Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity
By L. D. McCabe, D.D., LL.D.
Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies is a Necessity, in the Nature of Things.
By the nature of things I mean the nature the Creator gave them and the relations he instituted between them. Unless there be some element of my nature that in its voluntary exercise is independent of Deity, morality or immorality is impossible. Morality implies power freely to volitionate concordantly or discordantly with the will of God. There is absolutely no other place on which to posit accountability.
Accountability must necessarily rest on the exercise of a power that in its exercise, taken in a governmental sense, is wholly independent of the wishes, volition and purposes of the supreme Ruler.
I know that I can originate moral or immoral acts, simply because I am an accountable being. I cannot be accountable unless I am just as free and just as capacitated to choose disobedience as I am to choose obedience. This is so axiomatic that it never would have been denied, save in the prepossession of a theological theory, which was regarded as necessary to a complete system of theology. But, if possible, I have a stronger proof that I am an absolute originator in the fact that I can freely originate sin, a thing which I know God hates perfectly, dreads equally, and cannot look upon with allowance. He has no use for it, for he regards it as the great disturber of the peace and welfare of his moral universe, the great disorganizer and defeater of his glorious purposes. It is amazing blasphemy to charge in the remotest manner or in the least degree upon Deity the origin of sin, that great enemy of all happiness, whether finite or infinite. The great mystery that has been thrown over the origin of sin is merely the result of undue theological assumptions and false theories. You can to-day choose or refuse to forge a note. If you choose to forge one, you do it freely and without constraint, as your conscience, your consciousness and your self-degradation all unmistakably attest. But if you do it you emphatically originate sin. If you sin when you are not necessitated to sin you originate sin, and whoever first originated sin originated it just as you did; and really there is no more mystery about the origin of sin, notwithstanding all the ponderous tomes written in its explication, than there is about any willful sin of your every-day life. But I will return to this point in subsequent polemics.
Reason, remorse, conscience, accountability and the moral government of God, all unmistakably fix the origin of sin in the human will, and not a single element, or filament, or fiber of it originated any where else. The simple and single choice of a free will was the absolute incipiency of moral evil into the moral universe. Prior to that choice sin had no inception. If I am an originator, my determination before I made it had no previous incipiency. If it had no previous incipiency, then its previous incipiency had no existence. It was a nonentity, and if it was a nonentity it was unknowable; for if one nonentity is knowable then all nonentities are knowable, and this would fill the infinite Mind with an infinite number of nonentities. But this is painfully absurd. For God can no more know all nothings than he can do all nothings. How absurd the doing of a nothing, but equally absurd is the knowing of a nonentity. Indeed, knowledge of a nothing is self-contradictory, and my free choice before I made it is a nothing. "But a nothing," says Worcester, "is a nonentity." Knowledge necessarily involves the certainty of that which is known. Being must be the correlate of knowledge.
Now I affirm that in both of these positions Dr. Hodge is right. For the reason or the cause why one act and not the other takes place must be something brought to bear upon the will from without. If we locate the incipiency of an act in something objective to the will, then something objective to the will constrains it as effectually as would the eternal decree of God. But if we locate the incipiency of an act in the pure will itself, and not in something objective to tire will, then there is, without the least controversy, no possible sign or criterion or evidence to indicate what the future choice of the person will be.
"A free act," says Dr. L. P. Hickok, "hangs in perfect suspense. It comes with a touch, and a voluntary touch determines it." Now, I say, if a voluntary touch of a free-will determines the act, previously it must have been undetermined. No reason, motive or cause outside of the will can be the cause of the free choice of an accountable act. A free act is an absolute beginning, and cannot be represented by any factors previous to its occurrence. When we admit the existence of pre-existing factors or subtle influences or objective temptations to furnish evidence what the choice will be, we destroy the freedom of the will and break down our accountability.
True, there must necessarily be occasions for the will to act, and there must be opportunities for it to choose between alternate motives. These occasions are reasons, considerations addressed to the intellect, or motives addressed to the sensibilities. Without a soul and objects to be desired, and desires and reasons for acting, the will could not act. These are the general conditions of voluntary action. The intellect and the sensibilities being under the law of cause and effect, reasons and motives can act on the will only according to the same law, whereas the will acts under a law totally dissimilar. Few mental discriminations are more marked ill their differences than the distinction between the action of the law of liberty and the action of the law of cause and effect. The action of the law of cause and effect is always shut up to a single result, while the action of the law of liberty is never shut up to a single result. The will may elect one or another or none of many alternates. In the action of the law of cause and effect the effect is always the measure of the cause and the cause is the measure of the effect; while in the action of the law of liberty the effect is seldom in proportion to the motive which is presented as the occasion of voluntary action. The action of the law of cause and effect can never achieve the least moral character, while the action of the law of liberty always creates moral character, and moral character is conceivable or possible under no other kind of action.
Things which are so unlike as the action of the law of liberty and the action of the law of cause and effect ought surely to be expressed by terms suggestive of their nature and of their radical differences. The word constraint expresses the action of the law of cause and effect. But I know of no single word that expresses the action of the law of liberty. I, therefore, venture to make one, and call it personic action. Surely personic is a word as idiomatic as sermonic, and much more needed in the language. Any man has a right to make a new word, if it be needed, and the idiom is preserved, says Dr. Campbell. Personic action implies the power of alternative choices. Its voice is sovereign over all the occasions of volition, and autocratic in its action over all testing, proving, antecedents. A person is a being who can elect between competing reasons and conflicting motives, and then from original resolves.
And right here is the power of personic action to achieve moral worthiness. The great doctrine of justification by faith implies that in that work something is done by man which, as a condition, necessitates something to be done freely by God. This something done by God is necessitated by divine promise conditioned upon man's compliance with the required conditions of repentance and positive faith. This something done by man has necessarily its incipiency in human freedom. This human incipiency necessitates a divine incipiency. The human incipiency could have had no previous existence. The divine incipiency, therefore, could have had no possible anterior other than a pure uncertain contingency. Personic action being wholly sovereign and independent of constraining influences, there is nothing to indicate its final determination. To foreknow that determination is, therefore, knowing without any possible foundation for the knowledge. And to know without evidence is certainly absurd.
Still, the prescient freedomist may imagine that he has a way out of this difficulty in the fact that while God foresees the future free act, he sees also that the free agent will at the very time possess power to choose differently.
But this long-cherished and much-repeated fancy of the Arminian arises from his strangely confounding two propositions which are perfectly distinct. "It is now certain that I will choose life or death," is confounded with the proposition, '' It is now certain that I can choose life or death.""It is now certain that in the future I can choose life or death" is a proposition that expresses the present certainty that I shall be able or shall be capable of choosing either life or death in the future.
But this alternation refers to the theoretical question of human liberty, a purely speculative question of philosophy. But the alternation expressed in the proposition, "It is now certain that I will choose life or death," refers not to the speculative question of moral liberty, but to the practical question of the actual exercise of that faculty.
The former alternation refers to a theoretical doctrine, and has none but logical results in a thought system. But the alternation expressed in the proposition, "Iwill choose life or death," is a question of fact, a practical question of tremendous interest, and it is attended with everlasting results, delightful or dreadful. One alternation refers to the existence of the faculty of freedom, the other alternation refers to the actual exercise of that faculty.
If foreknowledge be true, there can be now no alternation as to the specific future exercise of my capability of freedom. If there be no alternation as to the future exercise of my faculty of freedom, then the proposition, "I will in the future choose life or death" is meaningless and very vexatious. The proposition is an absurdity if one of the two alternates is already certain: "Iwill in the future choose life," "I will in the future choose death." If these propositions are not alternates, there is no ground of their alternation, and if there is no ground for their alternation, then the proposition "Iwill in the future choose life or death" is meaningless, and was framed only to deceive and mislead me.
For the certainty of one of two alternates destroys the alternation, and prevents the two alternates from being alternates. If there is ground for the alternation, the two events are alternates. But if they are alternates, each taken singly must necessarily be uncertain in itself. The present certainty that either A or B will take place is a very different certainty from the certainty that A and not B will take place, John will go north is a proposition that means something. It expresses a specific fact. John will go north or east means something. It means an alternation. It means that uncertainty attaches to both routes. The moment you give certainty to either of the routes you make the proposition John will go north or east meaningless and tantalizing. The only way you can give to this proposition any sense at all is to deny any present certainty to either of the directions. Foreknowledge renders this proposition nugatory and void of significance, by giving certainty to one of the two routes. Prescience, then, must unavoidably be rejected by every consistent and logical libertarian. A surrender of prescience is indispensable to the respectability of Arminianism. God must know things as they are, or his knowledge is unreliable. His knowing things as they are necessitates that he perceive the uncertainty as to which of two alternates will eventually come to pass or be determined. Alternation, in the nature of things, necessitates subjective uncertainty in the divine mind. The state of omniscience is, therefore, a state of uncertainty as to which of the alternates will certainly come to pass. And this snatches from the hand of the Arminian prescientist his long-cherished, fallacious fancy. But enough has been adduced to show that, in the nature of things as divinely constituted, divine nescience of future contingency is an unquestioned necessity.