Arminianism and Predestination – A Suggestion
Blog 2: Divine Concurrence
In the first blog of this series, I argued that from a biblical, narrative perspective human freedom is a consequence not of creation proper, but of God’s continued gracious intervention in the universe he has created. I also contended that the natural state of the universe is to be entirely in subjugation to the word of God. Any indeterminate freedom that humanity, or any other creature, experiences is rightly understood as a consequence of grace and not as a component of nature.
In this second blog of the series, I am going to deviate a bit from my biblical, narrative approach. In fact, for some readers, this blog may be a bit too academic and nuanced to be useful. If you find it to be such, then I’d encourage you to skip it and wait for future blogs to continue the series. However, for those who are a bit more adventurous and aren’t afraid of a little academic rigor, I hope this blog will prove both challenging and exciting.
I want to explore a little discussed doctrine posited by James Arminius that, in my view, has attempted to balance a Reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty and providence with what he and I have understood to be a more biblical understanding of human responsibility. The doctrine seems best described by the phrase divine concurrence.
Most of what follows comes from a much longer essay that I wrote on the subject, and that essay began with a detailed exploration of the writings of John Calvin and his theological successor Theodore Beza. Consequently, my footnoting of Calvin and Beza occurred in the first two parts of the essay and was not reduplicated in this final section. For those who are interested, I will provide a link to the full essay at the conclusion of this blog.
James Arminius – Divine Concurrence
As had been true of the Calvinist tradition in the 16th century generally, Arminius rarely spoke of the concept of human will apart from the doctrine of Divine Providence. In his “A Declaration of Sentiments,” Arminius maintained:
. . . . I declare, that [God’s Providence] 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;. . . .
Here, Arminius clearly stood in agreement both with the Calvinist tradition in his denial of fortune and chance and in his affirmation that both the will and the actions of a rational creature are subject to Divine Providence and cannot be actualized apart from the will of God.
However, Arminius departed from the language Calvinism when he continued:
. . . .—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.”
Calvinism in his day would have been comfortable with Arminius’ final caution—i.e., God is not the cause of sin. Even so, the idea that God’s Providence in relation to evil must be understood as free permission was a conclusion specifically denied by Calvin, and carefully qualified by the leading Calvinist theologian of Arminius’ day, Theodore Beza. It seems apparent that, for Arminius, the human will, though subject to Divine Providence, must have some measure of autonomy in order to avoid the conclusion that God, in His Providence, is the cause of sin. It is as a consequence of this conviction, in my view, that Arminius’ most significant contribution to the Calvinist concept of human will began to take shape. I’ll return to this point momentarily.
Arminius’ description of the human being both before and after the Fall remained very close to that of Calvin himself:
In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his Creator, man [sic] was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness, and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him: Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace.—But in his lapsed and sinful state, man [sic] is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing, and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.
What was unique in Arminius’ discussion was his insistence that both before the Fall and after regeneration, the human will continues to depend on the perpetual aid of Divine Grace. Certainly one could argue that Calvin’s comprehension of Divine Providence may have assumed such a conclusion. Nevertheless, whereas Calvin located the will in the soul of humanity, Arminius seems to have conceived of the human will, as both naturally and spiritually endowed, as impotent (or perhaps even non-existent) apart from the continual grace of God. For this reason Dr. Paul Bassett has argued that Arminius’ understanding of free will might better be termed free grace.
Despite the differences of emphasis that I have delineated, to this point Arminius stood well within the Calvinist tradition. However, Arminius’ discussion of free will was far from complete. As we have observed previously, Calvinism at the time generally taught that the conclusion that God was the author of sin could be avoided by drawing a careful distinction between necessity and compulsion. For Arminius, at the heart of this contention was the assumption that a thing can be simultaneously necessary and contingent. In the opinion of Arminius, such an assertion is logically untenable.
Rather, Arminius believed that one is left with only two options regarding human sinfulness:
For if God resolve to use an irresistible power in the execution of his Decree, or if he determine to employ such a quantum of power as nothing can resist or can hinder it from completing his purpose, it will follow that the thing will necessarily be brought into existence:. . . . –But if he resolve to use a force that is not irresistible, but that can be resisted by the creature, then that thing is said to be done, not necessarily, but contingently,. . . .
For Arminius, regardless of whether an act is done freely or under compulsion, if it is done necessarily, then God must be its efficient and principal cause. Arminius was convinced that such a contention proclaims necessarily that God is the author, originator, and creator of sin.
However, Arminius did not believe that the contingency of a particular will or action effectively constrained God’s Providence. Quite to the contrary, Arminius was insistent that God could work His will and fulfill his decree in spite of the contingency of individual events. Arminius concluded:
Indeed if the Divine Wisdom knows how to effect that which it has decreed, by employing causes according to their nature and motion,—whether their nature and motion be contingent or free,—the praise due to such Wisdom is far greater than if it employ a power which no creature can possibly resist: Although God can employ such a power whensoever it may seem expedient to his Wisdom.
Arminius embraced the idea of God’s determination, if it were understood to mean that God can accomplish whatever He has determined to do, irrespective of the contingency of the behaviors involved therein. In Arminius’s words:
And this contingency and freedom of second causes does not prevent that from being certainly done, or coming to pass, which God in this manner works by them; and therefore the certain futurition of an event does not include its necessity.
However, Arminius professed to “abominate” the idea of Divine Determination if it were taken to mean that “God by his eternal decree has determined to the one part or to the other future contingent things”—i.e., “those things which are performed by the free will of the creature.” According to Arminius, contingent things cannot be determined—they would be, by definition, necessary.
It is at this point that we must return to Arminius’ conviction that God freely permits evil acts. Calvin’s objection to the idea of Divine permission was that it seems to imply some sort of passivity on the part of God. Calvin insisted that God’s Providence was active and contemporary in all things. Permission, therefore, seems to suggest that God is not the principal cause of some events, but rather a passive observer.
Theodore Beza, similarly, was hesitant to use the term permission, but for slightly different reasons. For Beza, permission seemed to imply that God was willing to permit certain activities which were either contrary to His will or regarding which He had little concern. Beza was comfortable with the term permission provided it did not assume either of these conclusions.
Arminius seems to have attempted to settle both concerns in his articulation of Divine Permission. He insisted that “. . . . whatever God permits, He permits it designedly and willingly,—His Will being immediately occupied about its Permission, but His Permission itself is occupied about sin; and this order cannot be inverted without great peril.”
To say it another way, for Arminius, God’s Permission is both immediate and active, and it is always an act of His Will, even when it permits activity that is contrary to His Will. Furthermore, Arminius did not conclude that God’s Permission results in providential passivity once it is willed. Even after willing Permission, God, in His determination, both sets boundaries on the activity performed and works that activity to His own end.
So, for Arminius, what role does God play in the evil that humans do? It is at this point that Arminius both displays his thoroughgoing commitment to a Calvinist conception of Divine Sovereignty and Providence and makes his most significant contribution to the balancing of the doctrine of Divine Providence and the concept of human will. Arminius agreed with Calvin, though perhaps not with Beza, that God is the principal and efficient cause of all things and that His Providence is active and immediate. However, as we have already seen, Arminius was also convinced that these very convictions led necessarily to the conclusion that God, not humanity, is responsible, ultimately, for sin.
Arminius’ solution to the dilemma was to be found in the concept of, what he called, Divine Concurrence. He defined the doctrine in the following way:
The Concurrence of God is not his immediate influx into a second or inferior cause, but it is an action of God immediately [influens] flowing into the effect of the creature, so that the same effect in one and the same entire action may be produced [simul] simultaneously by God and the creature.
For Arminius, no activity of humanity can be brought to fruition without Divine Concurrence. Arminius concluded, “And therefore God is at once the Effector and the Permitter of the same act, and the Permitter of it before He is the Effector.”
According to Arminius, when God wills to grace a human being with the freedom to choose to act—i.e., to act contingently—, in order for that act to take place, God must will concurrently with the human to the realization of the consequent effect. In this way, there is nothing that occurs apart from the Will of God, not even activities of wickedness.
God, therefore, can be said to perform acts of evil. However, despite God’s responsibility in Divine Concurrence for the realization of evil, the origin of the evil lies in the contingent willing of the human, and therefore, though God may be responsible, to some degree, for reality of evil, He is not culpable for it. In other words, the guilt lies in the human, but the effect lies in the Will of God as it wills concurrently with the human will.
As is perhaps clear, for Arminius the source of the Fall of humanity was contingent human will. Consequently, salvation must also be offered to a contingent human will. Yet again, we must remind ourselves that, for Arminius, the human will is only effective when God, through Divine Concurrence, both permits and effects its desires. Furthermore, as we have observed previously, there is no human will, according to Arminius, apart from the perpetual grace of God. In other words, Human willing is dependent continually on God, both in its origins and in its results.
Nonetheless, for Arminius, God both wills that the human response to incorporation in Christ to be a contingent response of a free human will and providentially acts in grace to guarantee such a response. Arminius’ disputation on human will concludes with the following summary:
What then, you ask, does Free Will do? I reply with brevity, It saves. Take away Free Will, and nothing will be left to be saved: Take away Grace, and nothing will be left [unde salvetur] as the source of salvation. This work [of salvation] cannot be effected without two parties—One, from whom [sit] it may come:—The Other, to whom or in whom it may be [wrought.] God is the Author of salvation: Free Will [tantum capere] is only capable of being saved. No one, except God, is able to bestow salvation; and nothing except Free Will, is capable of receiving it.
I cannot discern whether this final summation was original with Arminius, was a quotation placed by Arminius at the end of his disputation, or was inserted by the editors of his works. Furthermore, I remain convinced that it states the soteriological significance of human will in stronger terms than was consistent generally with Arminius. Nonetheless, it does appear to run consistent with the trajectory of his thought.
In my reading, human will, for Arminius, has never been natural, nor is it essentially free, if freedom is to be understood in terms of autonomy. Rather, the human will is subjected to the Providence of God and depends continually on the gracious activity of God.
Thoughts? Responses? Stones?
Oh, and here’s the link to the full essay:
J. Thomas Johnson
 James Arminius, “A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius, on Predestination, Divine Providence, the Freedom of the Will, the Grace of God, the Divinity of the Son of God, and the Justification of Man before God,” trans., James Nichols & William Nichols, The Works of James Arminius: The London Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:657-658.
 Arminius, “A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius,” 1:658.
 Ibid., 1:659-660.
 see Arminius, “The Apology or Defense of James Arminius against Certain Theological Articles Extensively Distributed, and Currently Circulated at least through the Hands of Some Persons in the Low Countries and beyond Their Confines: In Which Both Arminius, and Adrian Borrius a Minister of Leyden, Are Rendered Suspected of Novelty and Heterodoxy, of Error and Heresy, on the Subject of Religion,” Nichols & Nichols, 1:750-752, 2:33.
 Ibid., 1:753.
 Ibid., 1:755.
 Arminius, “Disputations on Some of the Principal Subjects of the Christian Religion,” Nichols & Nichols, 2:127.
 Arminius, “The Apology or Defense of James Arminius,” 1:760-761.
 Arminius summarized neatly this entire trajectory of thought in “Disputation IV: On the Nature of God” in his “Public Disputations;” see Arminius, “Disputations,” 2:122-129.
 Ibid., 2:167-168.
 see ibid., 2:167-174.
 Ibid., 2:183.
 Ibid., 2:183.
 This appears to be a quotation from Bernardus. Nonetheless, it is placed at the conclusion of Arminius’ “Disputation XI: On the Free Will of Man and Its Powers;” ibid., 2:196.