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Chapter XV:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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"THE Socinians and the Remonstrants against Supralapsarian Calvinists deny," says, Dr. Hodge, "that future free acts can be foreknown." "There is a large class of thinkers," says Dr. Whedon, "who deny foreknowledge, and contemplate the field of free events as spreading out unconceived by any anterior prescience." Dr. Adam Clarke has written a short paragraph on what he calls the awful subject of the foreknowledge of God. He was, I think, unfortunate in some of his statements, though clearly perceiving and fearlessly endorsing the negative of this question. But some of his utterances are surely worthy of the most careful consideration. He says: "If God has made a thing absolutely certain, it is absurd for any one to say that he foreknows that thing to be contingent." "It is equally absurd to say that God foreknows a thing to be absolutely certain which in his own eternal counsel and purpose he has made and resolved shall be absolutely contingent." "A denial of the contingency of human actions involves a concatenation of the most glaring and ruinous absurdities." "An admission of the contingency of human actions makes every intelligent creature responsible. And an admission that every accountable creature is accountable for his own works, in order to be consistent, requires the admission that God foresees nothing as absolutely and inevitably certain which he has made contingent, and made contingent because he desired and intended that it should be contingent. He can not therefore know it as absolutely and inevitably certain."

It is to be regretted that a man of such powers and acquisitions did not give more time to the elucidation of this important subject, and that he did not search after the argument in favor of a doctrine the truth and the necessity of which he so clearly apprehended. From the large volume of his thoughts he took this sibylline leaf and gave it to the onward breeze. [But we may safely consider the opinion of a man so great and learned, upon a subject to which he had given patient thought, a presumption in favor of his view sufficiently strong to merit our attention and devout prayer for light. And surely be who embraces and enforces the view of universal prescience which is presented by Dr. A. Clarke ought not to be covered with epithets by a people whose theological opinions and popular convictions have been formed by him more than by any other man, living or dead.] Had he analyzed the subject more perfectly he might have demonstrated that a foreknowledge of those acts of free agents which imply moral character involves absurdity. Such contingencies lie outside all legitimate knowledge, and transcend all legitimate thinking and perceiving, even for a supreme intelligence that is infinite in its capacities, But he denies foreknowledge on the ground of God's voluntary choice, affirming that God is as free in the volitions of his knowledge as he is in the volitions of his power. He says that "omnipotence, though it implies the power to do all things, does not imply that God actually does do all things. And so, though God is omniscient, and can know all things, it does not follow that he does know all things." Thus, without proper carefulness in his statements, he brought his proposition into disrepute and general rejection. He supported his proposition with a fallacy so unpardonable that it has occasioned abundant mirth for after critics. And the contempt appropriate to his argument has also been extended to his proposition. How often it happens that a fallacious argument does serious damage to most important truths!

Richard Rothe, Professor of Theology in Heidelberg University, is thus characterized by Dr. Schaff: "He holds the very first place among the speculative divines of the present day. He surpasses Nitzsch, Müller, Dörner, Bauer, Martensen; and in grasp and independence of thought he is hardly inferior to Schleiermacher. His 'System of Theological Ethics' is the greatest work on speculative divinity which has appeared since Schleiermacher's 'Dogmatics.' It is full of power, boldness, and originality. The several stones of the ethical system are reared up here in the strength and beauty of a Gothic cathedral, under the hand of a skillful architect He is exceedingly popular as a teacher, and enjoys the respect and admiration of all who know him personally, as a man and a Christian." This distinguished man wrote a work denying the foreknowledge of God, which was vehemently, but by no means vigorously, attacked by Julius Müller. But Prof. Rothe replied to all his arguments, and affirmed that all his great antagonist had written upon the subject, had only confirmed him in the views which he had previously presented. Rothe also quotes Lotze, Weiss, and Martensen, as supporting his side of the question. He concludes his rejoinder to Müller with the fol- lowing impressive words: "The very religious interest itself drives us imperatively to the view of non- prescience on the part of God of the free actions of imperfect moral beings. In any other view, prayer becomes nonsense and even a religiously inexcusable absurdity. The pious mind, in its absolute certainty in the reality of true prayer, will and must, despite all seemingly good reasons for the contrary, boldly and unhesitatingly reject as worthless any and every conception of the divine moral government which admits of a playground for prayer; that is, which does not admit of any really determining influence of prayer, on our part, on the will of God." This is the utterance of one who is pronounced to be the greatest ethical writer in the world, of one whom Hubner styles the greatest philosopher ever at Weimar. [But Rothe's fuller discussions of this subject were inaccessible to the writer. He learns, however, that he was hampered in his theory with notions of predestination, and by his utter inability to safeguard the prophecies of Scripture. ]

Martensen affirms that whatever can be an object of eternal foreknowledge, must be grounded in a law of eternal necessity; and the great Socinus boldly denied the dogma of foreknowledge. One of the most distinguished divines of the West, a profound metaphysician and confessedly a sound theologian, who has written much and well on the deepest themes, says, "There is no determining a consistent theology or constructing an acceptable theodicy, without a denial of the foreknowledge of the future free choices of free agents." And John Milton, one of England's devoutest spirits, must have rejected, in his private meditations, the doctrines of absolute prescience, for he represents God as saying,

"So without least impulse or shadow of fate,
Or aught by me immutably foreseen,
They trespass, authors to themselves in all
Both what they judge and what they choose, for so
I formed them free, and, free they must remain
Till they enthrall themselves."

The array of highly gifted intellects that prefer to question universal prescience, rather than worry with, and invent apologies for, the logical contradictions which it necessitates, is certainly far too imposing to be ridiculed either into oblivion or into silence.

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