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Chapter XXIV:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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THE Bible, rightly understood, is the most consistent, natural, and harmonious book in the world. Consider any doctrine of the Bible, and you will find arguments, analogies, facts, principles, and theories, all in its favor. All Bible teachings commend themselves to our reason, conscience, and common sense. But the hypothesis that God foresees all the actions of free agents makes his affirmations, dealings, promises, and threatenings appear most inconsistent. Why does he appeal to me with a pathos and an eloquence which alone could issue from the heart of Deity to obey him and live, if he is certain that I am to be eternally lost? Why does he persist in efforts to save me, if he knows that all, those efforts will only increase the weight of my condemnation? We are all convinced that God has been in profound earnestness to save us from eternal death. We can not recall a time when we did not hear the voice of his Spirit saying to us, "This is the way, walk ye in it." Many times we have said, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee." And yet for the thousandth time that bright personage has stood before us on our highway to ruin, saying, Repent, repent, for you must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ in order that you may receive according to what you have done, whether it be good or evil.

Now, if during all the time he is making these extraordinary efforts for our salvation he knows that we shall persist in sin and perish forever, is there not something very unreasonable in all this? Indeed, is there not something in it so tantalizing as to furnish a reason and a justification for resentment at the divine dealings? Does it not afford tenable ground, and an adequate reason for criticizing the divine character and conduct? "I set before you," says God, "life and death, a blessing and a curse." God says to every soul, "Choose, exercise your freedom, do as you prefer, make your own selection. The initiative is wholly your own. You have power to choose the right or to choose the wrong, and I am waiting patiently for you to decide."

Now, to present God in this attitude before a probationer for eternity, and at the same time to affirm that he knows what that probationer's choice will be with a certainty as absolute as if it had been fixed by necessity, is to make it possible to charge upon him inconsistency, if not cruelty. If he foreknew just how the creature will choose, why stand before him in such an imploring attitude? Why beseechingly plead with him to give him his confidence and love? We shudder at the inconsistencies and absurdities, to say the least, which the doctrine of universal prescience crowds into every page of divine revelation.

God's attitude before probationers, his dealings with them, and his invitations and expostulations in many places in the Holy Scriptures, can be regarded as reasonable and proper only on the supposition that he could not foresee with certainty the final decisions on which depended their eternal destiny. All his solemn earnestness to save is reasonable upon the hypothesis that the finality necessarily lies beyond his vision. "Men are treated" says Richard Watson, "with as much intensity of care and effort as though the issue of things were entirely unknown." But this, we reply, is simply impossible, if prescience be true; for God, like every other intelligent being, acts and must act in strict accordance with absolute knowledge. Julius Müller says, "Not even man, much less God, can set for himself to accomplish aims which he is perfectly certain he never can realize or accomplish."

But God also requires the Christian to seek out the sinner and invite him to the Redeemer, to pray for his salvation, to bring him under the preaching of the Word of life, to lead him to the communion of saints and to the holy sacraments. Moreover, the Christian is required to believe in the efficiency of these divinely instituted means of grace. He is required to pray in strong faith staggering not through unbelief, concerning the success of Christ's great enterprise for saving souls. Now, can it be possible that God could impress upon the mind of one of his ministers that it is his instant, imperative duty to publish salvation to that sinner whom he knows as lost; to go to him with faith that the divinely appointed means of saving souls will be made efficacious in his case; to go to him with the full expectation of bringing him to a knowledge of the truth, when all the time it is certain that no success whatever will attend those earnest efforts? Can God do this when he knows that the divinely appointed means and those immense, self-sacrificing toils will be utterly unavailing? Could God require us to believe in the success of our earnest efforts to save an individual soul, while he knows that that soul will inevitably be lost? If God knows that a certain sinner will finally be lost, he knows that the means of grace will never be effectual in his salvation. Where, then, is the propriety of his commanding us to have faith in the employment of means to secure a particular end when he knows that, as a matter of fact, those means will not be a savor of life unto life? "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Could God pronounce my lack of faith in my success in saving a sinful soul to be a sin when he knows that I shall not be successful, and that the means will not be effectual to save?

God sends angels to warn us, to strive with us, to induce us to accept the overtures of mercy. But if he definitely sees that we are to be lost, why make such an effort to save us? Why waste the moral energy of his servants? Why call them from their orbits of brightness to the profitless task of striving to save those who he knows will be, after all, incorrigible? No one of us could use means to protract his life were he certain that he should die at nightfall. No intelligent being can labor to prevent that which he knows to be inevitable. Should the angel Gabriel make efforts vast and protracted, embracing plans the grandest, agencies the most efficient, and outlays of time, energy, and happiness most amazing, in order to prevent that which he sees all the time to be absolutely irrevocable, who could defend him from the charge of inconsistency and unwisdom? Why, then, should we believe a proposition that would ascribe to God the greater unwisdom and inconsistency of laboring to prevent a result which, though it might be contingent in its nature, he nevertheless knows to be inevitable in fact? His solemn earnestness and protracted efforts to save us from eternal death can only be protected from the charge of inconsistency by the hypothesis that he does not certainly foreknow the final destiny of individual souls.

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