This is the second in a series of articles applying to our day the key points of John Owen’s 1642 Treatise, A Display of Arminianism. Owen introduces his second chapter with this indictment against Arminians:
“They deny the eternity and unchangeableness of God’s decrees; for these being established, they fear they should be kept within bounds from doing any thing but what his counsel hath determined should be done. If the purposes of the Strength of Israel be eternal and immutable, their idol free-will must be limited, their independency prejudiced; wherefore they choose rather to affirm that his decrees are temporary and changeable, yea, that he doth really change them according to the several mutations he sees in us: which, how wild a conceit it is, how contrary to the pure nature of God, how destructive to his attributes.”
Just a few short years after Owen’s work, the Westminster divines would define the decrees of God in the 7th question of the Shorter Catechism: “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass”. Scriptures included as proof texts included:
Psalm 33:11. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Isaiah 14:24. The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand:
Acts 2:23. Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
Ephesians 1:11-12. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
Owen begins his 2nd chapter by quoting Arminius himself who said, “It is certain that God willeth or determineth many things which he would not, did not some act of man’s will go before it.”
His followers assert that God could not with certainty ordain or decree any event or act which depends upon the free will of creatures, regardless of what God wants. In our day, as Owen’s, free will is often pitted against the Sovereignty of God. However, it really amounts to a claim that man’s free will takes precedence over God’s free will, or a claim of the sovereignty of man over the sovereignty of God.
While proponents of free will reject God’s sovereignty in many areas, they are particularly opposed to God’s decrees being unchangeable in election. This, in spite of Ephesians 1:4 (“He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world”) and Romans 9:11 (“For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand”). Owen writes that in “denying God a power to do what he will, they grant him to be contented to do what he may.” In essence, they have reduced the power of God by putting it under submission to the will of man. They see it as morally reprehensible that God would frustrate the will of man, but don’t hesitate to suggest that man frustrates the will of God at every turn. Arminius himself not only admitted that God’s will is frustrated, but that God changes his will, according to that frustration:
“God would have all men to be saved, but, compelled with the stubborn malice of some, he changeth his purpose, and will have them to perish.”
The meaning of the word election is turned on its head. Election means chosen by another, but they insist that God elects those that elect themselves. This an older form of the chimney corner scripture, “God helps those that help themselves”  They are like the non-candidate for president who said “If nominated, I will not accept; if drafted, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.” Being called one of God’s elect has no direct bearing upon ones final destiny, according to Arminians. You can go back and forth between being elect and being reprobate. Owen does a little mocking of the idea that your name may be written in the Lamb’s book of Life, erased an hour later, and rewritten after that.
Archibald Alexander addresses this claim in his work, A Brief Compendium of Truth. He writes:
“They who maintain the doctrine that true believers may finally fall away and perish, do also hold that God does all he consistently can to preserve them from apostatizing, and sincerely desires to bring them to the possession of eternal life. Now, I would ask, how is this consistent with acknowledged facts? Some Christians, while in the world, are exposed to much greater temptations than others. As God foreknew that certain persons would be unable to resist certain temptations by which they are supposed to be overcome, and caused finally to perish, why were they not by the divine providence preserved from such exposure?
But this is not all: some Christians are called away by death soon after their conversion, and their salvation is secured; while others are left to be buffeted or seduced by temptations for many years, by which they are finally overcome, and are lost. Now if these had been taken out of the world at as early a period of their Christian pilgrimage as the former, they would also have been saved. Where is the impartiality of which so much is said, in relation to these?
In my earlier essay I made that claim that these false doctrines lead to further departure from the truth. Some in the Arminian camp “get around” the logic above by re-asserting free will in even stronger terms, that God refuses to interact with the “free-will” events of history. Their god is love, but he is utterly powerless to do anything about the plight of his weak disciples.
Free will might rather assert then that God does not really know for certain who are his: “Pharaoh, Judas, etc., might have been saved; and those which are saved, as the blessed Virgin, Peter, John, might have been damned”. Alexander adds:
But who knows, whether Paul did persevere to the end? Who knows, but that his faith failed in the last extremity? We have no account, in the New Testament, of the circumstances of his death. Indeed, if the standing of believers depends on themselves, it would not be surprising, that any one should be overcome by temptation, and should finally fall from a state of grace. It is possible, then, that all the apostles might have fallen away in the time of persecution; for although Christ promises to go and prepare a place for them, and that they should sit on thrones in his kingdom, yet all this must be understood on condition they persevered to the end!
Owen finishes the second chapter in Display with a strong list of Scriptures which demonstrates the immutability of God’s decrees:
“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” (Acts 15:18). In other words, God’s acts are not contingent on the decisions of man, lest they could not have been known before men acted.
Second Timothy has two relevant passages.
First: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his (II Tim 2:19a).
Second: “but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (II Tim 1:8b,9)
“He declareth 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” (Isaiah 46:10).
“Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together. All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans” (Isaiah 48:13f).
“But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him (Job 23:13f)
“The Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?” (Isaiah 14:27). God does not change, as shown in Hebrews 6:17, “wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath.”
God changes not. He promised.