Chapter IPRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS
The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe
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"I KNOW not," said the late Bishop Thomson, "how to reconcile God's sovereignty with man's freedom, God's justice with man's proneness to sin, or God's holiness with the introduction of moral evil into the universe. A cloud of mystery rests upon the whole horizon of our knowledge." "All theory, is against the freedom of the will, while all experience is in favor of it," is the testimony of Dr. Samuel Johnson. How strange to hear Dr. R. Payne Smith, the present Dean of Canterbury, say, "I am not prepared to enter upon the question what the claims of God are, when looked at from above. When looked at from God's side, they are probably unchanging, inevitable, and absolute. But the discussion would lead me into the mazes of the controversy, how man's free will can co-exist with God's omniscience. It is very easy to show that every thing must have been predestined from the beginning, and to be irrevocably fixed. And then, if you assume the absolute, immutability of God, you will get an argument very difficult to overthrow, by which to prove that there is no such thing as the world having the disturbing elements of sin, repentance, prayer, and punishment. The moral freedom of man is certainly incompatible with man's a priori notions of God's foreknowledge. This is a sad predicament, of course, to all those who think that beings must be as they seem to be in the eye of human reason."
One of the ablest thinkers American Methodism has yet produced says: "The denial of absolute divine foreknowledge is the essential complement of the Methodist theology, without which its philosophical incompleteness is defenseless against the logical consistency of Calvinism." "Theology," says Dr. Daniel Curry, "has very much to unlearn before it will be either reasonable or Scriptural."
"I have thought," said Dr. Andrews, President of Denison University (Baptist), at Granville, Ohio, "all the way from the top to the bottom of this subject, and I know that the absolute foreknowledge of the future choices of free beings acting under the law of liberty is an absurdity. I would say emphatically that either there is no contingency in human actions or else they can not be distributively foreknown. This is as clear to me as either of the three fundamental axioms of logic: A is A; A is not non-A; A is either B or non-B."
Rev. Albert Barnes wrote: "On the subject of sin and suffering in the universe I confess, for one, that I feel these more sensibly and powerfully the more I look at them and the longer I live. I do not understand these facts, and I make no advance towards understanding them. I do not know that I have a ray of light on this subject which I did not have when it was first presented to my attention. I have read to some extent what wise and good men have written; I have looked at their theories and explanations; I have endeavored to weigh their arguments; for my whole soul pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither, and in the distress and anguish of my own spirit I confess that I see no light whatever. I see not one ray of light to disclose to me why sin came into the world; why the earth is strewn with the dying and the dead; and why men must suffer to all eternity. I have never seen a particle of light thrown upon these subjects that has given a moment's ease to my tortured mind, nor have I any explanation to offer, or, a thought to suggest, which would be a relief to any one. When I look on a world of sinners and sufferers; upon death-bed scenes and grave-yards; on the world of woe filled with hosts to suffer forever; when I see my friends, my parents, my family, my people, my fellow pilgrims; when I look upon a whole race involved in this sin and danger; and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned; and when I feel that God alone can save them, and yet he does not do it, I am struck dumb. It is all dark, dark to my soul, and I can not disguise it.
These certainly are painful confessions to fall from the lips of those who are acknowledged to be men of great talents and great learning. Must great and holy men be thus overwhelmed with these difficulties on to the end of time? Can it be possible that God has given to us a revelation of himself, intending always to leave us in such suspense? I can not, I am free to say, discover any reason that could justify such a procedure on the part of infinite wisdom. The evil consequences that flow over the race from such conflicting views of divine revelation are many and very great, while all the advantages which they are claimed to confer are derived more impressively from various other considerations. If such humiliating confessions of inexplicable mystery, from princes in Israel, are ever to fall upon the itching ears of the advance guard of infidelity, Can we wonder at the malignity of its opposition to the religion of Jesus Christ?
"The atmosphere of doubt," says Henry Ward Beecher, "acts in a great many ways. He is but little conversant with what is going on in life; he knows little of the conversations and readings and thoughts of vigorous, enterprising men, who is not aware that there hangs over the whole subject of religion, and particularly over its dogmas, a great deal of doubt and irreverence. which in some moods reacts and goes back to the belief of childhood. There is prevailing a state of uncertainty and aberration of faith, which requires prayerful attention."
It is this state of uncertainty which is disturbing so many excellent minds, and which is so humiliating to theologians of all schools, that the writer desires, if possible, to do something to remove. Hence it is that I am humbly attempting to divest a solemn subject of unexplained difficulties, and yet to guard all the fundamental truths of the Christian religion and all the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. Theologians of all denominations are now, in some degree, modifying their views, restating their principles and rediscussing their doctrines on points that do not involve the efficiency, the nature, or the purposes of the Gospel. In this way they are bringing themselves, their tenets, and their adherents into a closer agreement and into greater accord with other modern thinkers. It is my aim to divest Arminianism of some of the difficulties which surround and depreciate it, and to commend it in more complete consistency, coherency and grandeur to the theological world.
The great problems of sin, of suffering and liability to endless punishment, of human freedom and divine foreknowledge, do perplex the most thoughtful and the staunchest of Arminians. "Explain," said an anxious inquirer to John Wesley, "how it is that God can foreknow with certainty the future choices of a free agent." "I frankly confess I can offer no explanation," was his humiliating reply. Sitting beneath the effulgence of so great a light as that which Mr. Wesley poured upon a darkened theological world, and yet finding that he could furnish no explanation to the most torturing problem of my existence, has deeply moved me. In my mental distress I have inquired, "Is there no way to remove these great difficulties? Can not a theology be constructed that will remove such perplexities? Must we be compelled from age to age to grope our way amid such uncertainties?" And thus prompted I could not but prayerfully resolve to seek a solution of these central mysteries. But I very well knew that to refute any long assumed dogma, unanswerable objections to it must be presentedobjections that would outweigh all those which might be suggested against the proposed substitute. A thoughtful study of the subject has convinced me that a denial of absolute divine foreknowledge would invalidate many of the objections of the infidel to Christian theology, and shed a clear light upon some of the deepest and most perplexing mysteries of that theology.
A doctrine may be true, though there may be many passages of Scripture that seem at first sight to be in marked opposition thereto. For example, how many passages can be found in the writings of St. Paul that did seem to teach the doctrine of sovereign election and reprobation. Also how much study and scholarship and statement and restatement and discovery in Biblical literature, and skill in textual exegesis and time and patience have been employed by many Arminians, in order to wrest those troublesome texts from the support of Calvinian tenets. They now fearlessly affirm that time has brought out all the needed explanations, so that every one of those passages has been interpreted in harmony with Arminian doctrines. Indeed, many of the Calvinistic interpreters themselves now concede that the peculiarities of Calvinism are not taught in many texts of Scripture, in which they were once deemed to be manifest to all unprejudiced readers, "Calvinism is not in this text," says Moses Stuart.
"It is not in that," says Albert Barnes; and "it can not be found there," says Dr. M'Knight. But how long the exegetes were in coming to these views and admissions! And from this fact we may learn that if a new tenet be advocated, some passages of Holy Writ very probably might be adduced in opposition to it, of which it might be difficult, impromptu, to originate a satisfactory interpretation.
The doctrine of the absolute foreknowledge of God has occasioned more perplexity and intellectual torture than any other in all the departments of theology. It has given to infidelity stronger ramparts on which to plant its fierce batteries against divine revelation than that wily foe has been able to find anywhere else. It has been made the excuse or the occasion for burying energy, enterprise, great endowments, and large possibilities in the grave of indifference. It has put fetters on thousands of immortals, or floated them as mere waifs into the gulfs of debasing indulgence. It has retarded the Gospel, taken power from the Church, brought upon her fearful eclipses, and set her down amid shadows in the pursuit of interminable and profitless controversies.
Notwithstanding the great proof of Christianity which a personal experience of religion always supplies, almost every Christian believer fights a life-long battle with this most obtrusive and harassing dogma. How often, reader, has it not come with the bright of desolation over your own good intentions, your high resolves against besetting sins, your virtuous aspirations, secret prayers, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures? And if the theology of the instincts, of the intuitions, and of the heart were not often more sound than the theology of the intellect, the practical evils of this doctrine would be still more manifest and injurious. "I should have been a Christian long before I was," said an intelligent young minister, "had it not been for the doctrines taught me in regard to the divine prescience." What a different world we should behold today had the doctrines of fatalism, of necessity, of foreordination, of foreknowledge, of the fallibility of the Holy Scriptures, and of the mere humanity of the world's Redeemer, never been taught by accepted and revered evangelists who have:
"Reasoned high Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate-Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute, And found no end in wandering mazes lost."
Nineteen hundred years since Jesus finished redemption and ascended to the Father, receiving gifts for the children of men. Through all these years eternal death, everlasting life, the unspeakable condescension of the Son of God, the rich provisions of the Gospel, and the inexpressible superiority of a holy over a worldly life, have all been faithfully proclaimed. But through all these years, the most erroneous and enervating doctrines have obscured the brightness and retarded the triumph of truth as it is in Jesus. For to teach the absolute contingency and yet absolute certainty of all the future choices of free beings, or the endless punishment of foreknown sins, or election and reprobation based, on the absolute decrees of God, or that a Being of boundless benevolence would create an individual soul, who he foreknew would certainly be damned and endlessly miserable, is to teach what offends the common sense of men, begets deep resentment, and drives very many into the darkness of bald infidelity. "Think," indignantly exclaims James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill, "think of a being who would make a hell, who would create the race with the infallible foreknowledge that the majority of them were to be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment."
If the infidel could bring arguments equal in number, weight, and plausibility against divine revelation which can be brought against absolute divine foreknowledge, no one could wonder at him if tempted to reject its divine claims.
Without question or investigation, the doctrine of absolute
divine foreknowledge has been assumed to be true by orthodox theologians.
Nevertheless, after the most patient honest inquiry, reading, thinking,
and conversing, I have not yet been able to discover any respectable
proof of its validity.
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