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possibly, the objects of anticipation to the infinite mind of God; but they may not be the objects of an actual knowledge; they may also be matters of Divine determination, and in that case, they must be the objects of a certain prescience; but even, in such a case, their actual existence cannot be the object of an actual knowledge. The possibility of any future event, must be an object of kuowledge in the Deity, because it is the subject of an actual existence; the determination in the Deity to give existence to any future event, must be an object of knowledge with him, because that determination itself is in actual existence. Therefore the conclusion is demonstrable ; which is, that knowledge can never outstep the bounds of actual and real existence. Possible existence, is only hypothetical ; actual existence, is real; and that knowledge must be equally real, which consists of an actual perception of actual and real being.
When we keep in mind that the actual knowledge of God must be coexistent and coeval with all actual existence, both created and uncreated, we must be fully aware that it is not possible for the Deity to be deceived, or for any thing to transpire without his actual knowledge. By the infinite expansion and plenitude of the Deity, and by the eternal continuity of his own existence, his wisdom and his power, his justice and his goodness, must be every where, and at all times ready to be employed according to his own will, and as his infinite and infallible will
dictate, and as every case may respectively require. He has no need to travel over the circuit of the heavens, or along the longitudes of the earth, now attending upon one, and then upon another of the objects of his fatherly care. la consequence of the universality of his being, “ All nations before him are as nothing: and they are counted to him as less than nothing and vanity.” So that we may demand, with the Prophet, “ To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?". And we may adopt the sublime adoration of the Psalmist, and say, “Whether shall I go from thy spirit ? or whether shall i flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there ! If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike unto thee.” Ps. cxxxix.
Such a knowledge, and such an agency, as are described in the foregoing passages of Holy Writ, must be every way adequate to the government of the world. And yet, in these splendid and subline descriptions of the agency of God, there is not a single hint of any thing like an eternal prescience; neither would it be in the power of an eternal prescience, if such a perfection did actually exist in the Deity, to add one single iota of efficiency to an agency like that which is described in the foregoing quotations. The assumption of an eternal prescience would, in theory, completely ruin the moral character of the Deity; but it would add nothing to his real efficiency in the government of the world.
On the assumption of an eternal prescience, the moral government of the world would be reduced to a mere chimerical and unintelligible notion of the human fancy: the order of events would be literally and infallibly anticipated, nor would there be even an abstract possibility of altering any single occurrence, either in its character, or its order of succession. Immutability may be truly predicated of the Divine character, and of the principles of the moral government of the world; but it can never be truly predicated of the exercise and developement of those principles in the actual government of the world, and in the application of a suasive agency to the human heart; nor of the distribution of rewards and punishments among accountable beings. The conduct of God towards moral and accountable creatures, must of necessity be changed, with every change of character and conduct, which such accountable creatures may either perversely or obediently
An erroneous notion of the Divine immutability, has given rise to a thousand contradictions and absurdities in speculative theology: and it may be as truly said of the advocates of eternal prescience, as ever it was affirmed of those sceptics who reject the doctrine of punishment, that,
“ They set at odds heaven's jarring attributes,
And with one excellency another wound.
A certain and eternal prescience of all moral actions would not by any means be implied in a perfect knowledge of the human heart. The investigation of all human hearts is, indeed, a Divine prerogative. Such was the conviction of Solomon, when he said, “ Thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men.” It was under a devout and lively conviction of this solemn verity, that David prayed, “ Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.” And it was for this reason that, in his dying charge to Solomon, he said, “ And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts." But the knowledge of the human heart by the Deity, like his knowledge of all other things, except the hypostasis of his own being, must be, of necessity, a personal acquirement; and if a personal acquirement, it must be extrancous to his own being; and if extraneous to his own being, it must be originated ; and if originated, it must be posterior in the order of its existence; and if all the knowledge of the Deity be posterior to his own existence, and be a personal acquisition, it must, of consequence, be capable of perpetual accession.
But although the present contents of all human hearts, and the past productions of all human hearts, be perfectly known by the Deity, it will not by any means follow from thence, that the future productions of all human hearts can be the objects of a certain and eternal prescience. The future productions of all human hearts have at present no actual or real existence; they have not even a relative existence : all that can be said of them is, that they are possible, or at the utmost probable. That is to say, it is probable there will be human hearts in existence in future stages of duration, and that human hearts will be as fertile of mental and moral productions at that period, as human hearts are found to be at the present day. The possibility and the
probability of the case, have both of them a real and actual existence; and therefore, to the Divine mind, they must be the objects of a real and certain knowledge; but the future possible or probable contents of human hearts, have at present no real, or actual, or even relative existence; and therefore it is not possible for them to be the objects of a real and actual perception. A knowledge of that which has no real existence is, very obviously, a knowledge of a nonentity; videlicet, no knowledge at all. This gigantic monster of an infinite and eternal prescience, is terrible only while it is viewed afar off, and real only while the mind is paralyzed by the touch of implicit credulity, or prostrated on the earth by superstitious fear. It reminds me of a story which was once related to me by a young man, who was reputed to be in possession of the faculty of second sight; and who himself did appear to believe that he really had the faculty of seeing preternatural appearances. He told me, that one moonlight night, as he was ascending an easy acclivity, on an extended field, he perceived a most gigantic object before him. He stood still, and contemplated this large and wonderful phenomenon, and he endeavoured to ascertain its form, and proportions, and other visible or seeming properties; but although his mind, as he said, was perfectly calm, being accustomed to such preternatural interruptions in his mortal pilgrimage, yet he could not make out any regularity of form, nor was he able to convey to me in words, any thing like an intelligible conception of this very extraordinary vision. He nevertheless walked boldly, and, I suppose, very slowly up towards the mysterious and equivocal object that stood before him. He had not long, however, pursued the phantom, before he actually perceived that it gradually diminished in magnitude, and equally so, I have no manner of doubt, in its terrors. His pace was accelerated, and the contractions of the ghost became accelerated with equal rapidity; as the agility of the ghost increased, the speed of its pursuer was quickened, until the ghost and its pursuer were fairly put upon their metal; and it became a decided and determined race. The ghost, however, had the policy to get the start, and to keep it; and, moreover, he had this advantage over his earthly antagonist, that whereas his pursuer became weaker by the effort of every succeeding step, the ghost
was constantly diminishing in magnitude, and consequently, I presume, in personal gravitation; and therefore the farther he ran the less must have had to carry. Still, however, the ghost, having once lost his confidence, and of course his self-possession, he could never afterwards perfectly regain them; but he continued to diminish as the chase proceeded; until at length, he was fain to have recourse to a cowardly stratagem, and to secure a speedy lodgment in the knotted roots of an aged oak. And therefore, as the young man found it impracticable to follow the phantom into its subterraneous retreat, the race was, of necessity, completely at an end.
In like manner, the ghostly doctrine of eternal prescience has been of amazing volume, and of the most terrible and mysterious aspect to the microscopic and delusive visions of religious superstition and popular credulity. But some few intrepid spirits have had the courage to turn upon the fearful goblin of eternal prescience: and he has already commenced his retreat, and has begun to shrink in his apparent bulk: only let the chace be pursued with determination and vigour, and his pigmy form, and empty shadow, will skulk away in the labyrinths of evasion; and then he will never have the confidence to assail the distempered imagination again, as long as human nature itself shall endure.
It is stated on several occasions by the Evangelists, that our blessed Redeemer knew the hearts of the Jews, that he perceived their thoughts, and detected their secret reasonings: and especially, “ That he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” John ii. 24. But not one of those passages of Holy Writ, either expresses or implies an eternal and inaugmentible knowledge; they all evidently refer to the present actual contents and productions of the human heart, and to the known character of the persons of whom our Lord was speaking. To suppore
that the actual and present knowledge of the Deity must extend not only to all the present contents of all human hearts, and all the past contents and productions of all human hearts, but that it must include all the future productions of all the human hearts which are already in existence, and all the productions of all human