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Chapter XXVIII:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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IT is only when a probationer believes that his future choices are not foreknown, that he is able fully to locate and hold the responsibility of his choices alone in himself. It is only then that he can adequately exert himself, can exercise his will up to the full measure of its volitional capacities and manifest his self-hood in all its wonderful powers.

A belief that all things are bound up in the chains of necessity has never failed to modify the life and to enfeeble the will for the duty of self-denial. It has never failed to incline the individual to float with the current of his inclinations. And no man can heartily believe in the doctrine of predestination and feel that pungency of personal accountability which he ought to feel, and which he would feel if he did not so believe. No man can believe that whatever comes to pass has been foreordained from all eternity without merging, to a greater or less extent, his individual will in the foreordaining will of God. And no one can do this without failing to arouse his marvelous powers of volition to that degree of earnestness which God designed and requires. In this judgment we are sustained by the commanding testimony of Dugald Stewart, who says, "Not more than one in a hundred of those who embrace the doctrine of predestination ever retains his conviction of his being a moral and an accountable agent." And that this is the logical result of the theory no candid man will deny, who attends to his intellectual processes.

Whoever, while professing faith in predestination and its correlative doctrines, attains to great efficiency and power by the exertion of the free energies of his soul, becomes a living contradiction of the faith which he professes, and his conduct warrants the conclusion that his avowed faith is not his real faith, and that, instead of believing in a doctrine which uniformly enthralls and represses human energy, he really entertains, perhaps unconsciously to himself, through his intuitions, an esoteric conviction that he is in possession of personal freedom and of all that freedom implies.

So, also, if you convince a man that all his future choices are now certainly foreknown, he can not escape the depressing and enervating influences of that belief upon all his volitional processes. He never can assert his self-hood with that vigor which his duties require. His will naturally yields to the suggestions of his own mind or of an evil spirit, that he is not the master of himself, that he is only the creature of circumstances, that he is the child of destiny, and that he, can not stem nor guide the current of events, but must necessarily drift on in the channel of the inevitable. No thoughtful prescientist wholly escapes the weakening and benumbing influences of his belief upon his volitional energies. The human mind can not escape suspense, distress, and diminution of effort and loss of energy, if it believes God foreknows, and that his foreknowledge makes all its own future choices certain. Belief in prescience always tends to moral insensibility, inactivity, and indifference.

If future choices are all foreknown, if there is a certainty as to their coming to pass, no one can avoid regarding those choices as fixed and inevitable; and if these are inevitable, a latent conviction will seize the soul, that do what it may, it is unable to change the ultimate event or to avoid its now foreknown destiny, The moment a man believes and feels that his future choices are now unerringly foreknown, his unmeasured capacities of freedom are narrowed, weakened, and often altogether paralyzed. If God foreknows the future choice of a free agent, that free agent is sure to come to that choice, and as to that choice there can be now no avoidability. To affirm that the choice is avoidable, destroys the certainty of the foreknowledge. If that choice is certain to come to pass, the mind can not avoid regarding it as a fixitya fixity in regard to which God predicates innumerable and important things. If the mind regards the choice as a fixity, the paralyzing conviction will naturally and inevitably arise that, do what it may, it is impossible to modify the event. Such a conviction represses energy and lessens effort.

Suppose that I engage in solemn prayer, believing that all the future is now definitely foreknown to God. The tempter whispers in my ear, "The future will be just as God now foreknows, and where can be the necessity or the utility of your prayer? How can you modify the foreknown fixity?" God can not be mistaken, and I have no power to change in the least that which he now foreknows to be certain. The fate that he now sees for me, whether it be one of blessing or of blight, I shall finally meet. That is as certain as the law which holds the solar system in harmony. And if this be so, why should I thus disturb myself? Why should I war against this moral lethargy that so paralyzes me? Why should I so fight against all my settled habits? Why rush athwart all my strong inclinations? Why make such a struggle to deny myself in order to put forth the power of my will in efforts to be interested in spiritual blessings, when I believe that all will be as God now foresees it; when I believe that all I do and all I feel will be but the simple results of precedents, which were known and fixed in the divine mind millions of years ago?

But now, suppose I engage in prayer under the inspiration of a belief that the foreknowledge of the future choices of a free spirit, while acting under the law of liberty, involves self-contradiction; that my individual destiny is now unknown to Jehovah; that my future is as a sheet of white paper, and whatever impressions shall be made upon it will depend wholly upon myself; that I am the author of my own destiny; that I am an originator of moral forces; that my will is a fountain of causation; that every choice I deliberately make is the beginning of a new series of events, and that the free choices of my will are no more preceded by coercive antecedents than are the free choices of God himself; and especially that what I am to be, is to be the effect of what I shall do. Then I shall be fully aroused to the facts of my solemn position; then I shall feel my accountability, comprehend my freedom, and perceive my latent capacities for putting forth powerful volitional efforts. I then become fully persuaded that no being, no outside cause or influence, nothing objective in the universe, can determine the future unknown result, and that such result, whatever it be, is a matter for me alone to determine.

Let such thoughts take possession of a man, and nothing else could so arouse the energies of his deathless spirit. Nothing else could so enable an accountable being to realize the significance of all the endowments of his sublime personality. And if man be truly in danger, through his own choice and free volitions, of eternal exclusion from the favor of God and the glory of his power, then the only view of his solemn capacities of freedom that can at all correspond to his hazards, requirements, and possibilities is the one that is here presented, the one that is founded upon the incognizability of future free choices. All those fatal dreams, speculations, and delusions, by which so many succeed in impairing their sense of responsibility, would in this way be most effectually dissipated. A person under the sway and inspiration of such a belief looks confidently up to God, and sees him holding in his right hand those great blessings which alone can meet his many necessities. Not only is he conscious of his need of such blessings, but he is convinced that he can obtain them; that, though all his efforts are worthless as a purchasing consideration, they are the indispensable conditions of receiving what God has to bestow. All the conditions requisite for obtaining the favors promised him, he feels that through imparted grace he is fully enabled to perform. Jehovah, not foreknowing what the seeking soul will ask, is nevertheless ready to bestow any thing which he has promised, as soon as his conditions are complied with. To such a worshipper Satan can never whisper the paralyzing suggestion: "God foreknows it all; he knows what you are just about to ask for, what he intends to bestow, what you will in fact ultimately receive, and he has known it from all eternityall this having, entered into his crystallized, universal plan, which embraces eternity past and eternity to come." How is it possible for the hearty believer in universal prescience reasonably to pray, "Lead me not into temptation?" Indeed, how can he reasonably pray at all?

But if God does not specifically foreknow the petitions of his children, how replete with the freshest and deepest interest and importance becomes the institution of prayer! The comfort and power which this view brings to the suppliant are vastly superior to those derived from any other. Religion prescribes prayer as a duty and a privilege. And the command to pray is accompanied with assurances that God will hear and answer our supplications. Few subjects have been more meditated upon or more discussed than this: Wherein consists the real benefit and efficiency of prayer? "The answer to prayer is not the effect of the prayer," says Dr. Buchanan, in his "Modern Atheism," "but it is the effect of the divine will." Even Dr. M'Cosh questions whether there can be any thing like causality in our prayers. "We should blush," says Bishop Warburton, "to be thought so uninstructed in the nature of prayer as to fancy it can work any temporary changes in the disposition of Deity." Mr. Boyle and President Edwards both think that "God answers prayer, through the ministry of angels." Dr. Chalmers, despairing to give any solution to the true efficacy of prayer that would be acceptable to common sense, merely attempts to neutralize objections brought against the institution, by showing that "the difficulty in question might possibly be accounted for, were our knowledge more extensive and precise."

A large number of the brightest names in science and theology teach that "God so arranged his providence from the beginning as to provide for particular events, and especially to provide answers to the prayers of his intelligent creatures." This view regards prayer as an "element which was taken into the account at the original constitution of the world, and for which an answer was particularly provided as the result of natural laws or of angelic agencies employed for this express end by the omniscient foreknowledge of God." To this view the objector urges that, "since science teaches that all events take place in strict conformity to the course of nature established from the beginning, our prayers can effect no change whatever, unless we pretend to expect that God should continue to be working miracles in compliance with our prayers."

This objection, says the celebrated Euler, has the greater weight from the fact that religion teaches the doctrine that God has established the course of all events, and that nothing can come to pass but what he foresaw from all eternity. "Is it credible," say the objectors, "that God should think of altering this settled course of events in compliance with any prayers which man might address to him?" "But I reply," says Euler, "that when God established the course of the universe, and arranged all the events that must come to pass in it, he paid attention to all the circumstances which should accompany each event, particularly to the dispositions, desires, and prayers of every intelligent being, and that the arrangement of all events was disposed with perfect harmony with all these circumstances. When, therefore, a man addresses a prayer to God worthy to be heard, that prayer was already heard from all eternity, and the Father of Mercies arranged the world especially in favor of that prayer, so that the accomplishment should be a consequence of the natural course of events." "It is not impossible," says Dr. Wollaston, "that such laws of nature and such a series of causes and effects may be originally designed that particular cases may be provided for without alterations in the course of nature. It is true that this amounts to a prodigious scheme, in which all things to come are comprehended under one view, estimated and laid together; and thus the prayers which good men offer up to God and the neglects of others may find fitting effects already forecasted in the course of nature."

How utterly unsatisfactory and unnatural and improbable are all such explanations of the efficacy of the sublime institution of prayer! If such views, if such answers to the question, "In what consists the benefit of prayer?" do not tend to lessen the frequency, the fervency, the efficiency of, and the respect for, prayer, then no religious belief can exert any depressing and demoralizing effect upon the moral activities of the soul. All such explanations of the wonderful problem before us are unphilosophical, and yet they are the best and most ingenious which the ablest of the prescientists can offer. They seem only a little way removed from the doctrine taught by some heathen writers, and referred to by Cicero, of which he declared that he was truly ashamed namely, that "the divine energy, which extends throughout the universe, really directs the children of men in the choice of the victim, by the scrutiny of whose entrails they expect to determine and foreknow their future fortunes."

My friend starts today for London, and I pray for his safe voyage. I pray that seas may be calm, that storms may be hushed, that officers may be competent, and that no accident may occur. Now, the theory above stated, concerning the utility of my supplication, declares that my prayer was heard from all eternity; that from the depths of the eternal past God anticipated my prayer and arranged all events and circumstancesstorms, commanders, vessel, and forcesso that my prayer could be answered without any interference with any of the natural laws of the universe, and without any special interposition, on his part, in staying forces and counteracting laws. The theory also requires that had not the prayer been heard from all eternity it could not have been made, and would not have been answered at all. Prayer is an exercise in view of which blessings are bestowed upon the suppliant which would not have been bestowed but for that exercise. But such presentations of the subject as we have now referred to, bring neither comfort, power, light, nor inspiration to the suppliant, nor any glory to him who hath said, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." When God listens to and answers a suppliant's prayer he must limit himself in some particulars. He must appear in the likeness of human mutability to adjust himself to the variant doings of a mutable agent. And this view furnishes an explanation of prayer at once reasonable to the mind, moving to the soul, an glorifying to God.

"The system of necessity," says James Mill, "is very remote from the doctrine of fatalism, for it simply teaches that whatever happens could not have happened otherwise, unless something had taken place which was capable of preventing it. Necessitarians are, however, fatalists in their feelings, and mentally query why they should struggle against whatever is to happen. The doctrine of free will, on the other hand, by keeping in view the power of the mind to co-operate in the formation of its own character, has produced a better practical feeling and a stronger spirit of self- culture than has ever existed in the minds of necessitarians." This testimony, coming as it does from one of the ablest of the thinkers, is of great value in this discussion. just so, if we embrace absolute foreknowledge. If we dwell upon it sufficiently long to perceive its logical sequences, however much our reason may repudiate the mysterious constraint, the mystic tie linking our present choices back to God's unerring foreknowledge of those choices, our imagination will still affirm that such a connection must somehow exist, and our intuitive feelings of liberty will be strongly influenced, and our convictions as to our own free activities and accountability will be injuriously weakened.

No fallacy has obtained greater currency than that the foreknowledge of God has no influence over the future actions of a free agent. This sophism has ever been in the mouth of Arminians, and has been confidently advanced in every discussion by those who oppose Calvinism. A latent conviction of its unsoundness, however, has always disturbed the equilibrium of those who have used it. Because the foreknowledge or fore-perception of an effect following its cause in the material world among material forces does exert, and can exert, no influence in producing the said physical effect, theologians and philosophers have rashly and strangely inferred that the same can be said relatively to the foreknowledge of a free choice which is made by a free agent possessing the power to originate causes and to make contrary choices. Mr. Watson, for example, says that "knowledge is in no sense a cause of actions; the certainty of an action does not result from a knowledge of it. The will which gives birth to the action is not dependent on the previous knowledge of God. The foreknowledge of God, therefore, has no influence on the freedom of actions for the plain reason that it is knowledge and not influence."

But, I reply, there is no analogy, pertinent to this discussion, between a necessary event and a free event. A necessary event is tied to a certain result, and can not produce moral character; while a free volition can originate moral character, and may select any one of many results. One is controlled by necessary laws, the other is governed by a free will. One is determined by physical forces, the other is intelligently self-determined. One is natural in its action, while the other is not natural, but really supernatural. How, then, can what is observed in the natural be so confidently applied to or made to illustrate the supernatural? The radical distinction between the natural and the supernatural, between the action of a material force and the action of a free intelligent will, renders the observation to which we are replying quite inapplicable, and as an argument absolutely worthless. Impulses and reasons act upon a free spirit entirely different from gravitation upon matter. And though the will is not controlled by the various influences brought to bear against itby the various appeals made to the innocent susceptibilities of the soul, or by the attacks made through its evil or abnormal tendenciesnevertheless, all these do come in as occasions of the will's final self-determinations. These occasions of the will's final decision and action form the arena of struggle, of moral conflict, and of fall or victory for all probationers. While it is true that the nature of voluntary action is unconstrained, uncontrolled, causative, and initiative, still there could be no testing of the loyalty of a probationary spirit, if influences, to a certain degree, were not brought to bear against its strength of will and tenacity of purpose. If influences of a greater degree of intensity were brought to bear, its freedom would be interfered with, and then the action of the will could not evolve moral character. A moral agent is tried or tested by appeals made to his reason or to his sensibilities in favor of some form of evil. In any real trial there must be a liability to fall, however supernatural may be the action of the will, and however sinless the moral agent. The stirring of the susceptibilities occasions, but does not necessitate, this liabity to wrong volition. This is so, because the action of the will is subjective in its nature, and is independent of, and uncontrolled by, any objective influences. Within the limits of that degree of intensity which is needed to achieve morality and rewardability, and to test the loyalty of a free agent to truth, order, and authority, these testing influences are not controlling over the will, but they merely offer the occasions of its self-determinations. They are the indispensable conditions of achieving character and moral desert. Within this divinely surveyed realm of competitive influences the will of the agent is autocrat, causator, creator, and initiator. The strength of character achieved in trial is in direct proportion to the number and strength of the influences struggled against and triumphed over.

But, notwithstanding all this, as we multiply the influences brought to bear on the wills of a multitude of individuals, we increase, as a general thing, the sum of the probabilities that any given person will determine in accordance with those influences. This general probability, however, let it always be borne in mind, can never afford, in any instance, so long as the agent retains his freedom, any ground for certainty as to his future choices or the absolute foreknowledge thereof. Even Julius Müller confesses that "the behavior of a man may be foretold by a consideration of his character and his circumstances only in so far as freedomthat is, the power of acting otherwiseis not really possessed by him." This rule of probability amounts simply to this, that a given choice is more likely than not, in the judgments of men (not as a quality of the choice itself) to happen when you increase through the sensibilities the strain on the will power. But this probability is not involved objectively in the future free event, as one of its qualities. It has only a subjective existence in us, aiding us in making up needed general judgments for the conduct of our life. And this rule is so general that it does form some ground of probability for a given volition. But it can never produce certainty; can never be depended on to furnish unerring knowledge in any specified instance. For it must never be forgotten that the theory of probabilities or general prevalence has to do only with our beliefs. It can not be a law of objective things, but is simply an approximate order of subjective thought.

That the foreknowledge of God would exert an influence over the determinations of the human will is apparent from the following considerations. It is everywhere confessed that belief and knowledge do influence or modify the choices of the will in the sense that they present some of the occasions of its free volitions, and thus increase the general probability of a given volition. If, for example, men believe Universalism or Fatalism or Atheism or Calvinism or Arminianism, they are greatly influenced in their choices by said beliefs. Such influence is not a constant but a wonderfully variable quantity. It never acts uniformly, either upon different individuals or upon the same individual at different times. It can, therefore, never form a basis for certainty in any given case. All that it does afford is a general probability of prevalence. These are facts known and read of all. "As a man thinketh so is he."

And, in like manner, if one believes that God foreknows all his future choices, that belief is likely to become an occasion of diminishing his will power, and weakening his efforts to overcome temptations. For, one of the indispensable conditions of perfect freedom is a firm conviction, that the future choices of a free spirit, while acting under the law of liberty, ought to be now unconditionally undetermined, and, therefore, unknown. If man is free, his future is contingent or uncertain; and the delusion that some influence or some being outside of the will itself is the responsible cause of human choices must be dissipated if the will is to exhaust all its capacities of freedom. A belief that future volitions are unknown is one of the important conditions of needful energy and activity in the human will. A belief that volitions are foreknown has, as every struggling Christian can but attest, a suspenseproducing an agitating and weakening influence, endangering wrong self-determinations in the will. "The nature of a thing," said Dr. Olinthus Gregory, "is not changed by its being foreknown." Very true; if a future choice is now known to be a certainty, its foreknowledge can not change its nature. But the belief that all future choices are now certainties does act powerfully to affect one's volitions and to determine what those future choices will be. Such a belief practically interferes with our moral liberty.

But, on the other hand, if God foreknows a specific act of a free spirit, we do not see how he can, in good faith, make becoming and efficient efforts to prevent that act from coming to pass, if the act be one which he would deprecate. So far as can be seen he could, in the nature of things, no more strive in good faith and with sincere earnestness, to prevent the eternal damnation of a human soul, if he foreknew that result to be absolutely certain, than he could so act to rescue a soul upon whom already the sentence of eternal death had been pronounced. Who can reasonably question the force of this most impressive argument?

On the night of the betrayal Jesus said to Judas, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me." "Behold the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table." "The Son of Man goeth as it is written of him, but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed." "And truly the Son of Man goeth as it was determined, but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed. And, finally, in the garden he said, "Betrayest thou me with a kiss?" All these various and impressive forms of speech were used by the Savior to prevent, if possible, the sin of Judas. If all these super- natural efforts were not made in good faith to prevent the deprecated fall of one chosen to be an apostle, then, it is impossible to conceive Jesus as candid and sincere. But they could not have been put forth in good faith and thorough honesty, nor with sufficient earnestness, if the treachery of Judas had been known by him from all eternity, and at that moment stood out before him as an event fixed and utterly unavoidable. How profound his pity and desire to rescue Judas from eternal infamy is discovered in his lamentation, "Better for that man had he never been born."

God's foreknowledge of a certain future action, if true, must come in as a certain factor to influence and affect in the most marked manner the final choice and determination of a free spirit. If any man believes that there is a logical necessity forced upon his future free choices by divine foreknowledge, that those choices must result as now foreseen, that they must conform to the present divine foreknowledge of them, this belief can not fail to become one of the powerful influences which will tend to secure an agreement between present divine foreknowledge and his future free choices. No man can properly appreciate his power to originate forces and initiate results, or feel his responsibility therefor, who does not believe that contingencies are unforeknowable.

God's now foreknowing that a certain person is to be eternally lost would have a wonderful influence over himself intellectually, emotionally, and volitionallyhow wonderful and how various none of the finite can ever reveal or even conceive. And in like manner a belief that God now foreknows myto me unforeknowndestiny would have great power to paralyze my moral and intellectual energies. Thus we see that these two most important conditions do enter in as influences operating upon the will in its final determinations.

How untrue, then, is the phrase, repeated from time immemorial, that knowledge has no influence over the choices of free agents. From a perception of the natural, the necessary, the constrained, and the unintelligent, no logical inferences can ever be drawn as to the free, the contingent, the intelligent, and the supernatural. The whole analogy is unreliable and delusive. Belief, therefore, in absolute prescience does, like fatalism, lessen, depress, and discourage the vast powers for free action with which the Creator endows the human will. Where there is no alternative the choice is inevitable, and no one can feel himself responsible for that which is inevitable. A belief that the future is now fixed, and is inevitable, robs the soul of its energiesand virtually of its freedom. A belief that to me the privilege and the duty are given to create for myself my own destiny, that whatever I fear in the future is evitable and whatever I hope for is attainable, at once unfetters and stimulates all my moral and intellectual energies. A belief, therefore, in absolute prescience is in all respects harmful to the soul, while an opposite belief is an inspiration to every good word and work.

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