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§ 2. Objections to the Doctrine of Divine Decrees.
A. Foreordination inconsistent with Free Agency.
It is urged that the foreordination of all events is inconsistent with the free agency of man. The force of this objection depends on what is meant by a free act. To decide whether two things are inconsistent, the nature of each must be determined. By the decrees of God are to be understood the purpose of God rendering certain the occurrence of future events. By a free act is meant an act of rational self-determination by an intelligent person. If such an act is from its very nature contingent, or uncertain, then it is clear that foreordination is inconsistent with free agency. This theory of liberty has been adopted by a large body of philosophers and theologians, and is for them an insuperable objection to the doctrine of the divine decrees. In answer to the objection, it may be remarked, (1.) That it bears with equal force against foreknowledge. What is foreknown must be certain, as much as what is foreordained. If the one, therefore, be inconsistent with liberty, so also is the other. This is sometimes candidly admitted. Socinus argues that the knowledge of God embraces all that is knowable. Future free actions being uncertain, are not the objects of knowledge, and therefore it is no impeachment of the divine omniscience to say that they cannot be known. But then they cannot he predicted. We find, however, that the Scriptures are filled with such predictions. It is, therefore, evident that the sacred writers fully believed that free acts are foreknown by the divine mind, and therefore are certain as to their occurrence. Besides, if God cannot foreknow how free agents will act, He must be ignorant of the future, and be constantly increasing in knowledge. This is so incompatible with all proper ideas of the infinite mind, that it has been almost universally rejected, both by philosophers and by Christian theologians. A still weaker evasion is that proposed by some Arminian writers, who admit that God’s knowledge is not limited by anything out of Himself, but hold that it may be limited by his own will. In creating free agents, He willed not to foreknow how they would act, in order to leave their freedom unimpaired. But this is to suppose that God wills not to be God; that the Infinite wills to be finite. Knowledge with God is not founded on his will, except so far as the knowledge of vision is concerned, i.e., his knowledge of his own purposes, or of what He has decreed shall come to pass. If not founded on his will, it cannot be limited by it. Infinite knowledge must know all things, actual or possible. It may, however, be said that there is a difference between foreknowledge and foreordination, in so far that the former merely assumes the certainty of future events, whereas the latter causes their futurition. But as the certainty of occurrence is the same in both cases, it makes no difference as to the matter in hand. The decree only renders the event certain; and therefore if certainty be not inconsistent with liberty, then foreordination is not. That an event may be free and yet certain, may be easily proved. (1.) It is a matter of consciousness. We are often absolutely certain how we shall act, so far as we are free to act at all, and conscious that we act freely. A parent may be certain that he will succor a child in distress, and be conscious that his free agency is not thereby impaired. The more certain, in many cases, the more perfectly are we self-controlled. (2.) Free acts have been predicted, and therefore their occurrence was certain. (3) Nothing was more certain than that our Lord would continue holy, harmless, and undefiled, yet his acts were all free. (4.) It is certain that the people of God will repent, believe, and persevere in holiness forever in heaven, yet they do not cease to be free agents. The decrees of God, therefore, which only secure the certainty of events, are not inconsistent with liberty as to the mode of their occurrence. Although his purpose comprehends all things, and is immutable, yet thereby “no violence is offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
B. Foreordination of Sin inconsistent with Holiness.
It is further objected that it is inconsistent with the holiness of God that He should foreordain sin. There are two methods of dealing with this and all similar objections. The one may be called the Scriptural method, as it is the one often adopted by the sacred writers. It consists in showing that the objection bears against the plain declarations of Scripture, or against the facts of experience. In either case, it is for us sufficiently answered. It is vain to argue that a holy and benevolent God cannot permit sin and misery, if sin and misery actually exist. It is vain to say that his impartiality forbids that there should be any diversity in the endowments, advantages, or happiness of his rational creatures. It is vain to insist that a holy God cannot permit children to suffer for the sins of their parents, when we constantly see that they do thus suffer. So it is utterly irrational to contend that God cannot foreordain sin, if He foreordained (as no Christian doubts) the crucifixion of Christ. The occurrence of sin in the plan adopted by God, is a palpable fact; the consistency, therefore, of foreordination with the holiness of God cannot rationally be denied. The second method of dealing with such objections is to show that the principle on which they are founded is unsound. The principle on which the objection under consideration rests, is that an agent is responsible for all the necessary or certain consequences of his acts. The objection is, that a holy God cannot decree the occurrence of sin, because his decree renders that occurrence certain. That is, an agent is responsible for whatever his act renders certain. That principle, however, is utterly untenable. A righteous judge, in pronouncing sentence on a criminal, may be sure that he will cause wicked and bitter feelings in the criminal’s mind, or in the hearts of his friends, and yet the judge be guiltless. A father, in excluding a reprobate son from his family, may see that the inevitable consequence of such exclusion will be his greater wickedness, and yet the father may do right. It is the certain consequence of God’s leaving the fallen angels and the finally impenitent to themselves, that they will continue in sin, and yet the holiness of God remain untarnished. The Bible clearly teaches that God judicially abandons men to their sins, giving them up to a reprobate mind, and He therein is most just and holy. It is not true, therefore, that an agent is responsible for all the certain consequences of his acts. It may be, and doubtless is, infinitely wise and just in God to permit the occurrence of sin, and to adopt a plan of which sin is a certain consequence or element; yet as he neither causes sin, nor tempts men to its commission, He is neither its author nor approver. He sees and knows that higher ends will be accomplished by its admission than by its exclusion, that a perfect exhibition of his infinite perfections will be thereby effected and therefore for the highest reason decrees that it shall occur through the free choice of responsible agents. Our great ground of confidence, however, is the assurance that the judge of all the earth must do right. Sin is, and God is; therefore the occurrence of sin must be consistent with his nature; and as its occurrence cannot have been unforeseen or undesigned, God’s purpose or decree that it should occur must be consistent with his holiness.
C. The Doctrine of Decrees destroys all Motive to Exertion.
A third objection is, that the doctrine of foreordination, which supposes the certainty of all events, tends to the neglect of all use of means. If everything will happen just as God has predetermined, we need give ourselves no concern, and need make no effort. (1.) This objection supposes that God has determined the end without reference to the means. The reverse, however, is true. The event is determined in connection with the means. If the latter fail, so will the former. God has decreed that men shall live by food. If any man refuses to eat, he will die. He has ordained that men shall be saved through faith. If a man refuses to believe, he will perish. If God has purposed that a man shall live, He has also purposed to preserve him from the suicidal folly of refusing to eat. (2.) There is another fallacy included in this objection. It supposes that the certainty that an event will happen, acts as a motive to neglect the means of its attainment. This is not according to reason or experience. The stronger the hope of success, the greater the motive to exertion. If sure of success in the use of the appropriate means, the incentive to effort becomes as strong as it can be. On the other hand, the less hope, the less disposition there is to exert ourselves; and where there is no hope, there will be no exertion. The rational and Scriptural foundation for the use of means, and the proper motives to avail ourselves of them, are, (1.) The command of God. (2.) Their adaptation to produce the effect. (3.) The divine ordination which makes the means necessary to the attainment of the end. And (4.) The promise of God to give his blessing to those who obediently avail themselves of the means of his appointment.
D. It is Fatalism.
It is objected, in the fourth place, that the doctrine of decrees amounts to the heathen doctrine of fate. There is only one point of agreement between these doctrines. They both assume absolute certainty in the sequence of all events. They differ, however, not only as to the ground of that certainty, the nature of the influence by which it is secured, and the ends therein contemplated, but also in their natural effects on the reason and conscience of men.
The word Fatalism has been applied to different systems, some of which admit, while others deny or ignore the existence of a supreme intelligence. But in common usage it designates the doctrine that all events come to pass under the operation of a blind necessity. This system differs from the Scriptural doctrine of foreordination, (1.) In that it excludes the idea of final causes. There is no end to which all things tend, and for the accomplishment of which they exist. According to the Scriptural doctrine, all things are ordained and controlled to accomplish the highest conceivable or possible good. (2.) In that according to Fatalism the sequence of events is determined by an unintelligent concatenation of causes and effects. According to the doctrine of decrees, that sequence is determined by infinite wisdom and goodness. (3.) Fatalism admits of no distinction between necessary and free causes. The acts of rational agents are as much determined by a necessity out of themselves as the operations of nature. According to the Scriptures, the freedom and responsibility of man are fully preserved. The two systems differ, therefore, as much as a machine differs from a man; or as the actions of infinite intelligence, power, and love differ from the law of gravitation. (4.) The one system, therefore, leads to the denial of all moral distinctions, and to stolid insensibility or despair. The other to a sedulous regard to the will of an infinitely wise and good ruler, all whose acts are determined by a sufficient reason; and to filial confidence and submission.
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