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The popular notion of an eternal prescience, not implied in the scripture
doctrine of omniscience, nor contained in any rational conception of an infinite intelligence.
No created being, however exalted, is able to comprehend the mystery of his own existence. Such a knowledge is the sole prerogative of that infinite Being, who is the great author of all created existence, and the liberal donor of all the faculties and all the capabilities of finite beings.
But the most exalted conception which we can possibly form of the infinite intelligence of the Deity, is that wþich includes a perfect comprehension of his own perfections, and which must infinitely exceed the limits of all fipite existence. And that the Deity must fully comprehend his own existence, embracing all the unbounded amplitude of all his perfections, is a truth which no person can doubt, who believes in the existence of an infinite Being.
This is, indeed, the only conceivable sense in which an absolute infinitude can be truly predicated of the Divine knowledge; there being no other sense, in which the word omniscience can be employed, that will include, in its meaning, an infinite sum of knowledge.
Such a knowledge, however, must of necessity be the property, the eternal, and inalienable property of an infinite intelligence; and being coexistent and inseparable from his own existence, can neither be voluntary nor acquired, because it is, in truth, one of the essential and infinite perfections of his own being.
But although we should allow that the Divine omniscience must of necessity imply an actual comprehension of his own infinite perfections, yet it would by no means
follow, that omniscience must include an actual knowledge of all the purposes and all the actions of God, past, present, and to come; because such an assumption would of necessity imply, that all his purposes and all his actions must be as unoriginated and eternal as his own existence.
Such an assumption would deify every volition and every act of the Deity; and by that very means it would rob the Deity himself of his own divinity : for if all the volitions and all the acts of the Supreme Being are indeed eternal and unoriginated in their existence, then it must of necessity follow that he never did conceive any purpose, or execute any design ; and it will equally follow that he never will have it in his power either to conceive any purpose, or execute any design; and it will also follow, by an unavoidable consequence, that the Deity is no more able to conceive a purpose or execute a design, than he is able to create an uncreated and eternal being, or to bestow upon himself the infinite donation of his own existence.
The volitions and actions of the Deity are indeed the efforts of an infinite being; and yet the efforts of even an infinite being must themselves be finite, whether they be employed in the production of an animalcule, or in the creation of a world. Supposing the acts of the Deity to be infinite, the existence of the first act would preclude the possibility of a second ; since the idea of a second infinity is as gross and palpable a contradiction as was ever presented to the human understanding. Every idea of infinity must imply a universality of existence, as well in relation to the amplitude of space as to the perpetuity of a boundless duration : so that although the act of an infinite being is a phrase that is sufficiently intelligible to every mind; yet, when we talk of an infinite act, we only employ an unintelligible jargon, and present to the minds of our hearers the grossest solecism and most palpable contradiction. I will again repeat it, that infinity must always imply an unbounded expanse of space and an unbounded extent of duration ; and therefore it is no more capable of being included in any single act of the Deity, than in any single volition of the human will, or in the sinuous undulation of a crawling worm.
Created existence must for ever be limited, both in
magnitude and number; and therefore the knowledge of all created things, put together, can never amount to an infinite sum of knowledge. But although the knowledge of all finite things put together, can never extend beyond finite limits, yet it must exceed the grasp of every finite intellect, and must be the sole property of an infinite mind.
The knowledge of all finite things, including the volitions and acts of the Deity, as well as those of his creatures, is not only limited in quantity, but is equally limited in duration ; being derived from the objects of its cognizance, and therefore being, of consequence, subsequent and not coeval with the Divine existence.
And as the knowledge of finite things in the mind of the Deity, is not infinite, either in magnitude or duration, neither is it coeval nor coexistent with his being, but is subsequent, and therefore must be acquired; even so, as the limits of finite things shall be enlarged, the knowledge of finite things in the Deity must continue to enlarge with their bounds.
It would be imp pious, in theory, to predicate the properties of divinity to the acquired knowledge of the Deity, and especially to his knowledge of created beings : and yet the ultra predestinarians have been obliged to acknowledge their belief, that prescience and predestination are de facto, God. And indeed, if the doctrine of eternal prescience be ever fairly and fully made out, it must be on the ground of its absolute and essential divinity.
The leading error of pagan theology, lay in clothing the works of God with the attributes of Deity; and this error is obvious and palpable in the doctrine of eternal prescience; inasmuch as it deifies the knowledge of the Supreme Being: and although it may be deemed a more refined species of idolatry than that which was taught by pagan theology, yet its theoretical impiety is equally demonstrable and equally real ; and if it were pushed forward, by fair and legitimate inferences, to its final conclusions, it would lead every one of its advocates into the grossest and most unqualified atheism.
It is plain from the foregoing arguments, that it would be impossible to establish the doctrine of eternal prescience, except by deifying the knowledge of God, and by
attributing an absolute divinity to every volition and every act of the Supreme Being. For if Divinity belong of necessity to any one of the active exercises of the Divine perfections, it must of necessity follow, that the properties of Divinity belong to every volition, to every act, and to every production of the Supreme Being. For if Divinity may be truly predicated of the knowledge of his volitions, it may be more truly predicated of the volitions them. selves; and if Divinity may be truly predicated of the knowledge of his acts, it may be more truly predicated of the acts themselves; and if Divinity may be truly predicated of the knowledge of his created productions, it may be more truly predicated of those created productions themselves.
Will those Christians who advocate the doctrine of eternal prescience, ever hereafter wonder that pagans, destitute of the Divine revelation, should deify the heavenly bodies, and the powers of nature ? while they themselves continue to attribute divinity to every volition and every act, as well as to every production of the Divine Being? Tell me not of the gross idolatry of pagan worship, nor of the thousands of deities which occupied their respective niches in the Pantheon of Athens. We have a million of gods for every one of theirs : all the volitions and all the acts, all the purposes and all the cognitions of the Deity are themselves so many infinite and eternal divinities! Every creature, every production of an infinite being, is tsel infinite. Deities, Christian deities !--they are numerous as the drops contained in the ocean! as the sand upon the sea shore ! as the particles of matter that campose this terrestrial globe! as the atoms contained in the whole material universe.
The most unqualified polytheism is as fair a deduction from the doctrine of an eternal prescience, as that the properties which belong essentially to one being, must of necessity belong to every other of the same species ; or, as that every gratuitous compliment to the actions of the Supreme Being, like the voluntary humility of the worship of angels, must, if it be followed up to its ultimate consequences, terminate in deifying, in theory, the Deity himself.
That the Divine omniscience must include a perfect
knowledge of all abstract possibilities, we are very ready to admit; and we are as ready to acknowledge that the Deity must know all that is possible to be done, both by himself and by every other being; because such a knowledge is inseparable from Divinity, being itself unoriginated and eternal. But although His knowledge of what is possible, be itself necessary and underived, yet his knowledge of finite facts and existences can only be coeval and coexistent with those facts and existences themselves. And, such being the nature of the Divine omniscience, it is not possible for any thing to transpire, the possibility of which he did not anticipate, and which in its 'actual existence could outstep, in the order of time, the cognitions of the Divine mind, or overleap the bounds of Divine control. So that the popular objection, that upon a rejection of the doctrine of prescience, we must suppose that Deity might be taken by surprise, or that any event might exist, in the order of time, before its recognition by the Deity, entirely vanishes away.
It is a notorious fact, that in relation to the conduct of the Jews, in “ causing their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech," the Almighty does most emphatically declare, it did not even come into his mind, that they would ever commit such abominable idolatries; from whence it must follow, that although he most assuredly knew that such things were within the limits of possibility, yet he did not by any means expect that they would actually commit such abominable wickedness. Jer. xxxii. 35.
The hackneyed and threadbare assertion, that the glorious expedient of human redemption could not have been any after-thought in the Deity, like many other popular sayings, is mere assertion without proof. And even if the assertion were founded in truth, I cannot perceive any great importance that could be reasonably attached to the circumstance in question ; as the credit of human redemption must rest, in reality, upon its own intrinsical excellency, that is, upon its efficiency in the salvation of human beings. If the circumstance of priority, or rather of eternity of existence in the Divine mind, were its greatest excellency, it is an excellency that must equally belong, on their favourite system, to every creature of every species, to the obscenities