Page images


consequence imputed by the objector to the doctrines of his opponents, inasmuch as by considering those things as necessary which the Deity has left to the uncontrolled decision of man, God would be rendered mutable. But God is not mutable, so long as he decrees nothing absolutely which could happen otherwise through the liberty assigned to man. He would indeed be mutable, neither would his counsel stand, if he were to obstruct by another decree that liberty which he had already decreed, or were to darken it with the least shadow of necessity.

It follows, therefore, that the liberty of man must be considered entirely independent of necessity,' nor can any admission be made in favour of that modification of the principle which is founded on the doctrine of God's immutability and prescience. If there be any necessity at all, as has been stated before, it either determines free agents to a particular line of conduct, or it constrains them against their will, or it co-operates with them in conjunction with their will, or it is altogether inoperative. If it determine free agents to a particular line of conduct, man will be rendered the natural cause of all his actions, and consequently of his sins, and formed as it were with an inclination for sinning. If it constrain them against their will, man being subject to this compulsory decree, becomes the cause of sins only per accidens, God being the cause of sins per se. If it co-operate with them in conjunction with their will, then God becomes either the principal or the joint cause of sins with man. If finally it be altogether inoperative, there is no such thing as necessity, it virtually destroys itself by being without operation. For it is wholly impossible, that God should have fixed by a necessary decree

9 So without least impulse or shadow of fate,

Or aught by me immutably foreseen,
They trespass, authors to themselves in all
Both what they judge, and what they choose ; for so
I form’d them free; and free they must remain,
Till they enthrall themselves; I else must change
Their nature, and revoke the high decree
Unchangeable, eternal, which ordain'd
Their freedom ; they themselves ordain'd their fall.

Paradise Lost, III. 120.
Beyond this, had been force,
And force upon free will hatlı here no place. IX. 1171.


what we know at the same time to be in the power of man ; or that that should be immutable which it remains for subsequent contingent circumstances either to fulfil or frustrate.

Whatever, therefore, was left to the free will of our first parents, could not have been decreed immutably or absolutely from all eternity; and questionless, the Deity must either have never left any thing in the power of man, or he cannot be said to have determined finally respecting whatever was so left without reference to possible contingencies.

If it be objected, that this doctrine leads to absurd consequences, we reply, either the consequences are not absurd, or they are not the consequences of the doctrine. For it is neither impious nor absurd to say, that the idea of certain things or events might be suggested to God from some extraneous source ; since inasmuch as God had determined from all eternity, that man should so far be a free agent, that it remained with himself to decide whether he would stand or fall,' the idea of that evil event, or of the fall of man, was suggested to God from an extraneous source, -a truth which all confess.

Nor does it follow from hence, that what is temporal becomes the cause of, or a restriction upon what is eternal, for it was not any thing temporal, but the wisdom of the eternal mind that gave occasion for framing the divine counsel.

Seeing, therefore that, in assigning the gift of free will, God suffered both men and angels3 to stand or fall at their

... such discourse bring on
As may advise him of his happy state,
Happiness in his power left free to will,
Left to his own free will, his will though free,
Yet mutable; whence warn him to beware
He swerve not, too secure.

Paradise Lost, V. 233. 3 So Satan, speaking of himself :

Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand ?
Thou hadst; whom hast thou then or what to accuse,
But Heaven's free love dealt equally to all ?

IV. 66. And Raphael ;

Myself, and all the angelick host, that stand
In sight of God, enthron'd, our happy state
llolu, as you your's, while our obedience holds;
On other surety none; freely we serve
Because we freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall,
And some are fallen

V. 535.


own uncontrolled choice, there can be no doubt that the decree itself bore a strict analogy to the object which the divine counsel regarded, not necessitating the evil consequences which ensued, but leaving them contingent; hence the covenant was of this kind—if thou stand, thou shalt abide in Paradise ; if thou fall, thou shalt be cast out: if thou eat not the forbidden fruit, thou shalt live; if thou eat, thou shalt die. 4

Hence, those who contend that the liberty of actions is subject to an absolute decree, erroneously conclude that the decree of God is the cause of his foreknowledge, and antecedent in order of time. If we must apply to God a phraseology borrowed from our own habits and understanding, to consider his decrees as consequent upon his foreknowledge seems more agreeable to reason, as well as to Scripture, and to the nature of the Deity himself, who, as has just been proved, decreed every thing according to his infinite wisdom by virtue of his foreknowledge.

That the will of God is the first cause of all things, is not intended to be denied, but his prescience and wisdoin must not be separated from his will, much less considered as subsequent to the latter in point of time. The will of God, in fine, is not less the universal first cause, because he has himself decreed that some things should be left to our own free will, than if each particular event had been decreed necessarily.

To comprehend the whole matter in a few words, the sum of the argument may be thus stated in strict conformity with

God of his wisdom determined to create men and angels reasonable beings, and therefore free agents ; foreseeing at the same time which way the bias of their will would incline, in the exercise of their own uncontrolled


thine and of all thy sons
The weal or woe in thee is piac’d); beware.
I in thy persevering shall rejoice,
And all the blest; stand fast, to stand or fall

Free in thine own arbitrement it lies. Paradise Lost, VIII. 637. 5 According to the Supralapsarian doctrine, that a prescience of future contingents, antecedent to the divine decree, is an absurdity and an inpossibility.

... God left free the will, for what obeys
Reason, is free ; and reason he made right,
But bid her well be ware, and still erect.

IX. 351.


liberty." What then? shall we say that this foresight or foreknowledge on the part of God imposed on them the necessity of acting in any definite way? No more than if the future event had been foreseen by any human being. For what any human being has foreseen as certain to happen, will not less certainly happen than what God himself has predicted. Thus Elisha foresaw how much evil Hazael would bring upon the children of Israel in the course of a few years, 2 Kings viii. 12. Yet no one would affirm that the evil took place necessarily on account of the foreknowledge of Elisha; for had he never foreknown it, the event would have occurred with equal certainty, through the free will of the agent. In like manner nothing happens of necessity, because God has foreseen it; but he foresees the event of every action, because he is acquainted with their natural causes, which, in pursuance of his own dec are left at liberty to exert their legitimate influence. Consequently the issue does not depend on God who foresees it, but on him alone who is the object of his foresight. Since, therefore, as has before been shewn, there can be no absolute decree of God regarding free agents, undoubtedly the prescience of the Deity (which can no more bias free agents than the prescience of man, that is, not at all, since the action in both cases is intransitive, and has no external influence,) can neither impose any necessity of itself, nor can it be considered at ail as the cause of free actions. If it be so considered, the very name of liberty must be altogether abolished as an unmeaning sound; and that not only in matters of religion, but even in questions of morality and indifferent things. There can be nothing but what will happen necessarily, since there is nothing but what is foreknown by God.

That this long discussion may be at length concluded by a brief summary of the whole matter, we must hold that God foreknows all future events, but that he has not decreed them all absolutely: lest the consequence should be that sin in general would be imputed to the Deity, and evil spirits and

What can 'scape the eye
Of God all-seeing, or deceive his heart
Omniscient? who in all things wise and just
Hinder'd not Satan to attempt the mind
Of Man, with strength entire and free will arm’d
Complete to have discover'd and repuls'd
Whatever wiles of foe or seeming friend. Paradise Lost, X. 5.


wicked men exempted from blame. Does my opponent avail himself of this, and think the concession enough to prove either that God does not foreknow every thing, or that all future events must therefore happen necessarily, because God has foreknown them? I allow that future events which God has foreseen, will happen certainly, but not of necessity. They will happen certainly, because the divine prescience cannot be deceived, but they will not happen necessarily, because prescience can have no influence on the object foreknown, inasmuch as it is only an intransitive action. What therefore is to happen according to contingency and the free will of man, is not the effect of God's prescience, but is produced by the free agency of its own natural causes, the future spontaneous inclination of which is perfectly known to God. Thus God foreknew that Adam would fall of his own free will ; his fall was therefore certain, but not necessary, since it proceeded from his own free will, which is incompatible with necessity." Thus also God foreknew that the Israelites would turn from the true worship to strange gods, Deut. xxxi. 16. If they were to be led to revolt necessarily on account of this prescience on the part of God, it was unjust to threaten them with the many evils which he was about to send upon them, ver. 17. it would have been to no purpose that a song was ordered to be written, which should be a witness for him against the children of Israel, because their sin would have been of necessity. The truth is, that the prescience of God, like that of Moses, v. 27. had no extraneous influence, and God testifies, v. 16. that he foreknew they would sin from their own voluntary impulse, and of their own accord, “this people will rise

8 • De providentia melius theologia quam logica disceptabit. Hoc tantum obiter; fatum sive decretum Dei cogere neminem male facere; et ex hypothesi divinæ præscientiæ certa quidem esse omnia, non necessaria.' Artis Logicæ plenior Institutio. Prose Works, VI. 210. In asserting the possibility of a predetermination of all things, implied in the idea of divine omniscience, co-existing with the moral freedom of man, Milton takes the same line of argument which Horsley has adopted on the same subject in his sermon on Matt. xx. 23.

no decree of mine
Concurring to necessitate his fall,
Or touch with lightest moment of impulse
His free will, to her own inclining left
In even scale.

Paradise Lost. Y. 42.


« PreviousContinue »