Divine Decrees

"It can serve no great purpose to muster up objections against the infallibility of the Divine decrees, or the responsibibily of man; to listen to them when proposed by others; to revolve them in our minds; to perplex ourselves with attempts to answer them, and to allow ourselves to be disquieted and to doubt because our endeavours are not successful. Although we should prove to our satisfaction, as many have done to theirs, that the decrees of God are not absolute, or that man is not free, all that we have gained is, to confirm our minds in the belief of a falsehood; for both doctrines must be true, as they are expressly declared in the Scriptures. To their authority let us bow; and by their decision let us regulate our thoughts and our conduct. If we still oppose our resonings to their dictates, we must take our course; but let us beware lest we dispute ourselves into infidelity or atheism, and seek a refuge from our doubts in the rejection of revelation, because it inculcates truths which to us appear contradictory, or in the cheerless conclusion, that we live in a fatherless world, where chance bears sway, that man is the phantom of an hour, the sport of accident and passion, and that, as he knows not whence he came, so he cannot tell whither he is going. In opposition to this comfortless and impious conclusion, let us hold fast the creed which is consonant to reason as well as to revelation, that the Supreme Being manages the affairs of the universe which he created; that all creatures are dependent upon him, and all events are subject to his control: that while good men obey him from choice, the wrath and wayward passions of the bad are subservient to his design; that, while his almighty power bends them to his purpose, he is a moral Governor and Judge, whose righteousness will be displayed in punishing transgressors, even for those actions which were the means of executing his own decrees." -- Dr. John Dick, Lectures on Theology, page 195, as cited by Chafer.

The Biblical teaching, as well as the rational belief that no incongruity exists between divine prescience and free moral action or contingency, is opposed in early times by Aristotle and later by Dr. Adam Clarke and Chevalier Ramsay. Dr. Clarke states: "God has ordained some things as absolutely certain. He has ordained other things as contingent. These he knows as contingent." Dr. Clarke, in defense of his belief, asserts: "As omnipotence implies the power to do all things, so omniscience implies the ability to know all things, but not the obligation to know all things...God, though possessed of omnipotence, does not evidently exert it to its utmost extent - does not do all he might do - so, though he could know all things, yet that he chooses to be ignorant of some things, because he does not see it proper to know everything he might know" (Commentary on Acts ii, cited by Cooke, The Deity, pp. 285-86). Chevalier Ramsay writes: "It [is] a matter of choice in God, to think of finite ideas" (cited by Watson, Institutes, I, 376).

Aside from the implication which these objections present, namely, that God fears to know the results of free moral action, they introduce a fallacy which is untenable. It is true that omnipotence is of such a nature that it does not commit God to the actual doing of all He is able to do, omnipotence being only the ability to act with unlimited power. In contradistinction to this, omniscience is not the mere ability to acquire knowledge, but is the actual possession of knowledge. Dr. Clarke proposes to make God omniscible but not omniscient. If this supposed parallel between omnipotence and omniscience were true, omnipotence would consist in an infinite act as omniscience consists in the actual comprehending of all things. Richard Watson says of these theories: "The notion of God's choosing to know some things, and not to know others, supposes a reason why he refuses to know any class of things or events, which reason, it would seem, can only arise out of their nature and circumstances, and therefore supposes at least a partial knowledge of them, from which the reason for his not choosing to know them arises. The doctrine is therefore somewhat contradictory. But it is fatal to this opinion, that it does not at all meet the difficulty arising out of the question of the congruity of Divine prescience, and the free actions of man; since some contingent actions, for which men have been made accountable, we are sure have been foreknown by God, because by his Spirit in the prophets they were foretold; and if the freedom of man can in these cases be reconciled to the prescience of God, there is no greater difficulty in any other case which can possibly occur" (Theological Institutes, I, 376-77). -- Chafer, Systematic Theology, Volume I, pp. 195-96.

Back to Main Index

Back to Main Page