Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

that in the fulness of time he would send forth his Son to "suffer for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God," he must have also foreseen the contingent obliquity of man which called for this stupendous act of divine benevolence. Indeed, no truth in the whole Bible is more firmly established than this. The sacred volume is replete with predictions of the contingent actions of men, both good and evil, as well as the rewards and punishments which in the divine economy were administered unto them; and holy men of old spake of these things only as they were moved by the omniscient Spirit of inspiration. It is hence unaccountable how a believer in revealed truth should adopt the following sentiment: "As it does not follow that, because God can do all things, therefore he must do all things, so, although God is omniscient, and can know all things, yet it does not follow that he must know all things.” If omniscience were indeed merely the power to know all things, then it does not necessarily follow that he must know all things; and yet as this argument itself grants the possibility of his knowing all things,

scriptures already adduced prove the certainty of the fact But it is not true that omniscience is merely the power to know, as omnipotence is the power to do all things. The comparison is not just. The very meaning of the words will determine this pointOmnipotence means all power, i. e., an infinite capacity to act; not an infinite exertion of the divine energy. Nor, indeed, does it necessarily imply any exertion of the divine energy, as omnipotence was possessed by God before any created substance existed. But is it not too much to say that omniscience does not mean all knowledge, but only an infinite capacity to know; that it does not necessarily imply the actual possession of any knowledge; and that consequently in some of the remote ages of eternity there may have been a period when God had not exerted his capacity to know, and when the divine mind was nothing but an unfilled blank.' If the argument founded upon the foregoing parallel conducts us to any conclusion at all, it conducts us to this conclusion. But the truth lies here: omnipotence is infinite power to exert, not infinite erertion; and omniscience is infinite knowledge, not infinite power or capacity to know. Besides, as one weil remarks, “ The notion of God's choosing to know some things, and not to know others, supposes a reason why he refuses to know any class of things or events, which reason, it would seem, can only arise out of their nature and circumstances, and therefore supposes at least a partial knowledge of them, from which the reason for his not choosing to know them arises. The doctrine is therefore somewhat contradictory.”—(Watson's Institutes, book ii, chap. 4.) But that God does really foreknow contingent events, we have clearly seen from Scripture testimony.

But there are some who admit the foreknowledge of God upon the ground of his having foreordained all things whatsoever cometh to pass. They therefore deny that any events are contingent. They argue that the foreknowledge of an event is incompatible with its contingency. But God foreknows all events: therefore no event is contingent. The conclusion is justly drawn from the premises; but there is the difficulty. We dispute the first term. The foreknowledge of an event is not inconsistent with its contingency, and VOL. X.-Jan., 1839.

6

therefore, though God foreknows all things, yet many events may be contingent. By a contingent event we here mean an event that transpires through the influence of free agents, and thus stands in opposition to a necessary event, or one that transpires through the instrumentality of necessary agents. A contingent action is therefore one which takes place in obedience to the unconstrained choice of a free agent. Now the question is, How does it appear that the foreknowledge of an event is inconsistent with its contingency? Observe, the question is not, How does it appear that the foreordination of an event is inconsistent with its contingency, that is, with its freedom? If this were the question, we should readily reply, that an event absolutely foreordained cannot be contingent or free, nor can the instrument employed in bringing about such an event be a free moral agent; nor yet can he in any sense be accountable for the event. If all events were of this character, we might well ask, "How, then, shall God judge the world ?" But the true question is, How is the foreknowledge of an event consistent with its contingency? May we not ask, Why should it be deemed inconsistent? What influence has the bare foreknowledge of an action upon that action ? Surely not the least. Suppose you visit the chamber of legislation, where the senators are legislating for the country. A bill is brought before them—it is read—its merits are discussed—it undergoes various modifications, and is finally constituted a law. All this is done in your presence, to your certain knowledge, but without

any

of
your assistance.

Does your knowledge of their ac-
tions make the senators necessary agents, or destroy the freedom
of their actions, or prove that they were not free? Did your know-
ledge exert any more influence in causing these actions than your
ignorance would have exerted in preventing their occurrence?
Notwithstanding you had a perfect knowledge of all the facts in the
case, did not the agents in the premises act perfectly free? Now
the knowledge of man, so far as it goes, is precisely the same as the
knowledge of God, as appears from the argument of Scripture-
“He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know ?" for "here
the knowledge of God is supposed to be of the same nature as the
knowledge of man.” It is therefore manifest that the knowledge of
God has no influence upon human actions at the time of their occur-

And it is also manifest that it has no influence upon any event before that event is produced. The certain foreknowledge may exist for millions of ages in the mind of the Deity, while the event is slumbering in nonentity. Let it not be said that the divine prescience is engaged in predisposing the circumstances that shall superinduce the event. This is not the work of prescience, but of predetermining influence, which is quite a different thing. Let not the one be confounded with the other, and there will be no difficulty in admitting what we have already proved—that the simple foreknowledge of an action does not impress upon that action any influence, whether causal or otherwise. Joseph's certain knowledge of the seven fertile and seven sterile years had no influence in determining the seasons of plenty and of scarcity with which Egypt was visited. True, his knowledge of these events induced him to adopt measures during the seven plentiful years to keep the people alive during the seven years of famine: but neither his knowledge

rence.

[ocr errors]

of the future, nor his provident exertions in behalf of the nation, had any influence upon the occurrence of the events in question. If it should be said (which cannot be proved) that these events were not contingent, I answer, it matters not; for, if an event be necessary, it will be foreknown as necessary; if it be contingent, it will be foreknown as contingent. Thus Isaiah, being taught of God, foreknew the downfall of Babylon, together with many of the means which superinduced that event; many of which were sinful to the last degree; such, for instance, as the impious bacchanals of Belshazzar and his courtiers, which, among other things, led to the ruin of the city; surely, they were not appointed by God, but were left contingent, unless indeed God be the author of sin! Here then is a plain proof, from among many which might be produced, that the foreknowledge of an event is not inconsistent with its contingency. I need scarcely remark, on the foregoing case, that the knowledge of Isaiah had no influence upon those events which did not transpire until so many years after they were predicted; and that consequently the events would have transpired whether he had foreknown them or not. They did not transpire because he foreknew them, but he foreknew them because they prospectively transpired.

We now have, we think, fully established our position, that the divine foreknowledge is not inconsistent with the contingency of events. But probably some will still contend that the certainty of the knowledge proves that the events foreknown are not contingent. But there is no force in this argument, unless it could be proved that certain foreknowledge is the same with necessitating influence; for we should like to be informed how any thing besides necessitating influence can preclude the contingency of an event, or, in other words, make it a necessary event.

With respect to the certainty of the divine prescience, Mr. Watson remarks, “ That certainty and necessity are not at all connected in the nature of things, and are, in fact, two perfectly distinct predicaments. Certainty has no relation to an event at all as evitable or inevitable, free or compelled, contingent or necessary. It relates only to the issue itself, the act of any agent, not to the quality of the act or event with reference to the circumstances under which it is produced. A free action is as much an event as a necessitated one, and, therefore, is as truly an object of foresight, which foresight cannot change the nature of the action, or of the process through which it issues, because the simple knowledge of an action, whether present, past, or to come, has no influence upon it of any kind. Certainty is, in fact, no quality of an action at all; it exists, properly speaking, in the mind foreseeing, and not in the action foreseen; but freedom or constraint, contingency or necessity, qualify the action itself, and determine its nature, and the rewardableness or punitive demerit of the agent. When, therefore, it is said that what God foresees will certainly happen, nothing more can be reasonably meant than that he is certain that it will happen ; so that we must not transfer the certainty from God to the action itself, in the false sense of necessity, or, indeed, in any sense; for the certainty is in the divine mind, and stands there opposed, not to the contingency of the action, but to doubtfulness as to his own prescience of the result." - Institutes, part ii., ch. 28.

Having thus illustrated our first proposition, that all the events of futurity, whether necessary or contingent, are fully known to God; and having placed this truth upon its proper basis, we may now pass to another part of our subject. It may not be amiss, however, to pause a monient to answer a question which an objector might suggest, namely, "Why does God possess foreknowledge if it is not influential upon his own conduct or that of his creatures ?"

I answer, It is necessary that God should possess this attribute, as the want of it would be an imperfection; and this cannot be predicated of a being absolutely perfect.

Again; it is necessary that God should be a prescient being, in order that his purposes may be prudent and his counsels judicious. And the consideration of these divine counsels and purposes shall occupy the second division of our discourse.

PROPOSITION II.-That God, according to his foreknowledge, has devised counsels and formed purposes which have respect to every event that transpires in the moral world.

That the doctrine herein contained is taught in the Scriptures can pe readily shown. The Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, (i. 11,) speaks of "the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” And the Apostle Peter speaks of “ the determinate counsel" as well as the “ foreknowledge of God.” This determinate counsel has reference to the economy of divine grace, and the dispensations of providence toward the children of men. By his certain foreknowledge he devised his counsels; in these originated his wise and holy purposes; and these have reference to what he permits, controls, prerents, and appoints in the moral world. We say the moral world; for we have now nothing to do with God's operations in the physical world. Let us notice,

1. The character of those events which, according to the purpose of God, he has permitted to transpire. This is readily shown in a familiar example—the introduction of moral evil into our world. This is an event which he has permitted to occur: for if we say, with the Supralapsarians, that, having foreordained all things whatsoever cometh to pass, he hath, consequently, not merely permitted, but appointed the existence of moral evil, we most manisestly convict ourselves of the horrible blasphemy of making God the author of sin! For if he has positively foreappointed the existence of moral evil, it matters not what instruments he may employ in carrying out his designs, he alone is accountable for the act. And thus he who has appended the most awful sanctions to his law, in order, at least ostensibly, to keep men from sin-he who continually expostulates with his creatures in the most pathetic manner, “O do not that abominable thing which my soul hateth”—he who calls himself “a God of truth and without iniquity-the Holy One of Israel”-he himself is the greatest sinner, and indeed the only proper sinner in the world! I shudder at the blasphemy, and immediately revert to my Scriptural position, which has been admirably expressed by the poet, in the well-known lines,-

“No evil can from him proceed,

'Tis only suffer'd, not decreed.” The good husbandman has sown nothing but good seed in his field, and if tares have been sown, “an enemy hath done this.”

If it be asked, Why has God permitted moral evil to exist, I answer,

First. If we could not solve this problem, yet our argument would not in the least be vitiated, as it is a matter of ocular demonstration that God has permitted moral evil to exist, even as it is a matter of logical demonstration and Scripture proof that he has not appointed its existence. And what if we cannot assign any reason for its permission ?

Secondly. But we are not left altogether in the dark on this point. God made man free-a moral agent; and as such liable to fall; as soch he did fall. The prince of British poets has handled this subject well, where he introduces God speaking of man on this wise :-

I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall,
Not free, what proof could they have given sincere
Of true allegiance, constant faith, or love,
When only what they needs must do appear'd,
Not what ihey would ? What praise could they receive?
Useless and vain, of freedom both despoil'd,
Made passive both, had served NECESSITY,

Not ME.” Now, he could not have been created a free, moral agent, without the liability of moral defection in the exercise of his free agency. It was enough that God invested him with sufficient moral power to stand; that is, to preserve in violate his pristine purity. And if, by a continued course of holy moral conduct, he had placed himself beyond the influence of temptation, and had weakened, if not destroyed, the liability to moral defection, his free agency, according to his original constitution, and his consequent unconstrained obedience, would reflect more honor upon his great Creator and Governor than if he had been created a necessary agent, and had consequently been bound to the throne of heaven by the ponderous chain of invincible fatality. All the world acknowledges the superiority of free obedience to that which is constrained. But this free agency, as we have seen, involved the liability of moral defection ; and here is one reason why it was permitted by God.

Thirdly, God foresaw the apostasy of man, and permitted it, because he foresaw at, in the event of this contingency, he would adopt measures to counteract it, and he permitted, not appointed it, with this design, that where sin abounded grace should much more abound. And we are to “blame not the bowels of the Deity,” if the “standing” of the human family be not "more secure," and all the circumstances of their being far more enviable than those of our first parents before their shameful lapse. For that God designed that all their posterity, as well as themselves, should be raised to a greater height of moral excellence, through the redemption there is in Christ Jesus, than that at which they were placed at their creation, seems manifest from the argument of the apostle, in the concluding paragraph of the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. For here he evidently places the "one man's offence," with the ruinous consequences thereof, in one scale, and “the abundance of the grace of Christ, and of the gift of righteousness," in the other, causing it greatly to preponderate, and the preponderation is directly in favor of our argument.

« НазадПродовжити »