A Very Brief Explanation of Jacobus Arminius’ Doctrine of the Twofold Will of God

, posted by B. P. Burnett

Calvinism posits that in God there exists a distinction of wills; the will of revelation and the will of sovereignty (i.e. the revealed will and the secret or sovereign will). However, Arminians posit that the problem with this theory of two wills is that when one is put into effect then the other is put to naught. Let me make an example of this.

It is often said by Calvinists in Genesis 50:20 that God has commanded that it is unlawful to do ill to one’s family (in this instance, kidnapping). This is said to be the revealed will of God. And yet, allegedly in this Gen. 50:20 circumstance, Calvinists believe that you can also discern the operation of the sovereign or secret will of God working through the sin of Joseph’s brothers to a good and godly end.

But what seems flatly obvious is that, on the Calvinist view, the revealed will of God–that man should not do ill to one’s family–is overridden and even superseded by the secret will of God–that Joseph’s brothers should, in fact, do Joseph harm and abuse even to a divinely good end.

Now what is very interesting about this is that Jacobus Arminius as a reformed theologian did not deny the possibility that there perhaps exists some thing (or things) which God has not revealed to us. Revelation, after all, is God’s preogerative. And yet Arminius wished that the “two-wills in God” hypothesis be strictly so described as to not nullify one will over the other. For Arminius believed that failing to do so would form a contrariety in God; i.e., literal self-contradiction, where God both wills and does not will one and the same thing at the same time. Arminius also wished that the will of God be so explained as to not make him the author of sin. And yet to say that God secretly or sovereignly desires human beings to sin, yet command them otherwise whilst nevertheless decreeing that they must do so (for the sovereign will is always fulfilled), then that would be deceptive and hence out of character for God. It would also render him the author of sin, which Arminius always wanted to avoid.

Therefore instead, Arminius posited in opposition to the two wills hypothesis his own hypothesis of the twofold will of God. The twofold will of God can briefly be summarised as ONE will in various multifaceted dimensions working within a single conditional paradigm: ((A&B)–>C) = “If A and B then C”. This paradigm is broken up into will of antecedence (antecedent will–A), the free human response (B) and will of consequence (consequent will–C).

Arminius discerned this twofold distinction in passages such as Jer. 18:6-10, where there exists an active demonstration of the one twofold will of God, twice: verses 7-8 demonstrate a conditional paradigm (“if/then”) and the two-fold will distinction. For God explains to Israel that if God wills first that a nation and/or people “be uprooted, torn down and destroyed” (A–antecedent will) but then according to a contingent choice “that nation I warned repents of its evil” (B–human response) then God says “I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned” (C–consequent will). This sequence is repeated in verses 9-10.

Notice that both the antecedent will (A) and the consequent will (C) are CONTRARY to each other according to their propositions in this sequence; first God will destroy the nation, then he will not destroy the nation (D&~D) which is obviously contradictory. And yet given Arminius’ distinction that both A and C each follow in respect to their proper order and mode of time in relation to the human response (B), both of these do not, in fact, form a contradiction.

That’s why the will is ONE will in a TWOFOLD distinction; it is ONE proposition with TWO parts–antecedent (A&B) and consequent (C) in {((A&B)–>C)} which is to say, “If A and B, then C” — and this is the language of Jeremiah 18.

So if one were to apply the twofold will distinction to Gen. 50:20 for example, we can come to some interesting conclusions which excludes–unlike two wills–the possibility of contrariety in God:

According to antecedent will, God willed that no human being should abuse a family member. Yet when the brothers of Joseph freely chose to disobey that moral command of God, God chose to allow them the freedom to disobey himself, and by joining His will to their will to enable the action of sin (in an act known as Divine Concurrence–http://evangelicalarminians.org/birch.The-Arminians-Doctrine-of-Divine-Concurrence), God willed according to consequent will to send Joseph to Egypt through the instrument of his brothers to the good end which God had purposed through God’s permission of Joseph’s brothers’ sin.

So in Arminius’ view, this twofold distinction is both logically and biblically superior to the two wills distinction, for it avoids the possibility of a contrariety (and hence imperfection) in God, and also preserves the free human volition to sin (if and only if God allows them to do so) thus clearing God of the charge of being the author of sin and of the logical incoherence inherent in the two wills paradigm.