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Chapter XXX:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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THE doctrine that God does foresee with absolute certainty all the future choices of free beings is exceedingly depressing and harassing. No other has greater power to bring the human faculties into a condition of inactivity and indifference. How baffling and confusing this doctrine has ever been to the ministers of Jesus Christ while struggling beneath the crushing responsibilities of preaching the Gospel of Christ to dying men. How discouraging, how incomprehensible and torturing, the difficulties which it has originated, and which have defied all efforts to solve and to explain. How much doubt, suspense, and indecision, and how much waste of time, of energy, and of opportunity for the publication of saving truth, have been caused by the perpetually obtruding inquiry: "How can all things be contingent, and yet all things be foreknown and absolutely certain?"

But if the doctrine that God does not foreknow with absolute certainty the specific acts of free spirits which entail endless destiny had always been accepted as a verity, how very different this world would have been! What different things probation, prayer, the Bible, accountability, the capabilities and conduct of men would have been! How different would have been the preaching of the Gospel and the controversies of men! How vastly different would have been the theology of the Church! The moment the divine foreknowledge of the future choices of free beings is rejected theology becomes consistent and luminous. Systematic divinity then becomes easy of construction and easy of comprehension. Most of its propositions then become well-nigh axiomatic. They all commend themselves to the intelligent mind as reasonable and true. Necessity, fate, foreordination, and foreknowledge being rejected, every known truth, every demonstrable doctrine, falls naturally into its place, and in order there uprises the pyramid of theological science, with its apex bathed in the pure sunlight of heaven!

Compare the simplicity, beauty, and consistency of a system of theology constructed on the assumed impossibility of divine foreknowledge with that which has been constructed on the opposing hypothesis. In the examination of the latter the mind is baffled at every step. How inexplicable foreknowledge makes faith, prayer, free agency, contingency, human consciousness, human agency in saving the world, and God's inexpressible grief for having created man! From such incomprehensible subjects and inconsistencies men can find no relief so long as they accept the doctrine of absolute prescience; and therefore despairingly they turn away from them, regarding them as insoluble mysteries. But it is far otherwise with a theology founded on non-prescience. Here every legitimate deduction is gratifying to the most logical intellect. All those torturing and irritating difficulties are swept away in a moment, as with the wand of an enchanter. The dogma of foreknowledge not only renders impossible the construction of a system of divinity consistent and satisfactory, but it also beclouds our conceptions of the nature and the grandeur of human liberty.

No one can have a distinct and complete idea of freedom who embraces fatalism. And he who believes in the predestination of some to everlasting life and of some to everlasting death thinks among shadows only a little less dark. And in like manner he who believes in absolute divine foreknowledge apprehends the liberty of the human will but vaguely and unstably. True, as he gazes on liberty he seems to catch a glimpse of his independence and of his true greatness. But as soon as he recurs to the doctrine of universal prescience his mental equilibrium is disturbed, and his thoughts become at once confused between the agency of second causes and the occasions of free choices. But he who calmly denies absolute prescience looks upon human liberty with confidence in its profound reality, and receives from it an inspiration that disenthralls his spirit and gives energy to all his faculties. A denial of divine foreknowledge, therefore, is indispensable to a clear, adequate, constant, and efficient conception of human liberty, that supernatural and divine quality in the soul of man. There is no possibility of giving a correct and intelligible interpretation of the Bible without conceding the two great principles that the human will acts under two distinct lawsunder one freely, under the other consentinglyand that the future choices of free beings, acting under the law of liberty, are outside the domain of knowledge except as possible contingencies. These two princi- ples pour floods of serenest, soul vivifying light all through the Holy Scriptures and all around systematic divinity.

A denial of foreknowledge not only frees theology from many and great embarrassments, but places it on the high vantage ground of harmony with modern thought. It puts it in full sympathy with the free, inquiring, philosophic spirit, and yet does not surrender a single essential of our common Protestant Christian doctrines. And what is true of theology, as a science, is equally true of practical Christianity.

A denial of prescience permits a man to see the real grandeur of his intellectual and moral capacities and his lofty mission. It puts him on that high basis of freedom and causation upon which his Maker originally placed him. It brings to him a heavenborn impetus, and stimulates him to the full consecration of all his redeemed energies. It gives strength to his faith, gladness to his sacrifices, earnestness to his closet devotions, scope to his motives, carefulness to his life, and fervency to his aspirations after holiness and completeness in Jesus Christ. It breaks for him all the illusions with which fatality or semifatality or unbelief or uncertainty or confusion has so overwhelmed him. It hushes for him all siren voices, opens his eyes upon the realities of eternity, and unstops his ears to hear the minstrels of heaven and the mandates of Jehovah his Redeemer.

It brings him where waves of truth and floods of light roll in upon his soul. It conduces to a religious life at once fervent, spontaneous, and robust. It awakens all the energies of the believer's soul, and puts them all to the fullest tension. No other view of this subject can sufficiently impress him with his freedom, his accountability, his work, his mission, the solemn interests committed to his keeping, and his ability to put forth great spiritual forces and to accomplish vast results in the moral universe. Let this doctrine take full possession of a sincere, thoughtful probationer, and his character becomes more serious, earnest, persistent, and inflexible. His own true greatness of nature, his capacities of causation, for initiating moral movements and spiritual influence in the realm of mind is then, for the first time, fully known to him. His own independence as to thought, feeling, purpose, effort, and reward comes out before him in impressive reality. He then assumes his divinely intended proportions. He then comes into full possession of his own individuality. He then puts on the majesty that corresponds to his responsibilities. He becomes solemnly inspired to care for, to modify, and to control those incalculable interests and results which tremble in his hands. This view of prescience compacts a man's strength, directs his energies, nerves him for the sternest combat, and gives full validity to the teachings of his inmost consciousness. It puts a scepter in the hand of every man and a crown upon his head. It asserts his true relationship to Almighty God. He who possesses it drops the weakness of vacillating humanity, and appropriates the needful measure of the strength of Omnipotence. Doubt, hesitation, illusions, obstacles, all disappear before the realities that rise in grandeur before him. To him all things are possible. The sublime promises of God sound through his soul. Those promises inspire him to compass all the ends of his existence by improving himself, by elevating others, and by contributing his part to those holy examples, forces, and influences which are now operating throughout the moral universe.

Any other view of this subject leaves man weakened by the delusions of his bewildering opinions of God and his discouraging conceptions of himself. Any other view leaves a man like Elijah cowering on Mount Horeb. But this view makes him as Elijah when, single-handed, he demanded of the people, "How long halt ye between two opinions?" and challenged hundreds of prophets in the name of the God who answers by fire. "No belief can be illusory," said the great Isaac Taylor, "which is indispensable to the full development of the moral and the intellectual powers." But a belief that the certain foreknowledge of contingencies is impossible is, we affirm, indispensable to the fullest development of the soul of man.

Let the conviction that no future choice of a free agent, while acting under the law of liberty, can be foreknown by Omniscience, that a future contingency can not be transformed into a past or present certainty, seize the soul, and hold it firmly, and it will be inspired to control events and make for itself a becoming record amid the unfolding events of its endless future. All its faculties will be summoned into activity. No more will it experience the stupor which is induced by a belief in universal prescience. Such a soul will never take up the despairing wail of Shelley to the Father of us all:

"Oh, wherefore, hast thou made
In mockery and wrath this evil earth!"

That such is the potency of this conviction, all who have it will readily attest. A belief, then, that the future choices of free agents which entail endless destiny can not be foreknown, is indispensable to those efforts which are required of a human soul on its probation for eternity. Now, is it possible that a doctrine can be false which is so necessary to a perfect discharge of imperative duties, to a complete development of the soul's capacities, and to a full accomplishment of the sublime destiny for which it was evidently created?

Let but the doctrine that God can not foresee the future choices of free spirits, while acting under the law of liberty, be universally embraced, and its cheer would sweep through Christendom like the health-giving light of the morning; it would largely silence dissensions between Christians upon non-essentials; it would turn attention, with new power and interest, to those great spiritual enterprises upon which the Church is invited and commanded to go forth; it would hasten the grand successes that await her achievements, indeed, it would inaugurate a succession of resplendent mornings to a world long wrapped in gloomy mists. Did every Christian believe his future to be unknown, and did he reflect thereupon, how soon would he cease to shrink from responsibility and to leave God to do, in his own good time and way, works which he has positively assigned to man! How soon would he grasp the helm of affairs, and feel the pressure of responsibility urging him on to bold, heroic action! There is no view of this subject that can be presented which corresponds to the solemn realities of the soul's freedom, its accountability at a future tribunal, and its danger of everlasting punishment, except thisthat the prevision of future free choices is an impossibility. The incognizability of future choices renders moral liberty and the liability to forfeit eternal life and to incur endless death as unquestionable as are primary truths and as vivid as the lightnings of heaven. In sin, redemption, and human freedom there are things awfully real. Prescience obscures these realities and the consequences now pendent upon free choices.

Reader, do not employ yourself with delusive doubts, but fix your thoughts upon eternal verities. Ally yourself to the omnipotence of the Infinite. Skepticism has ever been the Circe of the soul. At her touch man loses the image of God and puts on the image of earthiness. But the truth as it is in Christ asserts our kinship to the Almighty, the Universal Father.

The views that have been presented in these pages not only remove many and great difficulties, and answer objections that can not otherwise be answered, but they also sustain most important relations to human duties, experiences, and prospects. And yet, though no inspired teachings and no serious objections against the positions herein advocated have been found by the writer, many such may possibly occur to other minds. Should this be the case it is to be hoped that such objections will be seriously and candidly weighed over against the appalling difficulties which are involved in the theory which this book has controverted. Also, let the statement of Dr. Whately be kept in mind, that "unanswerable arguments may often be adduced against propositions which are nevertheless true, and which are satisfactorily established by a preponderance of probabilities."

The question is not whether the denial of universal prescience is not susceptible of some objection, but whether the stubborn facts which everywhere meet the philosopher and the theologian can not be more easily and satisfactorily explained upon the negation, than they can; upon the affirmation, of absolute divine foreknowledge. We may meet with some facts that may, perhaps, worry our powers of comprehension, if we deny such prescience.

But we shall encounter many more, and those of a most harassing and embarrassing character, if we affirm it. "We live," says Gladstone, "in a labyrinth of problems, and of moral problems, from which there is no escape permitted us. The prevalence of pain and sin, the limitations of free will, approximating sometimes to its virtual extinction, the mysterious laws of interdependence, the indeterminateness for most men of the discipline of life, the cross purposes that seem at so many points to traverse the dispensations of an Almighty benevolence, can only be encountered by a large and almost immeasurable suspense of judgment. Solution for them we have none." Of course, Mr. Gladstone has and can have no solutions for these great mysteries while embracing universal prescience of the illimitable future. But rejection of that dogma, with all which that dogma implies, permits explanations that are perfectly satisfactory of all the difficulties he here enumerates. The question for all to consider is, which is the more free from difficulties, the affirmation or the denial of divine foreknowledge? It is not a mere speculative question which is here discussed. It is one of the most practical and important subjects that has ever enlisted the attention of the human mind. The doctrine here accepted reveals new perfections of the Almighty, new modes of the divine procedure, new views of the divine existence, the freedom, the freshness, the fullness, and the variety of the divine life and experience. As it unfolds, it brings God out of the vast labyrinth of the incomprehensibles in which human creeds and dogmas have placed and bound him. It brings him from the cold, isolated sphere where men have dogmatically fixed him, into tender sympathy and fellowship with all who are seeking spiritual life and holiness. No one should controvert from mere love of contention or from pride of opinion or for mental gymnastics. But all may well inquire what harm to the spiritual interests of men, what inconsistency with revealed truth, what detriment to the kingdom of Christ, or what dishonor to God, the views here presented can possibly produce. And let it never be forgotten that all our present orthodox theologies were formulated when imperfections in Psychology rendered impossible the conception of a consistent system of Biblical or systematic divinity. "Give me a young man in metaphysics, and I care not who has him in theology," was the trenchant remark of Dr. Nathaniel Taylor.

Prescience is not questioned by us because it is above reason, but because it seems to be against reason. The comprehensible is the sphere of logic, and through all her realms logic is a safe guide. But mystery being the domain of faith, faith gladly assents to that which is above and beyond reason. Human nature needs and God commands faith in mysteries and in the supernatural, but neither requires a man to outrage his reason by believing absurdities. It is fatal to intellectual soundness, as well as to all thought systems, to require faith to embrace any proposition that violates the law which reason enacts against selfcontradictions.

We question prescience, because it assaults our intuitions, our primary ideas, and our fundamental laws of belief; because it antagonizes the doctrine and law of freedom, and impairs our capacity for the high duties and achievements of probation. Its assumption brings incertitude and unreality and unaccountability into our views of human freedom, moral liberty and divine government, and lessens the force of the teachings of the Word of God, which else would be "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit."

We question prescience, because it is unnecessary in the divine government over free agents, and needless to the establishment of a true and consistent theology; because its affirmation necessitates manifest contradictions in the Scriptures and unworthy explanations of the teachings of those Scriptures; because its rejection would rescue scholars from wasting time and talents in defending and explaining inconsistencies; because every pulpit in Christendom assumes that, as matter of fact, the future, in the nature of things, in the plans of the universe, and in the mind of Jehovah, is not now a fixity; because every Christian assumes that the destiny of each sinner whom he seeks to save is not now inevitable; and because the Church, in her every enterprise, assumes that relative to future contingencies there can now be no absolute certainty. We question prescience, because it necessitates limitations in the divine nature, denies to God motion, change, succession, and personality, renders him unable to cognize events as they. really are, debars him from all personal and direct participation in the affairs of the human race, robs him of his liberty, and prohibits his active co-operation in the history, development, and government of his universe. And that it does thus so rob him is apparent, for he never can exercise any personal liberty relative to events that are inevitable and unchangeably foreknown. Foreknowledge imposes upon him a necessity which annihilates his freedom. Never could he change, determine, adapt, or originate a single event, object, or volition in all the future unfoldings and progressions of eternity. How much more worthy is such a view of the divine nature and freedom as recognizes God, untrammeled by foreknown futuritions, exercising at will, through the cycles of eternity past and the eternity to come, his free, creative, boundless energies, and interesting himself in originating resplendent worlds, which at their creation were, it may be, recent in his conceptions, purposes, and plans. But the denial of absolute prescience enables us to see God with sublime impressiveness, as a person with all the affluence and opulence of his perfections in his varied relations to, and in his spontaneous Fatherly intercourse with, individual men and the entire human family.

We question absolute prescience, because we can but deny that an Infinite Being, all sufficient in himself and ineffably happy, could rightfully create an individual soul with limited capacities who he foreknows would choose to make itself sinful, degraded, and everlastingly wretched. Regard for that part of his own eternal happiness which springs from his parental relations, regard for the happiness of all holy beings in all worlds and cycles, regard for the character and welfare of his moral universe, regard for the shining attribute of benevolence, and regard for the poor foreknown culprit himself, all imperatively demand that the coming of such a one into existence should be prevented.

Finally, we question prescience, because its assumption renders the great problem of the conflict between freedom and necessity incapable of solution. Against the doctrine of necessity consciousness protests with unmistakable vehemence. And if prescience be assumed, then reason protests against the doctrine of freedom. Nothing but the doctrine that prescience of future contingencies involves self-contradiction, can ever save us from Supralapsarianism, and from the logic of the adverse thinkers now boldly and defiantly bearing down upon us. The acceptance of this doctrine makes all serene as cloudless skies, but its denial makes the admission of fatality simply inevitable.

Make effort to grasp the interminable years of eternity; count stars, then leaves, then sands, and to all these add the countless particles of matter in the solar system, and still all this vast aggregation of numbers is as nothing in comparison with the ages of eternity which, are yet to follow. How the mind staggers in its effort to conceive of such innumerable cycles! And now, if God's present and eternal plan includes every future choice of every free being; if his plan requires that choice ever after to operate as a working factor; if it requires it as a second cause producing forever its legitimate and inevitable results; and if it requires it as a reason or motive operating forever after upon the freedom of other free agents, testing their loyalty to truth and authority through the endless ramifications incident to the accomplishment of God's manifold purposes; and if without it his purposes would fail of accomplishmentthen most assuredly justice as well as good sense demand that with the Supralapsarian we overlook the seeming contingency that is implied in creature freedom and locate the origin of the divine plan, embracing all the agencies through which it is to be carried on, ad infinitum, in the wisdom, intention, will, and decree of the Infinite Sovereign. But how preposterous the thought that a foreknown free act of mine, of which ten thousand times ten thousand things are this moment predicated, and to which as many influences upon and in the mental and moral realms are this moment definitely assigned in the divine purposes, could ever fail to be one of the indispensable instrumentalities needed in the evolution of infinite and eternal plans. It is more reasonable to believe that the infinitesimal is constrained, than that the infinitesimal in its contingency could infract the infinite, the irrevocable, and the eternal.

And now, in view of all that has been advanced in these pages against the dogma of divine foreknowledge; and, moreover, in view of the little that has ever been adduced in its support, save mere dogmatic assertion, the question presents itself. Which is the more probable, the affirmation or the negation of universal absolute prescience? I gladly embrace the negative, because it relieves me from calling that certain which God determined should be contingent. The qualities of a future free choice being possibility and contingency, we can not incorporate into it certainty without eliminating an essential quality and making it something essentially different. A future free choice is not a self-evident truth; not a necessary truth bound up in the necessities of things; not an intuitive truth that can be intuited by any intelligence; and not a logical truth, for there exist no data or premises from which it can be inferred. Should that future choice ever come to pass it will be a purely contingent event. The cause of that event can have no possible existence in any antecedent causes. Its cause can never exist until the moment the free spirit, acting under the law of liberty, causes the coming to pass of that event. "A contingent event," says Dr. L. P. Hickok, "has an alternative, and is avoidable. It comes with a touch. It hangs in, suspense, and a voluntary touch determines it." The free spirit of man, that was created in the image of God, also creates its choice of holiness or of sinfulness. If a free accountable spirit can not create its choices of moral character, then the sublime attribute of freedom in the Creator has no representative in man or on earth. That future choice of holiness or of sinfulness is, therefore, a thing now wholly undetermined, and hence an unknowable thing. And being an unknowable thing, its prescience involves an absurdity, and hence ignorance thereof necessitates no imperfection in Deity.

I embrace the negative because it alone safeguards the doctrine of eternal punishment. A denial of that revealed truth depletes the Bible of its meaning and the Church of her sacrifices. If annihilation be true, or if the consequences of sin be not eternal, the incarnation was an empty pageant. In either case the mighty scheme of evangelization would cease to task the energies of heaven and earth. No man really loves Jesus Christ, no man denies self and follows him with single aim and prime purpose, who does not believe eternal penalties follow the violations of the divine law. No man will imitate his suffering Lord, ascend his cross, and in some way be crucified for the world, who does not believe that sin separates a soul eternally from its Creator.

I embrace the negative because it implies no imperfection in omniscience; because it makes possible a theology without absurdities; because it affords relief from the limitations and contradictions which the affirmative imposes upon the divine nature and the modes of the divine existence; because it ascribes righteousness to my Maker and vindicates him from misrepresentation. And, finally, I embrace the negative because a denial of foreknowledge of future contingencies is essential to the perfection of the nature of God, and to his perfection as a moral governor over accountable creatures; because this denial affords us new and glorious conceptions of God's subjective and continuous life; and because it is a steady luminary, lighting us to a deeper, higher, broader acquaintance with him "whom we can never know to perfection, and whose ways are forever past finding out."

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