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Chapter XIV:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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THE most acute of the speculative divines of all the past, who have maintained foreknowledge, affirm that it is ut terly inconceivable how it is possible for God to foreknow the future choices of free agents save through a series of necessary causes. This is the affirmation of Dr. Samuel Clarke, distinguished for his power of subtle discrimination. And Richard Watson says, "The manner in which the Divine Being foreknows the free choices of free agents is inconceivable even to the greatest minds that have ever studied the subject." "How God came by this foreknowledge is the real difficulty," says Dr. Whedon, "and there we leave it as forever insoluble." "It would puzzle the greatest philosopher that ever was," says Tillotson, "to give any tolerable account how any knowledge whatever can certainly foresee an event through uncertain and contingent causes." What right, then, I ask, have they to affirm so confidently that omniscience can foreknow contingent choices and events?

True, it is impossible for us to conceive how it is possible for God to be omnipresent; but the admission of omnipresence is demanded by many considerations that make it a logical necessity. And its affirmation is attended with no shocking sequences, and involves no impossibilities and absurdities. It does not, like foreknowledge, overwhelm us with difficulties, lose us among mysteries, and appall us with perplexities. We have, therefore, no reasons for rejecting omnipresence, however incomprehensible it may be. But no one has any foundation or data whatever for his inference that omniscience can foresee the future choices of free beings while acting under the law of liberty. A sagacious writer has said, "A future free act is, previous to its existence, a nothing," and "the knowing of a nothing is a bald contradiction." If an act be free, it must be contingent. If contingent, it may or may not happen, or it may be one of many possibles. And if it may be one of many possibles, it must be uncertain; and if uncertain, it must be unknowable. There is no consideration that makes divine foreknowledge a necessity. And if we are nowhere taught in revelation, and if it be also incomprehensible how this divine foreknowledge is possible, the inference ought to be adverse to the doctrine of prescience. But if it were possible for omniscience to foreknow ages beforehand my choices, on which my eternal destiny depends, is it not highly probable that the manner, the how, and the process of such foreknowledge, would be discoverable? A thousand necessities plead earnestly that we should know through what means it is that God can foreknow the future free choices and actions of free agents. No evil could result to any one from our knowing how such knowledge can be possible; multitudes of perplexities would vanish the moment the mysterious process should be revealed to the race. Explanation on this point would relieve all inquiring minds. The fact that such explanation never has been vouchsafed is certainly a presumption that such knowledge is not necessary to the perfection of the Deity.

"A future free choice of a free spirit" was pronounced "an unknowable thing" by Benedict Spinoza, one of a dozen of the most profound minds that ever reigned in the republic of thought. And, as omnipotence is limited by the possible, so omniscience is limited by the knowable. The cases are absolutely similar. As this limitation of omnipotence does not render God imperfect, so also this limitation of omniscience does not render him less than perfect. The limitation in both cases rests on the same ground; namely, the law of self-consistency, the law that obtains against self- contradiction. We do not limit omnipotence by denying its power to do impossible or self- contradictory things. Neither do we limit omniscience by denying its power to foreknow unknowable things.

The burden of proof surely rests on those who affirm that divine prescience includes a knowledge of all future creature volitions. They must show a possible logical connection between God's present knowledge and the future volitions of imperfect creatures, or they must stand in the unenviable predicament of those who hold opinions for which they can assign neither argument nor analogy nor necessity. They must relegate this whole subject to the labyrinth of mystery, and say, with Dr. Whedon: "The great difficulty is to tell how God came by this knowledge." "Foreknowing an act does not prove the necessity of the act, but the inexplicable character of its origin." It certainly is unreasonable to ask a man who will reason to believe in absolute divine foreknowledge, without giving to him a single text of Holy Writ that teaches it, or a single proof of its reality, or an argument for its necessity, or a reason for it suggested in the operations of necessary thought, or even a principle in the analogy of faith that requires its admission. Until the advocates of universal prescience can present something besides dogmatic assertion in its support, the writer must remain standing respectfully before them in the attitude of a perplexed but devout questioner. If they claim its solution to be impossible, they ought surely to demonstrate its necessity, if they would win for it any adherents.

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