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Chapter XXII:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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THE saying that "all things will be as they will be" (whether God knows them or not) is a piece of artful sophistry. If it means that all things will be as it is now, or at any time, certain that they will be, we heartily agree to it. But if it means that it is now already certain, either objectively or in the mind of God, just what the moral destiny of each free moral agent is to be, then we reject it utterly. It is simply a covert begging of the whole question. The sophism, when stripped of its ambiguity, loses every shadow of bearing upon the case. It is not true that it is now certain what the future volitions of probationary beings, while acting under the law of liberty, will be. For the causes of those volitions, as yet, have no existence whatever. These causes are not found in the present organism or moral character of the creature, but they are to be found in the will itself. It is the will that makes moral character, not moral character the will. A volition is a spontaneity uncaused by any thing objective, or by any thing subjective save the originating will, which is a beginning, not a projection from something behind. A volition caused by any thing but the will itself is a contradiction. It is an origination in the spirit. It is not, therefore, certain, and can not be certain, that a man will sin until the fact has become certain by the sinful volition itself. For a volition takes existence, and so takes character, only as it is brought into existence. Before the will originated the volition it was a nonentity.

When a man has made it highly probable that he will continue to sin, then his sinning is a renewed, but not a new, sinning; his past sins are projecting themselves into the present and future by corrupting and influencing his volitions through the force of depravity and habit. But this bent of sinning, this bondage to sin, may be broken by the proffered grace of God, which he may still have volitional strength sufficient gratefully to accept. We can, therefore, without hesitation, say to the sinner, "It is not now certain that you are going to be lost. The sinner may either defiantly or despairingly look into the face of any one holding the doctrine of absolute prescience, and candidly inquire, "May it not be a fact that already God knows to a certainty that I am going to be lost forever?" The prescientist would be compelled to reply in the affirmative. But the believer in the unforeseen free choices of free agents can reply to him confidently and emphatically in the negative. He can tell him that it is not now certain that he will be lost. He can tell him God knows his destiny just as it is; namely, as not now certain, but as wholly uncertain and undetermined, and purely contingent. He can say to him: "It is for yourself to make your calling and election sure. Your destiny lies not in God's power, but in the use of your own moral freedom, which in responsible acts God himself can not violate." Disbelievers in universal prescience can also say to the sinner: "It is not now certain that you are going to be saved. God knows that also just as it is; namely, as not yet certain, not yet determined, but just as he purposed it to be, purely contingent. But you can make certain your eternal salvation. It is in you, and in you only, to do this by your moral freedom." God, in creating man, did not endow him with the semblance of freedom, but with real freedom. Nothing less than this would be moral freedom. The bestowment of this freedom involved, on God's part, the putting of man's fate into his own hands; involved the endowing him with the capacity to create himself into something new in the universe. Into what he would create himself was unforeknowable, for the manifest reason that there existed no positive causative connection between his actual state of being and the state which he would in the future create for himself We thus see that the phrase, "All things will be as they will be," has no signification pertinent to the discussion of this matter.

But some one may say, "Your future destiny must be bright or dark, one or the other, and, which ever it may be, it will be the result of your own free choice. Now, what evil could result if God simply marks down in his mind the destiny he foresees you will of your own free choice finally determine upon? Why can he not record a future fact, just as he records a past fact, seeing that the future fact will be in all points just as though it could not be foreknown?" Before answering this question let us examine a statement upon this point made by that acute, subtle, and erudite thinker, Dr. Samuel Clarke. Let us, however, first premise that a future choice of a free being is an event that might not have been. No choice at all, or any one of a thousand different possible choices might have been in its stead, and to call such a future event a certain truth from all eternity is to disregard every variety of meaning which authorities assign to the terms certain and uncertain. An event that is contingent in its nature, and contingent as to its happening, can never be certain until its actual occurrence. "Contingently means avoidably; every university scholar knows that," exclaimed Dr. Twisse, prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly. But Dr. Samuel Clarke says: "Even if we suppose that the actions of men can not be foreknown, they will still be just as certain as if they had been foreseen and absolutely necessary. That is, if an action is performed today, it was a certain truth yesterday and from all eternity that this action was an event to be performed today, as it is now a certain and infallible truth that it is performed." But this statement is not tenable; for, if the performance of this act today was a certain truth from all eternity, where did that truth exist? Dr. Clarke admits, in his argument, for the moment, that this certain truth had no existence in the mind of Deity. This certain truth certainly had no existence in the mind of any creature. It had no existence in the necessities of things, or as bound up in their existing causes, because the said act was the act of a free agent acting under the law of liberty. How can the term "certain truth" be applied to any thing outside of necessary or intuitive truth and existing facts? How can it be applied to that which has no subjective existence in any mind, created or uncreated, and no objective existence in any causes now in operation, or in any conceivable relations or necessities of things? There was not, then, from eternity, any certainty about the act, conceivable or inconceivable. How, then, could the occurrence of an act today have been a certain truth from all eternity? From all eternity it was only a contingent possibility. And to affirm that the contingent happening of a contingent possibility is a certain truth from all eternity can not be any thing but a contradiction. Sprinkle from a tower into a street a handful of diamonds, and you might better affirm that it was a truth from all eternity where and in what position each one of the diamonds would fall, because it must needs fall somewhere, in obedience to some necessity. And yet on such a basis as this Dr. Samuel Clarke exclaims: "Surely there is no contradiction in supposing that every future event which, in the nature of things, is now certain may now be certainly foreknown by omniscience." But here he assumes the very point in debate. He assumes that the event is certain as to happening, when it is absolutely both contingent in its nature and contingent as to its coming to pass. And to affirm that a future event which is contingent in its nature and contingent as to its happening is now absolutely certain, involves a manifest contradiction which no amount of emphasis and repetition and dogmatism and authority can ever obliterate.

"God foresees the future actions of free agents," says Dr. Gregory, "because they will be." I do not ask him to tell how God sees them. That question, as all agree, is insoluble. But I have a right to ask where he sees them. He can not now see them in his own purpose or desire; nor among necessary truths; nor among things needed for the accomplishment of his divine plans; nor in the mind of any created intelligence; nor in any existing causes; nor in the future surroundings of that free agent whom he proposes to create, for his free will can not act under the law of cause and effect in moral actions; nor even in the future free will of that agent, for that he has determined shall act supernaturally, self-determiningly, unconditionally, and it may decide in any of a multitude of ways. But we are weary of the constant iteration by the great thinkers of this saying, "All things will be as they will be, and hence they are all-now certainties." A thing to be certain must be certain in itself, or certain in the mind of some intelligent being. If human future free choices are now certainties, then divine future free choices are likewise certainties. But if these are now certainties, then all past divine free choices were from eternity certainties. They were eternal certainties before God originated them. But God's determinations to express himself in objectivity in myriads of ways were not eternal. They had an inception, conception, and expression. In his free infinite mental and moral energies be originated all the objects and beings of his universe. They all might have been different, or not have been at all. Once they had no objective certainty, for God had not yet created them. They had no subjective certainty, for they had not yet been determined upon, nor had a concept of them been formed in the divine mind. Certainty can be but one of two kinds, objective or subjective. And to call a thing a certainty which is destitute of both objective and subjective certainty is a trifling application of a term which has a definite signification. We thus see that God's free choices in his world of contingencies could not in any sense of the word have been certainties from eternity. And what is true of divine volitions is equally true of human volitions. To say that, because a future free choice must eventually be one of many possibles, it is now a certainty, known or not, is to rob that choice of its inherent character of contingency.

But let us consider somewhat further this phrase, "All things will be as they will be," in its bearing on the main question before us. If we would safeguard divine foreknowledge we must admit, as a logical necessity from which there is no escape, that every event of the future shall come to pass just as it is now foreseen that it will come to pass. For if, while maintaining infallible divine foreknowledge, any one denies that it is logically necessary for every event to come to pass just as it is now foreseen that it will come to pass, then he will be compelled to admit that it is not a logical necessity that any event shall come to pass just as it is now foreseen. But to admit that it is not a logical necessity that any event, which it is now foreseen will come to pass, must occur, and that, though foreseen, it may nevertheless utterly fail to occur, is to surrender the doctrine of absolute divine foreknowledge.

Should the eternal future be different in any particular from that which it is now foreseen it will be, then the present divine foreknowledge would, in fact, prove to be untrue and deceptive. In order then that the divine foreknowledge may be eternally true, reliable, and infallible, it is a logical necessity that every particular that it is now foreseen will be, shall be precisely as it is now foreseen; and there is, then, no objective avoidability as to any event that is now foreseen. For absolute divine foreknowledge makes every event of the future just as absolutely certain as does the doctrine of unconditional predestination which declares there is a causal necessity that every event of the future shall come to pass just as it has been eternally foreordained. In absolute divine foreknowledge there is a logical necessity that every event shall come to pass just as it has been eternally foreseen. Causal necessity in the system of unconditioned predestination is no more essential or indispensable than is logical necessity in the system of absolute divine foreknowledge. Every event, therefore, that is infallibly foreknown is absolutely an objective unavoidability.

But again, if a free event subjectively will be, that is ground sufficient for predicating of it objective certainty, and its objective certainty is ground sufficient for predicating of it unnumbered specific results in God's moral governmentsuch as the utilization of every element of its force, if morally good; and the assigning to other free and good events the office of counteracting, controlling, and subduing all its influences, if morally evil. And such actual and unquestioned predication by God of the objectively certain free event is ground sufficient for the predicating of it theological necessity that such free event should come to pass, in order that his now infallibly foreknown moral universe should be what it shall be, and what it must be. And this logical necessity is ground sufficient for predicating of that free event an objective unavoidability. Since the moral universe shall be and must be just what it is now infallibly foreknown that it will be, therefore, the coming to pass of that free event is an absolute objective unavoidability.

But again, if the free choices of free beings be all now infallibly foreknown, and the inevitable good influences of free holy choices be all assigned to the accomplishment of valuable specific results, which are designed by God in his government of the moral universe; and if the inevitable evil influences of free sinful choices be held in check and under control by the counter influences of other foreknown free holy choices of other free beings, and to the accomplishment of which those other foreknown holy choices had been specifically appointed in the counsels of eternity, then God's plan for eternity to come is not only infallibly foreknown, but it is absolutely immutable as to objective fact. That whole plan now stands out before him as an absolutely unchangeable objective reality. And if this be so, one can not even admit that God himself can change this now infallibly foreknown plan, and yet, at the same time, preserve to him his absolute foreknowledge.

Do you say that God might change his now infallibly foreknown plan if he desired to do so, but that he does not and will not desire it? But even this supposition does not meet the difficulty. For if he should change his foreknown plan, then his absolute foreknowledge would prove to be unreliable and deceptive. If then God now foreknows that he will not change, in any particular, his now foreknown eternal plan, then there is no possibility of his changing that eternal plan without an unconditional surrender of absolute foreknowledge. The eternal future then is, to him, absolutely unavoidable. He has no power nor freedom to make it other than what he now foreknows it will be. And if he can not change nor infract that plan in one iota without a surrender of his foreknowledge, how can I, a being utterly and forever dependent, change an eternally fixed and immutable plan of the Great Jehovah. My future and eternal destiny is now therefore foreknown with infallible certainty, and relative to it there is for me no possible objective avoidability.

After the above was written, it was gratifying to find in Dr. Chalmers's Institutes the following quotation, so applicable at this point: "We are aware of the argumentations which have been employed to reconcile human liberty with divine foreknowledge; we mean the liberty that reduces volitions to contingencies. The knowledge beforehand of what may be, or may not be, is the paradox which our opponents labor to demonstrate, and thus to show that their self-determining power infringes not on the omniscience of God.

The only intelligible consideration which they advance on behalf of this strange affirmation is, that the foreknowledge of an event has no more influence, no more power to necessitate that event than the after knowledge of it, and therefore that if we can look back on human volitions, and contemplate them as matters of historical certainty, without any inroad on their contingency, why may it not be possible to look forward on them as matters of certainty, and yet these volitions be free, and that in the sense of contingent notwithstanding?"

To this argument of the Arminian prescientist Dr. Chalmers replies, "It is very true that the knowledge, whether of a past or future event, does not cause the certainty of that event, but it is quite enough for our object if it indicate this certainty. When we look, in retrospect, to that which is past, we can say of any event in that direction that, at its time and its place, this event, and no other, did occur and when we look forward into the future, we can say of any event in that direction, that at its time and place this event, and no other, shall be, and all we contend for is that what certainly shall be certainly must be. If there be any distinction between these it needs a finer discrimination than ours to be able to perceive it. What God knows beforehand shall be, that, and no other, must be; and, therefore, if instead of being certain to be this, it may be either this or that, then it lies without the scope of the divine foreknowledge. I am willing to give up the assertion that volitions are things of necessity, if it be only admitted that they are things of such certainty as that they are not things of contingency, but come to pass in the category of cause and effect." Did the great man ever write any thing more explicit and overwhelming?

But again, so long as God does not know that a future event will happen, so long he can not predicate any thing of it, either negatively or affirmatively. The thing is a mere nonentity. But the moment that he knows that an event will come to pass he can predicate concerning it as certainly as he can predicate concerning any truth, fact, or existence in the universe. That I might stand on any one of the thirty-six square feet contained in a given platform on tomorrow is now a contingency. If on tomorrow I stand on number sixteen, the act will be a free act; that is, the act will be free in its nature. If it be now unknown to God on which number I shall choose to stand tomorrow, my standing on number sixteen is now a contingency as to its happening or as to its coming to pass; that is, it is now a contingency with God. God, therefore, could not predicate any thing with regard to the place on which I shall stand tomorrow. But the moment that God knows that on tomorrow I shall freely stand on number sixteenthat is, the moment that there is no contingency in his mind as to my standing therethat moment he can predicate that which he thus knows with absolute certainty. He can predicate every thing as to my future position; he can predicate all the relations that I shall sustain to the other thirty-five persons who will freely stand on the other thirty-five square feet of said platform; he can predicate all the influences, acting and reacting, that my free choices will exert over all those persons; and he can predicate all the results which those free choices will affect, near and remote, present and future.

Good or evil influences necessarily flow forth from my free choices of moral good or moral evil upon those with whom I am associated, and out over the moral universe. And all these moral and immoral influences of my acts God can with certainty predicate. Now, the advocates of absolute foreknowledge declare, that with God there is now no contingency as to the coming to pass of all the future choices of free beings. They assert that God's foreknowledge of the future choices of free beings is absolutely infallible. They affirm that God foresees the future choice of a free agent, and then incorporates that choice into his infallibly foreknown plan. The future fact, then, of my standing on number sixteen of said platform enters into God's knowledge, plans, and thoughts as a positive reality. No other truth or fact known to omniscience is any more certain, inevitable, or positively real or actual with him. This positive reality, with all its natural results and influences, he arranges into his mapped-out plan with reference to all other positive realities which are in any way influenced by it. My future choice being now foreknown, God arranges for it to accomplish the specific results which he contemplates in his administrative plans. And to the accomplishment of these results my future free choice is especially and unerringly shaped. My freedom being necessarily a fountain of sinful or holy influences in a moral universe, God's infinite plan, then, for the eternal future is now decided upon, fixed, and unalterably settled in his mind. Relative to any event of all this foreknown plan there can be now no avoidability in the future. And all thisthough I might in the exercise of my liberty have chosen number seventeen, or any other number on the platformbecause now there is no contingency in the mind of God as to the future coming to pass of my standing on number sixteen.

If you grant it is now possible for me to avoid standing on number sixteen, you at once surrender absolute divine foreknowledge. But so long as you maintain absolute divine foreknowledge you will be compelled to admit that it is now impossible for me to avoid standing on number sixteen. Though I admit that God foresees that, at the very time I will freely in putting forth a given volition, I shall possess the power of putting forth some other volition in its place, nevertheless, since he now sees with infallible certainty the identical choice that I shall put forth, and actually incorporates that choice, with all its natural and necessary influences, into all his subsequent plans and purposes; and since, in reference to those influences flowing from my free choice, he makes numerous predications and assigns them to the accomplishment of various specific results in his subsequent moral administration, either God's great comprehensive plans for the future must fail in many particulars, and he must change as to many expedients in order to secure their accomplishment, and all his infallible foreknowledge of the future effects of the choices of free spirits must prove to be untrue and unreliable, or there is no possible avoidability of my now foreknown destiny. True, I might have avoided it; but, that destiny now being infallibly foreknown by omniscience, it is at this moment no longer possible for me to avoid it. My future destiny, then, is now unavoidable. If you inquire upon what fact this absolute unavoidability is grounded, I reply: It is grounded upon the logical necessity of a thing being that which it is. If you admit that a foreknown event is now avoidable you are forced to admit that foreknowledge is fallible.

Thus by various lines of logical thought we reach the same conclusion, that an event which is infallibly foreknown is thenceforward absolutely unavoidable. If now I stand recorded, in the infallibly foreknown, settled, fixed, and unchangeable plan of Jehovah, as an heir of perdition, there is to me absolutely no avoidability of that doom. If from eternity I was foreknown to be a vessel of wrath, upon whom tribulation and anguish were eternally to fall, it has been always, since my existence began, too late for me to readjust eternal destinies, to reconstruct the moral universe, to falsify the omniscience of God and break up all his settled and unalterable plans, and to procure for my name a record on the pages of the book of eternal life. My eternal future is now absolutely unavoidable. But every invitation, every entreaty, every promise, every threatening, and every warning contained in the Holy Scriptures, addressed to my mind and heart, is based upon the assumption of, and thoroughly implies, my present and constant avoidability of sin and its awful consequences.

Hence, if there is now no contingency in the mind of God as to the happening or as to the coming to pass of my future free choices which involve morality and entail eternal destiny, the Bible must be the most confusing and misleading book in all the literature of the world. And God, the Divine Author, in assuming and implying everywhere and by every means my present avoidability of sin and its direful consequences, would seem to my reverent spirit to be most unreasonable, inconsistent, disingenuous and cruel. Moreover, this extreme unfairness and mockery are not confined to God's written Word, which is addressed to the whole human family, collectively as well as individually. They extend with at least equal significance to all the pathetic strivings, wooings, reproofs, expostulations, and illuminations which the Holy Ghost has addressed directly and powerfully to each human soul. That Spirit has with amazing mercy and pertinacity convinced me individually of sin, of righteousness, of judgment to come. All his awakenings and strivings and promptings and purifyings, which he has wrought in my sinful soul, were produced there upon the clearly assumed, undoubted, unquestioned fact of my present avoidability of moral evil. He has made me feel deeply, in my inmost religious and devout consciousness, that he himself really thinks that there is for me an undoubted avoidability of sin and its eternal consequences. He assumes and powerfully impresses me that he regards all my future moral choices as absolutely free, when at the same time, according to the prescient theory, he knows them to be infallibly certain. And he has likewise made all men to feel with me an equal depth and strength of impression that for every one of them hell is now an avoidability, and that he himself thinks so; for the grace that hath appeared unto all and the light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the World are his. Now, it is inconceivable that the Holy Ghost should approach any individual soul, in any circumstances, however unfavorable, as though he came in good faith, with respect to his present avoidability of eternal death, and entreat him, with inexpressible tenderness and pathos, and with exhaustless patience, pity, mercy, and long-suffering, not to grieve him, not to sin against him, but now, while it is today, to choose eternal life in the exercise of the freedom he has bestowed, when at the same moment he knows with infallible certainty that from eternity he has predicated a thousand different specific results, influences, and facts in his moral universe as resulting from the infallibly foreknown choice by that person of eternal death, no one of which can ever be avoided in the slightest degree; and when he also knows that that very choice of eternal death is absolutely indispensable, in order to keep and to preserve infallible his own eternal foreknowledge.

But the terrible inferences to be drawn from the above theory are no more blasphemous than they are logical and inevitable if that theory be true, And from these blasphemies I do not see any refuge save in the fearless denial of absolute divine foreknowledge. If the denial of prescience did reflect on omniscience, that reflection would be infinitesimal in comparison with that which such a view of the agency of the Holy Ghost necessitates upon the universal Father. Even if the difficulty in believing foreknowledge did resolve itself into one of mere feeling, as Mr. Watson says it does, it would be no insignificant argument against the doctrine. For, if there is a latent, all-persuasive, and ever-manifested feeling in the human consciousness that a certain dogma can not be true, that fact ought to be carefully considered by the devout seeker of divine truth. While the understanding, the comparing faculty, mediately infers, the pure reason, the intuitive faculty, immediately perceives. The soul is endued with a sensitivity that corresponds to the pure reason. One perceives the necessary, the infinite, the eternal, the basis of all certainty; the other feels them. But the feeling of the necessary, the infinite, the eternal, often precedes their perception. The need of God and the immortal as felt in the soul, preceded the perception of them. And so in this case the necessity of non-prescience was felt long before this doctrine took outline and shape in the mind. There is an eternal verity in feeling as it exists in the soul's depths.


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