Chapter XVI:IMPERFECT VIEWS OF OMNISCIENCE
The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe
| Back to the Table of Contents |
MAN'S unwillingness to acknowledge that God can not do every thing, and does not foreknow every thing in the illimitable future, has prevented any consistent and satisfying science or presentation of the divine mind. Many prefer to contemplate God as a being without emotions, and as incapable of any sympathy with the sensitive spirits who have failed in the great object of their creation. They regard the Infinite One as forever conscious of every being, of every thing, every particle of matter, and every event; as eternally conscious of all things, of even the down upon every insect's wing, every note in the melody of birds, every drop of water in all the oceans that ever have existed, or ever shall exist. They believe that all this vast entirety dwells ever in the divine mind, and is ever present to the divine consciousness, and not a point, or a feather, or a ray is for a moment out of his thought. Dr. Jamieson says, "God's volitions act on objects infinite in number and variety, and yet the act is immutably one and the same. Even two volitions in succession would destroy the simplicity of the divine essence. There can be no distinction in the divine will, and no succession of thoughts in the divine mind." Mr. Wesley says, "God does not know one thing before another, or one thing after another. All eternity is present to him at once, he sees all things at once in one point of view, from everlasting to everlasting." "To us," says Finney, "eternity means past, present, and future; but to God eternity means only now."
But is there any reason why this should be so? There is no desirable end to be accomplished by holding this infinitude of particulars in endless consciousness. All that God accomplishes he could accomplish without such unlimited obtrusions upon his attention. A million years from today he might make an ocean somewhere in boundless space many times larger than the Atlantic. But where is the present necessity of his knowing just the number and position of the drops in that vast ocean? Where is the necessity of his knowing and holding, in his consciousness, every seed and branch and leaf that shall be floated from vast forests into that ocean? Where is the necessity of his knowing the precise number of vessels that ever may navigate the wide wastes of waters of future seas, or the exact number of sailors that will ever furl the sails of innumerable ships yet to be, or the infinitely varied thoughts and habits and accidents and purposes of each one of all such uncounted individuals?
The mind breaks down amid such bewildering amplifications of particulars. And, indeed, if these necessities could be demonstrated, the demonstration would be the strongest argument ever yet advanced in support of Pantheism. To say that God foreknew from all eternity just what kind of a world our planet should be, would be to place the conceiving and planning, the deliberating and choosing in the divine mind relative to this world, away back into the infinite depths; it would be to find no point in eternity when these things were not. This would prevent any conceiving, deliberating, or choosing immediately anterior to the creation of the globe. All the innumerable questions relative to creation had been settled ages of cycles beforealways, in fact. And this transfers all the intellectual, emotional, and rational activities of Jehovah far back into the dateless eternity of the past. This forbids the possibility of the infinite being doing or creating any thing that is new in conception. This binds in chains his free will. His infinite free will has no scope nor opportunity for its legitimate and normal exercise; it has no freedom in the present; all his activities are in rigid and unalterable obedience to resolves made long before a leaf fluttered or an intellect listened in all the universe, to resolves that always were already madewhich seems to us a contradiction in terms. To say that God, from all eternity, knew with absolute certainty just what he will do in any moment in the boundless future, is to exclude deliberation and choice and the legitimate action of the divine will.
This view prevents all those appropriate experiences in the divine soul which are necessary to the successive moments of his eternal life. But it is no more appropriate in God to determine what kind of a world he would make a million years before he did make it than to determine upon it just before he did make it. On the other hand, it is much more natural for him to conceive, to plan, to choose, and to create in immediate connection the one with the other. Such a course would give life, freshness, and the momentary delight of putting forth creative energies to the successive moments in the existence of the infinite mind. That he generally conceived, planned, and executed in immediate succession, or at near periods in the absence of all proof to the contrary, is certainly the more plausible and probable.
Let us go back to a time before our world existed. Our standards have never taught that matter is eternal. And if it is not eternal, then there was a time when this world did not exist; and there was a time when it was called into existence by the Creator. There was also a time when God was contemplating its creation, when he was considering whether or not he would make it, and when he was considering what kind of a world he would make. He might have made a world very different from the one he did make. If he could not, then his will was not free. If he knew from all eternity what kind of a world he was going to make, then he could not have deliberated on the subject at any conceivable date prior to the act of creation. He had no freedom of choice between the varieties of worlds, which arose in countless throngs before his exhaustless conception and imagination. He was shut up to the one eternally conceived plan. But such painful limitations upon the freedom, the nature, and the life of the Creator are wholly inconsistent with his revealed perfections, and must therefore be incredible. We are driven to believe that immediately prior to creation he did deliberate what sort of a world he would make. While he was contemplating the subject he was already omniscient. This omniscience embraced all subjects of knowledge, all knowable things; but it did not embrace a knowledge of the future facts, developments, results, and possibilities of a world, the kind or like of which he had not thought of making, nor of one which he had not determined he would make. All such facts, results, developments, and destinies were by no means objects of knowledge. They were not knowable things, because they had no existence whatever. Omniscience could not have embraced a knowledge of the future facts, developments, choices, and results of such a world as this before it had been determined to create it. Why, then, should it be thought necessary, in order to maintain the perfection of omniscience, that omniscience should embrace a knowledge of all such contingent particulars possible to a world constituted as he finally determined that he would constitute this planet, and that at the very moment in which he conceived his purpose and contrived his plan for its creation? And why should omniscience, in order to maintain its perfection, be forced to embrace a knowledge of all future facts, results, and choices of the free agents, who should possess the power of taking the initiative, of creating causal forces, of making moral character, and fixing endless destinies?
If all such matters were not objects of knowledge before he determined what kind of a world he would create, what could make them such the moment that he determined, in general outline, that he would create such a being as man, clothed with the august endowments of liberty, and an ability to disappoint his desires and expectations and defeat his purposes? If a knowledge of all those future free choices was not necessary to the perfection of omniscience before he finally decided to create man, what could constitute it necessary, in order to maintain this perfection, that omniscience should embrace a perfect knowledge of all these varied contingent particulars at the moment he said, "Let us make man in our own image?"
Indeed, if the foreknowledge of the future choices of free spirits be essential to the perfection of omniscience, then omniscience could not have been perfect in the absence of a purpose to create free agents whose choices could furnish the objects of that foreknowledge. And if the perfection of omniscience requires a purpose to create a world of free agents, then the creation of the finite is essential to the perfection of the infinite. The perfection, therefore of the infinite is not at all subjective, but objectivea conclusion too monstrous for a moment's tolerance. Dr. Fiske (in the Bibliotheca Sacra for April, 1862) says, "The foreknowledge of future events is not an essential attribute of God, for we can conceive of him as being perfect without it. For if God had not chosen to create a universe he still would have been God.
But was there no time in all eternity past when the thoughts, perceptions, purposes, and plans of God, for all eternity to come, were not in the divine mind? Either there was such a time or there was not. If there was not such a time, then all the thoughts, perceptions, purposes, and plans of God were just as eternal as himself. You could no more go back to a time when they had not all a definite existence in the divine mind than you could go back to a time when he himself did not exist. Every one of those states and acts of the divine mind, and all the developments of a universe of free, uncoerced agents, and every star, flower, drop, ray, and vapor of unintelligent matter, were just as eternal in the divine conception as God himself. If there was no point in all eternity past when all the thoughts, plans, and purposes of God for all the eternity to come were not in his mind, did not stand out clear and definite in his conception, then he could not have originated them. He no more originated them than he originated such necessary truths as that the sum of all the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. They were no more his creation than were time, space, and the mathematical axioms. If God did not originate those thoughts, intentions, purposes, and plans for the endless future, then there never was any exercise of his free will. For the exercise of will is to bring into existence some idea, thought, purpose, force, result, or being that previously had no existence. And if all such things existed in the divine mind from eternity, then there could not have been any exercise of his will relative to them. They all had a positive existence before there was any exercise of the divine will. And if they were eternal, they existed from necessity. The divine will only wrought according to forms, conceptions, purposes. and plans that were as eternal as himself And, if this be so, he was just as unfree and coerced relatively to them as he is now relatively to mathematical truths. But if there has been no exercise of the divine will in respect to all the affairs of the interminable future, where can we turn to find any evidence of the exercise or manifestation of that will? Send out imagination on strongest pinion, in every direction, in search of instances of its exercise, and she returns announcing, "In all my travels through creation I find no evidence that the divine will has ever manifested itself; all that I find is the result of conceptions and purposes just as eternal as God himself." But this effectually and summarily expels free will and freedom at once and forever from the universe. For, if no instance of the exercise of the divine will can be discovered, what proof can there be that in the nature of God there is such an attribute as free will? If there be no evidence that there is such a faculty in God there can be no such faculty in man, for he was made in the image and likeness of God.
But this would at once dismiss freedom, free will, accountability, moral character, and moral distinctions forever from the world. It would dismiss as unsound all thinking which assumes these as data for human reasoning and inference. It rejects as unreasonable all the teachings, warnings, threatenings, and promises of a supposed divine revelation. It rejects as absurd our belief in intuitions and primary truths, our reliance on the teachings of conscience, and all trust in any asseveration of universal religious consciousness. And if this be correct, then necessarily all things are under the control of a blind, grim necessity. All the mental processes of God's mind, all his feelings, thoughts, conceptions, purposes, and plans are irrevocably fated. Under such an hypothe- sis, there can be no law in the universe save that of necessity.
Philosophy never did announce the doctrine that God is a free being until it had discovered freedom in the depths of human consciousness; but as soon as it had made that discovery then forthwith, as with the strength, flight, and exultation of an angel, it ascended to the throne of God and attributed the same endowment to the divine mind as the most sublime of his natural attributes, and as essential to his sovereignty. Ever since that time all sound philosophy has proclaimed God to be a free being, and pronounced the system of necessity to be philosophically false, and practically, in all ways, harmful to its devotees.
And right here breaks upon the inquiring mind the amazing fact, that the dread system of necessity is based upon the assumption of universal prescience. Admit universal prescience, and nothing can rescue us from the cold and cruel embrace of fatalism. All God's thoughts, plans, purposes, and feelings roll forth from necessity. In them there is no exercise of free will, and fatalism binds him this hour in all his life and processes and creative acts as firmly as gravitation holds the sun in the ecliptic or rules the waters in seeking their level. God could never do any thing different from that which he does do; none of his creations, doings, volitions, or thinkings could ever vary or be changed in the slightest degree.
This would utterly annihilate the divine freedomnot, however, because God's knowledge has any influence over the facts, but because the facts existed from eternity, and are absolutely necessary in their nature. They would be as necessary as God himself is a necessary being. And if this be true, God is not and can not be a voluntary, self-determining being. He would be a necessary agent, working necessities alone from necessity. Far above his will would stand the dread monster of fatalistic necessity. Prayer addressed to him would be an absurdity as inexcusable, as would be a supplication addressed to a whirlwind. He has no choices to originate, no determinations to make now. All his choices were originated for him by necessity from all eternity. His choices gone and his deliberation gone, then his freedom is gone; and with his freedom, his personality is gone; and personality gone, Pantheism rises into view as the inevitable result. Then the glorious God, personal, free, and eternal, vanishes forever from our contemplation, amid the bewildering clouds of that fatalistic system of religious philosophy.
We thus see that while absolute divine foreknowledge makes free agency in man inconsistent and inexplicable, it eliminates that indispensable quality from God. He has ever been bound, in all that he has thought, resolved, and done, to a particular course or series of acts, from which it has never been possible for him in the slightest to depart. But it is the nature of mind ever to originate, under the direction of the will, conceptions, thoughts, considerations, images, inferences, purposes, plans, and systems, all requiring the power of free volition for their existence. Take from the mind its faculty of free will, and it would be but little more significant than a leaf on the wave or an insect in the breeze. Willing and originating and modifying cannot be separated. But to affirm that the infinite mind is incapable of originating new thoughts, new plans, and new purposes in his infinite and eternal activities, is to limit irrationally his infinite perfections. To escape Pantheism on the one hand, and stark necessity on the other hand, to avoid charging grave imperfections upon God and limiting his omnipotence in respect to originating new forms, creations, and enterprises, we are compelled to admit that there was a time in the eternal past, when some thoughts and purposes were not before him. God must have the power of freely taking the initiative, or there never could have been any thing created. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Before any finite thing existed, he contemplated the widely varied forms and ideals of creation that arose in diversified beauty and grandeur before him, and from this multitude he freely selected some specimens and willed them into existence. This act involved voluntary, causative, and inceptive action. In the various motives or reasons for his selections out of the beautiful images and magnificent systems that arose before his infinite understanding and imagination, there was nothing to coerce his free will in the exercise of his omnipotent energies. That autocratic attribute of freedom, of perfect liberty, of untrammeled volitions was here displayed in all its regality and impressiveness. [To bind his free, spontaneous will with the adamantine chains of an eternally fixed and established order of futuritions, so limits, degrades, and dethrones him, that it is too painful for a moment's tolerance, and any relief from such consequences ought to be hailed with gladness and gratitude.]
If there had been another infinite intelligence in full survey of all the motives and incentives to act, which were before the divine mind, and in full survey of all the forms from which he would select for creation, that infinite intelligence could not have divined which forms God would select and determine upon. He could not have foreknown this, simply because God's will is perfectly free, is coerced by nothing outside of itself, and because there is no coerciveness in any of the forms of creation or reasons for action that could present themselves to the mind of God. His will being perfectly free and initiative and causative, fettered by no law, coerced by no necessity, and bound to no uniformity, his final choice and determination could not have been foreknown. If you affirm that the supposed infinite intelligence could have foreknown God's final determination, I inquire, How do you know? Most assuredly there is no data on which to posit knowledge as to the future choices of God's free will. A thing that might be or might not be, or might be one of a thousand different and equally probable things; certainly can not be an object of foreknowledge. But if you say, that knowing just the motives, reasons, influences, and forms of creation which would act on, the divine mind, that other supposed infinite intelligences could foresee the choices and final determinations of God's will, I answer: That would subject the divine will; would enslave the divine will to its surroundings; would degrade it from the law of liberty, and subject it to the law of cause and effect. It would degrade it from the supernatural down to the natural, and from the contingent to the inevitable, from the free to the constrained.
But let us again go back to a period before any created thing had an existence. From all eternity God existed, infinite in all his perfections. These perfections could never be increased or diminished. His essential attributes and joys and glory never could be added to or subtracted from. The cycles from eternity to eternity might have passed on in infinite bliss, in glorious meditations. and in joyful fellowship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God needed nothing to supplement his essential blessedness and greatness. But, at some point in the dateless past, he resolved that he would create matter and worlds and intelligent, accountable, sensitive beings. And as soon as he put this resolve into execution, and a bright and breathing and helpless universe was created, and myriads of sensitive, intelligent beings were crowding around him, all hanging on his infinite heart, all sighing for his smile, all longing to know more of his nature and glory, all weeping if in order to the discipline and testing of their loyalty lie for a moment hid or shaded his face from them, and all trusting in him, then a new state of things pervaded the heart of the Infinite Father. At once he finds he has a new and vast world of personal existence. At once he is the subject of new experiences. At once he is called out of the measureless depths of his own infinite, fathomless self. New cares, new interests, new enterprises, new happiness, and new hopes break in upon his infinite mind and heart. And then there comes upon that nature of boundless sensibility and goodness, for the first time during all the eternal ages, a new and a dreadful experience, the experience of grief over the failure of some of his intelligent creatures to fulfill his grand designs to make for themselves a glorious destiny. All this care, support, instruction, entreaty, promise, and threatening; all this gladness over the triumphs of intelligent creatures, and grief over the failure of others, constitute, in the I Am, a new and deeply interesting life, new classes of thoughts and of emotions and states of the sensibilities. Before all this had taken place he lived wholly in himself, purely a subjective life. Now, for the first time, he has an experience, a life, and an enjoyment in things which are distinct and separate from himself, though entirely dependent upon him for their continued existence. The life of God in himself continued after he had performed his acts of creation, the same that it had been from eternity. But surely the creation of all the worlds that move in space with all their intelligent and rejoicing inhabitants gave to the Infinite Father the new, joyful, and inexpressible experience of fatherhoodall its cares, hopes, fears, and joys.
It is obvious that as freedom consists in the possibility of a choice between two or more possible things, if God is a free being, he must, as we before remarked have the power of choosing between alternative purposes and plans, preferring some and rejecting others. God's manifestations of himself, in his work of originating worlds, material and intelligent, are, and necessarily must be, contingent in their nature. If they are not contingent they are necessary; and if they are necessary God is controlled by necessity. But this is absurd. Therefore, in reference to God's creations and enterprises in the far-away cycles to come, and their results, we may reverently affirm that they can not now be foreknown except as contingent possibilities. And we may do this without casting the least reflection upon God's omniscience.
For if God is not able to form today a conception that he never thought of, then he has never in all the eternity past possessed the power to form any new conception, and then, consequently, all his conceptions must be eternal; and if eternal they were never originated, and God, therefore, has never been able to form a new conception, or to originate and determine any one thing. Paul says God hath made of one brotherhood all the nations of men, and determined their bounds. But God could not have determined the bounds of the nations of men if those bounds had been eternally determined. The fact that he determined those bounds proves that he originated the resolve to determine them. If he originated that resolve he originated the conception to determine them; and if he originated that conception he can originate conceptions now; he can now form conceptions of which he has never before thought.
Dr. Whedon says, "Omniscience is self existent, an eternal, fixed, necessary being, an eternal, necessary, excellent permanence; but God's holiness is an eternal volitional becoming, an eternal, free, alternative putting forth of choices for the right, eternally and continuously being made." But if God foreknows all his own future choices, then they are not any more an eternal becoming than his omniscience is an eternal becoming. For if he now foreknows those choices he foreknows them as future, as anticipated; but when they are actually put forth he will then know them as actually occurring. Present knowledge, therefore, must contain at least one element not found in foreknowledge; namely, the realization of that which was anticipated in foreknowledge. But if God can not take the initiative now, then he never could and never can take the initiative. But this would be an imperfection and a limitation upon infinite perfection too absurd to merit consideration. God must, therefore, now possess the power of taking the initiative. But if he has power to initiate he must have power to precede his initiation with original thinking. This power of original thinking he must begin to exercise at some point in infinite duration. If this be not so, then he never did have and never could have had an original thought or original conception. And if he has no power to originate new conceptions he can possess no freedom, and must sink into a purely necessary being. Our conception of the glorious God then becomes a mere conception of a being bound in the chains and fetters of a changeless fatality. But this conclusion drives us back with fleet foot to the admission that God does now possess, must by the very constitution of his being and his Godhead possess, the power to awaken new and original thoughts. He must, therefore, possess the power to take the initiative and to put forth originating thought as he may choose in the untram- meled exercise of his absolute freedom. And this view invests his character and nature with additional perfections, and will forever keep the intelligent universe in endless expectation of new unfoldings of his infinite resources to instruct, to entertain, and to elevate the beings he has created in his own intellectual image and moral likeness.
God is omniscient today; but suppose tomorrow he for the first time forms a conception and a purpose of creating a new order of intelligent and accountable creatures, unlike in many particulars any that now exist. If you affirm that he could not on the morrow form such an original conception and purpose, you limit his power of originality and creation. Activity is one of the highest peculiarities of intellect. The most thrilling delight of mind is to make new discoveries in untraveled ways, and to put forth power in conceiving of the new, the unknown, and the difficult. And certainly we can not deny to God these capacities and gratifications. Then let us suppose that he should make this new order of beings, and resolve that their choices should be unconstrained, unrestrained, and original with themselves, and contingent as to himself. How, then, could it limit, or in any way affect, his essential omniscience not to foresee what should finally be the unconstrained choices of those free beings? How could it limit omniscience not to foreknow those choices, whatever they might eventually happen to be, which he had solemnly placed in the category of contingencies, and not to foresee those results which he had set apart and made contingent to the beings themselves, and contingent to a witnessing universe, and contingent even to himself? And, on the other hand, if it be impossible for God to create a free agent whose choices and results can not be unforeseen by him, would not that be a proof of a serious imperfection in the universe and in the divine administration? Certainly the highest ideal of a universe requires the creation of such free agents, and the highest ideal of an administration requires capacity to govern them.
That omniscience should not be able to foreknow such contingent results many impressive considerations and many unanswerable arguments, which meet both the theologian and the philosopher at every step of their inquiries, unite to demonstrate. And, on the other hand, no one probably can adduce the slightest imperfection which such an inability could necessitate either in the omniscience of God or in his moral government of the universe. But an admission that omniscience does necessarily embrace a knowledge of all the future choices of free beings would at once necessitate many grievous imperfections in that omniscience. For if the perfection of omniscience requires that it foreknow all the future choices which those free beings in their freedom will elect, it equally requires that omniscience should foreknow all those choices which they will not elect, but which they will positively reject. For it has the same means of foreknowing the one that it has of foreknowing the other.
It would be imperfection in omniscience not to know all that now exists, all causes, all effects, all existences, all substances material and immaterial, all qualities and potencies; all the past acts of free agents, with all their diversified consequences; all the present experiences, intentions, motives, hopes and fears and doings of all beings accountable or unaccountable in the universe; all that omnipotence has done, is now doing; all the divine plans and purposes, all that is wrapped up in all causes, and all the actual, throughout boundless realms. All these vast categories and departments evidently come within the range of knowledge, and not to have complete knowledge in respect to them would be an imperfection in omniscience. But these categories seem to us to bound the realm of the knowable, and therefore to bound omniscience. "Nothing," says Dr. Chalmers, "so contributes to the soundness of one's philosophy as an accurate perception of the limit between the knowable and the unknowable. It is the highest and most useful achievement of the human mind to trace the line of separation between the two regions."
We should naturally infer that a being, who manifests such endless varieties in all the realms of creation as God does, would create some beings who would be able to produce results which it would be impossible even for himself to determine with certainty. "If," says Dugald Stewart, "the prescience of the volitions of moral agents is incompatible with the free agency of man, the logical inference would be that there are some events the foreknowledge of which implies an impossibility. And shall we venture to affirm that it exceeds the power of God to permit such a train of contingent events to take place as his own foreknowledge shall not extend to? Does not such a proposition detract from the omnipotence of God in the same proportion in which it aims to exalt his omniscience?"
Nothing that is a subject of knowledge can escape omniscience. But the future choices of free agents are now contingent, and if contingent they must be uncertain; and if uncertain they are not fact; and if not fact they are incapable of being so cognized. To affirm that God could not create such free beings would be to limit his power and wisdom. In the depths of eternity past God determined that he would make matter in great variety of form, and that great classes of events should come to pass by necessity, according to the laws of cause and effect. He resolved that he would make another large class of events, certain to come to pass in the future, which should result, not from the workings of necessary law, but from his own immediate will. He resolved that he would make large classes of sentient beings which should be controlled by blind instinct. He also determined that he would make beings of a higher and of a different order, whom he would govern in many particulars by instinct, and also that he would govern this class of beings in many other particulars by the great law of cause and effect.
"How happy it is," says Dr. Whateley, "for mankind, that in many of the most momentous concerns of life their decision is generally formed for them by external circumstances, which thus saves them not only from the perplexity of doubt and the danger of delay, but also from the pain of regret, since we acquiesce much more cheerfully in that which is unavoidable. Here the decisions and convictions of the intelligence and the states of the sensibility are all necessitated by causes over which we have no control." "There is," says Dr. Bledsoe, "a large class of voluntary actions which are neither right nor wrong; they are simply indifferent."
The Creator also resolved that he would control these intelligent beings he was about to create, when they were acting as the instruments of his providence, by the same great law that governs material forces. He concluded that he would make our world and people it in a certain way; that he would develop it in certain orders, and make it various under the molding power of climatic, social, ideal, and scenic influences; that he would establish a grand organizationhis Churchto preserve a knowledge of himself on the earth, and educate immortal intelligences for his more immediate presence and glory in an eternal state of existence. And as scaffolding for that wondrous organizationthe Churchhe resolved that such and such nations and empires should be raised and run their courses (just as human beings are born and live); illustrate some truth; subserve some purpose in the interest of this, divine organization, and perhaps also be securative of many designs merely mundane; and then pass away. And countless multitudes of such things he determined upon, every particular of which he could foreknow.
But as endless variety distinguishes the Creator in all his creations and modes of operation, what would be more natural or more likely than that he should also determine that he would bestow such a faculty upon man as the power of taking the initiative, and that he should constitute manbecause he possessed such endowments rewardable being capable in himself of the high and dangerous prerogatives of creating a moral character and fixing the endless destiny of his soul, made in the image of the divine?
That the theory that God foreknows otherwise than as contingencies, as possibilities, all the acts of free agents, all his own acts, all the choices of his infinite will through all the interminable future, is untenable, is apparent not only for the reasons already given, but also because it detracts from, instead of enhancing, the perfections of the divine character. For suppose a mind destitute of the principles of curiosity and love of novelty, destitute of the susceptibilities of surprise and of wonder, would not that mind appear a very imperfect one? Could we behold such a one without commiseration? We do find these and similar endowments in all sound intellects. But has God no attraction for what is new? Has he no capability of the delightful experiences of wonder and surprise and variety? We ought never to lose sight of what God has explicitly revealed of himself when he declares that we were made in his own image and likeness. But how can the above-named features and faculties be in the copy and yet not be found in the model? Did not Jesus manifest wonder at the faith of the centurion? The contrast between the faith of the centurion and the unbelief he usually met with filled him with wonder, and what genuine surprise must have thrilled the soul of the Son of God when he exclaimed, "I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel."
To deny to the Divine Being delight in novelty, to deny that Omnipotence takes pleasure in unforeseen emergencies, that Omniscience experiences joy in inventing new and astonishing expedients for sudden catastrophes, that infinite Mercy would be gratified at an unlooked for draught upon its vast resources of compassion, is to deny to the Deity great sources of happiness and also to inflict grave imperfections upon his nature. Such denials necessitate many imperfections in both the mental and the moral natures of God. But if there are no events which God can not foreknow in his every-day experiences, then it is not possible for him to experience the varied delights of wonder and surprise. All the gratifications which spring from novelties, from discoveries, and from calling great energies and perfections into sudden and unexpected exercise are rendered forever impossible to him. One of God's great delights in beholding his universe is, as we may well suppose, to witness the unknown choices and moral developments of free agents, to witness their displays of faith and heroism and spiritual valor, and to watch the unfoldings of vast and various moral enterprises.
Is it conceivable in what other way he could be so deeply interested? And how it arouses the energies and fires the purposes of a probationer to dethrone self, to conquer all malign influences, to be assured that God is waiting for him to bring out all the spiritual possibilities within him! Nothing intellectually delights man more than inventions, discoveries, creations, and the mastery over unlooked for contingencies and combinations. Now, absolute prescience cuts away from the divine mind all such enjoyments and perfections and noble activities.
But how such views as attribute to the infinite mind the capacities for novelty, surprise, wonder, and variety do relieve our conceptions of God from the eternal monotony, the endless unvariety which the ordinary view of his foreknowledge imposes upon his nature and modes of existence! Those limitations to which universal prescience would subject God's free, spontaneous, creative spirit, as he ever goes forth through the universe to endless creations of infinitely varied forms of being, life, and intelligence, are all removed by the simple denial of universal, certain divine foreknowledge. About the only argument that is ever relied upon for the dogma of absolute prescience, is the assumption that it is indispensable to the perfection of Deity. But we here discover, as at numerous other points, that this assumption is not only needless and a constant dis- turbing force in all thinkings, but it also necessitates positive imperfection in the infinite mind. "If God knew not how free agents will act, his knowledge is limited, and must be continually increasing," says Dr. Hodge, "and therefore is inconsistent with a true idea of his nature." But surely it is no limitation of God's knowledge not to know an event which, if it ever happened, shall be what God determined it should bea pure contingency; nor not to know a thing that does not now exist, one which may never exist, one whose causes now have no existence. Certainly it is no limitation of God's knowledge not to foreknow a thing the knowledge of which involves manifest absurdity. That which has never been brought into existence, which has never been determined upon by any finite intelligence, that which the infinite being has never determined shall come to pass, and that whose causes can now have no possible existence; certainly can not be foreseen or in any way apprehended. This proposition, we should suppose, no one would, for a moment, question. But every Arminian must acknowledge that a future free volition of a free spirit is such an event as that just now described. It does not now exist, has never been determined upon by God or any finite being, and its causes have now no possible existence. The future existence of such an event can not now be a subject of knowledge. The non-foreknowledge of it, therefore, can in no way limit God's omniscience. When we speak of God's knowledge as infinite, we can not refer to his knowledge of his objective universe, for the very idea of an infinite objective knowledge is an impossibility. All the objects apprehensible by sense or by consciousness constitute the universe. It is conditioned, because it depends upon something else for what it is and for what it does. It is limited because it has a beginning and a termination. It is, finite because each of the objects is limited by a portion of space and a period of time. It is subjected to all the conditions of existence and of action which its forces, laws, and ends prescribe. The number of objects, therefore, in this objective universe can never be infinite. A knowledge of them all can never constitute infinite knowledge. But the learning how a free spirit chooses, as his choice is put forth, can not be called an increase of knowledge.
Many conceive of eternity, past and future, as a circle, to foreknow the whole of which from beginning round to the end would require no effort of omniscience. But we are not warranted in contemplating eternity under the figure of a circle. We must regard it as one of endless, interminable successions and progressions or lines never returning upon themselves. After countless ages are past the successions and progressions and unfoldings of this universe will still be onward, and yet only in their early infancy. Now to crowd upon the divine mind this hour, all these successions of creations, developments, sinful falls, moral tragedies, and thrilling necessities of all endless cycles, is one of the most dreary and appalling of human conceptions. And to ask a man to embrace a view so overwhelming, without presenting to him a single consideration demonstrating its necessity, is enough to awaken impatience, if not resentment. It is incumbent upon theologians to show the necessity of a proposition so profitless and depressing.
But the mind is forced to embrace this terrible view, or to reject the divine prescience of all those future choices of free agents on which their eternal salvation or ruin depends. The latter alternative is not only far easier, but, like the morning light, brings with it uncounted, blessings and immeasurable gladness. If God's knowledge may be increased as his will originates new plans, new purposes, new resolves, new enterprises, the possibility of which, we hope, no one will question, why may not his objective knowledge of simple facts be also increased, as the self originating wills of his accountable creatures originate choices and volitions and inaugurate new moral forces, ever after to operate for weal or woe in his moral universe? [But this foreknowing how a comparatively small number of free spirits, acting under the law of liberty, will determine or decide on the contingent arena of freedom in a period so comparatively brief, and in a world so comparatively minute, is a kind of knowledge that is not and can not be in any way essential to the divine perfection or an increase to his essential knowledge. The strange dream to which thinkers cling so tenaciously that such knowledge must be indispensable to the perfection of Deity is one of the fancies that necessarily arise from taking such limited views of the fathomless and numberless processes of the infinite intellect. Ignorance of such a limited number of future free determinations can no more affect the intellectual perfections of Jehovah or embarrass his administration than ignorance whether next month I can solve a problem in quaternions could now affect the intellectual ability of some one of the great mathematicians. Such ignorance would no more necessitate divine imperfection, no more embarrass God in his government than Victoria's present ignorance as to whether one of her subjects would or would not next year pay her a five-pound note, could disturb her or embarrass her in the management of the vast empire of Great Britain.]
But since God can originate something which he never thought beforeas all must confess who are not prepared to deny him one of his perfections, and one of the most interesting of them all; and since man was made in his image, why can not man also originate something which God had not certainly foreknown? God certainly foreknows all future possibilities, but it is needless for him to foreknow all future actualities. And that is just what God himself affirms: "And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire: which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." (Jer. vii, 31.) "Neither came it into my mind that they should do this abomination to cause Judah to sin." (Jer. xxxii, 35. See also Jer. xix, 5.) These passages demonstrate the capacity of a free will to originate something God had not foreknown.
If it be impossible for God to foreknow what his own free, self-originating volitions and choices and creations in the far-off future may be (which we have shown to be most highly probable, if not necessary to his perfection), how can it be possible for him to foreknow what will be the future choices of a free, self-originating spirit, made in his own image, and endowed with the power of finite causation? If many of his own future choices can not be foreknown by himself, we are authorized to infer that the choices of a free, self-originating spirit are equally unforeknowable. "Volitions," says Coleridge, "can not lie within the category of cause and effect." Future volitions are caused by free wills acting in the future under the law of liberty.
From effect we trace back to cause, and from that cause, as an effect, back to a prior cause, and so on and on, till we arrive at a point where two necessities break upon our view. One of those necessities is to believe that there is an endless succession of causes, with no ultimate cause. But we can not believe this, because the absurdity of it is forced upon us. The profoundest thinkers, headed by Aristotle and Samuel Clarke, all affirm that there can not be an infinite series of causes. The other necessity that breaks upon us is to admit that there is an uncaused cause. In this belief there is no absurdity whatever. The universe exists; and that it had no cause, or that it was caused by an infinite series of causes without any uncaused cause, are each equally absurd and unthinkable. The only necessity, then, that can be entertained at the end of our a postetiori argument for the existence of God is the necessity of an uncaused cause. Such a cause must be a free, self-originating spirit. Beyond that we can not go, and to that we are compelled by reason and logic to go, and from that we can not escape. In all this there may be much of incomprehensibility, of inexplicable mystery; but there is no absurdity, no self-contradiction.
Now, just this process is involved in traveling back from an outward act to its ultimate origin. Back of the act lie nerves and muscle; back of nerves and muscle lies volition; back of volition lies decision; and back of decision the self-originating spirit. The true source of the mind's activity is in its own essence, in one of its own primal faculties. To this point we are compelled, in our search after the origin of an act, to go; beyond it we can not go, and from it we can not escape without damaging our accountability and rendering ourselves machines, and utterly failing in the construction of either a theology, or a philosophy, or a theodicy. In accounting for creation, the admission of an uncaused cause is a necessity that presses strongly upon the mind, so in accounting for an act, for which an accountable creature is to be rewarded or punished, the admission of the existence of an uncaused cause, endowed with the power of uncompelled, unconditioned choice, is an equal necessity.
We thus see what intellectual, moral, and governmental imperfection in the divine nature and character, and what inconsistencies and contradictions in the mode of the divine existence, the affirmation of universal divine foreknowledge logically necessitates. A negation of absolute prescience will relieve us of all these glaring inconsistencies, and that, too, without involving a solitary absurdity, or surrendering a single truth, or abandoning a valuable doctrine concerning God or his Word or his wondrous grace. But in closing this chapter it may be well to remark that the distinction between the subjective and objective life of God here presented, as indispensable to consistent conceptions of divine foreknowledge in particular, and of theology in general, may possibly be questioned by some readers.
But it is manifest if God creates an intelligent, immortal creature he must ever after be solicitous for that creature; for if the existence of a spirit depends upon the power of an unlimited being, then the continuance of his existence and of the existence of his faculties must also depend upon that unlimited being. And if that being is forever dependent he must always remain limited in his capacities. And if forever limited in his capacities his complete comprehension of the unlimited must be forever impossible. The notion, therefore, that God could create a being that could ever be unlimited and independent involves manifest absurdity, If God create an immortal spirit, then he must forever provide for his instruction and numerous and ever-increasing necessities. But in providing for such a creature the creation of an objective universe is indispensable. Without some material scaffoldings on which to lean, how could a simple, finite spirit photograph into its own consciousness any definite conception of its creator? How could it, unseen, unfelt, unvoiced, in the silence that pervades a motionless, objectless empty universe, form any definite conception of the unknown Infinite? Angels work for us, minister to us, encamp about, defend, deliver, and variously illumine us, and yet we are never cognizant of their presence nor of their influence. How, then, could God appoint bounds to the habitations of unbodied spirits? How hold them in localities? How set them in societies? How form them into empires? How rule them by a single law? How arraign them for judgment? How punish them for disobedience? How reward them for goodness? And how make them mutually influential, without an objective universe to furnish an arena for all such things? These are questions which we can ask, but which we never can answer. But, certainly, without such a universe finite beings could never obtain any correct conceptions of Deity. Without it any form of visible government over his creatures would be an impossibility. But through these objective creations the attributes, perfections, mental qualities and capacities of Deity are revealed and illustrated. These objective creations are brilliant lights held up before the face of a hitherto invisible infinite spirit. By this means God reveals his tenderness, care, wisdom, and power, in his special providences, over his sensitive offspring.
But the grand conceptions of God which are suggested by his marvelous works include only his natural attributes. The final, objective, tangible manifestation of the moral attributes of the incom- prehensible Jehovah was in the incarnation of himself in the person of Jesus Christ. By that incarna- tion lie unfolded, with unspeakable impressiveness, to finite intelligences his love of holiness, his devotion to rectitude, his hatred of sin, his firm alliance with the virtuous, and the grandeurs of his moral administration. Jesus Christ in an objective form incarnated himself in order to reveal throughout the universe the sublime moral truths and purposes which till then were cognized only by the Godhead. These mysteries of the Infinite, these infinitudes of knowledge and wisdom and love and power, he held up with a clearness of statement and a force of illustration that established and rendered forever unassailable his high claims to supreme divinity and to be a divine messenger to man. The human soul is itself a magnificent revelations of God, flowing out from the depths of his infinite being and imaging in a finite reality the divine perfections. It is indeed a glorious reality, sent out from the soul of Deity to illustrate the inexpressible glory of its origin.
God does reflect his incomprehensible self in the beings whom he creates; and that notion, therefore, which is now so fashionable, that it is impossible for the Infinite to project some of his subjective perfections forth into objective manifestations, conveying thereby to finite intelligences clear, invaluable conceptions of those perfections, is the great philosophical error of the times. No reasonable man will affirm that it is impossible for the Omnipotent to reveal in an objective manner some of his mental traits, moral qualities, emotional experiences, and procedures in governmentin a way however partial, nevertheless so far forth truthfulto the intent that he may be known by all who are amenable to his administration. In unnumbered benefactions, varying from the minute to the majestic, and extending from the insect to the seraph, he has manifested himself to his sensitive creatures.
The distinction between the subjective and the objective mode of the divine existence is needful, indeed, to science as well as to theology. I claim for the Infinite all, and more than all, the mysteriousness and unknowableness, all the inconceivable perfections, all the infolded but unmanifested glories, which are claimed for him by scientist, rationalist, metaphysician, or theologian. And when the skeptical school, represented in Germany by Strauss and in England by Herbert Spencer, affirm that God can give mankind no reliable revelation of himself, either in his works or through inspiration, we think we discover wherein they are both right and wrong. For when Mansel, Hamilton, and many of the scientists declare that the Infinite is unknowable, is an inscrutable power, of which the finite can not form a conception, and that, should he reveal himself to us, still we could not know him, they are unquestionably right. And when theologians affirm that truthful conceptions of the Infinite can be formed and apprehended by the finite mind, they too are manifestly correct. Thinkers of the first class look at the Infinite as necessary, immutable, unlimited, all-comprehending, and incomprehensible. They contemplate God as he exists in his subjective and necessary state and life. Their error lies in denying that it is possible for him to give through objective creations any reliable revelation of himself, affording invaluable information and truthful concepts to finite beings. They err when they affirm that God does not vouchsafe to his intelligent offspring important lessons in great variety, on printed pages and in illustrated editions, concerning his boundless, perfect modes of life, thought, procedure, and moral government, which are not only correct and consistent in themselves, but absolutely indispensable to the growth, happiness, and perfection of the immortal spirits of which he is the Creator, Governor, and Father.
Both of these classes of teachers claim to be philanthropists aiming to bring back to a disordered race, improvement, joy, and order. And now do we not here discover the line of light by which opposing battalions may be brought to an agreement? Let both of these classes of workers for the world's elevation unite in the belief that by far the greater part of the divine nature, in its essence, has not been and could not be revealed to finite intelligences, and that whatever God has not been pleased, or shall not be pleased, to reveal of his infinite nature and modes of existence is absolutely unknowable, inscrutable, inconceivable, and unthinkable by limited beings; but that what he has revealed of his nature can be known through objective manifestations, and under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost can be understood, realized, welcomed, loved, adored, and enjoyed by finite man, and that only through belief in these revelations man can be elevated to the higher forms of spiritual culture, strength and blessedness of which his nature is so prophetic.
The denial that God can reveal his infinite nature to one that is finite necessitates the darkness of atheism. But, however long we may exist, however high we may rise or widely we may roam, we never can fully comprehend God. To us he will always be the inscrutable and unthinkable Infinite. We can never know him in any thing save as he reveals his attributes in objective forms in beautiful thoughts, views discoveries, and principles suggested by illustrating Providence, and carried into our hearts with much assurance by the Holy Ghost.
Because God has been regarded as absolutely immutable, strange theories and explanations have obtained in relation to the divine institution of prayer. In its essence the divine nature must be essentially immutable. But if God be absolutely unchangeable, then he can not sympathize with us when we change our moral character. Such a view would rob us of all sympathy from our Creator. He must necessarily change in his feelings toward us as we change our moral character, and are translated into the kingdom of righteousness. If this be not so, he is wholly indifferent to the moral condition of his accountable creatures. But as soon as we conceive of God as a person and not as in abstraction full of contradictions; as soon as we conceive of him as having a life and experience out of himself and in his works, especially in his accountable offspring, we have no difficulty in according to him a modified mutability in his experiences. His life and enjoyments out of himself must be mutable and non-essential. In his subjective existence, he needed not to create any thing in order to absolute perfection. The failure of the human race to fulfill his design or to meet his expectation does not affect his essential perfection; and while the tolerance of evil deeply affects his happiness, it can never invade his subjective joys. His emotional experience out of himself must be largely dependent on the self-originating choices of accountable beings. For, if they are free, they have the power of securing or defeating the realization of his holy desires and plans. God's happiness in his creatures is something that may be increased or may be diminished by their choices. If the obedience of his creatures is pleasant to him, then their disobedience must be painful to him. To say that God is as happy in contemplating the world as it is, "lying in the wicked one," as he would be were there no sin or wrong or injustice or cruelty prac- ticed by its inhabitants, would be too unreasonable to merit a moment's refutation. God's happiness in his creatures may, therefore, be increased or diminished by the volitions and acts of finite beings.
His knowledge as to his creatures, also, may be increased. And it will be increased just as he deliberates, originates, plans, and purposes, or determines which of the forms of creation and of the orders of being that are present to imagination he will finally select to illustrate his glorious character and attributes. To say that God has no ideals other than those which are now realized in objective creations greatly limits the exhaustlessness of his perfections. If he has and can have no ideals but those which have existed from all eternity, our conceptions of him must necessarily gravitate toward those low views entertained by the Brahmins of their impersonal Brahma. In God's subjective nature his consciousness may not be a process of becoming and of passing away. This view may be necessary to maintain his subjective absoluteness. But then God must have objective life in the vast world of contingencies. And in that life there may be in his consciousness a becoming and a passing away, without in the least affecting his subjective absoluteness. God's knowledge of his ideal of the world is not identical with his knowledge of the world as it is actually realized, through the agency of free beings. This objective realization of the divine ideal through such agency, though it can not modify the absolute being of God, must be regarded as a process of becoming, and hence must be an increase in the knowledge of God in regard to pure contingencies.
God's objective lifethat is, his life, experience, interest, and enjoyment, as they are projected into or are modified by his created universemust necessarily be contingent. In his subjective life there is no such thing as contingency, failure, or disappointment. There every thing is, in every respect, absolutely perfect, and is just what God desires and intends. His subjective life in all its completeness and blessedness, high, sacred, changeless, fathomless, and eternal, is forever past finding out. Of the glories of his subjective life, even archangels can gain but glimpses in their sublimest conceptions and most searching inquiries. Such the life of the triune God has ever been and such it will always remain. But his objective life is as contingent as the choices of accountably beings are contingent.
While God is contemplated exclusively in his subjective and necessary
mode, of existence, his relations to contingent events and the relations
of contingent beings to him must forever baffle elucidation. If there
be a contingent universe it can be explicable and comprehensible only
in the contingent relations which the Creator sustains to it. The overlooking
this truth and the consequent failure to distinguish necessities in the
divine life from contingencies therein, occasion many errors. As God's
objective lifethat is, his life in contingent objectivitymust necessarily
be contingent, therefore to rob him of the world of contingency is to
rob him of that ever changing interest, care, effort, and benevolence
which a constantly expanding universe requires, and also of that ineffable
enjoyment which an ever varied contingency necessitates in the successive
life of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is this constant binding up necessities
with contingencies that forms the great source of confusion in theology
and philosophy. How much wiser, therefore, would it be to keep these
incompatible things separate and distinct in all our contemplations of
God. This distinction between the subjective and objective existences
of Deity can never fail to illumine the closet with a steady light, to
invigorate in every devout worshiper faith in the fatherhood of God,
in his special prov- idence, his watchful, loving care, and the reasonableness
and the deep significance of prayer as one of the great controlling forces
of the moral universe.
| Back to the Table of Contents |