Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity
By L. D. McCabe, D.D., LL.D.
Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies is Necessary to the Divine Perfections.
Many reasons can be adduced to prove that absolute prescience is not necessary to divine perfection. For our present purpose we will state but two. had God never created any thing, he still would be absolutely perfect. In the second place, if the prescience of contingencies be necessary to the perfection of omniscience, then the existence of objective contingencies is necessary to that perfection. But this would make the perfection of omniscience to depend upon the existence of the objective, and not upon his subjective nature, which is manifestly absurd. But you may reply that it is the power to foreknow future contingencies, and not the actual foresight, that is necessary to the perfections of omniscience. But as well may you say that the power to do all things is essential to the perfection of omnipotence. Yet there are things which it is impossible for Omnipotence to do; such as opening and shutting a door at the same instant of time, or creating a good character in the soul of one uniformly volitionating evil. But your affirmation that the power to foreknow is essential to [he perfection of omniscience, is a mere assumption, for omniscience was absolutely perfect in the absence of all thought of future contingencies. But, on the other hand, if such manifest teachings of the Scriptures as the doctrine of endless punishment, sincere offers of life to all men, and the universal atonement for the race, be all true, then absolute prescience would be an imperfection in Deity, so grave as not only to overthrow God's moral government and to ruin his universe, but also to ruin, in all ways, the great I AM Himself. Why should God entreat those to accept of his salvation who were foreknown to reject it?
But, on the other hand, divine nescience of future contingencies is positively necessary to the perfection of Deity. To his perfection as an intellect, as a thinker, as a heart, as a moral character, as a being of candor, as a Creator taking pleasure in his creatures and as a universal Ruler.
I. Nescience is necessary to that perfection of the divine intellect.
It is the instinct of all intelligent beings, however wicked they may be, to ascribe all perfections to the Deity. But man, being limited, may regard that a perfection which is really an imperfection. Having been created in the intellectual image of his Creator, he must have been originally a truthful illustration of that image. What is necessary to the perfection of the finite copy may confidently be looked for in the infinite model. Man possesses the susceptibilities of novelty, surprise, wonder, astonishment, sublimity, beauty and variety. Could all such implanted principles be removed from his nature and still he remain in the intellectual image of God? If not, then these susceptibilities must be qualities of the divine Mind. But how can God ever experience surprise, wonder, astonishment or unexpectedness, if free beings have not capacities, in their fathomless freedom, thus to surprise and delight the Father of the universe? Why does infinite variety reign everywhere if God does not dread everlasting monotony? It is the nature of mind to be active. It dreads inactivity and unbroken repose. It must' be industrious, it must delight in originating, in creating, in meeting unlooked-for emergencies, in honoring unlooked-for drafts upon infinite mercy, and in accomplishing vast and various results by single efforts and simple agencies. But prescience makes the infinite intellect all inglorious idler from everlasting to everlasting, all his works having been accomplished in conception from eternity, lie can intuit whatever exists, or exists in existing causes, but prescience makes him to intuit nonentities. But this being self-contradictory would be an imperfection in the divine intellect.
If I am capable of personic action, and can hold in sovereign control divine influences competing for my suffrage and service, then I am capable of alternative choices. Hence if God now knows all my future choices, he also knows all the alternate choices which I might, but which I may not, make. But this would fill the divine Mind with countless millions of worthless unrealities, and the intellect that can hold in its perpetual consciousness realities and unrealities, principles and non-principles, histories and non-histories, facts and non-facts equally definite, can neither be perfect, sound, safe, healthful, nor worthy of infinite adoration.
2. Nescience necessary to God's perfection as a thinker.
"All thought," says Sir William Hamilton, "is comparison." I do not myself see how this can be questioned. Our understanding is our comparing faculty. The greatest of man's achievements intellectually is the full development of the understanding. But prescience sweeps at once the great faculty of the understanding, the elaborative faculty and all logical influences out of the infinite Mind, and without the comparing faculty he has, and can have, no power of consecutive thinking. It would be impossible for him to place thoughts in a logical order or to think of things in their sources, dependencies, relations, consequences and possibilities. "God cannot know one thing before another, and one thing after another," says John Wesley. If this be so, then thinking in the abstract, generalizing, classifying, conceiving of the undetermined, estimating probabilities and following forces in their results and dependencies, are all with him impossibilities. Entrance upon the grand realms of the abstract is forever denied him. "There can be," says Dr. Jamison, "no succession of thoughts in the divine Mind." But God himself says, "I know the thoughts that I think toward you," they are "thoughts of peace, and not of evil." Jer. xxix, I I. "Even two volitions in succession," says Dr. Jamison, "would destroy the simplicity of the divine essence." If this be so, God makes worlds and burns them up, creates souls and binds them in everlasting chains, invites them to his love and fixes an impassable gulf between them and himself, and millions of other self-contradictory things, all in one and the same volition. Such tantalizing absurdities may be, and I suppose are, the logical sequiturs of the assumption of absolute prescience.
But nescience of future contingencies secures to Deity an intellect free from all such contradictions, and presents for our admiration a mind of unspeakable perfections, activities and resources, conceiving, imagining, inferring, calculating, originating and thinking with unutterable grandeur, and always to sure issues and with magnificent realizations.
3. Nescience is necessary to the perfection of Gods fatherly heart.
"I have thought for years," said a worthy and thoughtful minister of Christ, "that if God now knows that I will be lost, it is already certain that I will be, and it is no relief to me to be told that foreknowledge does not necessitate my certain fate. It is the solemn fact that I will be lost that concerns me, rather than the agency by which my destiny is determined." This is perfectly natural, and it was the present uncertainty of his future destiny that aroused all his immortal energies to make his calling and election sure. So long as he believed his future to be now certain he was paralyzed into suspense and inactivity. If God is now certain that I will be lost, he knows that any further anxious, tender solicitude concerning me will be of no possible avail. It is impossible for him, in the nature of things, to feel relative to an immortal soul as he would necessarily feel were he in profound uncertainty over his future fate. The suspense, doubt, apprehension, alternation between hope and fear, and the fervent desires of infinite Benevolence relative to the endless destiny of his immortal child, which divine nescience requires, are indispensable to that tenderness of the infinite heart, and to that degree of parental solicitude and fatherly care which as a father he unquestionably owes to his deathless offspring, traveling the hazardous path of trial, to the judgment of the great day. God left Hezekiah on a certain occasion, it is said, (2 Chron. xxxii, 31) to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart. God tried him in order to see what was in his heart. "Forty years," said Moses, "hath he led thee in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no." Here light for us breaks in on the feelings and workings of the infinite heart of the universal Father. How the anxious Father's heart is berayed into the expressions, "If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness," ... and "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." "Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea."
4. Nescience of contingencies is necessary to the perfection of God's moral character.
The perfection of an ideal universe requires the creation of moral beings. By moral beings I mean beings who can be happy only from a consciousness of voluntary obedience. But if God foresees all contingencies he can create such free beings as he knows will choose obedience. In such a creation he would have an ideal universe, without the horrors and sorrows of endless perdition. Those he foresees will choose right, will choose it just as freely as the obedient do now choose it. In order to get free agents and all the moral sublimities of moral freedom and moral achievements into the universe, there was no necessity of creating souls he foreknew would be lost. Rewarding right-choosing free agents clearly implies law, penalty, government and the necessity of punishing wrong-choosing free agents. For choosing the right is always done under the conviction that choosing the wrong is not only inevitably but necessarily to be punished. By such a safeguarding of his moral universe all the ends of divine government, all the perfections of his creatures and all the effulgence of his throne, would have been amply secured without the creation of those he foreknows will choose disobedience, and be forever degraded and unhappy. God cannot be infinitely benevolent if he creates individual beings whom he foresees will be eternally miserable, he could not create such beings without a plan reaching from eternity to eternity, if prescience be true.
But no plan, purpose or consideration could ever justify such a procedure. Infinite benevolence would insist with a thousand imperative voices, rather than create individual souls foreknown to be eternally wretched, let no accountable creatures be created at all. Far better that multitudes should never know the boon of existence, or the rapture of basking forever in the beams of infinite wisdom and benevolence, than that one immortal soul should endure anguish and degradation forever. To me immortal existence has fathomless significations, and ever-increasing attractions, but notwithstanding this I would greatly prefer annihilation to seeing one of my children among the forever-lost--a fate to which I know they are now exposed. But what is my narrow, meager, limited benevolence, in comparison with the boundless benevolence of the Father of mercies? No plan that requires as a factor, your foreknown endless suffering, can ever be justified, at the bar of an infinitely perfect moral character. "Never would God have created men who were foreknown to be wicked," says Augustine, "had he not seen how they would finally subserve the ends of goodness." But, what ends of goodness could justify God in such a terrible creation? Create souls foreknown to be wicked in order to subserve the ends of goodness! .What aid, vindication or illustration did goodness need? How could divine goodness be justified, much less vindicated, by creating souls foreknown to dwell in everlasting burnings?
If from all eternity God foresaw that you were to be eternally miserable, and still, with all these terrible realities before him, he allowed you to come into existence, it is the baldest mockery for him now to ask you to obey and worship him, and to seek his favor and presence. But if an accountable being, unforeseen, chooses to be disobedient, then right, justice, universal order, the necessities of good government and the endless welfare and progressions of the moral universe, all demand inexorably his punishment. Between the sinner-and his punishment God cannot interfere without violating immutable moral distinctions. Neither mercy nor benevolence dare ever to interfere. For endless separation of the incorrigible froth the presence of God, in conscious existence, must be preferred, terrible as it must be, to the desolating march of universal anarchy throughout the moral universe. But would you not shudder through all the depths of your being to witness God in the act of creating an individual soul, feeble, limited creature who he knows will be degraded and suffer forever?
If the perfection of divine goodness, and the desire to prevent suffering, and the desire to preserve His moral universe in moral beauty, do not necessitate divine nescience of future contingencies, then all human analogies, are simply worthless in any divine investigation. That a pure, happy, self-sufficient being, could desire, plan, bring about, permit or infallibly foreknow, all their iniquities, terrible scenes and sufferings of this world and the endless anguish of millions in the world to come, is a proposition that is too shocking for a sensibility developed, refined, enlightened and harmonized by the Gospel of God's grace.
No considerations, no ends, no final causes, could ever justify God, before an intelligent universe, in violating absolute rectitude, or in overriding freedom in free agents, or in outraging benevolence, either in planning wickedness, or in desiring its inception, or in creating individual souls who he foresaw would certainly be wicked and miserable and everlasting blotches upon his moral universe. Were I to allow my child to cross a bridge, after I had been variously assured she could not attempt it without meeting a most excruciating death, I should be justly execrated. Logic vouchsafes to me no safer inference than that nescience of contingencies is necessary to safeguard the moral character of Jehovah.
5. Nescience of future contingencies is necessary to safeguard the divine candor.
God said, "I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose ye life." If after this solemn address he had added, "But I know you will choose death, and all my arrangements are made up on your choice of death; I have made your choice of death a working factor in my future plans; upon that choice I have made thousands of predications, reaching in their influence round the globe and through all time;" could he in any way, I inquire, have so effectually eliminated all efficiency from their will-power and binding force from His commands? Could he in any other way have so thoroughly discouraged his struggling children, or enfeebled their purposes in their honest efforts to elect between eternal life and eternal death?
And if lie certainly foreknew their choices candor sternly required of him to make it known to them. In uttering this heart-felt entreaty he clearly assumes that he does not foreknow their ultimate choices.." God teaches us," says Rudolf Stier, "Matt. xxi, 37, that he makes trial of goodness in men just as he would did he not know beforehand in what cases it will prove in vain." And in this entreaty God certainly assumes that there is valid ground for the alternation between the alternates of obedience and disobedience. And if he assumes it, how dare any creature call it in question? "A capacity for alternate action," says L. P. Hickok, "or a cause which has an alternative, is itself no ground for determining which of the two shall come to pass." Now, if there was not in this command any ground for alternation between the choices, then the command was cruel and double-dealing in the extreme.
If a future event is now certain it is unreasonable in Deity to implore me to change from the choice of sin to the choice of holiness. "It is for us," says Dr. Chalmers, "to do strenuously that which God has commanded, and never allow ourselves to think of what he knows relative to our future, for these are mysteries too deep for us." But Christians in multitudes, in all evangelical Churches, live in the most intimate and tender fellowship, secret understanding and delightful oneness with the Father of their spirits. But how incongruous with this state of grace and nearness to God that the devout soul should never enter into questionings relative to God's knowledge of its endless well-being or misery? God simply trifles with me if he commands me to choose and to act in reference to that which to me is an uncertainty, but which to him is a positive certainty. To affirm that God requires me to act as though an infallible certainty were an actual uncertainty is simply blasphemous toward God and paralyzing toward all my moral energies. Should God command me to act as though the morrow's sun were an uncertainty he could not play a part with more heartless insincerity. God calls me to act promptly, under his moral government, with an earnestness that is unspeakable; and yet, if prescience be true, I can never act as a probationer for eternity but under the: inspiration of an unquestioned delusion that my future choices are now real uncertainties, and that it is now possible for me to do an impossible thing, namely, to change my infallibly foreknown destiny. No learning, no greatness, no ingenuity, can ever defend from ignominy the divine candor if absolute foreknowledge be true.
6. Nescience is necessary to God as a Creator taking happiness in his creatures.
God takes pleasure in every thing that he makes. If moral government has any significance, it means smiles for the obedient and frowns for the disobedient. It means the divine presence for the moral hero, and the divine absence for the incorrigible. If the Ruler sees all the future as he sees the present, then he is the subject of the most conflicting emotions of approval and disapproval toward every individual of the race. He is subject to this conflict of emotions at every moment of time, corresponding to every variety of conduct and changes in the moral character of his creatures. But how can God entertain such conflicts of emotions, such contrarieties of contemporaneous feelings, at every moment, without disturbing the harmonies and the equanimities of his eternally blessed and blissful nature?
Once God frowned upon me, and I felt his frown burning into my soul. It was a terrible reality with me because it was a terrible reality with God. Now God approves of me, and no angel words can express the delight I find in his presence and smile. His feelings toward me now, and his feelings toward me when I was an impenitent sinner, if there be no succession with him, would be crowded into the same moment and into the same experience. And that which is true of me is true of the countless millions of my race.
If prescience be true, God can take no enjoyment in creatures morally so vacillating and imperfect. But divine nescience shelters us from all such absurdities, and shields Deity from such imperfections in his heart-experience and continuous life.
God's present feelings toward me are those of a Father. I am trying to obey him. ,There is now no shadow between him and my soul. Jesus Christ reigns in my heart; his blood is cleansing me, and the Holy Ghost is carrying forward the sublime work of my recreation in the divine image unto good works. But if God now knows that eventually I will apostatize, all such fatherly feelings would be utterly impossible. Adam fell out of Paradise, and Satan fell out of heaven from a place hard by the throne; and God says to me, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
7. Nescience is necessary to Gods perfection as a ruler..
For the infinite Cause of all things to rule the universe by the law of cause and effect presents to him no difficulties. To rule accountable beings when all their acts are foreknown presents few if any more difficulties than to rule in the realm of material forces. Foreknowing every determination of every free being, with all their attendant circumstances and influences near and remote, he can arrange for them as easily as he can control a planet bursting into fragments.
But the great perfection and boundless resources and unutterable glories of a Ruler are brought out and set forth in ruling a universe of independent, accountable beings, of whose countless choices he never can be forecertain. How his power, wisdom, goodness, ubiquity, watchfulness, care for his universe, tenderness for the loyal, jealousy for the law, desire for good government, interest in morality and religion, and solicitude for the well-being of his sensitive creatures, all shine forth in transcendent brightness as he meets the millions of emergencies thrust upon him every moment by the unforeseen choices of responsible beings !
How ennobling a view does this statement present to us of the divine sovereignty! How meager, perplexing and offending the divine sovereignty which foreknowledge or foreordination has to offer for our contemplation. Foreordination deliberately outlaws all contingencies from the divine government. Foreknowledge assures us that there are such things as contingencies, but that God does not possess resources sufficiently ample to safely manage them without having absolutely certain prevision of them. Compared to eternity, time is but a moment and earth but a pebble in God's boundless domains; and yet they think him incapable of meeting the emergencies of a period so brief and on a theater so limited.
The grandeur of the divine sovereignty which is here advocated, and requiring divine nescience of future contingencies, immeasurably transcends in glory that presented by either the advocates of prescience or of predestination. What unspeakable glories burst forth from the divine sovereignty as we behold the infinite Ruler adjudicating on myriads of arenas countless individual cases with all the precision, forms, and solemnities of forensic procedures, and instantly administering rewards and punishments therefor! In comparison how pitiful the divine sovereignty of the advocate of predestination, election, preterition or of absolute prescience. Calvinian divine sovereignty is reckless of every thing else in theological thought.
The divine sovereignty here presented is a sovereignty over sovereigns, not a sovereignty over mere machines or passive instruments, under the reign of mechanical philosophy. With many unmistakable voices God is now saying to me, "I do not absolutely know what you, as a free being, will sovereignly choose in my kingdom of free grace, but I am a most deeply interested spectator of your conduct on the great moral battle-fields for eternity. I was absolutely forced to run a momentous risk when I made you a free being, and you must run a solemn risk in making your endless destiny. But there is no necessity of any miscarriage as to your immortal interests. I will stand by you with my immortal strength in every moment of the fight. If you do right I will reward you in ways innumerable; but persistent wrong-doing and incorrigible disobedience must necessarily separate you eternally froth my glorious presence. I have a specific plan for you, but that plan is conditioned wholly upon your obedience to the many and mighty voices of duty. The excellencies and advantages of that plan you cannot now conceive, and I cannot now reveal. But if you sovereignly choose to infract that plan by persistent disobedience, I am here to maintain justice, to sustain order, to give full significancy to law and all its penalties, and to carry forward, from height to height, the perfections of my moral government".
If the contradictions, perplexities, bewilderments and enervations inseparable from prescience and predestination could be swept out of existence, and every man could hear such direct appeals as the above from his Creator, the world would be half converted while I am speaking.
No ruler ought to be angry with a subject before he has violated his law. But prescience makes God sit in judgment on me, sentence me, adjust my punishment, arrange for my endless abode in perdition with Satan, long before I committed the least offense against his law. How absurd a ruler who can find it in his heart to be angry with one before that one has felt a rebellious emotion! If I am the creator of my own moral character it is cruel in God to regard me as hateful before my character is such. The Calvinian expresses a hurricane of resentment when told that he teaches the damnation of infants, but the prescient Arminian teaches the damnation of the infant millions of ages before it was an infant. I would as lief be damned out of my cradle as to be damned myriads of years before my mother folded me so tenderly therein)
God's perfection as a ruler requires that his treatment of his subjects should vary with their ever-varying character of their volitions and moral attitudes. This is absolutely indispensable. Any other view of his governmental relations makes him so inconsistent, unnatural and despotic that he is an object to be dreaded rather than loved and adored. How can it be that all do not see that the perfection and splendors of the divine Ruler and Sovereign actually demand divine nescience of future contingencies? Nescience presents to us the sovereignty of God with most impressive magnificence as he goes forth over the boundless universe overcoming all difficulties, and arresting, as far as possible, all evils which are inevitable in the government of beings whose choices originate in the depths of their own free-wills. Besides, if God meet with no difficulties in the management of his empires of accountable beings, how can he perfectly sympathize with us in our great and hazardous difficulties in working out our eternal destiny, escaping a world of unending darkness, and finally, through boundless mercy, reaching a world of ineffable light?