John Owen on Arminianism and the idol of “free” will

In Chapter 4 of a “A Display of Arminianism,” John Owen discusses “The providence of God in governing the world diversely, thrust from this pre-eminence by the Armininian idol of free will. Owen writes:

“That God by his providence governeth and disposeth of all things by him created is sufficiently proved; the manner how he worketh all in all, how he ordereth the works of his own hands, in what this governing and disposing of his creatures doth chiefly consist, comes now to be considered. And here four things are principally to be observed: — First, The sustaining, preserving, and upholding of all things by his power; for “he upholdeth all things by the word of his power,” Hebrews 1:3.

“Secondly, His working together with all things, by an influence of causality into the agents themselves; “for he also hath wrought all our works in us,” Isaiah 26:12.

“Thirdly, His powerful overruling of all events, both necessary, free, and contingent, and disposing of them to certain ends for the manifestation of his glory. So Joseph tells his brethren, “As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is at this day, to save much people alive,” Genesis 1:20.

“Fourthly, His determining and restraining second causes to such and such effects: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will,” Proverbs 21:1.

end of Owen

Now we can appreciate more fully what it means to “work out your salvation,” and to do it “in fear and trembling”:

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Children of God should not tremble out of fear of not coming out on the right side of the balance sheet of works. Rather, they should tremble at the astounding thought that their bodies are the temple of God. In the Christian view, this does not mean – as in Eastern, Gnostic and Kabbalistic thought – that the soul is a piece of God, but rather that God comes to dwell in the soul.

“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).


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