« AnteriorContinuar »
away in a shadow, or will be metamorphosed in the twinkling of an eye into a stream of water, a gap in the hedge, or into an unconscious and unoffending post. From generation to generation, the gigantic bugbear of prescience has terrified its thousands and its tens of thousands, but as soon as he is boldly confronted, he dwindles into the stature of a pigmy, and stares in all the gaping vacancy of an idiot : this mighty dilemma of prescience on the one hand, and freedom on the other, has alarmed its myriads, but, after all, it is nothing but an imaginary terror: only step forward, and stretch out your hand to touch it, and it will shrink and disappear like the flimsy horns of a snail.
R. Well, Sir, you had better prepare yourself for a severe castigation. Those literary police, the reviewers, will have hold on you; and if they can but find a single flaw in your performance, they will rend it from end to end. Take my word for it, they will have you over the gridiron, and make you submit to the fiery ordeal.
A. Sir, I do not pretend to despise sound criticism, or to disregard the voice of public opinion: neither am I vain enough to suppose that the style in which I have written will fully gratify the fastidious taste of a fashionable reviewer. I calculate upon the corrections of classical criticisms, and shall be happy to profit by their suggestions and their emendations. As to the great argument at issue, that, I am pretty well satisfied, will be found, upon investigation, to be sound and tenable, and will abide the ordeal of the most rigid examination. I am not, however, under much apprehension that any competent reviewer will even be at the trouble to follow my argumentation through all its ramifications. Vulgar critics, in vast numbers, will probably raise the hue-andcry after my performance; but they will only resemble a number of terriers surrounding a well-defended porcupine; they will wheel around it with sufficient clamour and sufficient cowardice, sometimes advancing and sometimes retreating from the object of their displeasure and their fears : all will eagerly unite in the belluine chorus, but every one of them will be too much afraid for hi own tender muzzle, to give his antagonist a fair and honest gripe.
R. Well, Sir, but let me ask you, did not Mr. John Wesley believe in the doctrine of eternal prescience ?
A. It is generally supposed that he did ; but it would be diffi
cult to prove the fact from his Notes on the New Testament, or from the first four volumes of his Sermons, which he regarded as containing the principles of his religious system. In one of his sermons he briefly recognizes the notion of the Nunc Stans, but he does not in any instance inculcate the doctrine of an eternal prescience, neither has he written any thing at length, or expressly on that subject. Mr. Wesley was not a system maker: he rejected the most palpable and noxious theological errors of his time, but he did not pursue any of his premises, important as they were, to their utmost consequences; being employed, as he regarded himself, by the Almighty, not in compiling bodies of speculative divinity, but in the propagation of experimental piety.*
* Mr. Wesley did, I have no doubt, sincerely believe in the Scripture doctrine of the Divine Foreknowledge ; but he has not, in any single instance, inculcated the notion of an inaugmentable knowledge in the Deity; neither has he, in any part of his writings, explicitly avowed his belief in such an unqualified representation of the Divine Prescience. On the contrary, he has written many things which are obviously and irreconcileably opposed to the notion of an absolute prescience, and he has inserted many things in the Arminian Magazine, which were written for the very purpose of refuting and exposing the senseless notion of an unoriginated, infinite, and eternal prescience. There is an article inserted in the ninth volume, and at the twenty-seventh page, which contains sentiments as diametrically opposite to the notion of an inaug. mentable knowledge in the Deity as any thing that will be found in the following treatise. They are as follow :
Of the Foreknowledge of God. (Extracted from a late Author.)
• It is true, that God, by his own Omnipresence, sees necessarily all that is ; because all things lie open and bare before him. But this can be said only of what is already existent, necessary and inevitable, and not of what is contingent, possible and free; because there is no reality existent in matters purely possible that can be the object of the divine perception. When God, therefore, forms the idea of a free creature, he forms that of an intelligence, whose determinations he leaves unconstrained : they may be, or may not be ; and consequently their happening is only contingent and possible. Now, to see, in the nature of the creatures, or in his own decrees, what is only contingent and possible, as infallibly future and inevitable, is a perfect contradiction. It is to create and annihilate, to form and destroy, to establish and overturn his object by the same individual act; it is producing a triangular circle. Wherefore as we do not derogate from the Divine Omnipotence by denying that he can produce the one, so neither do we impeach the Divine Omniscience by denying that he can see the other. In both cases, the ideas are incompatible, and their union is impossible, and so that they cannot be the objects of the divine power or knowledge.
“(in relation to the actions of intelligent and accountable beings,)
R. Well, but do not the Wesleyan Methodists believe in the doctrine of eternal prescience ?
A. Sir, there may be a popular and vulgar circulation of that doctrine among the Wesleyan Methodists, but there is no official recognition of that doctrine by the body. One of the greatest excellencies of their system lies, in the latitude and liberality both
He sees by one simple unsuccessive act all their possible directions, and all the combinations of free and necessary, of moral and physical causes, but he neither foresees, foreordains, nor fixes immutably any one succession of events that can destroy their free choice. He foresees, not all that will happen, but all that can happen, and provides for all possible contingencies. This is far more perfect than to foresee infallibly only one sort of events, and exclude all the others, by an omnipotent irresistible power. It is therefore absolutely false to maintain that all the particular actions, passions, and crimes, that all the inspirations, virtues, and graces, that all the wanderings, returns and determinations of each individual, are so foreseen and foredetermined that one link cannot be broken, without dissolving the whole chain of providence. Such a fatal chain, far from being necessary to the accomplishment of God's great designs, would entirely destroy them, by converting free agents into spiritual machines.
Though God does not foresee nor foreordain, as absolutely certain, and infallibly future, all the determinations of free agents, yet he may foresee and foretel, when he pleases, all the natural and necessary consequences of their free determinations.
** He saw the dangers into which we hurry, and to hinder us from falling into them, he is represented in the Holy Scriptures, as admonishing, threatening, exhorting, requesting, and weeping over his creatures ; yea, exhausting, as it were, all the efforts of his own power, wisdom, and goodness, without success.
• What could I have done more for my vineyard,' says the Holy Ghost, ‘that I have not done? All these solicitations, admonitions, and vehement expostulations, would be useless if we were not free, and if God acted upon us by an omnipotent irresistible will. Yea, they would be illusory, if he foresaw, from all eternity, that free agents would certainly, infallibly, and absolutely do what he exhorts them not to do.
* “ The system of prescience, when rightly understood, answers all objections, without darkening the matter, by the subtilties, palliations, and subterfuges of the schoolmen. It is by this scheme alone, that we (are able to) confound all the blasphemies of the Socinians and Epicureans, as also those of the Fatalists. The two first maintain that God can foresee and foretel none of the actions of free agents, and so destroy prescience; the last assert that God sees all the determinations of intellectual agents in his own absolute will, and so destroy liberty. The true medium between these two extremes, consists in maintaining that God can and does foresee, foreordain, and execute whatever he pleases in heaven and earth ; but that he neither foresees nor foreordains as infallibly future, what he leaves to the free choice of intellectual agents, because this is repugnant and contradictory.”
of the articles of their official creed, and of the terms in which they are usually expressed and conveyed : and this peculiar feature of Wesleyan Methodism will render it capable of keeping pace with the progression of public feeling and public opinion, and of incorporating in its system the improvements of every succeeding generation. Sir, Wesleyan Methodism would not venture to give its public sanction to such a nostrum as the doctrine of an unoriginated, and infinite, and eternal prescience.
R. Well, Sir, I must confess that you are able to say more in your own defence than I had ever anticipated : but you must not suppose, that although I may not be able at the present to refute your arguments, you will be as fortunate with every other opponent. Indeed it is my present intention to consult those persons of my acquaintance who have thought more attentively on these intricate questions than I have hitherto done; so that I may, perhaps, be better prepared at our next interview.
A. Sir, I do sincerely thank you for the patience with which you have listened to my observations, and I shall be very happy to meet you on some future occasion, when I will endeavour to answer any objections which you may have gleaned up among your most intelligent and inquiring friends. And, mark you, my good Sir, when you get among the knowing ones, do request them to have the goodness to inform you, how it may be possible for actual knowledge to outstep the bounds of actual existence; and how it may be possible for any future event to be the object of a certain and infallible prescience, while the issue itself may remain a perfect contingency; and also how it may be possible for any of the perfections of the Deity to step over the bounds of an abstract possibility. In the mean time, let me beg that you will yourself look the question fairly in the face, and that you will have the courage to follow the rational convictions of your own mind. Farewell.
AN INQUIRY, &c.
A Statement of the doctrine of an unoriginated, infinite, and eternal Pre
science, as it is currently and implicitly received by a very large proportion of the Christian world.
THE doctrine of prescience, in all probability, has formed an integral part of every system of pagan theology, and has been a prominent feature in almost every theological system in the world, except in that fair, and lovely, and rational system of salvation by Jesus Christ, which has been given to mankind by Divine authority.
In every theological system, which has been formed on the principles of moral necessity, whether pagan or professedly Christian, the doctrines of prescience and fate, have been associated as cognate ideas, which have uniformly and of necessity produced each other.
Of the numerous corruptions, and errors which have found their way into the Christian churches, under the cover and protection of those mandatory versions of Christian theology, usually dignified by the appellation of creeds; the heathen doctrine of fate, and the popular cognomon of predestination, has been among the most notorious and most inimicable to the vital interests of the religion of Jesus Christ. It is a doctrine, which, if it were carried through a series of legitimate and fearless deduction, on to its worst and final conclusions, would involve the most impious and