Providing a forum for the advancement of Revival and Moral Government Theology.
Skip to Main ContentEn EspaƱol
| Omniscience and Openness | Return To Main Menu |

Chapter IV


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

| Back to the Table of Contents |


GOD has four kingdoms:

(i) The kingdom of nature, in which he rules by uniform laws;

(ii) The kingdom of probation or grace, in which the law of liberty obtains;

(iii) The kingdom of glory, in which inexpressible delight in the will of God and harmony with the divine perfections reign; and,

(iv) The kingdom of providence, in which God reigns emphatically by his own will.

These four kingdoms are clearly recognized throughout the Scriptures. In the kingdom of nature the will of God is sovereign, and he governs through the agency of uniform laws, which he has established. In these laws (which are merely generalized facts), independent of the divine will, there exists no efficiency. As all the efficiency of these laws comes from the omnipotent energy of the omnipresent God, they are always under his perfect control. As it seems good unto him he makes worlds and peoples them, lays plans and inaugurates enterprises of inconceivable magnificence.

That God has a kingdom of nature in which uniform law obtains is demonstrated in every miracle by which he accredits his messengers and teachers. Without a miracle we do not see how he could permanently and authoritatively certify to a morally beclouded world even his own personality. Take away miracles from historic records, and human tendency to atheism would certainly be constant and powerful. "It may be questioned," says Mark Hopkins, "whether the common argument, from contrivance, for the being of a personal God, would be valid in the absence of miracles. Miracles are God's great seal, and if he should suffer his seal to be stolen, I see no possible way in which he could authenticate a communication to his creatures." But miracles require a rigidly uniform course of nature. In all the miracles God has empowered men to work he assumes the uniformity of nature's laws; since, unless nature's laws are uniform, a miracle is impossible.

Providence is God's care over sentient creatures upon this earth. It implies special impromptu divine acts and interpositions to meet the endless emergencies which ate necessitated by the free choice of free beings during their probation. The great object and necessity of divine providence is to produce results which are indispensable to the welfare of sentient beings, and which could not naturally follow from God's uniform modes of procedure in the operation of the general laws prevalent throughout Creation.

And as in nature, so in providence, God works all things according to the counsel of his own will. Here, also, he is the sovereign "who giveth no account of his matters." "He putteth down one and setteth up another," as he pleases. He dispenses his providential favors as seems good to him alone, and as seems to him appropriate in order to accomplish his specific purposes. None dare inquire, "Why hast thou done thus?" or "What doest thou?" or "Why hast thou made and placed me thus?" or "Why hast thou made others superior to me in gifts, fortune, or earthly advantage?" In all such matters God does as he sovereignly chooses. All that God does is most assuredly right; but he does not do all he might do, and which, if done, would also be right. Should he make A handsome or homely, talented or dull, rich or poor he would do right. For he "maketh poor and he maketh rich, he bringeth low and he lifteth up; he raiseth up the poor out of the dust, to set them among princes and to make them to inhabit the throne of glory; for by strength shall no man prevail." (1 Sam. ii, 7, 8, 9.) It is God "that giveth thee power to get wealth." (Deut. viii, 18.) When God says, "Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him, and let seven. times pass over him, to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men," he clearly teaches that he has a kingdom of providence, in which his own divine will is absolutely sovereign God said to Solomon, by the mouth of David, "Know the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts. If thou seek him he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him he will cast thee off forever. Take heed now, for the Lord hath chosen thee to build an house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it, for God hath promised, I will establish his kingdom forever, if he be constant and strong to do my commandments and my judgments." (1 Chron. xxviii, 9, 10). When he inspired these messages he manifestly assumed that he has also a kingdom of free grace, in which the absolute freedom of the human will is the great controlling principle. This divine language clearly implies freedom, contingency, and a free agent, capable of inaugurating choices and actions not possible in the nature of things to be preaffirmed.

And when God declares that the great multitude which no man could number, who came up out of great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, the Lamb leading them forth to living fountains of water, he clearly assumes that he has a kingdom in which delight in, and affinities for, the divine perfections universally obtain and control.

There are acknowledged impossibilities and absurdities in mathematics, in mechanics, in physics, in logic, and in metaphysics. Why, then, may there not be such in theology, and among them be classed "the unerring prevision of future contingencies?" Certainly the process and rationale thereof are utterly inconceivable by the profoundest intellects that have ever considered the subject. With how much reason and force could Dr. Samuel Johnson declare: "I am much surer of my freedom than I am that the doctrine of prescience is true. It certainly seems wiser to question the undue assumption in the case, which necessitates the admission of incomprehensibility and the abandonment of reason and the embrace of that which is manifestly selfcontradictory." Why, indeed, should we embrace a proposition which violates all consecutive thought, and leaves the human mind in hopeless incertitude?

One of the great sources of error in theological reasonings has been the ascribing to God, in the management of his kingdom of grace, the same causation, control, and sovereignty which the Scriptures ascribe to him in the kingdoms of nature and providence, and in the scheme of human redemption by his Son. Whenever we infer that, because nature is ruled by necessary and uniform law, therefore the human will is ruled by necessary and uniform law, or whenever we conclude that, because God uses men as the instruments of his overruling providence, therefore in like degree he controls the action of their free wills in the kingdom of free grace, we involve ourselves in conclusions which are wholly inexplicable, and which greatly dishearten and depress us. It is only when we perceive distinctly the broad distinctions between the four great kingdoms of God, and recognize the different principle of precedure regnant in each, that we can escape perplexity in our thinkings and confusion in our teachings in the science of theology.

The freedom of the will is an intuitive truth. It is everywhere admitted that men are often used by the Sovereign Ruler as the mere instruments of his overruling providence. Of this we find numerous instances recorded in the Holy Scriptures. The same experience has happened in the everyday life of all men. For when a man is used as an instrument of providence he is not conscious of constraint. He is conscious of acting consentingly. Now, from these three factsthat man is used as an instrument, that as an instrument he is not conscious that his will is under determination from without, and that liberty is a necessary truthmany theologians have been led to embrace the two contradictory propositions that the human will is free, and yet that it is determined by motives which are presented to it from without. But had they observed that the human will as an instrument of providence acts under unconscious constraint, and as a subject of the kingdom of grace it acts freely and sovereignly, in the former case simply subserving divine purposes, and, in the latter case achieving for itself moral character, merit, rewardability, and eternal glory, they would have escaped the innumerable inconsistencies which have baffled and always distressed them.

David Hume makes the impressive remark that though man in truth is a necessary agent, having all his acts fixed and determined by immutable laws, yet, this being concealed from him, he acts with the conviction of being a free agent. This remark, so far as man is used as an instrument of providence, is emphatically true. But the supernatural law of liberty obtains in the kingdom of grace.

While it is true that no child of Adam can begin the work of repentance and of holy living without a sufficiency of the prevenient grace of God to aid him, not only in the incipiency of his moral reformation, but at every moment throughout the entire process thereof, still so perfect is man's freedom, and so perfectly free is the power of moral causation which is bestowed upon him through the redemption wrought for him by Christ, that notwithstanding all this prevenient and assisting grace he is himself emphatically a causal agent in his own salvation. All the earnest and prolonged efforts of God to save souls do utterly fail in thousands of cases. If salvation depended simply on the will of God, all would be saved this moment and forever. But the divine will aloneapart from my free volitions, my causal agencycan not produce in my soul rewardability or punishability or moral character. Notwithstanding all the moral evils entailed upon me as the child of sinful parents, and notwithstanding all the wonders of redeeming grace that go before and enable me to obey divine injunctions, still I am myself a causal agent in effecting, and therefore a responsible agent for the effecting of my own salvation. If on a burning vessel, I could escape through the strength of nerve, muscle, and vision furnished me by my Creator. But should I refuse to employ these God-given powers I surely would be the cause of my own destruction. And in like manner if I chose to employ my capabilities of locomotion I should be the cause of my own salvation. Though without Christ I can do nothing, and yet with him strengthening me can do all things needful for my salvation, I may in the exercise of my freedom misuse or refuse all his grace, receive it all in vain, reject him, due in my sins, and perish forever. I therefore am the responsible cause of my damnation, if lost, or of my salvation, if saved. The principle, therefore, that controls in the kingdom of grace is radically different from that which obtains in the kingdoms of nature, providence, and glory. In the former of these kingdoms we gladly affirm that the will of God is sublimely sovereign. But when we ascend to the high realms of free grace and human freedom, and accountability for eternal destinies, a new factor is forced upon us, and will not disappear from our vision, however incoherent our reasonings and blinding our prejudices. This new factor, the god-like liberty of the self-moving human will, is capable of thwarting, and, in uncounted instances, does thwart the divine will, and compel the great I Am to modify his actions, his purposes, and his plans in the treatment of individuals and of communities. In making the provisions of grace, in instituting the conditions of pardon, spiritual growth, and eternal life, God works all things according to the counsels of his own will. But the acceptance of those provisions by his creatures, and their compliance therewith, their obedience, efficiency, success, and eternal destiny, all, he permits free human beings to determine for themselves. True, he affords them all the light, impulse, and strength needed for their salvation, so that they will be forever without excuse if they fail. But he does not bestow so much divine influence upon them as radically to damage the nature of their free choices or interfere with their freedom. At this point God waits for the decision of his creature. But if he foreknows his decision he does not wait for it.

To accomplish his purposes in the realm of providence, God has recourse to material forces, to good men and good angels, to bad men and bad angels. He uses bad angels, not thereby doing evil that good may come, but bringing good out of the evil. For, while they think they are working out their own unholy enterprises, God is overruling them for the accomplishment of his purposes. He uses good angels; and they, being not on probation, implicitly obey all God's wishes. He uses good men; for they are his servants, under the guidance of his Spirit, and obedient to his will. He uses bad men by overruling their evil conduct, and by allowing their wills to come under the law of constraint through diabolical or strongly persuasive influences. He could say to Moses, "I am sure the king of Egypt will not let you go." For as Pharaoh had sinned away his day of grace, God could easily cause his will to come under the law of cause and effect, by permitting Satan and evil spirits to come in upon him "like a flood," as a prophet expresses it. He could therefore foresee just what the king would do, even if the dogma of absolute divine foreknowledge be not the true doctrine.

A visible Church of God on earth is impossible without miracle, prophecy, providence, and the existence of nations and human governments. God can foresee all the events which have been foretold in prophecy, of kingdoms, nations, empires, and his visible Church, because he resolves to bring them to pass, and does actually possess the needed resources to do so, without in the least interfering with those choices and acts of human beings which involve moral character and entail eternal destiny. To accomplish, then, all the inflexible and specific arrangements of divine providence, the absolute foreknowledge of all the free choices of free beings when acting under the law of liberty does not seem to be at all necessary.

But it may be asked, How can God have a providential plan for any man, if he does not foresee his future free choices? God's specific plans for free men are flexible. They are conditioned on the conduct of men. God's promises and threats are made on specified conditions. Many of the prophecies were also uttered conditionally, Many of them were never fulfilled. God sent, for example, Isaiah to say to Hezekiah, "Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live." This prophecy, uttered by the Prophet Isaiah, was modified by the humiliation, prayer, and faith of Hezekiah, and the Lord sent his prophet to say to him, "I have seen thy tears; I have heard thy prayers; and, behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years." The conduct of men perpetually changes God's feelings and modifies his treatment of them. "Then came the word of the Lord to Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king, for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments."

As, upon the hypothesis of this treatise, God can not foreknow, except conditionally or contingently, what the conduct of men will be in the kingdom of grace, he can not foreknow with greater certainty the result of his plans for them. The fulfillment of God's plans for free men, as a general thing, and saving in exceptional cases, is as contingent and uncertain in the divine mind as their free choices are contingent and uncertain. The foreknowledge of the free choices of a free being is not therefore necessary to a divine plan for him, as it regards his spiritual and eternal interests, upon the supposition of his obedience. And had not man sinned, God's plan for his spiritual development would have been completely consummated. But in consequence of disobedience it became indispensable for God to modify it.

It is the height of folly to affirm that Adam, as a subject of the spiritual kingdom, acted as God desired or designed. If God desired or planned that man should violate his laws, then his nature can not be holy. No consideration could justify God in desiring that man should fall into transgression. It matters not what the motive might be whether to illustrate his grace, or magnify his perfections, or bring into view attributes never before revealed to the universe of intelligent beings; for nothing could justify man's Creator and Moral Governor in desiring that his accountable creatures should violate his just and holy law. The seemingly reverent, but really blasphemous, statement, that God planned, purposed, or desired the fall of man for his own glory, awakens the displeasure of all who take the trouble candidly to meditate upon its profound folly. For if God's law means any thing; if it be a real, earnest, significant, inflexible rule of conduct; if it be not a mere shifting device, that may be contemned under any plausible pretense; if, on the contrary, it is as immutable as God himself, then to affirm that God planned the violation of that holy law by a deathless soul is to utter not only the greatest but the profanest of absurdities. But if Adam did not do as God desired and designed; if he failed to accomplish his designs; if he failed in the many particulars God had specifically arranged for him, then God was compelled to modify his contemplated treatment of him, and was also compelled immediately to modify all his spiritual relations to himself. Man's future well-being, work, and mission were all widely and variously affected by his disobedience. The special work God had forecast for him, in the interests of others and of the moral universe, he had either to abandon, or to accomplish through other instrumentalities, or to perform himself through the exercise of his own almighty power.

Now, if the plan of God, which embraced those spiritual and eternal benefits that man was designed to effect, required modification in consequence of his disobedience, why may not God's providential plan, which embraced those temporal purposes which man was manifestly designed to accomplish, be also instantly and materially modified? If, in consequence of sin, the one plan required readjustment, why should not the other? If sin affected man's endless destiny and influenceas no one will questionwhy should it not affect his providential destiny and influence? We are thus forced to the conclusion that God's providential plan for man, embracing his earthly career, required readjustment after the violation of the divine law. And if the first sin forced a readjustment of that plan, why, should not every subsequent sin compel a somewhat modified method of procedure, suited to the special emergency produced by that sin?

God's providential plans, in some particulars relative to individuals and to nations, are modified every hour by the free choices of men acting under the law of liberty. And it is only in accordance with the dictates of the plainest common sense to affirm that God's providential plans for nations and for individuals would all be changed, and be subjected to unnumbered and to us inconceivable readjustments, if all men would only do that which God inexpressibly desires they should donamely, obey instantly and constantly his holy law. Every man knows that he himself has not met the requirements of the divine law; that actually he has come very far short of his imperative duty; that he is by no means the man he ought to be; and that he has not accomplished the good results God designed him to accomplish. And what is true of one man is true of every man, and therefore true of the entire human race. This being conceded, let us suppose that all the free agents on earth should from this hour choose to obey God. Then how speedily would all the plans of God, and the dealings of God relative to men and to nations, be modified and glorified! Men and nations, as we now observe them, are perpetually disobeying the divine law, and consequently the dealings of God require perpetual modifications and readjustments. To affirm that God designed and brought about the dreadful state of wrong, injustice, deception, rapine, and murder, that now desolates the earth, is not only absurd, but it must be considered exceedingly blasphemous. "A man on the way to the gallows is on the way to his highest development," is the utterance of a great but mistaken intellect. We are therefore forced to admit that God's providential plans and purposes for free agents have been defeated, are hourly defeated, in numberless. instances, and that, as a consequence of this, other plans have been resorted to by an all-wise, all-powerful, all-benevolent Ruler.

For every man God has a providential plan, purpose, and desire, upon the conditions of his obedience to the divine law and faithfulness in the kingdom of grace. The glories of that plan no one can ever know till with spirit eyes be gazes on eternal verities. But, as we have remarked, this plan and purpose he is often compelled to modify by man's own free, sinful choices. The Scriptures sustain this position: "The fear of the Lord," says the Psalmist, "prolongeth days, but the years of the wicked shall be shortened." "Be thou not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldst thou die before thy time? Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." Job says, "Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden, who are cut down out of time, and whose foundation was overflown with the flood?" In God's arrangement a certain number of days were allotted to men. According to St. Paul God "hath determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation." But while God has had a definite plan for men, he has often been compelled to modify that plan in many particulars, and call them to an account before their appointed days had expired. Now, apply this principle to individuals, and then apply it to whole nations, and we see that God is constantly modifying his plans in consequence of the free choices of free agents.

Individuals may, in many particulars, fail to accomplish providentially the ends God designed them to accomplish. It is so with nations also. God's plan, I think, was for the Jewish nation to become the ideal nation which Bishop Butler portrays, and then to absorb all other nations and governments. And yet God's primary purpose relative to a nation can be more frequently and more perfectly carried out than can the one which relates to a single individual, because God can fix upon the special ends to be effected by a nation without fixing absolutely upon the individual agencies, through which they are to be accomplished. He may assign a certain mission to a certain nation, and he may arrange that some one individual thereof shall have the duty, honor, and reward of leadership in the work of its accomplishment. But if that person refuses, or by his free choices disqualifies himself for such providential work, God can resort to some other instrument; though, of course, in using that other instrument, he would in so far need to modify the purposes which he had previously formed in relation to him. But this modification would not be difficult for a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; and it would be justified by the greater and more desirable end to be accomplished in his providence. But God does often persist in using immoral instruments, in order to bring to a successful issue his plans relative to individuals, nations, the varied developments of earth and the splendid scenes to be enacted thereon. And all this is necessarily implied in God's government of the moral universe, if moral government has any significance. The free choices of free beings require prompt treatment and interposition on the part of the Ruler, if government means any thing. David said to the men of Benjamin and Judah, "If ye become peaceably unto me to help me, mine heart shall be knit unto you; but if ye be come to betray me to mine enemies, seeing there is no wrong in my hands, the God of our fathers look thereon and rebuke it." (1 Chron. xii, 17.) Here David recognizes God's unceasing wakefulness to defeat the wrong doing of men and of communities.

In harmony with the foregoing is the following from the pen of Moses Stuart. He inquires, "Is it true, that where great events are predictedyea, the greatest that ever took place on this earth, even the incarnation and suffering of the Son of Godthat the time when they should happen is revealed? Surely not. All these were generally announced, without any designation of the time when of their fulfillment. The prophets did not know the time when the things they foretold would take place. Most of all those great events that concerned the Jewish nation are predicted without any designation of the specific time. And the period, too, of the Man of Sin, of the beast, and of the false prophets are nowhere definitely limited or pointed out." How perfectly these explicit statements harmonize with the views we have expressed in regard to God's plans relative to individuals and to nations. Not only does he modify, but he even defers them, from time to time, till the arrival of the auspicious hour for the fulfillment of purposes which he has determined shall ultimately be accomplished upon our globe. In studying those plans we find that, if an individual or nation obey the divine law, God has for such glorious purposes. If either of these disobey and continue to disobey, then he will do the next best thing for each; and so on, until all the claims of mercy are exhausted, and all hope of utilizing any remaining value finally expires. He is then compelled to punish, perhaps even to destroy, and to employ other instruments.

Keeping in mind that in the kingdom of providence, God exercises freely his own choicethough always choosing only what is right and bestwe see how it is possible for him to keep the volitions of men, when acting consentinglythat is, when acting simply as instruments in carrying out his providential plans and purposeswholly distinct from those volitions which they put forth in the sphere of freedom. Inasmuch as God has providential plans for every man, to one he gives an aptitude for trade; to another, for mechanics; to others, for science, poetry, art, or one of the various learned professions. "I took Abraham," says God, "from beyond the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan." In this proceeding Abraham was a providential instrument: God prompted him to leave the land of idolatry. Had not God influenced him to go, he would not have left the land of his nativity. God could determine that a man should serve society and contribute to the carrying out of his providential plans under constraining motives, without any reference at all to his free choices within the sphere of religion. Many of our endowments are bestowed upon us directly by the will of God, and many of them are hereditary; for different men have different inclinations, owing to anterior aptitudes and peculiarities. Heredity, indeed, is fast becoming a science in itself.

Now, whether a man will be obedient to the perfect law of liberty in the kingdom of grace, or whether he will subserve God's providential purposes, and fulfill his earthly designs, are questions which God does not, and which we need not, confound. Uncertainty as to the first may exist, without affecting certainly as to the second. A man may, as Cyrus, Alexander, and Napoleon did, meet the exigencies of the providential kingdom, without meeting any of the claims of the higher kingdom, the moral and the spiritual. God might foresee that a man would well serve his will as a mechanic, without any foreknowledge of his free choices in the kingdom of grace. In regard to the great body of men, God determines that such and such shall be the end and design of their existence here upon earth, as the subjects of his providential government, and as instruments to accomplish his varied purposes relative to this world. True, his providential plans as to individuals are often interfered with by the perversity of the individuals themselves, by the persistent perversity of others, and by the unaccountable bad actions of otherwise good men. But this only makes it necessary for God to modify these plans, and to use these individuals in some other way. And this he continues to do, until he has exhausted every capacity and element of good in them. When he has done, this he is compelled to transfer them to a kingdom where power and force hold its subjects "under everlasting chains unto the judgment of the great day. But these modifications are not made until the free choices, exercised under the law of liberty, render them indispensable."

It is often the case, however, as we view the matter, that God so puts individuals under constraint that he foreknows just what they will accomplish, whatever may be their moral character or disobedience to moral law. God, in his providence, then has a class of instruments that he definitely arranges shall accomplish or be permitted to accomplish, under the influence of circumstances or motives to which they consent, certain ends, whatever may be their choices in the high realm of free moral agency. For example: Christ says to Pilate (John xix, 11), "Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above." The opportunities and power to crucify Jesus had been given him, without his seeking them, by an unseen hand. "I have given the earth," says God, "to whom it seemeth meet unto me." (Jer. xxvii, 5.) "He removeth kings and setteth up kings." (Dan. ii, 27.) "He looseth the bonds of kings and girdeth their loins with a girdle." (Job xii 18.). "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail." (1 Sam. ii, 8.) "He hath put down the mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree." (Luke i, 52.) Providence bows before free will, but uniformity reigns in the laws of nature. God will not make use of miracles save on important occasions. He will not even promote good things and desirable ends by miracles to the detriment of natural and mental forces.

"The divine use of men of genius," says Dr. Daniel Wise, "is one of the grandest facts in the government of God. It shows us how he accomplishes his will without infringing on that freedom, which is the sublimest fact in man's character. Napoleon came on the stage of action just when the old political and ecclesiastical institutions of Continental Europe were thoroughly corrupt and rotten. The ruling classes were cruel, despotic, sensual, and wholly given to pleasure. The priesthood was mostly given over to indolent self-indulgence or ecclesiastical ambition. The people were trodden under foot, ignorant and hopeless. An iron hand was needed to break up this stagnation, to destroy the unity of the governing classes, to startle the masses from their state of dogged despair, and to make a way for the introduction of new ideas; new forms of government, and new men. That iron hand was given to Napoleon in the form of a genius for war, more brilliant, perhaps, than that of any preceding conqueror. Here then was the power to break in pieces; and he exercised it without pity, until every sovereign in Europe, England's monarch alone excepted, did homage to his throne. Then a restorer was required, a legislator who could be to France directly, and to Europe by example, what Moses was to Israel. Here Napoleon partially failed. He had perceptive powers to create a government suited to elevate the people, as the Code Napoleon amply proves, but he proudly resolved to be sole ruler of France and dictator of all Europe. That ambition destroyed him, and it postponed the time for the full deliverance of the people from their old bondage. Still the work of their deliverance was begun, and it has probably progressed as rapidly as divine wisdom saw to be possible." Now, in all this, Napoleon, though unconsciously doing God's work, was as free with respect to his motives and aims as was the humblest conscript in his ranks. He chose to make his own personal glory and elevation the end of his military and civil plans. He might have made the elevation of France and the good of Europe the aims of his life. Here, then, he was free; and yet, while in the exercise of that freedom, he actually performed a mighty part in the plans of God, who girded him for his work, though he did not know it. The political conditions of empires, the moral conditions of peoples, his own great powers of thought, of combination, and of fascination, and yielding consentingly, almost blindly, to the extraordinary circumstances of his times, and his own wonderful successes gave to him the clear and firm conviction which never left him, that he was the child of destiny, or the instrument of invisible powers. The explanation of all those cases in which persons strongly feel that they have missions to perform in the earth is found in the simple tact that they are moved onward consentingly as instruments of Providence. This will explain the impression so many have entertained in all ages, that they were children of a strange, unavoidable destiny.

Now, in all cases, when God has definitely determined that certain individuals shall accomplish particular things, he can foresee that they will do all that he intends that they shall do as providential instruments, without foreknowing what their choices will be on the arena of moral freedom. He has predetermined what they shall accomplish, and he foreknows it, because he has foreordained it. These constrained choices and actions in no way determine the moral character of the agentalthough, in general, they harmonize with it for the reason that they are providentially constrained. God says in prophecy to Cyrus, "Thou least not known me, but I girded thee. I made thee to rule over kings, and gave them as the dust to thy sword."

Not thus distinguishing the kingdom of grace in which man is perfectly free, from the kingdom of Providence, in which God is all sovereign, many thinkers fall into paralogisms, which induce erroneous conclusions in regard to other vital questions. "Confessedly God does as he pleases in the kingdom of providence, therefore, he does as he pleases in the kingdom of grace," is one of those unsound inferences which so widely mislead theologians. But, in the kingdom of providence, the volition is coercive in its character, and its incipiency is to be found in the Sovereign; whereas in the kingdom of grace the volition is non-coercive in character, and its incipiency is to be found in the subject. This is a distinction as clear and essential as that between freedom and fatality. No one can question that there is a kingdom of providence, in which, relative to all particulars, God does as he sovereignly wills; and also that there is a kingdom of free grace, in which his acts are varied according to the voluntary obedience or disobedience of the subjects of that kingdom. And as these two kingdoms, of providence and grace, are to all intelligent minds manifestly distinct, why is it not possible for God to keep the choices of men in his kingdom of providence distinct from their choices in the kingdom of free grace? And to say that God can not keep these two distinct kingdoms distinct in his plans and governmental scheme is to limit his perfections. It does not involve contradiction to affirm that his absolute foreknowledge of the one is possible, and of the other impossible. The first choices are knowable, because they result from the sovereign determination of God: the second are unknowable, because resulting from the free independent, self-deciding will of a free agent. But because we can not see how it is that God can always distinguish these two clearly distinct things and keep them unconfused and distinct in his mind, we ought not, therefore, to assume a position that necessitates all the acknowledged contradictions, mists, and mazes that are involved in the doctrine of the perfect divine foreknowledge of all the free choices of free spirits.

That there is a kingdom of nature, in which uniform law reigns, and that there is a kingdom of Providence, in which the divine will sovereignly reigns, and that these two kingdoms can be, and are, kept entirely separate, no one will question. How easily God keeps his kingdom of providence distinct from the kingdom of grace, the following striking passage from the gifted Dr. Whedon forcefully illustrates:

"Let us suppose," says he, "that a perfectly good and wise earthly prince, absolute in authority, rules over as many tribes and nations as Persian Xerxes, the large share of whom are hostile to each other and desperately depraved. His plan is not to destroy nor to interfere with their personal freedom, but so to arrange their relations to each other as that he may make them mutual checks upon each other's wickedness; that the ambition of one may opportunely chastise the outrage of another, that those wrongs which will exist may be limited and overruled, and that even the crimes which they will commit may further his plans of reformation, gradual perfectibility, and the highest sum total of good. If it is seen that a traitor will assassinate, be the victim in his way one whose death will be a public benefit. If brothers (as Joseph's) will envy their brother, let their victim thereby so conduct himself as that he shall be the savior of great nations. If a proud prince will wanton in his pride, so nerve him tip, vitally and intellectively, as that his wantonness shall spread great truths through the tribes of the empire. If a warlike king will conquer, let the nation exposed to his invasions be one whose chastisement will be a lesson to the world. If a numerous tribe is bent on devastating the earth, let their hordes so ravage as that future civilization shall; spring from the desolations they make. So after long years his scheme of development may work out its results . . . He would so-collocate men and things into a whole plan that their mutual play would work out the best results. We should then in vision behold all beings, however free, spontaneously, uncompulsorily, without command or decree, moving on in harmony with his outlines of event," etc, (The Freedom of the Will; page 294.)

But the kingdom of providence is constantly laying the kingdom of nature under contribution, in meeting the wants of a sensient universe. How perfectly easy it is for infinite wisdom to keep these two kingdoms of nature and providence entirely distinct. And the same is true as to the kingdoms of providence and free grace. Free agents are constantly violating the laws of the kingdom of free grace, and colliding against, and in many cases defeating, at least temporarily, if not wholly, the plans of providence; and God is constantly making use of his kingdom of providence to aid and advance the kingdom of grace, and yet his infinite discernment can keep distinct all free choices from necessary or constrained choices.3

"It was not you," said Joseph to his brethren, "that sent me hither, but God sent me, to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance." (Gen. xlv, 7.) "You thought evil against me; but the Lord meant it unto good, to bring it to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." (Gen. 1, 20.) These passages, while they show how definite are God's providential plans, involve a principle and a procedure of the divine administration different from that of simply constraining innocent human volitions. God often uses the deeds of free agents in accomplishing his purposes. These acts of free agents flow not from his will or predetermination, but from the unnecessitated choice of the creature. God seems to delight in overruling for good actions which were intended for evil. This is seen in all his dealings with individuals and nations. And so skillfully does he manage the case that many have thought that the wicked acts connected therewith were the ordained means to accomplish the result. For example, the falsehoods, treachery, and wicked advice of Rebecca to Jacob must have been odious to God. Nevertheless, he showed his wisdom and power in using them in the working out of his great plans of mercy and redemption for a lost world. And again, on account of the wickedness of Solomon, God determined and declared that he would dismember the Jewish nation. (1 Kings x, xi, xii, and xiii.) But to effect this settled purpose he made use of the foolish and wicked advice of the young men to Rehoboam. They advised him to bind more grievous burdens upon the people. (2 Chron. x, 10.) Now this divine purpose of rupturing the Jewish nation God would have effected by other and more direct means had no such evil advice been urged upon the king. But how much more suggestive and impressive was the event by its coming to pass through the wickedness of bad and foolish men outraging human rights and inaugurating thereby a revolution. "The king hearkened not unto the people, for the cause was of God, that the Lord might perform his word, which he spake by the hand of Ahijah." This principle of divine conduct also explains the otherwise troublesome words of Joseph: "You meant it for harm, but God meant it for good." God intended to send him to Egypt, and would have done so in some sinless, pacific, and providential manner; but seeing their envy and hatred he, overruled them, and pressed them immediately into his service in carrying out his providential purposes as to Joseph himself and the entire family of Jacob.

The general belief that God foreknows whatsoever comes to pass, and has his own crystallized plans, embracing the free choices of free beings, from which there can be no variation on his own part or on that of free human agents, and according to which he is ever moving steadily on to the accomplishment of his desires, purposes, and plans, without the slightest change in his predetermined method of procedure, notwithstanding the numberless successes and damaging enterprises of depraved men, does more to repress the energies of individuals, Churches, and nations than any other generally adopted opinion. No other delusion is more paralyzing upon Christians.

God has declared that the Gospel of Christ's kingdom shall be preached in all the world, and that the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the great deep. But when that day shall come, no man, no angel, not even the Son himself, can tell. We shall have a fearful conflict with Catholicism, with infidelity, with rationalism, and with heathenism. Our national crimes, commercial corruption, political dishonesty, irreverence for the Sabbath and the Word of God, intemperance, licentiousness, avarice, love of display, and formal, unspiritual, worldly Christianity, all clearly indicate great and dreadful struggles in the early future. How do we know that Catholicism will not quench the fires of liberty, and expel the spirit of freedom from the country of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington? that the deluge of intemperance will not soon hide from our sight the only remaining cities of refuge? that our wide-spread licentiousness is not now calling for the indignant thunderbolts of offended purity? that our European and American civilizations are not now sinking helpless and crushed under the weight of their own alarming vices? We know not how fearful the battles that are certainly before us. Splendid victories and brilliant ages may be succeeded by signal defeats and long periods of barbarity. Terrible experiences may await the Church of God. All hell, the majority of earth, and a large part of the Church itself, are arrayed in malignant opposition to its triumphs. It is everywhere admitted that rationalism, naturalism, materialism, secularism, and atheism are all just now on the alarming increase.

God's plan is for men to save this world, to correct hoary wrongs, to conquer diabolical foes, to sweep error from the globe, and illuminate it with the light of truth and of heaven. All this men must do through divine cooperation; and yet, if men are free agents, they may for ages defeat the realization of divine plans and desires. Men's free choices have defeated and retarded the plans of God in the pastwhy not in the future? Beyond this great general plan of saving and conquering by human instrumentality, I can not suppose that God has such an infinite number of definite and specific plans as is generally supposed. His instruments in this holy work, for the practical redemption of a lost world, are free agents, agents who can not be coerced in things pertaining to the kingdom of grace without a Surrender of their accountability. And it is a mournful fact that they do refuse every hour in the day to obey him in spiritual matters, and to accomplish the spiritual work which he assigns to them. Every man is conscious that he has in numberless instances disobeyed the commands of his Maker, thereby disregarding his desires and expectations, disturbing his general plans, and thwarting his special purposes.

I know that it is the tendency of sin to destroy the nature in which it resides; that sin can never obtain or realize any substantial good; that a free being can not sin without becoming a subject of terrible punishment. But I also know that created wills, during probation, may at any time turn away from God. No human will can be secured against sin and consequent ruin, apart from its own decisions. And I know that the human will is capable of an incalculable self-degradation in wickedness. And all this evil and ruin are in opposition to the designs of God concerning men, are in despite of his beneficent purposes.

Would any one dare be so blasphemous as to affirm that the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls progress as rapidly as God desires? Many are the dumb messengers, the unreliable agents, the vacillating friends, and deserting soldiers who obstruct God's purposes to win and lead a fallen world to righteousness and heaven. Human agencies respond too feebly to the divine command, "Go ye into all the world"; and they will continue to do so until Christian men dismiss all enervating delusions about the plans of God, and his bringing things about "in his own good time and way," and enter most heartily into the great battle with sin, under the strong conviction that otherwise the momentous designs in respect to which we stand forth, before men, angels, and God, as responsible actors and agents may after all be disastrous and overwhelming failures.

Much of the indifference, the casting off of personal responsibility, and the non-development of latent spiritual power, that have so sadly characterized and paralyzed the Church, is, in our opinion, chargeable to the belief of the dogma of universal and absolute prescience. The old view of the divine foreknowledgeinvolving the fixed certainty of all future eventshas ever been most enervating and repressing. It has made pigmies of those who might have been giants, and mere glimmering lights of many pulpits which should have sent a powerful and saving radiance far across the moral darkness of this world.


| Back to the Table of Contents |

3 Calvinism, distinctively such, is truly found in the Bible. The same is equally true of Arminianism. But the Calvinism of the Bible refers exclusively to the kingdom of providence; while the Arminianism refers exclusively to the kingdom of free grace. A clear discrimination between the kingdoms of providence and free grace will not only reconcile, but bring into perfect harmony these long opposing systems of theology. The many seemingly conflicting and inconsistent statements of the Scriptures on the issues between these two systems have never been satisfactorily explained. And how these seeming inconsistencies can he susceptible of explication on any theory of interpretation heretofore advanced does not appear. But the discrimination above suggested between the teachings of the Scriptures as to the kingdom of providence and their teachings as to the kingdom of free grace furnishes, it seems to me, a satisfactory explanation of them all; and, what is most gratifying, it furnishes a basis of agreement and harmony, of fraternity of feeling and unity of effort, in evangelizing the world between the adherents of Calvin and Arminius-"Ephraim need no longer vex Judah, nor Judah envy Ephraim;" for both, we think, have been right, and both have been wrong.