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prescience, for which they so earnestly contend, take cognizance of the first act and the first volition, and of the last act and the final volition of the eternal Jehovah? If the prescience for which they contend does include the whole of the Divine conduct from everlasting to everlasting, then it must of necessity apply to all its parts, nor is it possible for any single act or volition to escape its unbounded cognizance; it must be as postscient of the first, and as prescient of the last, as it is scient of any intermediate occurrence. Either the prescience for which they contend does apply to the last act, and to the first act of the Deity, or it does not. Now make your election: for if it does apply to the first act and to the last act of the Deity, then there is an end to eternity, but if it does not include the first and the final act of the Deity, then there is an everlasting quietus to the doctine of eternal prescience.
Eternal prescience, and eternal existence, can never be reconciled to each other. Every rational man, who will maintain the doctrine of an unoriginated and eternal existence in the Deity, must abandon the notion of an eternal prescience to the perversions of ignorance, and the voracious credulity of pagan superstition, from whence it sprung. Every consistent and ultra believer in the doctrine of prescience may push forward his speculations to absolute atheism; and if the abettors of this theory do not speculate themselves into an utter disbelief of a Deity, it is because their moral intuitions, and their Christian principles happily serve as an antidote to the infidelity of their creed. It would be exceedingly unjust to impute to the persons who maintain the doctrine of an eternal prescience, all the consequences that might be legitimately inferred from those premises; but it is perfectly fair, in argument, to deduce all the consequences, however revolting, that may be possibly deduced, from any premises, the falsity of which, we are endeavouring to expose.
The very singular opinion, that God may possibly know the final issue of human life, but may not choose to make himself acquainted with so revolting an issue as that of the eternal destruction of a human being, is, in my view of the case, quite as fertile of mental incongruities, contradictions, and absurdities, as the notion of an actual and
certain prescience, or even that of an absolute predestination, and it is, if possible, far more revolting to every sense of moral justice in the government of the world.
That the acquisition of knowledge in human beings may be voluntary, is beyond all dispute; but then it must be equally evident, that all knowledge in the Deity, must be involuntary in its acquirement. It is not possible for God to be ignorant of any thing that is knowable; because it is no more possible for the Deity, to be unacquainted with any thing, that is accessible to his infinite mind, than it is for him to lay aside the possession of his eternity, or his infinity, or any of his natural or moral perfections.
And, in relation to the moral argument of the case; if the Deity could foresee, with certainty, the final issue of human life, and upon discovering that any creature, if created, would be certainly and eternally miserable, and had the power of preventing such an issue by withholding the gift of actual existence, and yet he could find no inducement, either to cast his nativity, or interpose between him and a certain and inevitable destruction; what could we think of the moral principles, and moral sympathies of such a dormant and inexorable Deity? Can any thing be found in the pages of heathen mythology, that would be half so hateful, as such an unfeeling unmoveable, wreckless and inexorable being? A Deity, that could be insensible to the miseries of his creatures, and too indolent to make himself acquainted with their real condition, can never be identified with that benevolent Being, whose active goodness extends to all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works. A benevolent Creator, could never acquit himself of the blood of any creature, whose eternal misery he had it in his power to prevent, or of the misery of any being, whom he should create, under a certain prescience of everlasting destruction. Every groan of such a miserable creature, must be, in the conscience of his guilty creator, a worm that would never die, and a fire that would never be quenched. The doctrine of eternal prescience, would, as far as theory is concerned, render the eternal Jehovah infinitely more guilty, than either fallen Adam, or apostate Satan; and would mingle the Creator and his creatures together in one common and eternal hell.
The advocates of the doctrine of prescience, have at
tempted to turn this argument back upon ourselves, by insinuating, that we believe the Almighty has created beings, who are eternally miserable, and that we believe it is certain that many beings whom he has created will be certainly and eternally lost. We do indeed believe that the Almighty created the devil and his angels, and that they will be certainly miserable; but we do not believe that he created them under a certain prescience of their eternal misery. Neither do we believe, that he created any human beings, under a certain prescience of their eternal misery. And how will they make it appear, that God created either men or angels under such a prescience? or that any human beings will be certainly and eternally lost? For if the salvation of every human being be possible, then the eternal misery of no human being who is now in a state of gracious probation, can be a matter of absolute certainty. An absolute certainty cannot be predicated of an opposite possibility. If the possibility of salvation may be predicated of every child of Adam who is now under probation, then the certainty of eternal destruction may not be truly predicated of any single individual of our species.
It has been argued that our Lord has said "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." But it does not follow from these words, that any human being will be certainly and eternally lost. Are not the facts recorded in the foregoing scripture, as plain as any thing can possibly be rendered? and are they not matter of public notoriety every day? Can any person observe the course of the present world, without perceiving with his own eyes, that the gate is wide which leadeth to destruction; and that many, alas! very many persons, are actually going in thereat? This monitory portion of holy writ, does indeed describe the actual condition, and habitual practice of mankind, and does formally predict the certain issue of such a course, but it has no more to do with the doctrine of an eternal prescience, than it has with the heathen doctrine of metempsychosis.
There is a great deal of empirical divinity afloat on the wide ocean of theological literature; shoals of illegitimate conceptions, the mere spawn of ignorance and superstition,
or the incestuous productions of latent insanity and religious veneration. Many things have been foisted upon the religious world, as motives to inforce an implicit submission to the disposals of providence, the incongruities of which are not even suspected, because they have been associated with some devout feeling; but if their truth were only for once to be questioned, their fallacy would very quickly appear. As, for instance, upon the loss of chil dren, or the premature death of relatives and religious friends, their survivors have been consoled by suggesting that it is possible if they had been spared longer in the world, they might not have been so well prepared for death, or might have turned out to be wicked characters, and therefore the Deity on foreseeing such an issue may have removed them in mercy to his heavenly kingdom, and that he has thereby "taken them away from the evil to come." But it ought to be remembered, that the evils to come, of which the prophet speaks, are not the crimes which the Deity foresaw the righteous would commit, but the persecutions that awaited them at the hands of the wicked. Indeed such a system of government as the foreging hypothesis implies, would entirely defeat the purposes of a moral probation, which must be that of ascertaining who are proper subjects for heaven, because it would imply that such persons, if they had had a more ample and adequate trial, would have turned out to be utterly unfit for the abodes of eternal felicity and glory. Probation in such a case would be so far from effecting any complete testation of character, that it would be nothing more than a mere politic manœuvre, which would entirely defeat all the purposes of justice, and righteousness, in the probation of human beings.
The advocates of eternal prescience, apart from eternal predestination, are obliged to have recourse to the same arguments, in the defence of the doctrine of prescience, as their predestinarian brethren are accustomed to employ, in defending the doctrine of predestination; and it is as notorious as it is amusing, to observe, with what instinctive facility they will fall back into the deep and dark intrenchments of religious mystery, where they are equally impregnable to the sappings of their own reflections, and the ar
tillery of opposing argument. No man ever professes to receive the doctrine of eternal prescience, any more than that of eternal predestination, as a matter of entire comprehension, or of rational conviction: every believer of that doctrine will acknowledge its apparent incongruities and contradictions; but then he presumes that those contradictions are only apparent, and not real: he will acknowledge that to his unaided comprehension the doctrine appears as a solecism; but then he presumes at the same time, that the whole is intelligible, and perfectly coherent to the infinite mind of God. He therefore regards it as a duty to believe the doctrine, not because the evidence of its truth is adequate to produce any rational conviction, but because he esteems it as being mandatory on his conscience; as though christian faith required the entire prostration of his intellect, as the only adequate test of christian obedience.
But where, I ask, is such a portraiture of christian faith to be found in the Bible? I know that many devout and well-meaning Christians have quoted the following scripture as implying the duty of an entire prostration of all our rational faculties, in the act of receiving the gospel, and especially in that reception of christianity which is availing for the salvation of the soul. "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise." 1 Cor. iii. 18. But no person can seriously believe that the object of Christianity is that of converting its disciples into real fools: the apostle might indeed have been such in the esteem of the world, and might have been represented as such by those false teachers with whom he had to contend; and those Christians who were faithful to this apostolical admonition, would no doubt become fools in the esteem of such persons, but they would, in reality, and in truth, and in the sight of God, become wise thereby. Christian faith is never, in any single scripture, represented as being at real variance with wisdom, nor is it even possible to produce any single example of the kind. Revelation enlarges the sphere of human reason, and extends the limits of rational conviction; but it never proposes any premises, the possibility of which it does not, at the same time, render obvious to the human mind.