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Chapter VIII


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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IT should ever be borne in mind that the scholars who translated the Bible under King James were strongly Calvinistic. Their deep convictions of the truth of foreordination wrought an unconscious, but marked, influence upon their translations. They therefore, give in many cases a Calvinistic turn to their renderings, which the original, whether Greek or Hebrew, does not warrant. For example, we read in Acts ii, 47, "The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." The true rendering is, The Lord added to the Church daily such as were being saved. The translators uniformly translate adokimos by the word reprobate, intending to express the opposite of their notion of the term elect; that is, to denote one who had been sovereignly passed by in the eternal decrees. But when Paul says (1 Cor. ix, 27), "I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should become adokimos," they are careful to depart from their usual custom in rendering this word. They evidently thought it impossible that Paul could be a reprobate in the sense which they had assigned to that term, and therefore, in this instance, translated it castaway. They translated Hebrews vi, 4, "If they shall fall away," as if the original word were in the future tense, whereas it is the aorist, and ought to be translated "have fallen away. "In a score of texts," says Dr. Whedon, "the future is translated shall in lieu of will." But while no scholar will deny the statement here made, we admit that the translators were honest in the discharge of their responsible duties. The fact here adverted to should, however, never be overlooked in seeking the meaning intended by the Holy Ghost to be expressed in the sacred oracles. This point is especially important in a discussion so fundamental as the one now before us. For what believer in the freedom of the will has not been perplexed by the manifest teachings of our English translation, that the wickedness and treachery of Judas had all been foretold long before he had an existence, and that his deeds of darkness were but the fulfillment of ancient inspired prophecies?

But how, it may be inquired, did Jesus foreknow that they would deliver his disciples up to the councils, and scourge them in the synagogues? He foreknew it because these outrages were then clearly conceived and determined upon by those in authority. "Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles." (Matt. x, 18.) On the other hand, God may have determined that one of the numerous ways by which he would publish and vindicate his most important truth, should be the publicity of legal proceedings before his pronounced enemies. And to bring about any thing of this kind it would be only necessary to put the will of some of his inveterate opposers under the law of constraint, and at once the desired object would be accomplished. But whatever may be our conclusions on this point, we can not doubt that the powers of evil, human and diabolic, would assuredly not fail to put the organized forces at their command in stern array against the Gospel of Christ and its heralds. Jesus said, "I came to send a sword upon the earth, not peace"that is, the utter repugnance of this world to my kingdom shall be exhibited, in the disregard of the strongest ties of instinctive affection. Even the unbelieving brother will deliver the believing brother to death, and the father his child. Could any thing exhibit more impressively than this the malignity of human depravity towards the ineffable doctrines and high spirituality of the religion of Jesus? By no other affirmation, perhaps, could he so deeply impress on the public mind the fact of the inveterate hostility and persecuting spirit of the unregenerate heart towards his person, his truth, and his followers. The spirit of Jesus is as much of a sword on the earth as ever it was.

"Know of a certainty that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years, and also that nation whom they shall serve will I judge; and afterwards shall they come out with great substance." (Gen. xv, 13.) This prediction refers to nations and God's providential purposes respecting them. Through nations God often illustrates moral and religious truth, with a view to impress it on the conscience of the world. For this reason, nations are often subjected to very varied experiences and vicissitudes. God desires that each nation and each individual that he brings into prominence should furnish the world some special lesson, and therefore he subjects them to adversity or bestows prosperity, as may be needful to the fulfillment of his plans. All this he can determine and bring about without foreknowing the free choices of free beings acting under the law of liberty. The need and the benefit of discipline by trial and suffering are by all admitted. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted," says David. Temptation is essential to moral goodness and moral character. Nations, no less than individuals, need discipline and correction and punishment. And as God often uses one individual to test, de- velop, or punish another, so he has often used one nation to discipline and instruct another nation. In the kingdom of providence, as we have seen, God works all things after the counsel of his own will, and uses instruments of his own selection to accomplish his plans. He has a just and perfect right to use both individuals and nations as he may deem best to subserve his providential designs. In order to do this the wills of the agents needed to accomplish his purposes are unconsciously led, or even, at times, put under the law of cause and effect, when he finds that to be necessary in order to secure the desired co-operation. If a nation becomes wicked he can justly use it effectually, even to its own injury and overthrow, in developing those qualities of character in another nation which are necessary to fit it to accomplish his providential designs.

And this view of the subject throws much light on those passages of Scripture which, upon the hypothesis that the human will always acts under the law of freedom, are full of distressing perplexities. "Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years." (Gen. xv, 13.) "He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilely with his servants." (Psalm cv, 25.) "I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof; and after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall come to pass that when ye go, ye shall not go empty." (Ex. iii, 20, 21.) "See that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand; but I will harden his heart that he shall not let the people go." (Ex.iv, 21.) "But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments." (Ex. vii, 4.) "And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth." (Ex. ix, 16.) "For I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him." (Ex. x, 1.) "And the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land." (Ex. xi, 10.) "The Lord showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household." (Deut. vi, 22.) "The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent them such things as they required." (Ex. xii, 36.) "But Sihon, King of Heshbon, would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand." (Deut. ii, 30.) "Joshua made war a long time upon all those kings." (Josh. xi, 18.) "For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favor." (Josh. xi, 20 ) God took these methods to teach the world needful lessons concerning himself; such, for example, as that HE IS; that he is a rewarder of those who serve him; that he is a covenant-keeping God; that all may be taught by his dealings to discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not; and that no nation can be unjust with impunity. We can not divine all the particular lessons, he may have designed to teach the world by these sovereign acts of provi- dence. We know not the measure of the wickedness of the people to whom he subjected his chosen race for their needed discipline, nor indeed are we able to estimate with precision the wickedness and corruption of that race itself. We know that nations as well as individuals must be punished for sins, and as nations are not immortal they must be punished here. But all these Scriptures, which have been so harassing to Bible readers, seem easy of explanation the moment it is admitted that the human will may be placed under the law of cause and effect, and thus become a consenting instrument in the hands of God to accomplish his providential purposes.

"Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." (Matt. xi, 21.) The question arises, Why were not these mighty works wrought also in Tyre and Sidon? Unless they would have been destructive of the free agency of the inhabitants of those cities, we think they would have been. For it seems evident to us that if these same works have been wrought there which were wrought for the Jews, the influences thereby brought to bear upon their sensibilities would have been out of proportion to the strength of their volitional powers, and the degree of self-determining force needed in a fair test of loyalty. And this would have defeated for them the very object of probation, which is, the manifestation of character, through unconstrained free choices, put forth under such temptations or limitations of perceptions as to test loyalty. But had those overpowering influences been exerted upon the people of Tyre and Sidon, putting their wills under the law of cause and effect, then Christ could be certain, and could speak with certainty, concerning the result; namely, their repentance in sackcloth and ashes. But what appeal could have been, so stirring and rousing to the cities of Bethsaida and Chorazin as this: "Had the appeals which I make to you been made to Tyre and Sidon, they would have yielded and repented long since. You are more perverse than they, and greater will be your punishment!"

The expressions, "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. xiii, 8), and "Ac- cording as he has chosen us [or as he chose us for himself] in him, before the foundation of the world" (Eph. i, 4), may by some be thought inconsistent with the views concerning foreknowledge which are here suggested. In 1 Peter i, 20, it is said concerning Christ, "Who verily was foreknown [not, "was foreordained," as in our English version] before the foundation of the world." Christ as a Redeemer was, in God's plan, without doubt foreknown from the very beginning of the universe. Without an arrangement for a Savior able to meet all possible future necessities God, in his goodness, could not consistently have created a race of free moral beings such as man. For, while man's rewardableness is contingent upon his accountability, his accountability involves the possibility of his sinning; and that possibility requires that a scheme of salvation, a SAVIOR, be provided in the divine plan. In contemplating the plan for this world, all future contingencies and possibilities were spread out before the divine mind. It was fitting, therefore, that God should make, and he did make, a complete scheme of salvation for all of the human race who might ever need it. With such a provision in his plan he made the world, and made man, even though the doing of this might cost what it has cost. The atonement for sin, through his Son, was provided for from the beginning, though not consummated until the "fullness of time" in the completion of the ages. When, to meet all contingencies, God arranged a scheme of salvation, he also "chose for himself" all who through all the ages should be saved by it. We thus see that the expression, "From before the foundation of the world," as marking the timethough indefinitelywhen the scheme of salvation was arranged in the divine mind, harmonizes readily and naturally with our views of the divine foreknowledge.

"I know him [Abraham] that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." (Gen. xviii, 19.) This passage is properly translated thus: "And Jehovah said, I have known Abraham [that is, I have come into intimate acquaintanceship with him] in order that he may command his sons and his house after him, and that they may keep the way of Jehovah, to do justice and judgment, in order that Jehovah may bring on Abraham what he spake in regard to him." "Known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world." (Acts xv, 18.) Most of these words are an interpolation, and do not belong to the Scriptures. Dean Alford, the representative of, more modem criticism, declares them spurious and retains only, as inspired, the words, "known from the beginning." These few words should be joined to the preceding verse, thus: "Saith the Lord who doeth all these things known from the beginning"the things pertaining to the admission of the Gentiles to Gospel privileges.

But, says one, does not Moses say (Deut. xxxi, 29): "I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you: and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands?" The Hebrew word which is here translated know is translated in other passages to look into, to examine, to consider, to mark, to understand, to discover. The primary meaning of this Hebrew word is, to see with the eye; and the secondary meaning is, to see mentally. By the olive leaf Noah "knew," discovered, "that the waters had abated." When he who appeared unto Manoah "ascended in the flames from the altar," Manoah "knew," discovered, that he was the angel of the Lord. When Saul cast a javelin at David, Jonathan "knew," discovered, that it was determined by his father to kill David. "The Lord will send thunder and rain, that ye may perceive your great wickedness in asking a king." "Thou shalt also consider in thy heart that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee." All the stupidity, perverseness, rebellion, and tendency to idolatry of which the Israelites had been guilty, rose up vividly before the mind of Moses. Their pertinacity in backsliding and wickedness, through all the terrible judgments of heaven in the wilderness, created in his mind most painful impressions and gloomy forebodings. And as he was about to leave them he says to them, "I know thy rebellion and thy stiff neck; behold, while I am yet alive with you this day ye have been rebellious against the Lord, and how much more after my death?" "I know [I perceive, there is no ground for doubt] that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves." "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live; . . . that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord swear unto thy fathers."

Moses was a man of great ability and comprehensive views. He knew his people well, and, even unassisted by inspiration, he could judge accurately from the data in his possession that those who were so habituated to idolatry and rebellion would continue to be so inclined after his death. But he had also the light of inspiration, revealing to him more facts than he otherwise could have known, as the basis of his inference. From these manifest indications he could discover the strong probability of their continued unfaithfulness, and of their punishments in consequence. Their future wickedness was either determined by God or was to be the result of their own free choices. If their wickedness was foreordained, Moses was too wise and kind to distress them needlessly with predestined fatality. But if their wickedness was to be the result of their own free choices, they might stop at any point of their disobedience as easily as any sinner can stop at any point on his way to the commission of crime.

Christ, knowing his circumstances, the religious revolution he was inaugurating, and the feelings and purposes of his foes, foretold their disposition of him. But his enemies might have halted at any point in the tragedy, and at any step on the way to Calvary, and repeated of their diabolism. Moses, knowing that the future of the children of Israel was not then a certainty, highly probable though it seemed, desired and labored to make that future what it ought to be, by showing them that it would be wholly within their own free choices; also by impressing upon them their own sinful affinities and rebellious tendencies, and by foretelling the terrible calamities certain to follow their free choice of wickedness. In this way he intended and hoped to preserve them in obedience, and prevent those catastrophes which then to him seemed inevitable. His farewell address was designed and every way fitted to arrest their attention, and to exert a restraining influence over their conduct.

The prediction of hanging the baker and restoring the butler by Pharaoh (Gen. xi, 8); the prediction of the destruction of the altar of Jeroboam by Josiah, the son of Manasseh (1 Kings xiii, 2); and all those unfulfilled predictions which are contained in Scripture, are susceptible of an easy explanation on the theory of the divine purpose to bring those predicted events to pass by putting human wills under the constraint of the law of cause and effect. Indeed, how it would be possible for God to carry on his overruling providence, guard and prosper his kingdom of free grace, how he could accomplish his numerous and complicated purposes of instruction and punishment, how he could defeat all the diabolical plans and efforts of wicked men and fallen angels, and how he could make all kingdoms subservient to the kingdom of Jesus Christ from age to age, without frequently placing human wills under the law of constraint by means of motives or circumstances which they would not resist, is an inexplicable mystery. In no other way could he manage the race, or preserve his Church, in a world so full of wickedness and diabolism. The wickedness of any city could at any hour submerge all its virtue and good order in promiscuous ruin, did not the Sovereign Ruler incessantly place human wills under the constraint of necessity in order to preserve his control and to accomplish his conservative purposes therein.

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