Friday, June 19, 2009

Arminius on Providence

Being caught up recently with a dispute over the equating of Calvinist descriptions of determinism and allowing, I found an examination of Arminius' Sentiments helpful in clarifying the distinction between determining or ordaining actions and allowing events to occur. Our Calvinist brethren have a tendency to blur the distinctions bringing themselves to the precipice of blasphemy against the character of God with regard to evil. One of our common scriptural objections to hard determinism is the passage in Jeremiah where the LORD expresses His clear distancing from the actions of men whose purpose is strange and separate from those of the LORD. … "Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire [for] burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake [it], neither came [it] into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter." (Jer 19:4-6 AV). The passage raises the issue of theological providence and how we bring ourselves to reconcile the allowances of God with His decrees. Arminius sets his thoughts on this matter of providence making clear the truth that a Arminians we do not question providence as some charge us but we instead define such away from the unscriptural distractions of hard determinism. The following comments provide that insight beneficial and substantial to understanding our Christian doctrine.


I consider Divine Providence to be "that solicitous, continued, and universally present inspection and oversight of God, according to which he exercises a general care over the whole world, but evinces a particular concern for all his [intelligent] creatures without any exception, with the design of preserving and governing them in their own essence, qualities, actions, and passions, in a manner that is at once worthy of himself and suitable to them, to the praise of his name and the salvation of believers. In this definition of Divine Providence, I by no means deprive it of any particle of those properties which agree with it or belong to it; but I declare that it preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance. Beside this, I place in subjection to Divine Providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature, so that nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things which are done in opposition to it; only we must observe a distinction between good actions and evil ones, by saying, that "God both wills and performs good acts," but that "He only freely permits those which are evil." Still farther than this, I very readily grant, that even all actions whatever, concerning evil, that can possibly be devised or invented, may be attributed to Divine Providence Employing solely one caution, "not to conclude from this concession that God is the cause of sin." This I have testified with sufficient clearness, in a certain disputation concerning the Righteousness and Efficacy of Divine Providence concerning things that are evil, which was discussed at Leyden on two different occasions, as a divinity-act, at which I presided. In that disputation, I endeavored to ascribe to God whatever actions concerning sin I could possibly conclude from the scriptures to belong to him; and I proceeded to such a length in my attempt, that some persons thought proper on that account to charge me with having made God the author of sin. The same serious allegation has likewise been often produced against me, from the pulpit, in the city of Amsterdam, on account of those very theses; but with what show of justice such a charge was made, may be evident to any one, from the contents of my written answer to those Thirty-one Articles formerly mentioned, which have been falsely imputed to me, and of which this was one.

Arminius Sentiments on the Providence of God


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Playing With Fire in the Tent of God

Apologia brings out a strange character in many souls. There is something about defending one's beliefs that easily crosses that invisible line separating what should be a scriptural call and instead feigning honor while offending another's beliefs and sensibilities. It happens a lot in the Arminian vs. Calvinist discussions. Just ask anybody on the other side regardless of your own and you will find a plethora of souls offended in some manner by the aggressiveness of an opponent's rhetoric. Most often, these offenses are the result of heated excitement and carrying the polemical thrust a bit further than originally intended. We all do it, perhaps I more than most yet at the end of the day we should be able to set aside those sectarian differences and recognize one another as fellow brethren in Christ. At least that is what we tell ourselves.

Something else is going on in some circles. There is a desire to kill, to consume and to dismember whole segments of the body of Christ in the guise of intellectual and theological curiosity. Somebody is lighting matches in the house of God with tinder in every crook and cranny. I was going to tackle a particular sectarian and zealous blog with full force when I began putting these thoughts together but as I began typing I realized that it is just one brick of an unholy wall. Remove one brick and there are a thousand zealots ready with trowel to patch it up and hurl further than before. I think the better response is a moat, keeping with the analogy. Isolate those whose zealotry and murder are an offense and do so with plain scriptural truth. Within the walls of the zealots keep is a language that bears little resemblance to our own and that of Christian orthodoxy. The language uses terms and phrases similar to our own yet communicates ideas foreign to us and our churches as understood for 2,000 years. Knowing this, carrying an intellectual discourse with them, an apologizing defense, becomes a fruitless endeavor for what is good has become bad and what is most undesirable seems to be admirable. I suspect it is a human trait and as with all things human, all is in a bad way lacking the grace of God. Yet the Apostle states "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." (Col 4:6 AV). Salt being a preservative, it strikes me as a hard thing to curse with feigned wit while thinking one as the salt of the earth.

I don't have a particular soul or group in mind as I close these thoughts. I did when I began but having come back to this as I let it settle in my own mind, I think these things are appropriate to all who pick up a sword, however tempered and controlled. I cannot see the LORD as kind to the zealot's reproach and this should strike some measure of fear in each of us when we lace up for theological battle.