A Display of Arminianism

John Owen



IT hath been always believed among Christians, and that upon infallible grounds, as I shall show hereafter, that all the decrees of God, as they are internal, so they are eternal, acts of his will; and therefore unchangeable and irrevocable. Mutable decrees and occasional resolutions are most contrary to the pure nature of Almighty God. Such principles as these, evident and clear by their own light, were never questioned by any before the Arminians began avki,nhta kinei/n, and to profess themselves to delight in opposing common notions of reason concerning God and his essence, that they might exalt themselves into his throne. To ascribe the least mutability to the divine essence, with which all the attributes and internal free acts of God are one and the same, was ever accounted u`perbolh. avfeo,thtoj, “transcendent atheism,” in the highest degree.1 Now, be this crime of what nature it will, it is no unjust imputation to charge it on the Arminians, because they confess themselves guilty, and glory in the crime. 

First, They undermine and overthrow the eternity of God’s purposes, by affirming that, in the order of the divine decrees, there are some which precede every act of the creature, and some again that follow them: so Corvinus,2 the most famous of that sect. Now, all the acts of every creature being but of yesterday, temporary, like themselves, surely, those decrees of God cannot be eternal which follow them in order of time; and yet they press this, especially in respect of human actions, as a certain, unquestionable verity. “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,” saith their great master, Arminius.3 The like affirmeth, with a little addition (as such men do always “proficere in pejus”), his genuine scholar, Nic. Grevin-chovius.4 “I suppose,” saith he, “that God willeth many things which he neither would nor justly could will and purpose, did not some action of the creature precede.” And here observe, that in these places they speak not of God’s external works, of those actions which outwardly are of him, — as inflicting of punishments, bestowing of rewards, and other such outward acts of his providence, whose administration we confess to be various, and diversely applied to several occasions, — but of the internal purposes of God’s will, his decrees and intentions, which have no present influence upon, or respect unto, any action of the creature; yea, they deny that concerning many things God hath any determinate resolution at all, or any purpose farther than a natural affection towards them. “God doth or omitteth that towards which, in his own nature and his proper inclination, he is affected, as he findeth man to comply or not to comply with that order which he hath appointed,” saith Corvinus.5 Surely these men care not what indignities they cast upon the God of heaven, so they may maintain the pretended endowments of their own wills; for such an absolute power do they here ascribe unto them, that God himself cannot determine of a thing whereunto, as they strangely phrase it, he is well affected, before, by an actual concurrence, he is sure of their compliance. Now, this imputation, that they are temporary, which they cast upon the decrees of God in general, they press home upon that particular which lies most in their way, the decree of election. Concerning this they tell us roundly, that it is6 false that election is confirmed from eternity: so the Remonstrants in their Apology, notwithstanding that St Paul tells us that it is the “purpose of God,” Romans 9:11, and that we were “chosen before the foundation of the world,” Ephesians 1:4. Neither is it any thing material what the Arminians there grant, — namely, that there is a decree preceding this, which may be said to be from everlasting: for seeing that St Paul teacheth us that election is nothing but God’s purpose of saving us, to affirm that God eternally decreed that he would elect us is all one as to say that God purposed that in time he would purpose to save us. Such resolutions may be fit for their own wild heads, but must not be ascribed to God only wise. 

Secondly, As they affirm them to be temporary and to have had a beginning, so also to expire and have an ending, to be subject to change and variableness. “Some acts of God’s will do cease at a certain time,” saith Episcopius.7 What? doth say thing come into his mind that changeth his will? “Yes,” saith Arminius,8 “He would have all men to be saved; but, compelled with the stubborn and incorrigible malice of some, he will have them to miss it.” However, this is some recompense, — denying God a power to do what he will, they grant him to be contented to do what he may, and not much repine at his hard condition. Certainly, if but for this favor, he is a debtor to the Arminians. Thieves give what they do not take. Having robbed God of his power, they will leave him so much goodness as that he shall not be troubled at it, though he be sometimes compelled to what he is very loath to do. How do they and their fellows, the Jesuits,9 exclaim upon poor Calvin, for sometimes using the hard word of compulsion, describing the effectual, powerful working of the providence of God in the actions of men; but they can fasten the same term on the will of God, and no harm done! Surely he will one day plead his own cause against them. But yet blame them not, “si violandum est jus, regnandi causa violandum est.” It is to make themselves absolute that they thus cast off the yoke of the Almighty, and that both in things concerning this life and that which is to come. They are much troubled that it should be said that10 every one of us bring along with us into the world an unchangeable pre-ordination of life and death eternal; for such a supposal would quite overthrow the main foundation of their heresy, — namely, that men can make their election void and frustrate, as they jointly lay it down in their Apology.11 Nay, it is a dream, saith Dr Jackson,12 to think of God’s decrees concerning things to come as of acts irrevocably finished; which would hinder that which Welsingius lays down for a truth, — to wit,13 “that the elect may become reprobates, and the reprobates elect.” Now, to these particular sayings is their whole doctrine concerning the decrees of God, inasmuch as they have any reference to the actions of men, most exactly conformable; as, — 

First,14 Their distinction of them into peremptory and not peremptory (terms rather used in the citations of litigious courts than as expressions of God’s purpose in sacred Scripture), is not, as by them applied, compatible with the unchangeableness of God’s eternal purposes. Pro,skairoi, say they, or temporary believers, are elected (though not peremptorily) with such an act of God’s will as hath a co-existence every way commensurate, both in its original, continuance, and end, with their fading faith; which sometimes, like Jonah’s gourd, is but “filia unius noctis,” — in the morning it flourisheth, in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withereth. A man in Christ by faith, or actually believing (which to do is, as they say, in every one’s own power),15 is, in their opinion, the proper object of election; — of election, I say, not peremptory, which is an act pendent, expecting the final perseverance and consummation of his faith; and therefore immutable, because man having fulfilled his course, God hath no cause to change his purpose of crowning him with reward. Thus also (as they teach), a man according to his infidelity, whether present and removable, or obdurate and final, is the only object of reprobation; which, in the latter case, is peremptory and absolute, in the former conditional and alterable. It is the qualities of faith and unbelief on which their election and reprobation do attend.16 Now, let a faithful man, elected of God according to his present righteousness, apostate [apostatize] totally from grace (as to affirm that there is any promise of God implying his perseverance is with them to overthrow all religion), and let the unbelieving reprobate depose his incredulity and turn himself unto the Lord; answerable to this mutation of their conditions are the changings of the purpose of the Almighty concerning their everlasting state. Again; suppose these two, by alternate courses (as the doctrine of apostasy maintaineth they may), should return each to their former estate, the decrees of God concerning them must again be changed; for it is unjust with him either not to elect him that believes, though it be but for an hour, or not to reprobate unbelievers. Now, what unchangeableness can we fix to these decrees, which it lies in the power of man to make as inconstant as Euripus; making it, beside, to be possible that all the members of Christ’s church, whose names are written in heaven, should within one hour be enrolled in the black book of damnation? 

Secondly, As these not-peremptory decrees are mutable, so they make the peremptory decrees of God to be temporal. “Final impenitency,” say they, “is the only cause, and the finally unrepenting sinner is the only object, of reprobation, peremptory and irrevocable.” As the poet thought none happy,17 so they think no man to be elected, or a reprobate, before his death. Now, that denomination he doth receive from the decrees of God concerning his eternal estate, which must necessarily then be first enacted. The relation that is between the act of reprobation and the person reprobated importeth a co-existence of denomination. When God reprobates a man, he then becomes a reprobate; which if it be not before he hath actually fulfilled the measure of his iniquity, and sealed it up with the talent of final impenitency in his death, the decree of God must needs be temporal, the just Judge of all the world having till then suspended his determination, expecting the last resolution of this changeable Proteus. Nay, that God’s decrees concerning men’s eternal estates are in their judgment temporal, and not beginning until their death, is plain from the whole course of their doctrine, especially where they strive to prove that if there were any such determination, God could not threaten punishments or promise rewards. “Who,”18 say they, “can threaten punishment to him whom, by a peremptory decree, he will have to be free from punishment?” It seems he cannot have determined to save any whom he threatens to punish if they sin, which [it] is evident he doth all so long as they live in this world; which makes God not only mutable, but quite deprives him of his foreknowledge, and makes the form of his decree run thus: — “If man will believe, I determine he shall be saved; if he will not, I determine he shall be damned,” — that is, “I must leave him in the meantime to do what he will, so I may meet with him in the end.” 

Thirdly, They affirm no decree of Almighty God concerning men is so unalterable19 but that all those who are now in rest or misery might have had contrary lots; — that those which are damned, as Pharaoh, Judas, etc., might have been saved; and those which are saved, as the blessed Virgin, Peter, John, might have been damned: which must needs reflect with a strong charge of mutability on Almighty God, who knoweth who are his. Divers other instances in this nature I could produce, whereby it would be farther evident that these innovators in Christian religion do overthrow the eternity and unchangeableness of God’s decrees; but these are sufficient to any discerning man. And I will add, in the close, an antidote against this poison, briefly showing what the Scripture and right reason teach us concerning these secrets of the Most High. 

First, “Known unto God,” saith St James, “are all his works from the beginning,” Acts 15:18; whence it hath hitherto been concluded that whatever God doth in time bring to pass, that he decreed from all eternity so to do. All his works were from the beginning known unto him. Consider it particularly in the decree of election, that fountain of all spiritual blessings, that a saving sense and assurance thereof (2 Peter 1:10) being attained, might effect a spiritual rejoicing in the Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:31. Such things are everywhere taught as may raise us to the consideration of it as of an eternal act, irrevocably and immutably established: “He hath chosen us before the foundation of the world,” Ephesians 1:4: his “purpose according to election,” before we were born, must “stand,” Romans 9:11; for to the irreversible stability of this act of his will he hath set to the seal of his infallible knowledge, 2 Timothy 2:19. His purpose of our salvation by grace, not according to works, was “before the world began,” 2 Timothy 1:9: an eternal purpose, proceeding from such a will as to which none can resist, joined with such a knowledge as to which all things past, present, and to come are open and evident, must needs also be, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, permanent and unalterable. 

Secondly, The20 decrees of God, being conformable to his nature and essence, do require eternity and immutability as their inseparable properties. God, and he only, never was, nor ever can be, what now he is not. Passive possibility to any thing, which is the fountain of all change, can have no place in him who is “actus simplex,” and purely free from all composition; whence St James affirmeth that “with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” James 1:17; with him, that is, in his will and purposes: and himself by his prophet, “I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” Malachi 3:6; where he proveth the not changing of his gracious purposes, because he is the LORD. The eternal acts of his will not really differing from his unchangeable essence, must needs be immutable. 

Thirdly, Whatsoever God hath determined, according to the counsel of his wisdom and good pleasure of his will, to be accomplished, to the praise of his glory, standeth sure and immutable; for 

“the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent; for he is not a man, that he should repent,” 1 Samuel 15:29. 

“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; 

which certain and infallible execution of his pleasure is extended to particular contingent events, Isaiah 48:14. Yea, it is an ordinary thing with the Lord to confirm the certainty of those things that are yet for to come from his own decree; as, 

“The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so it shall come to pass; and as I have purposed, it shall stand, that I will break the Assyrian,” etc., Isaiah 14:24,25; — 

“It is certain the Assyrian shall be broken, because the Lord hath purposed it;” which were a weak kind of reasoning, if his purpose might be altered. Nay 

“He is of one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, that he doeth,” Job 23:13. 

“The Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?” Isaiah 14:27. 

So that the purpose of God and immutability of his counsel (Hebrews 6:17) have their certainty and firmness from eternity, and do not depend on the variable lubricity of mortal men; which we must needs grant, unless we intend to set up impotency against omnipotency, and arm the clay against the potter. 

Fourthly, If God’s determination concerning any thing should have a temporal original, it must needs be either because he then perceived some goodness in it of which before he was ignorant, or else because some accident did affix a real goodness to some state of things which it had not from him; neither of which, without abominable blasphemy, can be affirmed, seeing he knoweth the end from the beginning, all things from everlasting, being always the same, the fountain of all goodness, of which other things do participate in that measure which it pleaseth him to communicate it unto them. Add to this the omnipotency of God: there is “power and might in his hand,” [so] that none is able to withstand him, 2 Chronicles 20:6; which will not permit that any of his purposes be frustrate. In all our intentions, if the defect be not in the error of our understandings, which may be rectified by better information, when we cannot do that which we would, we will do that which we can: the alteration of our purpose is for want of power to fulfill it; which impotency cannot be ascribed to Almighty God, who is “in heaven, and hath done whatsoever he pleased,” Psalm 115:3. So that the immutability of God’s nature, his almighty power, the infallibility of his knowledge, his immunity from error in all his counsels, do show that he never faileth in accomplishing any thing that he proposeth for the manifestation of his glory. 

To close up this whole discourse, wherein I have not discovered half the poison contained in the Arminian doctrine concerning God’s decrees, I will in brief present to your view the opposition that is in this matter betwixt the word of God and the patrons of free-will: —

S.S. Lib. Arbit.
“He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world,” Ephesians 1:4. “It is false to say that election is confirmed from everlasting,” Rem. Apol.
“He hath called us according to his own purpose and grace, before the world began,” 2 Timothy 1:9. “It is certain that God determineth divers things which he would not, did not some act of man’s will go before,” Armin.
“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” Acts 15:18. “Some decrees of God precede all acts of the will of the creature, and some follow,” Corv.
“Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, swing, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure,” Isaiah 46:10. “Men may make their election void and frustrate,” Rem. Apol.
“For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand,” as Romans 9:11. “It is no wonder if men do sometimes of elect become reprobate, and of reprobate, elect,” Welsin.
“The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his,” 2 Timothy 2:19. “Election is uncertain and revocable, and whoever denies it overthrows the gospel,” Grevinch.
“The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations,” Psalm 33:11. “Many decrees of God cease at a certain time,” Episcop.
“My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure,” Isaiah 46:10. “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,” Armin.
“I am the LORD, I change not,” Malachi 3:6. “As men may change themselves from believers to unbelievers, so God’s determination concerning them changeth,” Rem.
“With the Father of lights is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” James 1:17; Exodus 3:13,14; Psalm 102:27; 2 Timothy 2:13; 1 Samuel 15:29; Isaiah 14:27; Job 23:13; Psalm 115:3. “All God’s decrees are not peremptory, but some conditionate and changeable,” Sermon at Oxford.


  1. Philippians lib. quod sit Deus immutabilis.
  2. “In ordine volitorum divinorum, quaedam sunt quae omnem actum creaturae praecedunt, quaedam quae sequuntur.” — Corv, ad Molin., cap. 5. sect. 1, p. 67.
  3. “Certum est Deum quaedam velle, quae non vellet nisi aliqua volitio humana antecederet.” — Armin., Antip., p. 211.
  4. “Multa tamen arbitror Deum velle; quae non vellet, adeoque nec juste velle posset, nisi aliqua actio creaturae praecederet.” — Ad Ames., p. 24.
  5. “Deus facit vel non facit id ad quod, ex se et natura sua ac inclinatione propria est affectus, prout homo cum isto ordine conspirat, vel non conspirat.” — Corv. ad Molin., cap. 5. ad sect. 3.
  6. “Falsum est quod electio facta est ab seterno.” — Rem. Apol., cap. 18. p. 190.
  7. “Volitiones aliquae Dei cessant certo quodam tempore.” — Episcop. Disp. de Vol. Dei., thes. 7
  8. “Deus vult omnes salvos fieri, sed compulsus pertinaci et incorrigibili malitia quorundam, vult illos jacturam facere salutis.” — Armin. Antip. fol. 195.
  9. Bell. Amiss. Grat.; Armin. Antip. Rem. Apol.
  10. “(Docent) unumquemque invariabilem vitae, ac morris protagh.n una cum ipso ortu, in lucern hanc nobiscum adferre.” — Filii Armin. in Epist. Ded. ad Examen Lib. Perk.
  11. “Possunt homines etectionem suam irritam et frustraneam reddere.” — Rem. Apol., cap. 9. p. 105.
  12. Jackson, of the Divine Essence.
  13. “Non mirum videri debet quod aliquando ex electis reprobi et ex reprobis electi fiant.” — Welsin, de Of. Ch. Hom.
  14. “Omnia Dei decreta, non sunt peremptoria, sed quaedam conditionata ac mutabilia.” — Concio. ad Cler. Oxon. ann. 1641, Rem. Decla. Sent. in Synod., alibi passim. “Electio sicut et justificatio, et incerta et revocabilis, utramque vero conditionatam qui negaverit, ipsum quoque evangelium negabit.” — Grevinch, ad Ames., pp. 136,137.
  15. “Ad gloriam participandam pro isto tempore quo credunt electi sunt.” — Rem. Apol., p. 190.
  16. “Decreta hypothetica possunt mutari, quia conditio respectu hominis vel prsestatur vel non praestatur, atque ita existit vel non existit. Et quum extitit aliquandiu, saepe existere desinit, et rursus postquam aliquandiu desiit, existere incipit.” — Corv. ad Molin., cap. 5. sec. 10.
  17. “Dicique beatus — Ante obitum nemo,” etc. — Ovid.
  18. “Quis enim comminetur poenam ei, quem peremptorio decreto a poena immunem esse vult ?” — Rem. Apol., cap. 17. p. 187.
  19. Author of “God’s Love to Mankind,” p. 4, [a treatise written by Hoard. Davenant, professor of divinity in Cambridge, and afterwards bishop of Salisbury, wrote in reply his “Animadversions” on it. Dr Hill, in his Lectures on Divinity, pronounces this work of Davenant to be “one of the ablest defences of the Calvinistic system of predestination.”]
  20. “Quicquid operatur, operatur ut est.”