« PreviousContinue »
hearts which may be hereafter in existence, and embrace all their productions, both in time and in eternity, is an assumption that would involve a thousand contradictions, as absurd and gross as were ever concocted in the brain of a bedlamite, or ever dropped from the lips of a drivelling idiot. It would of necessity imply, however unwilling its advocates might be to look at the consequences, that knowledge has no connexion whatever with fact, or any relation to the objects of its cognizance; that the actual existence of human hearts is by no means requisite to the knowledge of the contents and productions of those hearts; that the actual existence of the contents of those hearts, is not at all necessary to the most minute and certain knowledge of those contents and productions; that actual existence is not necessary for the production of actual knowledge, and that the Divine existence itself is not necessary. In short, it would outberkley Berkleyism itself; for it would follow that eternal prescience, abstract eternal prescience, is absolutely independent of all actual existence, created and uncreated; and that the only real existence and actual being, is the doctrine of an unoriginated, infinite, and eternal prescience.
To suppose that the actual knowledge of the Deity must extend not only to all the present contents of all human hearts in existence, and all the past contents and productions of all human hearts, and to all the future contents and productions of all human hearts in time and in eternity, is therefore an obvious and palpable contradiction.
The Deity is the only being in existence who possesses a perfect knowledge of any heart besides his own. There are, indeed, many persons, I am fully aware, that are in the habit of ascribing a species of omniscience, if not of omnipresence, to that evil spirit “who walketh about seeking whom he may devour;" and in certain schools of speculative christian theology, the omnipresence, or at all events, the pluripresence of the devil, is regarded as being almost, if not altogether, as orthodox as that of eternal prescience itself. And it is worthy, I confess, of such an association; for they have the same morbid and superstitious origin, being the native productions of that misdirected and perverted piety, which is for ever disposed to
magnify into monstrous proportions every object of religious veneration.
The holy Scriptures do most clearly and explicitly state, that, “No man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man, which is in him;" and they do most clearly imply, that the man himself is the only being, except his infinite Creator, who is thoroughly acquainted with the secret thoughts of his own heart. But the infinite and eternal Spirit must be more truly omnipresent and omniscient too, in the person and the heart of every man, than even his own immaterial and immortal mind can be: and the knowledge which the Deity possesses of the secret thoughts of every human heart, must be more competent and perfect than that of the conscious spirit which dwells within the human body can possibly be.
66 In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” “ Hell is naked before Him; and destruction hath no covering."
It has been strangely conceived, that when the Psalmist says, “ Thou understandest my thoughts afar off," he speaks of a distance in duration, and not a distance of place. And I suppose that both the advocate of the doctrine of eternal prescience, and the admirer of the notion of an eternal now, will fancy that they can perceive something in this poetical image of the Psalmist, that will greatly favour their respective theories. But every sober and discerning inquirer will easily perceive, that the object of this pious conception is a distance of place, and not a distance of time. As though the Psalmist had said, Thou needest not to leave the habitation of thy glory, to behold and understand the thoughts of my heart. Thou needest not to travel a long and wearisome journey, or prosecute a laborious inquiry, to ascertain the secret workings of my mind. The range of thy piercing and universal vision, is not confined within the narrow limits of a mundane hemisphere, or even the immeasurable circuit of the solar light; it reaches as far as from heaven to earth. Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thy divine infinitude pervades the geometrical dimensions of my person : thou art cognizant and coexistent with every conception of my mind. Thy knowledge of my body and thy knowledge of my soul, thy knowledge of my actions and my words,
thy knowledge of my secret purposes and desires, at every point of the duration of my being, is absolutely perfect: although it will admit of a constant accession in quantity, throughout the progress of my everlasting existence.
The notion of an eternal prescience cannot possibly be reconciled with that of moral probation. The angel of the Lord said unto Abraham, “ Now I know that thou fearest God; seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thy only son from me.” Gen. xxii. 12. God said unto the ancient Israelites in the wilderness, by his servant Moses, “ If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or å wonder, &c. thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deut. xiii. 1-3. " Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them whether they will walk in my law or no.” Ex. xvi. 4. “ And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee and to prove thee, and to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no. Deut. viii. 2. “ And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and he said, I will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the natives which Joshua left when he died; that through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way
of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.” Judges ii. 20—22. “ And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken to the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” Judges iii. 4. And hence David prayed, “ Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked
in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Ps. cxxxix. 23, 24.
Now let any person read over the foregoing scriptures, and then let him ask his own understanding and conscience, whether the doctrine contained therein be compatible with the notion of an inaugmentible knowledge in
the Deity; and whether it is possible for the doctrine of an eternal prescience to be reconciled with an unsophisticated moral probation of human beings? And let me appeal to the common sense and scripture knowledge of my reader, whether the moral probation of human beings be not instituted for the purpose of ascertaining the real character of human beings, and especially of ascertaining the important fact of their being rendered thereby fit for a state of happy and everlasting retribution? It may, indeed, be argued, that the object of probation is not that of ascertaining, but of producing the fact. But I would ask whether there is any possible way of ascertaining that fact, except by its actual production? The knowledge of the fact must always imply the actual production of the fact; because the knowledge must be dependent upon, and be posterior, to the fact itself.
If the final issue of life be an object of a certain and eternal prescience, the moral probation of human beings must be among the very worst species of jesuitical chicanery; and I therefore boldly challenge the whole world to show how the notion of an eternal prescience may be reconciled with the notion which the Scriptures inculcate of the moral probation of the human race.
The doctrine of an eternal prescience contains no motive to piety or moral y duty, and is incapable of affording any kind of improvement or instruc
tion to either the hearts or the intellects of human beings.
Upon the assumption of an eternal prescience of all moral actions, it would be easy to prove, that the probation of human beings would be altogether unnecessary and perfectly useless. For if the issue of human life be certainly foreseen, what manner of purpose can be possibly answered by the probation of man? Why not place every human being at once, in the very
situation to which it would be certain, on their premises, that he would finally arrive? I will maintain, and I challenge the objector to prove the contrary, that such an arrangement of the final condition of human beings, would be every way as compatible with the justice of God, as any probation under a certain prescience of its final issue could possibly be rendered. For if the final issue of human life be certainly known, then the final issue of human life must be certain in re; and if the final issue of human life be certain in re, then the issue of life must be infallible; and if the issue of life be infallible, then it is not possible for it to miscarry or vary from its anticipated termination : and therefore it is not possible for any probation, under a certain prescience of its final issue, to answer any salutary purpose whatever, upon either the righteous or the wicked, either upon him whose final happiness is certain and secure, or upon him whose final and eternal misery is infallibly anticipated.
Indeed, to say of such a probation as would comport with a certain and eternal prescience of its final issue, that it would be destitute of utility, were to treat it with a civility and ceremony to which it would be by no means entitled. For to speak the naked and uncommuted truth,