What follows is my summary of the 12th section of the 2d part of Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will entitled, “God’s certain foreknowledge of the future volitions of moral agents, inconsistent with such a contingence of those volitions, as is without necessity.” Edwards’ previous section in Freedom of the Will established the Biblical warrant that God has ‘certain and infallible’ foreknowledge of the will of men and other moral agents.
The aim of this section is to prove that God’s foreknowledge proves these events to be necessary. This is denied by Arminians; they do not believe that God’s foreknowledge makes events necessary.
First it should be observed that when something’s existence is “infallibly and indissolubly” connected with another thing that already has existence, the existence of that thing is necessary. It has already been observed (in a previous chapter) that past things are now necessary. They already exist, and their existence cannot possibly be altered. And so it is with God’s foreknowledge of the willing of men. By the very definition of foreknowledge, that thing “already has and long ago had existence.” That means the existence of that foreknowledge is now necessary. “It is now utterly impossible to be otherwise.” Again, the things whose existence is absolutely connected to the existence of other necessary things are themselves necessary. If there exists a foreknowledge of the volitions of moral agents, then there exists an infallible and indissoluble connection between the foreknowledge and the actual events, and the volitions of moral agents are necessary, as they are connected with necessary events.
“To say, the foreknowledge is certain and infallible, and yet the connection of the event with that foreknowledge is not indissoluble, but dissoluble and fallible, is very absurd.” If there is a foreknowledge of the willing of men, then that event is necessary; “in other words, that is impossible but the event should come to pass.” The only way this could be otherwise is if the foreknowledge is not true and infallible.
There is a second proof that future foreknown events are necessary: it is “impossible for a thing to be certainly known to an intellect without evidence.” Anything known to any person is evident to their understanding, i.e., they must “see evidence of it.” No intellect can see evidence when there is none. Therefore, if there is any truth without evidence, that truth cannot be known. Any future event that is contingent (any future event that is not necessary) is without evidence and cannot be known.
Evidence is established one of two ways: either by self-evidence or by proof. Either something is evident in itself, or by connection with something else (by proof). No future event is self-evident, for by its very definition it does not yet exist. Arminians concede this point, but also affirm that the thing has no necessary existence in the future. But neither do future events have any evidence by means of proof, for Arminians believe “there is now nothing existent, with which the future existence of the contingent event is connected.” Nothing necessitates that the event will come to pass, therefore there is no proof to make it evident and knowable. A connection upon which the future event is contingent would introduce necessity, of which Arminians want no part. Therefore, under their scheme, future events are truly unknowable. “The thing in reality is not evident; and so can’t be seen to be evident, or, which is the same thing, can’t be known.”
Consider this example: suppose 5,760 years ago there was nothing but God. Suddenly a world all at once came into being out of nothing, without any act of God and without any ground or reason of existence, and without any dependence upon anything at all coming before it. There was no evidence of that event beforehand, either in the thing itself or by means of proof in its contingency upon some other thing. “There was no evidence before, that this thing would happen; for by the supposition, there was no reason why it should happen, rather than something else, or rather than nothing.” This thing could not possibly have been known; it had no evidence, and was absolutely unknowable. No increase of understanding, no strength of sight, could possibly have seen it coming when there was no evidence to understand or to see.
There is a third reason to believe that God’s foreknowledge of the future volitions of moral agents makes those events necessary: supposing otherwise would make God’s knowledge to be consistent with itself. To say that God certainly knows that a thing will infallibly be and that he simultaneously knows that thing may not possibly be means that God knows something to be true that may not be true. In this scenario, God knows something to be certain truth that is at the same time uncertain truth. If future volitions are not necessary, then it may not actually happen, and the truth of its existence may entirely fail. And, if God knows all things, then he knows that the future events he foreknows may not happen, which means he knows that he does not really know what will happen–that he does not, in fact, know those future events. This supposition assumes that God supposes things to be certain that are really not certain at all. It is ridiculous to say God has ways of knowing contingent events that we cannot conceive of, as much as it is to say that God knows contradictions to be true.
Corollary 1. All of this means that absolute decrees of not any more inconsistent with human liberty than the absolute foreknowledge of God. The connection between the volitions of moral agents and God’s foreknowledge is absolutely perfect because God’s foreknowledge is perfect. The certainty of men’s actions is not increased by the decree, for the events are certain by the great foreknowledge of God and their indissoluble connection to it.
Does foreknowledge cause events to be necessary? It really does not affect the preceding argument one way or another. “Infallible foreknowledge may prove the necessity of the event foreknown, and yet not be the thing which causes the necessity.” Absolute foreknowledge merely proves that the foreknown event is necessary. “There must be a certainty in things themselves, before they are certainly known, or (which is the same thing) known to be certain.”
If it be true, as Arminians suppose, that God’s foreknowledge is not the cause, but the effect of thing foreknown, this only further establishes the point, that the future event is “so settled and firm, that it is as if it had already been.” The future events are so sure they have already produced an effect, namely, the certain foreknowledge of those events. This is just like the appearance of stars and planets in a telescope; the prior existence of these heavenly bodies are as real and firm as the existing effects. So it is with future events and God’s foreknowledge; just as the prior existence of the heavenly bodies produced an effect of equal certainty (their appearing in the telescope), the future willing of moral agents have produced a firm certain effect of God’s foreknowledge.
What about the argument that God, in his eternity, sees all events simultaneously in one perfect view, that there is no “before and after in God”? First, this assertion does nothing to refute the central tenet here argued, that certain knowledge, whether before, after, or during the actual event, proves the necessity of the volition of men. God does not have uncertain knowledge concerning any event. “If, strictly speaking, there is no foreknowledge in God, ‘tis because those things which are future to us, are as present to God, as if they already had existence: and that is as much as to say, that future events are always in God’s view as evident, clear, sure and necessary, as if they already were.” If God views all events perfectly so that there is no succession in his ideas or judgment, God knows the events that will happen an hundred years from now, so that it is now impossible that these moral actions by the will of men should not happen.
Second, this objection only strengthens the case here made. “The only reason why God’s knowledge is without succession, is, because it is absolutely perfect, to the highest possible degree of clearness and certainty: all things, whether past, present, or to come, being viewed with equal evidence and fullness; future things being seen with as much clearness, as if they were present; the view is always in absolute perfection; and absolute constant perfection admits of no alteration, and so no succession; the actual existence of the things known, don’t at all increase, or add to the clearness or certainty of the thing known: God calls the things that are not, as though they were; they are all one to him as if they had already existed.”
Finally, this objection is made on the ground that God’s knowledge is immutable. God’s knowledge does not change, and therefore these foreknown instances of the willing of moral agents cannot but actually occur. If the foreknown events were not absolutely known, then God’s knowledge would be mutable. When the event in question did not occur, God’s knowledge would have to change. “Nothing is more impossible than that the immutable God should be changed, by the succession of time; who comprehends all things, from eternity to eternity, in one, most perfect, and unalterable view.”
Corollary 2. The Calvinist doctrine of the decrees of God does not introduce any more fatality than that admitted by Arminian teachers, who affirm God’s omniscience and universal foreknowledge.
Corollary 3. Therefore these arguments of Arminians fall to the ground, their arguments against the Calvinist teaching that the moral actions of men are under necessity (“though they don’t suppose men to be under any constraint or coaction, yet suppose ‘em under necessity”), and their arguments against the necessity of men’s volitions.