God’s Nescience of Future Contingents: A Nineteenth-Century Theory

by William McGuire King

William McGuire King is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 105-115, Vol. 9, Number 3-4, Fall-Winter, 1979. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Dr. King comments on the thoughts of Lorenzo Dow McCabe who attempted to challenge the metaphysical foundations of traditional Christian theology: If theological reconstruction is to meet the needs of philosophy, scriptural exegesis, and religious experience, thought McCabe, then theology must reassess its traditional theistic assumptions in such a way that it can speak of a God who is capable of relating fully to the contingencies of personal life and historical change.

"All theology and commentaries and exegesis," remarked Lorenzo Dow McCabe, must be "completely revolutionized in their basal facts and principles." The "philosophical necessities of the age," including the testimony of universal religious experience, and "the varied and vast signification of divine revelation" demand it (DN 263). Yet the progress of theological reflection seemed to McCabe to have stalled, and the culprit in the case was the "Augustinian conception of God," which "has fastened itself upon nearly all modern theology." The Augustinian perspective so far elevated the conception of God to "a universal infinite" that it "logically annihilates him in his concrete personality" (DN 17f). If theological reconstruction is to meet the needs of philosophy, scriptural exegesis, and religious experience, thought McCabe, then theology must reassess its traditional theistic assumptions in such a way that it can speak of a God who is capable of relating fully to the contingencies of personal life and historical change.

What made Lorenzo Dow McCabe (1817-1897) unique was the boldness with which he undertook such rethinking. The major part of his career was spent at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he taught metaphysics as professor of mathematics and mechanical philosophy. A minor figure in the history of American philosophy and theology, although somewhat more prominent in Methodist circles, McCabe’s importance rested as much in what he attempted to do in the area of philosophical theology as in what he accomplished. He attempted to challenge the metaphysical foundations of traditional Christian theology by arguing in favor of the reality of change and development, of temporality and contingency, within the divine essence. In this endeavor he felt a sense of kinship with a distinguished group of contemporary philosophers of religion: Richard Rothe, Hans Martensen, Isaak Dorner, and Rudolf Hermann Lotze in Germany; and Borden Parker Bowne, Henry Churchill King, and George Trumbull Ladd in America. He agreed with these men that the prime metaphysical issue of the day was the problem of being and doing in God’s relationship to a changing and contingent universe. Yet he was not in any sense dependent on these men, for he did not approach the problem from the standpoint of postHegelian idealism, as they did; McCabe attacked from his own unique set of preoccupations.

The battlefield that he chose was in part determined by his Methodist heritage. Methodists had prided themselves throughout the nineteenth century on their Arminian defense of the freedom of the human will against their Calvinist detractors. But Methodist dogmatics had been plagued by the predicament of reconciling contingency in human affairs with the traditional doctrine of God’s absolute foreknowledge -- a reconciliation that Calvinist necessitarians gleefully declared impossible. Although a few Methodists had toyed with the idea of abandoning absolute foreknowledge,1 most would have echoed the opinions of Daniel D. Whedon, theologian and editor of the Methodist Review, who said that "God knows or foreknows all contingencies, possibilities, and real events in the future" (ERD 115). As far as "how the Deity came in possession of that power," he thought, "we are, indeed, neither able nor bound to say" (ERD 119).

McCabe directed his attention to this question of God’s foreknowledge because it was a lively concern to his predominantly Methodist audience and also because he believed that the defense of foreknowledge accounted for theology’s commitment to divine immutability. "Foreknowledge," he claimed, "necessitates that God’s consciousness should be eternally unchangeable. Every thought, feeling, purpose, and act of God is [consequently] immovably fixed in a single position and a changeless relation" (FG 210). McCabe was convinced that the longstanding attempt to reconcile absolute prescience with freedom and contingency had prevented Christian theology from developing an adequate doctrine of God, one rooted in the facts of religious experience and scriptural testimony. He insisted that Christian theology must instead conceive of God as experiencing historical subjectivity; novelty would be as real for God as for the world. Although many of McCabe’s arguments and conclusions appear idiosyncratic today, for he was committed to a literalistic, moralistic, and perfectionistic evangelical theology,2 his analysis of foreknowledge and contingency still raises valid issues. Especially noteworthy is the way he drew attention to the implications of prescience for religious belief and practice.

Since he was writing for a predominantly Methodist audience, McCabe did not feel the need to elaborate a defense of the freedom of the will. He merely asserted that such freedom was essential to religious experience and belief in moral accountability. What he said about the operations of the human will, therefore, largely reiterated the traditional Arminian position. This position rested on a differentiation of three elements in human action: a motive, an act of the will proper, and a volition. The function of the will, as McCabe defined it, is to deliberate and choose from among competing motives and to initiate actions in accordance with the choice made. "In this deliberation, the will sovereignly elects between two objects [motives], and then executively volitionates obedience or disobedience" (DN 1 65). He denied the Calvinist charge that this description of the will rendered human actions utterly arbitrary and discontinuous; indeed, he conceded to them that the human will must be objectively motivated before it can act. The immediate environment presents the will with "occasions" calling for a human response (DN 36), and "without these conditions the will could not act at all" (FC 333). Nor is the will utterly indifferent toward these motives, for its past volitions have generated a habit and propensity of choice, which McCabe labeled "character" (DN 123f).

What McCabe wished to deny was that motives and character always coerced the will in terms of causal necessity.3 Sometimes overwhelming motives and ingrained habits do in fact coerce the will. At other times the will finds itself confronted by a genuine "plurality of possibilities" and thus "vacillates to and fro between conscience and desire," leaving sufficient room for spontaneous and creative decisions by the will (DN 165). In the latter case, the volition cannot be attributed to any other cause than "the incipiency of an act in the pure will itself" (DN 35). Such power of deliberate choice McCabe termed "personic" (DN 37). Personic action, he thought, is essential in defining personhood since acts of will are the only vehicles through which the "purposes and designs" of the human spirit can be established. (FG 293).

It should be evident that for McCabe freedom of will depends on a delicate balance between competing motives, what he termed "the equilibrium indispensable for personic action" (DN 223). Freedom of will is not, therefore, a purely natural state of affairs, an indubitable psychological fact. The equilibrium may easily be upset, in which case one motive necessarily predominates and "constrains" the will (FG 39f). God is the one ultimately responsible for the existence and maintenance of the delicate equilibrium of motives; hence the "power to put forth a volition is every moment the gift of God" (FG 207). Freedom of will is a religious, rather than a natural, fact of life. McCabe specifically identified the atonement of Jesus as the force that made freedom possible. The atonement alone has been able to "lift up the human will" and "restore to it its pristine freedom" (FG 33). This effect is objective and universal, leaving no one without the means of salvation through moral freedom -- although how the atonement accomplished this result McCabe did not say.

Behind McCabe’s interpretation of the atonement and universal moral freedom loomed the semi-Pelagian tendencies of his doctrine of grace. The restoration of freedom has taken place only in order that God may place us on "probation" and "test" our loyalty. God is in fact "the infinite Tester" (DN 223), who is prepared to accept us and aid us if only we exercise our powers of choice correctly. So far as any person is concerned, "so perfectly free is the power of moral causation which is bestowed upon him through the redemption wrought by Christ, that notwithstanding all this prevenient and assisting grace he is himself emphatically a causal agent in his own salvation" (FG 60f). The only reason that free will is necessary at all is to enable us to perform "on the great moral battle-fields for eternity" (DN 59). Without any seeming inconsistency, therefore, McCabe could assert that only some of our volitions are free: those by which we are being tested by God. On other occasions God may allow constraints on our will by overpowering motivations. Such constraint is necessary if God is to realize his own purposes and designs. Sometimes God treats us as "persons" and sometimes as "instruments" (FG 59-64). To be sure, McCabe wanted to minimize the element of constraint as much as possible, but he felt obliged by his commitment to a literalistic exegesis of biblical prophecy and by a desire to preserve as much of the divine omnipotence as possible to admit that some choices are forced upon persons.

McCabe’s position regarding the freedom of the will was obviously vitiated by the untenable duality he introduced within the human and divine wills. He was forced to take the position that men are not always morally accountable for their actions, as he explicitly stated in the case of Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter cannot be held morally accountable for the denial since God allowed Satan undue control over Peter’s will (EC 88-92). In general, McCabe’s conception of the God-man relationship was one that forced God to alternate between gracious love and judgmental detachment. Furthermore, since God required Satan to tempt men for the balancing of good and bad motives, an entirely new problem of theodicy was introduced (DN 223-29). McCabe fell prey to these dualisms because of his biblical literalism and theological perfectionism, neither of which necessarily undermines his arguments respecting human freedom and divine foreknowledge.

Justifying divine foreknowledge has always perplexed believers in genuine human freedom. Calvinist necessitarians had no such problem since they could appeal to God’s knowledge of causal sequences. But if human choices are free, uncaused, then a particular choice may or may not occur; the event and its consequent effects would be purely contingent. How could contingent events be known before they occur? McCabe was convinced that the preservation of human freedom demanded a vigorous defense of contingency. Whereas, however, his fellow Arminians thought it possible and necessary to affirm contingency and foreknowledge, McCabe believed that undesirable theological results would spring from this uneasy alliance.

Assuming the truth of contingency in human affairs, McCabe marshaled two primary arguments against divine foreknowledge. First he attempted to apply a logical argument, whose history extends back at least as far as Cicero’s On Divination.4 According to this view, contingency (chance) and foreknowledge (fate) are contradictory assertions because a contingent event, being unnecessitated, cannot be known until it occurs. Were it known in advance of its occurrence, it must have been necessary and not contingent. Arminians often met this objection to foreknowledge by appealing to a logical distinction between necessity and certainty.5 The fact that God foreknows that choice X is going to be made (freely) means only that X is certain to occur; it does not mean that God’s foreknowledge, or any other cause, necessitated X. The result is indubitably foreknown by God irrespective of how the event came into existence. McCabe, in referring to the difference between "causal necessity" and "effectal (not effectual, but effectal) or facto necessity" (FG 315f), acknowledged his familiarity with this argument.

McCabe claimed, however, that such a distinction does little to preserve belief in contingency. Whether one is speaking of a causal necessity or only of a foreknown certainty, he argued, "has not the slightest pertinence" to the issue: whether choice X could not happen (the definition of contingency) (FG 304). "Absolute divine foreknowledge makes every event of the future just as absolutely certain as does the doctrine of unconditional predestination which declares there is a causal necessity" (FG 341). In fact, he asserted, if one believes in absolute foreknowledge, then believing in causal necessity is superfluous. Under the assumption of foreknowledge the entire scheme of history is immutably fixed anyway. Regardless of how choices may originate, "there is now no contingency as to their happening [as fore known]" (FG 304).

If foreknowledge were true, there could then be "no contingency in the mind of God" (FG 304). A Myriad of future events would have been prearranged by God on the basis of his prescience of contingent choices -- what McCabe called "subsequent ordination" (DN 81). Admit that choice X might not happen, and not only would God’s knowledge be proven fallible but also the subsequently ordained arrangement would crumble. "Admit prescience of future contingencies, and you necessitate an immobile fixity for the whole history of the human race, past and future, so certain in every iota as to obliviate [sic.] all contingencies and make illusory the endowment of human freedom" (DN 259). Foreknowledge empties contingency of its practical meaningfulness. The human belief in contingency, thought McCabe, could hardly be sustained if contingency in the divine mind is denied. Surely "fair and candid dealing demands that, if God proposes to deal with us on the principle of contingency, our future choices ought to be as truly contingent in his mind as they are contingent in ours" (FC 306). McCabe concluded that, quite apart from the issue of causality, foreknowledge and contingency are contradictory assertions.

The value of McCabe’s analysis of the logical argument is that he demonstrated what it means to hold the doctrine of foreknowledge. It can only mean that the future is as fixed as is the past. How that fixity arose is a separate matter. Yet McCabe did not actually prove the charge of incoherence, as he supposed. It is not a logical contradiction to assert that choice X is contingent in origination but not contingent in regard to the fact of its occurrence. One’s knowledge of past contingent events is precisely of this kind. The fact that a contingent event is future introduces an intellectual complication -- namely, how, in the absence of causal sequence, certainty can be present in the divine mind -- but that does not affect the logical status of the proposition. Most Arminians were simply content to leave the question of the modality of divine certainty in abeyance. McCabe was simply begging the question. Nonetheless, he was justified in raising the question of meaningfulness, and his real contribution to the discussion lay in his probing the question of meaning, particularly against the background of religious experience and biblical presuppositions.

McCabe thus opened up a second, more fruitful and interesting, line of attack against foreknowledge. The heart of the dispute, as he showed, is not about logic. The vital issue in the debate is the implication of such belief for the doctrine of God. McCabe pursued this course by asking how it is possible that God can foresee future contingencies. It is not enough to hold the question of the modality of God’s foreknowledge in abeyance, he felt, if the assertion of prescience is to have any rational meaning.

The classical Christian explanation of the foreknowledge of contingencies depended on the conceptualization of God as a being transcending all temporality. "Hence, all things that are in time are present to God from eternity," asserted Thomas Aquinas, "because His glance is carried from eternity over all things as they are in their presentiality" (ST 1.14.13). God experiences past, present, and future in one "eternal now." John Wesley and the Methodist tradition had accepted the notion of God’s timelessness and used it to explain how the foreknowledge of events not causally predetermined was possible. Of course, such an argument cannot technically be an explication of foreknowledge, since in speaking of God one is then no longer operating within a temporal framework. Yet from the human standpoint, God’s timeless omniscience would appear to be foreknowledge and no absurdity would attach to his knowledge of future contingents.

McCabe disputed the value of such a conceptualization. The assertion of God’s timelessness, he argued, is a terribly high price to pay in order to retain absolute prescience. If God were timeless, he could scarcely have an experience of contingency. How could the divine mind, asked McCabe, bereft of any experience of contingency, sustain an intimate relationship with the contingent world? To speak of God as an "eternal now" is to reduce him to a bare abstraction, to "one infinitesimal point" (FG 281). The Godhead would be "immovably fixed" (FG 210), congealed "into the iceberg of indifference" (DN 289). One could hardly construe his nature as personal, or "personic" (DN 67; FG 211). Such a conclusion was unthinkable to McCabe; it looked like a form of deism. God, McCabe insisted, must in some meaningful sense be personal and capable of personic response. Furthermore, "the acts of a person must necessarily be successive, and hence separable and distinguishable in duration" (FG 276). To be a person is to deliberate and execute a choice in accordance with personal ends and designs, to exercise free will. Such attributes require a sense of one’s own subjectivity, manifesting itself in temporal awareness. Consequently, to speak of God as a person, related meaningfully to a contingent world, demands that temporality itself be a primary, not secondary, experience of God (FG 259f). McCabe did not hesitate to draw the conclusion, therefore, that contingency must exist within God himself. "God’s objective life -- that is, his life, experience, interest, and enjoyment, as they are projected into or are modified by his created universe -- must necessarily be contingent" (DN 284).

McCabe did not wish to deny God’s transcendence. He carefully distinguished what he called God’s "subjective life" from God’s "objective life" (FG 259f). The former is indeed eternal and "may not be a process of becoming and of passing away" (DN 283). The latter, however, refers to all of God’s relationships to "the vast world of contingencies. And in that life there may be in his consciousness a becoming and a passing away" (DN 283). To claim that God in his transcendent being foreknows all future contingencies has the inevitable effect of rendering his objective relationships with the world meaningless. Either of two results would follow. In the one case, God’s objective life would be necessarily bounded by his eternal foreknowledge and timelessness. God could not be truly free or personal; his relationship to historical processes would be a mere façade, a docetically staged performance devoid of personal engagement (DN 286). The alternative might be that God is able to keep his eternal foreknowledge hidden from his objective, personal life; but this alternative would posit an absurd duality in God.

The conclusion McCabe reached was that the whole defense of foreknowledge, dependent as it was on the doctrine of divine immutability and timelessness, had to be jettisoned in favor of a view of the transcendent God who undergoes actual development in his relationships to contingent reality. Only such a God could be accurately described as having free will and as a center of personal consciousness. Quoting from Borden Parker Bowne’s Metaphysics, McCabe affirmed that such a God enters " ‘into a new relation to time. This process is a changing process, and hence it is in time. The activity of God, therefore, in the process is essentially a temporal one, and God himself is in time so far as the process is concerned.’ " Not only would foreknowledge "take from [God] all personal life," but it would also deny him "all availing interest in a repenting race and an ever unfolding universe" (FG 387).

In addition to Bowne, McCabe looked to Richard Rothe6 and Isaak Dorner7 for philosophical support of his conclusion regarding God’s experience of temporality and contingency. Just as important, however, were his appeals to scriptural descriptions of God acting in history, to the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei, and to religious experience, especially the experience of prayer. The Bible, he pointed out, speaks of God primarily in personal terms: as one who originates new volitions. Relying on prophetic passages, particularly from Jeremiah, McCabe demonstrated the frequency with which God is shown to speak in the conditional form of address with reference to future events.8 These conditional prophecies, McCabe argued, imply that God did not absolutely foreknow free human decisions. They show instead that "the conduct of men perpetually changes God’s feelings and modifies his treatment of them" (FG 64).

Of course, McCabe’s biblical literalism made such examples seem weightier than they really were. He never clearly indicated how such anthropomorphic language about God should be interpreted. Instead he fell back upon an insistence that rational discourse about God (theology) required some sort of genuine correspondence between God’s experiences and human experiences.9 The principle of the image of God in man, he believed, justified such a correspondence. "Between man and God there must be some resemblance, or man could not have been created in his image" (FG 275). What was at stake was not anthropopathic descriptions of God but whether God had freedom of will in roughly the same sense that man may be said to have freedom of will. Scripture affirms this to be the case, thought McCabe; hence it ascribes temporality to God’s nature and precludes absolute prescience (FG 276).

A final argument advanced by McCabe raised the question of prayer. If God is timeless, does prayer make sense, he asked, since "it cannot affect the cognition of which God is now perfectly conscious?" (DN 97). If God is beyond the experience of contingency, "how can prayer exert the slightest influence in changing the thoughts, feelings, purposes and volitions of Deity?" (DN 99). Religious experience, concluded McCabe, by insisting on the utility of prayer, requires the affirmation of divine nescience (DN 100).

Such arguments were less a refutation of foreknowledge than an aesthetic appeal to a more personalized -- and possibly more anthropomorphized -- conception of God. According to McCabe, foreknowledge robs God of the "delight" and "enjoyment" that should rightfully characterize personal subjectivity. It leaves him destitute "of curiosity and love, of novelty, destitute of the susceptibilities of surprise and wonder," unable to put forth new volitions to further his eternal plans and purposes (FG 244). Above all, foreknowledge prevents God from sharing and suffering in the moral struggles of humanity (FG 245f).

McCabe recognized that the doctrine of divine nescience necessitated a redefinition of omniscience and omnipotence. Just as God’s omnipotence is circumscribed by the possible, he argued, so God’s omniscience must be limited to the knowable. But future contingencies, he insisted, are not knowable if God is truly personal. "As to pure contingencies prior to their creation [God] may have theories, ideals, fancies, possibilities or probabilities, but cannot have certain knowledge" (DN 24). God’s plans and designs must necessarily be flexible as he adjusts to human decisions. Yet however much the nescience of future contingencies may circumscribe God’s omniscience, it does not affect his wisdom, nor does it vitiate his ability to superintend the created order. In fact, claimed McCabe, precisely because God has infinite wisdom and infinite "resources," he can "accomplish his designs without predetermining the details of his operations" (FG 188). His ability to adapt and manage is obviously boundless.

In any case, McCabe was absolutely vehement in insisting that nescience is not the result of some defect in God’s knowledge or power; it is a voluntary self-limitation (FG 205). Surely God can impose limitations on himself for the sake of ends he wishes to pursue, McCabe explained. If one asks why God imposed such limitations on his omnipotence, the first reply would be: for the sake of humanity (FG 206). The ultimate mystery is that God desired to create a being like himself, capable of exercising choice and moral responsibility. For the attainment of such an end it was necessary that such a being "can in the exercise of its freedom resist and withstand Omnipotence" (DN 20).

An equally important reason for the divine self-limitation would be that God’s own subjectivity and desire for personic freedom required that he create a world in which contingency existed (DN 67). Only by relating to what is contingent could God experience full subjectivity, experience the thrill of "new thoughts, new desires, purposes and plans" (DN 20). If he is to maintain vital relationships with the created world, God’s own experiences "must necessarily be contingent" (DN 284).

McCabe’s doctrine of a self-limiting God could not fail to have important repercussions on his views of history and human personality. From his new perspective, history reveals itself as an open-ended engagement. Creation itself, he thought, was a "pure venture" on God’s part, a great and fair experiment. And while the purposes of God must ultimately prevail, the means by which the future will hasten or retard the realization of these ends is "unfixed, undetermined, and, therefore, uncertain" (DN 28). Nor can God achieve his ends without human cooperation. God pursues man as much as man pursues God. God ordains to realize his purposes in this slow, halting fashion because his goal is a kingdom of "co-creators, co-causes, co-originators, and co-eternal with himself in the realm of the contingent" (DN 22). Coercion could never achieve an end such as this, and so God must rely upon compassion and persuasion, "by way of illumination, entreaty, warning, or command, but never by way of causative determination" (FG 207).

The same powers of spontaneity and change, which history reflects, characterize the human personality. Departing from the view of human character as a given "nature," McCabe argued that character is never so fixed and certain as to be unsusceptible of new and different determinations from the inexhaustible source and depth of free will" (FG 420). Character remains undetermined so long as the will remains free. The stability of character emerges only gradually and tenuously as the will engages in the process of choosing. Being and doing are inseparable in the full development of human identity. Human life too seemed an adventure to McCabe. It is to be lived out with the resources of divine grace, but nevertheless with a sense of urgency regarding the need for social and moral reform (DN 302f). Only through human vigilance can the tenuous equilibrium of freedom be maintained, and only in this way can the future willed by God be established in an indeterminate universe.

McCabe’s attack on the Western doctrine of the immutability, simplicity, and nontemporality of God was the most intriguing and satisfactory facet of his critique of absolute foreknowledge. What McCabe failed to do was to integrate his alternative vision with the distinctive Christian concepts of grace and justification. His own view of the process of salvation was notably legalistic. This one-sided perspective led him to ignore how intimately interrelated were the traditional concepts of foreknowledge, sovereignty of God, and salvation by grace alone. This oversight produced a certain theological incoherence in McCabe’s position. Despite his depiction of God as creatively involved in the historical struggle, his limitation of freedom to strictly moral decisions, where each person was on trial to prove his worthiness, raises serious questions about the God-man relationship. Was McCabe’s God a loving participant in the historical process, or was he restricted primarily to the roles of spectator, referee, and cosmic manager, who must repair the damage left by men failing their probations? McCabe seemed unaware of that dilemma. "One of God’s great delights in beholding his universe is, as we may well suppose, to witness the unknown choices and moral developments of free agents, to witness their displays of faith and heroism and spiritual valor, and to watch the unfoldings of vast and various enterprises" (FG 245). Unwittingly, in trying to combat what he thought was a temporal deism, McCabe may have ended up with a sort of moral deism. He was thus unable to modify his evangelical perfectionism sufficiently to develop an adequate soteriological counterpart to his metaphysical innovations.

The irony in McCabe’s life is that the revolution in religious thought that he called for came to fruition, but not as a result of his efforts. His views were framed in too idiosyncratic a fashion to satisfy anyone completely. His evangelical constituency felt alienated by his advocacy of divine mutability,’10 while the newer liberal forces were appalled by his moralism and literalism. Thus, despite his expressed wish to reconcile opposing theological parties and to develop new- theological foundations that would accord with the modern American spirit, his arguments went largely unnoticed. Yet this result was unfortunate because in several important respects McCabe anticipated the problems with the traditional theistic arguments that would perplex modern philosophy and theology. With the limited theological and exegetical resources at his disposal, he was still able to articulate a doctrine of God that was somewhat ahead of its time.



DN -- Lorenzo Dow McCabe. Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies A Necessity. New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1882.

FG -- Lorenzo Dow McCabe. The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy. Cincinnati: Cranston and Stow, 1878.

ERD -- Daniel D. Whedon, Essays, Reviews, and Discourses. New York, 1887; reprint edition, Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.

ST -- Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, in Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas, edited by Anton C. Pegis. New York: The Modern Library, 1945.



1 Earlier in the nineteenth century, the English Wesleyan theologian Adam Clarke had flirted with a denial of absolute prescience in his commentary on Acts. See Adam Clarke, The New Testament . . . with a Commentary and Critical Notes, vol. 1 (New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1848), p. 702f. A contemporary of McCabe, Joel Hayes, also argued for limitations on divine foreknowledge in The Foreknowledge of God (Nashville: The Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South, 1890). Unfortunately, Hayes’s definition of "free volition" was so contrary to common usage that it precludes interest in his argumentation: "The period of childhood and youth, then, is the period in which perhaps a majority of a man’s free volitions are made. . . . As the child grows into youth, and the youth into manhood, opportunities for new free volitions become less and less frequent" (p. 225f).

2 McCabe’s defense of the doctrine of "entire sanctification" through "the all-cleansing efficacy of that atoning blood [of Jesus]" may be found in his Light on the Pathway of Holiness (New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1872).

3 The Calvinist tradition in America generally followed Jonathan Edwards in distinguishing natural necessity from moral necessity. The latter referred to the absolute control that a person’s own moral nature was said to exert over his volitions. By "causal necessity" McCabe meant both kinds of causality. See Edwards, A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of the Will . . . (1754), edited by Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press 1957)

4 Augustine replied to Cicero in City of God, 5,9-10.

5 Thomas Aquinas developed this distinction by arguing that there is a crucial difference between absolute necessity (necessitas consequentis) and conditional necessity (necessitas consequentiae) (ST 1. 19. 8).

6 McCabe quoted Rothe as saying: "The very religious interest itself drives us imperatively to the view of nonprescience on the part of God of the free actions of imperfect moral beings" (FG 221). Source not stated.

7 "We cannot be satisfied with the assertion that for God there can be nothing past and nothing future as such, but that everything exists before him as in an eternal self-identical present. . . . God knows what is present as the p resent, and thus the divine knowledge of actuality advances as appropriate thereto. What was yet future and known as such, moves into the present and from there into the past; but the divine knowledge accompanies it in its course, it assumes a changing shape in the divine knowledge itself, and that presupposes a movement, a change even in the knowing activity of God himself." Isaak August Dorner, "On the Proper Version of the Dogmatic Concept of the Immutability of God," in God and Incarnation in Mid-Nineteenth Century German Theology, edited and translated by Claude Welce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965). p. 135f. Cf. DN 29, 285 ff.

8 Among the scriptural passages that McCabe cited are: 2 Kings 20:1, 5-6; 1 Chronicles 12:17; 2 Chronicles 28:9-10; Jeremiah 18:6-8; 26:2-3, 36:3; 38:17.

9 "When God says ‘Come, let us reason together,’ things must be in his mind as they lie in ours, and he and we must reason from the same premises and according to the necessary laws of thought. . . . If you deny this your reasoning with the Deity is unreliable, and therefore useless. ‘Prescience of Future Contingencies Impossible," Methodist Review, 74 (September, 1892), 763.

10 Daniel Whedon commented that McCabe "will yet regret the publication" of his views because "the universal sense of man will never deny [absolute] omniscience. Review of The Foreknowledge of God in Methodist Renew 61 (January, 1879): 165.