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Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity

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

Chapter XII.

Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies is Necessary to a Universal Atonement

Absolute prescience coerces us, "nolens volens," over a thousand texts of Holy Writ teaching the doctrine of an atonement that is universal, to the distressing dogmas of a limited atonement and a partial redemption of the human family. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," is the uniform testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures. "Jesus Christ by the grace of God hath tasted death for every man," is the unvarying declaration of the new covenant. The bottomless depths of these mysterious passages of God’s holy Word we shall never be able fully to sound—certainly never in this life. But if they do not teach that I am individually under special obligations to the Redeemer, obligations too wide and high and deep for my present power of conception, then language is too imperfect an instrument, even in the hands of infinite wisdom, for any reliance in the communication of revealed thought. But that which Jesus Christ did for me individually, in his great work of atonement, he did for every other man in the wide, wide world. If there was any suffering, humiliation, commiseration; if there was any dying love, any thing hard to surrender or terrible to endure in the depths of the great atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross; if there was any significance in the spikes, the spear, the scoffs, the thorns, the vinegar, and the hiding of his Father’s face, it was all endured for each and for every soul of man. Jesus made for every man ample provision for the pardon of all his guilt. He made it possible for him to exchange a demon nature for an angelic one. He restored to him the forfeited power of alternative choices. He incipiently regenerated his soul up to the point that would make it possible for him to perceive, to hear, to feel and to embrace the great salvation. And, besides all this, he purchased for him the extraordinary influence of the Holy Ghost in a plenitude greater than was vouchsafed even to unfallen Adam. "Jesus Christ by the grace of God tasted death for every man." This means that he suffered for every individual of the race as specifically and individually as though he died for each alone. All the elements involved in a sacrificial death for a specified man were involved in the propitiation Jesus made for the whole world. Through an atonement he could not have procured for a single person more benefits or privileges, nor could he have advanced any higher claims upon his personal gratitude and obedience, than he did for every individual of the race. If any man on earth has any spiritual deliverance or any gracious privilege it is only through the sacrificial sufferings of Jesus Christ. But where could be the wisdom or the righteousness, justice or propriety, of making such costly provisions, reaching to such innumerable particulars, effecting such moral changes in nature and relations to the Infinite for the whole race, and also satisfying infinite justice for all men, when it was certain that all such provisions and satisfactions would never be availed of or improved or embraced by a portion of the human family? Why undergo the agonies of the crucifixion, why meet the powers of the violated law, why pass into those mysterious shadows exclaiming, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" for all those foreknown to be incorrigible reprobates? How needless and wasteful for the Redeemer to groan in atoning, to travail in the bitterness of his soul, and to implore in the depths of his pity for the salvation of one foreknown to be a vessel of wrath fitted only for destruction? What father could provide a library for an idiotic son, or a throne for an insane one? And could the Redeemer be less wise to provide a throne in heaven for one foreknown to be an outcast, and to be bound in everlasting chains? But such excruciating provisions were not only unwise and useless, there was in them really a refinement of cruelty. Christ, in making a propitiation for the sins of the world, placed upon the incorrigible unspeakable obligations which he knew would be wholly disregarded, thus intensifying the darkness of their eternal night.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says, "Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified or saved but the elect only." The late Dean Stanley, that prodigy of sweet spirit and elegant diction, commenting upon this passage of the Confession, says: "Looking calmly upon this statement, it is hardly possible to conceive that the doctrine it contains, however crudely expressed, could be objected to by any human being." The most excellent Dean had a strange frailty in leaning leniently toward many fundamental religious errors. But in this case he was as logical as Aristotle himself. His penetrating eye saw that the assumption of absolute prescience necessitated the truth of a limited atonement. This earth has already passed through very many epochs, ever emerging, however, from a state less perfect into one more perfect, with more beauty of form and for the accomplishment of higher ends. New developments and new eras and new missions await in the future history of our globe. Innumerable epochs may lie in the far-reaching world-plans of Jehovah. It is certain the holy Scripture prophesies of a state in which the order of things will be entirely dissimilar to that order which now obtains in the earth. We know with what precision and accuracy God adjusts his creations. Even if a pebble should drop into annihilation out of the solar system, astronomers tell us, nothing but the interference of an omnipotent hand could counteract the influence of its loss and preserve in equilibria the disturbed and rocking celestial systems. And so, doubtless, in the creation of the human race he resolved upon the exact number of immortal souls who should take their incipiency in a human body "wonderfully and fearfully made." This precise number may have had important relations to other parts of his great temporal plans. For each one of this precise number of deathless souls the great Redeemer did or did not suffer and die. The commercial view of the atonement is, that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, and, therefore, it must be a limited atonement. The United Synod of Scotland said: "Many assert that Christ made atonement for all men, and thus infringe the sovereignty of divine grace and encourage the presumption of the sinner; therefore the synod enjoins all its ministers to be on their guard against introducing discussions or employing language which may seem to oppose the doctrine of a particular redemption, or that Christ in making an atonement for sin was substituted in the room of the elect only, and which may unsettle the minds of the people on this point or give occasion to members of the Church to suspect the purity of our faith." Dr. Cairns, of Scotland, in the recent Pan-Presbyterian Alliance, said, "In the sense of ultimate salvation, none are redeemed by Christ but the elect only." Dr. Miley, one of the soundest and broadest of living Arminians, and author of a most valuable work on the atonement in Christ, said to me: "To harmonize the doctrine of absolute prescience with the universality of the atonement is a difficulty I have never yet penetrated; it is an enigma I have never been able to so1ve." "I see not now," said Bishop Wiley, "how we can possibly escape a limited atonement if absolute prescience be assumed." But a limited atonement robs the Bible of one of its transcendent glories, a universal atonement in Jesus Christ. To rob the world of such a fact and such a thought would fill it with anguish and dismay which nothing could ever alleviate. How infinitely painful the consideration of such a thought! Every true minister of Christ preaching salvation to perishing congregations would grow ghastly or petrified lest he might be addressing some poor immortal child for whose salvation no provision had ever been actually made. The sorrow, the sighing, the unutterable oppression over the announcement of only a limited atonement for the human race would not be confined to this mundane sphere.

Angels would sympathize, weep, be silent and wonder-smitten, over the unspeakable woe and merciless reality. But, millions on millions of thanks be given to Jesus Christ, the adorable Redeemer of the human family, a limited atonement is not true. It is alike unreasonable and unscriptural. It is too horrible for conception, and much more for utterance. It is an unmitigated slander on God’s holy Word. It is a blasphemous reflection upon the value of Christ's death, upon the efficiency of the Holy Ghost, and the sincerity of God in offering life to all mankind.

But with the establishment of the doctrine of a universal atonement absolute prescience is demonstrated to be utterly untenable.

Divine nescience of future contingencies establishes, firm as the heavens, the truth of an unlimited atonement made by him who "was a propitiation for the sins of the whole world."

Prescience affirms necessity, champions pantheism, paralyzes prayer, annihilates the sanctions of endless retributions; but we now see that it braves anathemas, in denying that the glorious atonement was ever intended for the whole world.