Arminius on the Repercussions of the Freedom of God

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God, being free from necessity to establish the world in which we exist, freely entered into a covenant with the man and woman He created subsequent to their disobedience of the one command which He gave them (Gen. 3:14-19). God, being in essence and by nature a free Being, could have left them naked (Gen. 3:21), but clothed them. He could have taken their breath from them (Gen. 2:7), but He sustained their life. He could have let them eat of the tree of life and be eternally ruined (Gen. 3:22), but He lovingly drove them out of the Garden, placing the cherubim with flaming sword to guard the tree (Gen. 3:24).

God also could have fashioned Adam and Eve in such a way that they would always obey His commands. Arminius comments:

    • Though, according to his right and power over man, whom He had created after His own image, God could prescribe obedience to Him in all things for the performance of which he possessed suitable powers, or would by the grace of God have them in that state; yet, that he might elicit from man voluntary and free obedience, which alone is grateful to him, it was His will to enter into a contract and covenant with him, by which God required obedience, and, on the other hand, promised a reward; to which He added the denunciation of a punishment, that the transaction might not seem to be entirely one between equals, and as if man was not completely bound to God.

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This He chose not to do. In the same manner that He permitted angels to rebel against Him, who did not “keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling” (Jude 1:6 NRSV), He also permitted His human creatures to freely and willingly disobey His commands: “On this account,” writes Arminius, “the law of God is very often called a Covenant, because it consists of those two parts, that is, a work commanded, and a reward promised; to which is subjoined the denunciation of a punishment, to signify the right which God had over man and which He has not altogether surrendered, and to incite man to greater obedience.”2 This, we understand, is God’s purpose for implanting within His creatures a conscience (Rom. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:5; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 3:21). Arminius comments:

    • God prescribed this obedience, First, by a law placed in and imprinted on the mind of man [Rom. 2:15; cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11]; in which is contained his natural duty towards God and his neighbour, and therefore towards himself also; and it is that of love, with fear, honour and worship towards a superior. For as true virtue consists in the government or right ordering of the affections (of which the first, the chief, and that on which the rest depend, is Love), the whole law is contained in the right ordering of Love.

And as no obedience seems to be yielded in the case of a man who executes the whole of his own will without any even the least resistance: Therefore, to try his obedience, that thing was to be prescribed, to which, by a certain feeling, man had an abhorrence; and that was to be forbidden, towards which he was drawn by a certain inclination. Therefore the love of ourselves was to be regulated or rightly ordered, which is the first and proximate cause that man should live in society with his species, or according to humanity.3

Therefore we biblically and logically deduce that God did not decree (foreordain) that Adam and Eve would disobey His commands, or any of their offspring, and then punish them for disobedience; for God will “have the world judged in righteousness” (Acts 17:31 NRSV), and He would be unjust in judging someone for doing what He had decreed (foreordained) for them to do. While God may test a person’s heart and motive by commands for obedience (Deut. 8:2), nowhere in Scripture are we taught that God has decreed the disobedience of an individual. Arminius rightfully insists that “God may try whether man is willing to yield obedience to Him solely on this account, because it has been the pleasure of God to require such obedience, and though it were impossible to devise any other reason why God imposed that law.”4

From where did Adam and Eve’s inclination to disobey the LORD arise? If we accept the teaching of R. C. Sproul, Jr., we will admit that this inclination came from God. One will search Scripture in vain, however, to substantiate Sproul Jr.’s errors. We learn from James 1:13 that God is not capable of leading anyone into sin. God told Cain that sin was lurking around him, seeking to overtake him, but that he must subdue sin (Gen. 4:7). The author of Hebrews admits that sin easily entangles us (Heb. 12:1). James confesses that a person is “tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it” (James 1:14 NRSV). But Adam and Eve existed in a state not tainted by the effects of sin. So, how do we account for their initial disobedience?

I propose that Eve was deceived into disobedience (1 Tim. 2:14-15), and when she did not die as a result of eating the fruit (Gen. 2:16-17), Adam, who was with her as she conversed with the deceiver (Gen. 3:5) and ate, thought that perhaps the serpent was right — “and he ate” (Gen. 3:6 NRSV). Thus God’s law had been broken. Arminius comments:

    • That symbolical law was, in this instance, prohibitive of some act, to which man was inclined by some natural propensity (that is, to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil), though “it was pleasant to the eyes and good for food” [Gen. 3:6; cf. 1 John 2:15-16]. By the commanding of an indifferent act, it does not seem to have been possible to try the obedience of man with equal advantage. . . .

From this comparison it appears that the obedience which is yielded to a symbolical law is far inferior to that which is yielded to a natural law; but that the disobedience manifested to a symbolical law is not the less serious, or that it is even more grievous; because, by this very act, man professes that he is unwilling to submit himself, and indeed not yield obedience in other matters, and those of greater importance and of more difficult labour.5

We should always remember that the tree of life was also present in the Garden (Gen. 2:9), and Adam and Eve were permitted by God of their free choice to eat from any tree in His Garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17): they potentially could have chosen to eat of the tree of life prior to being deceived (Gen. 3:23). Arminius writes concerning their potential of eating from the tree of life:

    • We are of opinion, that if our first parents had remained in their integrity by obedience performed to both these laws, God would have acted with their posterity by the same compact, that is, by their yielding obedience to the moral law inscribed on their hearts, and to some symbolical or ceremonial law; though we dare not specially make a similar affirmation respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So likewise, if they had persisted in their obedience to both laws, we think it very probable that at certain periods men would have been translated from this natural life, by the intermediate change of the natural, mortal and corruptible body, into a body spiritual, immortal, and incorruptible, to pass a life of immortality and bliss in heaven.6

Of course, God, foreknowing all future events, even of the choices and decisions of His creatures, having also foreknown the Fall, freely and lovingly (John 3:16) provided a plan of redemption through Christ Jesus to His lost people (John 3:17). He accomplished this through reconciling the world unto Himself in Christ (2 Cor. 5:19), so that all who would receive Christ Jesus (John 1:12) and be born again (John 1:13; 3:3, 5) would through faith (Rom. 3:21-6; 5:1; 10:17) be redeemed from the Fall. While God was not obligated to love anyone, He freely loves all.

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1 James Arminius, “Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XXIX, On the Covenant into which God Entered with Our First Parents,” in The Works of Arminius, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:369.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 2:370.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.