DIVINE ATTRIBUTES. — (Continued). 


1. What is the Scriptural account of God's knowledge and wisdom? What is the meaning of His simple, His free, His mediate knowledge? Does God's free knowledge extend to the future acts of free agents?
Renew of Breckinridge's Theology by the author. Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qus. 12, 13. Dick, Lects. 21, 22. Watson's Theo. Inst., pt. ii, chs. 4, 28, § 3. Dr. Chr. Knapp, § xxii.

2. Do the Scriptures teach God to be a voluntary being? What limitation, if any, on His will? Prove that He is omnipotent. Does God govern free agents omnipotently?
Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qus. 14, 21, 22. Dick, Lect. 23. Watson, Theo. Inst. pt. ii, chs. 28, § 3, 4. Knapp, § xxi.

3. What is the distinction between God's decretive anal preceptive will, Is it just? Between His antecedent and consequent will? Are His volitions ever conditioned on anything out of Himself?
Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qus. 15, 16, 17. Knapp, § xxv and xxvi.

4. Is God's will the sole source of moral distinctions?
Turrettin, Loc iii, Qu. 18.

God's Knowledge and Wisdom.

THE difference between knowledge and wisdom has been already defined as this:—Knowledge is the simple cognition of things; wisdom is the selecting and subordinating of them to an end, as means. Not only must there be the power of selecting and subordinating means to an end, to constitute wisdom, but to a worthy end. Wisdom, therefore, is a higher attribute than knowledge, involving especially the moral perfections. For when one proceeds to the selection of an end, there is choice, and the moral element is introduced. Wisdom and knowledge are the attributes which characterise God as pure mind, as a being of infinite and essential intelligence. That God's knowledge is vast, we argued from His spirituality, from His creation of other minds; (Psalm 94:7-10), from His work of creation in general, from His omnipresence; (Psalm 139:1-12), and from His other perfections of power, and especially, of goodness, truth and righteousness, to the exercise of which knowledge is constantly essential. Of His wisdom, the great natural proof is the wonderful, manifold, and beneficent contrivances in His works of creation (Ps 114:2-4), and providence. That God's knowledge is distinct, and in every case intuitive, never deductive, seems to flow from its perfection. We only know substances by their attributes; God must know them in their true substance:—because it was His creative wisdom which clothed each substance with its essential qualities. We only learn many things by inference from other things; God knows all things intuitively; because there can be no succession in His knowledge, admitting of the relation of premise and conclusion.


We may show the infinite extent of God's knowledge, by viewing it under several distributions. He perfectly knows Himself (1 Corinthians 2:11). He has all the past perfectly before His mind, so that there is no room for any work of recollection (Isaiah 41:22; 43:9). This is also shown by the doctrine of a universal judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Luke 8:17; Romans 2:16; 3:6; 14:10; Matthew 12:36; Psalm 61:8; Malachi 3:16; Revelation 20:12; Jeremiah 17:1). All the acts and thoughts of all His creatures, which occur in the present, are known to Him as they occur (Genesis 16:13; Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 147:4, 5; 34:15; Zechariah 4:10; Proverbs 5:21; Job 34:22; Luke 12:6; Hebrews 4:13). Especially do the Scriptures claim for God a full and perfect knowledge of man's thoughts, feelings and purposes—however concealed in the soul (Job 34:21; Psalm 134; Jeremiah 17:10; John. 2:25; Psalm 44:21, and so on.).

Scientia Simplex. What?

God also knows, and has always known, all that shall ever occur in the future (See Isaiah 13:9; Acts 15:18). Of this, all God's predictions likewise afford clear evidence. The particularity of God's foreknowledge even of the most minute things, may be seen, well defended. Turrettin, Loc. 3, Qu. 12, 4-6.

Or, adopting another distribution, we may assert that God knows all the possible and all the actual. It is His knowledge of the former, which is called by the scholastics scientia simplicis intelligentia:—Its object is not that which God has determined to effectuate (the knowledge of which is called "free" or scientia visionis;), but that which His infinite intelligence sees might be effectuated, if He saw fit to will it. (The scholastics call it His knowledge of that which has essentia, but not esse. That God has an infinite knowledge of possibles, other than those He purposes to actualise, no one can doubt, who considers the fecundity of this intelligence, as exhibited in His actual works. Can it be, that those works have exhausted all God's conceptions? Further, God's wise selection of means and ends, implies that conceptions existed in the divine mind, other than those He has embodied in creation or act, from among which He chose.

Théodicée Thence.

The Formalist Divines of the school of Wolff (as represented by Stapfer, Bulfinger, and so on.), make much of this distinction between God's knowledge of the possible and the actual, to build a defence of God's holiness and benevolence in the permission of evil. Say they, Scientia simplicis intelligentiæ, is not free in God. He is impelled by a metaphysical necessity, to conceive of the possible according to truth. It is God's conception which generates its essentia; but about this, God exercises no voluntary, and therefore, no moral act of His nature. God's will is only concerned in bringing the thing out of posse into esse. But the esse changes nothing in the essentia; determines nothing about the quality of the thing actualised. Therefore God's will is not morally responsible for any evil it produces. This pretended argument scarcely need, exposure. It is Realistic in its whole structure. The plain answer is, that the thing or event only in posse, is nonexistent, with all its evils. God's will is certainly concerned in bringing. it out of posse and esse. And unless God is bound by fate, His will therein is free. It is, however, perfectly correct, to say that the object of God's free knowledge owes its futurition primarily to His will. Had He not purposed its production, it would never have been produced; for He is sovereign first cause. Now, if He willed it, of course He foreknew it.

God Knows All Acts of Free Agents With A Scientia Visionis.

This leads us to the often asked question:—Whether acts contingent, and especially those of rational free agents, are objects of God's scientia visionis, or of a scientia media. This is said to have been first invented by the Jesuit Molina, in order to sustain their semi-Pelagian doctrine of a self-determining will, and of conditional election. By mediate foreknowledge, they mean a kind intermediate between God's knowledge of the possible (for these acts are possessed of futurition), and the scientia visionis:—for they suppose the futurition and foreknowledge of it is not the result of God's will, but of the contingent second cause. It is called mediate again:—because they suppose God arrives at it, not directly by knowing His own purpose to effect it, but indirectly; by His infinite insight into the manner in which the contingent second cause will act, under given outward circumstances, foreseen or produced by God. The existence of such a species of knowledge the Calvinists deny in toto. To clear the way for this discussion, I remark, first, that God has a perfect and universal foreknowledge of all the volitions of free agents. The Scriptures expressly assert it (Ezekiel 11:5; Isaiah 48:8; Psalm 139:3, 4; 1 Samuel 23:12; John 21:18; 1 John 3:20; Acts 15:18). It is equally implied in God's attribute of heart-searching knowledge, which He claims for Himself (Revelation 2:23, et passim). It is altogether necessary to God's knowledge and control of all the future into which any creature's volition enters as a part of the immediate or remote causation. And this department of the future is so vast, so important in God's government, that if He could not foreknow and control it, He would be one of the most baffled, confused, and harassed of all beings, and His government one of perpetual uncertainties, failures, and partial expedients. Finally, God's predictions of such free acts of His creatures, and His including them in His decrees, in so many cases, show beyond dispute that He has some certain way to foreknow them. See every prophecy in Scripture where human or angelic acts enter. Where the prediction is positive, and proves true, the foreknowledge must have been certain. For these reasons, the impiety of early Socinians in denying God even a universal scientia media, is to be utterly repudiated.

No Scientia Media. Its Error.

In discussing the question whether God's foreknowledge of future acts of free agents is mediate in the sense defined, I would beg you to note, I that the theological virus of the proposition, is in this point:—That in such cases, the foreknowledge of the act precedes the purpose of God as to it, i. e., They say God purposes, because He foresees it, instead of saying with us, that He only foresees because He purposes to permit it. Against this point of the doctrine, Turrettin's argument is just and conclusive. Of this the sum, abating His unnecessary distinctions, is:—First. These acts are either possible, or future, so that it is impossible to withdraw them from one or the other of the two classes of God's knowledge, His simple, or His actual. Second. God cannot certainly foreknow an act, unless its futurition is certain. If His foreknowing it made it certain, then His knowledge involves foreordination. If the connection with the second cause producing it made it certain, then it does not belong at all to the class of contingent events! And the causative connection being certain, when God foreordained the existence of the second cause, He equally ordained that of the effect. But there are but the two sources, from which the certainty of its futurition could have come. Third. The doctrine would make God's knowledge and power dependent on contingent acts of His creatures, hence violating God's perfections and sovereignty. Fourth. God's election of men would have to be in every case conditioned on His foresight of their conduct (what semi-Pelagians are seeking here). But in one case at least, it is unconditioned; that of His election of sinners to redemption (Romans 9:16, and so on.).

To God Nothing Is Contingent.

But in a metaphysical point of view, I cannot but think that Turrettin has made unnecessary and erroneous concessions. The future acts of free agents fall under the class of contingent effects, i. e., as Turrettin concedes the definition, of effects such that the cause being in existence, the effect may, or may not follow. 5 (He adopts this, to sustain his scholastic doctrine of immediate physical concursus, of which more, when we treat the doctrine of Providence. But let me ask:—Has this distinction of contingent effects any place at all, in God's mind? Is it not a distinction relevant only to our ignorance? An effect is, in some cases, to us contingent; because our partial blindness prevents our foreseeing precisely what are the present concurring causes, promoting, or preventing, or whether the things supposed to be, are real causes, under the given circumstances. I assert that wherever the causative tie exists at all, its connections with its effect is certain (metaphysically necessary). If not, it is no true cause at all. There is, therefore, to God, no such thing, in strictness of speech, as a contingent effect. The contingency (in popular phrase, uncertainty), pertains not to the question whether the adequate cause will act certainly, if present; but whether it is certainly present. To God, therefore, whose knowledge is perfect, there is literally no such thing as a contingent effect. And this is true concerning the acts of free agents, emphatically; they are effects. Their second cause is the agent's own desires as acting upon the objective inducements presented by Providence; the causative connection is certain, in many cases, to our view, in all cases to God's. Is not this the very doctrine of Turrettin himself, concerning the will? The acts of free agents, then, arise through second causes.

True Distinction of This Knowledge.

The true statement of the matter, then, should be this:—The objects of God's scientia visionis, or free knowledge, fall into two great classes:—First. Those which God effectuates per se, without any second cause. Second. Those which He effectuates through their natural second causes. Of the latter, many are physical—e. g., the rearing of vegetables through seeds, and to the latter belong all natural volitions of free agents, caused by the subjective dispositions of their nature, acting on the objective circumstances of their providential position. Now in all effects which God produces through second causes, His foreknowledge, involving as it does, a foreordination, is in a certain sense relative. That is, it embraces those second causes, as means, as well as the effects ordained through them. (And hence it is that "the liberty or contingency of second causes is not taken away, but rather established." Further, the foreknowledge which purposes to produce a certain effect by means of a given second cause, must, of course, include a thorough knowledge of the nature and power of the cause. That that cause derived that nature from another part or act of God's purpose, surely is no obstacle to this. Here, then, is a proper sense, in which it may be said that God's foresight of a given effect is relative—i. e., through His knowledge of the nature and power and presence of its natural, or second cause. May not relative knowledge be intuitive and positive? Several of our axioms are truths of relation. Yet, it by no means follows, therefore, as the semi-Pelagian would wish, that such a foreknowledge is antecedent to God's preordination concerning it. Because God, in foreordaining the presence and action of the natural cause, according to His knowledge of its nature, does also efficaciously foreordain the effect.

God's Relative Knowledge.

When, therefore, it is said that God's foreknowledge of the volitions of free agents is relative in this sense, i. e., through His infinite insight into the way their dispositions will naturally act under given circumstances, placed around them by His intentional providence, the Calvinist should by no means flout it; but accept, under proper limitations. But the term mediate is not accurate, to express this orthodox sense; because it seems to imply derivation subsequent, in the part of God's cognition said to be mediated, from the independent will of the creature. The Calvinist is the very man to accept this view of a relative foreknowledge with consistency. For, on the theory of the semi-Pelagian, such a foreknowledge by insight is impossible, volitions being uncaused, according to them; but on our theory, it is perfectly reasonable, volitions, according to us, being certain, or necessary effects of dispositions. And I repeat, we need not feel any hyper-orthodox fear that this view will infringe the perfection of God's knowledge, or sovereignty, in His foresight of the free acts of His creatures; it is the very way to establish them, and yet leave the creature responsible. For if God is able to foresee that the causative connection, between the second cause and its effect, is certain; then, in decreeing the presence of the cause and the proper external conditions of its action, He also decrees the occurrence of the effect. And, that volitions are not contingent, but certain effects, is the very thing the Calvinist must contend for, if he would be consistent. The history of this controversy on scientia media presents another instance of the rule; that usually mischievous errors have in them a certain modicum of valuable truth. Without this, they would not have strength in them to run, and do mischief.

God's Will and Power Omnipotent Over Free Agents Also.

We should apprehend no real distinction between God's will and His power; because in our spirits, to will is identical with the putting forth of power; and because Scripture represents all God's working as being done by a simple volition (Psalm 33:9Genesis 1:3). That God is a free and voluntary being, we inferred plainly from the selection of contrivances to produce His ends, and of ends to be produced; for these selections are acts of choice. He is Universal Cause, and Spirit. What is volition but a spirit's causation? Of His vast power, the works of creation and providence are sufficient, standing proofs. And the successive displays brought to our knowledge have been so numerous and vast, that there seems to reason herself every probability His power is infinite. There must be an inexhaustible reserve, where so much is continually put forth. Finally, were He not omnipotent, He would not be very God. The being, whoever it is, which defies His power would be His rival. The Scriptures also repeatedly assert His omnipotence (Genesis 17:1Revelation 1:8Jeremiah 27:17Matthew 19:26Luke 1:37Revelation 19:6Matthew 6:13). They say with equal emphasis, that God exercises full sovereignty over free agents, securing the performance by them, and upon them, of all that He pleases, yet consistently with their freedom and responsibility (Daniel 4:35Proverbs 21:1Psalm 76:10Philippians 2:13Romans 9:19Ephesians 1:11 and so on.). The same truth is evinced by every prediction in which God has positively foretold what free agents should do; for had He not some way of securing the result, He would not have predicted it positively. Here may be cited the histories of Pharaoh (Exodus 4:216:1; of Joseph, Genesis 24:5; of the Assyrian king, Isaiah 10:5-7; of Cyrus, Isaiah 14:1; of Judas, Acts 2:23, and so on, and so on.). It is objected by those of Pelagian tendencies, that some such instances of control do not prove that God has universal sovereignty over all free agents; for they may be lucky instances, in which God managed to cause them to carry out His will by some expedient. To say nothing of the texts quoted above, it may be answered, that these cases, with others that might be quoted, are too numerous, too remote, and too strong, to be hence accounted for. Further, if God could control one, He can another; there being no different powers to overcome; and there will hardly be a prouder or more stubborn case than that of Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar. A parallel answer may be made to the evasion from the argument for God's foreknowledge of man's volitions, from His predictions of them. Once more, if God is not sovereign over free agents, He is of course not sovereign over any events dependent on the volitions of free agents, either simultaneous or previous. But those events make up a vast multitude, and include all the affairs of God's Government which most interest us and concern His providence. If He has not this power, He is, indeed, a poor dependence for the Christian, and prayer for His protection is little worth. The familiar objection will, of course, be suggested, that if God governs men sovereignly, then they are not free agents. The discussion of it will be postponed till we treat of Providence. Enough meantime, to say, that we have indubitable evidence of both, of the one from consciousness, of the other from Scripture and reason. Yet, that these agents were responsible and guilty (Isaiah 10:12Acts 1:25). Their reconciliation may transcend, but does not violate reason—witness the fact that man may often influence his fellowman so decisively as to be able to count on it, and yet that act be free, and responsible.

Omnipotence Does Not To Self-Contradictions.

We have seen (Natural Theology that God's omnipotence is not to be understood, notwithstanding the emphatic assertions of Scripture, that all things are possible with Him, as a power to do contradictions. It has also been usually said by Theologians that God's will is limited, not only by the necessary contradiction, but by His own perfections. The meaning is correct, the phrase is incorrect. God's will is not limited; for those perfections as much ensure that He will never wish, as that He will never do, those incompatible things. He does absolutely all that He wills. But hence explained, the qualification is fully sustained by Scripture (2 Timothy 2:13Titus 1:2Hebrews 6:18James 1:13).

Secret and Revealed Will Distinguished.

I have argued that God's will is absolutely executed over all free agents; and yet Scripture is full of declarations that sinful men and devils disobey His will! There must be, therefore, a distinction between His secret and revealed, His decretive and preceptive will. All God's will must be, in reality, a single, eternal, immutable act. The distinction, therefore, is one necessitated by our limitation of understanding, and relates only to the manifestation of the parts of this will to the creature. By God's decretive will, we mean that will by which He foreordains whatever comes to pass. By His preceptive, that by which He enjoins on creatures what is right and proper for them to do. The decretive we also call His secret will, because it is for the most part (except as disclosed in some predictions and the effectuation retained in His own breast. His preceptive we call His revealed will, because it is published to man for his guidance.

Although this distinction is beset with plausible quibbles, yet every man is impelled to make it; for otherwise, either alternative is odious and absurd. Say that God has no secret decretive will, and He wishes just what He commands and nothing more, and we represent Him as a Being whose desires are perpetually crossed and baffled, yea, trampled on, the most harassed, embarrassed, and impotent Being in the universe. Deny the other part of our distinction, and you represent God as acquiescing in all the iniquities done on earth and in hell. Again, Scripture clearly establishes the distinction. Witness all the texts already quoted to show that God's sovereignty overrules all the acts of men to His purposes (Add. Romans 11:33, to end:—Proverbs 16:4Deuteronomy 29:29). Special cases are also presented (the most emphatic possible), in which God's decretive will differed from His preceptive will, as to the same individuals (Exodus 4:21-23Ezekiel 3:723:31). These authentic cases offer an impregnable bulwark against Arminian objections; and prove that it is not Calvinism, but Inspiration, which teaches the distinction.


The objections are, that this distinction represents God as either insincere in His precepts to His creatures, or else, as having His own volitions at war among themselves, and that, by making His secret will decretive of sinful acts as well as holy, we represent Him as unholy. The seeming inconsistency is removed by these considerations. "God's preceptive will." In this phrase, the word will is used in a different sense. For, in fact, while God wills the utterance of the precepts, the acts enjoined are not objects of God's volition, save in the cases where they are actually embraced in His decretive will. All the purposes which God carries out by permitting and overruling the evil acts of His creatures, are infinitely holy and proper for Him to carry out. It may be right for Him to permit what it would be wrong for us to do, and therefore wrong for Him to command us to do. Not only is it righteous and proper for an infinite Sovereign to withhold from His creatures, in their folly, a part of His infinite and wise designs; but it is absolutely unavoidable; for their minds being finite, it is impossible to make them comprehend God's infinite plan. Seeing, then, that He could not give them His whole immense design as the rule of their conduct, what rule was it most worthy of His goodness and holiness to reveal? Evidently, the moral law, requiring of them what is righteous and good for them. There is no insincerity in God's giving this law, although He may, in a part of the cases, secretly determine not to give unmerited grace to constrain men to keep it. Remember, also, that if even in these cases men would keep it, God would not fail to reward them according to His promise. But God, foreknowing that they would freely choose not to keep it, for wise reasons determines to leave them to their perverse choice, and overrule it to His holy designs. I freely admit that the divine nature is inscrutable; and that mystery must always attach to the divine purposes. But there is a just sense in which a wise and righteous man might say, that he sincerely wished a given subject of his would not transgress, and yet that, foreseeing his perversity, he fully purposed to permit it, and carry out his purposes thereby. Shall not the same thing be possible for God in a higher sense?

Antecedent and Consequent Will.

There is a sense in which some parts of God's will may be said to be antecedent to, and some parts consequent to His foresight of man's acts—i. e., as our finite minds are compelled to conceive them. Hence, although God's will acts by one, eternal, comprehensive, simultaneous act, we cannot conceive of His determination to permit man's fall, except as a consequence of His prior purpose to create man (because if none were created, there would be none to fall), and of His decree to give a Redeemer, as consequent on His foresight of the fall. But the Arminian Scholastics have perverted this simple distinction hence, making the antecedent act of God's will precede the view had by God of the creature's action; and the consequent, following upon, and produced by that foresight, the purpose to create man was antecedent, to punish his sin consequent. I object, that this notion really violates the unity and eternity of God's volition. Second. It derogates from the independence of God's will, making it determined by, instead of determining, the creature's conduct. Third. It overlooks the fact that all the parts of the chain, the means as well as the end, the second causes as well as consequences, are equally and as early determined by, and embraced in, God's comprehensive plan. As to a sequence and dependency between the parts of God's decree, the truth, so far as man's mind is capable of comprehending, seems to be this:—That the decree is in fact one, in God's mind, and has no succession; but we being incapable of apprehending it save by parts, are compelled to conceive God, as having regard in one part of His eternal plan to a state of facts destined by Him to proceed out of another part of it, This remark will have no little importance when we come to view Supralapsarianism.

God's Will Absolute.

God's purposes are all independent of any condition external to Himself in this sense; that they are not caused by anything ab extra. The things decreed may be conditioned on other parts of His own purpose, in that they embrace means necessary to ends. While the purposes have no cause outside of God, they doubtless all have wise and sufficient reasons, known to God.

Is God's Will the First Rule of Right?

Some, even of Calvinists, have seemed to find this question very intricate, if we may judge by their differences. Let us discriminate clearly then, that by God's will here we mean his volition in the specific sense, and not will in the comprehensive sense of the whole conative powers. The question is perspicuously stated in this form:—Are the precepts right merely because God commands, or does He command, because they are in themselves right? The latter is the true answer. Let it be understood again; that God's precepts are, for us, an actual, a perfect, and a supreme rule of right. No Christian disputes this. For God's moral title as our Maker, Owner and Redeemer, with the perfect holiness of His nature, makes it unquestionable, that our rectitude is always in being and doing just what He requires. Let it be understood again, that in denying that God's volition to command is the mere and sole first source of right, we do not dream of any superior personal will, earlier than God's and more authoritative than His, instructing and compelling Him to command right. Of course, we repeat, no one holds this; God is the first, being the eternal authority, and He is absolutely supreme. Does one ask:—Where, then, did this moral distinction inhere and abide, before God had given any expression to it, in time, in any legislative acts? The answer is, in the eternal principles of His moral essence, which, like His physical, is self-existent and eternally necessary.


Having cleared the ground, I support my answer hence:—First. God has an eternal and inalienable moral claim over His moral creatures, not arising out of any legislative act of His, but immediately out of the relation of creature to Creator, and possession to its absolute Owner. For instance, elect angels owed love and honour to God, before He entered into any covenant of works with them. This right is as unavoidable and indestructible as the very relation of Creator and rational creature. This moral dependence is as original as the natural dependence of being. Hence, it is indisputable that there is a moral title more original than any preceptive act of God's will. Second. We cannot but think that these axioms of ethical principle are as true of God's rectitude as of man's:—a. That God's moral volitions are not uncaused, but have their (subjective motives. b. That the morality of the volitions is the morality of their intentions. We must meet the question there, as to God, just as to any rational agent. What is the regulative cause of those right volitions? There is no other answer but this:—God's eternally holy dispositions; His necessary moral perfections. Now, then, if a given precept of God is right, His act of will in legislating it must be right, and must have its moral quality. If this act of divine will is such, it must be because its subjective motives have right moral quality. Hence we are, per force, led to recognise moral qualities in something logically prior to the preceptive will of God, viz:—in His own moral perfections. Third. Otherwise, this result must follow, which is an outrage to the practical reason:—That God's preceptive will might, conceivably, have been the reverse of what it is, and then the vilest things would have been right, and holiest things vile. Fourth. There would be no ground for the distinction between the "perpetual moral" and the "temporary positive" command. All would be merely positive. But again:—the practical reason cannot but see a difference between the prohibition of lying, and the prohibition of eating bacon! Fifth. No argument could be constructed for the necessity of satisfaction for guilt, in order to righteous pardon; so that (as will be seen our theory of redemption would be reduced to the level of Socinian error. And, last, God's sovereignty would not be moral. His "might would make His right."