Arminius' Doctrine of God's Providence Briefly Considered - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonCalvinistic Articles on the Christian Faith
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James Arminius wrote a theological summation (somewhat sketchy but poignant) of his positions to Hyppolitus A. Collibus, an ambassador of the seven Dutch provinces. Here Arminius lays forth all the basic doctrines which he embraces and states his disagreements with “orthodox Christianity” of the time on various issues. It is here that most of the comments will be made on this theological view.
Arminius did not believe the orthodox consensus concerning the providence of God. First, what might be considered as the orthodox consensus? I quote the Westminster Confession of Faith on this point in 5:1, “God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (Neh. 9:6; Psa. 145:14-16; Heb. 1:3; Dan. 4:34-35; Psa. 135:6; Acts 17:25-28; Job 34:1-41:34; Matt. 6:26-32; 10:29-31; Prov. 15:3; I Chr. 16:9; Psa. 104:24; 145;17; Acts 15:18; Isa. 42:9; Ezek. 11:5; Eph. 1:11; Psa. 33:10-11; Isa. 63:14; Eph. 3:10; Rom. 917; Gen. 45:7; Psa. 145:7) Arminius denied this assertion. As a cornerstone to understanding the manner in which God providentially oversees but does not directly control all things, either freely, contingently, or through secondary causes, Arminius was sure to make the plain statement that God does not “necessarily” have providence over certain acts – like the fall of Adam. He says, “On this account, therefore, I declare I am much surprised, and not without good reason, at my being aspersed with this calumny – that I hold corrupt opinions respecting the Providence of God. If it be allowable to indulge in conjecture, I think this slander had its origin in the fact of my denying, that, with respect to the decree of God, Adam necessarily sinned; an assertion which I constantly deny…” (3:698)
Arminius denied the necessity of the fall. (This alone impinges him on his vies of the necessity of all other actions, including the Father’s determination tow send the Son to die for the sins of the elect. Was the atonement, then, not necessary?) This is something that his statement on the issue plainly sets forth. In repudiating this, he denies that God is not providentially governing all things necessarily. Some of his verbiage in describing this in his letters and theological treatises seem orthodox. He will say that God had providence over the direction of sin, to the direction of sin that God wills, and the determining times when those sins occur (3:697). However, as is his usual demeanor, he will blatantly contradict himself, demonstrating his confusion of the issue and his weak systematic approach. It would seem at first glance by the skimming reader that Arminius says much that is good about the Providence of God, yet, when all is considered, his stance is quite defective.
Why could we not believe that God is directly responsible for overseeing the necessity of the fall? In Arminius’ mind this would make God the author of sin – something he “noblely” desires to avoid, but at the cost of the character of God. “Necessity,” Arminius says, “is an affection of being…(3:698).” In other words, for something to occur necessarily, God would have to be author of it since He is the first cause of all things – which seems to be a contradiction waiting to happen in the mind of Arminius. This is not true in the manner in which Arminius is thinking. In summating the orthodox position, the Westminster Confession asserts, “Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (Acts 2:23; see Isa. 14:24, 27; Gen 8:22; Jer. 31:35; Isa. 10:6,7; see Exod. 21:13 and Deut. 19:5; I Kings 22:28-34) God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure. (Acts 27:24, 31, 44; Isa. 55:10-11; Hosea 1:7; Matt. 4:4; Job 34:20; Rom. 4:19-21; II Kings 6:6; Dan. 3:27) (WCF 5:2-3).” Free and contingent actions are allowable under the providence of God. The Lord makes use of those actions in order that all necessary causes fall out in the manner in which fits into the divine plan. To deny these in any way is to deny the Godhood of God. It is a direct siege to the effectual nature of the divine decrees – i.e. that He decrees all things.
In denying the necessity of the decree in this way, i.e. that Adam did not fall by necessary consequence of the decree, Arminius denies both the orthodox ideas surrounding providence as well as the decrees of God (something to briefly look at alter on). He denies that God really does order all things, a point that rubs him the wrong way concerning the free will of men. Adam, possibly, may not have sinned, and God had no power over the being of Adam to guide the action one-way or the other. God can hinder evil (3:165) or place an impediment around the action of it (3:165), He can even test wicked men to see whether they will sin or not (3:171), but he cannot ordain that it be so and Providentially guide the wicked to sin. No, Arminius will have none of that. In his mind, men are free, and not necessarily bound to anything (3:190) but their own judgments and desires.
In conclusion, Arminius denies that God declares, “the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. (Isaiah 46:10-11).” In this the orthodox disagree with him, and this is why the Synod at Dordt disagreed with his children, the Remonstrants, who propagated the same errors he did on the subject of God’s decree and counsel.