Chapter XXV:FOREKNOWLEDGE WOULD
DETRACT FROM DIVINE BENEVOLENCE
The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe
| Back to the Table of Contents |
IF a benevolent Creator could foresee that certain beings would choose the right and preserve their integrity, he would be inclined to create them in order to exercise his benevolence, and to give such beings the opportunity of expanding, rising, and rejoicing, to all eternity. But that same feeling of innate benevolence would restrain his hand from creating those beings who he foresaw would disobey, fall, and be forever miserable. The attribute of infinite goodness would insist, indeed it could not but insist, that a being who the Creator foreknew would be disobedient should not be created. No consideration whatever could justify infinite goodness in creating a soul that God foreknew would be wretched and suffer forever. How easy for omnipotence to prevent the existence of those who, as his omniscience foresaw, would choose to be disobedient, and consequently would be miserable forever!
If any benevolent person knew that a certain being would be eternally unhappy, nay, wretched even for a thousand years, and had it within his power to prevent his existence, he would rush with fleetest foot to prevent his entrance into life. And would not our Creator be equally benevolent? If God's benevolence would incline him to create the beings who he foresaw would be obedient and happy, that same disposition would morally compel him to prevent the existence of those who he foresaw would be disobedient and miserable. This is axiomatic, if the benevolence of his nature is infinite, as we conceive or apprehend it to be.
If God foresaw that any individual human being is to be eternally lost and unhappy, why did he persist in creating him? Why did he not in his infinite pity and mercy prevent his existence? If he foreknew absolutely that Adam would fall, and would introduce the innumerable and interminable sufferings that did follow in the train of that fatal step, discriminating carefully according to the eternal principle of justice and the innate sense of right with which I am endowed, and by which alone I am to be finally judged and sentenced, I see no way to defend him from the blasphemous charge of indifference and unkindness, if not of cruelty. Every man feels in the depths of his soul that God is bound by every element of his glorious character, by every emotion of his infinite benevolence, and by every principle of his divine government, to prevent the existence of a being who he foresees will be eternally and increasingly wretched. Every one feels that no satisfactory reply can be made to this momentous interrogation if God clearly foresaw, as a certainty, all the terrible destiny that waits to meet a disobedient soul at the judgment. The reader may insist on divine foreknowledge, but he has not the resources to screen the divine throne from this most withering accusation. There is a stain on his attribute of benevolence, a blemish in the moral character of God, which no subtle reasoning, no reaches of information, can satisfactorily explain away on the hypothesis that God foreknows all the resolves of his free agents. Every theologian who has ever attempted to reconcile universal prescience with infinite goodness and benevolence in the Creator has felt himself incapable of the great achievement. The argument against future and eternal punishment founded upon the doctrine of universal prescience has never yet been answered to the satisfaction of even those who do believe firmly that that doctrine is clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures. A vast amount of ingenuity, sophistry, and dogmatism has been expended in the effort to show that unerring prescience is entirely consistent with the endless damnation of unborn millions. The writer conceives it to be wiser and more in harmony with what God has revealed of his nature and administration to deny to omniscience all knowledge, the possible mode and process of which is an inconceivability, rather than thus to discredit his infinite benevolence and sympathies, and impeach his immaculate moral character, by a conclusion so awfully irreverent or by an insinuation so extremely blasphemous.
Again, suppose a soul that has repented, has been converted, and has the divine witness of acceptance. Now, it can be demonstrated, if indeed it is not an axiomatic truth, that this soul may finally apostatize. But if God foresees that he will finally apostatize, why does he not remove him at once from the nameless evils to come? How can we defend his mercy and his goodness from the charge of culpable indifference, if he shall allow him to live and go back from his service and favor into sin, and then sink to the abode of the lost, whence the smoke of his torment will ascend forever? Once he deliberately made choice of God's service, embraced in penitence the world's Redeemer, and gratefully sat down at his feet, saved and in his right mind. Why, then, allow him to remain in jeopardy, or why allow him to live if, God foresees his final fall? But some one inquires, why allow any one to remain on earth after his restoration to the divine favor? The existence of the Church is necessary to the salvation of the world. Inasmuch as nearly all who are saved are saved through the instrumentality of the Church, the greater number of those who have thus been saved ought to remain for a time on the earth for the salvation of othersto perpetuate the great work of saving men. Redemption would have been a failure had Jesus merely died for the world, and left no apostles to publish the glad tidings of atonement. It would make future evangelization impossible to remove souls to heaven as soon as they are converted.
But could those who do finally apostatize be removed from the perils awaiting them, the advantages to the Church would be great in various ways. For when an apostate falls away he generally carries other souls along with him. The evil which such an individual produces is in general much greater, apparently, than all the good accomplished by him in his previous career. True sympathy and lovefor the individual himself and for his associates, for the Church, and for the great work of evangelizationwould demand his removal prior to his apostasy, if that apostasy be actually foreknown. The tender sympathies and fervent impulses of infinite benevolence can not, so far as appears, be defended, if to Omniscience be ascribed unerring foreknowledge of the final fall of that converted soul. Could a father foresee that his innocent sons are certain to become profane, intemperate, licentious, and abandoned, he would plead with God to remove them beyond temptation and danger, to eternal purity and joy, however keenly he might feel their absence. But you say, Could we see all that God sees, we should see that there is no conflict between prescience and infinite benevolence. But the same mode of argumentation could reconcile one to believing the most glaring absurdities. "Could we see all," says the devout Catholic, "as God sees it, we could see that the wafer is the actual body of our Lord, and therefore you must believe it."
This mode of argumentation could be allowed in admitted mysteries, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, or the union and consequent unity of the finite and the infinite, the human and the divine, in the person of Jesus Christ. But it certainly is absurd to resort to it in reconciling incompatible propositions. John Stuart Mill declared and Dr. M'Cosh says that his theory required him to declare, that there may be worlds where two and two make five, where parallel lines meet, where there are effects without causes, and where a straight line may inclose a space. But if our common sense does not lead us to reject such unthinkables, there can be neither safety nor profit in ever arguing from the known to the unknown.
But there are many who promptly reject such absurdities, and yet embrace others equally and even more glaring. They embrace propositions that are incompatible with reason, logic, and facts, on the ground that there may be worlds in which what now appears incompatible will be found perfectly compatible. But no man is justified in believing both of two incompatible propositions. One of them must be rejected if the other be embraced. If two propositions are incomprehensible, they may both be received, because we do not have comprehension enough of either to see their incompatibility, if such incompatibility exists. But the moment we perceive their incompatibility, that moment one must be denied, if the other be accepted. If we do not do thus, we damage our mental constitution, we blind the eye of reason, which, in matters unrevealed, must guide us as the voice of heaven. The universe is full of mysteries, which now transcend the reach of our faculties. But all those mysteries, the comprehension of which is profitable or is required for our eternal welfare, in justice ought to be, and certainly can be, comprehended by us, if we give to them the requisite thought and reading, with prayer for divine illumination. This is particularly true of the doctrine of universal prescience. The moral liberty of man is a proposition that can be easily understood. The absolute foreknowledge of God is also a proposition that can be comprehended without difficulty. And the more clearly and comprehensively each is understood, the more their incompatibility is manifest.
There is another class of persons who, after they have examined an opinion, and settled in their minds whether the stronger probability is in favor of or is against it, immediately drop into a state of indifference and unconviction, on the ground that, after all, could they but see more and were they in possession of some unknown facts and principles, they might see that the conclusion they have reached is not true, but false and hurtful. Such a habit of mind is destructive of comfort, of efficiency, of moral power, and, indeed, of general intellectual soundness. "Probability," says Bishop Butler, "is the only rule for the conduct of life." On all subjects which he discusses or examines, every man, therefore, should believe with positiveness and force that side on which lies the stronger probability. He then ought fearlessly to give utterance to his convictions, and wait until maturer reflection or larger information furnishes grounds for a change in his opinions. It is in this way only that a positive and forceful manhood can be produced. The force of one's character will always depend upon and vary with the strength of his convictions.
In the examination of the great subject under consideration, we should avoid these two very dangerous errors. As things seem to be to our faculties after the most mature study, we should presume that they thus appear to the intelligences of all worlds. If we find the stronger probability to be on the side of God's prescience of all future choices and acts, we should embrace it. But if it appears that the stronger probability be in opposition to that doctrine, then we must reject it, however unpopular it may be to do so, until we get better information from deeper thought or from a more complete revelation.
Wherever the telescope carries us, we find the same laws of light and gravitation regnant, and the same substances and properties in existence. Wherever sound logic and reason can carry us within the depths of theology, and through all the mysteries of the divine nature, procedure, and economy, we shall find regnant the same laws of thought and belief that hitherto have been found indispensable.
Let us not be distrustful of human reason. The inspired Paul reasoned mightily with the people out of the Scriptures, and the prophet Samuel exclaimed to Israel, "Stand still, that I may reason with you before the Lord"; and God himself proclaims, "Come, and let us reason together, let us plead together, and produce you your cause, put me in remembrance, bring forth your strong reasons and declare thou, that thou mayest be justified." Now it must be manifest to the reason of an unprejudiced and philanthropic mind that if God can foreknow all the resolves of free agents, it must be inconsistent with divine benevolence to permit the existence of those whom he foreknew would everlastingly perish. Absolute foreknowledge and divine benevolence obviously are incompatible propositions. And, in the utter absence of all proof to the contrary, we are warranted in the conclusion that thus also it must appear to the mind of God. And, therefore, this incompatibility affords a strong presumption that he does not and can not know all the resolves of free agents with definite and perfect precision.
But some may reply, "When God made the world, even admitting that he could not foresee all the free choices of individual agents, he must have known that there was a possibility, though not a probability, that some might fall and perish. And, therefore, if you are right in concluding that divine benevolence ought to prevent the coming into existence of those who Omniscience foresees will be lost, then divine benevolence ought likewise to refuse to create any beings at all that are accountable and in danger of eternal death." But to this it may be replied, If a being be susceptible of the highest happiness which God can bestow he must have the solemn endowment of free agency. And if he be free, he must be liable to fall. And if he be liable to fall, possibly he may fall.
These questions, the gravest of all questions connected with creation, must have arisen in the mind of Jehovah: "Shall I withhold my creating energy, shall I find no arena for the exercise and manifestation of my infinite perfections, shall my boundless benevolence refrain from creating a world of developing, rejoicing, and immortal intelligences to share my bliss and perfections, and to sympathize with me therein, simply because there is a possibility that some of their number may fall, degrade themselves, and become outcasts? Shall I deny a blissful existence to all the bright ranks and orders of the obedient and loyal, to all those who might be exalted to thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, because some may forfeit my love?" The thoughtful mind easily conceives the infinitely holy, just, and benevolent one as saying: "Could I single out the individual culprits; did I but know the identical individuals who would disobey my laws, with infinite gladness I might check their existence in its incipiency. But justice, as well as benevolence, makes a strong demand upon me for the creation of beings who can obey me. It behooves me not to refuse to create the good with all their glorious possibilities, simply because some may sin and perish." No one will question that the perfection of the universe required the creation of free moral agents. Without free moral agents it is scarcely to be supposed that God would have created any universe at all. We can conceive of no adequate ends to be sought in the creation of a universe which has, in all its wide dominion, no created beings capable of moral agency, moral goodness, moral character, moral history, or moral heroismwhich are, by far, the sublimest of all things outside of God. These constitute the magnificent known quantity, the trustworthy data, by which, lighted by divine revelation, we can find ample reason for the creation of the universe and the redemption of man through the incarnation of the Son of God. Compared with inflexible integrity and with perfect moral character, all other works and wonders of creation are insignificant to an eye that sweeps eternity. Free moral agents capable of goodness and spirituality are a vastly higher order of creation than matter and physical forces.
Extract from history all its records of moral greatness, and very little of value would remain on its pages, now so replete with interest, profit, and wonder. But all those achievements of moral heroism, that adorn and hallow this world, would have been impossible had God created no free moral agents. All that is latently involved in faithfulness and in moral rectitude we, in our present state, can never fully comprehend. We only see it through a glass, darkly; we view it but imperfectly and at great distance. But even the imperfect vision which we have of moral rectitude entrances us beyond any object of sight or mundane theme of meditation. Could the universe, therefore, even at the hazard of the introduction of disobedience and of moral evil, be wisely or reasonably denied forever these unspeakable excellencies? The perfection of the universe required the creation of free moral agents; and if they were created free, it was necessary that they should be left free, in order that they might achieve moral goodness, and thus, by continually adding to the great aggregate of moral excellence, meet the purposes of their creation and satisfy all the conditions of a perfect universe.
How dreadful the alternative that presented itself before God in his contemplation of creation. On the one hand there was the possible introduction of moral evil, and on the other the non-existence of any beings in all his vast empire capable of voluntarily loving, obeying, and adoring him, or capable of illustrating his highest perfections of freedom and causality. How unsatisfactory for him to survey and govern a universe with not one created being in it bearing the impress of his own personality and liberty; with not one with whom he might commune and hold fellowship intimate and constant, and with not a single instance of that moral goodness that flows from voluntary obedience to imposed obligations! How gratifying to him must be every instance of such ineffable moral beauty adorning his creation!
But some one may say: "After creating free agents, suppose that God had placed them where no temptations or trials of any kind could ever assail or deceive them. In that case there could have been no liability of doing wrong." But if there were no possibility of doing wrong, then there could have been no opportunity of achieving. moral goodness or rewardability for obedience. The achievement of moral character can only arise from persistent adherence to virtue amid solicitations to vice, under trials, divinely sent or permitted, to test faith, love, submission, and loyalty. But suppose that God had placed these free moral agents under his own immediate control, to preserve them continually by almighty power from defection. What then? There could have been neither utility nor reason in creating a free moral agent, if the Creator proposed to control him in all his decisions and acts in the same manner and on the same principle that he controls all the machinery of his material universe. To coerce a free being, in acts for which he is accountable and rewardable or punishable, is excluded by the law of non-self-contradiction. It is as possible for God to make A to be and not to be at the same time, as to make an agent to be free and not free at the same moment. Should God coerce the moral volitions of free agents he would rob them of all the phenomena of personality, render them incapable of praise or blame, virtue or vice, and leave them on a level with the rest of his magnificent but irresponsible machinery.
The perfection of the universe necessitated, as we see, the creation of free moral agents. The existence of free agents necessitated trial or temptation. Trial necessitated that there be on the part of God no controlling interferences with the voluntary choices of free agents which involve morality. We thus see that the universe which God has created is just the one which was needed to secure to it perfection, and also to illustrate his own nature and glorious attributes. The only modes of preventing the introduction of sin into the universe which have ever been suggested or advocated, are the non-creation of moral agents, the prohibition of all temptations, and the prevention of all defection by continual divine interposition. The first, as we have seen, is utterly inconsistent with the perfection of the universe and the glory of God. The second prevents and makes impossible the achievement of moral goodness and rewardability. And the third involves so many contradictions and absurdities, especially to one who has followed the great Butler in his meditations upon the subject of interpositions, that it merits no refutation but silence. "But," says the objector, "why not annihilate those who prove to be disloyal?" But if God should annihilate the incorrigible he would thereby work in multiplied ways much greater evil to law, to government, to all worlds in a state of probation, and to his entire intelligent universe. He could not, therefore, arbitrarily avert the legitimate consequences of violated law. It would be a greater injury to the moral universe to allow disobedience to go unpunished, than it would to provide that the disobedient should suffer the natural consequences of their free volitions. Benevolence, goodness, and justice to unfallen worlds all require that those who are disobedient should suffer the penalties naturally annexed to violated law. To dissolve the connection between vice and wretchedness would inevitably result in the complete overthrow of God's universal moral government.
It may be that some one will reply: "It is just as much a stain upon the infinite benevolence of God if he, acting without any foreknowledge, punishes today a soul that now sins, as it would be for him, possessing foreknowledge, to punish that soul a thousand years from today. "But the necessity of punishing a soul is not by any means a subjective necessity with God. It is an objective necessity. Punishment is inflicted in view of its influence over his objective universeto preserve and to maintain order, harmony, law, government, and administrative justice. And if God foresees that, one thousand years from today, a man now hidden from the eyes of the universea being now wholly unrecognized by any created intelligenceswill be a sinner, then there is no objective necessity of his ever allowing that crisis to present itself in actual history. But he who in despite of God and conscience deliberately refuses obedience to the moral law, and repudiates the principle by which the moral universe is bound to the throne of Jehovah, has achieved a sinfulness that renders condemnation and punishment indispensable to the maintenance of moral government and to the illustration of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the imperative necessity of holiness. It may be said by some objector: "In these high questions which relate to the Deity we see only parts of truths, and not enough of them to render them consistent to the human understanding in our present state." This affirmation has force in all those cases which do not involve contradictions and necessitate troublesome sequences. But it is far wiser to reject at once a dogma that is in itself inexplicable, is unnecessary in the nature of things, and is not required by the perfections of Jehovah, than to resort to a doctrinal subterfuge which, if once allowed, would furnish excuse for the admission of other propositions the most inconsistent and objectionable. Any parent who believes in the endless perdition of the ungodly, would a thousand times prefer to believe that universal foreknowledge of free volitions involves a contradiction, than to believe that God now foresees that his innocent child will, if he live, be incorrigible and perish forever, and yet persistently refuses to remove him from the evil that is certain to come. How much more reasonable and natural it is to take the plain Scripture representations on this subject, that God created man upright and very good: and that he was most grievously disappointed over his sin, revolt, and fall. "It repented God that he made man, and it grieved him at his heart."
The commentators generally regard the repentance here ascribed to God as a mere change in his dealings with man. It is very true that man's fall necessitated a complete change in God's treatment of him. But the connection here evidently requires that repent be taken in one of its other meanings; namely, that of regret or sorrow. God sorrowed that he had created man, and he grieved himself (the form of the verb being reflexive); he grieved himself over man's ingratitude and disobedience, and therefore immediately devised means for his restoration, and for limiting, as far as possible, the extent and influence of his rebellion. But while God's grief over the fall of man was genuine and deep, inconceivably so to us, we are not by any means to understand that he grieved over the introduction of intelligent beings into the vast solitude of infinite space. The orders and varieties of his accountable creatures are doubtless numerous, and, it may be, constantly in- creasing. God did not, therefore, grieve over the creation of his countless, rejoicing, unfallen worlds; but over man his grief was too great for finite conception.
Because the liability of falling is necessarily incident to a probationary state, many suppose that the disobedience of free agents in a state of trial is so highly probable as to be almost inevitable. But for this supposition there is neither warrant nor reason. The probability that a free, sinless world will fall is not as one chance in a thousand. On the contrary, out of a thousand chances there are nine hundred and ninety-nine probabilities of obedience and the maintenance of rectitude. Freedom by no means implies or involves a fall from rectitude, the condition of freedom is the possibility of a fall. And doubtless it was the intention and the expectation that this possibility of fall would soon be done away by the voluntary co-operation of the free agent by his persistently refusing and preventing its realization. The absolute exclusion of moral evil would necessitate the exclusion of all beings capable of self-determination. But to permit the possibility of sin is very far from admitting the probability of its introduction into the universe. The possibility of evil is a mere negative condition of rewardability, whereas the probability of sin and fall is grounded on a quality inherent in the subject, and implies some affinity for evil, or some bias to defection, or some lack of moral uprightness in the nature which he received from the Creator. "It is," says one, "the immeasurable energy and profundity of independence in personality, which includes in itself the power of the ego to make itself the center of its world." The confirmed Christian who reads these pages knows that, while he is liable to apostatize from Christ, while there is a possibility of his being eternally lost, there are thousands of probabilities to one that he will hold on in the path which he has found to be so satisfactory and delightful, and that through riches of grace he will finally reach the "house of his Father above." Indeed he has a presentiment of final triumph, the earnest of his heavenly inheritance stirring him with the might of an inward must; for he knows whom he has believed, and is persuaded that God is well able to keep that which he has committed unto him. But the probability of the Christian's fall and final apostasy is a myriad fold greater than is that of the disobedience and fall of moral agents, who came forth spotless and vigorous from the hand of their Creator, with vast possibilities ever springing into view before them, and with all the inducements to obedience which are furnished by promise, present privilege, the desire of noble achievement and of perfect happinessmotives stretching onward and upward into the illimitable forever.
While, therefore, there was a possibility of Adam's fall, there were
thousands of probabilities to one that he would be obedient. Hence, there
was just occasion for great surprise, disappointment, and unutterable
grief over his defection. But if God foreknewforeknew with absolute certaintythe
fall of Adam, no reason for surprise could have existed, and no explanation
has ever yet illumined the deep shadow which that foreknowledge casts
upon his infinite goodness. Better a thousand times deny absolute prescience
than to question God's immaculate holiness.
| Back to the Table of Contents