Providential Permission and Impediments: 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.

PROVIDENTIAL PERMISSION AND IMPEDIMENTS

Once we understand that divine providence is the means by which God appoints and decrees things to happen before they become known-realities without disrupting human autonomy, we must also examine how God’s providence interacts with human free-will when they are in opposition to one another (as they frequently are).

PROVIDENTIAL IMPEDIMENTS

God’s providence primarily works through “permission” and “impediments”.

Arminius observes that God actively decrees the autonomy of the human will (Joshua 24:15), thus he must necessarily grant permission to the consequences of human action. However, God also brings to bear impediments upon people that can tip the scales of human will:

An impediment is placed on the will when, by some argument, it is persuaded not to will the perpetration of a sin, whether this argument be taken, (i.) either from the impossibility or the difficulty of the thing (Matt. 21:46; Hos. 2:6-7); (ii.) from its unpleasantness or inconvenience, its usefulness or injuriousness (Gen. 37:26-27); (iii.) or from its injustice, dishonor, and indecency (Gen. 39:8-9).

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (J. Nichols & W. R. Bagnall, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 497).

God can place difficulties and hardships to impede people from pursuing disastrous ends when the natural human will is in direct opposition to his divine providence. We see this happen when the Pharisees and Scribes were prevented from laying violent hands on Christ since they believed that he would be defended by the people, “who took him for a prophet” (Matt. 21:46:). Again, we see the Israelites being hindered from departing to their lovers, to false gods; for God “hedged up their way with thorns, and made a wall, so that they could not find their customary paths” (Hosea 2:6, 7). As Arminius quotes, “Thus the saints are deterred from sinning, when they see wicked men “wearied in the ways of iniquity and perdition.” (Wisdom 5:7.)

Additionally, God can also ensure that certain things are unpleasant, inconvenient, or injurious, and so dissuade human will from acting against his divine providence. Likewise God can show positively the usefulness of other actions that will entice the human will towards better ends. We see God working accordingly when the brethren of Joseph were hindered from killing him, since they could obtain their end by selling him (Gen. 37:26-27). Thus Job was prevented from sinning “with his eyes,” because he knew what was “the portion of God from above, and what the inheritance of the Almighty from on high,” for those who have their eyes full of adultery (Job 31:1-2).

And lastly, God can increase a things injustice, dishonor, and indecency in order to dissuade the human will from any course of action that is opposed to his divine providence. Accordingly, Joseph was hindered from defiling himself by shameful adultery (Gen. 39:8-9) and David was prevented from “stretching forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:7).

Although the means by which God can accomplish all of these things, even among sinners, are too many to list, we must not overlook the value of God’s word in moving his children along his good will:

Romans 7:7 (CSB) — 7 What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet.

God’s word is chief among his means of dissuading his children from those actions that are opposed to his divine providence because it exposes the injustice, indecency, and harm of such things, and it gives us light by which God’s will is proven of greater worth and weight; great are God’s ways among his people to effect life everlasting and glory forevermore!

PROVIDENTIAL PERMISSION

Directly opposite to such divine impediments is the divine permission of God by which he decrees that we may choose for ourselves what we will do:

The permission of sin is contrary (i.e. “opposite”) to the hindering of it, yet it is not opposed to hindrance; permission is the suspension of all impediments, that God knows, if they were employed woul in fact hinder the sin. And it is a necessary result, because sin might be hindered by a single impediment of this description. Sin, therefore, is permitted to the power of the creature, when God employs none of those impediments which have been mentioned in the third thesis of this disputation, on which account, this permission has the following, either as conjoint or preceding acts of God. The continuance of essence and life to the creature, the preservation of his power, a care that it be not opposed by a greater power, or at least by one equal to it, and, lastly, the exhibition of the subject on which sin is committed (Ex. 9:16; Jn. 18:6; 1 Sam. 20:31-32; Mt. 26:2, 53).

Arminius, J. (1853). The Works of Arminius. (J. Nichols & W. R. Bagnall, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 498–499).

While the willful act of sin originates and is carried out by human agents without any direction or encouragement from God, human agents act according to the permission of God, who does not move to hinder their actions by placing any impediments in their way that would ultimately prevent them from exercising their will.

In this way, sin is permitted to the capability of the creature when God permits the continuance of the creature’s life and capability to act according to its own will. Likewise, sin is also permitted in opposition to God’s will when, despite offering all the necessary benefits to enable God’s good will, he allows us to choose for ourselves those things which are sinful, but which no impediment would produce any positive outcome (Rom. 10:21).

Arminius provides the following conclusion:

Sin is permitted to the will, not by the suspension of every impediment suitable to deter the will from sinning, but by not employing those which in reality would absolutely hinder, of which kind God must have an immense number in the treasures of his wisdom and power.

The foundation of this permission is:

First, the liberty of choice, which God the Creator has implanted in his rational creature, and the use of which the constancy of the Donor does not suffer to be taken away from his creature.

Second, the infinite wisdom and power of God, by which he knows and is able to produce good out of evil (Gen. 1:2-3; 2 Cor. 4:6).

Therefore, God permits that which he does not permit, not in ignorance of the powers and the inclination of rational creatures, for he knows all things (1 Sam. 23:11-12). Also, not with reluctance, for it was in his power not to have produced a creature how possessed freedom of will, and to have destroyed him after he was produced (Rev. 4:11), not as being incapable of hindering, for how can this be attributed to him who is both omniscient and omnipotent (Jer. 18:6; Ps 94:9-10)? And not as an unconcerned spectator, or negligent of that which is transacted, because even before anything is done he has already gone through the various actions concerning it, and has, besides, an attentive eye upon it to direct and determine to punish or to pardon it (Ps. 81:12-13). But whatever God permits, he permits it designedly and voluntarily, his will being immediately concerned about its permission, which permission itself is immediately occupied about sin, which order cannot be inverted without injury to divine justice and truth (Ps. 5:4-5).

Arminius Speaks, p. 14-15

Divine providence does not suspend every impediment to sin, as if to infer divine approval of sin, but only suspends those impediments which God knows would absolutely hinder the exercise of autonomous human will. Indeed, there remain many impediments by which the wicked weary themselves out in pursuit of their evil desires. All these impediments remain a testimony from God that their evil pursuits will be judged, but when divine providence permits sin, it does so by removing those key impediments by which it would be impossible to otherwise commit sin according to human will.

God’s permission exists for two reasons: first, because of his divine decree to bestow the gift of “will” upon us as rational creatures; second, because by his infinite wisdom and power, he is able to bring all things together for good even when finite creatures rage against his divine will (Ps. 2).

Divine permission is granted, even to those things which he ultimately condemns, by his careful design in order that his good and perfect providence should prevail without any subversion of those things which God decreed to bring about by his goodness for his glory. God will not permit any action which might ultimately overturn his providential decree (such as allowing Jesus to be killed in his infancy or childhood). God will not permit any action which might ultimately produce the destruction of his kingdom. Divine providence carefully ensures the triumph of God’s goodness and glory over all things to such an extent that, while sinners do rage against their Creator, they rage in vain and labor that their rewards might be given to the righteous.

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