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Chapter XXVII:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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THERE are necessary laws of finite thought, in obedience to which we must think would we reason with any valuable results. Why, then should there not be necessary laws of infinite thought, seeing that we are created in his image? "All thought is a comparison," says Sir William Hamilton, "and intelligence acts only by comparison." Thought begins when, we distinguish between an object and any of its properties, or when we proceed from something allowed to something derived from it by thinking. According to the necessary laws governing finite thought, a knowledge of the future acts of free agents is excluded. Such knowledge transcends all legitimate knowledge or logical inquiry in finite thinking. If a knowledge of the future resolves of free agents be possible by any regular process of thinking, it must be a process of which we can now form no conception whatever.

Such knowledge can come to us in the line of no legitimate human investigation. There can be no legitimate reasoning without a class of admitted truths from which it proceeds in the order of thought. But in this case there are and there can be no such admitted truths and facts. Neither motives, reasons, influences, moral forces, laws of mental action, nor any thing of which we can conceive, could form a basis for any mental process which would conduct the Infinite Thinker to a certain knowledge of the future resolves of free agents. Hence Richard Watson says that "the manner in which the Divine Being foreknows the future choices of free agents is incomprehensible even to the greatest minds that have ever studied the subject." We certainly have good ground for the inference that such knowledge can not be obtained by any process of legitimate thought, though infinite in its range.

Can the future resolves of free agents be perceived by God's intuitions? Dr. Bushnell dogmatically asserts, without offering any proof, "that God intuits all future events." But all that human intuition can do is to apprehend present existences, primary ideas, necessary truths, and the effects of known existing causes. If we are created in the image of God, it is reasonable and natural to suppose that the intuitions of the divine mind would be limited to the same classes of concepts. But the human will is not controlled by the perceptions of the intellect, nor the sensibilities of the heart, nor the strongest motives, nor the solicitation of evil spirits, nor any outside influences whatever. It is free in itself, free in its elections, and free in its volitions. It is obviously impossible that its free creations can be embraced in any class of truths which are grasped by intuition or apprehended by the faculty of pure reason.

Dr. Jonathan Edwards says: "Suppose, five thousand seven hundred and sixty years ago, there was no other being but the Divine Being, and then this world, or some particular-body or spirit, all at once starts out of nothing into being and takes on itself a particular nature and form, all in absolute contingence, without any other cause in the matter, without any manner of ground or reason of its existence or any dependence upon or any coercive connection at all with any thing foregoingI say that if this be supposed, then there was no evidence of that event beforehand. There was no evidence of it to be seen in the thing itself, for as yet it was not; and then there was no evidence of it to be seen in any thing else, for evidence in something else is connection with something else; but such connection is contrary to the supposition."

This hypothesis of Dr. Edwards is a striking illustration of a free volition. A future free volition is an event equally impossible of being foreknown. There can be no evidence that, when acting under the law of liberty, the human mind will perform a certain act ten years from today. God can not have a knowledge of a future volition without getting that knowledge from some source. Whence, then, would he derive it? That future volition is not like a primary truthself-evident and requiring no proof; for a contingency can not be self-evident without ceasing to be a contingency.

A self-evident contingency is a contradiction. Nor can a contingency be self-evident as a fact lying before the divine mind; for who put it there? There is absolutely nothing now in existence which projects it there. If a future volition be caused, originated, by the will itself; if it spring immediately out of the free causative will; if it spring into being and take upon itself nature and form from the causal power of the will itself, "all in contingency," then there is nothing now in existence with which the future existence of the contingent event can be connected; and, therefore, there can be no evidence beforehand of the future existence of that volition. Thus we got from Dr. Edwards himself one of the most convincing illustrations of the utter impossibility of foreknowing future volitions. And this is the view of freedom which modern philosophy demands.

Without the recognition of primary truths, as a basis for inference, it is impossible to reason. And so, without an admission that free volitions are uncoerced, unnecessitated by any thing outside of the will itself, there can be neither a consistent theology nor a satisfactory theodicy, nor even an efficient practical Christianity. Indeed, without this concession there can be no satisfaction in reasoning upon high theological themes. But if this be so, there can be no conceivable ground or reason for any knowledge relative to the future choices of free beings. For the will, when willing, is conscious of its power to control its action entirely, and to will an event entirely different from the one it actually speaks into existence.

But some one may say: "God's mode of thinking and his intuitions are very different from ours, and therefore no comparison between finite and infinite modes of thought ought to be instituted." But all such unjustifiable shifts ought to be suspected, and must, in this discussion, be rejected. For if we are not permitted to seek after presumptions founded upon the many striking analogies that obtain between the infinite God and finite minds, then we have no basis whatever for our investigation of the doctrine of divine prescience. And the same remark holds relative to many other doctrines essential to theology. If we are denied the right to seek arguments from this sourcefrom such comparison between the human and the divine intellectwe must relegate this whole subject and many others vitally connected with Christian faith and experience, back among the undue assumptions of human authority, and never be able, as we are divinely commanded, to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

In the light of all the analogies we can discover, we must conclude that theologians, in their zeal to claim for Omniscience the power to foresee the future resolves of free agents, take a position that necessitates an imperfection in the modes of thought and in the intellectual states of the divine mind, which is much greater than any imperfection that could be implied by the denial of the dogma of universal prescience. If we look at this subject in any light in which it presents itself, analyze completely the activities of finite minds, and search all analogies between finite and infinite modes of thought, we shall still be forced to admit that they all indicate that to foreknow the future choices of free agents would involve serious imperfection in the faculties of the divine mind. The fact that it is not within the deductions of the understanding, nor within the intuitions of the reason, nor within the scope of logical investigation, nor within the possibilities of conception, to reach a certain knowledge of the future choices of accountable beings, is certainly a strong presumption that such cognition can not lie within any of the departments of legitimate knowledge. Such events, being unknowable in their nature, can not, therefore, be cognized even by Omniscience. If God foreknows that I am to be lost, that information must have been brought into his mind by some cause or through some agency. It could not have entered there wholly uncaused. This knowledge could not have been placed there by the operation of any causes acting under the divine supervision, will, or desire. It could not have been placed there by any created being. It is not possible that I could have caused it to be placed there ages before I had an existence. How, then, came this knowledge in the divine mind? No modes of legitimate infinite thinking could ever have introduced it there.

It is never safe for us upon our own authority, or unauthorized by divine revelation, to assume any qualities and modes of action in the infinite mind which are neither suggested nor supported by any analogies discoverable in the intellect of man. If we do so, the most unreasonable and pernicious notions will soon enter into and vitiate the conceptions we form of the character of God. By this mode of thinking, many have denied to him both personality and self-consciousness, under the apprehension that thereby they should imply some limitations to the infinite. "Under a professed veneration and great zeal for the honor of God, those things are often affirmed of him, which utterly disrobe him of every attribute on account of which he can be to us an object of real esteem or of veneration." A clear instance of this is the doctrine of universal prescience.

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