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Chapter XI


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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BUT wherein is found a logical necessity for the doctrine that God foreknows? In what lies the necessity that God should previse all the free choices of free agents while in their probation? What possible danger or loss or evil could it be to his creatures for him not to foreknow contingencies other than as contingencies or possibilities? Suppose that he did not foreknow, what imperfection could that be to his mind, or his heart, or attributes, or government? What advantage could it be to him in his control and management of free agents to foreknow, or what motive could he have for desiring such foreknowledge? What end or beneficent purpose could be accomplished thereby, which could not be accomplished equally well without it?

"God's government of the world would be precarious," says Doctor Hodge, "if he does not foresee all future choices." This surely is a severe thrust at God's omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. God very well knows that he never can have any thing to fear from any rivals. Could any thing ever occur in any part of Jehovah's dominions disproportionate to his infinite attributes and perfections? Where, then, is the ground, or the reason, for the apprehension of precariousness in the divine government if future free choices should not be perceived as immutably certain? God is fully able to meet any and every emergency, no matter how great, how sudden, or how complicated, that can arise anywhere in infinite space or endless duration. Is not God everywhere present? Is not the efficiency of all laws and all forces momentarily due to him? Is not every thing in nature and in providence the result of his immediate, special will and energy? Who believes that there is any efficiency in general laws aside from the immediate power of the infinite mind, the great fountain of all force? Did not the great Agassiz tell us that he met "the presence, wisdom, design, and energy of a personal Deity at every step in all his inquiries, through all materiality, and down among the very lowest forms of life, organism, and intelligence?" "Have we not here," he exclaimed, "the most palpable demonstration of the existence of a personal God, the author of all things, the ruler of the universe and dispenser of all good?"

"If all the free acts of men were before unknown to God," says Charnock, "such contingencies may happen as to perplex his affairs, put him upon new counsels and methods for obtaining his ends. Things may happen so suddenly as to give a check to his intentions and scheme of government. Unless God's foreknowledge is as great as the resolves of men are inconstant, he would be continually altering his methods of government. He must wait to see the choices of men before he can see how to deal with them." But I reply, in the language of inspiration, God knows at all moments how "to deliver the godly out of temptations." He knows equally well how, instantly and summarily, to punish the disobedient.

A ruler ought to wait to see how the subject conducts himself before he determines how or in what degree he shall be punished or rewarded. Moreover, if a choice be accountablethat is, if it is to be rewarded if good, or punished if evilthen it must be perfectly free: the being who makes that choice is its sole author. And if this be so, then God is in no way and in no sense the cause of it; and if God is in no sense the cause of a choice, then he must at some time determine what he will do in reference to said choice when it may be put forth. And as he must determine at all times, as in the present, what he will do on the occurrence of said choice, it is most natural and reasonable that he should determine it, at the very moment of its occurrence, in the very exigency of affairs. For there is neither necessity nor reason nor propriety in his determining what he will do, on the transpiring of a free event, millions of ages prior to its coming to pass. Future free events, however innumerable, various, complicated, or alarming, can never transcend the capacities of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, instantaneously to manage, thwart, control, or utilize, as it may seem best to infinite wisdom, goodness, and justice.

Is not God omniscient in respect to all knowable things, to all free choices as soon as they are put forth? And is he not omnipotent? Where, then, is the necessity of the prescience of all the future resolves and choices of free beings? Those attributes of Jehovah could overcome all difficulties and provide for all hazards, and turn to best account all developments that may be made in all the boundless universe and throughout eternity.

Captain John Smith's head lay on a block by the free choice of a wicked spirit; God sent Pocahontas to save his life. It was as easy for him to devise this expedient for Captain Smith's salvation impromptu and extempore, as it would have been to design it from all eternity. And to do it impromptu (if he did so do it) was very much more natural and reasonable, more life-like and interesting to God himself and to unseen witnesses, than if he had devised and determined upon that plan of rescue from eternity past.

Unless all of God's thoughts are as eternal as himself (which will soon, I think, be shown to be absurd and involving contradictions), there must have been a moment, when the thought of human redemption, originated in the divine mind. Now when was that moment? The only proper and reasonable response that can be given to this inquiry is, that that moment was the instant when the awful exigency arose in the moral administration of God. What was true and proper and natural as to the great expedient of redemption is true and proper of lesser expedients in the management of free agents.

Jonathan Edwards says, "It follows if foreknowledge be untrue, that God is liable to be repenting what he has done, changing his purposes, altering his measures, forming new schemes and putting his system to rights as it gets out of order, and that it is in the power of the creature man to disappoint him, to break his measures, and to make him continually change his mind." Now all these consequences are fully and freely admitted by every Arminian. He admits them, because it is, impossible to deny them, while he maintains freedom, contingency, accountability, and punishability. Moreover all this is exemplified in the case of the message brought by the man of God to Eli, informing him of the great change in God's purposes. "Wherefore the Lord God of Israel saith [to Eli], I said indeed that thy house and the house of thy father should walk before me forever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me; for them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold the days come that I will cut off thine arm and the arm of thy father's house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house." (1 Sam. ii, 30.) If these words do not evince a change in God's feelings, purposes, and measures, then language is simply meaningless. And, again, in 1 Samuel xv, 10, we read, "Then came the word of the Lord unto Sam- uel, 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." On this text Dr. Whedon says, that "God sorrows over the sin of Saul, because of its consequences and because it shows that Saul could no longer be trusted. God's repentance is a change of feeling and purpose.

God sorrowed, and Samuel sorrows in sympathy with God's sorrow." And John Calvin remarks on the same passage, "God is hurt no less by the atrocious sins of men, than if they pierced his heart with mortal anguish."

The Scriptures indicate that God has two kinds of plans relative to this world and its inhabitants, one sovereign, the other contingent. His sovereign plans are determined upon absolutely. They will be accomplished by one set of means or by another, ordinary or extraordinary. For example, it was one part of his sovereign plan so to conduct the children of Israel from Egypt to Canaan as to impress religious truth upon heathen nations. In carrying this major purpose into execution, he resorted to many contingent plans. He selected Moses as the leader of his host. But Moses parleyed with God until he lost much of his power, greatness, and happiness. God, through the free choices of Moses, was compelled to modify his design in reference to him personally and to call his brother Aaron to share the glory and reward of the great enterprise. In sight of his long sought destination, looking over upon the blooming valleys and goodly mountains, Moses earnestly besought God for the privilege of leading the Israelitish hosts into the promised land. God declined this entreaty, bade him trouble him no more in reference to the matter, and referring him to the great reason why this honor and privilege was wrested from him, reminded him of his sin at the waters of Meribah, where he spoiled the symbol, says Mr. Brawn, by smiting the rock twice.

That free choice of Moses at Meribah compelled God to modify his plan and give to Joshua the renown of introducing and planting his chosen people in their long promised inheritance. This same lesson is taught us in many passages of the Biblefor example, in judges vii. But in addition to this class of sovereign plans there is another class in which God fixes upon some great object, which he designs shall be accomplished, and determines in his mind the identical agent through whom it shall finally be brought about. But if any body could make evident the necessity of absolute divine foreknowl- edge, that man was Thomas Chalmers.

He says: "Should there be introduced into the world of mind that liberty by which human volitions would be regarded as having no antecedent influence in which they have originated and had their cause; should the operation of the will be referred to no moving forces which are directed by God; should the action of the will form an exception to the doctrine that God hath ordained the mechanism of the spiritual world, and presides over all the evolutions thereof and worketh all in all, then by far the most dignified and interesting of all his creations is wrested from the dominion of him who gave it birth. If it is essential to the constitution of the mind that it shall be left to its own fitful and undirected waywardness, and so to wander without the limits of God's power and prescience, then is it abandoned to the misrule of an anarchy the most wild, wanton, and wavering. Things grow up in it from the dark womb of nonentity which omnipotence did not summon into being, and which omniscience could not foretell, and in the most emphatic sense of the term it might be said that there is a universe without a Lord, and an empire without an imperial sovereign to overrule its destinies.

"This question involves both the power and prescience of God. It seems strange that the universe which proceeded from the hands of God should have been so constituted in any of its departments as to have an independent history of its own. But so it would be on the hypothesis of a self-determining power in any of the creatures. Their movements would proceed at random, because under the dominion of a wild and lawless contingency omnipotence and omniscience would be misnamed, or have no place in the nature of God; for God could not be said to have all power and all knowledge amid millions of volitions, springing up every day in the world of intelligent beings; and of which no other account can be given than that they originated in veriest caprice and waywardness, incapable from their very nature of being traced any further back in the order of causation than to an inherent and independent power in man himself.

"Who does not see that, on this supposition, there would be wrested from the grasp and governance of the Almighty far the most dignified and interesting portion of his works? He would be the Almighty no longer, and, whatever sovereignty remained to him over other territories in nature, the moral world, at the mercy of a whole host of petty but yet spontaneous and self regulating forces, would drift uncontrollably away from him. The world would drift away from God if human volitions are contingent. Abandoned to its own spontaneous evolutions and placed beyond the reach of him who alone can control it, the creation would relapse into an inextricable chaos. All would be anarchy and wild misrule, and the Lord would be a helpless looker-on in the midst of these self- directing elements which he himself had summoned into being. And to avert this conclusion all volitions must be determinate, under the absolute control of him who made and upholds all. A denial of this would limit the power and the sovereignty of the Most High, dividing thereby his moral empire between himself and a host of innumerable agencies, each being the primary fountain-head of its own operations. If the doctrine of necessity were not true, a random contingency might break forth, setting at defiance all the reckoning of human sagacity. If volitions are not caused by some prior antecedent, exterior to the will, then they come forth unlooked for by him whose intelligence can penetrate all other futurity but this, springing up from the depths of contingency the monsters of our universe."

Is it not marvelous that this distinguished man could not see that in all this burst of eloquent declamation there was neither wisdom nor reason? His eloquence is really directed more against the doctrine of contingency in human volitions than against the evils that would result from non- prescience. How clearly perceivable is his deep conviction that freedom of will necessitates a state of things which it is impossible for God to foreknow! However great may be the evils of non- prescience, if any such can be shown, the majority of thinkers would prefer to admit and welcome them all, rather than to surrender the doctrine of the self-determining power of the will. "It is wiser to deny prescience," said President Tappan, "than to give up the contingent nature of human volitions. Deny the contingency of human volitions, and all in rational theology worth contending for is lost." "There is then nothing left," says Dugald Stewart, "that it is worth while to contend for. All moral and theological interests at once vanish away." Under this denial, existence, human life, human destiny, and Holy Scripture, all become distressing enigmas.

The evils which Doctor Chalmers portrays as resulting from the contingency of human volitions are, however, mere figments of his brilliant and discursive imagination. But they are not a whit more insignificant than are the bad results which he fancies would be occasioned by divine non-prescience. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing and everywhere present, why can he not instantaneously manage every emergency that can possibly arise in the brief experience of a world which is less than a speck in the boundlessness of his dominions, and the period of whose history is but a point in comparison with endless duration? If the evil influence of rebels to his authority could not be counteracted; if rebels could escape his power to chain and to imprison and to punish; if rebellion could dethrone Deity; or if any part of his creation could drift beyond the sweep of his arm, or the power of his wrath, or the glance of his eye, then there might be some ground for the gloomy apprehensions of Doctor Chalmers. God has a kingdom where absolute force obtains, and there he controls, restrains, and subjugates to his authority the incorrigibles that finally reject his offers of grace. And has not a large portion of this wicked world drifted almost to a returnless distance from God?

We know that there is misrule, and that there is anarchy among free beings; but God is everywhere present, and equal to all developments and all emergencies. If a human soul can not make for itself an independent history, then freedom and accountability are unpardonable misnomers. Suppose the movements of free spirits are at "random." Is not God ready for all random movements? He has proved himself equal to every occasion, thus far, in the kingdom of responsible agents. Because free agents will become fiends and devils, neither the power nor the empire of Deity either lessens or trembles. Would it not imply imperfection in a ruler to admit that he must foreknow how each subject will deport himself? It certainly exhibits and requires greater perfections to be able to manage all exigencies as they actually arise or unfold to an observing universe. Thus to operate gives a wakefulness, a vividness, and an immediateness which absolute foreknowledge must quite dispense with.

Among men it is considered a mark of wisdom and greatness for one to be able to adapt himself to circumstances, to be ready to meet unforeseen contingencies when they arise. This is true of men in every department of human life. He is considered the ablest business man who so manages his affairs that no unforeseen financial disaster or general monetary crisis can result in his financial ruin. And that general who is ever equal to any occasion, always able to recover from a surprise or an attack from an unexpected quarter, having the ability promptly to mass his forces and push his columns against an unlooked-for foe, and the personal resources of skill, bravery, and self-possession to meet all disasters that occur in battle and in the campaign, is justly considered the greatest genius and the best master of his profession. Human greatness is greatest when seen overmastering unforeseen adversities. But if unexpected developments are necessary for the display of the greatest abilities of men, and if to be always equal to such exigencies is evidence of superior human skill and wisdom, why should we deny to God any similar arena for the display of his infinite perfections and for the exercise of his boundless resources of wisdom, skill, power, goodness, and expediency? And how can it detract from the divine perfections to affirm that God has the opportunity and is able to meet and overrule for good all catastrophes that may occur, and as they occur, in his moral and providential administration over the human familya family that is a very little one among the uncounted thousands of his vast universe? And does it not detract from his infinite perfections to say that he must foreknow, from eternity to eternity, every event that may transpire and every act of every individual, in order to be able to maintain his government and prevent confusion to his plans and defeat to his purposes from unforeseen enemies and emer- gencies? There is, then, no perceivable necessity, in the nature of things, why God should foreknow all the future choices of free beings, since the moral universe will be just as well cared for, managed, and governed, and God's character and sovereignty will be as perfectly vindicated, without absolute foreknowledge as with it. The developments and emergencies resulting from the unforeknown conduct of a universe of free moral agents would be a most magnificent theater for the exercise of the unfathomed resources of Jehovah. They would afford a far grander opportunity for the display of his perfections, as it seems to us, than could be possible were he possessed of absolute foreknowledge.

But while universal prescience is necessary neither to the attributes of God nor to the perfection of his government, it is positively inconsistent with his character and office as the moral governor of the moral universe. A real trial, a trial that is not a mere delusive semblance, requires that God's feelings and his conduct toward an accountable spirit should be constantly changing and varying with the ever-varying volitions which that spirit puts forth in the exercise of his endowment of freedom. But this can only be possible on the supposition of God's non-prescience of those volitions. To affirm that God's feelings, purposes, and conduct can change just as the free volitions of the subject do actually change, when he has perfect foreknowledge of all the future volitions of that free subject, is to assert a manifest impossibility. It is not possible, in the nature of things, for any being to foreknow all the doings of others, and to foreread in all particulars their character and conduct for ages to come, and yet change in his own feelings and thoughts and purposes toward them, as in process of time they come actually to put forth those accountable volitions seriatim. What more is needed for the government of the moral universe than is needed in the many things which are unquestionably and confessedly implied in divine providence and in the institution of prayer? If God is everywhere present to observe the fall of every sparrow, in his unintelligent sensitive creation, and everywhere present to listen to the sigh and prayer of every penitent soul, in the kingdom of his intelligent sensitive creation, what more can be necessary to manage the unknown developments of a world of free beings? No emergency in the divine government could ever demand more wonderful or more prompt resources than are constantly employed by an all- superintending providence, whose administration not only supervises all beings and all events, but gives efficacy to prayer. And it is in harmony with this view that Inspiration declares "the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the earth, to show himself strong in behalf of him whose heart is perfect towards him." "The ways of a man are before the Lord, he pondereth all his goings." Does it not perfectly comport with the divine character and attributes to say that God knows all things whatever, in the past, in the present, and in the future, which have acquired such an existence as to be the subjects of knowledge; that he is the sovereign of all the universe, constantly beholding all his creatures, and governing all in righteousness and mercy by his infinite wisdom and power, and that as a benign sovereign he regards all the cries and exigencies of his subjects, is affected by them, answers them, treats and blesses them according to all their diversified necessities? In this view there is no danger that God will ever be confounded, or his government overturned, for the lack of any foreknowledge that our view does not concede. God's government may be just as perfect without such foreknowledge as with it, over a world so limited as this. Limited creatures require very limited and fixed plans. But an infinite being may accomplish his designs without predetermining the details of his operations. And therefore he says (Jer. xvii, 10), "I search the heart, and give to every man according to his way"; that is, as man obeys or disobeys, God modifies his feelings and treatment of him. If it be any conceivable advantage for an infinite being to previse all the future choices of a comparatively small number of accountable creatures, it has eluded the most careful scrutiny of the writer. Such doctrines as the divinity of our Lord, the necessity of a final and universal atonement, justification through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, the plenary inspiration of the infallible Scriptures, and sanctification through the belief of the truth, are all necessary to the success of the Gospel and to the accomplishment of its gracious and grand designs. All, therefore, should be wary in proposing any new doctrine which could disturb public confidence in teachings so indispensable to the salvation of the race and the progress of the kingdom of Christ. But if the world moves, as mutter the irrepressible Galileos, then there must be progression in thought, and there may be progress in thought without disturbing those theological foundations which have been laid by the wisdom, learning, and piety of past ages. The Princeton Review for June, 1877, page 29, says: "The Bible is not a field whose treasures have been exhausted, for they are inexhaustible. As in the past holy men have found among these treasures jewels of priceless valueAthanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Luther, and Calvin have derived therefrom new doctrines that have given shape, not only to the Church, but to the worldso it is not too much to expect that others may go forth from their retirement, where they have been alone in their communion with God through his Word, holding up before the world some new doctrine freshly derived from the ancient writings, which, although hitherto overlooked, will prove to be the necessary complement of all the previous knowledge of the Church, and, indeed, no less essential to its life, growth, and progress, than the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity, the Augustinian doctrine of sin, or the Protestant doctrine of justification through faith." But what doctrine of faith or of duty taught in the Gospel is affected in the slightest degree by the negation of universal divine foreknowledge? Not one, as is everywhere confessed.

"A general providence," says Mr. Wesley, "implies a special providence, and without the special there can be no general." But the real distinction between general and special providence needs to be more exactly stated than it has been. A general providence embraces those plans or purposes which God has sovereignly determined upon in his arrangements and provisions for the sensitive creatures under his care, and which he will carry forward and accomplish irrespective of the choices of men in his kingdom of free grace. The accomplishment of these great purposes and plans he effects in part, at least, through the instrumentalities of finite wills; and accordingly he puts them under the action of the law of cause and effect. But by the special providence of God we are to understand all that great series of special interpositions, reliefs, modifications, and deliverances which are dependent and consequent upon, and necessitated by the free choices of free beings while acting under the law of liberty. The temporal condition of men is continually modified by their resolves in respect to morals and religion. "Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man" to conceive the wonderful influence of prayer in the kingdom of special providence. And God's entire government and management of a race of free agents can never require greater knowledge, wisdom, power, ubiquity, and instantaneous expedients than are indispensable in meeting the innumerable exigencies of his kingdom of special providence and in answering the countless supplications of the suffering and the devout. In what, then, do we see the necessity for universal prescience? And till that necessity receives a more plausible setting forth than has ever yet been given to it, we must still decline its acceptance among admitted truths.

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