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Chapter XIII:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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CALVINISTIC divines deny that there can be such things as contingent events. They declare that all events are foreordained, predetermined, and therefore foreknown. "Foreknowledge could not exist," said Jonathan Edwards, "without decree." "God's foreknowledge," says the Autology, "is derived from the events and the entities which he determines shall exist." "It must be determined," says Dr. Fiske (Bibliotheca Sacra, 1862), "what events will be, or there can be no foreknowledge of them." The only way a thing can be foreknown is that it be foreordained or predetermined. "God's knowing who would be saved," says Finney, "must have been subsequent to his determination to save them." If there could be contingent events, it is boldly affirmed, it would be impossible for omniscience to foreknow them. Dr. Jamieson asserts: "No intelligent being, whether it be God, angel, or man, can certainly foreknow a future act of his own will. God can not foreknow what his own choice or determination will be until he has chosen or determined. Acts of the will must, in the nature of things, be prior to a knowledge of them. A knowledge of volitions, therefore, can never precede their existence. An undoubted certainty as to the permanency and stability of the will of him on whom the event depends is the only ground for any certain foreknowledge of that event. But this certainty as to the permanency and stability of will in a free agent call never be found anywhere but in God. In a creature there can be nothing which could be the ground of absolute divine foreknowledge; for certain and immutable foreknowledge can be founded only on a certain and immutable cause. But such certain and immutable cause call be found nowhere but in the divine will. Therefore, before God can foreknow future events he must determine them.

Dr. Charles Hodge, in his new and great work on theology, says that "contingency is just as inconsistent with divine foreknowledge as it is inconsistent with foreordination; for what is foreknown must be just as certain as what is foreordained. Foreknowledge is just as inconsistent with liberty and freedom as foreordination." He declares that "there is no certainty, there can be no certainty, which does not depend upon the divine purpose." "There can be no event which is suspended on a condition which is undetermined by God himself." "No reason can be given," says Charnock, "why God knows a thing to be but because he infallibly wills it." "Future events," says Dr. John Dick, "can not be foreseen unless they are certain. But they can not be certain unless God has determined to bring them to pass. If things be contingent, God can not foreknow them. Without the will of God decreeing a thing to come to pass, it is impossible for him to know that it will infallibly come to pass." Mr. Watson says, that "Socinus and his followers, all the supralapsarian Calvinists and a few Arminians affirm that, the foreknowledge of future contingent events being utterly impossible and implying a contradiction, it does not dishonor the Divine Being to say that of such events he has and can have no prescience whatever." Calvinistic writers of the past and the present generally unite in saying that Omniscience could not possibly foreknow events that are contingent; that it is not certain and can not be certain, as Dr. Hodge says, "how men will act under certain conditions, if their conduct be not predetermined." Now this unanimity of belief, in a body of divines so discriminating and candid, must be regarded as a strong presumption against the truth of absolute divine foreknowledge by those who do believe that the choices of the human will are really contingent events, and who maintain that genuine contingencies do occur under the divine administration.

Now to affirm that there can be no such things as contingencies, on the definite ground and for the simple reason that if any such things should ever come to pass, it would be impossible for God to foreknow them, is just as much a limitation, and just as much a reflection on Omniscience, as it would be to admit the possible existence of such future contingencies, but yet to deny the possibility of Omniscience foreknowing them. Contingent events are impossible say those writers, because Omniscience could not foreknow them. They are right in affirming that it is impossible for God to foreknow future contingent events, but they are in error when they infer that there are, therefore, no such things as future contingent events; for the denial of possible and actual contingencies in the moral administration of God plunges us into a sea of glaring absurdities, from which no intellectual ingenuity has ever been able to rescue devout inquirers. Dr. Hodge and others of the same school agree with the writer in denying that it is possible for Omniscience absolutely to foreknow future contingent events. And if the writer thereby limits and reflects upon Omniscience, so do they. The only objection, therefore, that can be urged with any force against the denial of the universal prescience of future contingenciesnamely, that it limits Omniscienceis thus completely and triumphantly silenced for one portion of the theological world.

But the opposition to all such conceptions of the Divine Being as imply some limitation of his attributes, is unjustifiable and directly traceable to false theological teaching and radical misapprehension of the character of God, the modes of the divine existence, and the economy of his administration. God is not a lawless being. He exists and acts under laws, some of which are super-imposed and some are self-imposed. That is, he acts under laws, some of which are not dependent on God for their existence and authority, and some of which are dependent on him for their origin, authority, and efficiency. Right and justice, for example, have their origin, not in the will or edict of God, but in the eternal fitness of things, "Fitness or unfitness in moral action," says Bishop Butler, "is prior to all will whatever, and determines the divine conduct." The same may be affirmed of certain principles in physics, in metaphysics, and in mathematics. That two and two are four, and not five; that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles and not three, is essentially, unchangeably, and eternally true. That certain acts are just and right, and that certain other acts are unjust and wrong, are equally certain, and would be certain if theism were false and atheism were true. These principles and the laws which govern them are not dependent upon God for their existence and verity, and he can not change them. Four units can never be five, and right can never be wrong anywhere in the universe, or at any period of duration. Under these laws God exists. They are as eternal as his own essence; and he can not but act in harmony with them. They are super-imposed.

But it does not follow that God is thereby limited in any such a sense as would imply imperfection in his nature. It is the crowning excellence and glory of his nature that he never does and never will violate a single principle of right, justice, goodness, or truth. All this would be equally true, if there were not a single intelligence in the universe besides God. But when God had created the race of human beings, laws adapted to their constitution and circumstances became necessary for their government; and the establishment of those laws imposes certain obligations upon himself as well as upon them. They are bound to obey his laws. He is equally bound to act in harmony with them and the modes of administration which they require. Men, being fallible, may violate their obligations; God, being infallible, never will. Having created mankind under the law of liberty, he can not himself violate that law in his government over them in any single proceeding involving their moral character and destiny. Having created them free and made them responsible for the use of their, moral freedom, he can not constrain a single act or volition involving moral character. He wisheshe intensely desiresthat they may do right. But he can not force them to obedience, because a forced obedience is no obedience at all, morally.

This will be said to be a limitation of omnipotence. It is a self-imposed limitation. But this self-imposed limitation does not imply any imperfection in his attribute of omnipotence. On the contrary, it argues greater power in God, that he could create a being with such wonderful endowments and marvelous powers as man, free and capable of unconstrained volition and action, and so of achieving a moral character and a glorious destiny. It simply affirms that God is law-abiding, that he will be true to the law which he had imposed upon himself, and mankind, and which he had announced as, the basis of his moral government. It merely affirms that he will not constrain those acts of free beings, for, which he holds them accountable and responsible. It does not detract from the perfection of omnipotence that he can not violate the law of human freedom which he has himself established.

Now just as the establishment of the law of liberty, just as the condition of human responsibility limits God to its observance, and places it beyond his power to constrain a responsible volition or act (except for the purpose of retribution, as before mentioned), so his creation of human beings endowed with the power of original volition and action limits his omniscience: and makes it impossible for him to foreknow absolutely (that is, except as contingencies, as possibilities) the free choices of those beings. In both cases there is a self-imposed limitation which, instead of detracting from, reflects greater luster and glory upon the divine character. Does it not imply greater wisdom and knowledge, as well as power, in God to be able to create a being whose acts he can not foreknow, and who, by his very constitution, limits omniscience, than it would to create a being whose future choices and destiny are all embraced within the divine prescience with as much cer- tainty as the movements of a machine are foreknown by an inventor? Certainly the being who could do the former would be immeasurably greater than the one who could only do the latter. Should an artificer make a chronometer that for years should accurately mark the pulsations of his wrist, and should be able to foretell its movements for months to come, he would give evidence of great mechanical genius. But suppose that he could make an instrument with the power of contrary choice, able to select for itself any one of the various ways possible to it; then how much more marvelous would be his wisdom and creative genius! How much grander then the Creator, who can make a being whose future choices could not be foreknown even by himself! There is, then, no foundation for the unreasoning opposition and prejudice against the doctrine of the non- foreknowledge of God, as implying a limitation of his omniscience, since such a limitation must necessarily be self-imposed. It does not detract from, but greatly enhances, the splendor of the divine perfections for God to be able to make such a being as would, by the necessary laws of his constitution prevent the foreknowledge of his future resolves. God limits his omnipotence in making the human will capable of withstanding it. And every free moral agent is endowed with this capacity of withstanding omnipotence, if liberty be a reality and not a delusion. In like manner God limits his omniscience in creating beings capable of choices and volitions which it is impossible to previse. The latter no more implies an imperfection in the Deity than the former. These two are among the most glorious of the manifestations of the Almighty in the vast realm of pure contingency.

The truth is, so long as we follow Schleiermacher, and confound with each other God's being, knowing, willing, and working; or so long as we follow a multitude of thinkers, and refine God away into an unknowable abstraction, full of all manner of contradictions; or so long as we reduce him to a simple durationless unity exclusive of all succession and differences, we never can construct an intelligible theology. No thoughtful man will question the necessity for a reasonable theology. But the indispensable condition of obtaining such a theology is to conceive of God as an infinite person. With such a conception of him the necessity for various self-limitations in his nature promptly and powerfully forces itself upon us.

A being, indeed, can not possess the essential prerogatives of a person without this power of self-limitation. God, though infinite, being a person, does in various ways limit himself. In order to preserve the perfect and consistent harmony of his ineffable attributes, he limits his freedom. He limits his power by the restraints his benevolence imposes upon its exercise. His goodness holds with a steady hand his omnipotence. His omnipotence does not impose upon him the necessity of doing all that it is potentially possible for him to do. He always acts and creates freely, not necessarily. If he Acts freely he might create beings more or fewer in number than, and different from, those he has brought into existence. In all his creatings absolute freedom characterizes his procedures; he voluntarily limits the full realization of his infinite power. If he had not so done, he could not have created beings endowed with self-decision. When he created a being so endowed, so independent as to be in himself capable of withstanding his will and of deciding adversely to his wishes, he deliberately placed a limitation upon his omnipotence. The revelation which God has given us suggests how premeditated was this act of creation, and how deep were his emotions in the contemplation of such a being as man. For after, with a single fiat, creating earth and sea with all the vegetable and animal kingdoms, the firmament, the sun, moon, and stars, with evident thoughtfulness and profound interest, if not apprehension, he approached the creation of an immortal being. How solemn and impressive were his words and manner, "Let us make man in our own image and after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him." No wonder he lamented so profoundly his fall and ruin.

If, in some way, God could not limit his will, and so could not create a being possessing a self-determining will, there could have been no free will in the universe external to the divine will. But such a self-limitation in Deity furnishes a basis and a scope for the exercise of the human will. And if freedom of the will means any thing, it means that the will is master of its own actions. God recognizes this, for after man had decided against him, he said, "Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil"has exercised the prerogative of his free will, not only to decide for himself, and independently of, but also against, the will of his maker, and has thereby come into the knowledge, the experience of evil, as well as of good. God had limited the freedom of his own omnipotence in order to make possible the freedom of the creature. Without this limitation, as we have said, he could not have created a being who could resemble him in his own glorious attribute of liberty. A spirit determining itself by means of its freedom, must be the acme of creation and the glory of the finite moral Universe.

God limits himself relatively to moral good. He desires goodness with all the conceivable preference of his nature. Nevertheless he simply requires it of his accountable creatures. In love and wisdom he created beings so independent that they have the power to decide against him, against his moral nature, law, and government. He requires obedience to moral law; but he will not accept it unless it comes freely from a free will. He wills that moral good should proceed from that freedom, and this involves the possibility of realizing moral evil. Holiness implies free self-determination on the part of every one who realizes it. God's will may be addressed to a soul, by way of illumination, entreaty, warning, or command, but never by way of causative determination relative to choices involving morality. A command itself implies the prerogative of choice and the possibility of disobedience.

God limits himself in refusing to bring about by force that which he has commanded. He reserves to his creatures to decide matters which he has left wholly undecided. The realization of God's great world-aim can only be attained through the instrumentality of free beings. True, all power must be from God. He sustains the free being in existence while exercising free will. The power to put forth volition is every moment the gift of God. Still, in virtue of the endowment of liberty, man is capable of volitionating that which is odious in the sight of God, and subversive of his own rectitude and well-being. And we pause here to note that this capability shows the greatness of the being in whom it resides; that it proves the necessity of such a being in order to the realization of the highest ideal of creation and the highest ideal of a divine Creator. For, without freedom in the human soul, how could we ever conceive of freedom in the Infinite?

God limits himself in not arbitrarily excluding moral evil from his universe. His holiness abhors the introduction of iniquity. He desires, as no words can indicate, an unpolluted universe. The moral attributes of his nature stand pledged to prevent the realization of wickedness, so far as it is possible consistently with the greatest perfection and highest happiness of his creation. And yet he limits himself by not preventing that unspeakable catastrophe. On the confines of human liberty be baits, restrains all the glowing attributes of the Godhead, and waits with inexpressible solicitude the result of man's free decisions. The terrific reality of sin could come into the universe only through a creature will in its independent action, through a free will acting adversely to that of God. Though God had the positive power to prevent the entrance of evil, he did not exclude it, because this could not be done without infracting that law of freedom on which creation's highest perfection depends. "The highest declarative glory of God," says Dr. Whedon, "consists in the existence of his retributive moral government. But the existence of this government requires of God the concession to his creature of a power which in its course of action he will neither violate nor annihilate; leaving the capability, but not the necessity, of freedom to guilt, which is judicable, or of freedom to good desert, which is rewardable, and of free holiness, worship, honor, and glorification of God, which are the highest results of a moral kingdom."

God limits himself in desiring ends which he never attains. We all know many instances in which the Father of the universe has completely failed in the realization of his desires. He infinitely desires the holiness and happiness of all mankind. And yet he beholds the utter failure, ruin, and misery of uncounted millions, made in his own image, and for whom Christ, the Lord of glory, died. God limits himself in respect to the work and results to be accomplished in perfecting his universe. Once he was the sole worker in all his vast creation. But he concluded to limit himself by creating other independent, responsible workers, to be co-workers with him in preserving moral order and achieving mental and moral greatness.

God limits his mercy. If he did not, his justice would be overthrown, and ground sufficient would be given for the apprehension that moral evil might in the process of time invade and blight all realms.

If God limits his omnipotence, in creating a being whose willfulness can withstand his Creator and defeat his purposes, this limitation only shows how illimitable and perfect is his power of causation. And in like manner God demonstrates his greater greatness, by creating a being whose future choices could not be absolutely foreknown, but should he as much out of the range of omniscience as they unquestionably will lie beyond the control of his omnipotence. Arbitrariness in a free spirit, in its power to withstand God, as far transcends omnipotence as the foreknowledge of pure contingencies transcends omniscience. Arbitrariness as much depreciates omnipotence as the incognoscibility of pure contingencies can possibly depreciate omniscience.

But the truth is, this arbitrariness and this nonknowability of contingencies depreciate neither the one nor the other of these divine attributes. On the contrary, these two things, in the most perfect way, illustrate both of them. Without creature freedom, Creator freedom could have neither a representative nor an illustration nor a conception amid all the wonders of creation. This would prevent the highest ideal and the highest efficiency and the greatest rejoicing in the moral universe. How imperfect would that universe be without a single illustration of the absolute freedom of the Godhead and the modes of the divine existence, and without a single created being capable of comprehending that freedom.

But, on the other hand, how many imperfections. and limitations crowd into our conceptions of Deity the moment we assume universal prescience. If absolute foreknowledge be true, then it is impossible that God should experience any more changes in thought and feeling, that he should feel any more interest, solicitude, expectancy, or anticipation, relative to countless immortal souls who are on their probation for all endless destiny of happiness or of misery, than he does over the brilliant orbs with which he adorns the sky above us, or the flowers lie sprinkles beneath our feet. For foreknowledge necessitates that God's consciousness should be eternally unchangeable. Every thought, feeling, purpose, and act of the Godhead is immovably fixed in a single position and a changeless relation. From eternity to eternity his infinite consciousness must be absolutely unchangeable. A consciousness that is ever one and the same would be no more real or realized than a sound which is ever one and the same could be audible. Such limitations upon God are so shocking that they give way of themselves. God does repudiate them all in his sublime, varied, and endless meditations. Better far strive to grasp in a single hand all the blessed beams as they pour out over creation from the bosom of the sun, than to concentrate into a changeless unity all the infi- nitely varied and ever-changing thoughts, feelings, purposes, involved in the eternal consciousness of him who is from everlasting unto everlasting. How the dogma of foreknowledge degrades the great I Am!

Indeed, if God now foreknows every thing that will ever come to pass, then every thing in the future will come to pass as he now foreknows it. Then, logically, he can not do any thing in the future different from what he now foreknows he will do. If this be so, his will is restricted to the acting, in a specified case in a single way only. If his will shall always be shut up to a single course of action in all cases, then he can have but a single choice in any specified instance. And if his will be forever shut up to, and only capable of, such single choice, then his will is fettered by a logical necessity over which he has no volition. But this sweeps freedom, in all its reality, naturalness, and spontaneity, from the fathomless depths and heights of the infinite Mind. Foreknowledge, therefore, destroys the freedom of God, and denies to him all action but the mechanical action of an automaton.

But one may reply, God sees all future events from eternity, he sees all the results of the everchanging choices of contingent, accountable beings, and he sees all the necessities involved therein; and hence his decision from eternity is identical with what would be an impromptu decision under the actual occurrence of events. Still, in reply, let it be said that you can never escape the tremendous facts that in the decision made from eternity there is no option, no choice, no deliberation, no special examination of the case as it actually occurs, no feeling of interest or grief or apprehension appropriate in a merciful creator over the ruin of his immortal child, occurring in actual history before him. He is destitute of those qualities that would be appropriate in a ruler over free agents. The qualities appropriate in a ruler over accountable beings differ widely from those which would be appropriate in a ruler over a universe of material things. If God's resolves are made for him, fatalism is true. But if he originates his resolves relative to accountable beings, it is essential to their validity that they be not originated until the exigency in his government arises. For a ruler to originate a decision relative to a free agent millions of years prior to his creation is to do it in the absence of functions and factors essential to the character of the ruler and to the justness of his decision. The acme of feeling is in the actual occurrence of events. To see Gabriel do this hour a deed that would ruin his moral nature forever would produce greater grief in the divine mind than to foreknow such an event as taking place somewhere far on in the eternal ages. The sensibility growing out of actual occurrences and the untrammeled freedom of choice are essential to the perfection of decisions made by a ruler over accountable beings. And such is the uniform representation of this subject in the Holy Scriptures.

The highest of our mere intellectual faculties are abstraction and generalization. By these powers we construct hypotheses, theories, general ideas, all the predicables, genera, species, differentia, properties, and accidents. All these general ideas we create unconcreted and unrealized in any actual existence. And is God to be denied this highest of all the mere intellectual powers of the human mind? Has he no power to construct general ideas, to generalize, to classify, to conceive of formulae, of indefinite and undetermined quantities? Can he not decide upon general plans in the abstract, without descending to particulars or to individuals? Can he not determine that many undetermined things in his vast plans shall be determined by his personal creatures? Can he not wait for the realizations of his plans, wait for the free beings who are to realize them, to appear upon the stage? Those ideas of the world, which constitute the divine ideal for an actual world in time and space, ought not certainly to be denied to him who is infinite in all his intellectual perfections. It is then indispensable that God should know the future, in part, as contingent and undetermined.

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