, if all his other books were destroyed. In his preface to The Bondage of the Will, Luther complimented Erasmus for underscoring the most fundamental point of the many differences between Rome and Wittenberg.

Earlier, the doctrine of free will was emphatically repudiated by Augustine when he refuted the heresies of the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians. The Synod of Dordt rightly said of free will that it is the old Pelagian error brought once again out of hell (II:R:3).

Why do so many today embrace this terrible error that has been rejected for centuries by the church of Christ? The only answer is that they do not want God to have all the glory for His mighty work of grace in Jesus Christ, but want to retain some tattered rags of their own pride by insisting that they and/or the unconverted are able to do something towards their salvation.

The answer to such nonsense is what an old and uneducated farmer in the Netherlands, who had more theological sense than all the Arminians, said to his pastor, Rev. Hendrik De Cock: “If I had to contribute even so much as one sigh to my salvation, I would be lost.”

Arminianism is ungodly heresy. I wish that the Arminians would stop twisting Scripture to try to make God’s Word say what it does not say (II Pet. 3:16), and humble themselves before the great glory of the infinitely blessed Trinity to whom alone be praise forever and ever.

Prof. H. Hanko, emeritus PRC Seminary

Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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