Who Is Thomas Grantham?

Arminianism, the theology derived from Jacobus Arminius himself, is widely known among evangelicals today. Although it is widely known, it is also widely misunderstood. As 20th-century Arminian theologian Roger Olson plainly states, “Arminianism is treated as a straw man all too easily chopped down or burned up because it is not fairly described.”[1] But this misrepresentation and/or misunderstanding is not something existing within the last one hundred years or so. Arminius himself was one to face the same controversies of being misunderstood and even mistreated during his day. J. Matthew Pinson notes that Arminius was labeled a Pelagian “alleging that Arminius had moved away from the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism, advocating non-Reformed views on predestination and perfectionism.”[2]

By the 17th century, Arminius was already off the scene and his impact through his teaching and pastoring began making headway among other men. One of those distinct men is General Baptist pastor and theologian, Thomas Grantham. Grantham was born in 1634 to a farmer and grew up mostly working in farming and also in tailoring. At the age of 19 (1653), Grantham placed his eternity into the arms of Jesus Christ and was baptized by immersion. By the age of 22 (1656), he became the pastor of the church in which he was saved.[3] Grantham spent most of his time, during his ministry, planting churches and nursing declining churches back to health and vitality. Though there was a large amount of his life, in the 1660s, was spent in jail because of persecution. He and his friend, Joseph Wright, were the ones who sent a plea to Charles II for toleration, which eventually would be published as his most famous work, Christianismus Primitivus.[4]

While he was in the thick of pastoral ministry, he spent a large amount of time dedicating his time to vocally opposing the Roman Catholics, Quakers, paedobaptists, predestinarians, and other opponents of the General Baptists through public disputations and many written works.[5] Grantham’s magnum opus includes what most would now call the General Baptist Confessions. It was so honored by General Baptists and held in such high regard that his peers reading this work would call him the General Baptists’ “most astute early thinker” and would even name him the “first organized, comprehensive, published theological of any of the Baptists.”[6] Grantham’s main aim for his work was to, as Pinson states, “restore primitive Christianity, which he said had been abused and neglected for centuries.[7]

The greatest theological emphases of Grantham were original sin and justification. He understood well and articulated even better the effects of original sin on humanity. Because the attacks on Arminians and even the Anabaptists were so numerous, Grantham was a bit apprehensive to take that type of nomenclature to his own name.[8] Grantham did, however, hold to the same views of original sin as Arminius himself and the reformers siding with Arminius. Grantham was the one in the 17th century saying that we sin rightly because we are the posterity of Adam. He writes, “…the sin of Mankind is either Original or Actual. The first is come upon all, even the very Infant State of Mankind lies under it; of whom that saying is true, Rom. 5. They have not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression. Yet Death reigning over them, proves the Transgression of Adam to be upon them.”[9]

It is abundantly clear that Grantham, through his careful study of the Scriptures, understood our depravity and sinful nature, as human beings, to be total and complete. Pinson articulates, “While Grantham believed the human will is free in the sense that it is not ‘chained’ of ‘necessity,’ Grantham’s account of free will is not optimistic when it comes to the effects of depravity.”[10] This was immensely the point of Arminius himself when speaking of depravity. Arminius declares, speaking specifically of the man referenced in Romans 7, “Indeed, indwelling sin is reigning sing, and reigning is indwelling, and therefore sin does not dwell in the regenerate because it does not domineer or rule them.”[11]

Not only was Grantham’s theology of original sin made manifest by his focus on it, but likewise his focus on justification was also. “Grantham’s doctrine of atonement is rooted in his perspective on the justice and righteousness of God.”[12] Most, if not all, scholars attribute Grantham to a General view of the atonement. His writings most present a type of verbiage toward this view, however, he also understood the necessity of sin being punished. Because Grantham aligned himself so much to the teachings of Arminius, he understood and articulated that humankind was due punishment of “eternal death unless one meets the requirement of total righteousness.”[13] Grantham understood that the only possible way for a human being to stand completely and totally righteous before God was to be given a new type of righteousness. Jesse Owens comments, “There Grantham advocated for what theologians refer to as ‘alien righteousness.’ This means the sinners needs a righteousness that is not his own to be imputed to him through faith for him to be right with God. That alien righteousness is Christ’s righteousness.”[14]

We removed the featured image from the original post. We learned that the image had negative connotations toward our beloved Grantham. Thanks to our supporting reader for pointing this out!

[1] Roger Olson. Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 15.

[2] J. Matthew Pinson. Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2015), 4.

[3] Ibid, 102.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Clint Conan Bass, “The catholic spirit of Thomas Grantham,” in American Baptist Quarterly 3, no. 4 (9/11/2017): 238, accessed March 25, 2018, http://ATLA.com.

[6] Ibid, 239.

[7] Pinson, 103.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Robert E. Picirilli. Grace, Faith, and Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2002), 153.

[10] Pinson, 108.  

[11] James Arminius. The Works of Arminius (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:527.

[12] Pinson, 110.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Jesse Owens, “Forlines’s Theology of Atonement and Justification” in The Promise of Arminian Theology: Essays in Honor of F. Leroy Forlines (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2016), 92-93.

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