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Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity

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

Chapter X.

Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies is a Necessity, to an Explanation of of the Utility of Prayer.

Attempts of the greatest minds and devoutest spirits, to explain the philosophy of prayer, have been numerous, Herculean, but confessedly unsatisfactory, if not abortive. "When God turns aside the arrow from his praying child," says J. W. Alexander, " he does what he foresaw to be done from eternal ages." "Prayer," says Dr. C. Hodge, "has the same causal relation to the good bestowed as any means has to its end." But if the prayer be ordained how can it be causal to the good bestowed? "It is essential to the idea of mind-power that it should be free to act when, where and how it pleases," says Dr. Hodge. According to this, there can be no mind-power in prayer, for that prayer was sovereignly ordained by God. :But if one is constrained to pray, as Dr. H. teaches, then one who does not pray is constrained to restrain prayer, and cast off the fear of God. If one who prays moves as he is moved upon, so does he move as he is moved upon who restrains prayer, because each feels the duty of prayer with equal imperativeness. How much less unreasonable the statement of a noted infidel that "the nature of this immense universality of things having been eternally adjusted, constituted and settled by the profound thought, perfect wisdom, impartial justice, immense goodness and omnipotent power of God, it is the greatest arrogance in us to attempt ally alleviation thereof through prayer." If God has fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass, your self-crimination for your neglect of the solemn duty of prayer would make Aristotle question you,' sanity or your sincerity or excite hi, gentlemanly mirthfulness over your illogical folly. "The prayer of the Calvinist," says S. Baring-Gould, "is as illogical as the prayer of the fatalist or the Mohammedan."

But to explicate the utility of prayer, under the pressure of the assumption of prescience of all future contingencies, would necessitate equally the dialectic scorn of the founder of logic. For if God foreknows all future contingencies, they now lie in his mind as immutable realities. They can be modified by no power short of the infinite. My prayers are either voluntary or they are involuntary. If they are involuntary, I am a machine, and liberty is impossible and necessity is unavoidable. If my prayers are voluntary, they may or they may not be presented before the throne of grace. But whether I pray or do not pray it cannot affect the cognition of which God is now perfectly conscious. But that which he now foreknows, one may reply, he foreknows as the result of what he foresees I will freely do. But suppose he does foreknow merely as the result of my voluntary prayer, still his present foreknowledge is subjectively infallible and objectively it is immutable. But if his foreknowledge is now infallible and immutable my voluntary prayer is absolutely inevitable. If my voluntary prayer is objectively inevitable, then there can be no conceivable grounds for me to be solicitous or to give myself the least uneasiness as to its actual performance. There is no possible need for me to bestir myself or distress myself or condemn myself on tire subject of the disc]large of this imperative and fundamental duty. There is no conceivable arena on which I can exercise my choice and put forth my volition. The logical and practical effect of my belief in divine foreknowledge is precisely the same on my faithfulness in tire discharge of the duty of voluntary prayer as could be my belief in the eternal and unconditional decrees. I never can infract or modify that which God now infallibly foreknows. And this is true, though I am the arbiter of my own fate, the architect of my own immortal destiny. There stands God's immutable foreknowledge; my prayer or my non-prayer cannot change it in a solitary particular. I can no more affect that future reality which corresponds to divine foreknowledge than a babbling brook in its lisping murmuring could command the cataract of Niagara to check its rushing and plunging, and to cease forever its mighty thunderings.

I know I have not prayed enough in all the past, and that I have lost immeasurably in all my interests from my neglect of prayer, but, if absolute prescience be true, I have always prayed just as much and just as fervently as was exactly correspondent to the divine foreknowledge thereof which he has possessed from all eternity. Prayer means that God will do for a soul, on condition of its compliance with the duty of prayer that which he will not do if that condition is not complied with. If the condition be complied with it effects changes in God, or prayer is a meaningless institution. If, from its purely human side, prayer can effect no real changes in the infinite mind and heart, it is an institution destitute of both sense and utility. Put if prescience of contingencies be true, how can prayer exert the slightest influence in changing the thoughts, feelings, purposes and volitions of Deity? Upon the hypothesis of prescience, prayer can effect no changes in God. Thus one of the sublimest of all the sublime institutions of the Christian religion, one of the grandest of all the moral engines, stands forth before the world, not draped in the respectable habiliments of mystery, but in the disheartening garb of tantalizing absurdities. The truth is, that no theological thought or principle has yet been presented to Christendom that can light us on our way to the center of the philosophy of prayer. Philip Schaff says Richard Rothe is the greatest man Germany has produced since Schleiermacher, and he exclaims, "If absolute prescience be true, prayer be-. comes not only nonsense, but an inexcusable absurdity." But the simple principle of divine nescience of present nonentities of future contingencies bathes the whole subject of prayer, in all its profundities and heights, in all its comprehensiveness and power, in all its philosophies and results, and in all the wisdom of its adoption and blessedness of its efficiency, with an effulgence that satisfies the philosopher, soothes the believer, and inspires the pleader before the awful throne. It arrests the bending heavens, hails into immediate consciousness Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and opens wide the hand filled with infinite benefactions, for all those who, renouncing all sin and relying exclusively upon the atonement, inquire of God "to do these things for them," and to whom he hath most graciously said, "While they are speaking I will hear."

A scientist who refuses to repudiate a principle that bothers him perpetually because it was taught him by a revered father, and rejects an hypothesis that works satisfactorily in every combination, will soon empty his lecture, room, and drop out of the eye of the devotee of science. And the student in theological mysteries who adopts similar procedures cannot reasonably hope long to escape a similar neglect and oblivion. Divine nescience of future contingencies is needed to make prayer reasonable, comprehensible, natural, real and completely effectual and all-prevailing.