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Chapter XXVI:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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FOREKNOWLEDGE would render impossible those feelings which it would be proper for a ruler to entertain towards his subjects. To be our ruler God ought to love us when we do right, and to prove to us that he does love us. He could not be worthy to rule unless he were displeased with us when we do wrong, and should also make us sensible of his displeasure.

No reader will question that there is succession out of God. No proof to the contrary has ever yet been presented. And how can there be succession out of God and no succession in God? It is, in fact, absurd to affirm that while there is succession out of God, there is no succession in God. Our ideas occur one after anotherthat is, they take place at different periods. Reflection upon the train of our thoughts gives us the idea of succession. The distance between any two points of this succession is an interval of duration. Succession in our thoughts is the occasion of the birth of the idea of duration. "Duration," says Dr. Dwight, "is suggested by a succession of changes." The succession is not duration, but only suggestive of duration. Continuance in being may suggest duration, but certainly it is not duration. Duration is not an idea of perception nor a notion of consciousness, but it is a fundamental law of belief intuitively perceived. It is the necessary condition of succession, for we can neither think, feel, nor act without assuming its existence. It is the indispensable condition of things as existing. The only conception we have of duration is an uninterrupted ongoing. It implies, necessarily, past, present, and future, because it is a perpetual flow; Duration is either limited or unlimited. Intervals of duration, varying in length, are variously denominated, for example, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and centuries.

The contemplation of things as extended, suggests the infinity of space which contains all things. So the contemplation of intervals of duration suggests an unlimited duration which embraces all intervals. This unlimited duration we call eternity. Time is the interval of duration from the creation of Adam down to the death of the last of his race. Both time and eternity are duration. Time is duration with a beginning and an ending; eternity is duration without either. When I say that God exists in eternity, I mean that he exists in a duration without beginning or ending. Duration, as applied to an infinite being, is simply an extension of duration as applied to a finite being. Duration does not imply change. It is the same, whether the being be mutable or immutable, whether or not there be any being at all. A perfect being neither gains nor loses any thing in the extension of duration. Even the qualities of finite natures are not affected or determined by their duration. But overlooking these obvious truths, some of the great philosophers have framed the most farfetched and unsatisfactory definitions of time and eternity, definitions which are not only contradictory of each other, but even self-contradictory. Aristotle, for example, defines time to be motion. Herbert says it is the number of change. Gruppe says: "Time is not motion, but it is the relation between motions." Emmanuel Kant declared that time is not an objective something, but that it is merely a subjective conception; that it is not even a condition of intellectual perception, but a condition of sense perception, a mere form of an internal sense. According to Cudworth, "time is perfection"a definition which Richard Watson says would answer as well for a definition of the moon. Hegel, however, far outstrips Cudworth, for he defines time to be "the existence which, in that it is, is not, and in that it is not, it is." Boethius tells us that eternity "is the perfect possession of interminable life, and of all that life at once." "Eternity," says Thomas Aquinas, "has no succession, but exists altogether." "Eternity," writes Weisse, "is the negation of all motions." Other definitions are: "It is God's self-production" (Julius Müller); "It is an eternal now" (Cowley); "It is neither a point, nor a possession, nor a now, but a causality, the causative power of God, conditioning all things" (Schleiermacher); "A point without dimension, a center always the same, and having an absolute content, which center, according to the unrestrained will, which holds sway in it without being conditioned from without and limited in itself, expands or contracts itself." (Delitzsch.) All this seems very much like nonsense. And it is marvelous how metaphysicians and theologians have wearied themselves and belabored each other to discover a distinction or a difference between the stuff out of which time is made and the stuff out of which eternity is made.

But it was that most troublesome assumption of absolute prescience that coerced them into such absurdities, and led them to deny to God motion, change, succession, or duration. The ideas which we gain of time, they affirm "are not to be admitted or allowed in our conceptions of God's duration, for with him eternity is an eternal now." But the affirmation that a permanent now coexists with a perpetually flowing duration, is self contradictory. As well might one affirm that there is no such thing as duration, because he has no clock to measure it. But if God is without duration, he is durationlesswhich, of course, is unthinkable. If with God there is no past, present, and future, then either he is not eternal or the human mind can form no apprehension of eternity. If God does not perceive, feel, will, and act in time he never does any one of these things. For time is only a computable segment of infinite duration, only a small arc of an infinite circle. Time is embraced in eternity, just as truly as an arc is embraced in the circumference of a circle. God's eternity is duration unlimited; and unlimited duration embraces all intervals of duration, and hence if God does not act in time he does not act at all, and, consequently, he could not act in eternity.

If time be an objective reality with me, it must be so with God; and if he acts in time he does at one time what he does not at another. I call his acts past, present, and future, and why should not he do the same? God does represent himself as doing at one time what he does not at another. We hear him say, I do, I will, I shall, and I did. How can God sustain and daily feed the universe unless he acts in time? How could he hear prayer, morning and evening, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, in 1850 and in 1880, unless he perceives in time? How can it dishonor him to know things as they really are? Why should we narrow our conceptions of him by assuming that he can not know events as they are? If succession be untrue, then God does not know the world, nor the human mind, nor human activities, as they really are. How can it be an imperfection or a limitation in him to look back to an epoch from which he is receding, or to look forward to an epoch to which he is approaching, on the line of infinite duration?

Not to possess, in the present, the actual, past and the actual future, can not be regarded as an imperfection. To know things as they are, is certainly neither a limitation nor an imperfection. I can contemplate every state answering to the necessities, of my nature, in all the future, and I can bring all the past into the present without detracting from my perfection in the present. Whatever perfection I may have consists in my subjective self and not in the ongoing of duration. Those who, in their efforts to conceive of God's eternity, reject all the limitations of time, must empty the idea of the divine being as eternal of all its fullness, and reduce God to an indefinite abstraction. Even Charnock says that "God was before the beginning of the world." "Without the idea of a flowing duration," says Richard Watson, "we could have no measure of the continuance of our pleasures, and this would be an abatement of our happiness. And what is so obvious an excellency in the spirit of man and in angelic natures can never be thought an imperfection in God when joined with a nature essentially perfect and immutable." God's commands are of perpetual obligation; but perpetuity of obligation implies time or duration.

That God, in a single moment of duration, does all the feeling, thinking, willing, and acting which his universe requires from everlasting to everlasting, is too incredible for any intelligent being to believe. And unless that be admitted, there must be a before and an after in the existence of God. If he can not distinguish the past from the present, and the present from the future, his intelligence is less than ours. The doctrine of God's immutability, as conceived by many, would take from him all personal life, resolves and experiences, and all availing interest in a repenting race and an ever unfolding universe. But granting to him the most perfect immutability as to his natural and moral perfections, what objection can be conceived to the supposition that there may be changes in his mental states in respect to a changeable universe? If the mode of the divine existence allows the formation and the execution of an infinite number of purposes, why may not it also allow of changes in those purposes? Change in thought, feeling, purpose, and act, under justifiable circumstances, instead of implying limitation or imperfection, is an indispensable condition of perfection in the divine nature. Indeed, God could not continue to remain perfect without such changes after he had created a sentient and accountable universe wholly dependent upon him for its existence and well-being. In creating a being endowed with freedom and the power of original, unantecedented causation, the capacity of putting forth free volitions and moral or immoral forces into the universe of things, God laid upon himself the necessity of change the very moment that his voluntary creature disobeyed his commandments and rebelled against his authority. Perfection not only demands but necessitates changes in the Ruler appropriate to the changes in the moral accountable subject. Moreover, to affirm that in God there can be no change is really to exclude him from his government over his accountable universe, or to affirm that his government is only a pretense, destitute of all reality.

Men in speculation may, like Berkeley, deny existence to material objects, but in practical life they never fail to recognize and affirm it. And thus in theory men may deny the existence of a world of pure contingencies, but in practice they can not ignore it if they would. All their warnings addressed to the wayward, all their anxieties addressed to their own hearts, and all their prayers addressed to Deity, imply a world of contingency. And, if there be a world of contingencies, then there must necessarily be a contingent side to God's thoughts, feelings, actions, plans, and purposes.

An intelligent being must necessarily think; and, if he thinks, he must have succession of thoughts. To affirm that there is no succession in God is to affirm not only that God never changes in feeling, Purpose, or conduct, but also that he has no sequential thoughts. But he who makes such denials not only disregards all philosophy, but ignores the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, which represent God as the One "who was, and is, and is to come." And that there are motion, change, duration, and succession in God, the common sense of theologians and philosophers of the first rank is rapidly coercing them to admit and fearlessly to proclaim.

When, therefore, a moral agent does wrong, the displeasure of his conscience is the reflex of that of him to whom that agent is responsible. Yesterday I was wicked, and he ought then to have been displeased with me. Today I am good, and he ought now to approve of me. But if all is one eternal now, if with him there be no past and no future, if with him there be no succession, if he sees all the future as he sees the present, then, necessarily, he is subject to the most conflicting emotions toward me at the same moment of time. Love, hate, approval, disapproval, admiration, contempt, and every variety of feeling, corresponding to every successive variety of my character from birth to death, exist in him at the same instant. Isaiah exclaimed, "Though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me." And what was true of Isaiah is true of all the individuals of our race. But are the contradictions above noted possible? Is not such a supposition absurd? Could we attribute a greater imperfection to God's character, or do a greater injustice to the equanimities and harmonies of his eternally blissful nature, than to suppose that he is the subject of such conflicts of emotion and such endless contrariety of feeling at the same moment toward the same individuals?

God's feelings and perceptions, like our own, follow according to the law of cause and effect. And however much I may merit his love on account of my present obedience, he can not really love me if he foresees that I am to be numbered with the incorrigibles, with those who disobey and hate him, in outer darkness forever. How could one love another today, however worthy he now is of his love, if he were certain that that person on the morrow would murder his mother? I know that I have the divine favor now, but if God sees that I will eventually apostatize from the faith, deny the blood that bought me, count it an unholy thing, and crucify the Son of God afresh, he must shudder at and abhor the deep depravity, the fiendish wickedness, of my future character.

Are, then, all his present manifestations of love to my soul, all these hallowed communions, and all this sweet witness of the Holy Spirit bearing testimony to my spirit that I am a child of God, mere hollow pretenses? Manifestly, then, in guarding with such jealous care the perfection of divine foreknowledge, theologians overlook the equal necessity for perfection, appropriateness, and successiveness in the feelings and moral judgments of God respecting his intelligent subjects.

If God be such a being as the Christian really contemplates and adores, then universal prescience can not be true; for, as we have seen, that theory would compel us to confess to vast imperfections in his sensitive states and judgments. It would render it impossible for us to discover, to conceive as existing in him, the appropriate feelings and purposes toward the ever varying character of his free accountable subjects. But this constant appropriateness of feeling and conduct toward the struggling, self-determining subject, is one of the indispensable perfections of a righteous Ruler, which we must never surrender if we would escape distressing contradictions. Surely, then, this is another strong presumption, if not a proof, that God does not foreknow all the actions of accountable creatures.

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