God Knows All Things Past, Present and Future

by Stephen Charnock

God knows all other things, whether they be possible, past, present, or future; whether they be things that he can do, but will never do, or whether they be things that he hath done, but are not now; things that are now in being, or things that are not now existing, that lie in the womb of their proper and immediate causes. If his understanding be infinite, he then knows all things whatsoever that can be known, else his understanding would have bounds, and what hath limits is not infinite, but finite. If he be ignorant of any one thing that is knowable, that is a bound to him, it comes with an exception, a but, God knows all things but this; a bar is then set to his knowledge. If there were anything, any particular circumstance in the whole creation or non-creation, and possible to be known by him, and yet were unknown to him, he could not be said to be omniscient; as he would not be Almighty if any one thing, that implied not a repugnancy to his nature, did transcend his power.

First, All things possible. No question but God knows what he could create, as well as what he hath created; what he would not create, as well as what he resolved to create; he knew what he would not do before he willed to do it; this is the next thing which declares the infiniteness of his understanding; for, as his power is infinite, and can create innumerable worlds and creatures, so is his knowedge infinite, in knowing innumerable things possible to his power. Possibles are infinite; that is, there is no end of what God can do, and therefore no end of what God doth know; otherwise his power would be more infinite than his knowledge: if he knew only what is created, there would be an end of his understanding, because all creatures may be numbered, but possible things cannot be reckoned up by any creature. There is the same reason of this in eternity; when never so many numbers of years are run out, there is still more to come, there still wants an end; and when millions of worlds are created, there is no more an end of God’s power than of eternity. Thus there is no end of his understanding; that is, his knowledge is not terminated by anything. This the Scripture gives us some account of: God knows things that are not, “for he calls things that are not as if they were” (Rom. 4:17); he calls things that are not, as if they were in being; what he calls is not unknown to him: if he knows things that are not, he knows things that may never be; as he knows things that shall be, because he wills them, so he knows things that might be, because he is able to effect them: he knew that the inhabitants of Keilah would betray David to Saul if he remained in that place (1 Sam. 23:11); he knew what they would do upon that occasion, though it was never done; as he knew what was in their power and in their wills, so he must needs know what is within the compass of his own power; as he can permit more than he doth permit so he knows what he can permit, and what, upon that permission, would be done by his creatures; so God knew the possibility of the Tyrians’ repentance, if they had had the same means, heard the same truths, and beheld the same miracles which were offered to the ears, and presented to the eyes of the Jews (Matt. 11:21). This must needs be so, because,

1.      Man knows things that are possible to him, though he will never effect them. A carpenter knows a house in the model he hath of it in his head, though he never build a house according to that model. A watch-maker hath the frame of a watch in his mind, which he will never work with his instruments; man knows what he could do, though he never intends to do it. As the understanding of man hath a virtue, that where it sees one man it may imagine thousands of men of the same shape, stature, form, parts; yea, taller, more vigorous, sprightly, intelligent, than the man he sees; because it is possible such a number may be. Shall not the understanding of God much more know what he is able to effect, since the understanding of man can know what he is never able to produce, yet may be produced by God, viz. that he who produced this man which I see, can produce a thousand exactly like him? If the Divine understanding did not know infinite things, but were confined to a certain number, it may be demanded whether God can understand anything farther than that number, or whether he cannot? If he can, then he doth actually understand all those things which he hath a power to understand; otherwise there would be an increase of God’s knowledge, if it were actually now, and not before, and so he would be more perfect than he was before; if he cannot understand them, then he cannot understand what a human mind can understand; for our understandings can multiply numbers in in infinitum; and there is no number so great, but a man can still add to it: we must suppose the divine understanding more excellent in knowledge. God knows all that a man can imagine, though it never were, nor never shall be; he must needs know whatsoever is in the power of man to imagine or think, because God concurs to the support of the faculty in that imagination; and though it may be replied, an atheist may imagine that there is no God, a man may imagine that God can lie, or that he can be destroyed; doth God know therefore that he is not? or that he can lie, or cease to be? No, he knows he cannot; his knowledge extends to things possible, not to things impossible to himself; he knows it as imaginable by man, not as possible in itself; because it is utterly impossible, and repugnant to the nature of God, since he eminently contains in hmself all things possible, past, present, and to come; he cannot know himself without knowing them.

2.      God knowing his own power, knows whatsoever is in his power to effect. If he knows not all things possible, he could not know the extent of his own power, and so would not know himself, as a cause sufficient for more things than he hath created. How can he comprehend himself, who comprehends not all effluxes of things possible that may come from him, and be wrought by him? How can he know himself as a cause, if he know not the objects and works which he is able to produce? Since the power of God extends to numberless things, his knowledge also extends to numberless objects; as if a unit is, could see the numbers it could produce, it would see infinite numbers: for a unit, as it were, all number.

God knowing the fruitfulness of his own virtue, knows a numberless multitude of things which he can do, more than have been done, or shall be done by him; he therefore knows innumerable worlds, innumerable angels, with higher perfections, than any of them which he hath created have: so that if the world should last many millions of years, God knows that he can every day create another world more capacious than this; and having created an inconceivable number, he knows he could still create more: so that he beholds infinite worlds, infinite numbers of men, and other creatures in himself, infinite kinds of things, infinite species, and individuals under those kinds, even as many as he can create, if his will did order and determine it; for not being ignorant of his own power, he cannot be ignorant of the effects wherein it may display and discover itself. A comprehensive knowledge of his own power doth necessarily include the objects of that power; so he knows whatsoever he could effect, and whatsoever he could permit, if he pleased to do it. If God could not understand more than he hath created, he could not create more than he hath created: for it cannot be conceived how he can create anything that he is ignorant of; what he doth not know, he cannot do: he must know also the extent of his own goodness, and how far anything is capable to partake of it: so much therefore, as any detract from the knowledge of God, they detract from his, power.

3.      It is further evident that God knows all possible things, because he knew those things which he has created, before they were created, when they were yet in a possibility. If God knew things before they were created, he knew them when they were in a possibility, and not in actual reality. It is absurd to imagine that his understanding did lackey after the creatures, and draw knowledge from them after they were created. It is absurd to think that God did create, before he knew what he could or would create. If he knew those things he did create when they were possible, he must know all things which he can create, and therefore all things that are possible. To conclude this, we must consider that this knowledge is of another kind than his knowledge of things that are or shall be. He sees possible things as possible, not as things that ever are or shall be. If he saw them as existing or future, and they shall never be, this knowledge would be false, there would be a deceit in it, which cannot be. He knows. those things not in themselves, because they are not, nor in their causes, because they shall never be: he knows them in his own power, not in his will: he understands them as able to produce them, not as willing to effect them. Things possible he knows only in his power; things future he knows both in his power and his will, as he is both able and determined in his own good pleasure to give being to them. Those that shall never come to pass, he knows only in himself as a sufficient cause; those things that shall come into being, he knows in himself as the efficient cause, and also in their immediate second causes. This should teach us to spend our thoughts in the admiration of the excellency of God, and the divine knowledge; his understanding is infinite.

Secondly, God knows all things past. This is an argument used by God himself to elevate his excellency above all the commonly adored idols (Isa. 41:22): “Let them show the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them.” He knows them as if they were now present, and not past for indeed in his eternity there is nothing past or future to his knowledge. This is called remembrance, in Scripture, as when God remembered Rachel’s prayer for a child (Gen. 30:22), and he is said to put tears into his bottle, and write them in his book of accompts, which signifies the exact and unerring knowledge in God of the minute circumstances past in the world; and this knowledge is called a book of remembrance (Mal. 3:16), signifying the perpetual presence of things past, before him.

There are two elegant expressions, signifying the certainty and perpetuity of God’s knowledge of sins past (Job 14:17), “My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity;” a metaphor, taken from men that put up in a bag the money they would charily keep, tie the bag, sew up the holes, and bind it hard, that nothing may fall out; or a vessel, wherein they reserve liquors, and daub it with pitch and glutinous stuff, that nothing may leak out, but be safely kept till the time of use; or else, as some think, from the bags attornies carry with them, full of writings, when they are to manage a cause against a person. Thus we find God often in Scripture calling to men’s minds their past actions, upbraiding them with their ingratitude, wherein he testifies his remembrance of his own past benefits and their crimes. His knowledge in this regard hath something of infinity in it, since though the sins of all men that have been in the world are finite in regard of number, yet when the sins of one man in thoughts, words, and deeds, are numberless in his own account, and perhaps in the count of any creature, the sins of all the vast numbers of men that have been, or shall be, are much more numberless, it cannot be less than infinite knowledge that can make a collection of them, and take a survey of them all at once. If past things had not been known by God, how could Moses have been acquainted with the original of things? How could he have declared the former transactions, wherein all histories are silent but the Scripture? How could he know the cause of man’s present misery so many ages after, wherewith all philosophy was unacquainted? How could he have writ the order of the creation, the particulars of the sin of Adam, the circumstances of Cain’s murder, the private speech of Lamech to his wives, if God had not revealed them? And how could a revelation be made, if things past were forgotten by him? Do we not remember many things done among men, as well as by ourselves, and reserve the forms of divers things in our minds, which rise as occasions are presented to draw them forth? And shall not God much more, who hath no cloud of darkness upon his understanding? A man that makes a curious picture, hath the form of it in his mind before he made it; and if the fire burn it, the form of it in his mind is not destroyed by the fire, but retained in it. God’s memory is no less perfect than his understanding. If he did not know things past, he could not be a righteous Governor, or exercise any judicial act in a righteous manner; he could not dispense rewards and punishments, according to his promises and threatenings, if things that were past could be forgotten by him; he could not require that which is past (Eccles. 3:15), if he did not remember that which is past. And though God be said to forget in Scripture, and not to know his people, and his people pray to him to remember them, as if he had forgotten them (Psalm 119:49), this is improperly ascribed to God. As God is said to repent, when he changes things according to his counsel beyond the expectation of men, so he is said to forget, when he defers the making good his promise to the godly, or his threatenings to the wicked; this is not a defect of memory belonging to his mind, but an act of his will. When he is said to remember his covenant, it is to will grace according to his covenant; when he is said to forget his covenant, it is to intercept the influences of it, whereby to punish the sin of his people; and when he is said not to know his people, it is not an absolute forgetfulness of them, but withdrawing from them the testimonies of his kindness, and clouding the signs of his favor; so God in pardon is said to forget sin, not that he ceaseth to know it, but ceaseth to punish it. It is not to be meant of a simple forgetfulness, or a lapse of his memory, but of a judicial forgetfulness; so when his people in Scripture pray, Lord, remember thy word unto thy servant, no more is to be understood but, Lord, fulfil thy word and promise to thy servant.

Thirdly, He knows things present (Heb. 4:13): “All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do;” this is grounded upon the knowledge of himself; it is not so difficult to know all creatures exactly, as to know himself, because they are finite, but himself is infinite; he knows his own power, and therefore everything through which his omnipotence is diffused, all the acts and objects of it; not the least thing that is the birth of his power, can be concealed from him; he knows his own goodness, and therefore every object upon which the warm beams of his goodness strike; he therefore knows distinctly the properties of every creature, because every property in them is a ray of his goodness; he is not only the efficient, but the exemplary cause; therefore as he knows all that his power hath wrought, as he is the efficient, so he knows them in himself as the pattern; as a carpenter can give an account of every part and passage in a house he hath built, by consulting the model in his own mind, whereby he built it. “He looked upon all things after he had made them, and pronounced them good” (Gen. 1:3), full of a natural goodness he had endowed them with: he did not ignorantly pronounce them so, and call them good, whether he knew them or not; and therefore he knows them in particular, as he knew them all in their first presence. Is there any, reason he should be ignorant of everything now present in the world, or that anything that derives an existence from him as a free cause, should be concealed from him? If he did not know things present in their particularities, many things would be known by man, yea, by beasts, which the infinite God were ignorant of; and if he did not know all things present, but only some, it is possible for the most blessed God to be deceived and be miserable: ignorance is a calamity to the understanding: he could not prescribe laws to his creatures, unless he knew their natures to which those laws were to be suited: no, not natural ordinances to the sun, moon, and heavenly bodies, and inanimate creatures, unless he knew the vigor and virtue in them, to execute those ordinances; for to prescribe laws above the nature of things, is inconsistent with the wisdom of government; he must know how far they were able to obey; whether the laws were suited to their ability: and for his rational creatures, whether the punishments annexed to the law were proper, and suited to the transgression of the creature.

1.      He knows all creatures from the highest to the lowest, the least as well as the greatest. He knows the ravens and their young ones (Job 38:41); the drops of rain and dew which he hath begotten (Job 38:29); every bird in the air, as well as any man doth what he hath in a cage at home (Psalm 50:11): “I know all the fowls in the mountains, and the wild beasts in the field;” which some read creeping things. The clouds are numbered in his wisdom (Job 38:37); every worm in the earth, every drop of rain that falls upon the ground, the flakes of snow, and the knots of hail, the sands upon the sea-shore, the hairs upon the head; it is no more absurd to imagine that God knows them, than that God made them; they are all the effects of his power, as well as the stars which he calls by their names, as well as the most glorious angel and blessed spirit; he knows them as well as if there were none but them in particular for him to know; the least things were framed by his art as well as the greatest; the least things partake of his goodness as well as the greatest; he knows his own arts, and his own goodness, and therefbre all the stamps and impressions of them upon all his creatures; he knows the immediate causes of the least, and therefore the effects of those causes. Since his knowledge is infinite, it must extend to those things which are at the greatest distance from him, to those which approach nearest to not being; since he did not want power to create, he cannot want understanding to know everything he hath created, the dispositions, qualities, and virtues of the minutest creature. Nor is the understanding of God embased, and suffers a diminution by the knowledge of the vilest and most inconsiderable things. Is it not an imperfection to be ignorant of the nature of anything? and can God have such a defect in his most perfect understanding? Is the understanding of man of an impurer alloy by knowing the nature of the rankest poisons? by understanding a fly, or a small insect? or by considering the deformity of a toad? Is it not generally counted a note of a dignifled mind to be able to discourse of the nature of them? Was Solomon, who knew all from the cedar to the hyssop, debased by so rich a present of wisdom from his Creator? Is any glass defiled by presenting a deformed image? Is there anything more vile than the “imaginations, which are only evil, and continually?” Doth not the mind of man descend to the mud of the earth, play the adulterer or idolater with mean objects, suck in the most unclean things? yet God knows these in all their circumstances, in every appearance, inside and outside. Is there anything viler than some thoughts of men? than some actions of men? their unclean beds and gluttonous vomiting, and Luciferian pride? yet do not these fall under the eye of God, in all their nakedness? The Second Person’s taking human nature, though it obscured, yet it did not disparage the Deity, or bring any disgrace to it. Is gold the worse for being formed into the image of a fly? doth it not still retain the nobleness of the metal? When men are despised for descending to the knowledge of mean and vile things, it is because they neglect the knowledge of the greater, and sin in their inquiries after lesser things, with a neglect of that which concerns more the honor of God and the happiness of themselves; to be ambitious of such a knowledge, and careless of that of more concern, is criminal and contemptible. But God knows the greatest as well as the least; mean things are not known by him to exclude the knowledge of the greater; nor are vile things governed by him to exclude the order of the better. The deformity of objects known by God doth not deform him, nor defile him; he doth not view them without himself, but within himself, wherein all things in their ideas are beautiful and comely: our knowledge of a deformed thing is not a deforming of our understanding, but is beautiful in the knowledge, though it be not in the object; nor is there any fear that the understanding of God should become material by knowing material things, any more than our understandings lose their spirituality by knowing the nature of bodies; it is to be observed, therefore, that only those senses of men, as seeing, hearing, smelling, which have those qualities for their objects that come nearest the nature of spiritual things, as light, sounds, fragrant odors, are ascribed to God in Scripture; not touching or tasting, which are senses that are not exercised without a more immediate commerce with gross matter; and the reason may be, because we should have no gross thoughts of God, as if he were a body, and made of matter, like the things he knows.

2.      As he knows all creatures, so God knows all the actions of creatures. He counts in particular all the ways of men. “Doth he not see all my ways, and count all my steps” (Job 31:4)? He “tells” their “wanderings,” as if one by one (Psalm 56:8). “His eyes are upon all the ways of man, and he sees all his goings” (Job 34:21); a metaphor taken from men, when they look wistly, with fixed eyes upon a thing, to view it in every circumstance, whence it comes, whether it goes, to observe every little motion of it. God’s eye is not a wandering, but a fixed eye; and the ways of man are not only “before his eyes,” but he doth exactly “ponder them” (Prov. 5:21); as one that will not be ignorant of the least mite in them, but weigh and examine them by the standard of his law; he may as well know the motions of our members, as the hairs of our heads; the smallest actions before they be, whether civil, natural, or religious, fall under his cognizance; what meaner than a man carrying a pitcher, yet our Saviour foretels it (Luke 22:10); God knows not only what men do, but what they would have done, had he not restrained them; what Abimelech would have done to Sarah, had not God put a bar in his way (Gen. 20:6); what a man that is taken away in his youth would have done, had he lived to a riper age; yea, he knows the most secret words as well as actions; the words spoken by the king of Israel in his bed-chamber, were revealed to Elisha (2 Kings 6:12); and indeed, how can any action of man be concealed from God? Can we view the various actions of a heap of ants, or a hive of bees in a glass, without turning our eyes; and shall not God behold the actions of all men in the world, which are less than bees or ants in his sight, and more visible to him than an ant-hill or bee-hive can be to the acutest eye of man?

3.      As God knows all the actions of creatures, so he knows all the thoughts of creatures. The thoughts are the most closeted acts of man, hid from men and angels, unless disclosed by some outward expressions; but God descends into the depths and abysses of the soul, discerns the most inward contrivances; nothing is impenetrable to him; the sun doth not so much enlighten the earth, as God understands the heart; all things are as visible to him, as flies and motes enclosed in a body of transparent crystal; this man naturally allows to God. Men often speak to God by the motions of their minds and secret ejaculations, which they would not do, if it were not naturally implanted in them, that God knows all their inward motions; the Scripture is plain and positive in this, “He tries the heart and the reins” (Psalm 7:9), as men, by the use of fire, discern the drossy and purer parts of metals. The secret intentions and aims, the most lurking affections seated in the reins; he knows that which no man, no angel, is able to know, which a man himself knows not, nor makes any particular reflection upon; yea, “he weighs the Spirit” (Prov. 16:2); he exactly numbers all the devices and inclinations of men, as men do every piece of coin they tell out of a heap. “He discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12); all that is in the mind, all that is in the affections, every stirring and purpose; so that not one thought can be withheld from him Job 42:2); yea, “Hell and destruction are before him, much more then the hearts of the children of men” (Prov. 15:11); he works all things in the bowels of the earth, and brings forth all things out of that treasure, say some; but more naturally, God knows the whole state of the dead, all the receptacles and graves of their bodies, all the bodies of men consumed by the earth, or devoured by living creatures; things that seem to be out of all being; he knows the thoughts of the devils and damned creatures, whom he hath cast out of his care forever into the arms of his justice, never more to cast a delightful glance towards them; not a secret in any soul in hell (which he hath no need to know, because he shall not judge them by any of the thoughts they now have, since they were condemned to punishment) is hid from him; much more is he acquainted with the thoughts of living men, the counsels of whose hearts are yet to be manifested, in order to their trial and censure; yea, he knows them before they spring up into actual being (Psalm 139:2): “Thou understandest my thoughts afar off;” my thoughts, that is, every thought; though innumerable thoughts pass through me in a day, and that in the source and fountain, when it is yet in the womb, before it is our thought; if he knows them before their existence, before they can be properly called ours, much more doth he know them when they actually spring up in us: he knows the tendency of them; where the bird will light when it is in flight; he knows them exactly, he is therefore called a “discerner” or criticiser “of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), as a critic discerns every letter, point, and stop; he is more intimate with us than our souls with our bodies, and hath more the possession of us than we have of ourselves; he knows them by an inspection into the heart, not by the mediation of second causes, by the looks or gestures of men, as men may discern the thoughts of one another. (1.) God discerns all good motions of the mind and will. These he puts into men, and needs must God know his own act; he knew the son of “Jeroboam to have some good thing in him towards the Lord God of Israel” (1 Kings 14:13); and the integrity of David and Hezekiah; the freest motions of the will and affections to him: “Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” saith Peter (John 21:17). Love can be no more restrained, than the will itself can; a man may make another to grieve and desire, but none can force another to love. (2.) God discerns all the evil motions of the mind and will; “Every imagination of the heart” (Gen. 6:5); the vanity of “men’s thoughts” (Psalm 94:11); their inward darkness, and deceitful disguises. No wonder that God, who fashioned the heart, should understand the motions of it (Psalm 33:13, 15): “He looks from heaven and beholds all the children of men; he fashioneth their hearts alike, and considers all their works.” Doth any man make a watch, and yet be ignorant of its motion? Did God fling away the key to this secret cabinet, when he framed it, and put off the power of unlocking it when he pleased? He did not surely frame it in such a posture as that anything in it should be hid from his eye; he did not fashion it to be privileged from his government; which would follow if he were ignorant of what was minted and coined in it. He could not be a Judge to punish men, if the inward frames and principles of men’s actions were concealed from him; an outward action may glitter to an outward eye, yet the secret spring be a desire of applause, and not the fear and love of God. If the inward frames of the heart did lie covered from him in the secret recesses of the heart; those plausible acts, which in regard of their principles, would merit a punishment, would meet with a reward; and God should bestow happiness where he had denounced misery. As without the knowledge of what is just, he could not be a wise Lawgiver, so without the knowledge of what is inwardly committed, he could not be a righteous Judge: acts that are rotten in the spring, might be judged good by the fair color and appearance. This is the glory of God at the last day, “to manifest the secrets of all hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5); and the prophet Jeremiah links the power of judging and the prerogative of trying the hearts together (Jer. 11:20): “But thou, O Lord of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart;” and (Jer. 17:10): “I, the Lord, search, the heart, I try the reins;” to what end? even to “give every man according to his way, and according to the fruit of his doings.” And, indeed, his binding up the whole law with that command of not coveting, evidenceth that he will judge men by the inward affections and frames of their hearts. Again, God sustains the mind of man in every act of thinking; in him we have not only the principle of life, but every motion, the motion of our minds as well as of our members: “In him we live and move,” &c. (Acts 17:28). Since he supports the vigor of the faculty in every act, can he be ignorant of those acts which spring from the faculty, to which he doth at that instant communicate power and ability? Now this knowledge of the thoughts of men is,

1st. An incommunicable property, belonging only to the Divine understanding. Creatures, indeed, may know the thoughts of others by divine revelation, but not by themselves; no creature hath a key immediately to open the minds of men, and see all that lodgeth there; no creature can fathom the heart by the line of created knowledge. Devils may have a conjectural knowledge, and may guess at them, by the acquaintance they have with the disposition and constitution of men, and the images they behold in their fancies; and by some marks which an inward imagination may stamp upon the brain, blood, animal spirits, face, &c. But the knowing the thoughts merely as thought, without any impression by it, is a royalty God appropriates to himself, as the main secret of his government, and a perfection declarative of his Deity, as much as any else (Jer. 17:9, 10): “The heart of man is desperately wicked, who can know it?” yes, there is one, and but one, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I try the reins.” “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7); where God is distinguished by this perfection from all men whatsoever, others may know by revelation, as Elisha did what was in Gehazi’s heart (2 Kings 5:26). But God knows a man more than any man knows himself; what person upon earth understands the windings and turnings of his own heart, what reserves it will have, what contrivances, what inclinations? all which God knows exactly.

2d. God acquires no new knowledge of the thoughts and hearts by the discovery of them in the actions. He would then be but equal in this part of knowledge to his creature; no man or angel but may thus arrive to the knowledge of them; God were then excluded from an absolute dominion over the prime work of his lower creation; he would have made a creature superior in this respect to himself, upon whose will to discover, his knowledge of their inward intentions should depend; and therefore when God is said to search the heart, we must not understand it as if God were ignorant before, and was fain to make an exact scrutiny and inquiry, before he attained what he desired to know; but God condescends to our capacity in the expression of his own knowledge, signifying that his knowledge is as complete as any man’s knowledge can be of the designs of others, after he hath sifted them by a strict and thorough examination, and wrung out a discovery of their intentions, that he knows them as perfectly as if he had put them upon the rack, and and forced them to make a discovery of their secret plottings. Nor must we understand that in Gen. 22:12, where God saith, after Abraham had stretched out his hand to sacrifice his son, “Now I know that thou fearest God,” as though God was ignorant of Abraham’s gracious disposition to him; did Abraham’s drawing his knife furnish God with a new knowledge? no, God knew Abraham’s pious inclinations before (Gen. 18:19): “I know him, that he will command his children after him,” &c.

Knowledge is sometimes taken for approbation; then the sense will be, Now I approve this fact as a testimony of thy fear of me, since thy affection to thy Isaac is extinguished by the more powerful flame of affection to my will and command; I now accept thee, and count thee a meet subject of my choicest benefits: or, Now I know, that is, I have made known and manifested the faith of Abraham to himself and to the world: thus Paul uses the word know (1 Cor. 2:2): “I have determined to know nothing;” that is, to declare and teach nothing, to make known nothing but Christ crucified: or else, Now I know, that is, I have an evidence and experiment in this noble fact, that thou fearest me. God often condescends to our capacity in speaking of himself after the manner of men, as if he had (as men do) known the inward affections of others by their outward actions.

4.      God knows all the evils and sins of creatures. (1.) God knows all sin. This follows upon the other. If he knows all the actions and thoughts of creatures, he knows also all the sinfulness in those acts and thoughts. This Zophar infers from God’s punishing men (Job 11:11); for he knows vain man, he sees his wickedness also; he knows every man, and sees the wickedness of every man; he looks down from heaven, and beholds not only the filthy persons, but what is filthy in them (Psalm 14:2, 3), all nations in the world, and every man of every nation; none of their iniquity is hid from his eyes; he searches Jerusalem with candles (Jer. 16:17). God follows sinners step by step, with his eye, and will not leave searching out till he hath taken them; a metaphor taken from one that searches all chinks with a candle, that nothing can be hid from him. He knows it distinctly in all the parts of it, how an adulterer rises out of his bed to commit uncleanness, what contrivances he had, what steps he took, every circumstance in the whole progress; not only evil in the bulk, but every one of the blacker spots upon it, which may most aggravate it. If he did not know evil, how could he permit it, order it, punish it, or pardon it? Doth he permit he knows not what? order to his own holy ends what he is ignorant of? punish or pardon that which he is uncertain whether it be a crime or no? “Cleanse me,” saith David, “from my secret faults” (Psalm 19:12), secret in regard of others, secret in regard of himself; how could God cleanse him from that whereof he was ignorant? He knows sins before they are committed, much more when they are in act; he foreknew the idolatry and apostacy of the Jews; what gods they would serve, in what measure they would provoke him. and violate his covenant (Deut. 31:20, 21); he knew Judas’ sin long before Judas’ actual existence, foretelling it in the Psalms; and Christ predicts it before he acted it. He sees sins future in his own permitting will; he sees sins present in his own supporting act. As he knows things possible to himself, because he knows his own power so he knows things practicable by the creature, because he knows the power and prmeiples of the creature. This sentiment of God is naturally written in the fears of sinners, upon lightning, thunder, or some prodigious operation of God in the world; what is the language of them, but that he sees their deeds, hears their words, knows the inward sinfulness of their hearts; that he doth not only behold them as a mere spectator, but considers them as a just judge. And the poets say, that the sins of men leaped into heaven, and were writ in parchments of Jupiter, scelus in terram geritur, in cœlo scribitur: sin is acted on earth, and recorded in heaven. God indeed doth not behold evil with the approving eye; he knows it not with a practical knowledge to be the author of it, but with a speculative knowledge, so as to understand the sinfulness of it; or a knowledge simplicis intelligentiœ, of simple intelligence, as he permits them, not positively wills them; he knows them not with a knowledge of assent to them, but dissent from them. Evil pertains to a dissenting act of the mind, and an aversive act of the will; and what though evil formerly taken, hath no distinct conception, because it is a privation; a defect hath no being, and all knowledge is by the apprehension of some being; would not this lie as strongly against our own knowledge of sin? Sin is a privation of the rectitude due to an act; and who doubts man’s knowledge of sin? by his knowing the act, he knows the deficiency of the act; the subject of evil hath a being, and so hath a conception in the mind; that which hath no being cannot be known by itself, or in itself; but will it follow that it cannot be known by its contrary? as we know darkness to be a privation of light, and folly to be a privation of wisdom. God knows good all by himself, because he is the sovereign good; is it strange then, that he should know all evil, since all evil is in some natural good. (2.) The manner of God’s knowing evil is not so easily known. And indeed, as we cannot comprehend the essence of God, though it is easily intelligible that there is such a Being, so we can as little comprehend the manner of God’s knowledge, though we cannot but conclude him to be an intelligent Being, a pure understanding, knowing all things. As God hath a higher manner of being than his creatures, so he hath another and higher manner of knowing; and we can as little comprehend the manner of his knowing, as we can the manner of his being. But as to the manner, doth not God know his own law? and shall he not know how much any action comes short of his rule? he cannot know his own rule without knowing all the deviations from it. He knows his own holiness, and shall he not see how any action is contrary to the holiness of his own nature? Doth not God know everything that is true? and is it not true that this or that is evil? and shall God be ignorant of any truth? How doth God know that he cannot lie, but by knowing his own veracity? How doth God know that he cannot die, but by knowing his own immutability? and by knowing those, he knows what a lie is, he knows what death is; so if sin never had been, if no creature had ever been, God would have known what sin was, because he knows his own holiness; because he knew what law was fit to be appointed to his creatures if he should create them, and that that law might be transgressed by them. God knows all good, all goodness in himself; he therefore hath a foundation in himself to know all that comes short of that goodness, that is opposite to that holiness: as if light were capable of understanding, it would know darkness only by knowing itself; by knowing itself, it would know what is contrary to itself knows all created goodness which he hath planted in the creature; he knows then all defects from this goodness, what perfection an act is deprived of; what is opposite to that goodness, and that is evil. As we know sickness by health, discord by harmony, blindness by sight, because it is a privation of sight, whosoever knows one contrary knows the other; God knows unrighteousness by the idea which he hath of righteousness, and sees an act deprived of that rectitude and goodness which ought to be in it; he knows evil because he knows the causes whence evil proceeds. A painter knows a picture of his own framing, and if any one dashes any base color upon it, shall not he also know that? God by his hand painted all creatures, impressed upon man the fair stamp and color of his own image; the devil defiles it; man daubs it. Doth not God, that knows his own work, know how this piece is become different from his work? Doth not God, that knows his creatures’ goodness, which himself was the fountain of, know the change of this goodness? Yea, he knew before, that the devil would sow tares where he had sown wheat; and therefore that controversy of some in the schools, whether God knew evil by its opposition to created or uncreated goodness, is needless. We may say God knows sin as it is opposite to created goodness, yet he knows it radically by his own goodness, because he knows the goodness he hath communicated to the creature by his own essential goodness in himself. To conclude this head: The knowledge of sin doth not bespot the holiness of God’s nature; for the bare knowledge of a crime doth not infect the mind of man with the filth and pollution of that crime, for then every man that knows an act of murder committed by another, would, by that bare knowledge, be tainted with his sin; yea, and a judge that condemns a malefactor, may as well condemn himself if this were so: the knowledge of sins infects not the understandings that knows them, but only the will that approves them. It is no discredit to us to know evil, in order to pass a right judgment upon it; so neither can it be to God.

Fourthly, God knows all future things, all things to come. The differences of time cannot hinder a knowledge of all things by him, who is before time, above time, that is not measured by hours, or days, or years; if God did not know them, the hindrance must be in himself, or in the things themselves, because they are things to come: not in himself; if it did, it must arise from some impotency in his own nature, and so we render him weak; or from an unwillingness to know, and so we render him lazy, and an enemy to his own perfection; for, simply considered, the knowledge of more things is a greater perfection than the knowledge of a few; and if the knowledge of a thing includes something of perfection, the ignorance of a thing includes something of imperfection. The knowledge of future things is a greater perfection than not to know them, and is accounted among men a great part of wisdom, which they call foresight; it is then surely a greater perfection in God to know future things, than to be ignorant of them. And would God rather have something of imperfection than be possessor of all perfection? Nor doth the hindrance lie in the things themselves, because their futurition depends upon his will; for as nothing can actually be without his will, giving it existence, so nothing can be future without his will, designing the futurity of it. Certainly if God knows all things possible, which he will not do, he must know all things future, which he is not only able, but resolved to do, or resolved to permit. God’s perfect knowledge of himself, that is, of his own infinite power and concluding will, necessarily includes a foreknowledge of what he is able to do, and what he will do. Again, if God doth not know future things, there was a time when God was ignorant of most things in the world; for before the deluge he was more ignorant than after; the more things were done in the world, the more knowledge did accrue to God, and so the more perfection; then the understanding of God was not perfect from eternity, but in time; nay, is not perfect yet, if he be ignorant of those things which are still to come to pass; he must tarry for a perfection he wants, till those futurities come to be in act, till those things which are to come, cease to be future, and begin to be present. Either God knows them, or desires to know them; if he desires to know them and doth not, there is something wanting to him; all desire speaks an absence of the object desired, and a sentiment of want in the person desiring: if he doth not desire to know them, nay, if he doth not actually know them, it destroys all providence, all his government of affairs; for his providence hath a concatenation of means with a prospect of something that is future: as in Joseph’s case, who was put into the pit, and sold to the Egyptians in order to his future advancement, and the preservation both of his father and his envious brethren. If God did not know all the future inclinations and actions of men, something might have been done by the will of Potiphar, or by the free-will of Pharoah, whereby Joseph might have been cut short of his advancement, and so God have been interrupted in the track and method of his designed providences. He that hath decreed to govern man for that end he hath designed him, knows all the means before, whereby he will govern him, and therefore hath a distinct and certain knowledge of all things; for a confused knowledge is an imperfection in government; it is in this the infiniteness of his understanding is more seen than in knowing things past or present; his eyes are a flame of fire (Rev. 1:14), in regard of the penetrating virtue of them into things impenetrable by any else. To make it further appear that God knows all things future, consider,

1.      Everything which is the object of God’s knowledge without himself was once only future. There was a moment when nothing was in being but himself: he knew nothing actually past, because nothing was past; nothing actually present, because nothing had any existence but himself; therefore only what was future. And why not everything that is future now, as well as only what was future and to come to pass just at the beginning of the creation? God indeed knows everything as present, but the things themselves known by him were not present, but future; the whole creation was once future, or else it was from eternity; if it begun in time, it was once future in itself, else it could never have begun to be. Did not God know what would be created by him, before it was created by him? Did he create he knew not what, and knew not before, what he should create? Was he ignorant before he acted, and in his acting, what his operation would tend to? or did he not know the nature of things, and the ends of them, till he had produced them and saw them in being? Creatures, then, did not arise from his knowledge, but his knowledge from them; he did not then will that his creatures should be, for he had then willed what he knew not, and knew not what he willed; they, therefore, must be known before they were made, and not known because they were made; he knew them to make them, and he did not make them to know them; By the same reason that he knew what creatures should be before they were, he knows still what creatures shall be before they are; for all things that are, were in God, not really in their own nature, but in him as a cause; so the earth and heavens were in him, as a model is in the mind of a workman, which is in his mind and soul, before it be brought forth into outward act.

2.      The predictions of future things evidence this. There is not a prophecy of any thing to come, but is a spark of his foreknowledge, and bears witness to the truth of this assertion, in the punctual accomplishment of it; this is a thing challenged by God as his own peculiar, wherein he surmounts all the idols that man’s inventions have godded in the world (Isa. 41:21, 22): Let them bring them forth (speaking of the idols) and show us what shall happen, or declare us things to come: show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods. Such a fore-knowledge of things to come, is here ascribed to God by God himself, as a distinction of him from all false gods; such a knowledge, that if any could prove that they were possessors of, he would acknowledge them gods as well as himself: “that we may know that you are gods.” He puts his Deity to stand or fall apon this account, and this should be the point which should decide the controversy, whether he or the heathen idols were the true God; the dispute is managed by this medium,—He that knows things to come, is God; I know things to come, ergo, I am God; the idols know not things to come, therefore they are not gods; God submits the being of his Deity to this trial. If God know things to come no more than the heathen idols, which were either devils or men, he would be, in his own account, no more a God than devils or men, no more a God than the pagan idols he doth scoff at for this defect. If the heathen idols were to be stripped of their deity for want of this foreknowledge of things to come, would not the true God also fall from the same excellency if he were. defective in knowledge? He would, in his own judgment, no more deserve the title and character of a God than they. How could he reproach them for that, if it were wanting in himself? It cannot be understood of future things in their causes, when the effects necessarily arise from such causes, as light from the sun, and heat from the fire many of these men know; more of them angels and devils know if God, therefore, had not a higher and farther knowledge than this, he would not by this be proved to be God any more than angels and devils, who know necessary effects in their causes. The devils, indeed, did predict some things in the heathen oracles; but God is differenced from them here by the infiniteness of his knowledge, in being able to predict things to come that they knew not, or things in their particularities, things that depended on the liberty of man’s will, which the devils could lay no claim to a certain knowledge of.

Were it only a conjectural knowledge that is here meant, the devils might answer, they can conjecture, and so their deity was as good as God’s; for, though God might know more things, and conjecture nearer to what would be, yet still it would be but conjectural, and therefore not a higher kind of knowledge than what the devils might challenge. How much, then, is God beholden to the Socinians for denying the knowledge of all future things to him, upon which here he puts the trial of his Deity? God asserts his knowledge of things to come, as a manifest evidence of his Godhead; those that deny, therefore, the argument that proves it, deny the conclusion too; for this will necessarily follow, that if he be God, because he knows future things then he that doth not know future things is not God; and if God knows not future things but only by conjecture, then there is no God, because a certain knowledge, so as infallibly to predict things to come, is an inseparable perfection of the Deity: it was, therefore, well said of Austin, that it was as high a madness to deny God to be, as to deny him the foreknowledge of things to come. The whole prophetic part of Scripture declares this perfection of God; every prophet’s candle was lighted at this torch; they could not have this foreknowledge of themselves; why might not many other men have the same insight, if it were nature? It must be from some superior Agent; and all nations owned prophecy as a beam from God, a fruit of Divine illumination. Prophecy must be totally expunged if this be denied; for the subjects of prophecy are things future, and no man is properly a prophet but in prediction. Now prediction is nothing but foretelling, and things foretold are not yet come, and the foretelling of them supposeth them not to be yet, but that they shall be in time; several such predictions we have in Scripture, the event whereof hath been certain. The years of famine in Egypt foretold that he would order second causes for bringing that judgment upon them; the captivity of his people in Babylon, the calling of the Gentiles, the rejection of the Jews. Daniel’s revelation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; that prince refers to God as the revealer of secrets (Dan. 2:47). By the same reason that he knows one thing future by himself, and by the infiniteness of his knowledge before any causes of them appear, he doth know all things future.

3.      Some future things are known by men; and we must allow God a greater knowledge than any creature. Future things in their causes may be known by angels and men, (as I said before); whosoever knows necessary causes, and the efficacy of them, may foretell the effects; and when he sees the meeting and concurrence of several causes together, he may presage what the consequent effect will be of such a concurrence: so physicians foretel the progress of a disease, the increase or diminution of it by natural signs; and astronomers foretel eclipses by their observation of the motion of heavenly bodies, many years before they happen; can they be hid from God, with whom are the reasons of all things? An expert gardener, by knowing the root in the depth of winter, can tell what flowers and what fruit it will bear, and the month when they will peep out their heads; and shall not God much more, that knows the principles of all his creatures, and is exactly privy to all their natures and qualities, know what they will be, and what operations shall be from those principles? Now, if God did know things only in their causes, his knowedge would not be more excellent than the knowledge of angels and men, though he might know more than they of the things that will come to pass, from every cause singly, and from the concurrence of many. Now, as God is more excellent in being than his creature, so he is more excellent in the objects of his knowledge, and the manner of his knowledge; well, then, shall a certain knowledge of something future, and a conjectural knowledge of many things, be found among men? and shall a determinate and infallible knowledge of things to come be found nowhere, in no being? If the conjecture of future things savours of ignorance, and God knows them only by conjecture, there is, then, no such thing in being as a perfect intelligent Being, and so no God.

4.      God knows his own decree and will, and therefore must needs know all future things. If anything be future, or to come to pass, it must be from itself or from God: not from itself, then it would be independent and absolute: if it hath its futurity from God, then God must know what he hath decreed to come to pass; those things that are future, in necessary causes, God must know, because he willed them to be causes of such effects; he, therefore, knows them, because he knows what he willed. The knowledge of God cannot arise from the things themselves, for then the knowledge of God would have a cause without him; and knowledge, which is an eminent perfection, would be conferred upon him by his creatures. But as God sees things possible in the glass of his own power, so he sees things future in the glass of his own will; in his effecting will, if he hath decreed to produce them; in his permitting will, as he hath decreed to suffer them and dispose of them; nothing can pass out of the rank of things merely possible into the order of things future, before some act of God’s will hath passed for its futurition. It is not from the infiniteness of his own nature, simply considered, that God knows things to be future; for as things are not future because God is infinite (for then all possible things should be future), so neither is any thing known to be future only because God is infinite, but because God hath decreed it; his declaration of things to come, is founded upon his appointment of things to come. In Isaiah 44:7, it is said, “And who, as I, shall call and declare it, since I appointed the ancient people, and the things that are coming?” Nothing is created or ordered in the world but what God decreed to be created and ordered. God knows his own decree, and therefore all things which he hath decreed to exist in time; not the minutest part of the world could have existed without his will, not an action can be done without his will; as life, the principle, so motion, the fruit of that life, is by and from God; as he decreed life to this or that thing, so he decreed motion as the effect of life, and decreed to exert his power in concurring with them, for producing effects natural from such causes; for without such a concourse they could not have acted anything, or produced anything; and therefore as for natural things, which we call necessary causes, God foreseeing them all particularly in his own decree, foresaw also all effects which must necessarily flow from them, because such causes cannot but act when they are furnished with all things necessary for action: he knows his own decrees, and therefore necessarily knows what he hath decreed, or else we must say things come to pass whether God will or no, or that he wills he knows not what; but this cannot be, for “known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). Now this necessarily, flows from that principle first laid down, that God knows himself, since nothing is future without God’s will; if God did not know future things, he would not know his own will; for as things possible could not be known by him, unless he knew the fulness of his own power, so things future could not be known by his understanding, unless he knew the resolves of his own will. Thus the knowledge of God differs from the knowledge of men; God’s knowledge of his works precedes his works; man’s knowledge of God’s works follows his works, just as an artificer’s knowledge of a watch, instrument, or engine, which he would make, is before his making of it; he knows the motion of it, and the reason of those motions before it is made, because he knows what he hath determined to work; he knows not those motions from the consideration of them after they were made, as the spectator doth, who, by viewing the instrument after it is made, gains a knowledge from the sight and the consideration of it, till he understands the reason of the whole; so we know things from the consideration of them after we see them in being, and therefore we know not future things: but God’s knowledge doth not arise from things because they are, but because he wills them to be; and therefore he knows everything that shall be, because it cannot be without his will, as the Creator and maintainer of all things; knowing his own substance,. he knows all his works.

5.      If God did not know all future things, he would be mutable in his knowledge. If he did not know all things that ever were or are to be, there would be upon the appearance of every new object, an addition of light to his understanding, and therefore such a change in him as every new knowledge causes in the mind of a man, or as the sun works in the world upon its rising every morning, scattering the darkness that was upon the face of the earth; if he did not know them before they came, he would gain a knowledge by them when they came to pass, which he had not before they were effected; his knowledge would be new according to the newness of the objects, and multiplied according to the multitude of the objects. If God did know things to come as perfectly as he knew things present and past, but knew those certainly, and the others doubtfully and conjecturally, he would suffer some change, and acquire some perfection in his knowledge, when those future things should cease to be future, and become present; for he would know it more perfectly when it were present, than he did when it was future, and so there would be a change from imperfection to a perfection; but God is every way immutable. Besides, that perfection would not arise from the nature of God, but from the existence and presence of the thing; but who will affirm that God acquires any perfection of knowledge from his creatures, any more than he doth of being? he would not then have that knowledge, and consequently that perfection from eternity, as he had when he created the world, and will not have a full perfection of the knowledge of his creature till the end of the world, nor of immortal souls, which will certainly act as well as live to eternity; and so God never was, nor ever will be, perfect in knowledge; for when you have conceived millions of years, wherein angels and souls live and act, there is still more coming than you can conceive, wherein they will act. And if God be always changing to eternity, from ignorance to knowledge, as those acts come to be exerted by his creatures, he will not be perfect in knowledge, no, not to eternity, but will always be changing from one degree of knowledge to another; a very unworthy conceit to entertain of the most blessed, perfect, and infinite God! Hence, then, it follows, that:

(1.) God foreknows all his creatures. All kinds which he determined to make; all particulars that should spring out of every species; the time when they should come forth of the womb; the manner how; “In thy Book all my members were written” (Psalm 139:16). Members is not in the Heb. whence some refer all, to all living creatures whatsoever, and all the parts of them which God did foresee; he knew the number of creatures with all their parts; they were written in the book of his foreknowledge; the duration of them, how long they shall remain in being, and act upon the stage; he knows their strength, the links of one cause with another, and what will follow in all their circumstances, and the series and combinations of effects with their causes. The duration of everything is foreknown, because determined (Job 14:5); “seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee; thou hast appointed his bounds, that he cannot pass;” bounds are fixed, beyond which none shall reach; he speaks of days and months, not of years, to give us notice of God’s particular foreknowledge of everything, of every day, month, year, hour of a man’s life.

(2.) All the acts of his creatures are foreknown by him. All natural acts, because he knows their causes; voluntary acts I shall speak of afterwards.

(3.) This foreknowledge was certain. For it is an unworthy notion of God to ascribe to him a conjectural knowledge; if there were only a conjectural knowledge, he could but conjecturally foretel anything; and then it is possible the events of things might be contrary to his predictions. It would appear then that God were deceived and mistaken, and then there could be no rule of trying things, whether there were from God or no; for the rule God sets down to discern his words from the words of false prophets, is the event and certain accomplishment of what is predicted (Deut. 18:21) to that question, “How shall we know whether God hath spoken or no?” he answers, that “if the thing doth not come to pass, the Lord hath not spoken.” If his knowledge of future things were not certain, there were no stability in this rule, it would fall to the ground: we never yet find God deceived in any prediction, but the event did answer his forerevelation; his foreknowledge, therefore, is certain and infallible. We cannot make God uncertain in his knowledge, but we must conceive him fluctuating and wavering in his will; but if his will be not yea and nay, but yea, his knowledge is certain, because he doth certainly will and resolve. And consequently not from eternity blessed and perfect. His knowledge of possible things must run parallel with his power, and his knowledge of future things run parallel with his will. If he willed from eternity, he knew from eternity what he willed; but that he did will from eternity, we must grant, unless we would render him changeable, and conceive him to be made in time of not willing, willing. The knowledge God hath in time, was always one and the same, because his understanding is his proper essence, and of an immutable nature. And indeed the actual existence of a thing is not simply necessary to its being perfectly known; we may see a thing that is past out of being, when it doth actually exist; and a carpenter may know the house he is to build, before it be built, by the model of it in his own mind; much more we may conceive the same of God whose decrees were before the foundation of the world; and to be before time was, and to be from eternity, hath no difference. As God in his being exceeds all beginning of time, so doth his knowledge all motions of time.

(5.) God foreknows all things as present with him from eternity. As he knows mutable things with an immutable and firm knowledge, so he knows future things with a present knowledge; not that the things which are produced in time, were actually and really present with him in their own beings from eternity; for then they could not be produced in time; had they a real existence, then they would not be creatures, but God; and had they actual being, then they could not be future, for future speaks a thing to come that is not yet. If things had been actually present with him, and yet future, they had been made before they were made, and had a being before they had a being; but they were all present to his knowledge as if they were in actual being, because the reason of all things that were to be made, was present with him. The reason of the will of God that they shall be, was aqually eternal with him, wherein he saw what, and when, and how he would create things, how he would govern them, to what ends he would direct them. Thus all things are present to God’s knowledge, though in their own nature they may be past or future, not in esse reali, but in esse intelligibili, objectively, not actually present for as the unchangeableness and infiniteness of God’s knowledge of changeable and finite things, doth not make the things he knows immutable and infinite, so neither doth the eternity of his knowledge make them actually present with him from eternity; but all things are present to his understanding, because he hath at once a view of all successions of times; and his knowledge of future things is as perfect as of present things, or what is past; it is not a certain knowledge of present things, and an uncertain knowledge of future, but his knowledge of one is as certain and unerring as his knowledge of the other; as a man that beholds a circle with several lines from the centre, beholds the lines as they are joined in the centre, beholds them also as they are distant and severed from one another, beholds them in their extent and in their point all at once, though they may have a great distance from one another. He saw from the beginning of time to the last minute of it, all things coming out of their causes, marching in their order according to his own appointment; as a man may see a multitude of ants, some creeping one way, some another, employed in several businesses for their winter provision. The eye of God at once runs through the whole circle of time; as the eye of man upon a tower sees all the passengers at once, though some be past, some under the tower, some coming at a farther distance. “God,” saith Job, “looks to the end of the earth, and sees under the whole heaven” (Job 28:24); the knowledge of God is expressed by sight in Scripture, and futurity to God is the same thing as distance to us; we can with a perspective-glass make things that are afar off appear as if they were near; and the sun, so many thousand miles distant from us, to appear as if it were at the end of the glass: why, then, should future things be at so great a distance from God’s knowledge, when things so far from us may be made to approach so near to us? God considers all things in his own simple knowledge, as if they were now acted; and therefore some have chosen to call the knowledge of things to come, not prescience, or foreknowledge, but knowledge; because God sees all things in one instant, scientià nunquam deficientis instantiæ. Upon this account, things that are to come, are set down in Scripture as present, and sometimes as past (Isa. 9:6): “Unto us a child is born,” though not yet born; so of the sufferings of Christ (Isa. 53:4, &c.): “He hath borne our griefs, he was wounded for our transgressions, he was taken from prison,” &c., not shall be; and (Psalm 22:18): “they part my garments among them,” as if it were present; all to express the certainty of God’s foreknowledge, as if things were actually present before him.

(6.) This is proper to God, and incommunicable to any creature. Nothing but what is eternal can know all things that are to come. Suppose a creature might know things that are to come, after he is in being, he cannot know things simply as future, because there were things future before he was in being. The devils know not men’s heart, therefore cannot foretel their actions with any certainty; they may indeed have a knowledge of some things to come, but it is only conjectural, and often mistaken; as the devil was in his predictions among the heathen, and in his presage of “Job’s cursing God to his face” upon his pressing calamities (Job 1:11). Sometimes, indeed, they have a certain knowledge of something future by the revelation of God, when he uses them as instruments of his vengeance, or for the trial of his people, as in the case of Job, when he gave him a commission to strip him of his goods; or, as the angels have, when he uses them as instruments of the deliverance of his people.

(7.) Though this be certain, that God foreknows all things and actions, yet the manner of his knowing all things before they come, is not so easily resolved. We must not, therefore, deny this perfection in God, because we understand not the manner how he hath the knowledge of all things. It were unworthy for us to own no more of God than we can perfectly conceive of him; we should then own no more of him than that he doth exist. “Canst thou,” saith Job, “by searching, find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” (Job 11:7). Do we not see things unknown to inferior creatures, to be known to ourselves? Irrational creatures do not apprehend the nature of a man, nor what we conceived of them when we look upon them; nor do we know what they fancy of us when they look wistly upon us; for ought as I know, we understand as little the manner of their imaginations, as they do of ours; and shall we ascribe a darkness in God as to future things, because we are ignorant of them, and of the manner how he should know them? shall we doubt whether God doth certainly know those things which we only conjecture? As our power is not the measure of the power of God, so neither is our knowledge the judge of the knowledge of God, no better nor so well as an irrational nature can be the judge of our reason. Do we perfectly know the manner how we know? shall we therefore deny that we know anything? We know we have such a faculty which we call understanding, but doth any man certainly know what it is? and became he doth not, shall he deny that which is plain and evident to him? Because we cannot ascertain ourselves of the causes of the ebbing and flowing of the sea, of the manner how minerals are engendered in the earth, shall we therefore deny that which our eyes convince us of? And this will be a preparation to the last thing.

Fifthly, God knows all future contingencies, that is, God knows all things that shall accidentally happen, or, as we say, by chance; and he knows all the free motions of men’s wills that shall be to the end of the world. If all things be open to him (Heb. 4:13), then all contingencies are, for they are in the number of things; and as, according to Christ’s speech, those things that are impossible to man, are possible to God, so those things which are unknown to man, are known to God; because of the infinite fulness and perfection of the divine understanding. Let us see what a contingent is. That is contingent which we commonly call accidental, as when a tile falls suddenly upon a man’s head as he is walking in the street; or when one letting off a musket at random shoots another he did not intend to hit; such was that arrow whereby Ahab was killed, shot by a soldier at a venture (1 Kings 22:39); this some call a mixed contingent, made up partly of necessity, and partly of accident; it is necessary the bullet, when sent out of the gun, or arrow out of the bow, should fly and light somewhere; but it is an accident that it hits this or that man, that was never intended by the archer. Other things, as voluntary actions, are purely contingents, and have nothing of necessity in them; all free actions that depend upon the will of man, whether to do, or not to do, are of this nature, because they depend not upon a necessary cause, as burning doth upon the fire, moistening upon water, or as descent or falling down is necessary to a heavy body; for those cannot in their own nature do otherwise; but the other actions depend upon a free agent, able to turn to this or that point, and determine himself as he pleases. Now we must know, that what is accidental in regard of the creature, is not so in regard of God; the manner of Ahab’s death was accidental, in regard of the hand by which he was slain, but not in regard of God who foretold his death, and foreknew the shot, and directed the arrow; God was not uncertain before of the manner of his fall, nor hovered over the battle to watch for an opportunity to accomplish his own prediction; what may be or not be, in regard of us, is certain in regard of God; to imagine that what is accidental to us, is so to God, is to measure God by our short line. How many events following upon the results of princes in their counsels, seem to persons, ignorant of those counsels, to be a haphazard, yet were not contingencies to the prince and his assistants, but foreseen by him as certainly to issue so as they do, which they knew before would be the fruit of such causes and instruments they would knit together! That may be necessary in regard of God’s foreknowledge, which is merely accidental in regard of the natural disposition of the immediate causes which do actually produce it; contingent in its own nature, and in regard of us, but fixed in the knowledge of God. One illustrates it by this similitude; a master sends two servants to one and the same place, two several ways, unknown to one another; they meet at the place which their master had appointed them; their meeting is accidental to them, one knows not of the other, but it was foreseen by the master that they should so meet; and that in regard of them it would seem a mere accident, till they came to explain the business to one another; both the necessity of their meeting, in regard of their master’s order, and the accidentalness of it in regard of themselves, were in both their circumstances foreknown by the master that employed them. For the clearing of this, take it in this method.

1.      It is an unworthy conceit of God in any to exclude him from the knowledge of these things.

(1.) It will be a strange contracting of him to allow him no greater a knowledge than we have ourselves. Contingencies are known to us when they come into act, and pass from futurit to reality; and when they are present to us, we can order our airs accordingly; shall we allow God no greater a measure of knowledge than we have, and make him as blind as ourselves, not to see things of that nature before they come to pass? Shall God know them no more? Shall we imagine God knows no otherwise than we know? and that he doth, like us, stand gazing with admiration at events? man can conjecture many things; is it fit to ascribe the same uncertainty to God, as though he, as well as we, could have no assurance till the issue appear in the view of all? If God doth not certainly foreknow them, he doth but conjecture them; but a conjectural knowledge is by no means to be fastened on God; for that is not knowledge, but guess, and destroys a Deity by making him subject to mistake; for he that only guesseth, may guess wrong; so that this is to make God like ourselves, and strip him of an universally acknowledged perfection of omniscience. A conjectural knowledge, saith one, is as unworthy of God as the creature is unworthy of omniscience. It is certain man hath a liberty to act many things this or that way as he pleases; to walk to this or that quarter, to speak or not to speak; to do this or that thing, or not to do it; which way a man will certainly determine himself, is unknown before to any creature, yea, often at the present to himself, for he may be in suspense; but shall we imagine this future determination of himself is concealed from God?

Those that deny God’s foreknowledge in such cases, must either say, that God hath an opinion that a man will resolve rather this way than that; but then if a man by his liberty determine himself contrary to the opinion of God, is not God then deceived? and what rational creature can own him for a God that can be deceived in anything? or else they must say that God is at uncertainty, and sustends his opinion without determining it any way; then he cannot now free acts till they are done; he would then depend upon the creature for his information; his knowledge would be every instant increased, as things, he knew not before, came into act; and since there are every minute an innumerable multitude of various imaginations in the minds of men, there would be every minute an accession of new knowledge to God which he had not before; besides, this knowledge would be mutable according to the wavering and weathercock resolutions of men, one while standing to this point, another while to that, if he depended upon the creature’s determination for his knowledge.

(2.) If the free acts of men were unknown before to God, no man can see how there can be any government of the world by him. Such contingencies may happen, and such resolves of men’s free-wills unknown to God, as may perplex his affairs, and put him upon new counsels and methods for attaining those ends which he settled at the first creation of things; if things happen which God knows not of before, this must be the consequence; where there is no foresight, there is no providence; things may happen so sudden, if God be ignorant of them, that they may give a check to his intentions and scheme of government, and put him upon changing the whole model of it. How often doth a small intervening circumstance, unforeseen by man, dash in pieces a long meditated and well-formed design! To govern necessary causes, as sun and stars, whose effects are natural and constant in themselves, is easy to be imagined; but how to govern the world that consists of so many men of free-will, able to determine themselves to this or that, and which have no constancy in themselves, as the sun and stars have, cannot be imagined; unless we will allow in God as great a certainty of foreknowledge of the designs and actions of men, as there is inconstancy in their resolves. God must be altering the methods of his government every day, every hour, every minute, according to the determinations of men, which are so various and changeable in the whole compass of the world in the space of one minute; he must wait to see what the counsels of men will be, before he could settle his own methods of government; and so must govern the world according to their mutability, and not according to any certainty in himself. But his counsel is stable in the midst of multitudes of free devices in the heart of man (Prov. 19:21), and knowing them all before, orders them to be subservient to his own stable counsel. If he cannot know what to-morrow will bring forth in the mind of a man, how can he certainly settle his own determination of governing him? His decrees and resolves must be temporal, and arise pro re nata, and he must alway be in counsel what he should do upon every change of men’s minds. This is an unworthy conceit of the infinite majesty of heaven, to make his government depend upon the resolves of men, rather than their resolves upon the design of God.

2.      It is therefore certain, that God doth foreknow the free and voluntary acts of man. How could he else order his people to ask of him things to come, in order to their deliverance, such things as depended upon the will of man, if he foreknew not the motions of their will (Isa. 45:11)?

(1.) Actions good or indifferent depending upon the liberty of man’s will as much as any whatsoever. Several of these he hath foretold; not only a person to build up Jerusalem was predicted by him, but the name of that person, Cyrus (Isa. 44:28). What is more contingent, or is more the effect of the liberty of man’s will, than the names of their children? Was not the destruction of the Babylonish empire foretold, which Cyrus undertook, not by any compulsion, but by a free inclination and resolve of his own will?

And was not the dismission of the Jews into their own country a voluntary act in that conqueror? If you consider the liberty of man’s will, might not Cyrus as well have continued their yoke, as have struck off their chains, and kept them captive, as well as dismissed them? Had it not been for his own interest, rather to have strengthened the fetters of so turbulent a people, who being tenacious of their religion and laws different from that professed by the whole world, were like to make disturbances more when they were linked in a body in their own country, than when they were transplanted and scattered into the several parts of his empire? It was in the power of Cyrus (take him as a man) to choose one or the other; his interest invited him to continue their captivity, rather than grant their deliverance; yet God knew that he would willingly do this rather than the other; he knew this which depended upon the will of Cyrus; and why may not an infinite God foreknow the free acts of all men, as well as of one? If the liberty of Cyrus’ will was no hindrance to God’s certain and infallible foreknowledge of it, how can the contingency of any other thing be a hindrance to him? for there is the same reason of one and all; and his government extends to every village, every family, every person, as well as to kingdoms and nations. So God foretold, by his prophet, not only the destruction of Jeroboam’s altar, but the name of the person that should be the instrument of it (1 Kings 13:2), and this about 300 years before Josiah’s birth. It is a wonder that none of the pious kings of Judah, in detestation of idolatry, and hopes to recover again the kingdom of Israel, had in all that space named one of their sons by that name of Josiah, in hopes that that prophecy should be accomplished by him; that Manasseh only should do this, who was the greatest imitator of Jeroboam’s idolatry among all the Jewish kings, and indeed went beyond them; and had no mind to destroy in another kingdom what he propagated in his own. What is freer than the imposition of a name? yet this he foreknew, and this Josiah was Manasseh’s son (2 Kings 21:26). Was there anything more voluntary than for Pharaoh to honor the butler by restoring him to his place, and punish the baker by hanging him on a gibbet? yet this was foretold (Gen. 40:8). And were not all the voluntary acts of men, which were the means of Joseph’s advancement, foreknown by God, as well as his exaltation, which was the end he aimed at by those means? Many of these may be reckoned up. Can all the free acts of man surmount the infinite capacity of the Divine understanding? If God singles out one voluntary action in man as contingent as any, and lying among a vast number of other designs and resolutions, both antecedent and subsequent, why should he not know the whole mass of men’s thoughts and actions, and pierce into all that the liberty of man’s will can effect? why should he not know every grain, as well as one that lies in the midst of many of the same kind? And since the Scripture gives so large an account of contingents, predicted by God, no man can certainly prove that anything is unforeknown to him. It is as reasonable to think he knows every contingent, as that he knows some that he as much hid from the eye of any creature, since there is no more difficulty to an infinite understanding to know all, than to know some. Indeed, if we deny God’s foreknowledge of the voluntary actions of men, we must strike ourselves off from the belief of scripture predictions that yet remain unaccomplished, and will be brought about by the voluntary engagements of men, as the ruin of antichrist, &c. If God foreknows not the secret motions of man’s will, how can he foretel them? if we strip him of this perfection of prescience, why should we believe a word of scripture predictions? all the credit of the word of God is torn up by the roots. If God were uncertain of such events, how can we reconcile God’s declaration of them to his truth; and his demanding our belief of them to his goodness? Were it good and righteous in God to urge us to the belief of that he were uncertain of himself, how could he be true in predicting things he were not sure of? or good, in requiring credit to be given to that which might be false? This would necessarily follow, if God did not foreknow the motions of men’s wills, whereby many of his predictions were fulfilled, and some remain yet to be accomplished.

(2.) God foreknows the voluntary sinful motions of men’s wills. First, God had foretold several of them. Were not all the minute sinful circumstances about the death of our blessed Redeemer, as the piercing him, giving him gall to drink, foretold, as well as the not breaking his bones, and parting his garments? What were those but the free actions of men, which they did willingly without any constraint? and those foretold by David, Isaiah, and other prophets; some above a thousand, some eight hundred, and some more, some fewer years before they came to pass; and the events punctually answered the prophesies. Many sinful acts of men, which depended upon their free will, have been foretold. The Egyptians’ voluntary oppressing Israel (Gen. 15:13); Pharaoh’s hardening his heart against the voice of Moses (Exod. 3:19); that Isaiah’s message would be in vain to the people (Isa. 6:9); that the Israelites would be rebellious after Moses’ death, and turn idolaters (Deut. 31:16); Judas’ betraying of our Saviour, a voluntary action (John 6. ult.); he was not force to do what he did, for he had some kind of repentance for it; and not violence, but voluntariness falls under repentance. Second, His truth had depended upon this foresight. Let us consider that in Gen. 15:16, “But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again;” that is, the posterity of Abraham shall come into Canaan, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. God makes a promise to Abraham, of giving his posterity the land of Canaan, not presently, but in the fourth generation; if the truth of God be infallible in the performance of his promise, his understanding is as infallible in the foresight of the Amorites’ sin; the fullness of their iniquity was to precede the Israelites’ possession. Did the truth of God depend upon an uncertainty? did he make the promise hand over head (as we say)? How could he, with any wisdom and truth, assure Israel of the possession of the land in the fourth generation, if he had not been sure that the Amorites would fill up the measure of their iniquities by that time? If Abraham had been a Socinian, to deny God’s knowledge of the free acts of men, had he not a fine excuse for unbelief? What would his reply have been to God? Alas, Lord, this is not a promise to be relied upon, the Amorites’ iniquity depends upon the acts of their free will, and such thou canst have no knowledge of; thou canst see no more than a likelihood of their iniquity being full, and therefore there is but a likelihood of thy performing thy promise, and not a certainty!

Would not this be judged not only, a saucy, but a blasphemous answer? And apon these principles the truth of the most faithful God had been dashed to uncertainty and a peradventure. Third, God provided a remedy for man’s sin, and therefore foresaw the entrance of it into the world by the fall of Adam. He had a decree before the foundation of the world, to manifest his wisdom in the gospel by Jesus Christ, an “eternal purpose in Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:11), and a decree of election past before the foundation of the world;—a separation of some to redemption, and forgiveness of sin in the blood of Christ, in whom they were from eternity chosen, as well as in time accepted in Christ (Eph. 1:4, 6, 7), which is called a “purpose in himself” (ver. 9); had not sin entered, there had been no occasion for the eath of the Son of God, it being everywhere in Scripture laid upon that score;—a decree for the shedding of blood, supposed a decree for the permission of sin, and a certain foreknowledge of God, that it would be committed by man. An uncertainty of foreknowledge, and a fixedness of purpose, are not consistent in a wise man, much less in the only wise God. God’s purpose to manifest his wisdom to men and angels in this way might have been defeated, had God had only a conjectural foreknowledge of the fall of man; and all those solemn purposes of displaying his perfections in those methods had been to no purpose; the provision of a remedy supposed a certainty of the disease. If a sparrow fall not to the ground without the will of God, how much less could such a deplorable ruin fall upon mankind, without God’s will permitting it, and his knowledge foreseeing it? It is not hard to conceive how God might foreknow it? he indeed decreed to create man in an excellent state; the goodness of God could not but furnish him with a power to stand; yet in his wisdom he might foresee that the devil would be envious to man’s happiness, and would, out of envy, attempt his subversion. As God knew of what temper the faculties were he had endued man with, and how far they were able to endure the assaults of a temptation, so he also foreknew the grand subtelties of Satan, how he would lay his mine, and to what point he would drive his temptation; how he would propose and manage it, and direct his battery against the sensitive appetite, and assault the weakest part of the fort; might he not foresee that the efficacy of the temptation would exceed the measure of the resistance; cannot God know how far the malice of Satan would extend, what shots he would, according to his nature, use, how high he would charge his temptation without his powerful restraint, as well as an engineer judge how many shots of a cannon will make a breach in a town, and how many casks of powder will blow up a fortress, who never yet built the one, nor founded the other? We may easily conclude God could not be deceived in the judgment of the issue and event, since he knew how far he would let Satan loose, how far he would permit man to act; and since he dives to the bottom of the nature of all things, he foresaw that Adam was endued with an ability to stand; as he foresaw that Benhadad might naturally recover of his disease; but he foresaw also that Adam would sink under the allurements of the temptation, as he foresaw that Hamel would let Benhadad live (2 Kings 8:10). Now since the whole race of mankind lies in corruption, and is subject to the power of the devil (1 John 3:18), may not God, that knows that corruption in every man’s nature, and the force of every man’s spirit, and what every particular nature will incline him to upon such objects proposed to him, and what the reasons of the temptation will be, know also the issues? is there any difficulty in God’s foreknowing this, since man knowing the nature of one he is well acquainted with, can conclude what sentiments he will have, and how he will behave himself upon presenting this or that object to him? If a man that understands the disposition of his child or servant, knows before what he will do upon such an occasion, may not God much more, who knows the inclinations of all his creatures, and from eternity run with his eyes over all the works he intended? Our wills are in the number of causes; and since God knows our wills, as causes, better than we do ourselves, why should he be ignorant of the effects? God determines to give grace to such a man, not to give it to another, but leave him to himself, and suffer such temptations to assault him; now God knowing the corruption of man in the whole mass, and in every part of it, is it not easy for him to foreknow what the future actions of the will will be, when the tinder and fire meet together, and how such a man will determine himself, both us to the substance and manner of the action? Is it not easy for him to know how a corrupted temper and a temptation will suit? God is exactly privy to all the gall in the hearts of men, and what principles they will have, before they have a being. He “knows their thoughts afar off” (Psalm 139:2), as far off as eternity, as some explain the words, and thoughts are as voluntary as anything; he knows the power and inclinations of men in the order of second causes; he understands the corruption of men, as well as “the poison of dragons, and the venom of asps;” this is “laid up in store with him, and sealed among his treasures” (Deut. 32:33, 34): among the treasures of his foreknowledge, say some. What was the cruelty of Hazael, but a free act? yet God knew the frame of his heart, and what acts of murder and oppression would spring from that bitter fountain, before Hazael had conceived them in himself (2 Kings 8:12), as a man that knows the minerals through which the waters pass, may know what relish they will have before they appear above the earth, so our Saviour knew how Peter would deny him; he knew what quantity of powder would serve for such a battery, in what measure he would let loose Satan, how far he would leave the reins in Peter’s hands, and then the issue might easily be known; and so in every act of man, God knows in his own will what measure of grace he will give, to determine the will to good, and what measure of grace he will withdraw from such a person, or not give to him; and, consequently, how far such a person will fall or not. God knows the inclinations of the creature; he knows his own permissions, what degrees of grace he will either allow him, or keep from him, according to which will be the degree of his sin. This may in some measure help our conceptions in this, though, as was said before, the manner of God’s foreknowledge is not so easily explicable.

(3.) God’s foreknowledge of man’s voluntary actions doth not necessitate the will of man. The foreknowledge of God is not deceived, nor the liberty of man’s will diminished. I shall not trouble you with any school distinctions, but be as plain as I can, laying down several propositions in this case.

Prop. I. It is certain all necessity doth not take away liberty, indeed a compulsive necessity takes away liberty, but a necessity of immutability removes not liberty from God; why should, then, a necessily of infallibility in God remove liberty from the creature? God did necessarily create the world, because he decreed it; yet freely, because his will from eternity stood to it, he freely decree it and freely created it, as the apostle saith in regard of God’s decrees, “Who hath been his counsellor” (Rom. 11:34)? so in regard of his actions I may say, Who hath been his compeller? he freely decreed, and he freely created. Jesus Christ necessarily took our flesh, because he had covenanted with God so to do, yet he acted freely and voluntarily according to that covenant, otherwise his death had not been efficacious for us. A good man doth naturally, necessarily, love his children, yet voluntarily: it is part of the happiness of the blessed to love God unchangeably, yet freely, for it would not be their happiness if it were done by compulsion.

What is done by force cannot be called felicity, because there is no delight or complacency in it; and, though the blessed love God freely, yet, if there were a possibility of change, it would not be their happiness, their blessedness would be damped by their fear of falling from this love, and consequently from their nearness to God, in whom their happiness consists: God foreknows that they will love him forever, but are they therefore compelled forever to love him? If there were such a kind of constraint, heaven would be rendered burdensome to them, and so no heaven. Again, God’s foreknowledge of what he will do, doth not necessitate him to do: he foreknew that he would create a world, yet he freely created a world. God’s foreknowledge doth not necessitate himself; why should it necessitate us more than himself? We may instance in ourselves: when we will a thing, we necessarily use our faculty of will; and when we freely will any thing, it is necessary that we freely will; but this necessity doth not exclude, but include, liberty; or, more plainly, when a man writes or speaks, whilst he writes or speaks, those actions are necessary, because to speak and be silent, to write and not to write, at the same time, are impossible; yet our writing or speaking doth not take away the power not to write or to be silent at that time if a man would be so; for he might have chose whether he would have spoke or writ. So there is a necessity of such actions of man, which God foresees; that is, a necessity of infallibility, because God cannot be deceived, but not a coactive necessity, as if they were compelled by God to act thus or thus.

Prop. II. No man can say in any of his voluntary actions that he ever found any force upon him. When any of us have done anything according to our wills, can we say we could not have done the contrary to it? were we determined to it in our own intrinsic nature, or did we not determine ourselves? did we not act either according to our reason, or according to outward allurements? did we find anything without us, or within us, that did force our wills to the embracing this or that? Whatever action you do, you do it because you judge it fit to be done, or because you will do it. What, though God foresaw that you would do so, and that you would do this or that, did you feel any force upon you? did you not act according to your nature? God foresees that you will eat or walk at such a time; do you find anything that moves you to eat, but your own appetite? or to walk, but your own reason and will? If prescience had imposed any necessity upon man, should we not probably have found some kind of plea from it in the mouth of Adam? he knew as much as any man ever since knew of the nature of God, as discoverable in creation; he could not in innocence fancy an ignorant God, a God that know nothing of future things; he could not be so ignorant of his own action, but he must have perceived a force upon his will, had there been any; had he thought that God’s prescience imposed any necessity upon him, he would not have omitted the plea, especially when he was so daring as to charge the providence of God in the gift of the woman to him, to be the cause of his crime. (Gen. 3:12) How come his posterity to invent new charges against God, which their father Adam never thought of, who had more knowledge than all of them? He could find no cause of his sin but the liberty of his own will; he charges it, not upon any necessity from the devil, or any necessity from God; nor doth he allege the gift of the woman as a necessary cause of his sin, but an occasion of it, by giving the fruit to him. Judas knew that our Saviour did foreknow his treachery, for he had told him of it in the hearing of his disciples (John 13:21–26), yet he never charged the necessity of his crime upon the foreknowledge of his Master; if Judas had not done it freely, he had had no reason to repent of it; his repentance justifies Christ from imposing any necessity upon him by that foreknowledge. No man acts anything, but he can give an account of the motives of his action; he cannot father it upon a blind necessity; the will cannot be compelled, for then it would cease to be the will: God doth not root up the foundations of nature, or change the order of it, and make men unable to act like men, that is, as free agents. God foreknows the actions of irrational creatures; this concludes no violence upon their nature, for we find their actions to be according to their nature, and spontaneous.

Prop. III. God’s foreknowledge is not, simply considered, the cause of anything. It puts nothing into things, but only beholds them as present, and arising from their proper causes. The knowledge of God is not the principle of things, or the cause of their existence, but directive of the action; nothing is because God knows it, but because God wills it, either positively or permissively; God knows all things possible; yet, because God knows them they are not brought into actual existence, but remain still only as things possible; knowledge only apprehends a thing, but acts nothing; it is the rule of acting, but not the cause of acting; the will is the immediate principle, and the power the immediate cause; to know a thing is not to do a thing, for then we may be said to do everything that we know: but every man knows those things which he never did, nor never will do; knowledge in itself is an apprehension of a thing, and is not. the cause of it. A spectator of a thing is not the cause of that thing which he sees, that is, he is not the cause of it, as he beholds it. We see a man write, we know before that he will write at such a time; but this foreknowledge is not the cause of his writing. We see a man walk, but our vision of him brings no necessity of walking upon him; he was free to walk or not to walk. We foreknow that death will seize upon all men, we foreknow that the seasons of the year will succeed one another, yet is not our foreknowledge the cause of this succession of spring after winter, or of the death of all men, or any man? We see one man fighting with another; our sight is not the cause of that contest, but some quarrel among themselves, exciting their own passions. As the knowledge of present things imposeth no necessity upon them while they are acting, and present, so the knowledge of future things imposeth no necessity upon them while the are coming. We are certain there will be men in the world to-morrow, and that the sea will ebb and flow; but is this knowledge of ours the cause that those things will be so? I know that the sun will rise to-morrow, it is true that it shall rise; but it is not true that my foreknowledge makes it to rise. If a physician prognosticates, upon seeing the intemperances and debaucheries of men, that they will fall into such a distemper, is his prognostication any cause of their disease, or of the sharpness of any symptoms attending it? The prophet foretold the cruelty of Hazael before he committed it; but who will say that the prophet was the cause of his commission of that evil? And thus the foreknowledge of God takes not away the liberty of man’s will, no more than a foreknowledge that we have of any man’s actions takes away his liberty. We may upon our knowledge of the temper of a man, certainly foreknow, that if he falls into such company, and get among his cups; lie will be drunk; but is this foreknowledge the cause that he is drunk? No; the cause is the liberty of his own will, and not resisting the temptation. God purposes to leave such a man to himself and his own ways; and man being so left, God foreknows what will be done by him according to that corrupt nature which is in him; though the decree of God of leaving a man to the liberty of his own will be certain, yet the liberty of man’s will as thus left, is the cause of all the extravagances he doth commit. Suppose Adam had stood, would not God certainly have foreseen that he would have stood? yet it would have been concluded that Adam had stood, not by any necessity of God’s foreknowledge, but by the liberty of his own will. Why should then the foreknowledge of God add more necessity to his falling than to his standing? And though it be said sometimes in Scripture, that such a thing was done “that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” as John 12:38, “that the saving of Esais might be fulfilled, Lord, who hath believed our report?” the word that doth not infer that the prediction of the prophet was the cause of the Jews’ belief, but infers this, that the prediction was manifested to be true by their unbelief, and the event answered the prediction; this prediction was not the cause of their sin, but their foreseen sin was the cause of this prediction; and so the particle that is taken (Psalm 51:6), “Against thee, thee only have I sinned, that thou mightest be justified,” &c.; the justifying God was not the end and intent of the sin, but the event of it upon his acknowledgment.

Prop. IV. God foreknows things, because they will come to pass; but things are not future, because God knows them. Foreknowledge presupposeth the object which is foreknown; a thing that is to come to pass is the object of the Divine knowledge, but not the cause of the act of divine knowledge; and though the foreknowledge of God doth in eternity precede the actual presence of a thing which is foreseen as future, yet the future thing, in regard of its futurity, is as eternal as the foreknowledge of God: as the voice is uttered before it be heard, and a thing is visible before it be seen, and a thing knowable before it be known. But how comes it to be knowable to God? it must be answered, either in the power of God as a thing possible, or in the will of God as a thing future; he first willed, and then knew what he willed; he knew what he willed to effect, and he knew what he willed to permit; as he willed the death of Christ by a determinate counsel, and willed the permission of the Jew’s sin, and the ordering of the malice of their nature to that end (Acts 2:22). God decrees to make a rational creature, and to govern him by a law; God decrees not to hinder this rational creature from transgressing his law; and God foresees that what he would not hinder, would come to pass. Man did not sin because God foresaw him; but God foresaw him to sin, because man would sin. If Adam and other men would have acted otherwise, God would have foreknown that they would have acted well; God foresaw our actions because they would so come to pass by the motion of our freewill, which he would permit, which he would concur with, which he would order to his own holy and glorious ends, for the manifestation of the perfection of his nature. If I see a man lie in a sink, no necessity is inferred upon him from my sight to lie in that filthy place, but there is a necessity inferred by him that lies there, that I should see him in that condition if I pass by, and cast my eye that way.

Prop. V. God did not only foreknow our actions, but the manner of our actions. That is, he did not only know that we would do such actions, but that we would do them freely; he foresaw that the will would freely determine itself to this or that; the knowledge of God takes not away the nature of things; though God knows possible things, yet they remain in the nature of possibility; and though God knows contingent things, yet they remain in the nature of contingencies; and though God knows free agents, yet they remain in the nature of liberty. God did not foreknow the actions of man, as necessary, but as free; so that liberty is rather established by this foreknowledge, than removed. God did not foreknow that Adam had not a power to stand, or that any man hath not a power to omit such a sinful action, but that he would not omit it. Man hath a power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do. Adam was not determined by any inward necessity to fall, nor any man by any inward necessity to commit this or that particular sin; but God foresaw that he would fall, and fall freely; for he saw the whole circle of means and causes whereby such and such actions should be produced, and can be no more ignorant of the motions of our wills, and the manner of them, than an artificer can be ignorant of the motions of his watch, and how far the spring will let down the string in the space of an hour; he sees all causes leading to such events in their whole order, and how the free-will of man will comply with this, or refuse that; he changes not the manner of the creature’s operation, whatsoever it be.

Prop. VI. But what if the foreknowledge of God, and the liberty of the will, cannot be fully reconciled by man? shall we therefore deny a perfection in God to support a liberty in ourselves? Shall we rather fasten ignorance upon God, and accuse him of blindness, to maintain our liberty? That God doth foreknow everything, and yet that there is liberty in the rational creature, are both certain; but how fully to reconcile them, may surmount the understanding of man. Some truths the disciples were not capable of bearing in the days of Christ; and several truths our understandings cannot reach as long as the world doth last; yet, in the mean time, we must, on the one hand, take heed of conceiving God ignorant, and on the other hand, of imagining the creature necessitated; the one will render God imperfect, and the other will seem to render him unjust, in punishing man for that sin which he could not avoid, but was brought into by a fatal necessity. God is sufficient to render a reason of his own proceedings, and clear lip all at the day of judgment; it is a part of man’s curiosity, since the fall, to be prying into God’s secrets, things too high for him; whereby he singes his own wings, and confounds his own understanding. It is a cursed affectation that runs in the blood of Adam’s posterity, to know as God, though our first father smarted and ruined his posterity in that attempt; the ways and knowledge of God are as much above our thoughts and conceptions as the heavens are above the earth (Isa. 55:9), and so sublime, that we cannot comprehend them in their true and just greatness; his designs are so mysterious, and the ways of his conduct so profound, that it is not possible to dive into them. The force of our understandings is below his infinite wisdom, and therefore we should adore him with an humble astonishment, and cry out with the apostle (Rom. 11:33): “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Whenever we meet with depths that we cannot fathom, let us remember that he is God, and we his creatures; and not be guilty of so great extravagance, as to think that a subject can pierce into all the secrets of a prince, or a work understand all the operations of the artificer. Let us only resolve not to fasten anything on God that is unworthy of the perfection of his nature, and dishonorable to the glory of his majesty; nor imagine that we can ever step out of the rank of creatures to the glory of the Deity, to understand fully everything in his nature. So much for the second general, what God knows.


From The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock

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