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The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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SOME books have their origin in a sudden impulse, and reach the public eye after only a hasty process of reflection and composition. Even the patient Goethe said a strong word to Eckermann in favor of this very species of literature, and claimed for it a merit which works of slower growth do not possess. But his own example, and the philosophy underlying his whole life, are sufficient rejoinder to his theory. The man who spent fifty years on "Faust" was hardly the one to offer a defense of sudden growths. In contrast with the large Class of rapidly produced books, we find that smaller group of works which lie far back in the life and thought of the writers, and see the light only after tedious stages of reflection. The chisel of years chips off all ornamentation. They come before us, often, like some of the calm thinkers in the mediæval period, starting suddenly out of their long tarrying with their one thought, but, with all their baldness and gauntness, so intense and purpose that their appeal is irresistible. There is a certain intensity which is born of leisurely time. The flame throws its glare on the opposite wall, but to drive out the frost there is need of the slow and steadily-burning coals.

The following work belongs to the latter class. It is from the pen of a careful and collected thinker. He does not present his work for public judgment without having tested his opinions in the crucible of severe examination.

In the "Foreknowledge of God," it will be seen that the cutting and setting are made subordinate to the stone itself. The author has been for an entire generation an honored member of the Faculty of the Ohio Wesleyan University. Fifteen years of this period he has filled the chair of Mathematics and Mechanical Philosophy, and during eighteen years he has had charge of the department of Metaphysics. There are men, now no longer young, all over the land, and even representing the American Church and Government in foreign countries, who have sat at his feet and received the double impress of his genius and his ever-fresh sympathies. The glow of his nature has passed into the life of these many hundreds, and, though still laboring with all the ardor of his lasting youth, he possesses the rich blessing that comes from a life of supreme happiness in heart and home, from thirtythree years of unbroken and congenial work in the lecture-hall, and from constant wrestling with the great question of God's relation to the destiny of his child, Man. While the theological public are already acquainted with the author as an original and profound writer, the following work is the first to reveal the fundamental thought of his life. We find here the chief result of his long work as a thinker and student, and, as such, it will carry with it its own commendation as an embodiment of reverent dealing with one of the greatest questions which have engaged the thought of the Church ever since the third Christian century, and especially since Augustine made the remarkable declaration, that God does not know things because they are, but things are because God knows them.

There will be readers who will differ with his conclusions, but there will be none to deny the keenness of his logic, his intimate acquaintance with the entire history of the doctrine of the divine foreknowledge, and his candor and charity in dealing with men of opposite views.

In complying with the request of the author to furnish an introductory statement, the undersigned does not regard it as coming within his Province to give a formal indorsement of the conclusions of the work, but to place himself beside its readers, and to learn with them what a thoughtful man has to say upon the subject of the divine foreknowledge. Our part shall be, first of all, to indicate the general position of the work in theological thought, and then to summarize the drift of the author's argument in defense of his position.

The feeling of the incompatibility between absolute divine foreknowledge and human freedom is as old as theological thought. Out of this feeling have arisen various and often conflicting suppositions relative to the broad question of foreknowledge. We say suppositions, and not theories, for a theory is an imaginary law that can afford a consistent explanation of all the facts involved in any subject. Chevalier Ramsey held the view that God chooses not to know future contingent events, implying that he could foreknow them if such were his preference. A large class of thinkers have held that the divine foreknowledge must be so different from any thing of the kind among men as to afford no data whatever for any argument pro or con in regard to it. Gomarus held that a given event will happen under certain favorable circumstances, and that a different event will happen under a different set of circumstances. This hypothesis of a conditional foreknowledge was adopted by some of the elder English divines. The great controversy upon the subject has been between the two leading schools of theology, the Calvinistic and Arminian. The former, as represented by Jonathan Edwards, Chalmers, and many others, admit the impossibility of infallible foreknowledge of contingent events, and boldly deny that there is any such thing as contingency in the mind of God. With them all events are certain because all are foreordained, and are therefore easily foreknown. But this involved the manifest contradiction of asserting that a choice infallibly foreknown as certain to be only this, and not any other, could yet be free, and the author thereof responsible. This palpable inconsistency of certainty, or more strictly of necessity, with human freedom and responsibility is clearly shown by Dr. Whedon, the leader and best representative of Arminian thought upon this subject. He has proven that a free choice must necessarily be contingent. The hypothesis of Socinusthat "the foreknowledge of contingent events being in its own nature impossible because it implies a contradiction, it is necessary to deny that God has any such prescience"has never been developed into a consistent and well-sustained theory. When the author of the present work approached the subject he found no consistent theories to aid him in his meditations, but simply the convictions, feelings, and hypotheses of thoughtful men. He found little, if any, literature directly upon the subject, but he believed that the assumption of infinity in the absolute sense as parallel to the mathematical conception of the Infinite, or to the transcendental conceptions of the a priori philosophers, not only leads to moral contradictions, by making the whole question of evil insoluble, but involves intellectual contradictions in itself, which, in many minds, result in the entire rejection of the very foundations of religion. For example, the "First Principles" of Herbert Spencer cease to be a bulwark of atheism the very moment it is admitted that the divine may be in any degree subject to limitation, and, therefore, may come into relations with the finite, and be conceived of as personal.

The position of the author, briefly stated, and apart from the opinions of others, is: that universal prescience is incompatible with human freedom; that there can be no tenable system of theology or of moral philosophy based upon that doctrine; but that the whole Christian system may be made consistent, defensible, and satisfactory by the denial of it; and that all the doctrines and prophecies of Scripture are plainly reconcilable with such denial.

The work opens with a statement of the reasons for undertaking the present work, with the aims and objects that seemed desirable for the author to accomplish. We are then directed to instances of declared foreknowledge, as in the prophecies, which may be explained by the con- straint of the human will, in suspension or contradiction or counteraction of the law of liberty, as miracle is such suspension or counteraction of the law of matter. This is confirmed by showing, from the Scriptures, that the human will does, in many instances, for the accomplishment of God's providential purposes, act under the law of cause and effect. These acts are foreknown because they are foreordained, and are brought to pass by a constraint of the individual instruments. These acts, however, involve no moral character, and entail no endless destiny. This point is also confirmed by showing that the kingdom of providence (with limitations) is the realm of foreordained, foreknown, and therefore constrained, acts. We are then furnished an illustration of these principles, as developed in the enigmatical case and character of St. Peter. This example shows that the Redeemer's foreknowledge and prophecy of the fall of his, at that time, foremost apostle arose from his purpose to allow Satan a little more control over him than is consistent with a fair trial, and thus, in this instance, to "suffer him to be tempted above that which he would be able to bear," without lifting up a standard against him; and all in order to teach him indispensable lessons, and fit him for greater usefulness in his new kingdom. The author next argues that the betrayal and treachery of Judas were in no way essential to the great atonement; nor was it foreknowledge until Christ discovered its incipiency in the volitions of his free will; and that to Judas there is no reference in the prophecies of the Old Testament. We are then furnished with an explanation of various prophecies as based on the divine, or upon a knowledge of the existing causes of the acts foretold. God's estimate of probabilities is a basis for accurate judgment of future contingencies in many cases, but is not a sufficient basis for universal and absolutely certain prescience. The foreknowledge of future contingencies is, distributively, fatalistic in its tendency, and, further, is unnecessary. The notion that God's government would otherwise be precarious reflects upon the divine perfections, by implying that God is not able to meet unforeseen exigencies, which even limited man can do, often organizing success out of unexpected disasters. But the Almighty must infallibly foresee every one of innumerable millions of free choices, or he will be disconcerted, defeated, and his government overthrown. God acts towards all men precisely as he would act if he did not foreknow what they would choose to do. This certainly affords ground for the presumption that he does not. Those limit omniscience as much in affirming that, could there be such things as contingencies, omniscience could not foreknow them, as those who admit the existence of contingencies, but question the ability of Omniscience to previse them. Those who deny all contin- gency, and teach that foreordination is indispensable to, foreknowledge, have no reason or right to complain that the denial of foreknowledge limits omniscience. And those who claim that God can not coerce a free act thereby clearly limit omnipotence. But neither denial is a real or superimposed limitation, but both are self-imposed, and are, therefore, not such as detract from the perfection of the attributes of God. In fact, there are many instances of self-imposed limitations, which reflect greater luster and glory upon the divine character.

We now have presented the opinions of many eminent thinkersto the effect that foreknowledge is incomprehensible, and utterly irreconcilable with human freedom. The origin of evil may be easily and naturally explained on the hypothesis of the non-prescience of the fall, as a fixed certainty, and is not "an inscrutable mystery," as Bledsoe and others have claimed. The author then shows that a foreknown choice must be certain, and therefore unavoidable, without breaking down divine foreknowledge and infracting the numberless subsequent plans and purposes of Jehovah, going forward, from everlasting to everlasting, and, through one immensity after another. The argument then is, that foreknowledge would be detrimental to men, because the belief of it would paralyze their spiritual energies by producing the conviction that their foreknown destiny is fixed, and unalterable by their own efforts; and embarrassing to God, by preventing proper efforts to save those who he foresees will be lost; and by producing in the divine mind most conflicting and painfully disturbing emotions.

Foreknowledge would make God's attitude toward probationers disingenuous and inconsistent. Further, foreknowledge would detract from the benevolence of God. Divine goodness requires the non-creation of an identical soul whose loss is foreseen as infallibly certain, and also the removal from probation of good men whose apostasy is foreseen. If the stronger probability is against universal prescience we ought to deny it.

In the concluding chapters the author shows that a belief of absolute foreknowledge depresses the energies of the soul and weakens the sense of accountability, by producing the conviction that acts and destiny, to be foreknown, must be forefixed, and hence can not now be avoided by any exertion of our own. This belief, therefore, discourages prayer, by making it appear to be useless; since neither my own exertions nor my prayers can make my character and destiny any different from what God foreknew they would be from all eternity. On the other hand, disbelief in foreknowledge encourages prayer and every other good word and work, since it gives the assurance that my prayers and exertions, by God's grace, will make for me a character and destiny which I never could have attained without them, and that my character and destiny will be glorious just in proportion to the extent and intensity of my exertions.

The oft-repeated statement that the foreknowledge of a choice has no influence on that choice is questioned even by those who insist upon it. This statement is false, because all belief affects, and must affect, conduct, and the belief in foreknowledge affects the conduct, and, therefore, affects the choices of the believer in the manner above shown. The denial of absolute foreknowledge is tenable from the fact that there are no data, either in antecedent circumstances, or the character of the free agent, or the influences brought to bear upon him, for certain prescience of his free choices. For if these have any causal power over his volitions, how can we account for our pungent sense of blame-worthiness for wrong actions, and how can we account for the frequent disappointment of our expectations of good and bad men? How, indeed, could we be free upon this hypothesis, which locates the incipiency of volitions outside of the will itself? But we are conscious of freedomthe best proof of itand that neither our character nor our environment has any controlling power over our volitions, and hence they furnish no data for certain prescience of them. We are quite sure that the author is not so sanguine as to expect to silence all objections to the ground which he occupies. The conflict will still go on. The vision of the writer of "Locksley Hall" is as far from fulfillment in theology as in this stirring life about us: "I dipt into the future far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be; Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle-flags were furled, In the parliament of man, the federation of the world." The author, in developing his view of the Divine foreknowledge, has not been prompted by any disposition to excite controversy, nor simply to add a new theory to those which already exist, but only by a spirit of investigation and of earnest inquiry after the truth. If he be thought by some to be venturesome, it must be remembered that theology, which is a progressive science, has derived its chief enrichment from its bolder, but not less evangelical, devout, and humble, spirits.

Madison, N. J., June 18, 1878

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