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Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity

By L. D. McCabe, D.D., LL.D.

Chapter I.

Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies is a Necessity, in the Necessities of Things.

NECESSARILY there must be a universe of necessities. The infinite uncaused Intelligence, time, space, mathematical truths, and, doubtless, innumerable other things unknown to us, must exist of necessity. They must exist, too, as necessary realities, not as necessary evolutions. Without the unquestioned assumption of the infinite Intelligence, any philosophy is simply impossible. Philosophy is the sphere of the knowable. If the infinite One, in all his activities and faculties, is under the reign of necessity, then there can exist but a single universe, the universe of necessities. But if he possess the attribute of freedom, and can act under the law of liberty, then there must be a second universe, the universe of contingencies. Contingent things are things that might be or might not be, that might come to pass or might not come to pass. If freedom is an attribute of the infinite One, a world of contingencies is logically inevitable. If he is free lie cannot be controlled by modes, theories, uniformities, or idealities, in the exercise of his originative conceptions and creative energies. The moment you bind him with universal necessities you annihilate his freedom.

It is true that many specific necessities must be implied in and introduced into a universe of contingencies. These necessities enter as truths, principles, axioms, laws, limitations, possibles and impossibles. These fundamental necessities can neither be violated nor overlooked by the Creator in his works of creation. For his material creations lie requires necessary truths and immovable foundations. In his construction of the solar system, for example, he did not violate any law of geometry or of numbers, quantity or mechanics. In his government of moral creatures he requires immutable moral distinctions, such as right, justice, equity and holiness, as objective inflexible standards of final appeal. To these inflexible standards he voluntarily conforms himself, and by them he is justified and vindicated in his moral administration before the moral universe.

Then, too, the infinite Thinker must be limited by many subjective necessities, some of which we know, but, doubtless, vastly more are unknown to us. Of these subjective necessities we may instance the necessary laws of thought, identity, self-contradiction, excluded middle and sufficient rear son. These laws of thought constrain the Infinite as well as the finite logician. Noah Porter says: "The rational methods of the divine and human intellects must be the same, and induction is possible only on the assumption that the intellect of man is a reflex of the divine intellect." The laws of thought, therefore, must constrain the thought processes of the Infinite intellect.

And right here it is necessary that we carefully distinguish between an infinite being in the abstract and an infinite being in the concrete. An infinite being in the abstract is a bundle of infinities, bound up according to human conception or fancy. It would be more forcible, perhaps, to represent an infinite being in the abstract as a sphere of infinities, in which each infinity is insisting on itself, regardless of the claims of all other infinities. Infinite power, for example, may be conceived of as moving on regardless of the claims of infinite goodness, or as pressing on indifferent to infinite wisdom. Infinite mercy may be conceived of as bidding infinite justice and inflexible right to stand in abeyance and be silent. And the same conflict may be predicated of other attributes of an infinite being conceived o£ in the mere abstract. But to call such an abstract infinity, such a contradictory conception by the name of Deity, leads inevitably into incertitude and inextricable confusion. And it was conceiving of God as an infinity in the abstract that led the great Augustine into such erroneous and dangerous conceptions of the divine nature. The Augustinian conception of Deity was that of a universal infinite, that is, of a being infinite in all respects, and unlimited in all Ills attributes. But if God be infinite in every respect, he can neither be qualified nor conditioned in any respect. And if he cannot be qualified nor conditioned in any respect, he cannot be related; he cannot be a Creator, or a Father, or a Revealer, or an object of love, or a hearer of prayer, or a receiver of adoring worship. For who could worship a power too capricious to be limited by goodness? The distinguishing claims of the Augustinian theology are in reference to its logical consistency. But the very moment Augustinian theology completes its own logical processes it turns flatly against itself, and commits suicide. It is regretfully pronounced a veritable "felo-de-se" by myriad's rigidly reared in the belief of its dogmas. Attributing to God the mathematical or metaphysical idea of infinity logically annihilates him in His concrete personality. And yet this Augustinian conception of God has fastened itself upon nearly all modern theology. This will amply explain the alarming tendencies of our age to scientific atheism, to materialism, to Unitarianism, and to a religious nihilism. It would be difficult for the widely-observant and patiently thoughtful upon theological themes to avoid this conviction in their moments of candor. The only possible escape for scriptural theology is in the denial that God is the Infinite in the abstract, possessing all infinities in the pure abstract, wholly unrestrained and unlimited, or that he is the universally infinite. I presume it was this contradictory conception of the infinite One that so puzzled and disheartened Hamilton and Mansel as to the possibility of our knowing him at all. Failure to discriminate between being in the abstract and being in the concrete would necessitate innumerable difficulties on that vital and momentous subject of knowing God. But our glorious God is not this infinity in the abstract, he is the infinite One in the concrete. The infinite power of God must be held in perfect control by infinite wisdom and goodness. His infinite mercy must revere law, justice, right, holiness and universal order. It is only within their sanctum sanctorum that mercy can ever be permitted to exercise its tenderness toward the unworthy.

All God's infinite attributes move on in ineffably harmonious relations from everlasting unto everlasting. This ineffable harmony that ever sounds throughout the universe in enrapturing strains is the result of the checks, control, limitations, mutability's, and subjectivity's, indispensable to a concrete, free infinite personality. His will holds each attribute in subserviency to the perfection and consistent activities of the whole. In this process are secured the glory of the divine character, and the well-being of his created, related, intelligent and accountable millions.

Besides all such necessary limitations in Deity, growing out of the divine personality, and the deep necessities of things, it would be a limitation seriously detrimental to infinite perfection to deny to him thc glorious prerogative of self-denial, of limit-lug himself ill his works of creation, according to his own freedom and the innumerable plans that freedom may originate. The perfection of an ideal universe requires the divine prerogative of creating a free-will, that can in the exercise of its freedom resist and withstand Omnipotence, and the infinite Will. And freedom, in such a creature, would necessitate specific, modified mutability's and limitations in the experiences and activities of the Creator. These mutabilities, for reasons best known to Himself, lie freely imposes upon himself. If we would think of the infinite One, to any valuable philosophical result, we must think of him as restrained and constrained by such perfecting necessities, and submitting himself to such modified mutability's.

In the realm of necessities God can have no new thoughts, desires, purposes' or plans. But freedom in an infinite being implies that contingent things' may certainly be brought into existence. In the realms of the contingent, should such a realm be resolved upon, he must necessarily have new thoughts, new desires, purposes and plans. Freedom implies origination, and origination implies bringing from nonentity something into existence. A thing that might or might not have an existence, if it actually have an existence, that existence must have a beginning. If the conception of a thing existed in the divine mind from eternity, then that conception could not have been the creation of his free volition. If it was not the creation of his free volition it was a necessity, and no contingency at all, and God had no agency whatever ill its creation or in its origination. A contingent entity can have no possible beginning, save in an unconstrained volition. If the conception of a thing that does not exist existed from eternity, then the conceptions of all things that do not exist must have existed from eternity; but this is absurd. If the conception of a thing that does not exist is not eternal, then there must have been a time before it was conceived of. But if that conception had a beginning, it must have resulted from a free being, for it is not possible for an entity to emerge out of nonentity. If an un-caused cause produce an effect, it must do it without being constrained to do it; for no caused cause could possibly coerce an uncaused cause. Philosophy necessitates and the Bible every-where represents God as taking the absolute initiative. To deny him the power of initiation would be a limitation to his perfection's from which we all would shrink. But this requires power to conceive of something that previously had not existence. If God has power to initiate, he has power to precede initiation by original thinking. This power of original thinking he must begin to exercise at some point 'in infinite duration. For if he never did begin to exercise this power of original thinking, we have no evidence that he ever could think originally, or that he ever could conceive of a single new conception. If he has no power to originate new conceptions, he is a necessary being. Our conceptions of Him would at once congeal into the iceberg of fatality.

Initiatives necessarily involve and imply freedom, and freedom logically necessitates contingencies; but divine revelation as well as freedom requires the existence of things purely contingent. If God is a free being he must have all arena for the exercise of his liberty. His power of self-determination must be the profoundest and brightest of all the faculties of his incomprehensible nature. Such an arena he found in creating worlds, and ill endowing them With qualities, forces, missions, and adornments, pleasant for himself to behold, and highly illustrative of his mental, moral, and governmental perfections. But with this wide and magnificent arena he was not completely satisfied; lie, therefore, created free moral agents, immortal souls in his own image and likeness, co-creators, co-causes, co-originators, and co-eternal with himself in the realms of the contingent.

Then arose before him the new and most interesting arena for the exercise of the divine freedom in the free untrammeled determinations of accountable beings made in his own likeness. In the creation of beautiful, but irresponsible things, and in the moral government of responsible agents, the divine freedom had a theater for its activity, inexpressibly entertaining to the. divine mind, and enrapturing to the divine heart.

The divine freedom rejoices over the existence of basal necessities, but it stands upon the frontier of the realms of the contingent, peering into their fathomless possibilities. Through the boundless realms of the may or may not be, divine freedom ranges far and wide, to find that on which, with profit to the universe and gratification to itself, it may exert its exhaustless activities. The eternity to come will unfold contingencies which are not and cannot now be in the divine consciousness. Such possibilities are necessary to the perfection of God, considered relative to his historical and continuous life in the objective, and also relative to the essential activities of an infinite mind.

God possesses the power, therefore, of awakening original thoughts and taking the initiative, as he may sovereignly determine, in the untrammeled exercise of his absolute freedom. This possibility of unthought-of contingencies yet to come will keep the intelligent universe, throughout eternity, in endless expectancies of new unfoldings of God's infinite resources to instruct, expand, elevate and entertain beings created in his own intellectual and moral image. This view of Deity invests his glorious character with perfections utterly impossible under any/theory of absolute prescience, or of unconditional predestination.

But the Scriptures represent man as having also the power of taking the absolute initiative. If he is not a free being there can be for him neither right, wrong, justice, injustice, moral philosophy, or moral government. If he is not free, then conscience, remorse, and the "certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" of God, are all false, and are really most inexcusable phantoms.

While to necessary things there is necessarily no beginning, to contingent things there necessarily must be a beginning; that beginning cannot possibly reflect any thing back into its anterior. If it does, then it is not an absolute beginning. A contingent thing must be a pure origination by a being possessing power to select and originate ogle out of many. But this is possible only on the hypothesis that the future is now undetermined, unfixed, and, therefore, uncertain in the universe of contingencies.

Omniscience is "the power of knowing all things," says Worcester. God knows all things that now exist, that have ever existed, that will ever exist, as the result of existing causes acting in the lines of cause and effect, and all that lie has determined to bring into existence. For his omniscience he has grounds of knowledge perfectly valid. As to pure contingencies prior to their creation he may have theories, ideals, fancies, possibilities or probabilities, but cannot have certain knowledge. Relative to them there is absolutely nothing that is knowable. "If there could be contingencies it would be impossible for God to foreknow them," is the uniform testimony of all leading Calvinians. "Without decree," says Jonathan Edwards, "foreknowledge could not exist." "There can be no certainty that does not depend upon the divine purpose," says Dr. Hodge. They all concede the incapacity of Omniscience to foreknow the certain existence of a thing that might or might not be, a thing that might or might not come to pass. Of contingencies, we affirm, God can have no knowledge until from the realm of the possible a free being originates their conception and determines to actualize those conceptions into entities. It is only from that moment that a contingency becomes a knowable thing. Up to the point of some free being originating its conception and determining to actualize it, it is a pure unreality. Between the earth and the moon there might or might not exist a second satellite. Such a world is now an unreality, and hence it is a tiling that is unknowable; and if it is a tiling unknowable, it is no reflection upon Omniscience to affirm its incapacity to know it. On the morrow the Creator might conceive and determine to make such an addition to the solar system. Then it would be a reality, and, therefore, it would be knowable. Even the conception of a future contingency that may be brought into existence, by man as an actuality has no present existence in any mind, finite or infinite. The only conceivable cause of a contingency is a free will, and a wilt to be free can have no coercing or determining antecedents, moral or material.

And here we must distinguish between the intelligence of Deity and his intellectuality. His intellectuality, his capacity to know, is perfect, without any deficiency or weakness; it is an element of his necessary existence, and, therefore, is wholly subjective. But his intelligence is the knowing, and is the result of the exercise of his intellectuality. Intelligence is derived from intuition, from consciousness, from inference, and from observation. Intelligence derived from intuition and necessary consciousness can never be increased or decreased. Intelligence derived from inference and observation must be derived from objectivity, but objectivity is the realm of the contingent Intelligence of the contingent can never exist until the contingencies exist, because a nonentity can have no objectivity. That which is a present conceivable nonentity may become au actual entity. But the apprehension of a possible entity is theory, but no knowledge. We must distinguish between the intelligence of entities and the apprehension of possibles, between God's consciousness of necessary existences, and his intelligence derived from his inference and from his observation of unnecessitated things.

Failing to make this discrimination, men infer that God's intelligence of contingencies is just as immutable as his intelligence of necessities. In the realm of necessities all God's thoughts are immutable from everlasting to everlasting; but in the realm of contingencies he can at pleasure will worlds into existence. If he will new worlds into being he can will new conceptions, new plans, new enterprises into existence. Having the power to will new thoughts into existence, he has the power to originate new creations, new purposes for the glorification of his intelligent creatures, for the adornment of his material universe and the illustration of his own glorious perfections. It is consciousness derived from necessities must be different from his consciousness derived from actual contingencies.

In these views of the divine nature I am gratified in being supported by Dr. Domer, of the University of Berlin, one who stands in the foremost rank of living Protestant divines. In a recent number of the Bibliatheca Sacra he says: "Any view of the divine nature that excludes all distinction, movement and change from God is incompatible with the idea of creation. The world, as a thought, was a determination given to his mind by God. He must have conceived the world as changeable, or he would not have willed it thus to be. In the divine omniscience there must be an element of growth. If there be free beings there must be free determinations. God may have a prior knowledge of them as mere possibilities, but he cannot have a knowledge of them as actualities. This knowledge of human acts must be acquired gradually as they come to pass. Thiss knowledge he draws from history, and it is conditioned by the action of the causalities which he has brought into existence. In his counsels, in his knowledge and in his volitions with respect to the world, in his relations to time and space, God is not unchangeable. In these regards he undergoes movement and change, and suffers himself to be conditioned." Six months after I had published a work on the Divine Foreknowledge I found, with inexpressible pleasure, these and kindred thoughts from the pen of the great historian of Protestant theology.

Now, if man has the power of taking the absolute initiative, he can, through grace, bring himself into conscious union with his Creator, or he can make himself an incorrigible outcast. He can, through faith and prayer, bring countless blessings upon his fellows, or, through iniquity, he can bring upon them unnumbered curses. If these diverse classes of possibilities are before him awaiting his selection, then the future must now be undetermined and uncertain, as his unoriginated initiations are now uncertain. A future that is now fixed and infallibly certain could not present an appropriate arena for such unoriginated, uncoerced, un-implied and undetermined initiations. The only proper future for such undetermined initiations must be one that is now unfixed, undetermined, and, therefore, uncertain. If man can achieve rewardability or bring substantial blessings and effect far-reaching changes upon the human family, then the future must be undetermined and remain undetermined until he, by his free, self-originating will, will determine it.

If man can of himself form an original conception of a thing, if he can at will bring or not bring that thing from nonentity into the universe of contingent entities, and if in willing it into existence he exercises an element of power that is wholly other than and apart from that of his Creator, then the provision of such initiatives must be an utter impossibility. If he cannot do those things, he cannot be an originator of moral character. In making man a free being, capable of originating volitions, God was compelled in the deep necessities of things to leave his future unsettled, unfixed, and unknown. And in making man such a being, he bound upon himself the solemn obligation of varying his treatment of him in the way of rewards and punishments, smiles and frowns, in exact accordance with his self-originated volitions. Freedom in the creature necessitates this modified mutability in the Creator.

" In the world," says Dr. Domer, "God must live an historical life, a life that is conditioned by man's use of freedom. For neither Omnipotence nor divine love holds undivided sway over man. His freedom is a co-operative factor, and his own acts condition both the operations and the communications of God. Neither intellect nor heart can be satisfied with a view of God which represents him as remaining eternally the same, for present, past, and future, instead of his position and feelings assuming a form correspondent to man's character." These earnest thoughts of the great thinker cannot lightly be set aside by the logical inquirer. Dr. Domer wrote me that he had read my book with great satisfaction and agreed with me in most of my propositions.

Morality, moral character, moral government, accountable beings, and the creation of the universe, all necessitate freedom in the Creator. Accountability, conscience, rewards and punishments, consciousness and likeness to his Maker, all necessitate untrammeled freedom in man. Freedom necessitates objective initiatives, and objective initiatives necessitate subjective incipiencies, and absolute incipiencies have their origin necessarily in the volition of a free-will, a will possessing the power of alternative choices. These subjective incipiencies can have no existence, therefore, until they have been originated by a sovereign will, and hence they are unforeknowable. "Even God," said Dr. Jamison, a rigid Calvinlan, "cannot know what his future choices will be until he has determined those choices." Perfection of Deity necessitates his freedom, and his freedom necessitates incognizable things. "Deny contingency, and all in morals and religion worth contending for vanishes out of sight," said Dugald Stewart. "Better deny prescience than contingency,'' said Dr. Tappan in his review of Edwards. Philosophical thinking logically necessitates the existence of an infinite Being. The perfection of this infinite Intelligence necessitates his freedom. This freedom necessitates that the distinction between liberty and constraint should be as radical as the distinction between matter and mind, or the distinction between accountability and unaccountability, or that between spiritual powers and material forces. This radical distinction between liberty and constraint necessitates the absence of all analogies between them whether considered in themselves, or in the laws of their freedom, or in the products of their activities. Analogy between free volitions and constrained sequences is inconceivable. The absence of all analogies between constrained sequences and free volitions analogically necessitates that there be also a distinction in the mode of their prognosis. For when two subjects differ in every known particular, analogy requires that they should differ in a specified unknown particular. Therefore if constrained sequences require prescience, free volition must require nescience.

But freedom in an infinite Intelligence necessitates also contingencies. Contingencies are and must be instantaneous originations in the absence of all eternal conceptions thereof. Contingencies originate in no anterior causes, but are created by beings possessing the power of inception, and alternative choices necessitate present nescience of what may be the elective exercises of this alternative choosing power.

We thus see that the Divine nescience of future contingencies is a necessity grounded in the profoundest necessities of things, and hence cannot be regarded as an imperfection in the Deity. Prescience and originality are incompatible propositions. But to originality Divine nescience is absolutely indispensable.