« PreviousContinue »
uncertain, but foreknown with the utmost certainty, though they be not decreed necessarily, as will appear afterwards.-Secondly, in all the passages referred to, the divine counsel is said to stand against all human power and counsel, but not against the liberty of will with regard to such things as God himself had placed at man's disposal, and had determined so to place from all eternity. For otherwise, one of God's decrees would be in direct opposition to another, and that very consequence would ensue which the objector imputes to the doctrine of his opponents, namely, that by considering those things as necessary, which the Deity had left to the uncontrouled decision of man, God would be rendered mutable. But God is not mutable, so long as he decrees nothing absolutely which could happen otherwise through the liberty assigned to man ; whereas he would then be mutable, then his counsel would not stand, if he were to, obstruct by another decree that liberty which he had already decreed, or were to darken it with the least shadow of necessity.*
It follows, therefore, that the liberty of man must be considered entirely independent of necessity, and no admission can be made in favour of that modification of the principle which is founded on the doctrine of God's immutability and prescience. If there be any necessity at all, as has been stated before, it either determines free agents to a particular line of conduct, or it constrains them against their will, or it co-operates with them in conjunction with their will, or it is altogether inoperative. If it determine free agents to a particular line of conduct, man will be rendered the natural cause of all his actions, and consequently of his sins, and formed as it were with an inclination for sinning. If it constrain them against their will, man who is subject to this compulsory decree will be rendered the cause of sins only per accidens, God being the cause of sins per se. If it co-operate with them in conjunction with their will, then God becomes either the principal or the joint cause of sins with
* So without least impulse or shadow of fate,
Paradise Lost, III. 120, f........... Beyond this had been force, And force upon free will hath here no place.
Paradise Lost, IX. 1174,
If, finally, it be altogether inoperative, there is no such thing as necessity, it virtually destroys itself by being without operation. For it is wholly imposşible, that God should have decreed necessarily what we know at the same time to be in the power of man; or that that should be immutable which it remains for subsequent contingent circumstances either to fulfil or frustrate.
Whatever, therefore, was left to the free will of our first parents, could not have been decreed immutably or absolutely from all eternity ; and questionless, either nothing was ever placed in man's power, or if it were, God cannot be said to have determined finally respecting it without reference to possible contingencies.
If it be objected, that this doctrine leads to absurd consequences, we reply, either the consequences are not absurd, or they are not the consequences of the doctrine. For it is neither impious nor absurd to say, that the idea of certain things or events might be suggested to God from some extraneous source; for since God had determined from all eteruity, that man should so far be a free agent, that it remained with himself to decide whether he would stand or fall,* the idea of that evil event, or of the fall of man, was suggested to God from an extraneous source,-a truth which all confess.
Nor does it follow from hence, that what is merely temporal becomes the cause of, or a restriction upon what is eternal, for it was not any thing temporal, but the wisdom of the eternal mind that
occasion for framing the divine counsel.
Whatever therefore was the subject of the divine counsel, whether man or angelt who was to be gifted
.... such discourse bring on
He swerve not, too secure. Paradise Lost, V. 233.
Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand ?
But Heaven's free love dealt equally to all ? IV. 66.
Myself, and all the angelick host, that stand
And some are fallen V. 535.
with free will, so that his fall might depend upon his own volition, such without doubt was the nature of the decree itself, so that all the evil consequences which ensued were contingent upon man's will; wherefore the covenant stood thus-if thou remain faithful, thou shalt abide in Paradise ; if thou fall, thou shalt be cast out: if thou dost not eat the forbidden fruit, thou shalt live ; if thou eat, thou shalt
Hence, those who contend that the liberty of actions is subject to an absolute decree, erroneously conclude that the decree of God is the cause of his foreknowledge, and antecedent in order of time. If we must apply to God a phraseology borrowed from our own habits and understanding, that his decrees should have been the consequence of his foreknowledge seems more agreeable to reason, as well as to Scripture, and to the nature of God himself, who, as has just been proved, decreed every thing according to his infinite wisdom by virtue of his foreknowledge.
It is not intended to deny that the will of God is the first cause of all things, but we do not separate his prescience and wisdom from his will, much less do we think them subsequent to the latter in point of time. Finally, the will of God is not less the universal first cause, because he has himself decreed that
thine and of all thy sons
Paradise Lost, VIII. 637. † According to the Supralapsarian doctrine, that a prescience of future contingents, antecedent to the divine decree, is an absurdity and impossibility.
some things should be left to our own free will, than if each particular event had been decreed necessarily.
To comprehend the whole matter in a few words, the sum of the argument may be thus stated in strict conformity with reason.
God of his wisdom determined to create men and angels reasonable beings,* and therefore free agents; at the same time he foresaw which way the bias of their will would incline, in the exercise of their own uncontrouled liberty.t What then ? shall we say that this foresight or foreknowledge on the part of God imposed on them the necessity of acting in any definite way? No more than if the future event had been foreseen by any human being. For what any human being has foreseen as certain to happen, will not less certainly happen than what God himself has predicted. Thus Elisha foresaw how much evil Hazael would bring upon the children of Israel in the course of a few years, 2 Kings viii. 12. Yet no one would affirm that the evil took place necessarily on account of the foreknowledge of Elisha ; for had he never foreknown it, the event would have occurred with equal certainty, through the free will of the agent. So neither does any thing happen because God has fore
*... God left free the will, for what obeys
But bid her well be ware, and still erect. IX. 351.
Paradise Lost, X. 5.