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Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity

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

Chapter XV.

The Reality of Time Makes Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies an Imperitive Necessity.

DR. BORDEN P. BOWNE, Professor of Philosophy in the Boston University, says, (see "Zion’s Herald," March 6,1879:) "We do not hesitate to call the doctrine of foreknowledge untenable, if it be assumed that time is real." Than this it would be difficult to find higher authority. The reality of time is, therefore, an exceedingly important question in the discussion.

Barnes, Emerson, Swedenborg, Drs. Haven, Hovey, Bowen, M’Cosh, and hosts on hosts declare that time is an objective reality.

Dr. L. P. Hickok says: "For place it was a prerequisite that there should have been space, and for period it was a prerequisite that there should have been time, and that both time and space be illimitable and immutable. Places and periods change in space and time, but make no changes of space and time. Time and space are concretes."

"Time," says Noah Porter, "is the ultimate reality which makes finite existence and activity either possible or even conceivable. It is the eternally possible ground of action and of creation." Julius Mueller says: "Time is an objective reality. Every derived being requires time in order to the realization of its existence." "I can imagine that God does not exist, but I cannot imagine that time does not exist," says Joseph Cook. Victor Cousin says, "Can you conceive of an event happening except in some point of duration? Deny duration and you deny all the sciences that measure it. By denying duration you destroy all the natural beliefs upon which human life reposes." "I hold," says Sir William Hamilton, "that time and space are real conditions of things." "We cannot conceive of the non-existence of duration," says the wonderfully acute Samuel Clarke.

"Justice to Kant," says Dr. E. B. Andrews, Professor in Newton Theological Seminary, "requires it should be said that he does not intend in his discussions to take away, in the least degree, from the reality of time." "Kant," says Sir William Hamilton, "nowhere denies that time is a reality." "Kant," says Trendelenberg, "proved that time and space are subjective a priori conditions of perception and of experience. But he did not prove that they were only subjective conditions. He did not prove that they are not also objective realities." Vanpelt and others affirm that Kant really believed in the reality of time and space.

The angel who set one foot upon the sea and one upon the earth, and swore time should be no more, must have conceived of time as an objective reality. He knew that that event had a beforeness and an afterness which in some way must be distinguished in his conceptions. The reality which embraces that beforeness and afterness we call duration. An object existing necessarily suggests the space it occupies; and an object enduring necessarily suggests the duration it endures. The form of the object is addressed to the eye, the duration of the object is addressed to the reason. This conception of the duration of the object has an external occasion as truly as the perception of the object has an external origin.

Between 1800 and 1882 there is an interval of something. Between 1882 and 1990 there is another interval of the same something. The number of such intervals is endless. This something must embrace all intervals. But if this something embraces all intervals it must itself be beginningless and endless. If it be beginningless and endless it can embrace all epochs. This something is not a thing nor an object nor an agent nor a force nor an entity nor a principle nor a cause, nor can it act or be acted upon. It is the same whether events transpire or not. Successions of events suggest the necessity of this undefined something. Without the reality of this something there could be no succession of events. If no mind had ever existed and no event had ever occurred, this duration would have been just as much a reality. God might have made the world one thousand years before he did. Between that and creation did he not note the interval of duration? No illusion is possible as to the reality of beforeness and afterness. Hence, with that angel time was not a mere ideal subjectivity. Change necessitates duration, and things and the interaction of things cannot escape their relations to duration. God himself conceives of time as a reality: for at a definite point in it, he perfected the incarnation of his dear Son, and at another definite point in it, he accomplished the redemption of the human race.

Bishop E. O. Haven says: "As it regards the assumption of some that the categories of time and space are simply the imperfections of finite thought, and do not inhere in the divine intelligence and in the nature of things, I can only say that I do not believe it. I would as soon say that all the intuitions of the reason, such as right and wrong, are phantoms. If that is so, Hegel is right, existence and non-existence are the same thing. This affectation of supernal wisdom that emancipates the soul from the primary conditions of being is simply shutting the eyes, ceasing to think, and substituting an unborn dream for a clear conception."

Dr. M. Raymond says: "The non-existence of time and space is inconceivable. And when one says that they are mere subjectivities, mere conditions of being, to my thought he knows neither what he says nor what he means to say."

To all this overwhelming testimony as to the reality of time add that of universal consciousness. "In spontaneous thought," says Dr. Bowne, "time is the true condition of the world." Common consciousness never does question the reality of time, and the critical consciousness rarely has done so, and then only in the perplexities of recondite speculations. With such a weight of evidence, how is it possible for any inquirer to avoid the clearest conviction of the reality of time? "Making time," says one, "an independent being, sins against the law of reason, which forbids all plurality of principles." But time is not a principle. It can do absolutely nothing. It is a mere passive, independent reality, in the absence of which events would be impossible. "Time," says one, "is regarded as identical with eternity." Time is duration with a beginning and with an ending. Eternity is duration without a beginning and without an ending. All intervals of duration are embraced in eternal duration.

Dr. Bowne has, I think, written more profoundly than any other upon the time question. Much, however, of what he says would have been needless had it not been for the defenseless assumption of those who believe in the reality of time. One may show the untruthfulness of the definitions men have given to time, and still fail to show the non-existence thereof. But by his wonderful acumen, penetration, grasp and comprehension, he emerges grandly, and wholly unfractured and unblemished, from the terrible fray. He silences, I think, forever, the ideal theory of time. No philosophic genius, henceforth, will ever venture to stand at its grave and bid it come forth again to annoy the republic of thinkers. The view he reaches is, he says, "a compromise between the realistic and idealistic theories of time." "Time," he says, "as an independent reality, is purely a product of our thinking. In this sense the world is not in time. But change is real, and change cannot be conceived without succession. In this sense the world process is in time. A being which is in full possession of itself, so that it does not come to itself successively, would not be in time. Such a being can be conceived as having a changeless knowledge and a changeless life. As such it would be without memory and without expectation, but would be in the absolute enjoyment of itself. For such a being the present alone would exist, and its now would be eternal. For those who can see the Infinite as such a being, the Infinite must have a strictly non-temporal existence. All change in the Infinite, as thus conceived, would not be a succession of different states, but a ceaseless conservation of the same state. There would be neither past nor future, but an abiding present."

In my work on "Foreknowledge," page 259, I pointed out the important distinction of God’s subjective life and his objective life. I said: "In God’s subjective nature his consciousness may not be a process of becoming and of passing away. This view may be necessary to maintain his subjective absoluteness. But, then, God must have an objective life in the vast world of contingencies. And in that life there may be in his consciousness a becoming and a passing away without in the least affecting his subjective absoluteness. God’s knowledge of his ideal of the world is not identical with his knowledge of the world as it is actually realized through the agency of free beings. This objective realization of the divine ideal through such agency, though it cannot modify the absolute being of God, must be regarded as a process of becoming, and hence must be an increase in the knowledge of God in regard to pure contingencies.

God’s objective life, that is, his life, experience, interest and enjoyment, as they are projected into and modified by his created universe, must necessarily be contingent. In his subjective life there is no such thing as contingency, failure or disappointment. There every thing is, in every respect, absolutely perfect, and is just what God desires and intends. This subjective life, in all its completeness and blessedness; high, sacred, changeless, fathomless and eternal; is forever past finding out. Of the glories of his subjective life even archangels can gain but glimpses in their sublimest conceptions and most searching inquiries. Such the subjective life of the triune God has ever been, and such it will always remain. But his objective life is as contingent as the choices of accountable beings are contingent.

While God is contemplated exclusively in his subjective and necessary mode of existence, his relations to contingent events and the relations of contingent beings to him, must forever baffle elucidation. If there be a contingent universe, it can be explicable and comprehensible only in the contingent relations which the Creator sustains to it. The overlooking of this truth, and the consequent failure to distinguish necessities in the divine life from contingencies therein, occasions many and grave errors.

As God’s objective life, that is, his life in contingent objectivity, must necessarily be contingent, therefore to rob him of the world of contingency is to rob him of that ever-changing interest, care, effort and benevolence, which a constantly expanding universe requires, and also of that ineffable enjoyment which an ever-varied contingency necessitates in the successive life of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is this constant binding up of necessities with contingencies that forms the great source of confusion in theology and philosophy. How much wiser, therefore, would it be to keep these incompatible things separate and distinct in all our contemplations of God? This distinction between the subjective and objective existence of Deity can never fail to illumine the closet with a steady light; to invigorate, in every devout worshiper, faith in the fatherhood of God; in his special providence; his watchful loving care; and the reasonableness and deep significance of prayer, as one of the great controlling forces of the moral universe."

Dr. Dorner, in his recently published work on "Christian Doctrine," in like manner sustains my views of the subjective and objective life of God. He says: "Absolute Being is not subject to succession, because he is steadfast in the flux of all temporal things. God in his internal being is exalted above time, above the succession of moments. Above temporal developments, by his eternal absoluteness. This eternal self-containment of the absolute Being in his internal eternity is the pre-supposition and basis for both the negative and positive statements as to the relation of God to time and space. In the divine independence of time and space there is already a union signified of the self-containment of God and his altruistic containment of transcendence and of immanence. From his internal absoluteness, which elevates his being above extension and succession, God cannot decline. But if he cause a world to exist it is a logical necessity that he have a positive relation to time and space. His relation to time and history must be a various relation if there be a progressive world. God cannot have an eternally similar relation to past, present, and future time. If to him longer and shorter durations are equivalent; if relative to him one thing is not past and another present and another future, but every thing collapses into one point of the present, then history is a mere semblance devoid of results. God works in harmony with his world idea, in which is eternally involved what is new in a temporal aspect, but which is by no means so realized temporally that creative causality exhausted itself in the first act. He wills every thing in its season. Were God free from time and raised above time, he really would not be free. He possesses not only a transcendent existence in himself, but a transitive existence, an immanence in the world. He lives not merely an eternal life of love in himself, but a temporal becoming of his self-communication takes place. And thus his life of love in the world is subject to historical progress. With him there must be a difference between what is now past and what is present, and between the present and the future. God can no more regard the past of a converted sinner as present than he can look upon the future of the unconverted man as present. If, according to Augustine, God, sees the past and the future as present, he would not see them as they are, and therefore he would not see them truthfully. There must be movement in things. God’s interventions in time are conditioned by the nature of those things which the creature causalities have evoked. There are things which are not the effects of the divine will. Divine knowledge accompanies step by step advancing time and the developments taking place therein. And God’s effective volitions have the same progress. There is a mutation in the divine consciousness, and this mutation is reflected into the divine will. Time, therefore, can be no mere subjective notion."

Thus the great Dorner sustains my view of the subjective and objective lives of God. And Dr. Bowne in his recently issued "Metaphysics" takes the same ground. He says: "It is only in the self-centered personality that we transcend the conditions of time. But God is not merely the absolute person; he is the founder and conductor of the world-process. This last brings God into a new relation to time. This process is a changing process, and hence it is in time. The activity of God, therefore, in the process is essentially a temporal one, and God himself is in time so far as the process is concerned. As he is the chief agent in the process, and is incessantly adjusting his activity to the several stages of the process, both his activity and his knowledge of the advancing reality must be in time. A changeless knowledge of an ideal is possible, but a changeless knowledge of a changing thing is a contradiction. So knowledge of reality at any moment must embrace reality as it is; and if in the next moment reality has changed, the knowledge must change to correspond. The infinite, therefore, must be in time so far as the world-process is concerned, as this involves sequence in both action and knowledge."

Thus we see that one who, Joseph Cook informed me, is "the most distinguished metaphysician in New England," one who, Dr. D. Curry says, "is one of the greatest metaphysicians in this or any age," one whom the great Tholuck pronounced to "the greatest mind ever given to Germany by America," reaches my identical conclusion, that with God, in his objective life, there are succession and time. Time, therefore, is a reality.

And if we must admit the reality of time, Dr. Bowne, a mind richly endowed for theological speculations. Pronounces absolute prescience to be utterly "untenable." He perceived that the assumption of the reality of time logically necessitated divine nescience of contingent futuritions. And to conserve his early convictions, upon divine foreknowledge, he sought for proofs of the unreality of time, in the fathomless depths of Deity. In those depths he did perceive that the absolute One, in his absoluteness, could never be linked to either time or space. And from this he hastily inferred that time could not be a reality. But in his subsequent meditations upon God, in his objective, contingent state and life, he was compelled to affirm the reality of time, in order to escape many manifest absurdities.

If we do not study God through the human soul, how can we ever know him? And if we do study hum in his relations to objectivities and to free-accountable causalities, through logical mental processes, we can never avoid limiting him by the absolute necessities of succession in events and duration as their measure. If the necessary laws of thought are not binding upon God, we can never know any thing satisfactory of him. All we can ever know is the necessary existence of a vast unknown, inscrutable, portentous power, of which we must stand in perpetual dread and awful apprehension.

Deny the reality of time; chain me in a duration-less eternal now; rob God of all change; congeal him into the iceberg of indifference which prescience necessitates; prohibit him from changing in his feelings toward me, when from obduracy I turn and break in penitence at his feet; forbid him sympathizing with me in the perplexities of my way, and in the tragedies of my probation; and deny to him the interest, sympathy, and tenderness which alone can be born from a future unfixed and uncertain both for him and for me; and you fill my Bible with obscurity, my theology with paralyzing doubts, and you wrap in distressing gloom the glorious cross of Jesus Christ.