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THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.
The Lord is a God of knowledge.—1 Sam. ii. 3.
I COME now to speak of those properties and perfections which relate to the Divine understanding, and will, and manner, and power of acting. Knowledge considers things absolutely, and in themselves: wisdom considers the respects and relations of things one to another, and under the notion of means and ends. The knowledge of God, is a perfect comprehension of the nature of all things, with all their powers, and qualities, and circumstances: the wisdom of God, is a perfect comprehension of the respects and relations of things one to another; of their harmony and opposition; of their fitness and unfitness to such and such ends. The knowledge of God, only implies his bare understanding of things; but his wisdom, implies the skill of ordering and disposing things to the best ends and purposes, to make every thing, and to govern and administer all things in number, weight, and mea sure. I shall at present speak of the first of these, the knowledge of God; which, as I said, is a perfect comprehension of the nature of all things, and of every thing belonging to their nature: of the powers, and qualities, and circumstances of things.
These words signify God to be “the fountain of knowledge;” that is, that he possesseth it himself, and communicates it to others. In the handling of this, I shall,361
First, Endeavour to prove, that this attribute belongs to God.
Secondly, Shew the perfection and the prerogatives of the Divine knowledge.
Thirdly, Draw some practical inferences from the whole.
First, For the proof of it, I shall attempt it two ways:
1. From the dictates of natural light and reason.
2. From Scripture or Divine revelation.
1. From the dictates of natural light and reason. I begin with this first; because, unless this be established, all Divine revelation falls to the ground; unless natural reason assures us, that God is endowed with knowledge and understanding, it is in vain to inquire after Divine revelation. For to make any revelation credible, two things are requisite on the part of the revealer, ability and integrity; that he have a perfect knowledge and understanding of the thing which he reveals, so that he cannot be deceived himself; and so much goodness and truth, that he will not deceive us. Now, unless our reason assure us that God is endowed with knowledge and understanding, the first condition is evidently wanting, viz. ability, and consequently, the second, integrity; for there cannot be goodness and veracity without knowledge.
This being premised, I proceed to the proof of it from such arguments as our natural reason suggests to us. I have formerly told you, that the Divine perfections are not to be proved by way of demonstration, but by way of conviction, by shewing the absurdities and inconveniences of the contrary; for if we deny knowledge to God, we must deny it to be a perfection; we must deny it to be in any of the 362creatures; we must attribute many other imperfections to God; all which are absurd to our natural reason; for natural reason dictates to us, that knowledge is a perfection, that it is to be found in the creatures, and that the denial of it to God will argue many other imperfections in the Divine nature: now these are so many arguments which natural reason offers to us to prove, that knowledge belongs to God.
1. It is a perfection, and therefore belongs to God. Natural reason tells us, though the Scripture had not said it, that knowledge excels ignorance as much as light doth darkness; now what ever is perfect and excellent is to be attributed to the Divine nature; for this is the first notion we have of God, that he is a being absolutely perfect.
2. Knowledge is to be found in some of the creatures, and therefore is much more in God the Creator, because it is derived from him. Our very understandings, whereby we know God, or any thing else, are an argument that knowledge and understanding are in God. If “he gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding,” if he communicates this perfection to the creatures, he himself is much more possessed of it. The Scripture, indeed, useth this argument, but I mention it as that which natural reason cloth suggest to the most brutish and ignorant of men. (Psal. xciv. 8, 9.) “Understand, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?”
3. The denial of this perfection to God, argues many other imperfections in the Divine nature. No thing would more eclipse the Divine nature, than 363to take away this perfection from it; this would bring an universal obscurity upon God’s other perfections; this would be to put out the light of heaven, and to turn the brightness of the morning into the shadow of death. If we remove this perfection from God, we deny his wisdom. He that does not know the nature and qualities of things, cannot know how to apply means to ends, to fit or suit one thing to another. And we weaken his power. What an impotent and ineffectual thing would power be without knowledge? What irregular things would it produce? What untoward combinations of effects would there be, if infinite power were let loose to act without the conduct of knowledge and understanding? And, consequently, we take away his providence; for without knowledge, there can be no counsel, no forecast of events, no provision for the future, no government of the world. And this is not all; for without knowledge there could be no such thing as goodness; for he is not good that does good out of ignorance, or from a blind necessity. There could be no veracity, nor justice, nor mercy in God; for all these suppose knowledge. He that speaks truth, must know it; he that is just, must understand right from wrong; he that shews mercy, must know who are miserable, and how they may be relieved, and not to labour in a thing so plain and easy: take away the knowledge of God, and you render him incapable of any honour from his creatures; for if he know not what honour we do him, it is lost labour to give him any. And that we may see these are the deductions of natural reason, without the advantage of revelation, we shall find the heathens, who were destitute of Divine revelation, did 364attribute this perfection to God. Tully tells us, that Thales was wont to say, Deos omnia cernere; and we know the heathens were wont to swear, Diis immortalibus testibus interpositis, which is an owning of his omniscience: Quis enim non timeat Deum omnia pervidentem, et cogitantem, et animadvertentem, curiosum et negotii plenum deum? De Nat. Deor. l.1.
2. From Scripture, and Divine revelation. I will not heap up all those testimonies of Scripture, which might be gathered together upon this argument; I will only instance in two or three: (Job xxxvi. 4.) “He that is perfect in knowledge, is with thee.” (Chap. xxxvii. 16.) Dost thou know the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?”
Hither we may refer those texts which represent God, by way of condescension to our infirmity, as having eyes and ears, which signify his knowledge of what is done in the world; and those which speak of him, as communicating to us all the knowledge which we have; “He giveth wisdom to the wise, and understanding to them that know understanding,” (Dan. ii. 21.) And those which speak of God, as knowing the most secret things, “the hidden things of darkness,” the hearts and the thoughts of men; and those things which are at the greatest distance, as future things; and of the greatest uncertainty, as the contingent acts of free creatures; each of these I shall particularly consider; for in proving that God knows all these, his knowledge of all other things will be proved with advantage; for if any thing be out of the reach of the Divine understanding, it must, in all probability, be either those things which are secret and hidden, 365as men’s secret actions, or their thoughts; or else those things which are to come, and depend upon no certain cause, as future contingencies: and the proving of this may be of great use to us, as having a great influence upon practice; it tends very much to the advancement of religion; and the good government of our lives. I begin with the
First of these; viz. That God takes very exact and particular notice of all the actions of men, even those that are most secret. And in the handling of this, I shall speak distinctly to these three things:
1. That God takes knowledge of all our actions; “His eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings,” (Job xxxiv. 21.)
2. That he is a curious observer of them; “He seeth all his goings—he marks all his steps,” takes very exact and particular notice of all that we do.
3. He takes notice of those actions which are most secret and hidden; “There is no darkness nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves,” (Job xxxiv. 22.)
1. That God takes notice of all our actions. And that this notion was planted in the mind of man, and a beam of the light which comes with us into the world, will appear by the general agreement of heathens in it. I will but produce one or two testimonies to this purpose. Tully lays down this principle, as that which makes men regular and orderly, and fit for society; Sit igitur hoc persuamm civibus qualis quisque sit, quid agat, quid in se admittat deos intueri. Socrates, as Xenophon tells us, was wont to say, πάντα θεοὺς εἰδέναι τά τε λεγόμενα καὶ πραττόμενα καὶ τὰ σιγῇ βουλευόμενα. Arrian in his discourse upon Epictetus, tells us, it is necessary that every one should be persuaded of this, ὅτι ἕκαστον τῶν πραττομένων ἐφορᾶται 366ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ, “that every thing that is done by men is seen of God.”
The Scripture frequently mentions this: (Psalm cxxxix. 1. &c. Prov. v. 21.) “The ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings.” (Jer. xxxii. 19.) “Thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men, to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”
2. He is a curious observer, one that takes exact notice of all that we do. Job saith, “He seeth all our steps;” and Solomon, that “He pondereth all our goings;” the word is, “he weighs them in a balance.” So 1 Sam. ii. 3. “The Lord is a God of knowledge, by him actions are weighed.” (Job xxxi. 4.) “Doth he not see my ways, and count all my steps?” Which doth not imply the difficulty, but the perfection and exactness of God’s knowledge; he knows the quality of our actions, and all the circumstances of them, all the degrees of good and evil that are in them, whatever may commend an action, or blemish it, whatever may aggravate a sin, or excuse it. (Isai. xxvi. 7.) “Thou most up right, doth weigh the path of the just.” There is not a good word that we speak, but God hears it; (Mal. iii. 16.) “And the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him;” and all we do is “noted in his book,” (Psal. lvi. 8.)
3. He takes notice of those actions which are most secret and hidden, the good as well as bad; when we “do our alms in secret,” when we “enter into our closets and shut the doors, our Father seeth in secret,” (Matt. vi.) Nor can we retire ourselves to any place, where we can sin so as God shall not see us, where we can hide our sins from his sight, 367or ourselves from his wrath. Hear how sensibly a heathen speaks of this; ὅταν κλείσητε τὰς θύρας, καὶ σκότος ἔνδον ποιήσετε, μέμνησθε μηδέποτε λέγειν ὄτι μόνοι ἐστὲ: οὐ γὰρ ἔστε, αλλ᾽ ὁ θεὸς ἔνδον ἐστὶ, καὶ ὁ ὑμέτερος δαίμων ἐστὶ, καὶ εὶς τούτοις χρεία φωτὸς εἰς τὸ βλέπειν τὶ ποεῖτε; Arrian in Ep. l. 1. c. 14.
The Scripture is full of testimonies to this purpose: (Psal. xc. 8.) “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, and our secret sins in the light of thy countenance;” those sins which we commit in the dark are in the light of the Divine knowledge, “darkness and light are all one to him;” (Psal. cxxxix. 11, 12. Jer. xvi. 17. xxiii. 24.) “Can any hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him?”
II. God knows the hearts and thoughts of men; which implies these two things:
First, His perfect knowledge of them.
Secondly, That this is his peculiar prerogative.
First, God perfectly knows the hearts of men, (Jer. xvii. 10.) “I the Lord, search the heart and try the reins;” where by “heart and reins,” which are the most inward parts of the body, and lie least open to discovery, are signified the most secret thoughts and motions of the soul; these, God is said to “search and try,” not as if it were a work of labour and difficulty to the Divine knowledge to penetrate the hearts of men, and to dive into their thoughts, but to signify to us the perfection and exactness of the Divine knowledge; as when men would know a thing exactly, they search into every part of it, and examine every thing narrowly; so God is said to “search the heart,” to signify to us that he knows the hearts of men as thoroughly as we do any thing upon the strictest search and most diligent examination; upon the same account he is 368said elsewhere in Scripture to weigh the spirits of men: (Prov. xvi. 2.) “All the ways of man are clean in his own eyes, but the Lord weigheth the spirits;” that is, he hath as perfect a knowledge of the secret motions and inclinations of men’s hearts, as men have of those things which they weigh in a balance, with the greatest exactness.
Now that God hath this perfect knowledge of men’s hearts, the Scripture frequently declares to us, that he knows the hearts of men: (1 Kings viii. 39.) “For thou, even thou, knowest the hearts of all the children of men.” (1 Chron. xxviii. 9.) “The Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts.” How close and reserved soever men may be, what disguise soever they may use to hide their purposes from men, yet God sees them; the things which are most dark and secret are open to his view. (Psal. xliv. 21.) “He knoweth the secrets of the hearts.” (Prov. xv. 11.) “Hell and destruction are before him, how much more the hearts of the children of men?” Whatever pretences men may make, God sees through them, and discovers the very intentions of their hearts. (Psal. vii. 9.) “The righteous Lord trieth the heart and reins.” (Heb. iv. 13.) It is said there of “the word of God,” that it is “a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart; for all things are naked, and open to the eye of him with whom we have to do, and there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight;” nay, he knows our thoughts at a distance, what they will be, before any actually are. (Psal. cxxxix. 2.) “Thou knowest my thoughts afar off.” It is true, indeed, every man is conscious to his own thoughts, and privy to the motions of his own mind, when they are present, 369and when they are past, if he have not forgot them; but no man knows what he shall think to-morrow, but this God knows; for he knows us more intimately and thoroughly than we do ourselves; “God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things,” (1 John iii. 20.)
And though the Scripture had not revealed this so plainly, yet we had not been wholly ignorant of it; it is a principle implanted in us, and born with us, as being part of that natural notion which men have of God; the reason of our minds tells us, that God knows our hearts; and the fears and jealousies of our minds are an evidence of it.
1st, The reason of every man’s mind tells him, that the supreme Being whom we call God, is endowed with all perfection, and among his other perfections, that he excels in knowledge; and to the perfection of knowledge it is required, that it extend itself to all objects, and that nothing be exempted from it. The knowledge of God, in respect of all objects, is like the sun in respect of this lower world; “nothing is hid from the light of it.” We have naturally this apprehension of God, that he is an immense Being, every where present; that he intimately penetrates all places and things, and consequently, that he is present to our spirits, and sees all the motions of our minds, and discerns the very secrets of our hearts; and there can be no such thing as secrecy and retirement from an eye that is every where, and a knowledge that pierceth into all things.
And, to convince us that these are the dictates of natural reason, without the help and assistance of Divine revelation, we shall find that the heathens, who had only the advantage of natural light, were 370firmly possessed with this apprehension, that God knows the hearts of men. This may be sufficiently collected from the frequent sayings of the wiser heathens to this purpose: that the best and most acceptable worship of the Deity is that which is in ward, that of the heart and mind. To this sense, Tully speaks; Cultus autem deorum est optimus, idemque castissimus atque sanctissimus plenissimusque pietatis, ut eos semper pura, integra atque incorrupta mente et voce veneremur; “The best and holiest worship of the gods, is to worship them with a pure, and upright, and sincere mind.” To the same purpose is that known saying of the poet,
Compositum jus fasque animi, sanctosque recessus
Mentis, et incoctum generoso pectus honesto,
Haec cedo ut admoveam templis, et farre litabo:
“Do but offer to God a mind inwardly resolved to be just and honest, and the plainest sacrifice will please him.” Now from hence, that they judged the purity of our hearts and thoughts, and an honest disposition of mind, to be most acceptable to their gods, we may certainly conclude, that they did most firmly believe that God knows the secrets of men’s hearts; otherwise there had been no need for men to endeavour to recommend themselves this way to the Divine acceptance.
But we need not argue this by consequence; there are many express passages in their writings, which do sufficiently signify their belief of this principle. Thales, one of their most ancient philosophers, being asked, “If an unjust man could conceal himself from God?” he answered, “He cannot so much as hide from him the very thoughts and design of 371it.” Socrates (as Xenophon tells) was wont to inculcate this principle upon his scholars, that “the gods know all things, what we say, and what we do, and what we think in silence.” To the same purpose, Arrian, in his dissertations upon Epictetus, laying down the principles of a virtuous life; “First of all, (saith he,) we must learn this, that there is a God who takes care of the world, and that there is nothing hid from him, not only what we do, but not so much as what we think and design.” So likewise Tully, in his book of Laws: “Let every man be firmly persuaded of this; that the gods see what every man is, and with what mind and devotion they serve them.” I will add but one testimony more, and that is of Seneca, in his epistles: Nihil Deo clausum est, interest animis nostris, et cogitationibus mediis intervenit; “We can keep nothing close from God, for he is present to our minds, and intimate to our thoughts:” so that you see this principle is deeply rooted in the minds of men, and that men do naturally reason themselves into it.
2dly, The natural fears of men are likewise a secret acknowledgment of this; and I take this to be a great truth, that a man’s natural actions, and such ns happen upon surprise, and without deliberation, are a better argument of the intimate sense of our minds, and do more truly discover what lies at the bottom of our hearts, and what notions are natural to us, than our contrived and deliberate discourse. If I see a man upon the sudden sight of a serpent recoil and start back, though he tell me never so often that he is not afraid, yet I am sufficiently convinced of the contrary, because I see in his countenance and carriage u natural acknowledgment of 372fear and danger; so if men find that, upon the designing of a secret wickedness, which never went further than their own hearts, their consciences do sting and lash them; that they have a sense of guilt, and feel inward frights and horrors, whatever they may say to the contrary; this is a natural acknowledgment of an invisible eye that sees them, and disallows their wicked designs. If that be true which the heathen poet says, that
Scelus intra se tacitum qui cogitat ullum,
Facti crimen habet;
“He that meditates any secret wickedness in his heart, is guilty to himself, as if he had committed it;” this is a plain confession, that the man stands in awe of something besides himself, and is jealous that there is one that is conscious to what he thinks.
II. That to have a perfect and thorough knowledge of men’s hearts, is the peculiar prerogative of God. This is implied in the answer to that question, “Who can know the heart of man?” (Jer. xvii. 10.) “I the Lord search the heart, and try the reins;” this is the prerogative of God, and one of his chief titles, that he is καρδιογνώστης, “a knower of the heart.” (1 Kings viii. 39.) “Thou, even thou, only knowest the hearts of all the children of men.” Men may make a probable conjecture at the thoughts and designs of others, from their words and actions; but God only knows them. Men are conscious to their own thoughts and purposes; “the spirit of a man that is in him knows the things of a man,” but they cannot see into the secrets of another man’s mind; it is God alone that knows the hearts of all men; the heart of a man is a privileged place, and the secret 373and inward workings of it are not subject to the cognizance of any but God alone. The limits of human knowledge are the outward appearances of actions: (I Sam. xvi. 7.) “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart;” our knowledge is but superficial, and glides upon the outside and surface of things, but the Divine knowledge pierceth to the very centre of every thing. Now the darkest place, the most inward retirement, the privatest closet in the whole world, is the heart of man, and this God only is privy to; Deus auctor omnium et speculator omnium, a quo nihil secretum esse potest, tenebris interest, interest et cogitationibus nostris quasi alteris tenebris, saith Min. Felix; “God made all things, and sees all things, and therefore nothing can be secret from him; he is present in darkness, and he is present to the thoughts of men, which are as it were another and a thicker darkness.”
The devil, indeed, pretends to this knowledge; he would take upon him to know the integrity of Job’s heart better than God himself; and that notwithstanding the testimony which God gave of his integrity; yet if he were but soundly tried by affliction, he would renounce God, and curse him to his fare: but the event proved how groundless and malicious this suggestion was. But there is a far greater difficulty in this matter, from the passages of some divines concerning the devil’s immediate access to the minds of men, and his power to cast wicked thoughts into them; which seems by consequence to grant him some knowledge of men’s hearts; for, by the same reason that he can imprint 374thoughts upon men’s minds, he may see those that are imprinted there.
That the devil is a very sagacious spirit, and can make very shrewd conjectures at the bent and inclinations of men’s minds, and the probable workings of our thoughts, from a general knowledge and observation of our tempers and passions, of our interests and designs, and from the general tenor of our actions in public and private, and from our prayers and confessions to God (if he permit him at any time to be so near good men), I think there is no doubt, but this is far from a knowledge of our hearts; all this is but conjecture, and such as men may make of one another in a lower degree.
But as to the business of casting blasphemous and despairing thoughts into the minds of men; to this I would say these three things:
1. That there are few of these cases which may not more probably be resolved into the wickedness and infidelity of men’s hearts, or into the darkness and melancholy of our tempers, which are apt to raise and suggest strange thoughts to men, and such as we may be apt to think have no rise from ourselves, not considering what an odd and strange influence the disorder of our bodily humours may have upon our minds, as we see in violent fevers, and several other diseases; and melancholy, though the workings of it are more still and quiet, is as truly a disease as any other; so that I choose rather to ascribe as much of these to a bodily distemper as may be, because it is a very uncomfortable consideration, to think that the devil hath such an immediate power upon the minds of men.
2. I do not see how by any means it can be granted, 375with prejudice to this prerogative of God, which the Scripture plainly gives him, of being “the only knower of the heart,” that the devil can have so immediate an access to our minds, as to put wicked thoughts into them; nor can I think, that when it is said, (1 Chron. xxi. 1.) that “Satan provoked David to number the people;” and (Luke xxii. 3.) that “the devil entered into Judas;” and (Acts v. 3.) that “Satan had filled the heart of Ananias to lie unto the Holy Ghost;” and (Eph. ii. 2.) that “the devil is the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience;” I say, I cannot think that any or all of these expressions do amount to such an immediate power of putting wicked thoughts into men’s minds; but they only signify, that the devil hath a greater hand in some sins than others, and that a heart, wickedly bent and inclined, gives him a great advantage to tempt men more powerfully, by presenting the occasions of such wicked thoughts and actions to them; for it is usual, in Scripture phrase, as to ascribe all good motions to God’s Spirit, so all evil thoughts and actions to the devil, not that he is the immediate cause of them, but because he is always ready to tempt men to them, and one way or other to promote them.
3. I see no reason to grant (as many have done) an immediate power to the devil over the fancies and imaginations of men, and that he may know the workings of them, though not the secret thoughts of men’s minds; for this seems to me to be in effect to grant him the knowledge of men’s hearts, and to give him a key to that closet which God hath reserved to himself: for it is a very nice distinction which is here made between the thoughts of men’s minds, and the images of their fancies; and if these should happen to be but words that signify the same 376thing, we shall unawares intrench upon the prerogative of God. Therefore, because the Scripture is a stranger to these nice and subtle distinctions between the imaginations of the fancy, and the thoughts of the heart, I think it is much safer to assert the prerogative of God in that latitude that the Scripture useth the word heart; for all the inward motions of the mind, for the thoughts and intentions of the heart, and roundly to affirm that all the inward motions of our souls are totally exempted from the immediate cognizance of any other spirit but God’s alone; and that neither angel nor devil hath any further knowledge of them, than may be collected and inferred in a way of probable conjecture, from the particular knowledge of men’s tempers, and habits, and designs, and the course of their actions. I proceed to the
III. Third particular; God’s knowledge of future events. This God proposes as the way to discern the true God from idols: (Isaiah xli. 21, &c.) “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob;” that is, let them bring some argument that may convince us that they are gods; and he instanceth in foretelling future events; (ver. 22.) “Let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods.” God puts it upon this issue—if they can foretel future things, then they are gods; if not, they are “vanity, and a work of nought, and he is an abomination that chooseth them,” (ver. 24.) By things to come, I understand such effects as do not depend upon any necessary cause, but upon the will 377of free agents, and so may be, or may not be; from whence it is plain, that it is the prerogative of God, proper and peculiar to him, to know future events. And here I shall consider these two things:
1. That God knows future events.
2. That he only knows them.
1. God knows future events; which will appear from the dictates of natural light, and from Scripture.
(1.) From the dictates of natural light, as it is a perfection, and that which among men is accounted the best part of wisdom: and, unless this did belong to God, how could he govern the world? The heathens, except only the Epicureans, gene rally granted this, as appears in those wise counsels, which we frequently meet with in them to this purpose, that we should not be anxious for the future; but having done our endeavour, leave the events of things to God, who only knows them, and disposeth them.
Permittes ipsis expendere numinibus, quid
Conveniat nobis, rebusque sit utile nostris. Juv.
And afterward, saith he, “We are importunate with God for wife and children:”
At illis notum, qui pueri, qualisque futura sit uxor. And that this was their opinion, appears yet more clearly from those apprehensions which they had of divination. Tully lays down this for a principle, Deos posse nobis signa futurarum rerum ostendere: de Legibus.) And in his book de Divin. he tells us, “that there was such a thing as divination; for it was an old opinion, Jam usque ab heroicis ducta temporibus, eaque pop. Rom. et omnium gentium 378firmata consensu:” and afterward, “that this divination was not, sine instinctu afflatuque divino.”
I know they did variously explain this, according to their several opinions about fate and contingency, and their apprehensions about the providence of God. One sect of them, the Stoics, held that there was a fatal chain of causes from first to last, and things did necessarily follow one another; and by this means they made fore-knowledge easy and explicable; and though in their disputes they seem to grant no such things as events and contingencies, yet they are agreed in the thing, that those things which we call events, though they would not call them so, were foreknown to God. And for this shall only cite one testimony of Seneca: speaking of God’s fore-knowledge of the most contingent things, the dispositions of men long before they are born; he adds, Nota est enim illis operis sui series, omniumque illis rerum per manus suas iturarum scientia in aperto semper est; nobis ex abdito subit; et quae repentina putamus, illis provisa veniunt et familiaria; and how peremptory soever this sect is in their disputes about fate, yet when they speak of the τα εφ᾽ ἡμιν, and generally in their moral discourses, they seem plainly to me to exempt the will of man from this fatal necessity.
And those other sects of the philosophers that denied fate, did generally grant God’s fore-knowledge of contingent things. I grant, indeed, that they did rather make God’s fore-knowledge an arbitrary and voluntary, than a necessary perfection; that is, that God, when he pleased to apply himself to it, could foreknow all future events: but their general opinion was, that as his providence did not extend to small and inconsiderable things, so neither his fore-knowledge. 379But Tully seems to attribute a very perfect providence to him, and a fore-knowledge of the least things: Quis non timeat omnia providentem, cogitantem, animadvertentem, et omnia ad se pertinere putantem, curiosum et negotii plenum Deum? But I cannot say he is constant to himself: but they all agree in granting to him this perfection of know ring all future things, if he pleased to trouble himself with it; and had they not in this mistaken the nature of God, they might easily have apprehended, that it is no trouble nor weariness to an infinite understanding, that is always in act, to know the least things, how many soever they be.
2. From Scripture, which gives us testimonies and arguments of it.
(1.) Testimonies, (Isa. xlviii. 3, &c. Acts xv. 18.) “Known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world,” ἀπ᾽ αἰῶνος, from everlasting; which, by the way, I cannot but compare with the forecited place of Seneca, Nota enim illis operis sui series, &c.
(2.) By arguments from Scripture: I will mention but one—the clear and particular predictions of future events long before they happened. (Gen. xv. 13.) God foretels the children of Israel’s deliverance after four hundred and thirty years, which he punctually accomplished, (Exod. xii. 40, 41.) The prophet that prophesied against the altar at Bethel, named the man that should do it, Josias, three hundred and fifty years beforehand, (1 Kings xiii. 2.) The deliverance of the children of Israel from the Babylonish captivity was foretold one hundred years before to be done particularly by Cyrus; which is so strange, that the prophet brings it in with a preface of God’s wisdom and power, (Isa. xliv. 24, &c.) Which was afterward precisely fulfilled, when the seventy years were expired. How are the life and death of the Messias, with many particular circumstances foretold! And did not he foretel the destruction of Jerusalem forty years before?
But, because there may be no contingency in good things, God himself may be resolved to effect them, or excite men to do them, when he hath foretold them; you shall find that the worst things have been foretold; the apostacy of the children of Israel, (Deut. xxxi. 16.) and their infidelity in times of the gospel, (Isa. liii. 1. 5. 9.) Our Saviour fore told the treachery of Judas, and Peter’s denial of him: now, these are so evil, that it were blasphemy to suppose the holy God to have any hand in them; and, therefore, are foretold by him merely by virtue of his fore-knowledge, and infiniteness of his understanding, which reacheth things at the greatest distance that are most contingent.381
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