Charles Hodge, free choice, and divine certainty

Charles Hodge’s key argument regarding the free will controversy is this:   does infallible certainty of a future event destroy human liberty?  He answers no.  Hodge gives a lengthy explanation that the Reformed tradition can maintain free agency, yet God’s foreknowledge of future actions is not threatened (Hodge, II: 296-304).  Part of his discussion is labored and a bit confusing, for he realizes that “free will” has as many glosses as it does adherents.  He explains what is and is not meant by “free will.”

I do not always agree with his defining of the terms.   He lists the three options:  necessity (fatalism), contingency (free-willism) and certainty (Reformed and Augustinianism).  My problem with Hodge’s list is that traditional Reformed orthodoxy made a distinction between the necessity of the consequent (absolute necessity as pertaining to God ad intra) and necessity of the consequent thing (conditional necessity). My problem with his term “contingency” is that it risks confusion:  God is a necessary being; man is a contingent one.  It is evident, though, that Hodge makes clear he means the semi-Pelagian options.   He does advance the discussion forward, though, with his use of the term “certainty.”  Hodge is content to show that opponents of the Reformed system cannot demonstrate a contradiction between the proposition “all events are foreknown by God and will happen with certainty,” and the proposition, “Man can make rational choices apart from absolute necessity.”  Hodge lists several metaphysical and biblical examples.   God is a most perfect being.   This is a certainty (else we are doomed!), yet few will argue that God’s liberty is impinged.   Jesus’s crucifixion was foreknown in the mind of God, yet the Roman soldiers sinned most freely.

This raises an interesting issue:  many semi-Pelagians try to duck the Reformed charge by saying, “God simply foresees who will believe and elects them based on his foreseeing their believing.”  Besides being a crass works-righteousness, does this really solve the problem?  Is their belief any less certain?   If the semi-Pelagian argues that election is God’s foreseeing their faith, then we must ask if this is a certain action?   It’s hard to see how they can say no.  If they do affirm that it is certain, then they must at least agree (hypothetically) with the Reformed gloss that certainty does not destroy free agency.  If they say certainty does destroy free agency, then they need to abandon the old argument that God elects people upon foreseen faith (ironically, this view is quite compatible with a limited atonement!).

So what does it mean for a man to act “freely.”  Few people on either side ever define this satisfactorily.   Hodge loosely follows the standard Reformed gloss:  the will follows the intellect (which is assumed to be fallen).  Man can be said to act freely if he acts naturally:  man acts according to the way he was created (II: 304).  A natural choosing is not necessarily a libertarian one:  I can be said to naturally choose an option if I can show that I am using the faculties that God gave me:  intellect, will, etc.’  Yes, the outcome is certain but it doesn’t follow from that that we are robots.

Evaluation of Hodge’s proposal

Despite some confusing groundwork on Hodge’s part, I think he advanced the discussion.  He neatly interacted with free-will advocates like Thomas Reid, showing that Reid’s proposal is in no conflict with Reformed theology.  I think Hodge should have followed Turretin more closely:  posit  a distinction between consequence and consequent.

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