Page images
PDF
EPUB

cause.

revolting libel that ever was published on the Christian faith. When the heathen doctrine of fate, has been thus incorporated with a Christian system, under the more modern appellative of predestination, it has become thereby, no less the cognate of prescience, than in its more ancient association; and in their Christian, as well as in their pagan connexion, they mutually and of necessity imply each other.

Whether the doctrine of prescience, was originally the parent of the doctrine of predestination, or predestination the parent of prescience, it is at the present time extremely difficult to say; and especially so, as they both belong to that prolific species of error, which has the power of reciprocal generation. A certain anticipation always implies a necessary issue, and an absolute and effectual purpose, a certain anticipation; in as much as it is not possible for a certain prescience to be separated from a necessitating

In the days of Augustine, the doctrine of prescience and the consequent doctrine of an unconditional predestination, were introduced into the Christian world; or if they were not propagated by him in the first instance, it was under his authority, that they received the stamp and credit of orthodoxy, were adopted as articles of Christian faith, were incorporated in the Christian creed, and were introduced into theological writings, and were interwoven with Christian systems.

Since the days of Augustine, the doctrine of an eternal prescience, has been generally and very naturally identified with that of unconditional predestination. But subsequently to the darkness of the middle ages of the Christian church, and especially, since the art of printing has been invented, and more particularly, since the right and the competency of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures, has been understood and acknowledged, many religious bodies have disclaimed their belief in the doctrine of predestination, as being incompatible with human responsibility, and the moral government of God.

But at the same time, it must be acknowledged, that most of those religious communities, which have renounced the doctrine of unconditional predestination, have continued notwithstanding, to hold the doctrine of an eternal pre-,

science; and this they have done, as I humbly conceive, not as a matter of rational or Scripture conviction, but purely from a pious and implicit credulity. Whether the conduct of such persons in retaining the one, while they renounce the other, can be justified either by Scripture or reason, will be made a subject of serious inquiry in the following pages; it being a subject that has the highest claims on a serious and patient investigation.

As the subject of prescience is one that is abstruse in its nature, and exceedingly important in its bearings and its consequences, we shall appropriate a single chapter at the commencement of this treatise, to a plain and deliberate statement of that doctrine, as received by its advocates, and as it is of necessity implied in the systems with which it has been generally associated.

The popular notion, and, indeed, the only systematized notion of the doctrine of prescience, is one that would im. ply an unoriginated, eternal, and infallible anticipation of all things that ever have existed, that are at this moment in existence, or which ever will be in existence hereafter ; a prescience that equally applies to all the past, and the present, and the future, of an unoriginated and unlimited duration; and which embraces in its infinite scope, every volition and every act of the Deity, every production of his infinite fecundity, and every effort of his infinite perfections; and which alike encircles, in the unbounded range of its perception, every action and every volition, every vice and every virtue, every pain and every pleasure, every passion and every sensation and perception, of every individual creature which ever was in existence, and which is now in existence, and which ever will be in existence ; whether that creature be human or angelic, rational or irrational, animate or inanimate, and to whatever order, and to whatsoever species it may respectively belong.

The question at issue is not, whether the Deity may not possibly anticipate many future events, even ages before they have any actual existence, because the possibility and even the fact of such cases are actually demonstrated, by the previous delivery and the subsequent fulfilment of Scripture predictions; but the question is, whether the prescience from whence those predictions emanated, was

eternal or recent, unoriginated or acquired, coeval or subsequent to the Divine existence; and whether that prescience existed per se, or by consequence; and, whether, as evidence, it contains data a priori, or is only involved by deduction a posteriori?

The consequences which depend upon the foregoing alternatives are exceedingly numerous, and unspeakably important. If the prescience of God be eternal, then must his knowledge of every event be of the same date, and his knowledge of every gnat that shall ever dance in a summer's sun must be as early and eternal as the Divine existence. I will readily concede that it is not possible for an infinite intelligence to be unconscious of any thing which is in actual existence, or be unable to recognise, at every point of duration, all which at that moment would be abstractedly possible; but the notion of an eternal prescience would oblige me to believe, that every species of knowledge in the Deity, whether it relate to abstract possibility or actual existence, to physical events or to moral conduct, to a state of probation or a state of retribution, to creatures now in existence or to creatures not at present in existence, must be of the same date and duration, being absolutely eternal; and that the actual knowledge of the Deity is as incapable of augmentation as infinitude itself. I must also believe, that the total suin of the actual knowledge of the Deity, was of precisely the same amount, before the heavens and the earth were created as it is at the present moment; and that it contained the same number of actual cognizances before the first created being received his existence, as it will ever contain, though myriads of worlds should be successively called into being, and though their existence should continue for ever.

In receiving the doctrine of an unoriginated prescience, I am not to impute the cognizances of the Diety to any species of causation whatever, inasmuch as they must be absolutely unoriginated, and consequently without cause. I must believe that the knowledge of the Divine nature does not originate or depend upon that nature itself, and the knowledge of created things and of human events can have no necessary dependance or connexion with the things or events themselves, except in the certainty with which they

succeed to that knowledge; I must believe that the knowledge is unoriginated and eternal, while the events themselves are subsequent and successive.

In receiving the doctrine of an infinite and inaugmentible prescience, I must believe, that although the acts of the Deity, and the existence and actions of created beings are subject to constant and perpetual accession, it is not possible for the knowledge of those things in the Deity to receive any accession in quantity world without end. 1 must believe that the actual knowledge of the Deity is not capable of being enriched by the addition of one single perception, either from his own future conduct or that of his creatures, either in the present world, or in any future stage of an interminable duration of being.

In receiving the doctrine of a certain prescience, I am to believe that the certainty of the Divine anticipations must always extend to every future act of his own through the endless duration of his interminable being, and equally so to all the volitions and actions of created beings, both mortal and immortal: I must not only believe in a certain prescience in relation to all physical events, and to all animal and vegetable and mineral, and elementary occurrences, but I must firmly believe in the certain prescience of all moral actions and mental contingencies, embracing all their evolutions and consequences world without end. And, in particular, I must believe in the certain anticipation of the period and issue of human life, in relation to all the descendants of Adam, and the whole of their future and eternal condition. In short, I must believe, that however contingent the actions of human beings and the issue of life may appear to be, or may be so in reality to us, they are all as certain as the throne of God in the anticipations of the Divine mind.

The certain prescience of all certain events is what every person must believe who receives the doctrine of an infinite intelligence in the Deity; but the doctrine of an eternal prescience would imply that the Divine intelligence possesses the power of making contingencies in re to become certainties in perception; and the power of making those things to stand up altogether at one single moment as the objects of an actual and certain perception, which would

require a boundless duration of being for their actual and real existence.

I can readily receive the doctrine of prescience as a consequence, because I can easily perceive that if God has formed certain determinations, and has secured the issue by an effectual causation, the issue must become thereby an object of a certain prescience; but if I receive the doctrine of prescience per se, I must regard his prescience as being a cause, and not as being an effect or a consequence.

I can receive the doctrine of prescience as being evidence a posteriori, because I can perceive that a certain anticipation must be supported by an effectual causation; but if I am to receive the doctrine of prescience as evidence a priori, I must believe that it will require no antecedent evidence in the support of its truth, and I must regard the doctrine of eternal prescience as being a self-evident truth, and one that will justify every legitimate inference which can be possibly deduced from the premises as from a demonstrable datum.

The foregoing statement is a mere outline and adumbration of the popular doctrine of an eternal prescience in the Diety; a doctrine which is most implicitly and devoutly believed by a large majority of the Christian world. But whether such a doctrine has any solid foundation, either in human reason or in the oracles of Divine revelation, will be the subject of our inquiry in the following chapters.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »