In God's creation the lilac (like the tulip) has a beautiful place.
It is not a poisonous plant, but a splendid flower of sweet perfume
and purple hue. Its color symbolizes royalty and dominion. As such,
the lilac would be a fit emblem of the Reformed faith and its key doctrine:
the absolute sovereignty of God. But the lilac may be viewed as the
emblem of the Arminian heresy, and then it takes on quite a different
character. It becomes an ugly, stinking flower. Its color is the pale
gray of disease and death. Its petals are poisonous.
It was I believe the late Dr. John Gerstner who invented the acronym
LILAC to summarize the five points of the Arminians. He did this because
the tulip flower has been the symbol of the five points of Calvinism.
The two flowers look like this:
T - Total Depravity
U - Unconditional Election
L - Limited Atonement
I - Irresistible Grace
P - Perseverance of Saints
L - Limited Depravity
I - I Choose Christ
L - Limitless Atonement
A - Arrestible Grace
C - Carnal Security
In this article we want to examine briefly these poisonous petals of
the Arminian LILAC. The reader will understand that we cannot launch
into a detailed critique of the Arminian heresy in this one article.
For that we refer you to the Canons of Dordt themselves, particularly
the second part of each head of doctrine, where the Arminian errors
are explicitly mentioned and refuted. We can only point out the main
errors. Nevertheless, with the sweet smell of TULIP in our souls we
will come to know the stench of the Arminian LILAC.
It was the Arminian party in the Dutch Reformed churches who first
summarized their teachings into five points of doctrine. This they did
following the death of James Arminius, the man who initially advanced
the erroneous doctrines, and after whom the Arminian party was named.
Arminius had been teaching the errors associated with his name for many
years following his ordination into the ministry in 1588. Especially
in his preaching on the book of Romans he parted with the historic Reformed
teaching concerning the state of the natural man and concerning the
way in which the sinner is saved. But it was after Arminius' death in
1609 that his followers put his views together in summary form. In 1610
they set forth in five articles their Remonstrance (petition) as a defense
of their position (which is why the Canons of Dordt consist of five
heads of doctrine and why we speak of the five points of Calvinism).
The first of these points expressed the Arminian view of predestination:
That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his
Son, before the foundation of the world, has determined, out of the
fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ's sake,
and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost,
shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith
and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and on
the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and
under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according
to the word of the gospel in John
3:36: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and
he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of
God abideth on him," and according to other passages of Scripture
At first glance it may seem as if the Arminians were stating an orthodox
doctrine of predestination. The language appears sound and straight.
But in reality their view of divine election and reprobation is that
they are conditional decrees. Notice that the article says that God
chooses those who will believe and passes over those who will not believe.
That is, God's choice of some persons to be saved is based on (conditioned
by) their faith and their perseverance in faith; and His rejection of
others for damnation is based on (conditioned by) their unbelief and
disobedience. For the Arminians, God's decree of predestination is not
sovereign and unconditional; it is not freely made without any regard
to man's acts in time. Rather is it conditioned by what man does. In
eternity God looks ahead and sees who will believe and who will not
believe and predestinates accordingly. It is right here in their opening
statement that the Arminians reveal the heart of their heresy: God is
not sovereign in salvation; man is! God's will does not rule in the
redemption of mankind; man's does! God's grace does not account for
salvation; man's faith does! The poisonous, putrid petal of the Arminian
lilac is: "I choose God (Christ), and therefore He chooses me!"
That poison is pervasive in the churches today! Oh, that the smell
of the beautiful, biblical tulip would prevail as it did in the time
of Dordt: "God chose me to believe, sovereignly, unconditionally, entirely
This, however, was just the beginning of the Arminian poison. In their
second point the Arminians continued their vile errors:
That, agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world,
died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them
all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of
sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except
the believer, according to the word of the gospel of John
3:16, "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life." And in the First
Epistle of John 2:2: "And he is the propitiation for our sins;
and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
In this statement the Arminians boldly set forth universal atonement:
Christ has died for all men, head for head. His death on the cross covered
the sins of all people that ever live. His sacrifice obtained forgiveness
and freedom for each and every person in all of time and history. Christ's
death, then, is not just for the elect of God; it is not limited to
that select people determined by God. It is for all men without exception.
Yet at the same time the Arminians had to reckon with the fact that
all men do not enjoy this salvation in the death of Christ. Some men
perish in their unbelief and never receive the benefits Christ obtained
for them, which means that Christ has died in vain for some; His death
is not sufficient to secure some people's salvation. What is this but
a denial of the efficacy and all-sufficiency of Christ's atonement?!
The poisonous petal of the Arminian lilac assumes that Christ's limitless
This is not the sweet fragrance of the gospel, as they claimed; this
is the stench of the lie! Besides, in this article the Arminians again
grounded salvation in the faith of the sinner, not the sovereign work
of God in Christ at the cross. At best Christ's death only makes salvation
possible for the sinner. The determining factor in salvation is not
what Christ did in dying but what the sinner does in believing. Christ
has died in vain unless the sinner believes! This poisonous petal stands
prominent in the churches of our day. Oh, that the sweet savor of the
biblical, Reformed tulip might prevail today as it did at Dordt: "Christ
died only for those elect given Him by the Father, sufficiently, efficaciously,
with everlasting security of their salvation!"
In their third point the Arminians returned to their devilish deceptions
and subtle subterfuges. They hid the truth of their position behind
That man has not saving faith of himself, nor of the energy of his
free will, in as much as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can
of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly
good (such as saving faith eminently is); but that it is needful that
he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Ghost, and renewed
in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order
that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly
good, according to the Word of Christ, John
15:5: "Without me ye can do nothing."
It appears from this statement that the Arminians were upholding the
Reformed doctrine of total depravity, that man is thoroughly corrupt
in himself and incapable of doing any good apart from the grace of God.
It appears that they were defending sovereign grace in the salvation
of the sinner, such that only God by His regenerating Spirit causes
man to repent and believe. It even seems that they condemn free will.
But this was a grievous deception. In reality, the Arminians taught
just the opposite. When you read the "Rejection of Errors" section in
the Canons of Dordt, III & IV Heads, you discover their true position
on the nature of man's depravity and on the nature of God's saving grace.
From this we learn that the Arminians taught that man is only partially
depraved and that he has retained his power of free will after the Fall.
Therefore, the unregenerate sinner is not totally dependent on the grace
and Spirit of God for salvation. He is able to prepare himself for salvation
and cooperate with God in salvation. According to the Arminians, fallen
man can hunger and thirst after righteousness and life by himself; he
can offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit apart from the
Spirit. He can use his natural powers to meet God "halfway" on the road
of salvation. God gives the sinner a "common grace" to show him Christ
and encourage him to conversion, but it is up to the sinner to exercise
his free will and decide whether or not he will be saved. In the Arminian
scheme, faith is not God's sovereign gift worked in man's heart by the
power of the regenerating Spirit but man's act, which actually precedes
So again the Arminians denied the sovereignty of God's saving grace,
this time by promoting the poisonous petal of "limited depravity." The
fathers of Dordt saw this for what it was, nothing but a resurrection
of the old Pelagian heresy which denied man's total depravity and advanced
man's power of free will. Oh, that once more this poisonous perfume
of the Arminian lilac might be snuffed out in the churches and the precious
scent of the Reformed tulip be powerfully smelled and savored!
The fourth article of the Arminians must also be viewed in the light
of what we have just seen:
That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment
of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself,
without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative
grace, can neither think, will nor do good, nor withstand any temptations
to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived,
must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But as respects the
mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, in as
much as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the
Holy Ghost (Acts
7) and elsewhere in many places.
Again, it seems as if the Arminians are defending sovereign grace,
at least in the first part of the article. God's grace, they appear
to say, accounts for all the good that man does.
But notice the words that are used to describe God's grace as it comes
to the sinner. The article calls it "assisting" grace and "cooperative"
grace, implying that God simply needs to help man along in the attainment
of salvation and that man works along with God to achieve this. This
exposes the Arminians in their real position-that of Pelagianism. In
addition, the Arminians plainly stated their rejection of sovereign,
irresistible grace. The grace of God as it comes to the sinner is able
to be resisted by the sinner. God tries to save the sinner when He comes
to him in the gospel. The Spirit approaches man with the grace of salvation,
but man can turn Him away with his sovereign will! The Spirit comes
with regenerating grace but cannot give it until man first believes
by an act of his free will! And if a man does not want to believe, the
Spirit is stopped in His tracks! Such is the stinking flower of the
Arminians: arrestible grace!
How powerful is this poisonous petal in the churches! Oh, that the
precious odor of the biblical tulip might waft through the churches
as it did at Dordt, "God's sovereign grace is irresistible and conquers
the wicked heart and will of the elect sinner, so that he is infallibly
brought to faith and conversion by the Spirit alone!"
In their last article the Arminians expressed their belief concerning
the perseverance of the saints:
That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and
have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby
full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own
flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is
ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus
Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends
to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and
desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling so
that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked
out of Christ's hands, according to the Word of Christ (John
10:28): "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But
whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the
first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this
present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was
delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of
grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture,
before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.
It should be evident that once more the Arminians revealed their true
colors, this time by rejecting the absolute perseverance of believers.
They are willing to say that God makes it possible for the saved to
persevere. He gives them sufficient grace; He assists them in the battle
of faith so that they can possibly overcome and reach the goal of eternal
salvation. But notice two things concerning the Arminian position as
set forth in this article. First, they make this perseverance dependent
on the activity of the believer. Christ extends His hand to help the
believer and will keep him, but only if he wants the help, makes himself
ready for the battle, and works hard on his own. Once more, the position
of human sovereignty in salvation is proclaimed! God cannot make the
believer persevere unless the believer wills and works first! And second,
the Arminians state in so many words that they do not believe the total
preservation of believers; and therefore, the absolute security of the
saved. In other words, they posit that a believer can lose his salvation.
He can be saved today and perish tomorrow. He can be saved all his life
but in the very end go lost and join the wicked in hell. This last petal
in the Arminian lilac is another poisonous one: carnal security. It
leaves the believer with no real assurance of being saved to the end.
It leaves him trusting in his own self for final deliverance. That's
Of course this follows from all that the Arminians teach. If at every
point salvation is dependent on the will of man, then salvation is ever
on shaky ground; it can never be safe and secure. Salvation can only
be so if it is dependent on God's will and God's work from start to
finish and at every point in between. Such is the pure flower of biblical
Calvinism: God keeps His own unto the end so that none are lost. He
gives them grace to persevere so that they all arrive in glory. This
is the sweet perfume of the Reformed TULIP. The petals of the Arminian
LILAC emit a deadly poison. Which flower are you savoring?