Divine Providence: Arminianism 101

Abstract: Arminianism has been used so broadly that it means different things to different people and, as a result, it has been unfairly accused of sentiments that are not truly Arminian. Arminianism champions the Biblical theology of redemption in Christ as being freely offered to all by grace through faith. The need in our time for the light of Christ’s grace and the glory of God’s love for all is as desperate as it has ever been. Therefore, this series intends to boldly proclaim the righteousness of God in the good news of salvation for all people everywhere in the name of Jesus Christ.

GOD’S DECREE FOR THE GOVERNANCE OF ALL THINGS

The extent and means by which God determines, appoints, and decrees things to happen before they become known-realities necessarily warrants our attention since Arminian theology embraces the principle that humans are autonomous moral agents.  The question of God’s providence is, therefore, of particular importance in order to remain faithful to the witness of God’s word.

Arminianism sees God’s divine decree as the basis for the governance of all things as revealed in Scripture:

Acts 2:28 (CSB) — 28 You have revealed the paths of life to me…

Acts 17:26 (CSB) — 26 From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.

1 Chronicles 16:30–33 (CSB) — 30 let the whole earth tremble before him. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. 31 Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” 32 Let the sea and all that fills it resound; let the fields and everything in them exult. 33 Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth.

God alone determines the paths of life without consulting the opinions of any other.  He establishes the appointed times and boundaries of human epochs according to his own wisdom.  His divine providence is the foundation of any consistent and Biblically faithful worldview.

Arminius observes the following about the Biblical construct of divine providence:

It is sometimes accommodated to both the elect and the reprobate. At other times, it is restricted to the elect alone, and then it has reprobation as its opposite. According to this last signification, in which it is almost constantly used in Scripture, (Rom. 8:29,) we will treat on predestination.

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (Vol. 1, p. 565).

God’s divine providence sometimes impacts both the elect and the reprobate, meaning that God’s will sometimes directly pertains to the reprobate as well as to the elect. Likewise, God’s will sometimes pertains directly to the elect, with reprobation simply being the consequence for those who reject his good will.

DIVINE PREDESTINATION

Arminius provides the following definition and implementation of divine predestination:

Predestination, therefore, as it regards the thing itself, is the decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ, by which he resolved within himself from all eternity, to justify, adopt and endow with everlasting life, to the praise of his own glorious grace, believers on whom he had decreed to bestow faith. (Eph. 1; Rom. 9.)

The genus of predestination we lay down as a decree which is called in Scripture Προθεσις, “the purpose of God,” (Rom. 9:11,) and Βελην του θεληματος Θεου, “the counsel of God’s own will.” (Eph. 1:11.) And this decree is not legal, according to what is said, “The man who doeth those things shall live by them;” (Rom. 10:5;) but it is evangelical, and this is the language which it holds: “This is the will of God, that every one who seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life.” (John 6:40; Rom. 10:9.) This decree, therefore, is peremptory and irrevocable; because the final manifestation of “the whole counsel of God” concerning our salvation, is contained in the gospel. (Acts 20:27; Heb. 1:2; 2:2, 3.)

The Cause of this decree is God, “according to the good pleasure” or the benevolent affection “of his own will.” (Eph. 1:5.) And God indeed is the cause, as possessing the right of determining as he wills both about men as his creatures, and especially as sinners, and about his blessings, (Jer. 18:6; Matt. 20:14, 15,) “according to the good pleasure of his own will,” by which, being moved with and in himself, he made that decree. This “good pleasure” not only excludes every cause which it could take from man, or which it could be imagined to take from him; but it likewise removes whatever was in or from man, that could justly move God not to make that gracious decree. (Rom. 11:34, 35.)

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (Vol. 1, p. 565- 566).

Arminius states that predestination decrees upon its object (either elect or reprobate) the eternal good pleasure of God in Christ, by which he has graciously determined to justify, adopt, and endow with everlasting life those who receive the decree of God’s faith, which he authored and perfected in Christ.

In this view, God’s predestination does not decree that someone will believe, but rather, it determines in light of the person of Christ both the content of faith and what God’s divine will is for those who believe and disbelieve; of both blessings and judgment. Therefore, God foreknew the glory that he was going to bestow upon Christ, and determined in himself to glorify him among the inheritance of his everlasting Kingdom.

Arminius then classifies predestination into two subordinate kinds of divine providence:

First, the purpose of God (Rom. 9:11), by which God has determined to bring about certain purposes according to his good pleasure, as seen in God’s purpose to bring about redemption according to his covenant and grace.

Second, the counsel of God’s own will (Eph. 1:11), by which God works out his purposes in order to accomplish his own will and bring about the praise of his glory and the blessings of his grace.

An important distinction at this point is Arminius’ observation that this decree is not effectual, but rather, “evangelical”, or perhaps “ambassadorial”, in the since that God’s divine providence is decisive and irrevocable, but carried out cooperatively with humanity in order that God might accomplish his will with grace and mercy towards humanity to the highest glory of Christ.  For the decree of God is decisive and irrevocable.  Even if all humanity rebels against God, rejects the good news of salvation in Christ, and plots in vain against the Lord, the covenant of grace given to us in the Lord’s cup will not change.  No scheming of man can change the faith that was once and for all handed down to us by the decree of the Lord.  Therefore, the divine decree did not originate from man, nor does it depend on humanity to accomplish God’s good will; it originates entirely from God and is carried out entirely by God according to his “purpose” and “counsel”.

Arminius also notes that God alone – not human will – is the origin and cause of his own decree. We must not characterize God as some kind of reactionary being who is dictated to by humans who constantly confound his will and overturn his purposes. God alone possesses the right to determine his own will towards his creation because he is both our Creator and our Righteous Judge. We are his creation, and therefore belong to him, and we have transgressed God’s will, which both makes us his enemies as rebels against him, and places us in debt to him as sinners deserving of his wrath and righteous indignation. Therefore, God has every right to determine in himself both what blessings he wills to give to us, and what purposes he wishes to accomplish in us. Humanity can no more influence God’s divine providence than it can change his irrevocable will. Only by God’s unending mercy and grace can humans bring our petitions and requests to God, that he might incorporate our needs and desires into his divine counsel.  By his unending mercy, God chooses to allow human desires to be taken into account within the counsel of his own wisdom and decree.  But no one can overturn what God has firmly determined to bring about.

Perhaps the most important observation Arminius makes about God’s divine providence is its foundation:

As the foundation of this decree, we place Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and men, (Eph. 1:4,) “in whom the Father is well pleased;” (Matt. 3:17; Luke 3:22;) “in whom God reconciled the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;” and “whom God made to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:19, 21.) Through Him “everlasting righteousness was to be brought in,” (Dan. 9:24,) adoption to be acquired, the spirit of grace and of faith was to be obtained, (Gal. 4:5, 19, 6,) eternal life procured, (John 6:51,) and all the plenitude of spiritual blessings prepared, the communication of which must be decreed by predestination. He is also constituted by God the Head of all those persons who will, by divine predestination, accept of the equal enjoyment of these blessings. (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Heb. 5:9.)

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (Vol. 1, p. 566).

God Almighty accomplishes his purposes and brings about his good will in Jesus Christ, who is to be praised and honored above all other names. Jesus Christ is the object of God’s pleasure; he is the head of the Church; he is the means of human forgiveness and reconciliation to God; he is the righteousness of the redeemed; he provides the spirit of adoption to the children of the covenant; in him eternal life is procured; and from him come the plenitude of all spiritual blessings and grace that was purposed by God for our benefit and his glory. Everything that was determined beforehand by God’s divine providence is accomplished in Jesus Christ as the pinnacle of God’s will.

Everything in the Arminian system hinges on Jesus Christ.  Indeed, Jesus is the providence of God because it is Christ and his glory that forms the high aim of all that God wills to do.

Arminius makes then another key observation about the eternal nature of God’s divine providence:

We attribute Eternity to this decree; because God does nothing in time, which He has not decreed to do from all eternity. For “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world:” (Acts 15:18:) and “He hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” (Eph. 1:4.) If it were otherwise, God might be charged with mutability.

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (Vol. 1, p. 566).

One of the most unfounded charges made against Arminian theology is the notion that it characterizes God as “reactionary” and attributes to him the non-divine attribute of “mutability”; he is eternal, infinite, immense, and immutable, and in all that God is and does, he does not change, is not limited by time, or in need of anything which he does not already possess. God’s will to forgive sin, for example, did not arise in response to human iniquity and fallibility, but was already entirely possessed and known to God as part of his divine being and personhood. Therefore, while it is true that such a being is wholly outside the full comprehension of finite beings like us, those who are uncomfortable with considering such things must acknowledge that it is also necessary that we be willing to contemplate things that are outside of our full grasp if we are going to conceive of any uncaused first-cause. Indeed, if there is such a first-cause or being who is sufficient to be called our Creator, whoever or whatever we conceive of as our Creator must likewise be wholly outside the full comprehension of finite beings like us. Therefore, if our Creator is a personal being like the one Christians believe in, it is necessary that we be willing to consider things that are truly inconceivable to us. Consequently, anyone who is unwilling to consider such things is equally unwilling to consider any first-cause for the origin of all things since such a first cause must necessarily be truly inconceivable to its subsequent effects (i.e. “us”).

I hope you will forgive my brief excursion into the previous points about the inconceivableness of God’s works being known to him from the beginning, but I feel that such points must be made because we might be tempted to brush such considerations off as irrelevant since it is impossible for finite beings to truly comprehend the logical consequences of an eternal being. In so doing we run the risk of shaping our theological understanding around a finite god that we can fully understand; one which fits neatly into the intellectual box of finite beings. While it is true that God has revealed himself in accessible ways to finite beings so that we can genuinely know him, we will never fully comprehend God as finite beings. Therefore, it is necessary that we consider these questions with humility and honesty to the best of our ability, maintaining our love for one another and preserving our unity with one another in the bond of peace.

With these considerations in mind, Arminius’ observation concludes that God’s divine providence exists in eternity, not in time, and that those things which God has predestined according to his divine purpose and counsel have been known to him from all eternity. My response to such things is not to quibble about certain nuances, but to fall down in awe and reverence for such a being as God Almighty truly IS!

PREDESTINATION’S OBJECT

Having considered what predestination is, we must also consider what predestination does. Arminius observes:

We say that the object or matter of predestination is two-fold — Divine things, and Persons to whom the communication of those Divine things has been predestinated by this decree. (1.) These divine things receive from the Apostle the general appellation of “spiritual blessings:” (Eph. 1:3:) Such are, in the present life, justification, adoption as sons, (Rom. 8:29, 30,) and the spirit of grace and adoption. (Eph. 1:5; John 1:12; Gal. 4:6, 7.) Lastly, after this life, eternal life. (John 3:15, 16.) The whole of these things are usually comprised and enunciated, in the Divinity schools, by the names of GRACE and GLORY. (2.) We circumscribe the persons within the limits of the word “believers,” which pre-supposes sin: for no one believes on Christ except a sinner, and the man who acknowledges himself to be that sinner. (Matt. 9:13; 11:28.) Therefore, the plenitude of those blessings, and the preparation of them which has been made in Christ, were necessary for none but sinners. But we give the name of “believers,” not to those who would be such by their own merits or strength, but to those who by the gratuitous and peculiar kindness of God would believe in Christ. (Rom. 9:32; Gal. 2:20; Matt. 11:25; 13:11; John 6:44; Phil. 1:29.)

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (Vol. 1, p. 567).

Arminius understood the objects of predestination to be twofold:

1. Divine things, which are the general “spiritual blessings” that God has purposed for us to receive.

2. Recipients, who are those believers who receive the divine things in Christ.

God’s spiritual blessings are, themselves, objects of God’s divine providence. For God desired to bestow grace upon us, to justify us, and to give us the spirit of adoption. All of God’s spiritual blessings are, themselves, objects of God’s divine providence since they were known to him from the beginning.

However, God also willed to bestow these blessings upon the children of his covenant in Christ. Therefore, all believers are likewise the objects of God’s divine providence since it was his will to bestow upon believers the name of Christ according to the holy and unending kindness of God.

Arminius’ conclusion regarding predestination is as follows and stands for itself:

The end of predestination is the praise of the glorious grace of God: for since grace, or the gratuitous love of God in Christ, is the cause of predestination, it is equitable that to the same grace the entire glory of this act should be ceded. (Eph. 1:6; Rom. 11:36.)

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (Vol. 1, p. 567).

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