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In discussing this subject, I will,
Notice the different kinds of certainty.
Every thing must be certain with some kind of certainty. There is a way in which all things and events either have been, are, or will be. All events that ever did or will occur, were and are as really certain before as after their occurrence. To an omniscient mind their real certainty might and must have been known, as really before as after their occurrence. All future events, for example, will occur in some way, and there is no real uncertainty in fact, nor can there be any real uncertainty in the knowledge of God respecting them. They are really as certain before they come to pass as they will ever be, and they are as truly and perfectly known as certain by God as they ever will be. They are as truly present to the Divine foreknowledge as they ever will be. Whatever of contingency and uncertainty there may be respecting them in some respects, yet, in point of fact, all events are certain, and there is no real uncertainty in respect to any event that ever did or will occur. This would be equally true, whether God or any other being knew how they would be or not. The foreknowledge of God does not make them certain. He knows them to be certain simply because they are so. Omniscience is the necessary knowledge of all objects of knowledge, past, present, and future. But omniscience does not create objects of knowledge. It does not render events certain, but only knows how they certainly will be, because it is certain, not only that they will be, but how and when they will be. All the free actions of moral agents are as really certain before they occur, as they ever will be. And God must as truly know how they will be before they occur, as He does after they have occurred.
1. The first kind of certainty that I shall notice, is that of absolute necessity; that is, a certainty depending on no conditions whatever. This is the highest kind of certainty. It belongs to the absolute and the infinite, to the existence of space, duration, and to the existence of God; and in short to everything that is self-existent, infinite, and immutable in a natural sense; that is, to everything infinite that does not imply voluntariness. The natural attributes of God are certain by this kind of certainty, but His moral attributes, consisting as they do in a voluntary state of mind, though infinite and eternal, do not belong to this class.
2. A second kind of certainty is that of physical, but conditional necessity. To this class belong all those events that come to pass under the operation of physical law. These belong properly to the chain of cause and effect. The cause existing, the effect must exist. The event is rendered certain and necessary by the existence of its cause. Its certainty is conditionated upon its cause. The cause existing, the event must follow by a law of necessity, and the events would not occur of course, did not their causes exist. The causes being what they are, the events must be what they are. This class of events are as really certain as the foregoing class. By speaking of one of them as certain in a higher sense than the other, it is not intended, that one class is any more certain than the other, but only that the certainty is of a different kind. For example, the first class are certain by a kind of certainty that does not, and never did depend on the will of any being whatever. There never was any possibility that these things should be otherwise than they are. This, it will be seen, must be true of space and duration, and of the existence and the natural attributes of God.
But all other things except the self-existent, the naturally immutable and eternal, are certain only as they are conditionated directly or indirectly upon the will of some being. For example, all the events of the physical universe were rendered certain by creation, and the establishing and upholding of those physical and necessary laws that cause these events. These are, therefore, certain by a conditionated, though physical necessity. There is no freedom or liberty in the events themselves; they occur necessarily, when their causes or conditions are supplied.
3. A third kind of certainty is that of a moral certainty. I call it a moral certainty, not because the class of events which belong to it are less certain than the foregoing, but because they consist in, or are conditionated upon, the free actions of moral agents. This class do not occur under the operation of a law of necessity, though they occur with certainty. There is no contingency predicable of the absolutely certain in the sense of absolute certainty above defined. The second class of certainties are contingent only in respect to their causes. Upon condition that the causes are certain, the events depending upon them are certain, without or beyond any contingency. This third class, though no less certain than the former two, are nevertheless contingent in the highest sense in which anything can be contingent. They occur under the operation of free will, and consequently there is not one of them that might not by natural possibility fail, or be otherwise than it is or will in fact be. This kind of certainty I call a moral certainty, as opposed to a physical certainty, that is, it is not a certainty of necessity in any sense; it is only a mere certainty, or a voluntary certainty, a free certainty, a certainty that might, by natural possibility in every case, be no certainty at all. But, on the contrary, the opposite might in every instance be certain by a natural possibility. God in every instance, knows how these events will be, as really as if they occurred by necessity; but His foreknowledge does not affect their certainty one way or the other. They might in every instance by natural possibility be no certainties at all, or be the opposite of what they are or will be, God's foreknowledge in any wise nevertheless. God knows them to be certain, not because His knowledge has any influence of itself to necessitate them, but because they are certain in themselves. Because it is certain in itself that they will be, God knows that they will be. To this class of events belong all the free actions of moral agents. All events may be traced ultimately to the action of God's free will; that is, God's free actions gave existence to the universe, with all its physical agencies and laws, so that all physical events are in some sense owing to, and result from the actions of free will. But physical events occur nevertheless under the immediate operation of a law of necessity. The class now under consideration depend not upon the operation of physical law as their cause. They are caused by the free agent himself. They find the occasions of their occurrence in the providential events with which moral agents are surrounded, and therefore may be traced indirectly, and more or less remotely, to the actions of the Divine will.