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Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity

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



MY ESTEEMED FRIEND: I thank you for the opportunity you gave me of reading the manuscript of your new work on the "Divine Nescience," and I desire to express to you the deep interest and pleasure with which I studied it, and I am glad to be able also to say that I received from it much spiritual profit.

The Infinite One is so great and his perfections so unsearchable, and yet his relations to us so profound and far-reaching, that every attempt made in a reverent spirit, and with a candid desire to know more of his nature, and to understand better his relations to us, ought to be received with the same reverent spirit and the same candid inquiry. Such an investigation, too, though it may even fail of the whole truth, ought to be of moral and spiritual benefit to both the author and the reader. With such a spirit I feel assured you have pursued these studies, and with such a spirit, I trust the public will read the result of your inquiries.

No one can doubt the sincere honesty with which you have sought for the truth in regard to these profound questions, and every student must feel the weight of your profound thought, exact logic and clearness of statement. But when one is led by his investigations into a line of thought and to conclusions different from those which have obtained in general belief, he must expect to enter upon a field of battle. The world-even the learned world-no more readily receives new doctrines, or new forms of doctrine, now, than in the ages when men suffered martyrdom for their faith, and the world exacted it of them. The happy advance made in this respect in our day is, that the martyrdom is intellectual, and no longer by fire or the sword.

It is not easy to convince men of a truth that differs from commonly-received doctrine, and even when convinced of the new truth, the world is still slow to give up the old. That you advocate a view of the Divine foreknowledge essentially different from that which has been most widely held by all schools, of course you know, and that the onus probandi rests upon you. A belief in a certain mode of statement of these recondite elements in the divine nature, however old or however nearly unanimous, does not of itself determine the truth of such statement, but it creates so strong a presumption in its favor, and gives it such intrenchment in the accepted knowledge and faith of the world, that he who would change it challenges a great battle which will long and earnestly wage about him, even if the truth is on his side.

Of course, no one will claim that we have yet found out all about God, and I take it the field into which you have entered is a legitimate one for fresh and candid inquiry. Certainly there are difficulties still remaining, profound and far-reaching, in these higher, and, perhaps I should say, speculative realms of theology, which no present theory of belief has yet been able to solve. Neither Calvinism or necessity on the one hand, nor Arminianism and liberty on the other, solves all difficulties, nor can a solution be found in an eclecticism which would combine parts of both. It is certain a much nearer approach to a satisfactory theology has been made by Arminianism by discarding the theory of the eternal decrees and its logically-consequent doctrines of election, reprobation, and necessity; but it is equally certain that Arminianism has not freed us from all difficulties, and especially from those very serious embarrassments which you have so ably discussed, growing out of the doctrine of the divine foreknowledge of contingent or volitional events.

All thinkers have felt these embarrassments, and most have been compelled to hold them in abeyance as unsearchable things in the depths of the divine Being. Certainly no one should complain that you are willing to search in these depths, and out of your thought to offer to the world what seems to you the promise of a still nearer approach to a satisfactory solution of these questions than even Arminianism offers. It is certain that it is difficult, perhaps I should say impossible, for the intellect to conceive the possibility of even the divine Mind foreknowing events that are wholly dependent on what shall be the free choices of free beings. It is also difficult to see the difference, in real and practical fact, between the certainty of a divinely foreknown event and the necessity of it, and to clear such a certainly foreknown event from the same embarrassments as would arise from its necessity. But there is difficulty also, and perhaps greater, in conceiving of God as not being able to foreknow even a contingent event; or, in other words, to think of God as ignorant of or unknowing the future doings of his free beings. From the former difficulties we may be forced to take refuge in our inability to comprehend them; but from the latter difficulty there has been an instinctive tendency in all ages to recoil. True, this tendency may be the result of the world's habit for ages of assuming that God does know and foreknow all things, even the future actions of free beings, and does not of itself prove it to be so, leaving it a legitimate field for you to show if possible that it is not so.

That your argument is strong, profound, clear, and courageous, every candid reader will admit. Whether it is conclusive or not will be settled by the large, and, I trust, fair criticism which your book will evoke.

Your able argument, I think, clearly leads to this conclusion at least, that while with regard to the difficulties of Calvinism, or the theory of necessity, you are able to show, and in a very masterly manner do show, that "these things can be." This shows the immense advantage gained by Arminianism over Calvinism by eliminating the divine fore-ordination. It is possible, as you show in your argument, to gain many other points by eliminating also the divine foreknowledge of contingent events; but whether by thus clearing or relieving some difficulties, it does not create others as serious or more so, must be left to the just criticism which competent scholars will give to your book.

I would not attempt to express in this short letter any criticism favorable or unfavorable of your theory, but do desire to convey to you my high appreciation of the learning, scholarship and patient industry exhibited in your work. I rejoice that you have been able and willing to this book, and hope you will soon give it to the public, feeling quite sure that it will give rise to a flow and current of fresh thought that will be healthful and invigorating in this day, when so disproportionate a share of thought is given to minor and material things. After all, "the greatest study of mankind" is not man, but God, and he is a beneficent worker who leads us nearer to God, and gives us glimpses even into the profounder mysteries of his greatness and glory.

I remain very truly yours,

                                                        I. W. WILEY

CINCINNATI, Dec. 10, 1881.