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Chapter XXIX:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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"THE human understanding," says Dr. M'Cosh, "can not reconcile creature freedom with divine prescience. The difficulties that encompass the subject arise from the connection of the human will with the foreknowledge of God, and from the fact that voluntary acts do seem to be caused. I must think that antecedent circumstances do act causally upon the will of man. And it is in the peculiar nature of this cause, operating in the will, that the means of clearing up the subject and effecting a reconciliation between these seeming incongruities are to be found. But I am convinced that man can never penetrate this region and determine the nature and the mode of the operation of this power which sways the will. We can point out the place where the means of clearing up this mystery must lie, but then we can never reach that place."

Of course, the undue assumption of divine foreknowledge and the causal force of antecedents on the action of the free will, in those volitions that involve morality, must forever necessitate not only difficulties but self-contradictions and absurdities. The considerations which led Dr. M'Cosh to attribute "a causal influence to antecedent circumstances" are quite worthy of notice. "It is the action of the will," says Cousin, "that first suggests to us the idea of cause; and the will, being a cause, can not be an effect." This statement of Cousin Dr. M'Cosh rejects. He rejects it in consideration of a fact which he specifies, and of two convictions which he mentions and terms intuitive. He says, "When a man performs a malevolent deed, do we not look back for the cause of that deed into his previous character? and when a man is thoroughly just, do we not anticipate that he will ever do just acts?" Dr. M'Cosh seems to think that only one answer can be given to either of these questions.

But we reply that we are not authorized to look for the cause of the malevolent deed back into the previous character of the individual. For how often are malevolent deeds performed by those whose previous character had been of long-established rectitude and benevolence? Those motives in view of which they had uniformly acted through a protracted period have afterwards been entirely disregarded by them. This is clearly exemplified in many cases where individuals pass through great and varied changes of life and pursuits. The worst men have repented and brought forth works meet for repentance, and saints have fallen after often assuring themselves of heaven. The first free agent who ever sinned certainly had no previous unholy character to cause an immoral act. This sinful act was caused by his will; for his previous character was holiness and righteousness. It is a simple fact that a being who was and who ever had been most thoroughly just and holy did inaugurate wickedness and did introduce moral evil into the universe. We have no right or authority or reason, therefore, to anticipate with certainty that a being who is thoroughly just and good will always during his probation perform good deeds, or that the will is determined by that character which it had itself originated and established. Is it not surprising that the eminent philosopher of the intuitions should pronounce these most obvious errors "acknowledged intuitive convictions?" Instead of being intuitive convictions they are manifest errors and unauthorized statements, requiring large benevolence to excuse.

Julius Müller says: "We never can predict, with any thing but an approximate probability, what the decision of a man of developed character will be, even when the web of his inner life in its finest and most delicate threadslies clear before us. This is so because character in its earthly growth is never so fixed and certain as to be unsusceptible of new and different determinations from the inexhaustible source and depth of free will, which can sever the threads in that web and introduce therein new ones. Our assured hope of persevering in goodness must ever have its dark background, the conscious possibility that in the freedom of our will arbitrariness may at any time arise."

But if "antecedent circumstances do exert a causal influence of the human will," as Dr. M'Cosh affirms, how is it that we all feel so clearly and thoroughly, at the very moment of committing a malevolent deed, that we are free to do it or to refrain from doing it? And how is it subsequently to the perpetration of the deed, that we so pungently condemn ourselves therefor? And how is it that others join with our own hearts so promptly in condemning us? But if antecedents have a causal influence over the will, then we could predict an action of the will with as much certainty and uniformity as we can predict any event in nature. But this is acknowledged to be impossible. Even Cicero says, "If the causes of our wills were natural and anterior, then nothing at all would be in our own power." Dr. M'Cosh in this passage regards a volition as the resultant of motives, whereas it is not a resultant at all, but is a free choice between motives. The fact which Dr. M'Cosh adduces by which to prove that the will is not a cause, is that the statistics of voluntary actions, such as murders, thefts, and letters mailed, can be determined as accurately as those of birth or mortality. He seems to think that the will is bound by some law compelling the same number of men to commit the same number of crimes in equal periods of time.

But I reply, while we can not affirm with certainty, that a thoroughly just man will always per- form just deeds, we can judge and estimate that the probabilities are more numerous that he will perform just deeds than that he will not. This general uniformity of moral nature seems to be a somewhat fair but by no means a certain basis for the calculation of the probabilities in any specified case. It is a consequence of the general effect of habit in inducing a fixity of moral character, which is gradually but freely formed, the will being by its power of free choice the original source of character.

This greater sum of probabilities affords ample bases for the formation of opinions, for the determining of statistics, and for the striking of averages. But even the striking of averages itself implies the absence of uniform law in the premises. The general uniformity of moral statistics is accounted for by the general uniformity of human nature in the specified locality and period. But such uniformities of results may arise as easily from freedom as from necessity. Alternativity in the power of human wills does not prevent these marked uniformities in their determinations. For collective uniformity is not inconsistent with individual contingency. And even though uniformities in such results might suggest the doctrine of necessity, the innumerable deviations from uniformity clearly demonstrate the doctrine of human freedom. But these statistics, moreover, do not reveal the moral character, nor the diversified motives and circumstances and temptations under the influence of which criminals have committed the designated crimes. They are, indeed, never perfectly uniformvery far from it. They are only approximately true, and their lack of perfect conformity can only be explained by the supposition that the will is itself a cause and not an effect. But really few things in the world, so far as I have been able to ascertain, falsify so egregiously as tabulated statistics. And, besides, it is only on this supposition, that the will is a cause itself, that the collection of criminal statistics can be of the least moral and social value, or can be a means of information.

But all this difficulty of Dr. M'Cosh is the old fallacy of locating the incipiency of moral actions in the objective appeals made to the sensitive part of our nature, instead of locating it in the will itself, where alone it can be found, and where alone it ought to be found. As the human will can easily, as before remarked, be made to act consentingly, according to the law of cause and effect, and, indeed, must be made so to act, in order that it may be a reliable instrument for the execution of the purposes of Divine Providence in confounding the counsels of the wicked, and in frustrating the sinful machinations of evil men, and the moral disorders which would defeat the operation of providential plans; and since it actually does so act under constraint in thousands of instances in daily experiences, Dr. Jonathan Edwards hastily inferred that the law of necessity is the one single mode of its activity. From this constrained action of the will, so possible, actual, and frequent, he drew the unsound conclusion that it never acts in any other way or according to any other law. But had he only observed more widely and thought longer, he probably would have discovered that in the kingdom of grace the free will could and must act freely, according to the law of liberty, and not from constraint or necessity.

The clear distinction between the kingdom of providence and the kingdom of grace, and the essential difference in the action of the will which these two distinct divine kingdoms sternly necessitate, seem not to have suggested themselves to him. He did not distinguish between the action of the will as it unconsciously acts consentingly under the law of cause and effect, and its free action under the law of liberty. Had he perceived these now manifest distinctions he would have been saved from the perplexities and sophisms which so distressed himself, and which have so confused and worried his followers and his opponents in their efforts to defend or to expose his now acknowledged errors, both in theology and in philosophy.

But for the dogma of prescience, Sir William Hamilton never would have taught that "the free agency of man is incapable of speculative proof!" What better proof could he desire, or could any doctrine require, than that which he himself adduces in favor of free agency? "The common sense as well as the natural convictions of mankind," he affirms, "testify in favor of a free will and against a bond will." He quotes Dugald Stewart as saying that "every man has the proof of his own consciousness that he is a free agent"; and he also says that "however unthinkable free agency may be as to the how of it, either it is true, or the doctrine of necessity is true; for they are contradictories, one of which must be true." "But consciousness does not give her testimony in favor of necessity." "In proof of the doctrine of necessity the necessitarian has no appeal whatever to human consciousness." But, on the other hand, the libertarian can appeal fearlessly to universal consciousness that free agency is unquestionably true. And no evidence could be more convincing and satisfactory than that of consciousness, for "consciousness is always veracious and never spontaneously false." What better proof of free agency could any philosopher or investigator demand? What other proof of equal strength and cogency could be conceived? Were it written in capitals on the vault of heaven it could not be more impressive.

How little could Sir William Hamilton explain of the nature of gravitation, cohesion, magnetism, or electricity! How very little could he say to explain how the constituent gases of the atmosphere are intermingled, or how the simple process of evaporation is carried on! He might as well have pronounced the communication of motion from one body to another as unthinkable, as that freedom is unthinkable. Dr. Grecrory says, "I challenge the wisest philosopher to demonstrate, by just argument and from unexceptionable principles, what will be the effect of one particle of matter in motion meeting with another at rest, on the supposition that these two particles constituted all the matter in the universe." Indeed, Hamilton might have thrown upon his own mental operations the same incertitude that he has thrown upon his moral liberty. Well says the Bibliotheca Sacra (October, 1877), "The mystery of finite thinking is yet unsolved. We think, and we know we think, but how we think no man has ever yet told. The finite thinker can not comprehend his finite work." But freedom is written on every fiber of the human soul, and upon every pillar of the divine government.

And had not the doctrine of foreknowledge so grievously tormented Hamilton he never would have outlawed this fundamental and transcendently important question. He never would have pronounced, as he did, that both "liberty and necessity are incomprehensible and outside the limits of legitimate thought, and beyond the solution of the human faculties." How the fetters that held him in perplexity would have been sundered had he assumed the impossibility of absolute prescience! Every enactment of law and every institution of society assumes that impossibility. Every promise and every threatening from above assumes it. Every prayerful closet and every Christian pulpit assumes it. Every struggling Jacob and every prevailing Israel assumes it. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost assume it. Why, then, should it not be assumed by all free agents?

How superlative, then, the unwisdom that could induce Sir William Hamilton, rather than surrender the needless dogma of universal prescience, to maintain that free agency, which, confessedly, is an indispensable condition of moral character and moral government and of the tremendous retributions of eternity, is utterly incapable of any speculative proof whatever! "If the will," says that writer, "be the undetermined cause of volition, it is impossible to conceive of its possibility." John Stuart Mill says that Hamilton uses conceive and comprehend as synonymous. Our reply is, that the human intellect acts under the law of cause and effect, while the will acts under the law of freedom. And that there is a difference of some kind between the movement of the sensibilities and the action of the human will, all perceive and feel. But if men are conscious, as every one is, that in every volition they put forth they feel able to will something different from that volition, what greater conceivability of freedom can they desire? "But it is impossible," says Hamilton, "to conceive how a cause undetermined by any motive can be a rational, moral, accountable creature." But we reply, it is more impossible to conceive how a cause, determined by a motive, could be either rational, moral, or accountable. But we also deny that it is inconceivable how a cause which is undetermined by a motive can be rational, moral, or accountable. All that the motive is needed for is to test the will, to test its loyalty to right, to duty, and to authority. But testing the firmness or the flexibility of the will is a very different thing from determining its action. Hamilton's preconceived errors disabled him from analyzing as closely as he ought at this point. Surely all can see the difference between testing the character and making the character. "A motiveless volition," said Hamilton, "would only be a casualism." But, we reply, there can be no volitions which do not have either objective or subjective motives. But the motive is only the occasion of the volition, not its cause: will itself clothes the motive with its variant attractiveness. Motive can not be the cause of it, if the one who wills is to be punished for it. It can not be the cause of the volition, because there is no constraint in it. It has, and it must have, a testing, straining, proving, trying force; but it can not have, and ought not to have, a controlling, causing power. The pleadings of a beloved friend for a milder sentence upon the youthful culprit may test and prove, but they can not control, the firmness of the judge. Sir William Hamilton did not perceive the wide distinction there is between to influence and to determine, to test and to cause, and hence he declares that "it is of no consequence in the argument whether motives be said to influence or to determine a man." This statement betrays his lack of discrimination or his unpardonable haste in the consideration of this subject.

Manifestly he failed to see that a motive may have a testing, without having a controlling, power; that a motive may be a test of a man's will without coercing his determinations. Motives influence to action, but they do not determine to action. They do not act, and, more, they can not act, because they are simply reasons for acting. There are no forces, sensitive or intellectual, in man, and none out of man, compelling his will with an irresistible necessity. The will alone is lord of its own actions. The will can be nothing at all if it have not in itself a real, self-originating causality. Self- determination of that which is now undetermined is clearly implied in free agency. Indeed, without self-determination free agency and personality can have neither significance nor existence. From the undetermined I determine myself. Personal creations must start from what is undetermined, in order, by self-determination, to put an end to indeterminateness. The human will being a power of self-determination, it can control all the influences brought to bear upon its reason or upon its susceptibilities from within or from without in the form of motives, As an independent causality, it can determine the degree of influence it will allow motives to have in its determinations, or it can reject or neutralize that influence altogether. This it can do in the exercise of its unquestioned prerogative of sovereignty. "The capacity of willing," says Dr. L. P. Hickok, "is a power absolute in its own arbitrament, and can both act and direct its acts in its own naked self-determination. No matter what the motives on each side, or if all be on one side, the mind is competent to suspend itself in equilibrio, and act for or against the motives from its mere determination to do so." It wills solely because it will, and no other reason is needed than that of itself it determines to do so. This power is so Godlike that it can nullify, at any point in the process, the action of the law of cause and effect.

Intellectualities and sensibilities act under the law of cause and effect, and hence can only act on the will according to that same law. And it is according to this law of cause and effect that motives addressed to the reason and appeals made to the sensibility act or operate in the process of testing the human will. In this sovereign power of liberty is to be found man's highest resemblance to the Deity. And if man does not possess this moral liberty, then his consciousness of moral law is deceptive in itself, and requires of him an unjustifiable obedience. This fact ought to have satisfied Sir William Hamilton of the conceivability of human freedom. The denial of universal prescience is not only tenable, but its nonexistence is provable and proved.

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