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Chapter XVIII:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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IF the introduction of sin depended upon the moral condition, the previous habits, or the surroundings of any being; or upon any cause operating causatively upon or in the will, or, back of the will, in the free essential essence of that being; or upon any thing we can possibly suggest save the free choice of this will itself, then sin never could have come into existence. Moral evil would then have been forever an impossibility; since the moral nature and condition, the previous moral habits, and the circumstances of the first spirit that ever violated the divine law, were of such a character as to preclude the possibility of transgression save through the self-originating free will.

If there had been any thing in the moral condition or in the surroundings of that spirit; if there had been any thing in the moral condition or surroundings of primeval man that necessitated, predisposed, or unduly biased him toward disobedience, then the responsible cause of his fall must be sought for outside of himself. But this would destroy the accountability of man, and give direct contradiction to universal spiritual consciousness, which declares to us that we are accountable, and that we ourselves are the responsible causes of our own actions. The surroundings, the previous moral habits, the moral condition, the entire mental and moral structure of the first guilty spirit, were perfectly adjusted to all the intents and purposes of the required obedience. Nevertheless sin did enter the universe with its desolating tread and horrid emblazonry. All that we can do, therefore, is to trace human choices back to the action of a free, self-originating, self-determining spirit. And we must trace it back, likewise, to this free spirit at the identical moment of its originating the volition which gave birth to sin. It is very possible that had the trial been a moment earlier, or a moment later, this spirit might have originated a volition diametrically opposite to that which it did originate.

For the power of liberty is of two kinds, the generic and the specific. The generic power of liberty is the general power to act according to the law of liberty. From this generic power springs the specific capacity for volition at the moment the volition originates. The specific act of the mind, by which it chooses or puts forth a given volition, has no existence until the moment the volition is formed. Each specific volition is born in the effort to actualize the possible. And as each volition has no existence until the will takes the initiative of causation, its future existence is absolutely unforeknowable, except, as already remarked, that existence be provided for by the law of cause and effect. There can be nothing in the mind previous to the birth of a choice that can furnish the slightest data for absolute certainty as to what that choice will be. If Omniscience can foreknow the effects or the choices of an uncaused cause, then there must be regularity, uniformity, and law, in obedience to which that cause operates. But this binding of an uncaused cause with the restraints of law, regularity, uniformity, and universality, at once strips it of its uncaused character and degrades it to a caused causenamely, to a cause which does not act freely, but necessarily. And this depriving the will of its uncaused character robs it of all its freedom and creative power. How deeply seated, then, in the necessities of things, is the remark of Dr. Jamieson that no free being created or uncreated can foreknow his future choices. It was the exercise of the human will that first suggested to philosophers the idea of a cause. Our intuition of cause, as well as of power, is awakened in the ego, the me, in producing volitions. It is the will itself that fecundates existing powers, and the human will is and must be, during its probation, the womb of an uncertain progeny. Any event that happens in obedience to some law can be foreseen. It can be foreseen by Omniscience because it is bound up in its existing causes; and these causes are forces that operate necessarily and uniformly.

If there were two infinite beings in existence, all must admit that it would be impossible, in the nature of things, that one of them could anticipate and foretell the future free choices of the other. But the same difficulty or impossibility exists as respects the foreknowing by an infinite being the future free choices of a finite being created in the image and likeness of the Infinite. This must be so if the human will is both free and causal in its action.

And it must be both free and causal if man is an accountable and a rewardable being. It is certainly safe to assume that an event which can not possibly occur in obedience to any known law can never be foreknowable. And human volitions are controlled by no law. The starting point of the efficiency of a natural law is the will of the Creator. So the starting-point of a volition is the will of an accountable being. As there is nothing except the divine will itself that is controlling or determinative in respect to a divine volition, so there is nothing except the human will that is coercive or determinative in respect to a free human volition. Such human volitions, therefore, are controlled by no law, and they happen in obedience to no law. True, the human will has benign commandments given to it, for its wise governance, and for securing its constant harmony with the will of the Creator. But it may willfully violate all those rules, and array itself in direct and constant opposition to all of them; and, on the other hand, it may accept and obey them. But if the will has the power in itself of taking the initiative, and of achieving for itself a moral or an immoral character, it must be perfectly free and untrammeled. If free, its volitions are determined by no lawthey are without law, and consequently there can exist no data from which they can be foreknown. How, then, can they be objects of divine foreknowledge? An uncertain, capricious, unrestrained, and unconstrained free will, without any conceivable data for a knowledge of its future decisions, is the cause of free human volitions. "The will," says Dr. Whedon, "is a self-center capable of projecting action which is as incalculable as would be the most absolute chance itself. The controlling, alternative power baffles prediction."

If we suppose that man's will is under any law whatever, consciously or unconsciously, then we must suppose that either he was not created in the divine image, or God's will is likewise under law. But if God's volitions owe their initiative to any law whatever, he is controlled by necessity, and the whole universe is bound in the adamantine chains of fatalism. We must religiously avoid every position that would force us into such absurdities. All that is possible for us to do in this case, is to trace the given volition back to the unantecedented will of the free originating spirit. And when we reach that point we reach the boundary line of inquiry. We can advance no further on those silent and unlit waters. And our inability to trace a volition to any source but to the will of the free originating spirit, and to that spirit at the moment of its originating activity, seems to be a sufficing proof that the doctrine of the absolute foreknowledge of the future choices of free beings is a most tantalizing contradiction.

All necessitarians affirm that a foreknowledge of future contingent events is an utter absurdity. All the Arminian advocates of divine foreknowledge declare that any proof or rationale of such foreknowledge is an acknowledged inconceivability. But such universal prescience is not merely an inconceivability, it is a bald absurdity. The absurdity consists in putting among the knowables a thing that has no existence, that is now confessedly avoidable. A thing that may never exist, and in place of which innumerable other and vastly different things may come to pass; a thing which depends on no uniform law, upon no moral conditions, upon no previous moral habits, upon no surroundings, upon nothing in the soul back of the will itself, upon nothing that the human brain in all its subtle and wondrous workings, through six thousand years of cogitations, has ever been able to conjure up which would leave the accountability of a spirit untouched, most surely can have no place among the categories of the knowables. For what is there in a simple, naked, emotionless will to indicate or shadow forth what its choices will be ten thousand years hence? Nothing whatever.

If the will does not operate as a cause which itself is not an effect, it would have no power to act in opposition to all the affections and susceptibilities of the soul. If the will, instead of being a cause, is moved as it is acted on ab extra , then no one can ever account for the introduction of moral evil into the universe. Then a satisfactory theodicy is impossible, and all theology must remain a torturing, overwhelming mystery a mystery that will grow darker and heavier as man advances in knowledge and research. To the end of time the assumption of the truth of the doctrine of divine foreknowledge must perplex our thinkings, torture our hearts, depress our spirits, and enfeeble our conduct. But grant that the will, through its own freedom, has power to act in opposition to its moral state, whatever that moral state may be, and we are forced to admit that its future choices can not with certainty be foretold. But to claim foreknowledge of a choice or act where no possible reason can be conceived why that act or choice should occur, when its cause, if it ever should occur, is a will that is absolutely free and causative in its action, is a proposition that mocks all logic, that completely perplexes the minds of devout inquirers, and introduces confusion and contradiction into all their systems of theology.

True omniscience could foresee the reasons, the motives, the considerations, and the possible occasions that might and would exercise a testing influence upon that free will. But, since choice must involve ability to do otherwise, by what means would it be possible to predetermine the future choices of an individual when it was for him to decide between opposing influences, opposing alternatives, conflicting motives, and contrary reasons? How could there be any thing causative, initiative, or spontaneous in the activities and endowments of a free agent, if the procedures of those activities and endowments could be foreknown for ages with absolute certainty? In that event the human will would be robbed of its regal character.

Sin exists. God is in no way responsible for its existence. No being but a free being can do any thing worthy of reward or deserving of punishment. Without being tested, the human will can not show its loyalty or its disloyalty to truth and authority. Without assaults upon the will, it can not be tested. These assaults upon the will can not be made save through the reason, the understanding, and the sensibilities. But these assaults can never necessitate a surrender. Motives can never constrain a free will. A free will can not remain such and be coerced by necessity. It was designed to inchoate choice and action. If it can not inchoate a good or evil volition it is incapable of virtue. From these axioms it follows inevitably that the human will possesses the power, from its own freedom, to inchoate sin.

Do we need any other explanation of the long discussed mystery of the introduction of moral evil into the universe? Should it be inquired, how could a question so easy of solution have been the occasion of such voluminous discussions? The answer will readily be found in the uncalled-for adoption of the doctrines of predestination and universal prescience. When these are denied the introduction of moral evil becomes conceivable and easy of explanation; but it is inexplicable so long as they are embraced as fundamental truths.

Incarnation and atonement and redemption are momentous, transcendent realities. But their deep significance impressively declares the deadly nature of moral evil. But sin can only be in some purpose or act. No conviction is deeper seated in the human understanding than that moral evil had its origin in an intelligible act of freedom. Sin is transgression; and it can become a fact only through transgression. In its ultimate source it is not incomprehensible. It had its origin in a self-asserting independence of the Moral Governor of the universe, on the part of an accountable being. Moral evil must be possible to accountable creatures, and they must be deeply conscious of that possibility. Freedom is a principle that can not be explained by empirical antecedents. "It is not a projection from something behind, it is a beginning. It is a true origination in the spirit, and not an impulse from sense. In this capacity for free origination there is a condition for the libration between the happiness of gratified wants and the duty of secured worth," while "necessity," says Whedon, "is the impossibility of a different."

The will causes acts, but motives do not cause the will to cause acts. For the will itself assigns to a motive its amount of influence. It is the will alone that can set up purposes and designs before it. These purposes and designs do not exert a determining, controlling influence on the will. The will, being an unconditioned cause, produces its effects so freely that it might have produced other effects in their places. The effects, therefore, which are produced by a free will, are not necessary consequences, but they are free actions. While effects in nature are consequences, effects in liberty must be considered as acts. A natural cause can only produce phenomena identical and in constant repetition. But a cause, like the human will, can produce phenomena variant and in constant variety. A free will can produce results morally unlike the spirit who is the subject of that free will.

Because moral evil is realized by arbitrariness, and arbitrariness is a violation of reason and prudence, its introduction into the universe has been pronounced by most of the world's great thinkers as inconceivable. "Moral evil," says Sir William Hamilton, "is inconceivable, for we can conceive only of the determined and the relative." But, nevertheless, moral evil exists, and it has its being only by or through arbitrariness and by usurpation, and in the full face of the exclusive claims of moral good. It is produced by the will acting under the law of liberty. It is produced when motives of various kinds are presented as occasions of the will's choice, and when the will accepts the wrong motive. Trial is indispensable to rewardability; and virtue must have difficulties, and vice attractions, in order to the possibility of trial. But virtue, per se, has nothing displeasing, and vice, per se, can have no attractions. In order to a trial, then, virtue may either be made to appear to have displeasing qualities or results, or vice may be clothed with apparent though unreal attractions: things may be made to appear more or less desirable, more or less promotive of happiness or harm, than they really are.

The mind that is subjected to trial must be put to making moral choices under testing conditions. The affections, the conscience, must be subjected to a strain, a real and decisive ordeal. Under just what conditions this ordeal shall be met and passedwhether light shall measurably be withheld from the understanding, or a tempter shall blind the intellect or fascinate the sensibilitieswe need not seek to determine. But the ordeal, whatever it be, must be scrupulously graduated to the power of endurance possessed by the individual will. It must be severe enough to furnish an arena for the display of loyalty, and to constitute a real, a decisive trial; but, on the other hand, it must not be so severe as to destroy free agency. All this being undeniable, we unhesi- tatingly reject from our philosophy the dogma that "moral evil is the inscrutable mystery of the world, and must ever remain an impenetrable problem."

Kant could not conceive of freedom, and pronounced it inconceivable, because he attempted to explain it upon natural principles, whereas it can be explained only by going beyond the merely natural and connecting the natural with the supernatural. Others have failed in the same thing, simply because they made unsuccessful attempts to define a pure simple idea. Freedom is a simple idea, and it is difficult to define any ideas save those that are complex.

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