Heaven seeth all, and therefore knows the sense
Of the whole beauteous frame of Providence.
His judgment of God's kingdom needs must fail,
Who knows no more of it than this dark jail. -- BAXTER.
One part, one little part, we dimly scan,
Through the dark medium of life's feverish dream;
Yet dare arraign the whole stupendous plan,
If but that little part incongruous seem. -- BEATTIE.
Though we have taken great pains to obviate objections by the manner in which we have unfolded and presented our views, yet we cannot but foresee that they will have to run the gauntlet of adverse criticism. Indeed, we could desire nothing more sincerely than such a thing, provided they be subjected to the test of principle, and not of prejudice. But how can such a thing be hoped for? Is all theological prejudice and bigotry extinct, that an author may hope to have a perfectly fair hearing, and impartial decision? Experience has taught us that we must expect to be assailed by a great variety of cavils, and that the weakest will often produce as great an effect as the strongest upon the minds of sectarians. Hence, we shall endeavour to meet all such objections as may occur to us, provided they can be supposed to exert any influence over the mind.
It may be objected that the foregoing scheme is |new theology.|
If nothing more were intended by such an objection, than to put the reader on his guard against the prejudice in favour of novelty, we could not complain of it. For surely every new opinion which comes into collision with received doctrines, should be held suspected, until it is made to undergo the scrutiny to which its importance and appearance of truth may entitle it. No reasonable man should complain of such a precaution. Certainly, the present writer should not complain of such treatment, for it is precisely the treatment which he has received from himself. He well remembers, that when the great truths, as he now conceives them to be, first dawned upon his own mind, how sadly they disturbed and perplexed his blind veneration for the past. As he was himself, then, so ready to shrink from his own views as |new theology,| he surely cannot censure any one else for so doing, provided he will but give them a fair and impartial hearing before he proceeds to scout them from his presence.
It is true, after the writer had once fairly made the discovery that |old theology| is not necessarily true theology, he could proceed with the greater freedom in his inquiries. He did not very particularly inquire whether this or that was old or new, but whether it was true. He felt assured, that if he could only be so fortunate as to find the truth, the defect of novelty would be cured by lapse of time, and he need give himself no very great concern about it.
Not many centuries ago, as everybody knows, Galileo was condemned and imprisoned for teaching |new theology.| He had the unbounded audacity to put forth the insufferable heresy, |directly against the very word of God itself,| that the sun does not revolve around the earth. The Vatican thundered, and crushed Galileo; but it did not shake the solar system. This stood as firm in its centre, and rolled on as calmly and as majestically in its course, as if the Vatican had not uttered its anathema. Its thunders are all hushed now. Nay, it has even reversed its former decree, and concluded to permit the orbs of light to roll on in the paths appointed for them by the mighty hand that reared this beautiful fabric of the heavens and the earth. Even so will it be, in relation to all sound views pertaining to the constitution and government of the moral world; and those who may deem them unsound, will have to give some more solid reason than an odious epithet, before they can resist their progress.
We do not pretend that they have not, or that they cannot give, more solid reasons for this opposition to what is called |new theology.| We only mean, that an objection, which, entirely overlooking the truth or the falsehood of an opinion, appeals to prejudice by the use of an odious name, is unworthy of a serious and candid inquirer after truth, and therefore should be laid aside by all who aspire to such a character.
It may be imagined that the views herein set forth limit the omnipotence of God.
This objection has already been sufficiently answered; but it may be well to notice it more distinctly and by itself, as it is one upon which great reliance will be placed. It is not denying the omnipotence of God, as all agree, to say that he cannot work contradictions; but, as we have seen, a necessitated volition is a contradiction in terms. Hence, it does not deny or limit the divine omnipotence, to say, it cannot produce or necessitate our volitions. It is absurd to say, that that is a voluntary exercise of power, which is produced in us by the power of God. Both of these principles are conceded by those who will be among the foremost, in all probability, to deny the conclusion which necessarily flows from them. Thus, the Princeton Review, for example, admits that God cannot work contradictions; and also that |a necessary volition is an absurdity, a thing inconceivable.| But will it say, that God cannot work a volition in the human mind? that omnipotence cannot work this particular absurdity? If that journal should speak on this subject at all, we venture to predict it will be seen that it has enounced a great truth, without perceiving its bearing upon the Princeton school of theology.
If this objection has any solidity, it lies with equal force against the scheme of Leibnitz, Edwards, and other philosophers and divines, as well as against the doctrine of the foregoing treatise. For they affirm, that God chooses sin as the necessary means of the greatest good; and that he could not exclude sin from the universe, without causing a greater evil than its permission. This sentiment is repeatedly set forth in the Essais de Theodicee of Leibnitz; and it is also repeatedly avowed by Edwards. Now, here is an inherent impossibility; namely, the prevention of sin without producing a greater evil than its permission, which it is assumed God cannot work. In other words, when it is asserted, that he chooses sin as the necessary means of the greatest good, it is clearly intended that he cannot secure the greatest good without choosing that sin should exist. Hence if the doctrine of this discourse limits the omnipotence of God, no less can be said of that to which it is opposed.
But both schemes may be objected to on this ground, and both be set aside as limiting the perfections of God. Indeed, it has been objected against the scheme of Leibnitz, |that it seems to make something which I do not know how to express otherwise than by the ancient stoical fate, antecedent and superior even to God himself. I would therefore think it best to say, with the current of orthodox divines, that God was perfectly free in his purpose and providence, and that there is no reason to be sought for the one or the other beyond himself.|(150) We do not know what reply Leibnitz would have made to such an objection; but we should be at no loss for an answer, were it urged against the fundamental principle of the preceding discourse. We should say, in the first place, that it was a very great pity the author could not find a better way of expressing his objection, |than by the ancient stoical fate, antecedent and superior even to God himself.| To say that God cannot work contradictions, is not to place a stoical fate, nor any other kind of fate, above him. And if it is, this impiety is certainly practised by |the current of orthodox divines,| even in the author's own sense of the term; for they all affirm that God cannot work contradictions.
If such an objection has any force against the present treatise, it might be much better expressed than by an allusion to |the ancient stoical fate.| Indeed, it is much better expressed by Luther, in his vindication of the doctrine of consubstantiation. When it was urged against that doctrine, that it is a mathematical impossibility for the same corporeal substance to be in a thousand different places at one and the same time, the great reformer resisted the objection as an infringement of the divine sovereignty: |God is above mathematics,| he exclaimed: |I reject reason, common-sense, carnal arguments, and mathematical proofs.|(151) There is no doubt but the orthodox divines of the present day will be disposed to smile at this specimen of Luther's pious zeal for the sovereignty of God; and although they may not be willing to admit that God is above all reason and common-sense, yet will they be inclined to think that, in some respects, Luther was a little below them. But while they smile at Luther, might it not be well to take care, lest they should display a zeal of the same kind, and equally pleasant in the estimation of posterity?
In affirming that omnipotence cannot work contradictions, we are certainly very far from being sensible that we place a |stoical fate| above God, or any other kind of fate. We would not place mathematics above God; much less would we place him below mathematics. Nor would we say anything which would seem to render him otherwise than |perfectly free in his purpose, or in his providence.| To say that he cannot make two and two equal to five, is not, we trust, inconsistent with the perfection of his freedom. If it would be a great imperfection in mortals, as all orthodox divines will admit, to be able to affirm and believe that two and two are equal to five; then it would be a still greater imperfection in God, not only to be able to affirm such a thing, but to embody it in an actual creation. In like manner, if it would be an imperfection in us to be able to affirm so great |an absurdity,| a thing so |inconceivable| as a |necessary volition;| then it could not add much to the glory of the Divine Being, to suppose him capable of producing such a monstrosity in the constitution and government of the world.
There is a class of theologians who reject every explication of the origin of evil, on the ground that they limit the divine sovereignty; and to the question why evil is permitted to exist, they reply, |We cannot tell.| If God can, as they insist he can, easily cause holiness to shine forth with unclouded, universal splendour, no wonder they cannot tell why he does not do so. If, by a single glance of his eye, he can make hell itself clear up and shine out into a heaven, and fix the eternal glories of the moral universe upon an immovable foundation, no wonder they can see no reason why he refuses to do so. The only wonder is that they cannot see that, on this principle, there is no reason at all for such refusal, and the permission of moral evil. For if God can do all this, and yet permits sin |to raise its hideous head in his dominions,| then there is, and must be, something which he loves more than holiness, or abhors more than sin. And hence, the reason why they cannot tell is, in our humble opinion, because they have already told too much, -- more than they know. To doubt in the right place, is often the best cure for doubt; and to dogmatize in the wrong place, is often the most certain road to scepticism.
The foregoing scheme, it may be said, presents a gloomy view of the universe.
If we say that God cannot necessitate our volitions, or necessarily exclude all evil from a moral system, it will be objected, that, on these principles, |we have no certainty of the continued obedience of holy, angelic, and redeemed spirits.|(152) This is true, if the scheme of necessity affords the only ground of certainty in the universe. But we cannot see the justness of this assumption. It is agreed on all sides, that a fixed habit of acting, formed by repeated and long-continued acts, is a pretty sure foundation for the certainty of action. Hence, there may be some little certainty, some little stability in the moral world, without supposing all things therein to be necessitated. Perhaps there may be, on this hypothesis, as great certainty therein, as is actually found to exist. In the assertion so often made, that if all our volitions are not controlled by the divine power, but left to ourselves, then the moral world will not be so well governed as the natural, and disorders will be found therein; the fact seems to be overlooked, that there is actually disorder and confusion in the moral world. If it were our object to find an hypothesis to overturn and refute the facts of the moral world, we know of none better adapted to this purpose than the doctrine of necessity; but if it be our aim, not to deny, but to explain the phenomena of the moral world, then must we adopt some other scheme.
But it has been eloquently said, that |if God could not have prevented sin in the universe, he cannot prevent believers from falling; he cannot prevent Gabriel and Paul from sinking at once into devils, and heaven from turning into a hell. And were he to create new races to fill the vacant seats, they might turn to devils as fast as he created them, in spite of anything that he could do short of destroying their moral agency. He is liable to be defeated in all his designs, and to be as miserable as he is benevolent. This is infinitely the gloomiest idea that was ever thrown upon the world. It is gloomier than hell itself.| True, there might be a gloomier spectacle in the universe than hell itself; and for this very reason it is, as we have seen, that God has ordained hell itself, that such gloomier spectacle may never appear in the universe to darken its transcendent and eternal glories. It is on this principle that we reconcile the infinite goodness of God with the awful spectacle of a world lying in ruins, and the still more awful spectacle of an eternal hell beyond the grave.
It is true, there might be a gloomier idea than hell itself; there might be two such ideas. Nay, there might be two such things; but yet, so far as we know, there is only one. We beg such objectors to consider, there are some things which, even according to our scheme, will not take place quite so fast as they may be pleased to imagine them. It is true, for example, that a man, that a rational being, might take a copper instead of a guinea, if both were presented for his selection; but although we may conceive this, it does not follow that he will actually take the copper and leave the guinea. It is also true, that a man might throw himself down from the brink of a precipice into a yawning gulf; yet he may, perhaps, refuse to do so. This may be merely a gloomy idea, and may never become a gloomy fact. In like manner, as one world fell away from God, so might another, and another. But yet this imagination may never be realized. Indeed, the Supreme Ruler of all things has assured us that it will not be the case; and in forming our views of the universe, we feel more disposed to look at facts than at fancies.
We need not frighten ourselves at |gloomy ideas.| There are gloomy facts enough in the universe to call forth all our fears. Indeed, if we should permit our minds to be directed, not by the reality of things, but by the relative gloominess of ideas, we should altogether deny the eternity of future torments, and rejoice in the contemplation of the bright prospects of the universal holiness and happiness of created beings. We believe, however, that when the truth is once found, it will present the universe of God in a more glorious point of view, than it can be made to display by any system of error whatever. Whether the foregoing scheme possesses this characteristic of truth or not, the reader can now determine for himself. He can determine whether it does not present a brighter and more lovely spectacle to contemplate God, the great fountain of all being and all light, as doing all that is possible, in the very nature of things, for the holiness and happiness of the universe, and actually succeeding, through and by the cooeperation of his creation, in regard to all worlds but this; than to view him as possessing the power to shut out all evil from the universe, for time and for eternity, and yet absolutely refusing to do so.
But let me insist upon it, that the first and the all-important inquiry is, |What is truth?| This is the only wise course; and it is the only safe course for the necessitarian. For no system, when presented in its true colours, is more gloomy and appalling than his own. It represents the great God, who is seated upon the throne of the universe, as controlling all the volitions of his rational creatures by the omnipotence of his will. The first man succumbs to his power. At this unavoidable transgression, God kindles into the most fearful wrath, and dooms both himself and his posterity to temporal and eternal misery. If this be so, then let me ask the reader, if the fact be not infinitely |gloomier than hell itself?|
It may be alleged, that in refusing to subject the volitions of men to the power and control of God, we undermine the sentiments of humility and submission.
This objection is often made: it is, indeed, the great practical ground on which the scheme of necessity plants itself. The object is, no doubt, a most laudable one; but every laudable object is not always promoted by wise means. Let us see, then, if it be wise thus to assert the doctrine of a necessitated agency, in order to abase the pride of man, and teach him a lesson of humility.
If we set out from this point of view, it will be found exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to tell when and where to stop. In fact, those who rely upon this kind of argument, often carry it much too far; and if we look around us, we shall find that the only means of escaping the charge of pride, is to swallow all the doctrines which the teachers of humility may be pleased to present to us. Thus, for example, Spinoza would have us to believe that man is not a person at all, but a mere fugitive mode of the Divine Being. Nothing is more ridiculous, in his eyes, than that so insignificant a thing as a man should aspire to the rank of a distinct, personal existence, and assume to himself the attribute of free-will. |The free-will,| says he, |is a chimera of the same kind, flattered by our pride, and in reality founded upon our ignorance.| Now it may not be very humble in us, but still we beg leave to protest against this entire annihilation of our being.
Even M. Comte, who in his extreme modesty, denies the existence of a God, insists that it is nothing but the fumes of pride and self-conceit, the intoxication of vanity, which induces us to imagine that we are free and accountable beings. No doubt he would consider us sufficiently humble and submissive, provided we would only forswear all the light which shines within us and around us, and swallow his atheistical dogmas. But there is something more valuable in the universe, if we mistake not, than even a reputation for humility.
But no one will expect us to go so far in self-abasement and humility, as to submit our intellects to all sorts of dogmas. It will be amply sufficient, if we only go just far enough to receive the dogmas of his particular creed. Thus, for example, if you assail the doctrine of necessity, on which, as we have seen, Calvinism erects itself, the Puseyite will clasp his hands, and cry out, |Well done!| But if you turn around and oppose any of his dogmas, then what pride and presumption to set up your individual opinion against |the decisions of the mother Church!|(153) And he will be sure to wind up his lesson of humility with that of St. Vincentius: |Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus.| Seeing, then, that a reputation for humility is not the greatest good in the universe, and that the only possibility of obtaining it, even from one party, is by a submission of the intellect to its creed; would it not be as well to leave such a reputation to take care of itself, and use all exertions to search out and find the truth?
Tell a carnal, unregenerate man, it is said, that though God had physical power to create him, he has not moral power to govern him, and you could not furnish his mind with better aliment for pride and rebellion. Should you, after giving this lesson, press upon him the claims of Jehovah, you might expect to be answered, as Moses was by the proud oppressor of Israel: |Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?|(154) He must, indeed, be an exceedingly carnal man, who should draw such an inference from the doctrine in question. But we should not tell him that |God had no moral power to govern him.| We should tell him, that God could not control all his volitions; that he could not govern him as a machine is governed, without destroying his free-agency; but we should still insist that he possessed the most absolute and uncontrollable power to govern him; that God can give him a perfect moral law, and power to obey it, with the most stupendous motives for obedience; and then, if he persist in his disobedience, God can, and will, shut him up in torments forever, that others, seeing the awful consequences of rebellion, may keep their allegiance to him. Is this to deny the power of God to govern his creatures?
But is it not wonderful that a Calvinist should undertake to test a doctrine by the consequences which a |proud oppressor,| or |a carnal man,| might draw from it? If we should tell such a man, that God possesses the absolute power to control his volitions, and that nothing ever happens on earth but in perfect accordance with his good will and pleasure, might we not expect him to conclude, that he would then leave the matter with God, and give himself no trouble about it?
If we may judge from the practical effect of doctrines, then the authors of the objection in question do not take the best method to inculcate the lesson of humility. They take the precise course pursued by Melanchthon, and often with the same success. This great reformer, it is well known, undertook to frame his doctrine so as to teach humility and submission: with this view he went so far as to insist, that man was so insignificant a thing, that he could not act at all, except in so far as he was acted upon by the Divine Being. Having reached this position, he not only saw, but expressly adopted the conclusion, that God is the author of all the volitions of men; that he was the author of David's adultery as well as of Saul's conversion.
Now, it is true, if the human mind could abase itself so low as to embrace such a doctrine, it would give a most complete, if not a most pleasing example of its submissiveness. But it cannot very well do so. For even amid the ruins of our fallen nature, there are some fragments left, which raise the intellect and moral nature of man above so blind and so abject a submission to the dominion of error. Hence it was, that Melanchthon himself could not long submit to his own doctrine; and he who had undertaken to teach others humility, became one of the most illustrious of rebels. This suggests the profound aphorism of Pascal: |It is dangerous to make us see too much how near man is to the brutes, without showing him his greatness. It is also dangerous to make him see his greatness without his baseness. It is still more dangerous to leave him ignorant of both. But it is very advantageous to represent to him both the one and the other.|(155)
The fact is, that nothing can teach the human intellect a genuine submission but the light of evidence: this, and this alone, can rivet upon our speculative faculty the chains of inevitable conviction, and bind it to the truth. Those who teach error, then, may preach humility with success to the blind and the unthinking; but wherever men may be disposed to think for themselves, they must expect to find rebels. How many at the present day have begun, like Melanchthon, by the preaching of submission, and ended by the practice of rebellion against their own doctrines. It is wonderful to observe the style of criticism usually adopted by the faithful, as one illustrious rebel after another is seen to depart from their ranks. The moment he is known to doubt a single dogma of the established faith, the awful suspicion is set afloat, |there is no telling where he will end.| Alas! this is but too true; for when a man has once discovered that what he has been taught all his life to regard and reverence as a great mystery, is in reality an absurdity and an imposition on his reason, there is no telling where he will end. The reaction may be so great, indeed, as to produce an entire shipwreck of his faith. But in this case, let us not chide our poor lost brother with pride and presumption, as if we ourselves were unstained with the same sin. Let us remember, that the fault may be partly our own, as well as his. Let us remember, that the sin of not even every unwarrantable innovation, is exclusively imputable to the innovator himself. For, as Lord Bacon says, |A froward retention of customs is a great innovator.|
If those who, some centuries ago, formed the various creeds of the Christian world, were fallible men, and if they permitted serious errors to creep into the great mass of religious truth contained in those creeds, then the best way to prevent innovation is, not to preach humility and submission, but to bring those formularies into a conformity with the truth. For, if the |Old Theology| be unsound, the |New Theology| will have the audacity to show itself. And who, among the children of men, will set bounds to the progress of the human mind, either in the direction of God's word or his work, and say, Hitherto shalt thou come, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed? Who will lash the winds into submission, or bind the raging ocean at his feet?
The foregoing treatise may be deemed inconsistent with gratitude to God.
|Such reflections,| it has been urged, |afford as little ground for gratitude as for submission. Why do we feel grateful to God for those favours which are conferred on us by the agency of our fellow-men, except on the principle that they are instruments in his hand, who, without 'offering the least violence to their wills, or taking away the liberty or contingency of second causes,' hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, and upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth? On any other ground, they would be worthy of the principal, and He of the secondary praise.|(156) True, if men are |only instruments in his hand,| we should give him all the praise; but we should never feel grateful to our earthly friends and benefactors. As we should not, on this hypothesis, be grateful for the greatest benefits conferred on us by our fellow-men; so, in the language of Hartley, and Belsham, and Diderot, we should never resent, nor censure, the greatest injuries committed by the greatest criminals. But on our principles, while we have infinite ground for gratitude to God, we also have some little room for gratitude to our fellow-men.
It may be contended, that it is unfair to urge the preceding difficulties against the scheme of necessity; inasmuch as the same, or as great, difficulties attach to the system of those by whom they are urged.
This is the great standing objection with all the advocates of necessity. Indeed, we sometimes find it conceded by the advocates of free-agency; of which concessions the opposite party are ever ready and eager to avail themselves. In the statement of this fact, I do not mean to complain of a zeal which all candid minds must acknowledge to be commendable on the part of the advocates of necessity. It is a fact, however, that the following language of Archbishop Whately, in relation to the difficulty of accounting for the origin of evil, is often quoted by them: |Let it be remembered, that it is not peculiar to any one theological system: let not therefore the Calvinist or the Arminian urge it as an objection against their respective adversaries; much less an objection clothed in offensive language, which will be found to recoil on their own religious tenets, as soon as it shall be perceived that both parties are alike unable to explain the difficulty; let them not, to destroy an opponent's system, rashly kindle a fire which will soon extend to the no less combustible structure of their own.|
No one can doubt the justice or wisdom of such a maxim; and it would be well if it were observed by all who may be disposed to assail an adversary's scheme with objections. Every such person should first ask himself whether his objection might not be retorted, or the shaft be hurled back with destructive force at the assailant. But although the remark of Archbishop Whately is both wise and just, it is not altogether so in its application to Archbishop King, or to other Arminians. For example, it is conceded by Dr. Reid, that he had not found the means of reconciling the existence of moral evil with the perfections of God; but is this any reason why he should not shrink with abhorrence from the doctrine of necessity which so clearly appeared to him to make God the direct and proper cause of moral evil? |We acknowledge,| says he, |that nothing can happen under the administration of the Deity which he does not permit. The permission of natural and moral evil is a phenomenon which cannot be disputed. To account for this phenomenon under the government of a Being of infinite goodness, has, in all ages, been considered as difficult to human reason, whether we embrace the system of liberty or that of necessity.| But because he could not solve this difficulty, must he therefore embrace, or at least cease to object against every absurdity which may be propounded to him? Because he cannot comprehend why an infinitely good Being should permit sin, does it follow that he should cease to protest against making God the proper cause and agent of all moral evil as well as good? In his opinion, the scheme of necessity does this; and hence he very properly remarks: |This view of the divine nature, the only one consistent with the scheme of necessity, appears to me much more shocking than the permission of evil upon the scheme of liberty. It is said, that it requires only strength of mind to embrace it: to me it seems to require much strength of countenance to profess it.| In this sentiment of Dr. Reid the moral sense and reason of mankind will, I have no doubt, perfectly concur. For although we may not be able to clear up the stupendous difficulties pertaining to the spiritual universe, this is no reason why we may be permitted to deepen them into absurdities, and cause them to bear, in the harshest and most revolting form, upon the moral sentiments of mankind.
The reason why Dr. Reid and others could not remove the great difficulty concerning the origin of evil is, as we have seen, because they proceeded on the supposition that God could create a moral system, and yet necessarily exclude all sin from it. This mistake, it seems to me, has already been sufficiently refuted, and the existence of moral evil brought into perfect accordance and harmony with the infinite holiness of God.
But it is strenuously insisted, in particular, that the divine foreknowledge of all future events establishes their necessity; and thus involves the advocates of that sublime attribute in all the difficulties against which they so loudly declaim. As I have examined this argument in another place,(157) I shall not dwell upon it here, but content myself with a few additional remarks. The whole strength of this argument in favour of necessity arises from the assumption, that if God foresees the future volitions of men, they must be bound together with other things according to the mechanism of cause and effect; that is to say that God could not foresee the voluntary acts of men, unless they should be necessitated by causes ultimately connected with his own will. Accordingly, this bold position is usually assumed by the advocates of necessity. But to say that God could not foreknow future events, unless they are indissolubly connected together, seems to be a tremendous flight for any finite mind; and especially for those who are always reminding us of the melancholy fact of human blindness and presumption. Who shall set limits to the modes of knowledge possessed by an infinite, all-comprehending mind? Who shall tell how God foresees future events? Who shall say it must be in this or that particular way, or it cannot be at all?
Let the necessitarian prove his assumption, let him make it clear that God could not foreknow future events unless they are necessitated, and he will place in the hands of the sceptic the means of demonstrating, with absolute and uncontrollable certainty, that God does not foreknow all future events at all, that he does not foresee the free voluntary acts of the human mind. For we do know, as clearly as we can possibly know anything, not even excepting our own existence, or the existence of a God, that we are free in our volitions, that they are not necessitated; and hence, according to the assumption in question, God could not foresee them. If the sceptic could see what the necessitarian affirms, he might proceed from what he knows, by a direct and irresistible process, to a denial of the foreknowledge of God, in relation to human volitions.
But fortunately the assumption of the necessitarian is not true. By the fundamental laws of human belief, we know that our acts are not necessitated; and hence, we infer that as God foresees them all, he may do so without proceeding from cause to effect, according to the method of finite minds. We thus reason from the known to the unknown; from the clear light of facts around us up to the dark question concerning the possibility of the modes in relation to the divine prescience. We would not first settle this question of possibility, we would not say that God cannot foreknow except in one particular way, and then proceed to reason from such a postulate against the clearest facts in the universe. No logic, and especially no logic based upon so obscure a foundation, shall ever be permitted to extinguish for us the light of facts, or convert the universal intelligence of man into a falsehood.
Those who argue from foreknowledge in favour of necessity, usually admit that there is neither before nor after with God. This is emphatically the case with the Edwardses. Hence, foreknowledge infers necessity in no other sense than it is inferred by present or concomitant knowledge. This is also freely conceded by President Edwards. In what sense, then, does present knowledge infer necessity? Let us see. I know a man is now walking before me; does this prove that he could not help walking? that he is necessitated to walk? It is plain that it infers no such thing. It infers the necessary connexion, not between the act of the man in walking and the causes impelling him thereto, but between my knowledge of the fact and the existence of the fact itself. This is a necessary connexion between two ideas, or propositions, and not between two events. This confusion is perpetually made in the |great demonstration| from foreknowledge in favour of necessity. It proves nothing, except that the greatest minds may be deceived and misled by the ambiguities of language.
This argument, we say, only shows a necessary connexion between two ideas or propositions. This is perfectly evident from the very words in which it is often stated by the advocates of necessity. |I freely allow,| says President Edwards, |that foreknowledge does not prove a thing necessary any more than after-knowledge; but the after-knowledge, which is certain and infallible, proves that it is now become impossible but that the proposition known should be true.| Now, here we have a necessary connexion between the certain and infallible knowledge of a thing, and the infallible certainty of its existence! What has this to do with the question about the will? If any man has ever undertaken to assert its freedom, by denying the necessary connexion between two or more ideas, propositions, or truths, this argument may be applied to him; we have nothing to do with it.
Again: |To suppose the future volitions of moral agents,| says President Edwards, |not to be necessary events; or, which is the same thing, events which are not impossible but that they may not come to pass; and yet to suppose that God certainly foreknows them, and knows all things, is to suppose God's knowledge to be inconsistent with itself. For to say, that God certainly, and without all conjecture, knows that a thing will infallibly be, which at the same time he knows to be so contingent that it may possibly not be, is to suppose his knowledge inconsistent with itself; or that one thing he knows is utterly inconsistent with another thing he knows. It is the same thing as to say, he now knows a proposition to be of certain infallible truth which he knows to be of contingent uncertain truth.| Now all this is true. If we affirm God's foreknowledge to be certain and at the same time to be uncertain, we contradict ourselves. But what has this necessary connexion between the elements of the divine foreknowledge, or between our propositions concerning them, to do with the necessary connexion among events?
The question is not whether all future events will certainly come to pass; or, in other words, whether all future events are future events; for this is a truism, which no man in his right mind can possibly deny. But the question is, whether all future events will be determined by necessitating causes, or whether they may not be, in part, the free unnecessitated acts of the human mind. This is the question, and let it not be lost sight of in a cloud of logomachy. If all future events are necessitated, then all past events are necessitated. But if we know anything, we know that all present events are not necessitated, and hence, all future events will not be necessitated. We deem it always safer to reason thus from the known to the unknown, than to invert the process.
But suppose that foreknowledge proves that all human volitions are under the influence of causes, in what sense does it leave them free? Does it leave them free to depart from the influence of motives? By no means. It would be a contradiction in terms, according to this argument, to say that they are certainly and infallibly foreknown, and yet that they may possibly not come to pass. Hence, if the argument proves anything, it proves the absolute fatality of all human volitions. It leaves not a fragment nor a shadow of moral liberty on earth.
If this argument prove anything to the purpose, then Luther was right in declaring that |the foreknowledge of God is a thunderbolt to dash the doctrine of free-will into atoms;| and Dr. Dick is right in affirming, |that it is as impossible to avoid them| (our volitions) |as it is to pluck the sun out of the firmament.|(158) It either proves all the most absolute necessitarian could desire, or it proves nothing. In our humble opinion it proves the latter.
On this point the testimony of Dr. Dick himself is explicit: |Whatever is the foundation of his foreknowledge,| says he, |what he does foreknow will undoubtedly take place. Hence, then, the actions of men are as unalterably fixed from eternity, as if they had been the subject of an immutable decree.|(159) But to dispel this grand illusion, it should be remembered, that the actions of men will not come to pass because they are foreknown; but they are foreknown because they will come to pass. The free actions of men are clearly reflected back in the mirror of the divine omniscience -- they are not projected forward from the engine of the divine omnipotence.
Since the argument in question proves so much, if it proves anything, we need not wonder that it was employed by Cicero and other ancient Stoics to establish the doctrine of an absolute and unconditional fate. |If the will is free,| says he, |then fate does not rule everything, then the order of all causes is not certain, and the order of things is no longer certain in the prescience of God; if the order of things is not certain in the prescience of God, then things will not take place as he foresees them; and if things do not take place as he foresees, there is no foreknowledge in God.| Thus, by a reductio ad absurdum, he establishes the position that the will is not free, but fate rules all things. Edwards and Dick, however, would only apply this argument to human volitions. But are not the volitions of the divine mind also foreknown? Certainly they are; this will not be denied. Hence, the very men who set out to exalt the power of God and abase the glory of man, have, by this argument, raised a dominion, not only over the power of man, but also over the power of God himself. In other words, if this argument proves that we cannot act unless we be first acted upon, and impelled to act, it proves no less in relation to God; and hence, if it show the weakness and dependence of men, it also shows the weakness and dependence of God. So apt are men to adopt arguments which defeat their own object, whenever they have any other object than the discovery of truth.
It is frequently said, as we have seen, that it is a contradiction to affirm that a thing is foreknown, or will certainly come to pass, and that it may possibly not come to pass. This position is at least as old as Aristotle. But let it be borne in mind, that if this be a contradiction, then future events are placed, not only beyond the power of man, but also beyond the power of God itself; for it is conceded on all hands, that God cannot work contradictions. This famous argument entirely overlooks the question of power. It simply declares the thing to be a contradiction, and as such, placed above all power. In other words, if it be absurd or self-contradictory to say, that a future event is foreknown, and, at the same time, might not come to pass, this proposition is true of the volitions of the divine no less than of the human mind; for they are all alike foreknown. That is to say, if the argument from foreknowledge proves that the volitions of man might not have been otherwise than they are, it proves precisely the same thing in regard to the volitions of God. Thus, if this argument proves anything to the purpose, it reaches the appalling position of Spinoza, that nothing in the universe could possibly be otherwise than it is. And if this be so, then let the Calvinist decide whether he will join with the Pantheist and fatalist, or give some little quarter to the Arminian. Let him decide whether he will continue to employ an argument which, if it proves anything, demonstrates the dependency of the divine will as well as of the human; and instead of exalting the adorable sovereignty of God, subjects him to the dominion of fate.