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DOCTRINE OF THE WILL.

BY REV. ASA MAHAN,
PRESIDENT OF THE OBERLIN COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE.

1845.

CHAPTER VI.

CONNECTION OF THE DOCTRINE OF LIBERTY
WITH THE DIVINE PRESCIENCE.

THE argument on which Necessitarians chiefly rely, against the doctrine of Liberty, and in support of that of Necessity, is based upon the Divine prescience of human conduct. The argument runs thus: All acts of the Will, however remote in the distant future, are foreknown to God. This fact necessitates the conclusion, that such acts are in themselves certain, and, consequently, not free, but necessary. Either God cannot foreknow acts of Will, or they are necessary. The reply to this argument has already been anticipated in the Introduction, The Divine prescience is not the truth to which the appeal should be made, to determine the philosophy of the Will presupposed in the Bible. This I argue, for the obvious reason, that of the mode and nature of the Divine prescience of human conduct we are profoundly ignorant. These we must know with perfect clearness, before we can affirm, with any certainty, whether this prescience is or is not consistent with the doctrine of Liberty. The Divine prescience is a truth of inspiration, and therefore a fact. The doctrine of Liberty is, as we have seen, a truth of inspiration, and therefore a fact. It is also a fact, as affirmed by the universal Consciousness of man. How do we know that these two facts are not perfectly consistent with each other? How do we know but that, if we understood the nature, and mode of the Divine prescience, we should not perceive with the utmost clearness, that this truth consists as perfectly with the doctrine of Liberty, as with that of Necessity.

If God forsees events, he foreknows them as they are, and not as they are not. If they are free and not necessary, as free and not necessary he forsees them. Having ascertained by Consciousness that the acts of the Will are free, and having, from reason and revelation, determined, that God foreknows such acts, the great truth stands revealed to our mind, that God does and can foreknow human conduct, and yet man in such conduct be free; and that the mode, and nature of the former are such as most perfectly to consist with the latter.

I know with perfect distinctness, that I am now putting forth certain acts of Will. With equal distinctness I know, that such acts are not necessary, but free. My present knowledge is perfectly consistent with present freedom. How do I know but that God's foreknowledge of future acts is equally consistent with the most perfect freedom of such acts.

Perhaps a better presentation of this whole subject cannot be found than in the following extract from Jouffroy's "Introduction to Ethics." The extract, though somewhat lengthy, will well repay a most attentative perusal.

DANGER IN REASONING FROM THE MANNER IN WHICH WE FOREKNOW EVENTS TO THAT OF DIVINE PRESCIENCE.

"To begin, then, with a very simple remark: if we conceive that foreknowledge in the Divine Being acts as it does in us, we run the risk of forming a most incorrect notion of it, and consequently, of seeing a contradiction between it and liberty, that would disappear altogether had we a truer notion. Let us consider that we have not the same faculty for forseeing the future as we have of reviewing the past; and even in cases where we do anticipate it, it is by an induction from the past. This induction may amount either to certainty, or merely to probability. It will amount to certainty when we are perfectly acquainted with necessary causes, and their law of operation. The effects of such causes in given circumstances having been determined by experience, we can predict the return of similar effects under similar circumstances with entire certainty, so long at least as the present laws of nature remain in force. It is in this way that we foresee, in most cases, the physical occurrences, whose law of operation is known to us; and such foresight would extend much further, were it not for unexpected circumstances which come in to modify the result. This induction can never go beyond probability, however, when we consider the facts of free causes, and for the very reason that they are free, and that the effects which arise from such causes are not of necessary occurrence, and do not invariably follow the same antecedent circumstances. Where the question is, then, as to the acts of any free cause, we are never able to forsee it with certainty, and induction is limited to conjectures of probability.

"Such is the operation, and such are the limits of human foresight. Our minds foresee the future by induction from the past; this forsight can never attain certainty except in the case of causes and effects connected by necessary dependence; when the effects of free causes are to be anticipated, as all such effects are contingent, our foresight must be merely conjecture.

MISTAKE RESPECTING THE DIVINE PRESCIENCE.

"If, now, we attempt to attribute to the Deity the same mode of foresight of which human beings are capable, it will follow, as a strict consequence, that as God must know exactly and completely the laws to which all the necessary causes in nature are subject--laws which change only according to his will,--he can foresee with absolute certainty all events which will take place in future. The certain foresight of effects therefore, which is to us possible only in particular cases, and which, even then, is always liable to the limitation that the actual laws of nature are not modified--this foresight, which, even when most sure, is limited and contingent, must be complete and absolute certainty in God, supposing his foreknowledge to be of like kind with ours.

"But it is evident that, according to this hypothesis, the Deity cannot foresee with certainty the volitions of free causes any more than we can; for, as his foresight is founded, as ours is, upon the knowledge of the laws which govern causes, and as the law of free causes is precisely this, that their volitions are not necessary, God cannot calculate, any more than a human being can, the influence of motives, which, in any given case, may act upon such causes. Even his intelligence can lead no further than to conjectures, more probable, indeed, than ours, but never amounting to certainty. According to this hypothesis, we must, therefore, say either that God can foresee, certainly, the future volitions of men, and that man, therefore, is not a free being, or that man is free, and that God, therefore, cannot, any more than we can, foresee his volitions with certainty; and thus Divine prescience and human free-will are brought into direct contradiction.

"But, gentlemen, why must there be this contradiction? Merely because we suppose that God foresees the future in the same way in which we foresee it; that his foreknowledge operates like our own. Now, is this, I ask, such an idea as we ought to form of Divine prescience, or such an idea as even the partisans of this system, which I am opposing, form? Have we any reason for thus imposing upon the Deity the limitation of our own feebleness? I think not.

"Unendowed as we are, with any faculty of foreseeing the future, it may be difficult for us to conceive of such a faculty in God. But yet can we not from analogy form such an idea? We have now two faculties of perception--of the past by memory, of the present by observation; can we not imagine a third to exist in God--the faculty of perceiving the future, as we perceive the past? What would be the consequence? This: that God, instead of conjecturing, by induction, the acts of human being from the laws of the causes operating upon them, would see them simply as the results of the free determinations of the will. Such perception of future acts no more implies the necessity of those actions, than the perception of similar acts in the past. To see that effects of the mode of God's foreknowledge of future events (and who will dare deny the existence of such ignorance in his own case?), the entire argument of the Necessitarian, based upon that fore-knowledge, in favor of his doctrine, falls to the ground at once.

NECESSITARIAN OBJECTION TO THE ABOVE ARGUMENT.

To all that has been said above, the Necessitarian brings an objection which he deems perfectly unanswerable. It is this: If actions are free in the sense maintained in this Treatise, then in themselves they are uncertain. If they are still certainly known to God, they are both certain and uncertain, at the same time. True, I answer, but not in the same sense. As far as the powers of the agent are concerned, the action may be uncertain, while God at the same time may know certainly how he will exert his powers. In reference merely to the powers of the agent, the event is uncertain. In reference to the mind of God, who knows intuitively how he will exert these powers, the event is certain.


Copyright 2002 Alethea In Heart Ministries

Doctrine of The Will. By Asa Mahan 1845. Response to Jonathan Edwards