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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

Body of Divinity
Contained in
Sermons upon the Assembly's Catechism
by the
Rev. Thomas Watson

Chapter 4.
The Knowledge of God

'The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed' (1 Sam. 2:3). Glorious things are spoken of God; he transcends our thoughts, and the praises of angels. God's glory lies chiefly in his attributes, which are the several beams by which the divine nature shines forth. Among other of his orient excellencies, this is not the least, The Lord is a God of knowledge; or as the Hebrew word is, 'A God of knowledges.' Through the bright mirror of his own essence, he has a full idea and cognizance of all things; the world is to him a transparent body. He makes a heart anatomy. 'I am he which searcheth the reins and the heart' (Rev. 2:23). The clouds are no canopy, the night is no curtain to draw between us and his sight. 'The darkness hideth not from thee' (Ps. 134:4). There is not a word we whisper but God hears it. 'There is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether' (Ps. 139:4). There is not the most subtle thought that comes into our mind, but God perceives it. 'I know their thoughts' (Is. 66:18). Thoughts speak as loud in God's ears as words do in ours. All our actions, though never so subtly contrived, and secretly conveyed, are visible to the eye of Omniscience. 'I know their works' (Is. 46:18). Achan hid the Babylonish garment in the earth, but God brought it to light (Josh. 7:21). Minerva was drawn in such curious colours, and so lively pencilled, that which way soever one turned, Minerva's eyes were upon him; so, which way soever we turn ourselves God's eye is upon us. 'Dost thou know the balancing of the clouds; the wondrous works of him that is perfect in knowledge' (Job 37:16). God knows whatever is knowable; he knows future contingencies. He foretold Israel's coming out of Babylon, and the virgin's conceiving. By this the Lord proves the truth of his Godhead against idol gods.. 'Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know ye are gods' (Is. 41:23). The perfection of God's knowledge is primary. He is the original, the pattern, and prototype of all knowledge; others borrow their knowledge of him; the angels light their lamps at this glorious sun. God's knowledge is pure. It is not contaminated with the object. Though God knows sin, yet it is to hate and punish it. No evil can mix or incorporate with his knowledge, any more than the sun can be defiled with the vapours which arise from the earth (Is. 66:18). God's knowledge is facile; it is without any difficulty. We study and search for knowledge. 'If thou seekest for her as for silver' (Prov. 2:4). The lamp of God's knowledge is so infinitely bright, that all things are intelligible to him.

God's knowledge is infallible; there is no mistake in his knowledge. Human knowledge is subject to error. A physician may mistake the cause of a disease; but God's knowledge is unerring; he can neither deceive, nor be deceived; he cannot deceive, because he is truth, nor be deceived, because he is wisdom. God's knowledge is instantaneous. Our knowledge is successive, one thing after another. We argue from the effect to the cause. God knows things past, present, and to come, uno intuito, at once; they are all before him in one entire prospect.

God's knowledge is retentive; he never loses any of his knowledge; he has reminiscentia, as well as intelligentia; he remembers as well as understands. Many things elapse out of our minds, but God's knowledge is eternized. Things transacted a thousand years ago, are as fresh to him as if they were done but the last minute. Thus he is perfect in knowledge.

But is it not said (Gen. 18:21) I will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry which is come up unto me, and I will know?

It could not be that God was ignorant; because there is mention made of a cry; but the Lord speaks there after the manner of a judge, who will first examine the cause before he passes the sentence. When he is upon a work of justice he is not in a riot, as if he did not care where he hits; but he goes straight against offenders. 'He lays judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet' (Is. 28:17).

'The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up, his sin is hid' (Hosea 13:12).

Not that his sin is hid from God, but his sin is hid; that is, it is recorded, it is laid up against a day of reckoning. That this is the meaning, is clear by the foregoing words, his iniquity is bound up. As the clerk of the assizes binds up the indictments of malefactors in a bundle, and at the assizes brings out the indictments and reads them in court; so God binds up men's sins in a bundle, and, at the day of judgment, this bundle shall be opened, and all their sins brought to light before men and angels. God is infinite in knowledge. He cannot but be so; for he who gives being to things must needs have a clear inspection of them. 'He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see' (Ps. 94:9)? He who makes a watch or engine knows all the workmanship in it. God, that made the heart, knows all its movements. He is full of eyes, like Ezekiel's wheels, and, as Austin says, Totus oculus, 'All eye.' It ought to be so; for he is to be 'Judge of all the world' (Gen. 18:25). There are so many causes to be brought before him, and so many persons to be tried, that he must have a perfect knowledge, or he could not do justice. An ordinary judge cannot proceed without a jury, the jury must search the cause, and give in the verdict; but God can judge without a jury. He knows all things in and of himself, and needs no witnesses to inform him. A judge judges only matters of fact, but God judges the heart. He not only judges wicked actions, but wicked designs. He sees the treason of the heart and punishes it.

Use one: Is God infinite in knowledge? Is he light, and in him is there no darkness? Then how unlike are they to God who are darkness, and in whom is no light, who are destitute of knowledge, such as the Indians who never heard of God! And are there not many among us, who are no better than baptized heathens? who need to seek the first principles of the oracles of God. It is sad, that after the sun of the gospel has shined so long in our horizon, to this day the veil should be upon their heart. Such as are enveloped in ignorance cannot give God a reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). Ignorance is the nurse of impiety. The schoolmen say, Omne peccatum fundatur in ignorantia [Every sin is founded upon ignorance]. 'They proceed from evil to evil, and know not me, saith the Lord' (Jer. 9:3). Where ignorance reigns in the understanding, lust rages in the affections. 'That the mind be without knowledge, it is not good' (Prov. 19:2); such have neither faith nor fear: no faith; for knowledge carries the torch before faith. 'They that know thy name shall put their trust in thee' (Ps. 9:10). A man can no more believe without knowledge than the eye can see without light. He can have no fear of God; for how can they fear him whom they do not know? The covering of Haman's face was a sad presage of death. When people's minds are covered with ignorance, it is a covering of the face that is a fatal forerunner of destruction.

Use two: If God be a God of knowledge, then see the folly of hypocrisy. Hypocrites do not virtutem facere, but fingere [Hypocrites do not actually do good, they merely make a show of it]. Melanchthon. They carry it fair with men, but care not how bad their hearts are; they live in secret sin. 'They say, How doth God know' (Ps. 73:11)? 'God hath forgotten, he hideth his face, he will never see it' (Ps. 10:11). But 'His understanding is infinite' (Ps. 147:5). He has a window to look into men's breasts; he has a key for the heart; he beholds all the sinful workings of men's spirits, as in a glass-hive we can see the bees working in their combs (Matt. 6:4). He sees in secret. As a merchant enters debts in his book, so God has his day-book, in which he enters every sin. Jeroboam's wife disguised herself that the prophet should not know her; but he discerned her. 'Why feignest thou thyself to be another' (1 Kings 14:6). The hypocrite thinks to prevaricate and juggle with God, but God will un-mask him. 'God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing' (Eccl. 12:14). 'They have committed villany in Israel, even I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord' (Jer. 29:23). Ay, but the hypocrite hopes he shall colour over his sin, and make it look very specious. Absalom masks over his treason with the pretence of a religious vow. Judas dissembles his envy at Christ, and his covetousness, with the pretence of 'charity to the poor' (John 12:5). Jehu makes religion a stirrup to his ambitious design (2 Kings 10:16). But God sees through these fig-leaves. You may see a jade under his gilt trappings. 'Their iniquities are not hid from mine eyes' (Jer. 16:17). He that hath an eye to see will find a hand to punish.

Use three: Is God so infinite in knowledge? Then we should always feel as under his omniscient eye. Sic vivendum est tanquam in conspectu [Hence we ought to live as if always in full view]. Seneca. Let us set David's prospect before our eye. 'I have set the Lord always before me' (Ps. 16:8). Seneca counselled Lucilius, that whatever he was doing, he should imagine some of the Roman worthies stood before him, and then he would do nothing dishonourable. The consideration of God's omniscience would be preventive of much sin. The eye of man will restrain from sin; and will not God's eyes much more? 'Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me' (Esther 7:8)? Will we sin when our judge looks on? Would men speak so vainly, if they considered God overheard them? Latimer took heed to every word in his examination, when he heard the pen go behind the hangings: so, what care would persons have of their words, if they remembered God heard, and the pen is going on in heaven? Would men go after strange flesh if they believed God was a spectator of their wickedness, and would make them do penance in hell for it? Would they defraud in their dealings, and use false weights, if they thought God saw them, and for making their weights lighter would make their damnation heavier. Viewing ourselves as under the eye of God's omniscience, would cause reverence in the worship of God. God sees the frame and carriage of our hearts when we come before him. How would this call in our straggling thoughts? How would it animate and spirit duty? It would make us put fire to the incense. 'The tribes instantly served God day and night' (Acts 26:7), omnibus viribus, with the utmost zeal and intenseness of spirit. To think God is in this place would add wings to prayer, and oil to the flame of our devotion.

Use four: Is God's knowledge infinite? Study sincerity, be what you seem. 'The Lord looketh upon the heart' (1 Sam. 16:7). Men judge the heart by the actions, God judges the actions by the heart; if the heart be sincere, God will see the faith and bear with the failing. Asa had his blemishes, but his heart was right with God (2 Chron. 15:17). God saw his sincerity, and pardoned his infirmity. Sincerity in a Christian is like chastity in a wife, which excuses many failings. Sincerity makes our duties acceptable, like musk among linen, that perfumes it. As Jehu said to Jehonadab, 'Is thy heart right with me? And he said, It is. If it be, said he, give me thy hand; and he took him up into the chariot' (2 Kings 10:15): so, if God sees our heart is right, that we love him, and design his glory, now, says he, give me your prayers and tears; now you shall come up with me into the chariot of glory. Sincerity makes our services to be golden, and God will not cast away the gold though it may want some weight. Is God omniscient, and his eye chiefly upon the heart? Wear the girdle of truth about you, and never leave it off.

Use five: Is God a God of infinite knowledge? Then there is comfort, (1) To the saints in particular. (2) To the church in general.

(1) To saints in particular. In case of private devotion. Christian, thou settest hours apart for God, thy thoughts run upon him as thy treasure; God takes notice of every good thought. 'He had a book of remembrance written for them that thought upon his name' (Mal. 3:16). Thou enterest into thy closet, and prayest to thy Father in secret; he hears every sigh and groan. 'My groaning is not hid from thee' (Ps. 38:9). Thou waterest the seed of thy prayer with tears, God bottles every tear. 'Put thou my tears into thy bottle' (Ps. 56:8). When the secrets of all hearts shall be opened, God will make an honourable mention of the zeal and devotion of his people, and he himself will be the herald of their praises. 'Then shall every man have praise of God' (1 Cor. 4:5).

The infiniteness of God's knowledge is a comfort, in case the saints have not a clear knowledge of themselves. They find so much corruption, that they judge they have no grace. 'If it be so, why am I thus' (Gen. 25:22)? If I have grace, why is my heart in so dead and earthly a frame? Oh, remember, God is of infinite knowledge, he can spy grace where thou canst not; he can see grace hid under corruption, as the stars may be hid under a cloud. God can see that holiness in thee which thou canst not discern in thyself; he can spy the flower of grace in thee, though overtopped with weeds. 'Because there is in him some good thing' (1 Kings 14:13). God sees some good thing in his people, when they can see no good in themselves; and though they judge themselves, he will give them an absolution.

It is comfort in respect of personal injuries. It is the saints' lot to suffer. The head being crowned with thorns, the feet must not tread upon roses. If saints find a real purgatory, it is in this life; but this is their comfort, that God sees what wrong is done to them; the apple of his eye is touched, and is he not sensible of it? Paul was scourged by cruel hands. 'Thrice was I beaten with rods' (2 Cor. 11:25); as if you should see a scullion whip the king's son. God beholds it. 'I know their sorrows' (Ex. 3:7). The wicked make wounds in the backs of the saints, and then pour in vinegar; but God writes down their cruelty. Believers are a part of Christ's mystical body; and for every drop of a saint's blood spilt God puts a drop of wrath in his vial.

(2) Comfort to the church of God in general. If God be a God of knowledge, he sees all the plots of the enemies against Zion, and can make them prove abortive. The wicked are subtle, having borrowed their skill from the old serpent; they dig deep, to hide their counsels from God, but he sees them, and can easily counterwork them. The dragon is described with seven heads in Revelation 12:3, to show how he plots against the church; but God is described with seven eyes in Zecharaiah 3:9, to show that he sees all the plots and stratagems of the enemies; and when they deal proudly, he can be above them. Come, says Pharaoh, 'let us deal wisely' (Ex. 1:10); but he never played the fool more than when he thought to deal wisely. 'In the morning watch the Lord looked to the host of the Egyptians by the pillar of fire, and troubled the host' (Ex. 14:24). How may this, like sap in the vine, comfort the church of God in her militant state! The Lord has an eye in all the councils and combinations of the enemy; he sees them in their train, and can blow them up in their own mine.

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