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OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.
The Lord is a God of knowledge.—1 Sam. ii. 3.
I HAVE considered this perfection of God, in some of the greatest and most difficult instances of it, his knowledge of the most secret things, the hearts of men, and future events; against the last of which there are some objections, which I come now briefly to consider, and pass on to what remains.
Objection the first; The impossibility of the thing. The certainty of all knowledge depends upon the certainty of the object; therefore there cannot be a certain and determinate knowledge of any thing, but what is certainly and determinately true: but future events, which may or may not be, have no certain and determinate truth; that is, it is not certain either that they will or will not be, because they have no certain cause; therefore there can be no infallible knowledge concerning them.
Answer.—This I confess is the grand difficulty; I shall not be so solicitous to take it away, as to give satisfaction to it.
1. I might say, with a very fair probability, that the certainty of knowledge doth not depend upon the uncertainty of the cause, but of the object, which may be certain, though the cause be contingent. Which I prove thus: whatever event hath actually happened, as, because now it is past, it is certainly true that it was; so, because it once was, it was certainly true, before it was, that it would be, as in Peter’s 382denying of Christ. If it be now true that be hath denied him, it was true before, that he would deny him; and it being determinately true, God saw it as it was; so that here is an object of a certain knowledge.
2. Though we could not explain the possibility of God’s knowing future contingencies, much less the manner how; yet we are sufficiently assured that God doth know them. I will give but one in stance for the proof of this. Nothing more evident than the sin of Adam; yet God foreknew this, how else was Christ “decreed before the foundation of the world?” Christ was a remedy upon the occasion of sin; now the remedy could not be designed before the sin was foreseen: and this being certain, cum constat de re, frustra inquiritur de modo: “when we are certain of the thing, it is not necessary to know the manner.” We are satisfied of many things, the manner whereof we do not know; we believe the union of the soul and body, though no man can explain how a spirit can be united to matter; we believe the continuity of matter; that is, that the parts of it hang together, of which whoso ever saith he can give an account doth but betray his own ignorance. And so in many other things; that man doth not know himself, nor the measure of his own understanding, nor the nature and obscurity of things, that will not confess himself posed in many things, that doth not acknowledge that there are many ἀφάνταστα, many things, the manner whereof is unimaginable, and of which our best reason and understanding can give no account.
3. It is very unreasonable to expect we should know all the ways which infinite knowledge hath of knowing things. We have but finite faculties 383and measures, which bear no proportion to infinite powers and objects. Could we explain the manner how infinite knowledge knows things, we should be like God in knowledge, our understandings would be infinite like his; and in this case especially it becomes us to put on the modesty of creatures, and to remember that we are finite and limited. Some arrogant spirits take it for an affront to their understandings, that any one should expect they should believe any thing, though they have the highest assurance of it, if they cannot explain the particular manner of it; they make nothing to deny God’s knowledge of future events, unless they may be satisfied of the particular way how he knows them.
I know there are those who undertake to explain the particular manner. Some say, that God sees future events in speculo voluntatis; others say, that the eternity of God is actually commensurate to all duration, as his immensity to all space, and so God doth not so properly foresee and foreknow, as see and know future things by the presentiality and co-existence of all things in eternity; for, they say, that future things are actually present and existing to God, though not in mensura propria, yet in mensura aliena: the schoolmen have much more of this jargon and canting language; and I envy no man the understanding these phrases; but to me they seem to signify nothing, but to have been words invented by idle and conceited men, which a great many ever since, lest they should seem to be ignorant, would seem to understand; but I wonder most, that men, when they have amused and puzzled themselves and others with hard words, should call this explaining things.384
The sum of the answer is this: that when we have done all we can, God’s fore-knowledge of future events may seem contradictions and impossible to us; much less do I expect ever to be able to give a particular account of the manner of it: but we have sufficient assurance of the thing, and unless we had infinite understandings, it were vanity to pretend to explain all the ways of infinite knowledge.
Secondly, It is objected, that if we can admit such a knowledge in God as seems contradictious and impossible to our reason, why may we not al low and frame such notions of his goodness and justice?
To this I answer, There is a great difference between those perfections of God which are imitable, and those which are not. Knowledge of future events is a perfection wherein we are not bound to be like God; and if we are assured of the thing, that he doth know them, it is not necessary that we should know the manner of it, and disentangle it from contradiction and impossibility: but it is otherwise in God’s goodness and justice, which are imitable; he that imitates, endeavours to be like something that he knows, and we must have a clear idea and notion of that which we would bring ourselves to the likeness of; these perfections of God we are capable of knowing, and therefore the knowledge of these perfections is chiefly recommended to us in Scripture. (Jer. ix. 24.) By these God reveals himself, and declares his name, and makes himself known to us, even by those attributes which declare his goodness, and mercy, and justice. (Ex. xxxiv. 6, 7. Psal. lxxxvi. 15. Deut. xxxii. 3-5.) When God would give a description of himself to Moses, he promises to “cause his goodness to pass 385before him.” So that it doth not follow, that, because God’s knowledge of future events is to be admitted, notwithstanding the seeming contradiction and impossibility of it, therefore we are to admit of any notion of God’s justice or goodness that seems contradictious or impossible. The
Third objection is made up of several inconveniences that would follow from God’s knowledge of future events.
1. It would prejudice the liberty of the creature. For if God have an infallible knowledge of what we will do, then we cannot but do what he infallibly foresees we will do; for otherwise his knowledge would be fallible.
Answer.—God’s fore-knowledge lays no necessity upon the event; in every event, we may consider the effect in itself, or with relation to the cause, and the manner how it comes to pass; considered in itself, it is future—with relation to its causes, it is contingent. God sees it as both, and so, as that which, until it is, may be, or not be; and when it comes to pass, he sees the man do it freely; and so before it be done, it hath no necessity; but upon supposition of foresight; as, when it is, as Origen excellently explains it. Fore-knowledge is not the cause of the things that are foreknown; but because the thing is future and shall be, this is the reason why it is foreknown; for it doth not, because it was known, come to pass, but because it was to come to pass, therefore it was foreknown; and bare knowledge is no more the cause of any event, which because it is known must infallibly be, than my seeing a man run is the cause of his running, which, because I do see, is infallibly so.
2. If God infallibly foreknows what men will do, 386 how can he be serious, in his exhortations to repentance, in his expectation of it, and his grieving for the impenitency of men?
Answer.—All these are founded in the liberty of our actions. God exhorts to repentance, and expects it, because by his grace we may do it: he is said to grieve for our impenitency, because we may do otherwise, and will not. Exhortations are not in vain themselves, but very proper to their end; though, through our obstinacy and hardness, they may be rendered vain to us, and without effect. If the weight of the objection lie upon serious, and you ask how God can exhort men seriously to that which he foresees that they will not do; those whom he foreknows will be finally impenitent? I answer, If his exhortations were not serious, he could not fore see the final impenitency of men. To foresee men’s final impenitency, is to foresee their wilful contempt of God’s warnings and exhortations, and rejection of his grace: now men’s wilful contempt of his warnings and exhortations cannot be foreseen, unless God foresee that his exhortations are serious, and in good earnest.
Having answered the objections against God’s foreknowing future events, I proceed to shew,
II. That God only knows future events. (Isa. xliv. 6, 7.) “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there is no God: and who, as I, shall call and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.” (Isa. xlvi. 9, 10.) “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none 387like me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”
The reason is evident, because the knowledge of future events is beyond the reach of any finite understanding; especially, if we grant it to be beyond our finite understandings, to explain the possibility of such a knowledge; for, to be sure, that is out of the reach of our knowledge, which we cannot so much as understand how it is possible it should be known by any understanding.
But it may be here objected, Did not the oracles among the heathens foretel several things, which Christians are satisfied came from the devil? I have not time at present to examine the business of heathen oracles; I could easily shew there was much imposture in them: but grant they were really delivered and given out by a spirit; yet the darkness and ambiguity, the affected and contrived ambiguity, is such, as shews that the devil was conscious to himself of the uncertainty of his knowledge in those matters: and those few that came to pass and are in any tolerable sense said to be accomplished, were in such matters, either wherein prudent conjecture might go far (and I grant the devil to be a sagacious spirit), or else in disjunctive cases; as, when there are but two ways for a thing to be, it must either be so, or so, in which a bold guessing may often hit right: but guessing at future things is far from a knowledge of them, which only can clearly be made out by punctual and particular predictions of things, with circumstances of time and person, such as we find in Scripture in many instances, to the prediction of which, 388the greatest sagacity and the utmost guessing could do nothing, such as those predictions of which I gave instances out of Scripture.
I have now done with the first general head I proposed to be spoken to from these words; viz. To prove that this attribute of knowledge belongs to God. I proceed to the
Second; viz. To consider the perfection and prerogative of the Divine knowledge; which I shall speak to in these following particulars:
1. God’s knowledge is present and actual, his eye is always open, and every thing is in the view of it. The knowledge of the creature is more power than act: it is not much that we are capable of knowing, but there is very little that we do actually know: it is but one thing that we can fix our thoughts upon at once, and apply our minds to; we can remove them to another object, but then we must take off our minds from the former, and quit the actual knowledge of it: but the knowledge of God is an actual and steady comprehension of things; he being every where present, and all eye, nothing can escape his sight, but all objects are at once in the view of the Divine understanding. (Heb. iv. 13.) “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
2. God’s knowledge is an intimate and thorough knowledge, whereby he knows the very nature and essence of things. The knowledge which we have of things is but in part, but outward and superficial; our knowledge glides upon the superfices of things, but doth not penetrate into the intimate nature of them, it seldom reacheth further than the skin and outward appearance of things; we do not know 389things in their realities, but as they appear and are represented to us with all their masks and disguises: but God knows things as they are. (1 Sam. xvi. 7.) “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart:” God knows things throughout all that can be known of them. The quick and piercing eye of God penetrates into every thing; the light of the Divine understanding lays all things “open and naked.” (Heb. iv. 13.) In which expression the apostle alludes to the sacrifices of beasts, which were flayed, and cleft down the back-bone, that the priest might look into them, and see whether they were without blemish. To the eye of our understandings most objects are close, and have their skins upon them; but to the eyes of God all things are uncovered and dissected, and lie open to his view.
3. God’s knowledge is clear and distinct. Our understandings in the knowledge of things are liable to great confusion; we are often deceived with the near likeness and resemblance of things, and mistake one thing for another; our knowledge is but a twilight, which doth not sufficiently separate and distinguish things from one another; we see things many times together, and in a heap, and do but know them in gross: but there is no confusion in the Divine understanding; that is a clear light, which separates and distinguisheth things of the greatest nearness and resemblance: God hath a particular knowledge of the least things: (Luke xii. 7.) “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered;” those things which are of the least consideration, and have the greatest likeness to one another; “the very hairs of your head” are severally and distinctly known to God.390
4. God’s knowledge is certain and infallible. We are subject to doubt and error in our understanding of things; every thing almost imposeth upon our understandings, and tinctures our minds, and makes us look on things otherwise than they are; our temper and complexion, our education and prejudice, our interest and advantage, our humours and distempers; these all misrepresent things, and darken our minds, and seduce our judgments, and betray us to error and mistake: but the Divine understanding is a clear, fixed, constant, and undisturbed light, a pure mirror that receives no stain from affection, or interest, or any other thing. Men are many times confident, and apt to impose upon others, as if they were infallible: but this is the prerogative of God, the privilege of the Divine understanding, that it is secure from all possibility of error: it is God only “that cannot lie,” (Tit. i. 2.) because he cannot be deceived: the infallibility of God, is the foundation of his veracity.
5. The knowledge of God is easy, and without difficulty. We must dig deep for knowledge, take a great deal of pains to know a little; we do not attain the knowledge of things without search and study, and great intention of mind; we strive to comprehend some things, but they are so vast that we cannot: other things are at such a distance, that our understanding is too weak to discern them; other things are so little, and small, and nice, that our understanding cannot lay hold of them, we cannot contract our minds to such a point as to fasten upon them; but the understanding of God being infinite, there is nothing at a distance from it, nothing too great and vast for its comprehension: nor is there any thing so little, that it can escape his knowledge 391and animadversion. The great wisdom of Solomon is compared to the sand on the sea-shore; the shore is vast, but the sands are little (saith one), to signify that the vast mind of Solomon did comprehend the least things. It is much more true of God; his understanding is a vast comprehension of the least things, as well as the greatest; and all this God does without difficulty or pain; he knows all things without study, and his understanding is in continual exercise without weariness. How many things are there which we cannot find out without search, without looking narrowly into, and bending our minds to understand them? But all things are obvious to God, and lie open to his view.
He is said, indeed, in Scripture, to “search the heart,” and to “try the reins,” and to “weigh the spirits:” but these expressions do not signify the painfulness, but the perfection of his knowledge; that he knows those things as perfectly, as we can do any thing about which we use the greatest diligence and exactness.
6. The knowledge of God is universal, and extends to all objects. We know but a few things; our ignorance is greater than our knowledge; Maxima pars eorum quae scimus, est minima pars eorum quae nescimus: but the Divine understanding is vast and comprehensive, and by an imperious view commands all objects; “he is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things;” he knows himself, and the excellency and perfection of his own nature, and the secrets of his will. (1 Cor. ii. 11.) “The Spirit of God searcheth the deep things of God;” he knows all other things that are not, and all things that are, in all differences of time, their powers and qualities. The knowledge of God is 392infinite; (Psal. cxlvii. 5.) “His understanding is in finite:” he knows himself, and his own perfections, and all the possibilities of things, which are all in finite. Now the understanding of God being in finite, is incapable of any addition, or diminution, or change. Our finite understandings are liable to alterations; they may grow, or decline: but the knowledge of God is a full, constant light, it is al ways the same, not liable to any eclipse, nor capable of any exaltation or improvement, but remains for ever the same.
Thirdly, I come now to draw some inferences from the several parts of this discourse.
I. From the perfection of God’s knowledge.
1. The perfection of the Divine knowledge calls for our veneration. Every excellency commands reverence, and raiseth our admiration, and none more than knowledge: there is nothing that we value ourselves, or others, more by than this: the highest knowledge of man, the most glorious understanding, that ever any one of the sons of men were endowed with, is, compared to the knowledge of God, but as a glow-worm to the sun. If we admire these candles of the Lord, which shine so imperfectly in the dark; if we reverence a little knowledge, compassed about with ignorance; how should we admire “the Father of lights, in whom is no darkness at all,” that knowledge which hath nothing of blemish or imperfection in it!
2. We may hence learn humility, and that on this double account—as we have all our knowledge from him: “What have we that we have not received?” and as our knowledge is very imperfect, when compared with the Divine understanding. We are blind and ignorant; it is but a few things 393that we are capable of knowing: and we know but a few of those things which our natures are capable of knowing; and of those things we do know, our knowledge is very imperfect; it is slight and superficial, attended with much difficulty and uncertainty in the attaining of it, and error and confusion in the use of it; the clearest reason, and the brightest understanding of man, hath many flaws and defects in it: so that the more we know of God and of ourselves, the more humble we shall be. It is an empty knowledge, and falsely so called, that puffs up; as the empty ears of corn are pert, and raise up themselves; but those which are big and full, droop and hang down their heads: so it is only ignorance that is proud, and lifts men up; but true knowledge makes men humble.
3. This is matter of comfort and encouragement; he knows our wants and weakness, “and will lay no more upon us than we are able to bear, for he considers that we are but dust;” he knows the rage and malice of our enemies, and can, when he pleases, put a hook in their nose, and his bridle in their lips, as he did to Sennacherib, (2 Kings xix. 28.)
II. From God’s knowing our secret actions, I infer,
1. If God sees our most secret actions, this discovers and confutes the secret atheism of many. He that commits the most secret sin, denies the omniscience of God. Thus David describes the atheism of some in his days: “He hath said in his heart, God hath forgot; he hideth his face, he will never see it: the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.” And is not this, in effect, to deny God’s being? for it is to deny him to be what he is. A man may as well deny there is a 394sun, as deny that it shines and enlightens the world.
There are some relics of this even in the best men, which do at some times discover themselves: (Psal. lxxiii. 10, 11.) “Therefore his people return hither; and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them: and they say, How doth God know; is there knowledge in the Most High?” that is, the people of God come to this, when they are come to an afflicted state, and see the prosperity of wicked men; they come to this, to question the providence of God, whether he takes knowledge of the affairs of the world. But this atheism reigns in wicked men; while they live in their sins, they live in the denial of God’s omniscience: for did men really believe that God sees in secret, that his eye perceiveth the darkness, and lays open and naked all things before it, how durst they lie, and steal, and swear falsely? Vain man! why dost thou seek darkness and retirement? how art thou alone, if thou believest that God is every where? How canst thou retire from him? How canst thou shut him out? If thou believest that he is light, what security is darkness to thee? If he look upon thee, who is the greatest and best person in the world, who is thy sovereign, thy judge, thy father, and thy master, and thy best friend (for we use to reverence persons under these notions and relations, and to be ashamed to do any thing that is vile and unseemly before them); if he, who is all this, look upon thee, why art thou not ashamed? why does not thy blood rise in thy face? Why should not shame and fear work upon the apprehension of God’s seeing us, as if men did behold us? For this, that God sees thee, is a greater surprise and discovery, 395and threatens thee with more danger, than if the whole world stood by thee.
2. Live as those that believe this: be continually under the power of this apprehension, that God takes a particular and exact notice of all thy actions. The firm belief of this would have a double influence upon us; it would encourage us in well doing, and be a restraint upon us as to sin; Sic vivamus tanquam in conspectu vivamus.—Seneca. It were well if men would live as if any body saw them; but to live as if some worthy and excellent person were always present with us, and did observe us, this will be a far greater curb upon us. There are some sins of that ugliness and deformity, that a man would not commit them in the presence of any one, of a child, or a fool; and there are some persons of such worth and reverence, quorum interventu perditi quoque homines vitia supprimerent. Epicurus had this good conceit of himself, that he could advise others so to act as if he stood by, Fac omnia tanquam spectet Epicurus: but Seneca instanceth much better in Cato, or Scipio, or Laelius;
Ut sic tanquam illo spectante vivamus.
And shall not the presence of the Divine Majesty be an eternal restraint upon us?
This was David’s course to keep himself from sin: (Psal. xxxix. 1.) “I will take heed to my ways, while the wicked is before me;” how much more in the presence of God? “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies, for all ray ways are before thee,” (Psal. cxix. 168.) And it was wisely advised by Seneca, “That we should so live when we are among men, as believing God sees us;” and “when 396there is none but he sees us, let us behave ourselves before him, as if men did stare upon us.”
III. God’s knowledge of the heart teacheth us,
1. The folly of hypocrisy: how vain is it to make a show of that outwardly, which inwardly, and in our hearts, we are not; to put on a mask of religion, and paint ourselves beautifully without, when “inwardly we are full of rottenness and uncleanness;” to “honour God with our lips, when our hearts are far from him?” If we were to deal with men, this were not a very wise way, for there is danger of discovery even from them; therefore the best way for a man to seem to be any thing, is really to be what he would appear: but having to deal with God, who “knows our thoughts afar off,” to whom all our disguises are transparent, and all our little arts of concealment signify nothing; it is a madness to hide our iniquity in our bosom. With this argument our Saviour convinceth the hypocritical pharisees: (Luke xvi. 15.) “Ye are they that justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts.”
2. If God know your hearts, then endeavour to approve your hearts to him; charge yourselves with inward purity and holiness, because of the pure eyes which behold the most intimate and secret motions of your souls; therefore “cleanse your hearts from wickedness: how long shall vain thoughts lodge within you?” Fear and shame from men lay a great restraint upon our outward actions; but how licentious are we many times in our hearts? What a strange freedom do we take within our own breasts? This is an argument of the secret atheism that lies at the bottom of our hearts. He that allows himself in any wicked thoughts and imaginations, 397which (out of regard to men) he will not put in practice, this man plainly declares that he reverenceth men more than God; that he either disbelieves a God, or despiseth him.
Therefore “keep your hearts with all diligence,” because they are peculiarly under God’s inspection; and when you are ready to take the liberty of your thoughts because no eye sees you, ask yourselves, “Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? And he that keepeth thy soul, doth he not know it?” as the wise man speaks, (Prov. xxiv. 12.)
And whatever you do in the service of God, “do it heartily as to the Lord.” Indeed, if we did only worship God, “to be seen of men,” an external worship would be sufficient: but religion is not intended to please men, but God; he is a Spirit, and sees our spirits, therefore we must “worship him in spirit and in truth.” (1 Thess. ii. 4.) “Not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth our hearts.” David useth this argument to his son, Solomon: (1 Chron. xxviii. 9.) “And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts.” Whatever liberty we may take to ourselves now, and how careless soever we are of our thoughts, and the inward frame of our hearts, yet the Scripture assures us, that he who now sees our hearts, will one day judge us according to them: (Jer. xvii. 10.) “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways.” And the apostle speaks of a “day coming wherein God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ,” (Heb. iv. 13. Rev. ii. 23.)
3. This is matter of encouragement to us in many 398cases: in our secret troubles; (Psalm cxlii. 3) “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knowest my path.” In cases of difficulty which depend upon the hearts of other men; which though we do not know yet, God knows them: so the apostles, (Acts i. 24.) when they did not know whom to choose for an apostle, they refer it to God; and “they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen.” But, especially, this is matter of comfort to us, when we suffer by the calumnies and reproaches of men, when the world chargeth us with crimes of hypocrisy, and falseness, and insincerity; then to be able to appeal to “the searcher of hearts,” as to our innocency and sincerity, and to say with the prophet Jeremiah, “O Lord of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, unto thee have I opened my cause;” (chap. xx. 12.) and with St. Peter, “God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness,” (Acts xv. 8.)
4. This renders all the deep and profound policies of wicked men a vain thing: “The Lord knows the thoughts of men, that they are vanity;” (Psal. xciv. 11.) because he knows them, and can defeat them; he can “bring their counsels to nought, and make their devices of none effect.” He is conscious to the first motions of their hearts; he sees those cob webs which they are spinning, and can blow them away with a breath; he can snare them in their own policies, and “turn their counsels into foolishness.” Thou that puttest a mask upon a wicked design, and hidest the malice and revenge of thine heart under a dissembling countenance, God sees thy design, and hath a thousand ways to prevent it. When the politicians of the world think they have laid their design 399sure with all imaginable caution, and that their counsels cannot miscarry, being out of all possibility of human discovery or prevention; for all this, their counsels may come to nought, and though they have resolved it, yet it may not stand; “He that sits in the heavens laughs at them, the Lord hath them in derision.” As wise as they are, they are guilty of this oversight, that they did not take God into consideration, by whom they are surprised and discovered. He that sees their design, can blast it in a moment; he “can speak the word,” and “thy breath shall go forth, and thou shalt return to thy dust, and in that very day thy thoughts perish,” (Psal. cxlvi. 4.)
5. If God only knows the hearts of men, then “what art thou, O man, that judgest another’s heart?” This condemns the uncharitableness of men, who take upon them to judge and censure men’s hearts; which is, “to speak evil of the things which they know not;” to meddle with things which do not fall under their cognizance. What St. James saith, (chap. iv. 12.) “There is one lawgiver, that is able to save, and to destroy; who art thou that judgest another?” is proportionably true in this case; there is but “one that knows the heart; who art thou then that judgest another man’s heart?” Who art thou, O man, that takest upon thee to sit in judgment upon thy brother, and to pass sentence upon his heart, to pronounce him a hypocrite, a wicked man, and a damned wretch? Art thou a man, and “the son of man,” and wilt thou assume to thyself the prerogative of God? Man can only look to the outward appearance; but “God seeth the heart.”
There is nothing doth more palpably discover the 400unchristian spirit of that new sect which is of late risen up amongst us, than their taking upon them to judge men’s hearts, and as confidently to censure every man they meet, as if they had a window into his breast: but they are not alone guilty of this; those who are so ready to call men hypocrites, they invade this prerogative of God. We may pronounce an action wicked, if it be contrary to the rule; or a man wicked, as to his present state, if the general course of his life and actions be wicked; for our Saviour tells us, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” This we may do, provided we be called to it, and be sure it is so: but to call any man a hypocrite, who makes an outward profession of religion, and whose external conversation is unblameable; this is to judge a man in a matter of which thou canst have no evidence; this is to “ascend into heaven,” and step into “the throne of God, and to be like the Most High;” for “he, even he only, knows the hearts of the children of men.”
IV. From God’s knowledge of future events, we may learn,
1. The vanity of astrology, and all other arts that pretend to foretel future events, things that depend on the will of free agents. The vanity of these arts hath been sufficiently shewn by learned men, from the weakness and uncertainty of the principles they rely upon: I shall only for the present take notice, that it contradicts this principle of religion, that “God only knows future events.” From prudent collections and observations, probable conjectures may be made of what will happen in some cases; but there are no certain prospective glasses, with which we can see future events, but Divine revelation; therefore, whoever takes upon him to foretel future 401events without Divine revelation, he arrogates to himself that which is the prerogative of the Deity; and God delights to chastise the curiosity, and cross the predictions, of these vain pretenders: (Isai. xliv. 24, 25.) “Thus saith the Lord that formed thee; I am the Lord that maketh all things, that stretcheth forth the heavens alone, that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; that frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish.” As he also in Scripture threatens those who consult them, and rely upon them; those who go to astrologers, or wise men, as they call them, to know their fortunes, and inquire of the events of their life, they “forsake God,” and “betake themselves to lying vanities.”
2. Refer future things to God, who only knows them; trust him with all events; “cast your care upon him.” When you have used your best prudence, and wisdom, and diligence for your supply and security for the future, leave the rest to God, “for your heavenly Father knoweth “both your wants and your dangers. When we are over-solicitous about future things, we take God’s proper work out of his hands, and usurp the government of the world. Why do we “take too much upon us? We are but of yesterday, and know not what will be to-morrow.”
Mind your present duty and work, and leave events to God: “Secret things belong to the Lord our God; but those things that are revealed to us, and our children for ever, to do all the words of this law,” (Deut. xxix. 29.) Do your duty, “commit the rest to God in well-doing.”
In this world we are in a mixed condition, which is made up of good and evil, of happiness and misery: 402what is good for us to know is revealed, that is our duty; but in great wisdom and pity to mankind, God hath concealed and hid the rest from us. He hath hid from us the good that may happen to us; because the best things of this world are but shallow and empty, and if we could see them beforehand, we should prevent ourselves in the enjoyment of them, and eat out the sweetness which is in them by delightful forethoughts of them: and he hath concealed future evils from us, lest we should torment ourselves with the fearful expectation of them.
Prudens futuri temporis exitum
Caliginosa nocte premit Deus.
Ridetque, si mortalis ultra fas trepidat.
What a folly is it to make yourselves miserable with fear of being so; ante miserias miser. Use all wise means to prevent what you fear, and then be satisfied, and be as happy as you can till misery come; go not forth to meet it, “sufficient for the day is the evil thereof;” do not anticipate the evils of to-morrow, and take present possession of an evil to come; “cast your care upon Him” who hath promised to care for you.403
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