Does Prevenient Grace Appear in the Old Testament and How Does the Arminian Concept of God’s Sovereignty Apply to Texts that Refer to God Stirring Up People to War or Bringing Things to Pass through All Sorts of Means?

, posted by SEA

On his website, Arminian Perspectives, Ben Henshaw has a questions page at which he answers questions about Arminianism and Calvinism that visitors to his site pose in the comment section of the page. The following is a question and answer interaction between Ben and a commenter named Mike, who posed 2 questions:

The Questions: From an Arminian perspective, I am wondering:

1. How does the concept of prevenient grace appear in the O.T.? Or does it?

2. How does the arminian concept of God’s sovereignty apply to the myriad of texts that refer to God stirring up people to war or bringing things to pass through all sorts of means (natural disasters, to random arrows accomplishing the death of someone, etc.)? I’m sure you’re familiar with some of the common texts used to ask this question.

The Answers:

1. How does the concept of prevenient grace appear in the O.T.? Or does it?

I think the concept of prevenient grace does appear in the OT, though, as with many doctrines, it is not as developed as in the NT. The same could be said of the doctrine of the Trinity, the final resurrection, and eternal punishment for the wicked. Arminians see John 6:44, and John 12:32 as teaching prevenient grace. Both passages speak of being “drawn” to God, and John 6:44 presents this drawing as necessary for anyone to come to Christ. An Old Testament parallel to this concept of drawing would be the Lord’s words to Israel in Jeremiah 31:3,

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

Truly, God worked to draw Israel to Himself, and fully enabled His people to respond in faith and love (see here for a closer look at God’s prevenient grace in Israel through the perspective of Romans 9 [Editor’s Note: See here for additional substantial treatment of prevenient grace with Israel in the Old Testament as background to the order of faith and election in the Gospel of John]). Yet, just as today, not all of Israel responded positively to the Lord’s drawing. The Lord says in Isaiah 5:1-2 that He had carefully prepared Israel to produce fruit. Yet, in verse 4, the Lord complains,

“What more was there to do for My vineyard that was not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?”

It seems clear from this passage that God carefully and thoroughly worked in His people that they might produce the fruits of love and faithfulness (characterized by justice and righteousness, verse 7). Despite this work, His people still responded in rebellion and idolatry. This presents a strong picture of resistible prevenient grace from the OT. The Lord Himself said that He had done enough in His people for them to produce the desired fruit. He was therefore justified in His anger and judgment towards His people, who had spurned His work in them (verse 3). In verses 5-6 the Lord pronounces judgment on His people for spurning His grace. It seems that a part of this judgment consisted of a removal of that prevenient grace that they had continually spurned (verses 6, cf. 6:9-12). God would remove His gracious intervention, thereby allowing them to be hardened in their unbelief and rebellion.

2. How does the arminian concept of God’s sovereignty apply to the myriad of texts that refer to God stirring up people to war or bringing things to pass through all sorts of means (natural disasters, to random arrows accomplishing the death of someone, etc.) I’m sure you’re familiar with some of the common texts used to ask this question.

As far as your second question, each case needs to be examined exegetically. In general, God is certainly in control of His creation. Nothing happens that he does not directly cause or permit. God can certainly direct the path of a random arrow, and God can use physical disasters for His purposes. He can also use one nation to bring judgment on another nation, if He so pleases. Arminians do hold that God endows man with a measure of free will, and holds him accountable for how he uses that freedom. God may even override the will on occasion, but God does not control the will to evil, nor does He cause His creatures to irresistibly love Him and trust in Him.