God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free-Will

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The sermon Peter delivered on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 is recorded by Luke. A significant statement made by Peter in the sermon brings together two important concepts in Scripture. Peter said, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknoweldge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” In one sentence, the foreknowledge of God and the free-will of man are brought together. How do we harmonize these important concepts?
First, the foreknowledge of God is clearly taught in the Scriptures. The prophecies recorded in Scripture prove the foreknoweldge of God. God foreknew that Abraham would become the father of many nations (Gen. 12:1-2; 22:17-18; Rom. 4:17). God foreknew that a new covenant would be made with Israel (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13). God foreknew that Jesus would be crucified, buried and raised again the third day (Isa. 53; Psa. 2; Psa. 16; I Cor. 15:1-3). To these prophecies, we could add hundreds more. The foreknowledge of God is a fact.
Second, the free-will of man is taught in the Scriptures. Freedom is implied in our view of ourselves. We know intuitively that we have the power of rational thought and volition (power of choice). When faced with two choices, a man knows that he can think about each choice, evaluate the arguments pro and con, and then decide which he thinks is best to pursue. Here is a good question for determinists, “how do determinists know that they do not possess rational thought?” Freedom is also implied in our treatment of others. People hold other people accountable for their actions. The usual way that we deal with each other is that we praise others for their achievements and blame them for their failures. We treat other people as individuals possessing will, aspirations, personality, etc., and not as mundane objects (a toaster or a book). We hold others accountable for their choices and we emphasize personal responsibility for their conduct. Freedom is also implied in the words of Peter who indicts those who crucified Jesus saying they did so with wicked hands. Later, he will command them to repent of this sin (Acts 2:38). Clearly, the apostle is holding them responsible for their conduct.
Third, how do we harmonize God’s foreknoweldge and man’s free-will? To know is not necessarily to cause to happen. God is infinite in knowledge. He sees everything (past, present and future) in one present moment. We are finite in knowledge. We see the past (limitedly) and present (also limitedly), but we do not see the future. God can foresee the choices of free individuals before they make those choices. We simply do not understand this type of knowledge because we are finite beings. God has such power and wisdom, that foreknowing the actions of free men, He can so interweave, or enmesh, His plans with the plans of free men that he can bring to pass, through their free choices and the sending of His prophets and His Son and through His providences, results which were not intended or foreseen by men, but which did not take away their freedom of choice (The Hub of the Bible, James Bales, 119). Man is a limited, finite, being. God is infinite in all of His perfections, including knowledge. God’s foreknowledge is absolute. Man’s free-will is real, but limited. Man is not God! This reasoning helps us avoid the charge of a contradiction between God’s foreknowledge and man’s free-will. If we affirmed that both were absolute, we would be affirming a contradiction. It is wrong to assume that man has unlimited freedom, or that he has no freedom. Freedom is not unlimited, but it is still real freedom. A contradiction is a statement or propositon that affirms that something is both A and not A at the same time and in the same circumstance. If we said that God had absolute sovereignty and man had absolute free-will, we would be affirming a contradiction. However, we affirm that God is sovereign and man’s free-will is limited. A man has freedom to choose, but he does not have the power to accomplish anything that he chooses. Also, he is limited by God. God tells man what to do. Men do not tell God what to do. God holds man accountable for his conduct. This ultimate accountability will be manifest in the Judgment Day. You might want to recall that Satan has freedom, but his freedom to act is also limited (Job 1-2; I John 3:8). Satan is not co-equal nor co-eternal with God. Jesus could cast out demons. But, demons never cast Jesus out of anybody. Demons do not have the power to do anything that they want to do. No one tells God what to do. No one holds God accountable for His actions. Clearly, there is a difference between God and man; God and Satan, God and demons. God alone has absolute power to accomplish what He purposes!

St. John’s Church (Episcoplian) Richmond, VA

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St. John's Church

St. John's Church

Side view of the church

Side view of the church

Plauque indicating the date of the church

Plauque indicating the date of the church

     I have posted some more pictures of St. John’s Church.  Remember, this is the place where Patrick Henry gave his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech.

Liberty or Death!

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The St. John's Church (Anglican, Richmond, VA)
The St. John’s Church (Anglican, Richmond, VA)
Inside St. John's Church (Richmond, VA)
Inside St. John’s Church (Richmond, VA)

     In the first picture, you will find a view of the St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA where Patrick Henry delivered his famous oration where he said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”  The second picture is actually inside the church where Patrick Henry stood when he made his famous speech.  Following is an account of this momentous event.  “On March 23, 1775, the Second Virginia Convention had been moved from the House of Burgesses to St. John’s Church in Richmond, because of the mounting tension between the Colonies and the British Crown.  It was here that Patrick Henry delivered his fiery patriotic oration:  …Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature hath placed in our power.  Three millions of people, armed in the Holy cause of Liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. 
     Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battle alone.  There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battle for us.  The battle, sire, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave…
     Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (William Federer, America’s God and Country, 287-288). 
     Patrick Henry is credited with stating, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here” (Federer, p. 289). 
     Both of these quotations are worth contemplating at this time in our own history.