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Chapter XX:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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DR. WHEDON says that "God can foresee the future choices of a free agent, and at the same time he can foresee that that agent will possess the power to have chosen differently; therefore, the prescience of God is consistent with freedom in the agent." But if prescience be true, the future choice of a free agent is a fixed knowledge in the divine mind and a fixed fact in the history of the universe.

Things, if properly said to be known, must be known as they really are; and all facts are necessarily immutable. An event, an act known to be, can not but be; it can never be known not to be. The knowledge of a foreseen choice of an individual agent enters as truly and as certainly into the mind of God and into his plans of government, his purposes of mercy, his scheme of education for probationary beings, his system of rewarding the obedient and of forsaking and punishing the incorrigible, as does any other truth or fact or knowledge of which we can conceive.

If we could suppose that a foreseen choice should come to be different from that which it was foreseen to be, then we must admit that all the innumerable choices of other free beings and all the events contingent upon that mis-foreseen choice may also be different in multitudes of particulars. All the subsequent doings of God, and all the plans and workings of his administration require that identical foreseen choice of that identical agent, and will be consistent with no other. Every resolve of a free agent, whether it be holy or unholy, must necessarily produce its legitimate moral results. It must appear among the working moral forces of the universe. Every such free choice must enter as a factor into the divine government, for endless subsequent developments and progressions. A million of years from the date of that foreseen choice, its influence, as one of the pre-arranged factors for the accomplishment of some purpose or plan of the Almighty Father, will continue. If God determines to bring an accountable moral being into existence, his goodness would lead him to make some provisions for that being's moral instruction and training. But as God foresees the free moral choices of the mother of that being, he can predicate of them that they shall be one of the manifold influences and agencies that shall perform their part in that moral education. As God foresees what influences the mother's free choices will exert, he foresees also what influences the free choices of that person himself will exert over othersfor example, over each of his brothers; and, therefore, he predicates that those future free choices shall enter as a factor into his plan for the moral education of those brothers.

And so, in like manner, upon this theory all future choices are foreknown, and all enter into God's fixed plansone after another, as anywhere upon the globe, and down to the close of time they shall come into active existence. The whole history of the earth in this view crystallizes, in the mind of God, into one great comprehensive plan, embracing Adam and his posterity down to the last child of his race. Equally the whole history of the eternity to come is known to and fixed in the divine mind. There God sits upon the throne of the universe waiting for these grand panoramas of earth and eternity to unroll before him every scene of which he has been gazing upon from eternity. On such an arena where can we find place for so insignificant a thing as human freedom? Fatalism itself could not bind eternity with chains more adamantine, nor could it more thoroughly discourage moral agents, nor more completely enthrall the moral universe. No one of these choices of moral agents may have been necessary in its nature, but it was absolutely necessary that it should come to pass in order to the accomplishment of the plans of Jehovah, which have been in his mind from eternity awaiting the choices of seemingly free spirits. God may have unnumbered purposes, all of which must fail if any foreseen act fail to come to pass. Every free choice is followed by innumerable consequencesas, for example, Cæsar's crossing the Rubicon; and of every foreseen choice God makes innumerable predications.

Now all these predications, all these natural consequences must come to pass as they are now foreseen. "It is impossible," said Dr. Whedon, "that this plan of God, this pre-record of futuritions should ever err or in the slightest particular be changed."

In order that this totality of futuritions may now be mirrored on the Omniscient eye, not only must the totality of choices of free beings be mirrored there, but it must also be present to the divine mind as a totality of new-born forces, and each one of the countless millions of these forces must be perceived as having its specific mission, and producing its specified results, which results, after assuming the free existence of such force it was divinely designed to accomplish in working put the eternal purposes of God. "The divine foresight anticipating what Judas would freely do," says Dr. Whedon, "provided for it and adopted it into his plan, and for the conduct of that plan." The carrying out God's plan and purposes, therefore, and the bringing about of the events which he foresaw would follow consequentially, and those which he determined should result from that free act of Judas, subsequent to his deed of betrayal, necessarily required that betrayal. Without that betrayal all those purposes could not have been as it was foreseen that they should be, If it was necessary that all the subsequent unfoldings of the great world plan of God should be what he foresaw they would and should be, then it was equally necessary that Judas Iscariot should betray his Divine Master. Not that the act of betrayal was a constrained one in its nature, but though free it was indispensable to the foreknown unfoldings of all the subsequent plans of God in all their eternal and infinite complications and amplifications. Logical necessity is the only kind of necessity that is involved in thought systems, or doctrinal structures. It is much easier to believe that there was no avoidability in the act of betrayal by Judas than to believe that the endless future and moral history of the moral universe should be or could be different from that which from all eternity God foreknew that they would be.

The system of Calvin claims that God foreordained all the future choices of free spirits, embracing, of course, those which involve moral character and entail endless destiny; therefore, he foreknew them. The Calvinism of Dr. Wilbur Fisk says that God foreknows all those future choices that will be, and therefore he foreordains them to be (subsequent to their occurrence) evermore working factors in his everlasting moral government. He foreordains them to be parts and agencies in his great plans and purposes which ever after are to unfold before an intelligent and wondering moral universe. "God is not willing," says a Calvinistic writer, "that any should perish, but that every man should come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved, and that every man turn from his evil way and live. This is all revealed, for it is all true; and in knowing the truth and in accepting the sincere proffers of life only shall man find his eternal life. There is no decree in his way, for he that decreed man's freedom thereby decreed or decided that he should be free to choose life or death. And whichever way he chooses, that choosing necessitates God's foreknowledge and predetermination concerning him. For the Almighty can not but foresee his final choice, and he therefore can not but predetermine his destiny in harmony with man's ultimate choice." This is the Calvinism, I think, of New England; but how it differs from the teaching of Dr. Wilbur Fisk, earnestly as he warred against it, I can not distinguish. But a consistent Arminianism says (for it is compelled by consistency persistently to declare), that God neither foreordains nor foreknows those future choices of free beings which entail eternal destinies.

Dr. Bledsoe found great gratification in the "confession of the New Englander that he had taken out of the hands of the Calvinists, the necessitarian argument founded upon the foreknowledge of God." But this wonderful thinker and wide reader, in the intensity of his gaze on one side of this question, it seems, wholly overlooked the other. The great difficulties of this case are piled up in stern reality on the other side of this troublesome problem. "A present thing can not be different from what it is, and a future thing can not be different from what it will be." This kind of necessity Dr. Bledsoe termed an axiomatic necessity. "A future thing can not be different from the present foreknowledge of that thing, nor can a present thing be different from a present knowledge of it." This he called a logical necessity. These two kinds of necessity he clearly distinguished from causal necessity, and therefore he joyfully concluded that he had disposed of the celebrated difficulty, and demonstrated that absolute foreknowledge is perfectly consistent with the free agency of man. But while he denied the causal necessity of a future choice of a free agent, he could not deny, nor could he question, its effectal (not effectual, but effectal) or factal necessitynamely, that each of the uncaused volitions of accountable beings, so soon as it is put forth, enters the vast arena as a cause newly born, to produce its own legitimate effects in the realm of souls, and that every one of these volitions of free spirits is employed by the Sovereign Arbiter as one of his instrumentalities in carrying forward his great plans, either of punishing or rewarding or educating free beings and worlds, and in accomplishing his benevolent purposes in all their numberless and everlasting manifestations.

But no one of all these countless choices can be different from that which it was from all eternity foreseen to be, without at the same time modifying the moral history of the whole universe and of all the eternity to come. "Every event, however trivial," says Bishop Butler, "is preceded by and also succeeded by an infinite number of links in the endless chain." And if all God's subsequent inflexible plans, purposes, modes, and operations require and demand in me a particular volition, where, I ask, can be found the arena for my freedom and contrary choice? How is it possible for me, as I now take my place in the drama of probation, to modify any particular of my eternally foreknown future? How can my energy, my prayer, my faith, my moral heroism, modify in the slightest degree my great interests for eternity, or change the eternal foreknowledge of God? All my immortal energies are enervated and benumbed at the bare mention of absolute divine foreknowledge, and the only way I can meet my solemn obligations is persistently to exclude the subject from my meditations. And at this hour, this is the dernier ressort of millions of devout thinkers. For who could resist the gloomy conviction that his volition, which is so comparatively infinitesimal and insignificant, was prearranged for God's universal, eternal, and crystallized future? Who can gainsay the declaration of Theophilus Parsons, that "a freedom which for any reason whatever must result in one only conclusion, is not and can not be freedom." For we really can not choose a thing unless we can choose not that thing. We can easily perceive, with Dr. Whedon, the distinction between God's foreseeing the future choice of a free being and the fact that that choice is in itself perfectly free in its nature when considered as an isolated event, as wholly disconnected from any system of influences or purposes or plans of Jehovah. But the moment we regard that foreknown choice as a fixed fact in the divine mind from all eternity past; as a fixed working factor which is indispensable to the subsequent unfoldings of all the future plans and enterprises of God; as necessary to the unerring correctness of all endless panorama now infallibly mapped out before the omniscient eye as to every particular, from the smallest to the greatest of events, from the insect floating among sunbeams up to the loftiest seraph flying through the immensities of space; as inter- locked and interwoven with all other choices and all events in a scheme reaching from everlasting to everlasting, then we are forced to the conclusion that if absolute foreknowledge be true, there is, and there can be, no real arena for freedom in the soul of man. No wonder Dr. Whedon exclaims, "To many it seems a matter in which the fearful blends too much with the sublime that interests so immense should be suspended upon a fiber so slight as the free human will." We shall then be compelled to exclaim, with the good Dr. Dick, that "if our volitions are foreseen we can no more avoid them than we can pluck the sun out of yonder heavens."

"To reconcile," says Dr. Campbell, of Scotland, "the divine prescience with freedom or contingency, and the consequent moral good or ill of human actions, is what I have never seen achieved, and what I despair of ever seeing." And Dugald Stewart affirms that "to reconcile the freedom of the human will with the foreknowledge of God is beyond the reach of the human faculties." "To reconcile human freedom and divine foreknowledge surmounts," says Charnock, "the understanding of man." The best Schleiermacher could say was that "the proposition, 'God wills the free as free,' is synonymous with, God knows the free as free." "The question is often asked," says Dr. Wilbur Fisk, "Does God's plan imply the necessity of a change on condition that his creatures act in this way or in that way?" The only answer that ingenuous, able man could make to this troublesome question was that God could so perfectly arrange his plan as to preclude the possibility of any disappointment. But, according to this view, God's plan is all foreknown and immutable. God's present plan, then, embracing all the actions of free spirits, can not be changed by any probationer for eternity!

But which is the easier to accept, so manifest and most pernicious an error, or to deny what seems to many thoughtful men to be the irrational and needless dogma of universal foreknowledge? This dogma has been ever the disturber of the peace. Theologians of the largest endowments have ever been striving with the energy of Titans to reconcile the two incompatible propositions; namely, man's free agency and God's absolute foreknowledge. The great thinkers of all times and lands have, with almost unbroken unanimity, pronounced them to be irreconcilable, and relegated them to the domain of the incomprehensible. "The attempt to reconcile foreknowledge with creature freedom," says Dr. M'Cosh, "has engaged the subtlest and perplexed the clearest minds since man began to ask the how and the why and the wherefore." Now, ought not this great fact, which is so prominent in the history of thought, to bear with some force adversely to the doctrine of divine prescience?

"Foreknowledge," thundered Martin Luther, "is a thunder-bolt to dash free will to atoms." This also is the opinion of John Calvin. Dr. Bledsoe charges amazing inconsistency upon Martin Luther, for affirming so frequently that the doctrine of free will falls prostrate before the prescience of God, while at the same time maintaining the freedom of the divine will. "For," says Dr. Bledsoe, "if foreknowledge is incompatible with the existence of free will, the will of God is not free, because all his volitions are perfectly foreseen."

But it has been rendered plausible, if it has not been demonstrated, in this discussion, that the perfections of God's personal character, as well as his perfections as a Moral Governor of free accountable beings, most strongly indicate as the correct view that very many of his volitions are formed and known by him only when the demand for them arrives. The only argument, therefore, which Dr. Bledsoe adduces to refute Martin Luther is, as we see, merely the manifest fallacy of undue assumption of premise. "The effort," says Professor Goldwin Smith, "to reconcile the manifest contradiction between freedom and omniscience, by distinguishing between foreknowledge and afterknowledge, has been utterly unsuccessful."

Julius Müller adds his high authority to sustain the same position. He tells us. that this solution of the difficulty of reconciling freedom with foreknowledge has been the popular one, from Augustine down to our latest theologians. "They all admit," he says, "that the freedom of human action would be destroyed if God literally knew beforehand what it would be. But they say that God's knowledge is not, like ours, subject to the conditions of time and sequence. For past, present, and future are known to God as a complete, ever-present whole." To this Müller replies that "past, present, and future must not be excluded from the perceptions of God. If succession in moments, in time, be something real, then the assertion that time does not exist in the divine knowledge, that it is not an object of divine perception, means nothing less than that God does not know the world as it is. But God does know things as they are, and they are precisely as he knows them. The world, objectively, must be present to the mind of God. He therefore does recognize succession in time. Human freedom, therefore, can not be saved by regarding God's knowledge as eternal, and raised above the limitations of time." Thousands of thinkers have frankly admitted that the freedom of human action would be destroyed if God literally knew beforehand what that action would be. Their only escape from the difficulty is by denying that there is any succession with God. But all the philosophers, such as Porter, Malian, and M'Cosh, no longer deny, but boldly affirm, that there is such succession.

But do not these arguments at least render it much more probable than otherwise that the divine foreknowledge is really incompatible with the freedom of the human will? And does not this accumulated weight of authority against the possibility of the human faculties ever effecting a reconciliation between man's free agency and God's universal prescience tend to the same conclusion? And if we still adhere to the dogma of absolute, universal prescience, is not that to leave the whole subject in such incomprehension, incertitude, and suspense as to paralyze, to a great degree, the energies of the will, and force all thorough and devout students of divinity to seriously question whether human freedom is not, after all, a torturing delusion?

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