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Chapter V


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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BY an application of the principles previously stated, every passage in the Scriptures can easily and naturally be interpreted in perfect harmony with a denial of the divine foreknowledge of those choices of free beings on which depends their eternal destiny. Take as an illustration the case of the Apostle Peter. Jesus says to his disciples, "All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended because of thee, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. But Peter spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise." (Mark xiv, 27-31.) The Lord had previously, in the same conversation, said to Peter, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you [Or, rather, hath desired and obtained you], that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren." (Luke xxii, 31, 32.) Peter was designed to be one of the master spirits in the Gospel Church. Amid the many responsibilities and the great honors which were soon to be bestowed upon him, he needed, more than Paul ever needed, a thorn in the flesh. He was truly a good and noble man, but he had serious defects of character. He was too self-confident, too impulsive and opinionated. In him the active temperament was disproportioned to the meditative. Now, all these qualities, if held in due subjection, were indispensable to one who was to be a great reformer, one who was destined to meet so signally the opposition of the Jews, and to be the first of the Abrahamic race to disregard the exclusiveness of Judaism, and publish to the Gentiles the offer of eternal life.

But these qualities were then in excess. They needed to be moderated and disciplined, lest sometimes they might betray him into extravagancies, inconsistencies, and other mistakes, which would be seriously detrimental to the momentous interests which were about to be intrusted to him. He was, therefore, as we think, allowed, under demoniacal influences, to do that which would prove an efficient restraint and control over his objectionable characteristics, and bring into full activity all the requisite and noble qualities of a great reformer. He was allowed to do that which, to the latest hours of his life, taught him humility, and largely prepared him to be the consistent and sagacious apostle, the dauntless moral hero, which he afterward became. The remembrance of that deed of denial inspired him with invincible zeal, courage and fortitude through all the privations and persecutions of his illustrious career as a minister of the Gospel of his thrice denied, but forgiving, Lord. The recollection of that mysterious hour of unfaithfulness sent him patiently and modestly through the most trying vicissitudes. "We all know," says "Ecce Deus," "what a strong man Peter became after his restoration; how he excelled all the New Testament writers in richness of pathos, and how he rivaled even Paul in labor and catholicity. How could any other conceivable experience have done so much to correct his constitutional defects, to keep him constantly on his guard, and to prepare him for the fiery trials, desertion, hate, and misrepresentations he must encounter?" On that memorable occasion the Savior made a personal address which was calculated to draw from Peter strong declarations of loyalty, fidelity, and heroism. It seems as if Christ were pondering a needed lesson and discipline, which he desired to fix indelibly in the heart of his most ardent apostle. He saw it necessary to allow the will of Peter to be so tempted by demoniacal spirits that he could not withstand their assaults. With the best and most benign ends in view, he suffered him then to be "tempted above that he was able to bear." Christ allows Satan to tempt to a certain degree all his followers, and it may be his procedure in many cases to allow him to tempt his chosen instruments as he allowed him to tempt the Apostle Peter.

In that temptation, so soon to come upon Peter, Christ, as we view the transaction, did not make a way of escape, that he might be able to bear it. The Omniscient Savior beheld in him thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and purposes indicative of much carnality, and wholly inconsistent with his divinely appointed life-work. Peter did not know himself as well as his Divine Master knew him. He thought he was true; he knew he wanted to be true and loyal and heroic. It is probable that his conception of the malignity of Satan and of his own entire helplessness was not sufficiently vivid and permanent. His Divine Master saw that, after all he had done for him, there was a great discrepancy between his nature and the standard of the divine law. He also saw, what Peter could not see, the assaults which Satan then purposed to make upon him. Satan had ample reasons for supposing that Peter was to be a chosen instrument in the spiritual movement which Jesus was then so thoughtfully and anxiously inaugurating. He therefore singled him out for special and varied temptations, resolving to do, as the Savior had declared he would dosift him as wheat. By the defection of Peter and Judas, and still more by the crucifixion of Jesus, he hoped to break the grand center of the great religious movement then beginning to attract public attention. It was, as we have already suggested, to teach Peter lessons never to be forgotten, that Satanic influences were allowed to come in upon him like a flood, and that the Almighty Deliverer, who alone could raise up a standard against the foe, declined, up to a certain point, to interpose in, behalf of his chosen apostle. Christ could foreknow and foretell the act of denial, because he knew that Peter's will would be so overborne by temptational influences that it would move as it was moved upon, and thus act, though consentingly, under unconscious constraint.

But that act of denial, though objectively so heinous, was subjectively no more sinful than the sinful tempers, purposes, and affinities which Jesus then saw struggling for victory in the regenerated, but yet unsanctified, soul of Peter. Moreover, if Peter's nature was really as wicked, debased, unreliable, and ungrateful as his denial of Christ, accompanied with cursing, swearing, and lying, and preceded by such vehement protestations of personal bravery, sacrifice, and devotion, would seem to indicate, then he was wholly unqualified for the spiritual work, the holy mission, upon which he was so soon to enter. A nature so vile as Peter's denial, objectively considered, would suggest and necessitate, could have had no affinities for the precepts, the high spiritualities and purposes, of the new kingdom of righteousness, which in no sense was to be of this world. But it is preposterous to affirm that Peter's moral nature was as hard, as impervious to divine light, as indif- ferent to the wishes of the Redeemer, and as oblivious to all the high motives and objects of the Gospel of salvation, as. that act of betrayal, objectively considered, implies, If such was his real nature, he certainly was, morally, the most unfit instrument conceivable for apostleship and leadership in the holiest and grandest movement of the entire moral universe. We are driven, then, to suppose that his nature and moral condition were really better than his denial and profanity and duplicity would naturally indicate. And if his soul was less wicked and debased than his conduct suggests, then that denial of his Master must have been under such an undue amount of Satanic influence, under such mitigating circumstances, as essentially lessened the heinousness of its moral character in the eyes of him who sees all things as they really are.

Dr. Goulburn, one of the most spiritual of divines in the Church of England, referring to the case of Peter, says, "It was merely a tornado of temptation, that for a moment shook his stead- fastness. It was not a deliberate, maliceful sin. And out of Peter's relapse God brought a burst of penitent love and persistent zeal which gave him a powerful forward impulse in his glorious mission for life." It was very soon after this occasion that Peter threw himself into the water, and waded to the shore to meet his Divine Master. After that impressive interview, the particulars of which it would be so interesting to know, Jesus thrice repeated his inquiry, "Lovest thou me?" How meekly and considerately does he, who but recently had been so bold and vehement, reply, "Thou knowest that I love thee." "Peter," says Dr. Woolsey, "was not destined to be cut off by his deplorable sin, but, in- stead thereof, to be converted anew." Charnock says, "Christ knew in what measure he would let loose Satan upon Peter, and how far he would leave the reins in Peter's own hands, and the issue therefore might be easily foreknown. And if Peter was under an undue amount of Satanic suggestion and influence, then the Savior could foreknow his act, as taking place consentingly, indeed, but under the law of constraint. The marked incongruity between the character of Peter, as estimated from his lying, profanity, cowardice, and recreancy to all the great issues then trembling in the balance, and the saintly work of preaching the Gospel of the grace of God for the purification of sinful souls, can not be accounted for, I think, save upon the theory here suggested. But the theory here advanced affords an explanation that is natural, reasonable, and profitable to contemplate. For, really, this case merely requires only a little more. of that same temptational influ- ence, which Satan is actually allowed by God to bring to bear upon the souls of all men, in order to test their loyalty, instruct their faith and confirm their character in moral excellence.

As the above explanation of the case of Peter may possibly collide with the reader's prejudices and preconceptions, he may start objections thereto. But let him consider that we are compelled to furnish such explanations of the facts recorded in the Holy Scriptures as will in no objectionable sense, morally or logically, make God the author or cause of sin, and such as will not compel us to locate the incipiency of disobedience and iniquity in his infinitely holy heart. But whatever objection to this explanation of Christ's prevision of the fall of Peter may occur to any reader, it must at least be regarded as unobjectionable and as plausible in itself, as the following statement found upon the pages of unerring inspiration "I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him, on his right hand and on his left. And the Lord said, Who shall persuade, or who shall deceive Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade or deceive him. And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith? I will go forth and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also. Go forth and do so. Now, therefore, behold the Lord hath put a lying spirit into the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee."

We find in the history of Job another chapter on the divine use of Satan, in the education of spiritual teachers for the race. Job stands forth in the Scriptures as a great example, for all times, of patience and confiding trust. And that he might be such an example, the Lord gave to Satan full permission to blast and destroy all his possessions, explicitly, however, restricting him as to assaults upon his person, and invasion of his spirit. All that Job hath is in thy power, only upon himself put not forth thine hand.

"God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, and they dealt treacherously with Abimelech." (Judg. ix, 23.) "The spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrified him." (1 Sam. xvi, 14.) "An evil spirit came from God upon Saul, and he prophesied." (1 Sam. xviii, 10.) "The evil spirit from the Lord was. upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hands." (1 Sam. xix, 9.) And his servants said unto him, Behold an evil spirit from God troubleth thee." Such passages of Scripture become easily comprehensible in the light of the theory here suggested, specially when we remember that Job declares that both "the deceived, and the deceivers are the Lord's." By the deceivers "he maketh judges fools, and leadeth counsellors away spoiled." "The counsel of Ahithophel was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God." But "Absalom declared that the counsel of Hushai is better than the counsel of Ahithophel." "But this was because the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom." How manifest it is that human wills are, at times, placed under the law of constraint, and are used as instruments in the hands of God in carrying on his providential government.

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