A Display of Arminianism

John Owen



THE prescience or foreknowledge of God hath not hitherto, in express terms, been denied by the Arminians, but only questioned and overthrown by consequence, inasmuch as they deny the certainty and unchangeableness of his decrees, on which it is founded. It is not a foreknowledge of all or any thing which they oppose, but only of things free and contingent, and that only to comply with their formerly-exploded error, that the purposes of God concerning such things are temporal and mutable; which obstacle being once removed, the way is open how to ascribe the presidentship of all human actions to omnipotent contingency, and her sire free-will. Now, we call that contingent which, in regard of its next and immediate cause, before it come to pass, may be done or may be not done; as, that a man shall do such a thing tomorrow, or any time hereafter, which he may choose whether ever he will do or no. Such things as these are free and changeable, in respect of men, their immediate and second causes; but if we, as we ought to do, (James 4:13-15.) look up unto Him who foreseeth and hath ordained the event of them or their omission, they may be said necessarily to come to pass or to be omitted. It could not be but as it was. Christians hitherto, yea, and heathens,1 in all things of this nature, have usually, upon their event, reflected on God as one whose determination was passed on them from eternity, and who knew them long before; as the killing of men by the fall of a house, who might, in respect of the freedom of their own wills, have not been there. Or if a man fall into the hands of thieves, we presently conclude it was the will of God. It must be so; he knew it before. 

Divines, for distinction’s sake,2 ascribe unto God a twofold knowledge; one, intuitive or intellective, whereby he foreknoweth and seeth all things that are possible, — that is, all things that can be done by his almighty power, — without any respect to their future existence, whether they shall come to pass or no. Yea, infinite things, whose actual being eternity shall never behold, are thus open and naked unto him; for was there not strength and power in his hand to have created another world? was there not counsel in the storehouse of his wisdom to have created this otherwise, or not to have created it at all? Shall we say that his providence extends itself every way to the utmost of its activity? or can he not produce innumerable things in the world which now he doth not. Now, all these, and every thing else that is feasible to his infinite power, he foresees and knows, “scientia,” as they speak, “simplicis intelligentiae,” by his essential knowledge. 

Out3 of this large and boundless territory of things possible, God by his decrees freely determineth what shall come to pass, and makes them future which before were but possible. After this decree, as they commonly speak, followeth, or together with it, as4 others more exactly, taketh place, that prescience of God which they call “visionis,” “of vision,”5 whereby he infallibly seeth all things in their proper causes, and how and when they shall come to pass. Now, these two sorts of knowledge differ,6 inasmuch as by the one God knoweth what it is possible may come to pass; by the other, only what it is impossible should not come to pass. Things are possible in regard of God’s power, future in regard of his decree. So that (if I may so say) the measure of the first kind of science is God’s omnipotency, what he can do; of the other his purpose, what certainly he will do, or permit to be done. With this prescience, then, God foreseeth all, and nothing but what he hath decreed shall come to pass. 

For every thing to be produced next and under him,7 God hath prepared divers and several kinds of causes, diversely operative in producing their effects, some whereof are said to work necessarily, the institution of their nature being to do as they do, and not otherwise; so the sun giveth light, and the fire heat. And yet, in some regard, their effects and products may be said to be contingent and free, inasmuch as the concurrence of God, the first cause, is required to their operation, who doth all things most freely, according to the counsel of his will. Thus the sun stood still in the time of Joshua, and the fire burned not the three children; but ordinarily such agents working “necessitate naturae,” their effects are said to be necessary. Secondly, To some things God hath fitted free and contingent causes, which either apply themselves to operation in particular, according to election, choosing to do this thing rather than that; as angels and men, in their free and deliberate actions, which they so perform as that they could have not done them; — or else they produce effects to. sumbebhko,j, merely by accident, and the operation of such things we say to be casual; as if a hatchet, falling out of the hand of a man cutting down a tree, should kill another whom he never saw. Now, nothing in either of these ways comes to pass but God hath determined it, both for the matter and manner,8 even so as is agreeable to their causes, — some necessarily, some freely, some casually or contingently, yet also, as having a certain futurition from his decree, he infallibly foreseeth that they shall so come to pass. But yet that he doth so in respect of things free and contingent is much questioned by the Arminians in express terms, and denied by consequence, notwithstanding St Jerome affirmeth9 that so to do is destructive to the very essence of the Deity. 

First, Their doctrine of the mutability of God’s decrees, on whose firmness is founded the infallibility of this prescience, doth quite overthrow it. God thus foreknowing only what he hath so decreed shall come to pass, if that be no firmer settled but that it may [be] and is often altered, according to the divers inclinations of men’s wills, which I showed before they affirm, he can have at best but a conjectural foreknowledge of what is yet for to come, not founded on his own unchangeable purpose, but upon a guess at the free inclination of men’s wills. For instance,10 God willeth that all men should be saved. This act of his will, according to the Arminian doctrine, is his conditionate decree to save all men if they will believe. Well, among these is Judas, as11 equal a sharer in the benefit of this decree as Peter. God, then, will have him to be saved, and to this end allows him all those means which are necessary to beget faith in him, and are every way sufficient to that purpose, and do produce that effect in others; what can God foresee, then, but that Judas as well as Peter will believe? He intendeth he should, he hath determined nothing to the contrary. Let him come, then, and act his own part. Why, he proves so obstinately malicious,12 that God, with all his omnipotency, as they speak, by any way that becomes him, which must not be by any irresistible efficacy, cannot change his obdurate heart. Well, then, he determineth, according to the exigence of his justice, that he shall be damned for his impenitency, and foreseeth that accordingly. But now, suppose this wretch, even at his last moment, should bethink himself and return to the Lord, which in their conceit he may, notwithstanding his former reprobation (which,13 as they state it, seems a great act of mercy),14 God must keep to the rules of his justice, and elect or determine to save him; by which the varlet hath twice or thrice deceived his expectation. 

Secondly,15 They affirm that God is said properly to expect and desire divers things which yet never come to pass. “We grant,” saith Corvinus, “that there are desires in God that never are fulfilled.” Now, surely, to desire what one is sure will never come to pass is not an act regulated by wisdom or counsel; and, therefore, they must grant that before he did not know but perhaps so it might be. “God wisheth and desireth some good things, which yet come not to pass,”16 say they, in their Confession; whence one of these two things must needs follow, — either, first, that there is a great deal of imperfection in his nature, to desire and expect what he knows shall never come to pass; or else he did not know but it might, which overthrows his prescience. Yea, and say they expressly,17 “That the hope and expectation of God is deceived by man;” and confess, “that the strength of their strongest argument lies in this, that God hoped and expected obedience from Israel.” Secondly, That he complaineth that his hope is deluded, which, being taken properly, and as they urge it, cannot consist with his eternal prescience; for they disesteem the usual answer of divines, that hope, expectation, and such like passions, which include in them any imperfection, are ascribed unto God per avnqrwpopa,qeian, — in regard of that analogy his actions hold with such of ours as we perform having those passions. 

Thirdly,18 They teach that God hath determined nothing concerning such things as these in question. “That God hath determined future contingent things unto either part (I mean such as issue from the free-will of the creature), I abominate, hate, and curse, as false, absurd, and leading us on unto blasphemy,” saith Arminius. To determine of them to either part is to determine and ordain whether they shall be, or whether they shall not be; as, that David shall or shall not go up tomorrow against the Philistines, and prevail. Now, the infallibility of God’s foreknowing of such things depending on the certainty of his decree and determination, if there be no such thing as this, that also must needs fall to the ground. 

Fourthly,19 See what positively they write concerning this everlasting foreknowledge of God: — First, They call it a troublesome question; secondly, They make it a thing disputable whether there be any such thing or no; and though haply it may be ascribed unto God, yet, thirdly, They think it no motive to the worship of him; fourthly, They say, better it were quite exploded, because the difficulties that attend it can scarcely be reconciled with man’s liberty, God’s threatenings and promises; yea, fifthly, It seems rather to be invented to crucify poor mortals than to be of any moment in religion. So Episcopius. It may be excepted that this is but one doctor’s opinion. It is true, they are one man’s words; but the thing itself is countenanced by the whole sect. As, first, in the large prolix declaration of their opinions, they speak not one word of it; and being taxed for this omission by the professors of Leyden, they vindicate themselves so coldly in their Apology, that some learned men do from hence conclude,20 that certainly, in their most secret judgments, all the Arminians do consent with Socinus in ascribing unto God only a conjectural foreknowledge. And one great prophet of their own affirms roundly,21 “That God, after his manner, oftentimes feareth, that is, suspecteth, and that not without cause, and prudently conjectureth, that this or that evil may arise,” Vorstius. And their chiefest patriarchs,22 “That God doth often intend what he doth not foresee will come to pass,” Armin., Corv. Now, whether this kind of atheism be tolerable among Christians or no, let all men judge who have their senses exercised in the word of God; which, I am sure, teaches us another lesson. For, — 

First, It is laid down as a firm foundation, that “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” Acts 15:18. Every thing, then, that in any respect may be called his work, is known unto him from all eternity. Now, what in the world, if we may speak as he hath taught us, can be exempted from this denomination? Even actions in themselves sinful are not; though not as sinful, yet in some other regard, as punishments of others. “Behold,” saith Nathan to David, in the name of God, 

“I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun; for thou didst it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel,” 2 Samuel 12:11,12. 

So, also, when wicked robbers had nefariously spoiled Job of all his substance, the holy man concludeth, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away,” Job 1:21. Now, if the working of God’s providence be so mighty and effectual, even in and over those actions wherein the devil and men do most maliciously offend, as did Absalom and the Sabean with the Chaldean thieves, that it may be said to be his work, and he may be said to “do it” (I crave liberty to use the Scripture phrase), then certainly nothing in the world, in some respect or other, is independent of his all-disposing hand; yea, Judas himself betraying our Savior did nothing but “what his hand and counsel determined before should be done,”23 Acts 4:28, in respect of the event of the thing itself. And if these actions, notwithstanding these two hindrances, — first, that they were contingent, wrought by free agents, working according to election and choice; secondly, that they were sinful and wicked in the agents, — had yet their dependence on his purpose and determinate counsel, surely he hath an interest of operation in the acts of every creature. But his works, as it appears before, are all known unto him from the beginning, for he worketh nothing by chance or accidentally, but all things determinately, according to his own decree, or “the counsel of his own will,” Ephesians 1:11. 

Secondly, The manner of God’s knowing of things doth evidently show that nothing that is, or may be, can be hid from him;24 which is not by discourse and collection of one thing out of another, conclusions out of principles, but altogether and at once, evidently, clearly, and distinctly, both in respect tou/ o[ti, and tou/ dioti. By one most pure act of his own essence he discerneth all things: for there is “no creature that is not manifest in his sight, but all are naked and opened unto his eyes,” Hebrews 4:13. So that those things concerning which we treat25 he knoweth three ways: — First, In himself and his own decree, as the first cause; in which respect they may be said to be necessary, in respect of the certainty of their event. Secondly, In their immediate causes, wherein their contingency doth properly consist. Thirdly, In their own nature as future, but to his infinite knowledge ever present. 

Thirdly, The Scripture (Psalm 44:21; Job 11:11; Daniel 2:47; Psalm 7:9, 26:2, 147:4; Luke 12:27; Matthew 10:29, 30; Psalm 139:2) is full of expressions to this purpose, — to wit, “That God knoweth all secrets, and revealeth hidden things: he searcheth the reins and the heart: he knoweth the number of the stars, and the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the falling of sparrows, the number of the hairs of our heads.” Some places are most remarkable, as that of the Psalmist, “He knoweth my thoughts long before;” even before ever they come into our minds, before their first rising. And yet many actions that are most contingent depend upon those thoughts known unto God from eternity; nay, — which breaketh the very neck of the goddess contingency, — those things wherein her greatest power is imagined to consist are directly ascribed unto God, as our words, “the answer of the tongue,” Proverbs 16:1; and the directing of an arrow, shot by chance, to a mark not aimed at, 1 Kings 22:34. Surely God must needs foreknow the event of that contingent action; he must needs know the man would so shoot who had determined his arrow should be the death of a king. He maketh men poor and rich, Proverbs 22:2; He lifteth up one, and pulleth down another, Psalm 75:7. How many contingencies did gorgo.n o;mma tou/ despo,tou, his piercing eye run through to foresee the crowning of Esther for the deliverance of his people! In a word, “Known unto God are all his works.” Now, what can possibly be imagined to be more contingent than the killing of a man by the fall of an axe from out of his hand who intended no such thing? Yet this God assumeth as his own work, Deuteronomy 19:5, Exodus 21:13; and so surely was by him foreknown. 

Fourthly, Do but consider the prophecies in Scripture, especially those concerning our Savior, how many free and contingent actions did concur for the fulfilling of them; as Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, 53; Genesis 3:15, etc. The like may be said of other predictions; as of the wasting of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, which though, in regard of God’s prescience, it was certainly to come to pass, yet they did it most freely, not only following the counsel of their own wills, but also using divination, or chanceable lots, for their direction, Ezekiel 21:21. 

Yet he who made the eye seeth all these things, Psalm 94:9. 

Divers other reasons and testimonies might be produced to confirm our doctrine of God’s everlasting prescience; which, notwithstanding Episcopius’ blasphemy, that it serves for nought but to cruciate poor mortals, we believe to be a good part of the foundation of all that consolation which God is pleased to afford us in this vale of tears. Amidst all our afflictions and temptations, under whose pressure we should else faint and despair, it is no small comfort to be assured that we do nor can suffer nothing but what his hand and counsel guides unto us, what is open and naked before his eyes, and whose end and issue he knoweth long before; which is a strong motive to patience, a sure anchor of hope, a firm ground of consolation. Now, to present in one view how opposite the opinions of the worshippers of the great goddess contingency are to this sacred truth, take this short antithesis: —

S.S. Lib. Arbit.
“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” Acts 15:18. “God sometimes feareth, and prudently conjectureth, that this or that evil may arise," Vorsti.
“Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do,” Hebrews 4:13. “God doth not always foresee the event of what we intendeth,” Corvin. ad Mol.
“He that formed the eye, shall he not see?” Psalm 94:9. “When a man goeth into the wood with his neighbor to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, that he die,” Deuteronomy 19:5. “God delivers him into his hand,” Exodus 21:13. “Future contingencies are not determined unto either part,” Armin. That is, God hath not determined, and so, consequently, doth not foreknow, whether they shall come to pass or no.
“Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things,” Mt 6:31,32. “God hopeth and expecteth divers things that shall never come to pass,” Rem.
“Take away God’s prescience and you overthrow his deity,” Jerome. “The doctrine of prescience seems to be invented only to vex and cruciate poor mortal men,” Episcop.


  1. Dio.j d v otelei,eto boulh,, Hom; — “God’s will was done.”
  2. “Quaecunque possunt per creaturam fieri, vel cogitari, vel dici, et etiam quaecunque ipse facere potest, omnia cognoscit Deus, etiamsi neque sunt, neque erunt, neque fuerunt, scientia simplicis intelligentiae.” — Aquin, p. q. 14, a. 9, c. Ex verbis apostoli, Romans 3, “Qui vocat ea quae non sunt tanquam ea quae sunt.” Sic scholastici omnes. Fer. Scholast. Orthod. Speci. cap. in., alii passim. Vid. Hieron. Zanch. de Scientia Dei, lib. diatrib. 3., cap. 2, q. 5.
  3. Vid. Sam. Rhaetorfort. Exercit. de Grat., ex. 1. cap. 4.
  4. “Res ipsae nullo naturae momento possibiles esse dicendae sunt priusquam a Deo in-telliguntur, scientia quae dicitur simplicis intelligentiae, ita etiam scientia quae dicitur visionis, et fertur in res futuras, nullo naturae momento, posterior statuenda videtur, ista futuritione, rerum; cum scientia,” etc. — Dr Twiss. ad Errat. Vind. Grat.
  5. “Scientia visionis dicitur, quia ea quae videntur, apud nos habent esse distinctum extra videntem.” — Aq. p. q. 14, a. 9, c.
  6. “In eo differt praescientia intuitionis, ab ea, quae approbationis est, quod illa praesciat, quod evenire possibile est; hoc vero quod impossibile est non evenire.” — Ferrius. Orthod. Scholast. Spoci. cap. 23. Caeterum posterior ista scientia non proprie dicitur a Ferrio scientia approbationis, illa enim est, qua Deus dicitur nosse quae amat et ap-probat; ab utraque altera distincta. <400723>Matthew 7:23; <451102>Romans 11:2; <550219>2 Timothy 2:19. “Quamvis infinitorum numerorum, nullus sit numerus, non tamen est incomprehensibilis ei, cujus scientiae non est numerus.” — Aug. de Civit. Dei, lib. 12. cap. 18.
  7. “Quibusdam effectibus praeparavit causas necessarias, ut necessario eveniret, quibus-dam vero causas contingentes ut evenirent contingenter, secundum conditionem proximarum causarum.” — Aquin. p. q. 28, a. 4, in Cor. Zanch. de Natur. Dei, lib. v., qu. 4, thes.
  8. “Res et modos rerum” — Aquin.
  9. “Cui praescientiam tollis, aufers divinitatem.” — Hieron. ad Pelag., lib.
  10. “Deus ita omnium salutem ex aequo vult, ut illam ex aequo optet et desideret.” — Corv. ad Molin., cap. 31. sect. 1.
  11. “Talis gratia omnibus datur quae sufficiat ad fidem generandam.” — Idem, ibid, sect. 15.
  12. “Pertinaci quorundam malitia compulsus.” — Armin., ubi sup.
  13. “Reprobatio populi Judaici fuit actio temporaria et quae bono ipsorum Judaeorum si modo sanabiles adhuc essent, animumque advertere vellent, servire poterat, utque ei fini serviret a Deo facta erat.” — Rem. Apol., cap. 20. p. 221.
  14. “Injustum est apud Deum vel non credentem eligere, vel credentem non eligere.” — Rem. Apol.
  15. “Concedimus in Deo desideria, quae nunquam implentur.” — Corv. ad Molin., cap. v. sect. 2.
  16. “Bona quaedam Deus optat et desiderat.” — Rem. Confes., cap. 2. sect. 9.
  17. “Dei spes et expectatio est ab hominibus elusa.” — Rem. Scrip. Syn. in cap. v., <230501>Isaiah 5:1. “In eo vis argumenti est, quod Deus ab Israele obedientiam et sperarit, et expectarit.” — Idem, ibid. “Quod Deus de elusa spe sua conqueratur.” — Idem, ubi supra.
  18. “Deum futura contingentia, decreto suo determinasse ad alterutram partem (intellige quae a libera creaturae voluntate patrantur), falsum, absurdum, et multiplicis blasphemiae praevium abominor et exsecror.” — Armin. Declarat. Senten.
  19. “Disquiri permittimus: — 1. Operosam illam quaestionem, de scientia futurorum contingentium absoluta et conditionata; 2. Etsi non negemus Deo illam scientiam attribui posse; 3. Tamen an necessarium saluti sit ad hoc ut Deus recte colatur examinari permittimus; 4. Tum merito facessere debent a scholis et ecclesiis, intricatae et spinosae istae quaestiones quae de ea agitari solent, — quomodo illa cum libertate arbitrii, cum seriis Dei comminationibus, aliisque actionibus, consistere possit: quae omnia crucem potius miseris mortalibus fixerunt, quam ad religionem cultumque divinum, momenti aliquid inquisitoribus suis attulerunt.” — Episcopius, Disput. 4. sect. 10.; Rem. Apol., pp. 43,44.
  20. Ames. Antisynod, p. 10.
  21. “Deus suo modo aliquando metuit, hoc est, merito suspicatur et prudenter conjicit, hoc vel illud malum oriturum.” — Vorsti. de Deo, p. 451.
  22. “Deus non semper ex praescientia finem intendit.” — Armin., Antip., p. 667; Corv. ad Molin., cap. 5. sect. 5.
  23. “Cum et pater tradiderit filium suum, et ipse Christus corpus suum: et Judas dominum suum: cur in hac traditione Deus est pius, et homo reus, nisi quia in re una quam fecerunt, causa non fuit una propter quam fecerunt.” — Aug., Epist. 48.
  24. “Deus non particulatim, vel singillatim omnia videt, velut alternanter concepta, hinc illuc, inde huc, sed omnia videt simul.” — Aug., lib. 15. de Trinit., cap. 14. “In scientia divina nullus est discursus, sed omnia perfecte intelligit.” — Tho., p. q. 14, a. 7. c.
  25. Tilen. Syntag. de Attrib. Dei, thes. 22; Zanch. de Nat. Dei. Unumquodque quod est, dum est, necesse est, ut sit.