|« Prev||Sermon XL. 1 John iii. 20.||Next »|
God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
GOD, the creator of all things, an object fitter for our adoration, than our curious, but yet weak inquiries, is infinite in his being, and so consequently not to be comprehended by our finite understandings: yet, since he is pleased to command us to worship him, which we cannot rationally do, unless in some measure we know him; he is therefore also pleased to aid our weak conceptions, by several expressions of himself, which we call attributes; as, that he is just, wise, merciful, and the like: all which, according to the common notions that men have of justice, wisdom, and mercy, are not strictly and properly to be found in God; so that, indeed, these words, as by us applied to him, rather testify our reverential desires of honouring him, than at all express his nature. For our words expressing only those ideas and images of things in the mind, all which were conveyed thither through the senses, it is impossible they should properly express the nature of God, which was never comprehended by the short reach of our senses; and therefore they could not report any representation of him to the mind, which might afterwards be expressed in words. And thus, by natural ratiocination, I gather, that these words, 364just, righteous, and merciful, do not indeed exactly signify the nature and being of God. It is the prerogative of his essence not only to surpass the ken of sense, but also to nonplus the most accurate and sagacious discourses of reason. He laughs at the bold and laborious attempts of our understandings, in comprehending him: and, by his excessive brightness, wards off the eyes of the beholder, and (as we may say, by a seeming contradiction, but a real truth) is like the sun, too visible to be seen. And shall we then, poor mortals, think ourselves able to express what we are not so much as able to conceive? And, if our thoughts take in a larger compass and latitude than our expressions, (for who is it that cannot think more than he speaks?) then, certainly, if we cannot reach his essence by our most elevated thoughts, much less can we do it by our words. But the same is further demonstrable from the difference of righteousness, mercy, and power, properly so called, from any thing that is in God. For these are all qualities inherent in the soul of man, by virtue whereof he is enabled to act. For the soul being unable of itself, and by its bare substance, to advance into action, there are requisite therefore these certain qualities, by the instrumental mediation of which, it may exert its several operations. So that the soul, without its respective faculties and qualities to act by, is like an artificer without his tools: but now it is far otherwise with Almighty God in his workings, whose actions immediately stream from his essence, without the auxiliary intervention of any being distinct from himself. Where upon it must be granted, that these things, justice, mercy, &c. exist not of themselves, but as they are 365shouldered and propped up by the subject in which they are; and therefore are imperfect beings, and so not properly to be found in God, whose very nature it is to be perfect. And furthermore, as they are always distinct from the essence in which they are, we thence also collect that they are not in God, who is an indivisible, absolute, and uncompounded being, in whom there is nothing to be found but what is really himself. But it may be said, if these things are so, that righteousness, justice, and mercy are not really and properly in God; whence is it that the scripture so often attributes these things to him? I answer, in this, as in many other things, it speaks according to the manner of men. In the same sense it attributes hands, eyes, and cars to God, not really, but metaphorically; that by the things we sec, we may, in some measure, apprehend him that is in visible. In short, therefore, righteousness, justice, and mercy, are attributed, not according to the reality of the things themselves, but by the analogy of their effects. The meaning is this: God is called merciful, because some of his actions bear a proportion to those that men exercise from a principle of mercy; and powerful, because some of his actions have a similitude to those that men exercise from a principle of power: and so of the rest. Some say the like of his decrees; who affirm, that God can no more properly be said to decree a thing, than to foreknow it, to whom all things are present. Now, according to the sense of these men, God is said to decree, because some of his actions have a likeness to such actions, as men produce under a decree or resolution. But I forbear, since I am afraid that I have gone too far in these notions already. But 366being, in my subsequent discourse, to insist upon one of the attributes of God, I thought it convenient to premise something of them in general.
We find mention of them all in scripture, and peculiarly the words which I have at present read to you, clearly hold forth his omniscience, or infinite knowledge. The words are plain, and need no explication; therefore I shall forthwith draw this doctrine from them, not much different from the words themselves, viz.
That God is an all-knowing God.
This may seem a principle, and therefore not to be doubted, and consequently needless to be proved. But he that has looked into controversy, and especially those two which are now the most considerable, the Arminian and Socinian, will find that their grand fallacy, their πρῶτον ψεῦδος, is founded upon their erroneous stinting of God’s knowledge: but the first of these especially, who affirm, that God’s knowledge, in respect of contingent futures, is only conditional, that is, God does not absolutely fore know that such things will come to pass; but upon supposal that such and such causes meet with such and such circumstances, then he knows such things will follow. But now, if God does not absolutely and certainly know every contingent future, it follows, that he does not absolutely will and decree it; for whatsoever he wills, he also knows; and if God does not will the future existence of it, whence comes it to exist? Certainly not from God, but from itself; for if God hereafter vouchsafes a productive influence to the actual producing of a thing contingent, which we now suppose future, (which God must do, or cease to be the first cause of all things;) I say, if 367God vouchsafes his power to give it existence, it follows, that he wills the production and existence of it at that time; for God wills a thing before he does it: and it also follows, that if he wills it at that time, he always willed and decreed it before: for to affirm that God wills the existence of a thing contingent, then in the producing of it, which before, while it was yet future, he did not will or decree; this is to make a new act of willing, which is an immanent act, and therefore not distinct from God, to begin in time; that is, to make something that is the same with God, to be in God now, which was not in him before: which is hugely absurd, if not blasphemous. Thus we see the denial of God’s absolute, certain foreknowledge of all things, makes the existence of many of them entirely independent upon God, and totally from themselves; which is indeed to make him an idle epicurean God, and to deify them. And herein lies the abomination of asserting God’s knowledge in respect of any thing conditional. As for the next opinion, Socinus endeavouring to assert the freedom of man’s will in the highest, and observing that God’s absolute, certain foreknowledge did lay an antecedent necessity upon all men’s actions as to their event, he makes short and thorough work, and utterly denies his prescience. Animadvertendnm est infallibilem istam Dei praenotionem, quam pro re concessa adversarii sumunt, a nobis non admitti, Socin. Praelect. cap. viii. And that he might not seem to blaspheme without some reason, he says, as God, though he is omnipotent, cannot yet do those things that imply a contradiction; so, though he is omniscient, he cannot know things, the knowledge of which implies the same absurdity; 368which, he says, will follow in asserting that God has a certain infallible knowledge of those things, which in themselves are uncertain and contingent. And thus we see, that although God’s omniscience be indeed a principle, and therefore ought to be granted; yet since it is thus controverted and denied, it is no less needful to be proved. In the prosecution of this, I shall
I. Prove the proposition, and that both by scripture and reason.
II. I shall shew the excellency of this knowledge of God, beyond the knowledge of men or angels.
III. From the consideration of that excellency, I shall deduce something by way of inference and application.
I. And first for the proof of it, and that from scripture. In John xxi. 17, Peter says to Christ, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Divines do here generally acknowledge, that in these words Peter makes a confession of the deity of Christ, which could not be inferred, unless there was a necessary connection between the divine nature and the power of knowing all things; for in this consists the strength of Peter’s argument, proving Christ to be God; in this he ascribes a property to him that agrees only to God: as Christ elsewhere proves himself to be really a man, by assuming those properties to himself which are inseparably inherent in man’s nature. Another scripture proving the same truth is that of Heb. iv. 13, All things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do; that is, (by a metaphor,) to his understanding, which, by reason of the quickness and spirituality of this sense, is often expressed 369by an eye, and knowing by seeing: so that the words import thus much, that God most clearly discerns and knows all things and actions, as the eye manifestly beholds those objects that are fully presented to its view. There are many other places in scripture that richly hold forth God’s omniscience, but in a point so evident, these two may suffice.
Our second proof is from reason; and here our first argument shall be drawn from his works of creation and providence. It is impossible that he that made all things should not also know all things. Who is it that cannot readily acknowledge and read his own hand? What artificer is there that does not presently know and distinguish his own work? In all rational agents, before every action there is presupposed a knowledge of the thing that is to be produced by that action. So that if we grant (as I suppose none denies) that God is the maker of all things, that every creature dropped into the world through his hands, we cannot be so absurd as to deny him a distinct knowledge of those things, which with his own finger he made and fashioned. Next, his providence sufficiently declares his omniscience: if he manages, rules, and governs all things, yea sin itself, sometimes by permitting, sometimes by limiting or preventing, other times by punishing it, it clearly follows, that he has full cognizance of those things, since all these acts presuppose knowledge.
Now, from the consideration of this attribute, since it is our duty to be like our heavenly Father, let us endeavour also to resemble him in knowledge. As it is the perfection of God to know all things, so it is the excellency of man to know any thing aright. 370Ignorance, it is the dishonour of our nature; and he that continues in it, what does he but erect a certain kingdom of darkness in his soul? But of all knowledge, that is the most excellent, upon which depends our eternal interest; I mean, our knowledge of God in Christ: in comparison of which, God gives a very slight character of all things be sides. What more desirable in the eyes of the world than riches? What more excellent than strength, more to be admired than wisdom? Yet what says God of all these, Jer. ix. 23, 24, Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, that exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth. So that this is a knowledge that does not only surpass strength and riches, before which the very heathens could prefer their poor knowledge of nature; but it is such a knowledge, in comparison of which the very wisdom of men is folly. Consider also, that this is the sure way to everlasting life; so sure, that in scripture it is called everlasting life itself, in John xvii. 3, And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. Observe likewise, as this knowledge is called eternal life, so, on the contrary, the Spirit of God calls ignorance eternal death; John iii. 19, And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light. Now if there can be any greater argument to a rational soul, to pursue after this knowledge, than the obtaining eternal 371life, let that soul neglect it; and, on the other hand, if there can be any stronger motive to woe a man out of his ignorance, than avoiding damnation, let him hug his ignorance as a desirable thing: let him embrace a cloud, and refresh himself under the shadow of death. But consider this, you that are ignorant of God, ignorant in the midst of teaching ordinances. O how dreadful is it, to enjoy precious means of knowledge, and only to be proficient in ignorance! As long as thou art destitute of this spiritual light and knowledge, thou art to the Devil as Samson to the Philistines without his eyes, thou must go whither he will lead thee, grind in his mill, and undergo all the slavish drudgery of sin, that a malicious Devil, that hates thy soul, can put thee to. But, on the other side, knowledge, as it makes thee in a true sense a man, so this saving knowledge of God makes thee more than a man, that is, a Christian. And remember, as the preposterous desire of knowledge was the first cause of man’s unhappy fall, so the pursuit of this spiritual knowledge must le the first occasion of his recovery.
Thus far the arguments by which we prove God’s omniscience: pass we now to the second thing, which is to shew the excellency of God’s knowledge, above the knowledge either of men or angels.
And this appears, 1st, From the properties of this knowledge. 2dly, From the object.
1st, Concerning its properties. The first property holding forth the excellency of this knowledge, is the exceeding evidence, and consequently the certainty of it; for though a thing may be certain, and yet not evident, yet whatsoever is evident, that also is certain. Evidence brings a property emanent 372from the essence and being of knowledge; it follows, that that which includes the nature of knowledge in an infinite manner, must be also attended by a most infinitely clear evidence. He that causes that innate evidence in every object, by which it moves and strikes the faculty, shall not he see? He that gives light to the eye, by which that evidence is discerned, shall not he discern? The great intellectus agens, that by shining upon our understandings causes us to understand, shall not he himself understand much more clearly? John i. 9, it is said of Christ, in respect of his deity, that he is the true Light, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. It is elsewhere said of God, that he is the Father of lights. Indeed, the knowledge of man, upon the greatest improvements, retains a great mixture of ignorance; and all his labour, all the travail of his soul in the pursuit of science, is not able thoroughly to work out that darkness of mind which he brought with him into the world: but now God is not only light, but such a light as with him there is no darkness at all. And thus it is clear, that the best of human knowledge is not able to contest with the divine. But yet may not the angels, those sons of light and knowledge, those near resemblances of their Creator, may not they at least vie with the divine knowledge? Why, no. For even the angels stoop down and pry into the mysteries of God, and particularly that of the incarnation, as it is in 1 Pet. i. 12. Therefore they do not fully and evidentially know them, for these are the postures, not of those that know already, but of those that endeavour to know. But now God must needs know this great mystery, for he contrived it. In Job iv. 18, he is 373said to charge his angels with folly. Certainly then he must have a transcendently perfect wisdom, tar excelling theirs. From hence, therefore, we see, that the knowledge of God, even as to its clearness and pregnant evidence, is unconceivably beyond the knowledge of men or angels.
2dly, Another property of this knowledge, shewing the excellence of it, is this, that it is a knowledge independent upon the existence of the object or thing known. Man indeed receives nothing into his understanding but through his senses; and sense has nothing but what it fetches from the object. Take away sounds, and there will he no hearing; deprive us of light, and there will be no seeing. But now God beholds all things in himself; and that both eminently, as he sees his own perfection, which eminently includes all the perfection that is scattered among the creatures, as the light of all the stars is contained eminently in the sun; and he beholds them also formally, distinctly, and according to the model of their own proper beings, without looking upon the existence of the things themselves, and that two ways.
1st, By reflecting upon his power, and what he can do; he has a perfect knowledge of all possibilities, and of things that may be produced.
2dly, By reflecting upon his power and his will; he knows whatsoever shall be actually produced. For upon the concurrence of God’s will with his power there is nothing else requisite, but the thing does immediately result. This is the constitutive knowledge which gives being to the thing known; in which sense it may be truly said, that God does not therefore know things because they are or may be, 374but they therefore are or may be because he knows them. So that this our maxim, Non entis nulla est scientia, is true only of finite knowledge. For God’s knowledge is antecedent to the object, quite different from ours, which is borrowed from it, and so subsequent to it. As the knowledge that a builder has of an house depends not upon the actual being of it; but he knows it, partly by reflecting on his skill, in which he sees a perfect idea of it before ever it is made; and partly on his power, by which he is able to make it: but now others knowledge depends upon the actual being of the house, as flowing from those representations they have of it after it is built. And such is our knowledge in respect of God’s.
2dly, The excellency of God’s knowledge appears in respect of his objects; which are all things knowable.
But they may be reduced to three things especially, which God alone perfectly knows, and are not to be known by men or angels.
1st, The nature of God himself. Nothing but an infinite knowledge can comprehend an infinite being. We may as well endeavour to take up the ocean in the hollow of our hands, or to clasp the heavens in our arms, as to understand or fathom the immense perfections of the divine nature.
2dly, The second sort of things only known to God are things future, and these are only within his reach. As for us, setting aside what we know by history, which is not so properly knowledge as belief, we know only what is present; for although we know some things that are passed also, yet we first know them as they were present; and the reason is, because we know things by our coexistence with 375them. Now God, by reason of the infinite compass of his being, running through all the distinctions of time, by an intimate coexistence with them, and consequently with all things that do exist in those several and successive parcels of time, he takes a full survey of things, both past, present, and to come; which, though it be an undenied principle both in Christian and natural theology, and consequently to be rather granted as a self-evident truth, than disputed as a problem, yet he, who shall look into the writings of the Pelagians, Jesuits, or their Dutch brood, the remonstrants, will find that their grand fallacy, their πρῶτον ψεῦδος, is founded upon their erroneous stating of the divine knowledge; by which they affirm, that God’s knowledge, in respect of future contingents, is wholly conditional. For as by one simple act of his being he does coexist with all successive durations, so by one act of his understanding he does also know them. To help our apprehensions in this thing, we may take this similitude: a man walking in a path sees not that part of the way that is behind him, neither that which is any great distance before him, but successively comes to see it, as by degrees he arrives to and coexists with it: but now he, that is upon an high mountain or tower, by one single cast of his eye takes a view of the whole path, and at once sees the man, and what is behind him, and what so remote before him. Just so man, who exists in some part of time, neither properly knows those things that were before he was, nor those things that are future, but as he gains a successive coexistence with them. But God, being (as I may say) exalted upon his own essence, does from thence, as from an high and lofty place, by one single act of 376his understanding, take a survey of us that are in the world, and those things that are past and behind us, together with those that are before us, and yet to come.
Now, things future are of two sorts.
1st, Such as depend upon necessary causes, that is, those that constantly, and in the same manner, produce their effects: such are the sun and moon, in respect of the eclipses; and the heavens, in respect of many things here below. So that their effects, though future, may be yet known in the causes. For we can foretell an eclipse many years before: and while it is yet winter, we know that within such a period of days it will be summer. Now, in respect even of these future things, the knowledge of God, and of the creature, is very different: God, indeed, certainly knows when they will come to pass. Men and angels indeed have also a certain knowledge of them: but it is not absolute, but only suppositional; that is, upon supposal that such and such things continue in their being, and that God withal affords them his ordinary concurrence, such and such effects will certainly follow. But the causes themselves may perish; and God, that created nature, may, by the same power and sovereignty, interrupt it in its course; as he did the sun in the time of Joshua, Josh. x. 13, and the operation of that fire upon the three children. Now, in this case, neither men nor angels can certainly know or determine of such futures.
2dly, The second sort of things future are things in their nature occasional and contingent; such as come by chance, and such as depend upon the free will of man, which is various in its working, and 377consequently, that which is produced by it, must needs be uncertain in the event. Now it is the prerogative of God alone to have a steady foreknowledge of such things; no created being can dive into them: that man cannot, as reason would sufficiently prove, so scripture also does no less clearly demonstrate. Isaiah xlvii. 11, God speaks to Babylon; Evil shall come upon thee, and thou shalt not know from whence it ariseth: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thon shalt not know: hereupon, in the two next verses, he defies them to find thorn out with all their sorceries and enchantments; in the twelfth verse, Let now the astrologers and prognosticators stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. If any man could foresee future events, then certainly it would be those who made it their business and their profession; those who had not only their own understanding, but all the light of heaven to direct them. A man may as easily draw the perfect picture of a man yet unborn, as have in his mind the idea of a contingent future.
Who knows what a day may bring forth? God has put obscurity between us and the nearest futures: there is night between us and the very next day. To the proofs drawn from scripture, we may add the over plus of our own experience. And that angels are also to seek in the certain knowledge of these things, is no less true. Had those fallen angels, before their sin, foreseen what would have followed it, we cannot but in reason imagine, that the foresight of their fall would have kept them from their sin. Hereupon the Devil, in the heathen oracles, when he was consulted about future events, gave always doubtful, ambiguous 378answers; so that, howsoever the thing fell out, he had still a salvo, or evasion, in the ambiguity of the expression. It is confessed, that sometimes his predictions have been answered by the event of the thing; but then this was rather from the happiness of his conjecture, than the certainty of his knowledge. And, as one says, “Angels have the advantage of us in respect of their experience, which is far greater in them than in us, both because they have been of longer duration and continuance in the world, and also because of the piercing quickness of their understandings, in comparing one thing with another; and from thence making conjectures at other things.” Now experience is a reiterated or repeated knowledge of things past; from whence arises an ability of judging or guessing at things future. And thus far angels can go, and no further. As for that argument, by which some would prove that angels know things future, because distance of time and distance of place are equally accidental differences; and we know distance of place does not impede the knowledge of angels; therefore they may know things, notwithstanding the difference of time, that they are future: I say, this argument proves nothing, because the case is not the same, in respect of difference of place and of time. Distance of place always supposes the existence of the things that so differ: futurity, which is a difference of time, puts a nonexistence of the thing; for that which is future, is not yet in being. And since all created knowledge follows the existence of the thing known, there can be no knowledge of that which does not exist, but of that which either exists, or is supposed and looked upon as existing. But 379now, God knows contingent futures, yea, and that certainly and infallibly; and the reason is, because the most contingent being, when and while it actually exists, is, in its being, necessary: Omne quod est, quando est necessario est. But all things are present to God; they are looked upon by him as under an actual existence; from whence we may collect, that he has a certain and necessary knowledge of them.
3dly, The third sort of things, known only to God, are the thoughts of men: it belongs to the sovereignty of God’s omniscience alone to judge and know these: Psalm cxxxix. 12, Thou understandest my thoughts afar off. This is attributed to God by way of eminence; and every such thing is not only proper, but also peculiar to him; so as to be communicated to nothing else: for that cannot be ascribed to God by way of distinction, which is also common to the creature. Angels indeed do exactly know our constitutions, and so can read the general inclination of our thoughts in them, but not the particular determination of them, quoad hic et nunc, in respect of particular objects and circumstances; and also, when the thoughts move and stir the passions, and the passions work some change on the body: for, as natural philosophy teaches, every passion (which is a motion of the sensitive appetite) fit cum aliqua mutatione corporis non naturali. I say, in this respect, the an gels may know the thoughts, as they betray themselves in some outward, corporeal sign; but by any immediate inspection of the thoughts themselves, so they are not able to discern them. It is a privilege that God has given to our nature, to be able to conceal our thoughts; next to that by which we are 380able to communicate them: Jerem. xvii. 9, The heart is deceitful above all things; who can know it? None can read the thoughts, none can behold the intentions and desires, but that God, who vouchsafes an influence to the production of every thought, and every desire: 1 Cor. ii. 11, Who knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man that is within him? It is well known, that these interrogations imply strong denials. Who can know the things of man? that is, none can know them: they are not subject to the inspection of any being, but God. For notwithstanding this universal negation, we must of necessity except him, because the scripture elsewhere makes a peculiar exception of God, even there, where it affirms that the heart cannot be known, Jerem. xvii. 10, I, the Lord, search the heart, I try the reins. From hence therefore appears the transcendent excellency of God’s knowledge beyond all created, that it is able to pierce into men’s thoughts.
I proceed to make some application; and to see what uses may be deduced from the consideration of God’s omniscience: it may serve as an argument to press several duties upon us.
1st, It must be a strong motive to bring us to a free confession of all our sins to God. God’s omniscience, or infinite knowledge, should indeed make us ashamed to commit sin; but it should embolden us to confess it. We can commit and tell our secrets to a friend that does not know them; how much more should we do it to him that knows them already! God’s knowledge outruns our confessions, and anticipates what we have to say. As our Saviour speaks concerning prayer, Your heavenly Father 381knows what you have need of, before you ask, Matt. vi. 8, so I may say of confession, your heavenly Father knows what secret sins you have committed, before you confess. But still he commands this duty of us; and that not to know our sins, but to see our ingenuity. Adam, when he hid himself, to the impiety of his sin added the absurdity of a concealment. Our declaring of our sins to God, who knows them without being beholden to our relation; it is like opening a window to receive the light, which would shine in through it howsoever. Every man has fenestratum pectus, a casement in his bosom, through which God looks in upon him every day. When a master sees his servant commit a fault in secret, and thereupon urges him to a confession, he does it not so much to know the fault, as to try the man. Now there is no duty by which we give God the glory of his omniscience so much as by a free confession of our secret iniquities. Joshua vii. 19 Joshua says to Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him. Here we see, had he not confessed his theft, he had been guilty of a greater, to wit, the robbing God of his glory. Thus the widow of Tekoah, by confessing her design and project to David, gave him the glory of his wisdom and knowledge. Hereupon having confessed it, she says, in 2 Sam. xiv. 20, My lord the king is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are done in the earth. God seems to compound with us, and, in lieu of satisfaction, only to require our confession; Jerem. iii. 12, 13, I am merciful, saith the Lord, and will not keep anger for ever: only acknowledge thy iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord 382thy God. Nay, God commands us to confess our sins, not so much that he may know them, as that we may know them ourselves. For while sin sits close in the heart, we cannot see it till we cast it forth by confession; as a man cannot see the corruption that is in his stomach, till he spits it out. But howsoever, the impossibility of concealing our sins from God’s omniscience, is the great reason why we should confess them; for as we cannot rescue them from his justice, so neither can we hide them from his knowledge. God’s omniscience, together with his justice, represents him to a secret sinner like a flaming fire; which by its heat consumes, and by its light discovers. Wherefore, to confess our sins, since we are not able to conceal them, what is it, but in a spiritual sense to make a virtue of necessity?
2dly, The consideration of God’s omniscience may enforce us to an humble submission to all God’s commands and directions, and that both in respect of belief and of practice.
1st, And first, concerning things to be believed. There is such a depth in these, and such a seeming contradiction to reason, that our natural understandings are apt to quarrel, and find absurdities in them, and to dispute against that which we cannot comprehend. Hence, in Eph. iii. 1 9, the apostle prays, that we may know the love of Christ, that passeth knowledge. Here we should captivate the vain reasonings of our blind understandings, and answer the defect of our knowledge, by the infiniteness of God’s; who knows a reason of whatsoever he commands, and of whatsoever we ought to believe. When we hear the mystery of the Trinity, that three subsistencies are contracted into one essence, and one essence enlarged 383into three subsistences; when we hear of two natures conjoined in the same person, the creator and the creature, united in Jesus Christ; our reason is nonplused and amazed, and cannot satisfy itself from any of its own principles. When we hear of the resurrection, that, after our bodies are destroyed, and by continual transmutation brought to be clean another thing, then for the same numerical bodies to be restored, and all the scattered parts to be renewed, and return to their proper places; so that with Job we should be enabled to see our Redeemer with these very eyes, and no other, Job xix. 26, 27. when we hear of the mysterious, hidden works of the Spirit in our regeneration, and the begetting of new principles within us, so as to change and alter our nature; that he, which by his constitution is in temperate and furious, should be made temperate and meek; that he, which by his education is profane and worldly, should, by the secret, forcible operation of the Spirit, become holy and spiritually-minded: I say, this startles and confounds us; and we are apt to say with Nicodemus, How can these things be? We cannot, from any topic of reason or philosophy, give a rational account of them. But here we should know, that although these things are not intelligible by men, yet they are to the all-knowing God. And although our reason cannot discern or comprehend these things, yet God is greater than our reason, and knoweth all things.
2dly, The consideration of God’s infinite knowledge ought to make us comply with God’s commands in things concerning our practice, and that even in those duties, that to our natural judgments may seem 384unreasonable. He that renounces the dictates of his own carnal wisdom, and prosecutes the ways prescribed to him by God, has set to his seal, that God is wise, and infinitely more knowing than himself. For all our disobedience, our relinquishing the ways of God, and adhering to our own, may be resolved into this; that men think they know a nearer way to happiness than God has prescribed them; which, how derogatory it is to the all-knowing wisdom of God, let our own reason be judge. Why do we follow the advice of our physicians and lawyers, but from the opinion we have of their knowledge and experience? Absalom, by not doing according to Ahithophel’s counsel, did in that clearly undervalue his wisdom; and the discredit of that made Ahithophel hang himself. Now the most wise and omniscient God, that knows the utmost of sin, that knows what it is for a sinner to be saved, and to escape the stroke of his justice, does, in order thereto, command us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, to renounce our dearest pleasures, our nearest relations, as they stand in competition with Christ; yea, to prefer the most unpleasant duty before the most pleasing sin. Here flesh and blood is at a stand; and as it cannot endure the strictness and rigour, so neither can it see the reason of these commands. But what Elijah said to Israel in the case of Baal, that I may here apply, Why halt we between two opinions? If God, who has commanded and enjoined these duties, be the all-knowing God, why do we not then, without any further delay, perform them? If he be not, why do we then give him divine worship? Wherefore I shall conclude with this most certain truth: there is no 385such way of giving God the glory of his infinite knowledge, as by an obediential practice of those duties and commands which seem most to thwart and contradict our own.
3dly and lastly, Since it is an express command of our Saviour himself, that we should be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect; why should we not, according to our weak model, endeavour to copy out this divine perfection upon our soul, as well as any of the rest? And why, as well as we are commanded to be like him in his goodness, bounty, and mercy, we should not endeavour to resemble him in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, according to our weak capacity? For this is not to say, as Lucifer, I will ascend, and be like the Most High; nor to follow what he suggested to our first parents, Ye shall be like gods: for had they affected to be like God in knowledge, as they ought to have done, they would have certainly discerned the cheat of the serpent, and the trials which the Devil was then putting upon them. No; it is no arrogance for us to endeavour to be like God, in passing a right and true judgment upon all things that concern us; in judging of holiness, as God judges; in judging of sin, as God judges of every thing relating to our temporal or eternal happiness or misery. God, says the apostle, is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. We do not disparage nor rival the great fountain of light, the sun, by endeavouring to have as much of his light in our houses as we can. We have our rule and measure to proceed by, in our imitation of our heavenly Father, in this respect, as well as in any other: for as it is the perfection of God to know all 386things, so it is the excellency of man to know any thing aright.
To God, therefore, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.387
|« Prev||Sermon XL. 1 John iii. 20.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version