On the Knowledge of God

“On the Knowledge of God” is taken from the May 1810 issue of the Baptist Magazine, page 249. Though the language is somewhat antique, this wonderful statement of orthodox theology from an early Baptist magazine is a great encouragement.

The Lord is a God of Knowledge

1 Sam. ii, 3.

The nature and perfection of the divine Knowledge are topics on which the inspired writers delighted to expatiate. Even heathens, notwithstanding their corrupt notions, ascribed Knowledge to God, calling him emphatically, the eternal Mind, the Inspector of all things, the Eye of the world. In contemplating the Knowledge of God, we soon perceive it has two peculiarities; it is self dependent, and perfect.

1. Our first idea of the knowledge of God is self dependence. Thus the Prophet exclaimed, Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his Counsellor hath taught him? Human knowledge is dependent on a variety of second causes. It is derived from something extraneous; it is connected with a body, by the senses of which ideas are received. These are the media of our acquirements; but let injury, or fatigue, or age depress or enfeeble the body, the vigour of the mind sinks, and our intellect feels the deplorable result. But the Knowledge of God has no such dependence, his nature is never subject to weariness or decay, and without the smallest assistance from any thing out of his own intelligence, he knows all that is possible to be known. Without the aid of creatures to exemplify them, he beholds all natures, all effects, all occurrences, as perfectly as though they were in existence–He calleth the things that are not as though they were.

Human Knowledge depends in a great measure on information and reading. If a man of the most extensive knowledge were suddenly to lose all the ideas he had acquired from books and conversation, little would be left behind; and this is another instance of the mutual dependence of creatures; but the Knowledge of God is wholly independent, no creature can add any thing thereto.

Does he require us in deep humiliation to deplore our sinfulness? It is not that he is ignorant of our sorrows, but thereby we shall be brought more sensibly to feel our depravity. Surely I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, I was as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.

Does he require us to supplicate his gracious interposition, his paternal care? It is not that he is unacquainted with our wants, but to excite our minds to a sense of our dependence on him. Your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.

Does he commission Angels to attend his children through the wilderness? It is not that he is ignorant to what they will be exposed; but to grant them a gracious testimony of his regard.

2. Our next conception of the Knowledge of God is that it is perfect. A Being whose knowledge is neither dependent nor acquired, must have knowledge beyond all degree, no ignorance can be mingled therewith. A creature may possess very comprehensive powers, and may be impelled to the severest application under the greatest advantages; yet, after all, his knowledge will be very circumscribed. Many branches of science must be wholly unattended to, or should he attempt to grasp the whole circle, his knowledge of each would be very superficial. Besides that there must remain many countries he had never seen, many languages within which he remains unacquainted, many laws in the vegetable and animal kingdoms which he cannot explain. Indeed, a creature’s highest attainments appear contemptible if brought into comparison with the Knowledge of God. He supports all existence. No orb can roll, no seasons revolve, no fruits mature, no animal be produced, nor even its minutest bone or artery, no motion can take place in the eye, the muscles, or the blood, no ideas be impressed on the brain, no train of thought exist, without his influence; so that God is intimately acquainted with all the most minute particulars of all created being. He that made the eye, shall he not see? A sparrow falleth not to the ground without our father’s notice. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us: There is no searching of his understanding. It is as high as heaven, what canst thou know? It is deeper than hell, what canst thou do? It is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. All human knowledge shrinks into little more than idiotism when compared with the immensity of the Divine Intelligence.

God knows all things by one simple act. Man is obliged to contemplate the several parts of an object in succession; but the divine Being knows from eternity all existences, with their modes and changes. All things are open and naked to him. He by one act perceives all the groans of the wretched, all the afflictions of his people, all the prayers of the righteous, all the blasphemies of the damned, all the designs of hell, and all the adorations of faithful spirits.

The knowledge of God is absolutely unlimited. It can by no means be increased. It is impossible any of his creatures should be other than he intended, or that any circumstances should take place which he did not expect. Nothing can undermine the plans he has formed, or render abortive his designs for consummating the felicity of his people.

We are aware that these ideas have been abused, and some good men, from the desire to clear the Deity from the charge of bringing sin into the world, have insisted that God could not foreknow the fall of man, for if he had, his holiness and benevolence would have induced him to prevent it. That the entrance of sin was not prevented, is evident: but it must be admitted that God knew the nature of the being he created, and all circumstances possible to that being; now the objection supposes that he ought to have prevented sin if he knew it barely possible. The consequence teems with impiety, that God has not done what he ought to have done. He could indeed have prevented sin, by excluding temptation, but this was contrary to his design of creating a free agent, and treating him according to his voluntary obedience to the divine will. Others have ventured to assert that if God foreknew the entrance of sin, he must be the cause of it. But it should be remembered that things do not exist because they are known, but because of a competent will or power positively or permissively giving them being. We may know the sun will rise tomorrow, but our knowledge of that circumstance does not at all influence its occurrence. We may also know, by the prevailing dispositions of a man, what will be his conduct in certain circumstances, but our knowledge is not the cause of his vices or his virtues.

It is certain that nothing from God could have influenced the first man to sin; for that would have equally destroyed his freedom, as the supposition of his being prevented from falling. If Adam had continued in his primeval state, we should not have concluded that his so doing was to be attributed to the prescience of God, but to the freedom of his own will. His fall therefore must be imputed to the same cause.

The Scriptures furnish us with the loftiest ideas of the Knowledge of God. All things are known unto God from the beginning of the world. Would the Israelites in future ages need a deliverer; God knew it and foretold him. Thus said the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose hand I have holden to subdue nations before him–for Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have called thee by thy name. Did the world stand in need of a Saviour? God foreknew and promised him. The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head. Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch–and this is the name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness. Did Pilate and the people in Jerusalem put Christ to death? Of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together, to do whatsoever, thy hand and thy counsel before determined to be done. On Premises like these we found our notions of the Knowledge of God. The difficulties attending its development we acknowledge to be insuperable, but piety should lead us into the spirit of the Apostle’s exclamation, O the depth and the Riches both of the Knowledge and Wisdom of God!

It remains that we offer a few practical reflections on this amazing subject. 1. It sets in a strong light the absurdity of those men, who from a high opinion of their own knowledge, affect to despise the truths of Revelation. Ought we to be surprised if we find such a Being, condescending to make a Revelation respecting his nature, his purposes, and the laws of his government, that it should contain many things past our comprehension? Shall we stumble at the mystery of Father, Son, and Spirit–the Incarnation of the Saviour–or the demand of a Sacrifice equal to our guilt? On these, on any subjects, ought not men to bow with implicit confidence to instructions coming from the Fountain of all Knowledge? Where then is the piety, where the good sense of that man, whose existence is but of yesterday, who has but just begun to breathe, to think, to inquire–and yet affects to reject and despise the declarations of eternal Wisdom? Who by searching can find out God? What mysteries may not be expected when we contemplate a Being everywhere present, whose power is unbounded, whose Knowledge is infinite?

2. The Divine Omniscience exposes the folly of those who having concealed their sin from the public eye, secretly exult that they have escaped detection. Men are usually as intent on concealing their crimes as they were on committing them. What art, what vigilance, what suspicion do they exert! But God knows all their proceedings; he has registered all their deeds, and will bring every work into judgment. The event of that trial will not rest on fallible testimony, but on the knowledge of him whose eyes are in every place.

3. We here perceive the danger of self-deception. If our religion be mere pretence; if we rest satisfied with formal worship; if our piety be no more than hypocritical flattering with our lips; he knows it all; of Israel he said of old, This people draweth nigh to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

4. From hence also we draw a warning against neglect. Reader, thy carelessness, thine indifference, thy dislike, all thine excuses are open before him. He spieth thee out in all thy ways.

5. This divine Perfection affords a stimulus to Prayer. The exultation of the wicked is grounded on their conceit, that God hath forsaken the earth, that he taketh no notice of the affairs of men; but a good man finds consolation in the truth, the Most High doth regard; Jehovah heareth prayer; he knows when I approach his mercy seat; the desires of my heart, the feelings of my soul, which at times I cannot utter, are all before his eyes.

6. The Church of God may hence derive great consolation in time of trouble. It is true God pays attention to the world, to nations, societies, and individuals; but “his Church is his peculiar care.” He knows all the contrivances of its enemies, and fully aware of its wants and its weaknesses, his own arm bringeth salvation.

7. Individual believers may exult in the prospect of future felicity. The foundation of their hope standeth sure, the Lord knoweth them that are his. They live and move under his eye, he distinguishes them from the world, comforts them in their distress, and sends his Angels for their guard when they wait on the verge of this life. However obscure they may be now, not one shall be left out when their names are called from the Lamb’s book of life.