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from the book of fate, and disclosures of the secrets of eternity? If that were the case, wherein did the sin of the heathen oracles consist? Did it consist in professing to be acquainted with the records of eternity, when they were not ? and because their predictions were only fortunate guesses, and not the anticipations of an eternally prescient being ? or did the sin of heathen oracles consist, in their exposing the purposed secrets of the Almighty? And did they outwit the purposed secresy of Jehovah, by information obtained from the regions of hell ? or, did not the sin of heathen oracles consist in rejecting the agency of God in the government of the world, and in substituting the doctrine of eternal prescience in its stead?
The doctrine of fate, and the doctrine of scripture prophecy are as widely different from each other as light and darkness, but those of prescience and fate are cognate and inseparable: they alike exclude the agency of God, and the moral freedom of human actions; they are built on the foundation, and take them as premises, they justify and involve the same conclusions. You can predicate nothing of fate, which you cannot as legitimately affirm of prescience; and you cannot deduce any single consequence from the one, which you may not as fairly and obviously infer from the other. If the doctrine of prescience be true, that of the most fatal necessity cannot possibly be false; and if the doctrine of fate be false, that of eternal prescience cannot possibly be true. Eternal prescience and eternal fatalism must always stand or fall together. The great evil of the heathen oracles lay in the exclusion of the infinite agency of God, and in the propagation of the doctrine of a fatal necessity, which destroyed, in theory, the moral freedom of the human mind : and the evil of eternal prescience is precisely the same: the same in nature, the same in magnitude, the same in its bearings, and the same in its consequences. There is a nominal difference between the doctrine of eternal necessity and that of eternal anticipation; inasmuch as in the one is called fate, and the other entitled prescience; and there is a relative difference between them, because the one is indicative of causation and the other of issue; and there is a shade of difference in their filiation, the one being matriculated upon Nature, and the other being fraudulently and impiously fathered upon the eternal Jehovah :
but as far as the argument and the truth of the case are concerned, the atheism of the one is apparent and gross as that of the other.
To maintain that the design of scripture prophecy is to assert the doctrine of an eternal prescience, would be to place the prophets of the living God in the same class of agents with the witches and diviners of Canaan, upon whom were denounced the most tremendous curses of the Divine displeasure; and in the very same order of characters with the
pagan oracles. The notion of an eternal prescience is not borrowed from any of those noble and intelligible representations of the Deity, which are contained in the pages of scripture prophecy, but is derived from the heathen doctrine of a fatal and eternal necessity, and it must be confessed that they uniformly imply each other by a reciprocal and infallible consequence. Fate and prescience agree alike with the witcheries of Canaan and the chicanery of pagan oracles; and to search for either of them in the sacred volume, would be like grooping for stars at the bottom of the ocean, or fishing for sprats in the vault of heaven.
It is truly astonishing on what an equivocal and imaginary foundation, the theory of prescience has been erected, and on what slender and irrelevant evidence the advocates of that doctrine will profess to have derived a conviction of its truth. I remember being once in a bookseller's shop in the north of England, when the subject of prescience was brought on the tapis. I ventured to inquire of the gentlemen present, whether any scripture could be produced which would either formally express, or clearly imply, a certain foreknowledge of the final issue of human life, and the eternal destiny of every human being; and was not a little surprised when a gentleman came forward, and with a very grave countenance affirmed, that he regarded the following scripture as being clearly and decisively expressive of those horrible points of doctrine. “ Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Acts xv. 18. I asked him, with astonishment, whether he made no distinction between the works of the living God, and the conditions and actions of men and whether he confounded the “works which were known to God from the beginning of the world,” with the works and secret things which God
will bring into judgment at the great day? But, alas, alas! I might just as well have reasoned with the waves of the sea. In vain did I expose the unsoundness of his premises, and push them forward into their ultimate and monstrous consequences. He regarded the doctrine as being of Divine authority, and he therefore wisely concluded it must certainly be found somewhere in the sacred volume: and he appeared to think that no contradiction, however apparent, and that no absurdity, however gross and palpable, ought to invalidate the evidence of its truth, or weaken on his mind the bonds of its obligation. My heart exclaimed, O implicit faith! O pious credulity! Where are all those divine excellencies which learned theologians have so much admired in thee? Thou art the opiate of sound reason ! Thou art the heaviest curse which has ever fallen either on the intellect or the heart of man! Under thy palsying touch, all the noble faculties of the human mind are completely prostrated! Man has eyes, indeed, but he seeth not; ears he has, but he heareth not; he has a heart, but he cannot understand.
On making a careful and impartial inquiry into the doctrine of scripture prophecy, it will be found that one class of scripture predictions are intended to reveal the purposes of God towards the human race in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; another class of predictions consist of denunciations, premonitions, and promises, some of which are unconditional and absolute, and others suspend their fulfilment upon the future conduct of those persons against whom they are denounced, or in whose favour they are promulgated; the obvious design of others is to demonstrate the Divine omniscience, and especially his perfect knowledge of the human heart; while others are but little more than moral principles and maxims of human conduct, which receive many accidental fulfilmnents in the subsequent operations of Providence, and the developements of the characters of men : but the great and obvious design of scripture prophecy is that of asserting the infinite and sovereign agency of God in the government of the world. There are undoubtedly many minor facts and principles contained in the general doctrine of prophecy; but scripture prophecy contains no particle of the doctrine of eternal fate and eternal prescience, which are purely
heathen in their origin, and have no legitimate filiation, except in the grossest atheism, and the most immutable and eternal nesessity.
“ If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he giveth you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken to the words of that prophet, or 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, &c. Now can any person suppose that the devil is able to work a miracle ; or that God himself would employ a miraculous agency to confirm a lie, or what will amount to precisely the same thing, that he will, according to the Shibboleth of some persons, permit a wicked man, or heathen oracles to perform a miracle in support of the doctrines of idolatry ? Such a supposition would sacrifice the character of God, by making him the author of a snare to entrap the credulity and weakness of man. The obvious meaning of the passage in question goes to intimate, that while the ancient Israelites maintained the integrity of their hearts towards God, they would always be able to detect the impositions of pagan oracles; and, on the contrary, the secret infidelity of their hearts would be brought to light by their falling in the snare of the idol priests. The machinations therefore of the idol priests would only operate as a test of their integrity towards God. But on a supposition that all the productions of the human heart are objects of a certain and eternal prescience, there can be no contingency in human actions, nor any moral testation of the human character, nor any consistent and honest meaning in the foregoing passage of the word of God.
The following quotation from Isaiah contains a bold and intelligible statement of the doctrine of scripture prophecy: “ Produce your cause, saith the Lord, bring forth your strong reasons (Lowth, mighty powers), saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring forth, and shew us what shall happen : let them shew the former things, what they be (things that shall first happen), that we may consider them and know the latter end of them; or declare to us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, (in latter times,)
that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. Behold, ye are all of nothing, and your work of nought. I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon mortar, and as the potter treadeth the clay. Who hath declared (this) from the beginning, that we may know it? and beforetime that he may say, He is righteous ? (And beforehand that we may say, The prediction is true ?)”
We see in the preceding representation of the design of prophecy, the necessary and uniform connexion and association of knowledge and agency, of an infinite intelligence with an almighty power, of the knowledge of future events with the future government of the world : and we see that the incapability of the heathen oracles to foretel the events of the world, is imputed to their being destitute of an agency that was competent to the government of the world. The Governor of the world is the only being who can predict the future events of the world. Jehovah asserts his agency by his predictions, and demonstrates his agency by their fulfilment :
: nor is it possible to support the scripture doctrine of prescience, except by the scripture doctrine of the infinite agency of God in the government of the world.
The scripture doctrine of a rectoral prescience in the government of the world, and the popular notion of an unoriginated and eternal prescience, are like Bozer and Senah; on the one are encamped the uncircumcised Philistines, and on the other, the army of the living God.