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



Matthew said...

Is there a citation for your Arminian definition of providence? I am trying to gain a scholarly definition and can't find one. All I can find is the Reformed definitions from Grudem and Bruce Ware.

A.M. Mallett said...

I would recommend the following resource as a quick source for the doctrines of James Arminius.

James Arminius, “A Declaration of the Sentiments of James Arminius, Part 2: The Providence of God,” in Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God, ed. John D. Wagner (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 67.