« PreviousContinue »
begotten son” until after God had sent him, and in consequence of bis sending him, for our salvation. But the greatness of his love appears in that he sent for this purpose him who was his only begotten Son. Any other view greatly detracts from the force of this and all other passages which argue the exceeding greatness of his love in giving his Son to die for us. If he was not his Son as a person in the Godhead, and from eternity, how does this filial relation evince the incomparable love implied in the passages referred to? A love, too, which the church has ever felt to be peculiarly indicated by the gift and sacrifice of the only begotten Son ?
4. The fact that, with insignificant exceptions, Christians, the world over, have ever taken the scriptures to mean, in the passages we have quoted and others, that Christ is the Son of God, as to his divine nature, is strong proof in point. Whatever the plain people of God quite unanimously take to be the meaning of his word, and the mind of the Spirit, on cardinal points of faith and practice, carries a very strong presumption in its favor, especially in a case like this, in which the endearment of the Son to the Father by virtue of his divine sonship, gives rise to no little of his endearment to theinselves.
Finally, There is force in the opinion that the doctrine of the Trinity is more readily held in its integrity, if it have its roots, as the scriptures indicate, in the nature, or the eternal interior relations, of the Godhead. The balance is thus more readily beld between extremes of tritheism and Sabellianism, and all tendencies thereto; which we think evinced not less by the history than the logic of the case.
DECREES, PROVIDENCE, AND PREDESTINATION. The sum of our doctrine on this subject is well stated, in our Confession of Faith, Chap. III. 1, 2.
"1. God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass ; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to
the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
“ 2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”
This probably is a fair representation of the doctrine generally held by evangelical Christians. Still, portions of it have been impugned more or less widely and persistently: 1. By those who make God the author of sin. Presbyterrians, in common with almost the whole church, earnestly deny, as their Confession does, that “ God is the author of sin.” Herein they are adversaries of those who, limiting all moral quality to exercises, make God the author of sinful as truly and completely as of holy exercises; an opinion which they have from time to time been called to confront and oppose. 2. They deny that sinful dispositions, whether native or acquired, are the positive creation of God. Such dispositions arise from the withdrawment of his presence and positive agency. God's agency in the premises is wholly privative, like that of the sun to darkness. Darkness comes of the absence of the sun, not of his presence or agency. So when God withdraws from the soul, and the higher principles, which ought to regulate and balance its powers, are thus unsustained, the lower propensities fall into disorder and lawlessness. This withdrawment of God's spirit and favor, we hold, as will yet more fully appear, to be only in judgment or punishment of sin. This is what is meant by God's hardening the heart. It is a withdrawment of divine influences, which leaves it in more abject bondage to its own evil lusts. So the “want of original righteousness,” which is the fontal and originant source of native corruption, we hold is due to the withdrawment of the divine favor and communion vouchsafed to unfallen man, in punishment of that sin by which our first parents, and their posterity in them, fell. It is no positive creation of God. It is simply privative and punitive.
Although much misrepresented or misunderstood in re
gard to our views of predestination and decrees, as if they interfered with the freedom of the will, or subjected it to compulsion or necessity incompatible with freedom, and equivalent to fate, we strenuously maintain the contrary: that “no violence is offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” What is established by the decrees of God is the certainty of future events, or their certain futurition, and this according to their several kinds. “Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently" (Confession of Faith. Chap. V. 2). Events in material objects are necessary relatively to those objects, though they may be free relatively to any free agents who voluntarily cause them. The voluntary acts of free agents are free in those agents. Events contingent on determining conditions known or unknown to us, though certain to God, come to pass "contingently,” in this sense and to this extent. On these points there is really no ground for controversy. All are agreed that events come to pass in this way. The real question is, whether such a futurition of events by decree, as we maintain, can be accomplished, without destroying free-agency and contingency, as above described. This is vehemently denied by one class, who therefore deny that God purposes or decrees all events. We say, on the contrary, that there is nothing in free-agency which is inconsistent with its being previously made certain that the free agent will act in some given way rather than the opposite; nay, we say, that if he acts freely he will act in some certain way, rather than its opposite, and that this may be previously certain, and made certain. Is it not certain how a miser will act, if he acts freely, when a heap. of gold is offered him? How the holy angels will receive all proposals of Satan? And, unless such certainty can be predetermined, how can events be
foreknown? What becomes of foreknowledge, providence, and prophecy ?
The answer made to this is, in effect, that although the will is in such a sense a power of contrary choice or selfdetermination that God cannot foredetermine its action without restraint upon this power and destruction of its freedom, yet God foresees what such free agents so endowed will do, and foreseeing ordains it. This view we earnestly repudiate. In the language of our Confession already quoted : “ Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions.
So far as the present question is concerned, it is enough to say that, as the objects of knowledge are divisible into two great classes, to wit, the possible and the actual, with. out any intermediate tertium quid, so the knowledge of them is twofold, and only twofold, according to the nature of the things known. That is to say, there may be the knowledge of things considered simply as possible to the Divine Omnipotence, scientia naturalis ; and there may be the knowledge not only of things considered as possible, but the knowledge of whatever, out of the whole range of possibilities, actually has been, is, or shall be, scientia libera, seu visionis.
Now in regard to things that have not yet occurred, they can be known only either as things possible to be, or as what, out of the infinite number of things possible to be, shall actually be. There is no foreknowledge, unless it be of events not merely possible but certain to come to pass. But God's absolute and universal foreknowledge of all events is undisputed. He knows them, not merely as what may be, but as what will be. How then do they pass from the category of simple possibility to that of futurition? In regard to all but the acts of free-agents and their consequences, it will scarcely be denied that it is by virtue of the divine purpose that they shall come to pass. But in what other way, can the future acts of free-agents
be matters of certainty, ages before they exist, unless there be causes then in being to render them certain ? And what antecedent eternal grouud of such certainty can there be, except the divine decrec? As to the knowledge of what is not in itself certain at the time of knowing it, it is simply absurd and self-contradictory. What is not in itself certain cannot be known as such. No media scientia, between the knowledge of things as possible and as actual, can be admitted, for the simple reason that there is no possible object of such knowledge, as the Reformed theologians demonstrated over and over again, “contra Jesuitas, Socinios, et Remonstrantes.” 1 The denial of eternal decrees which ensure the futurition of all events, therefore, subverts the foreknowledge of God. And it cannot be denied that it is out of harmony with the scriptural representations, which ever exhibit him as a working all things after the counsel of his own will." (Eph. i. 2). “ He doeth according to his will, in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what doest thou (Dan. iv. 34, 35) ?” The same thing is more distinctly and unquestionably implied in reference to the particular acts of free-agents that are pre-ordained, as the crucifixion of Christ (Acts iv. 27, 28).
The reason alleged, moreover, for founding fore-ordination on prescience, rather than prescience on fore-ordination, is suicidal. It is simply that the rendering of the actions of free-agents certain by an antecedent decree, is incompatible with free-agency; that, if actions are previously rendered certain, to the exclusion of the contrary actions, they are divested of the element of freedom. It is sufficient to say in reply, that the previous certainty or futurition of any event or action, according to its kind, does not alter its nature. Further, if such free acts cannot previously be made certain without losing their freedom they cannot be certain ; and if they are not certain, they cannot be known as such. Thus foreknowledge is impossible. Not only so.
· Turretin, Loc. III. Quaest. 13. Vol. XXI. No. 81.