Arminius on the Understanding of God

, posted by SEA

written by SEA member Roy Ingle

Arminius has often been used by open theists to try to teach that he held to a form of open theism. When we read his Works we realize that Arminius was much in line with the reformers of his day in teaching that God is absolutely wise and exhaustive in His knowledge. God knows all things and He foresees whatsoever comes to pass. This was his view. Read the following from Arminius and notice how he clearly holds that God’s knowledge is exhaustive and He is omniscient in all His ways.


XXX. The understanding of God is a faculty of his life, which is the first in nature as well as in order, and by which He distinctly understands all things and every thing which now have, will have, have had, can have, or might hypothetically have, any kind of being; by which He likewise distinctly understands the order which all and each of them hold among themselves, the connections and the various relations which they have or can have; not excluding even that entity which belongs to reason, and which exists, or can exist, only in the mind, imagination, and enunciation. (Rom. xi, 33.)

XXXI. God, therefore, understands himself. He knows all things possible, whether they be in the capability of God or of the creature; in active or passive capability; in the capability of operation, imagination, or enunciation. He knows all things that could have an existence, on laying down any hypothesis. He knows other things than himself, those which are necessary and contingent, good and bad, universal and particular, future, present and past, excellent and vile. He knows things substantial and accidental of every kind; the actions and passions, the modes and circumstances of all things; external words and deeds, internal thoughts, deliberations, counsels, and determinations, and the entities of reason, whether complex or simple. All these things, being jointly attributed to the understanding of God, seem to conduce to the conclusion, that God may deservedly be said to know things infinite. (Acts xv, 18; Heb. iv, 13; Matt. xi, 27; Psalm cxlvii, 4; Isa. li, 32, 33; liv, 7; Matt. x, 30; Psalm cxxxv, 1 John iii, 20; 1 Sam. xvi, 7; 1 Kings viii, 39; Psalm xciv, 11; Isa. xl, 28; Psalm cxlvii, 5; 139; xciv, 9, 10; x, 13, 14.)

XXXII. All the things which God knows, he knows neither by intelligible images, nor by similitude, (for it is not necessary for Him to use abstraction and application for the purpose of understanding;) but He knows them by his own essence, and by this alone, with the exception of evil things which he knows indirectly by the opposite good things; as, through means of the habitude, privation is discovered. Therefore,

(1.) God knows himself entirely and adequately. For He is all being, light and eye. He also knows other things entirely; but excellently, as they are in Himself and in his understanding; adequately, as they are in their proper natures. (1 Cor. ii, 11; Psalm xciv, 9, 10.)

(2.) He knows himself primarily; and it is impossible for that which God understands first and by itself, to be any other thing than his own essence.

(3.) The act of understanding in God is his own being and essence.

XXXIII. The mode by which God understands, is not that which is successive, and which is either through composition and division, or through deductive argumentation; but it is simple, and through infinite intuition. (Heb. iv, 13.) THEREFORE,

(1.) God knows all things from eternity; nothing recently. For this new perfection would add something to His essence by which He understands all things; or his understanding would exceed His essence, if he now understood what he did not formerly understand. But this cannot happen, since he understands all things through his essence. (Acts xv, 18; Ephes. i, 4.)

(2.) He knows all things immeasurably, without the augmentation and decrease of the things known and of the knowledge itself. (Psalm cxlvii, 5.)

(3.) He knows all things immutably, his knowledge not being varied to the infinite changes of the things known. (James i, 17)

(4.) By a single and undivided act, not being diverted towards many things but collected into himself, He knows all things. Yet he does not know them confusedly, or only universally and in general; but also in a distinct and most special manner He knows himself in himself, things in their causes, in themselves, in his own essence, in themselves as being present, in their causes antecedently, and in himself most pre-eminently. (Heb. iv, 13; 1 Kings viii, 39; Psalm cxxxix, 16, 17.)

(5.) And therefore when sleep, drowsiness and oblivion are attributed to God, by these expressions is meant only a deferring of the punishment to be inflicted on his enemies, and a delay in affording solace and aid to his friends. (Psalm xiii, 1, 2.)

XXXIV. Although by one, and that a simple act, God understands all things, yet a certain order in the objects of his knowledge may be assigned to Him without impropriety, indeed, it ought to be for the sake of ourselves.

(1.) He knows himself.

(2.) He knows all things possible, which may be referred to three general classes.

(i.) Let the first be of those things to which the capability of God can immediately extend itself, or which may exist by his mere and sole act.

(ii.) Let the second consist of those things which, by God’s preservation, motion, aid, concurrence and permission, may have an existence from the creatures, whether these creatures will themselves exist or not, and whether they might be placed in this or in that order, or in infinite orders of things; let it even consist of those things which might have an existence from the creatures, if this or that hypothesis were admitted. (1 Sam. xxiii, 11, 12; Matt. xi, 21.)

(iii.) Let the third class be of those things which God can do from the acts of the creatures, in accordance either with himself or with his acts.

(3.) He knows all beings, whether they be considered as future, as past, or as present; (Jer. xviii, 6; Isa. xliv, 7;) and of these there is also a threefold order. The first order is of those beings which by his own mere act shall exist, do exist, or have existed. (Acts xv, 18.) The second is of those which will exist, do exist, or have existed, by the intervention of the Creatures, either by themselves, or through them by God’s preservation, motion, aid, concurrence and permission. (Psalm cxxxix, 4) The third order consists of those which God will himself do or make, does make, or hath made, from the acts of the creatures, in accordance either with himself or with his acts. (Deut. 28). This consideration is of infinite utility in various heads of theological doctrine.

XXXV. God understands all things in a holy manner, regarding things as they are, without any admixture. (Psalm ix, 8; 1 Thess. ii, 4.) On this account He is said to judge, not according to the person or appearance and the face, but according to truth. (Rom. ii, 2.)

XXXVI. The understanding of God is certain, and never can be deceived, so that He certainly and infallibly sees even future contingencies, whether He sees them in their causes or in themselves. (1 Sam. xxiii, 11, 12; Matt. xi, 21.) But, this certainty rests upon the infinity of the essence of God, by which in a manner the most present He understands all things.

XXXVII. The understanding of God is derived from no external cause, not even from an object; though if there should not afterwards be an object, there would not likewise be the understanding of God about it. (Isa. xl, 13, 14; Rom. xi, 33, 34.)

XXXVIII. Though the understanding of God be certain and infallible, yet it does not impose any necessity on things, nay, it rather establishes in them a contingency. For since it is an understanding not only of the thing itself, but likewise of its mode, it must know the thing and its mode such as they both are; and therefore if the mode of the thing be contingent, it will know it to be contingent; which cannot be done, if this mode of the thing be changed into a necessary one, even solely by reason of the Divine understanding. (Acts xxvii, 22-25, 31; xxiii, 11, in connection with verses 17, 18, &c., with xxv, 10, 12; and with xxvi, 32; Rom. xi, 33; Psalm cxlvii, 5.)

XXXIX. Since God distinctly understands such a variety of things by one infinite intuition, Omniscience or All-Wisdom is by a most deserved right attributed to Him. Yet this omniscience is not to be considered in God according to the mode of the habitude, but according to that of a most pure act.

XL. But the single and most simple knowledge of God may be distinguished by some modes, according to various objects and the relations to those objects, into theoretical and practical knowledge, into that of vision and of simple intelligence.

XLI. Theoretical knowledge is that by which things are understood under the relation of being and of truth. Practical knowledge is that by which things are considered under the relation of good, and as objects of the will and of the power of God. (Isa. xlviii, 8; xxxvii, 28, xvi, 5.)

XLII. The knowledge of vision is that by which God knows himself and all other beings, which are, will be, or have been. The knowledge of simple intelligence is that by which He knows things possible. Some persons call the former “definite” or “determinate,” and the latter “indefinite” or “indeterminate” knowledge.

XLIII. The schoolmen say besides, that one kind of God’s knowledge is natural and necessary, another free, and a third kind middle.

(1.) Natural or necessary knowledge is that by which God understands himself and all things possible.

(2.) Free knowledge is that by which he knows, all other beings.

(3.) Middle knowledge is that by which he knows that “if This thing happens, That will take place.” The first precedes every free act of the Divine will; the second follows the free act of God’s will; and the last precedes indeed the free act of the Divine will, but hypothetically from this act it sees that some particular thing will occur. But, in strictness of speech, every kind of God’s knowledge is necessary. For the free understanding of God does not arise from this circumstance, that a free act of His will exhibits or offers an object to the understanding; but when any object whatsoever is laid down, the Divine understanding knows it necessarily on account of the infinity of its own essence. In like manner, any object whatsoever being laid down hypothetically, God understands necessarily what will arise from that object.

XLIV. Free knowledge is also called “foreknowledge,” as is likewise that of vision by which other beings are known; and since it follows a free act of the will, it is not the cause of things; it is, therefore, affirmed with truth concerning it, that things do not exist because God knows them as about to come into existence, but that He knows future things because they are future.

XLV. That kind of God’s knowledge which is called “practical,”of simple intelligence,” and “natural or necessary,” is the cause of all things through the mode of prescribing and directing, to which is added the action of the will and power; (Psalm civ, 24;) although that “middle” kind of knowledge must intervene in things which depend on the liberty of a created will.

XLVI. God’s knowledge is so peculiarly his own, as to be impossible to be communicated to any thing created, not even to the soul of Christ; though we gladly confess, that Christ knows all those things which are required for the discharge of his office and for his perfect blessedness. (1 Kings viii, 39; Matt. xxiv, 36.)

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