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Chapter XII:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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THEOLOGIANS of all schools, who entertain widely different views on other points, agree that God's whole government of moral agents is just what it would be if he did not previse those choices of free beings which entail endless destiny. All acknowledge that our activities are to be aroused and put forth in every particular, as if God did not foreknow. All confess that our influence, energy, responsibility, and final destiny will be as if God did not foresee all the realities that await us and all the disclosures of the future. Neither the capacities nor the obligations on which his treatment and discipline are founded are, in any way, affected by the divine foreknowledge. He has made me feel that he thinks there is now within my power an unquestioned avoidability of sin and its consequences. He has made all men feel with an equal depth and strength of impression that, with them, hell is now an avoidability.

For, "He is the light that enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world." "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." Nothing could be more evident than that God does, in the teachings of his Word and in the dealings of his spirit, treat accountable free beings as though he did not foreknow their future free choices. He seems to assume for himself a non-prescience of their final determinations and of the moral character and condition which will result therefrom. What evil can follow from assuming a proposition supported by presumptions so many and great? What detriment can arise from rejecting a proposition for whose truth there is, we think, little proof, if any, and for whose admission there is no logical necessity? Why should one embrace a dogma when all the developments of the future will be as if it were entirely false? If while guarding human freedom and giving to it some logical significance and force, we at the same time hold firmly to all the teachings and prophecies of the Bible, and do not sacrifice any prized truth either of reason, of common sense, or of divine revelation, how is it possible that a denial of the absolute foreknowledge of all future contingencies shouldas has been assertedunsettle any thing that is essential to either a sound theology or an efficient practical Christianity? The great and the real problem in theology that is now demanding solution is, how to substantiate the infinite benevolence of God without disturbing the Christian's confidence in any other teachings of divine revelation.

One system of theology affirms that there can be no such things as contingencies in the power, conduct, and destiny of men. And if, indeed, such contingencies were possible, it declares that it would be impossible for omniscience ever to foreknow them.

"This system," says Goldwin Smith, "is negatived by the natural interests and intuitions of the human heart." Our age most certainly has outgrown this system of doctrine in its angular form. "The old angular Calvinism," says President Woolsey, "is now gone out of date, and even the ministers who stickle most for it, use it less to build up their people than they do to try their brethren by." "Certainly the great currents of modern thought, science, government, and universal consciousness lie athwart its peculiar dogmas in 'their rigid forms.' "

On the other hand, Arminianism, the other great system of theology, affirms that there are such things as real contingencies in the power, conduct, and destiny of man. But relative to such contingencies it affirms that there are now no uncertainties. It declares that man is a really free and accountable being; but it also affirms that his conduct and destiny, as foreknown from all eternity, are now absolutely inevitable. It bases these affirmations on its doctrine of the infallible divine foreknowledge. It affirms the certainty and the unavoidableness of foreknown conduct and destiny as absolutely and as finally as does the most rigid Calvinism. One system affirms that there can be no such things as contingencies in the doings and career of free beings; the other declares that there are unquestioned contingencies, but there can be no such things as uncertaintiesthat there is liberty in the conduct of man, but that there is no avoidability in his now foreknown destiny. But, in the name of humanity, as well as common sense, I ask, can not a theology be constructed that will better satisfy the desires of the devout, the necessities of logic and the reasonable demands of an inquiring world? Certainly, if either of these systems has adopted an error, it is now expedient to detect and reject it.

To say, on the one hand, that God, from all eternity, foreordained that A B should be eternally damned; or, on the other hand, to declare that from all eternity God foresaw that A B would certainly be eternally damned, is about equally to reflect upon the infinite goodness, kindness, and sympathy of Deity. All such teachings do seem to slander Christianity and raise doubts as to the perfect benevolence of him "who is glorious in holiness and awful in praises." But if we affirm that it is impossible, in the nature of things, for God to foreknow the future choices of free beings, when acting under the law of liberty, what doctrines of Christianity does it invalidate, or what evangelistic enterprise can it paralyze or in any way depreciate? What principle of morality can it unsettle, or what energy of the Gospel can it in any way lessen? How can such an affirmation in the least darken any mind or weaken the energies of any will, or lessen the faith, reverence, or love of any child of God?

There can be no necessity for God to act upon a false assumption. If, therefore, he treats us as though he did not foreknow, no logical imperfection or moral censure or mental weakness could certainly be justly attributed to us should we infer that, in fact, the reality corresponds to the manifest seeming. But to affirm that God treats us as though he did not foreknow, when he certainly does foreknow, is surely to charge the divine character with at least a semblance of inconsistency. And this would be a weighty excuse, if not a justification, of oblique tactics in the conduct of limited mortals. If, then, God practically assumes that he does not foreknow, it is dangerous for us to assume that he does foreknow. Dangers thicken on our way, inconsistencies invade our systems of doctrine, difficulties multiply will through the pages of Divine Revelation, vantage ground is thrown up from which Satan may successfully attack and worry probationers, and we ourselves are much more liable to miss the great purposes of our creation and fail in the realization of our highest possibilities the very moment we assume that God does foreknow all the future choices of free beings. The dogma of foreknowledge certainly cuts the sinews of responsibility, dims the great truths that should ever thoroughly possess us, and serves to quiet our conscience, "while condemning ourselves, in the thing that we allow."

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