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THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD
Ezekiel 11:5. I know the things which come into your mind, every one of them.
THERE is much of atheism in the heart of man. The language of every one, in the secret of his own bosom, is, “The Lord doth not see, neither will the Almighty regard it [Note: Psalms 94:7.].” Doubtless this argues more than brutish stupidity [Note: Psalms 94:8-9.]: but still it prevails to an awful extent, even over those who have the best means of instruction. The Prophet Ezekiel had reason to complain of it in his day; and, for the purpose of counteracting it, he declared from God to all the rulers of the Jewish people, “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.”
That we may all be suitably affected with this thought, I will,
Establish the assertion in our text—
There is no man who does not consider God as approving or disapproving of his conduct according to the testimony which his conscience gives respecting it [Note: 1 John 3:20-21.]: and this universal conviction respecting the omniscience of the Deity is, though not a demonstration, yet certainly a strong presumptive proof, that God is omniscient. But his omniscience may be certainly inferred,
From the law he has given us—
[The law, not by construction only [Note: Matthew 5:28.], but in plain terms [Note: Romans 7:7.], takes cognizance of the secrets of the heart. But to what purpose is such a law given, if God be not able to enforce it? Or how can he enforce it, if any motion of the heart be hid from him?]
From the plain declarations of Holy Writ—
[These are numberless. Hear in what terms God himself appeals to the whole world respecting it: “Am I a God at hand, and not afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord [Note: Jeremiah 23:23-24.].”. The whole of the 139th Psalm is written for the confirmation and illustration of this truth; which Job also was persuaded of in his inmost soul: “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee [Note: Job 42:2.].” But we have an illustration of it in the New Testament which is worthy of more particular notice: “All things,” says the Apostle, “are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do [Note: Hebrews 4:13.].” Here the writer refers to a fact well known to the Hebrews. When a sacrifice was to be offered, not only was it examined externally, to see whether there were any blemish in it, but it was flayed, and cut down the back-bone, and laid open, that so its inward parts might be inspected by the priest. Thus are the inmost recesses of our soul both naked and opened before our God, and not an “imagination of the thoughts of our heart” concealed from him.]
From the appointment of a day of judgment to judge the world—
[To what purpose can such an appointment be, if God do not behold every secret of the heart? The true quality of our actions depends chiefly on the motives and principles from which they spring. But nothing short of omniscience can discover these: and hence God asserts his omniscience in reference to this very day: “I the Lord search the heart; I try the reins, even to give to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings [Note: Jeremiah 17:10.].”]
Not to multiply proofs of so clear a point, let me proceed to,
Suggest a suitable improvement of it—
The subject being as important as any that can occupy the human mind, I will endeavour to improve it,
In a way of general reflections—
[In the contemplation of God’s omniscience, we cannot but be struck with the thought of God’s wonderful patience and forbearance. If only the actions of men were discerned by him, there were abundantly sufficient every day and hour to provoke him to wrath, and to bring down on the whole world the judgments which desolated the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But he sees all the motives and principles of men, and all the hidden abominations which are indulged in their hearts: and yet he bears with us, and waits to be gracious to every returning penitent. O let us be sensible of our obligations to him, and “let his goodness lead us to repentance [Note: Romans 2:4.].”
Nor shall we be less struck with the erroneousness of the judgment which many form of their state before him. Many judge of themselves only by their acts, whilst in their hearts, if they would but watch the motions of them, they might find abominations without number. Well does Solomon say, “There is a generation that is pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthiness [Note: Proverbs 30:12.].” But let it be remembered that an angry thought is murder, and an impure look adultery, and the only contention amongst us will be, who shall take the lowest place.
Nearly connected with this is the thought of the awful disclosures which will be made in the day of judgment. If we look back only upon our own lives we shall see enough to fill us with shame and confusion of face: What then will be the feelings of the whole assembled universe, when the thoughts of all hearts shall be disclosed, and the whole aggregate of iniquity that has ever been either acted or conceived be made to appear in one collective mass! Ah! the whited sepulchres that will then be opened, and the lothesome abominations that will be exposed to view! In those indeed who have obtained mercy of the Lord, the exposure will only call forth songs of praise and thanksgiving: but to those who have died in their sins, the anguish will be inconceivable: and glad would they be if rocks or mountains could fall upon them, to hide them from the shame with which they will be overwhelmed [Note: Daniel 12:2.].]
In a way of more particular address—
[Tremble, my beloved brethren, for your past sins: for not one shall be concealed in that day, unless indeed through the tender mercy of our God it have been blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance — — — The evil of our thoughts, no less than of our acts, must be accounted for [Note: Acts 8:22.]. Wash too in the fountain of the Redeemer’s blood. If so much as one sin be left for you to answer for, it were better for you that you had never been born. Nor ever imagine that the tears of penitence can wash away sin: there is no fountain for you but that which was once opened on the cross for sin and for uncleanness. It is the blood of Christ alone that can cleanse from sin: but “that can cleanse from all sin.” At the same time guard against the incursion of sin in future, even in thought. Already are our sins more in number than the sands upon the sea-shore; and shall we yet be adding to the mighty load? Have we not rendered ourselves sufficiently lothesome in the eyes of a holy God? Let us never forget that “his very name is, Thou God seest me [Note: Genesis 16:13.].” But not to act from a mere servile fear, labour to approve yourselves to God in the whole course of your lives. Let your actions, words, and thoughts be such as the heart-searching God will approve [Note: Proverbs 4:23.]. Then will he bear testimony to you as “Israelites indeed in whom was no guile;” and he who has beheld your most secret thoughts will, in the presence of the whole assembled universe, applaud and “reward you openly.”]
DEPARTURE OF GOD FROM HIS TEMPLE
Ezekiel 11:23. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city.
THE vision with which the Prophet Ezekiel was favoured, and which he records in the first chapter, is of very difficult interpretation. In it there were represented to his view four living creatures, all moved and actuated by the Spirit of God [Note: Ezekiel 1:4-14.]; there were also wheels moved by them [Note: Ezekiel 1:15-21.], and the glory of God was enthroned above them [Note: Ezekiel 1:26-28.]. The general import of this vision we apprehend to be, that the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the ministration of angels and holy men devoted to his service, manages every thing for the good of his Church. But from the eighth chapter God shews, that when his people shall provoke him by their impieties, he will withdraw from them, and give them up to all those judgments which their iniquities have deserved. This is at first but slightly intimated [Note: Ezekiel 8:6.]; but in our text it is actually carried into effect. The manner in which his departure took place, is deserving of particular attention. It was by several successive steps; the bright cloud, which was the symbol of his presence, and which is here called “his glory,” left the accustomed place of its residence between the cherubims, and descended “to the threshold of the house [Note: Ezekiel 9:3.].” From thence it moved to the court of the temple, which was on the north side, whither the cherubims had already moved [Note: Ezekiel 10:3-4; Ezekiel 10:18. The word “went,” ver. 4. should rather be, “had gone.”]. After that, it went to the door of the last gate, attended both by the cherubims and the wheels [Note: Ezekiel 10:19.]. Then, lastly, with the cherubims and the wheels, it deserted the city altogether, and went to the mountain on the east side of the city [Note: Ezekiel 11:22-23.]. What was the design of God in all these gradual removes, but to manifest the reluctance with which he yields to the necessity imposed upon him, of leaving his people to the ruin they have merited?
Hence then we take occasion to shew,
How averse God is to forsake his people—
Look we to his declarations?
[What can be more express than his assertion, yea, his oath, that he “has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live [Note: Ezekiel 33:11.]?” How pathetically does he lament the obstinacy of those who withstand all the influences, and defeat all the purposes of his grace: “How long shall it be ere ye attain to innocency?” “Wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be [Note: Jeremiah 13:27.]?” The idea of abandoning his people seems almost to overwhelm him: “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee up, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim [Note: Hosea 11:8. See also Psalms 81:13-16.]?” But of all the passages in Holy Writ in which the Divine compassion towards obstinate offenders shines forth, there is none that exceeds the lamentation of our blessed Lord over Jerusalem; “O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things belonging to thy peace!” “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”]
Look we to examples?
[What more astonishing than the forbearance of God towards the antediluvian world during the space of one hundred and twenty years? Mark his patience also towards his people in the wilderness, where for forty years their conduct was one continued scene of murmuring and rebellion. Even towards the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had imbrued their hands in the blood of their Messiah, he commanded his messages of mercy to be delivered in the first place: that city which had exceeded all others in iniquity was to be the most favoured of any in the whole universe, by the united labours of all the Apostles. But we need no further proof of God’s backwardness to cast off his people, than what we may all find in our own bosoms. We all are living monuments of his patience, and long-suffering, and forbearance. If his compassions bad not been infinite, not one of us would have been here this day, to speak or hear of them.]
True it is, that “his Spirit will not always strive with men:” but yet he does not abandon them at once; as will appear, whilst we shew,
What are the different steps by which his approaching departure may be discovered.
God “has pleasure in the prosperity of his people:” but, when constrained to leave them, he manifests his anger gradually, in order to awaken them to repentance, and to prevent the execution of his severer judgments. He withholds,
The manifestations of his love—
[Whilst his people conduct themselves in a becoming manner, he delights in every possible exercise of mercy towards them. He “draws nigh to them,” and “lifts up the light of his countenance upon them,” and “sheds abroad his love in their hearts,” and testifies to them of their adoption, and “witnesses with their spirits that they are his.” But when they draw back from him, he withholds from them these gracious communications. They now pray indeed, but find not a present and prayer-answering God: they read also, but feel not that power and sweetness in the word which they once did: they attend ordinances, but find them not, as once, to be “the gate of heaven.” The sun is hid behind a cloud; and they are no longer animated with his cheering rays: “I hid me,” says God, “and was wroth, because they went on frowardly in the way of their hearts.”
Inquire, then, beloved, whether any such calamity as this is come upon you? If it be, know that this is God’s first step towards a final departure; and if you do not arrest his progress by penitence and a renewal of your first works [Note: Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:3.], he will go yet farther from you, and be brought back again to you with ten-fold difficulty. If you have lost the cheering presence of your God, know that he has already gone “to the threshold of the house.”]
The influences of his grace—
[God is pleased to strengthen his people with might by his Spirit in their inward man, so that they are enabled to overcome the world, to mortify the flesh, and to with stand all the principalities and powers of hell. He endues them with grace sufficient for them: but, if they are unfaithful to the grace received, he will withdraw it, and leave them to the unassisted efforts of their own arm. Then, like Samson with his locks shorn, they will become weak as other men: the world will regain its ascendant over them: their natural propensities will return with renewed force: and Satan will be able so to practise his former wiles, as to gain the most fatal advantage over them. They are like Israel before Ai, because of the Achan in their camp [Note: Joshua 7:11-12.].
Here then is another subject of inquiry for us. Do we find that we are less able than formerly to resist our besetting sins? that we have less power to repress the workings of evil tempers, and of corrupt affections? Do we find that duty is more difficult than in former times, and sin more easy and pleasant? — — — Then we may know that God has gone, not to the threshold only, but even to the court. O fearful state! What cries, and tears, and labours, become the person that is reduced to it! He has not a moment to spare: if he would not lose God speedily and for ever, he must humble himself before God in dust and ashes; he must “repent and turn himself from all his transgressions, else his iniquity will become his ruin.”]
The warnings of his Spirit—
[The conscience of one that lives nigh to God is made tender, as the apple of his eye: and if by any means he be betrayed into sin, he mourns, and weeps, and never finds a moment’s rest, till he has “washed it away in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.” But this sensibility is soon lost: it is God’s presence only that preserves it: and if God’s “Holy Spirit be quenched by us, he will give us over to a hardness of heart,” so that the things which once would have occasioned the deepest humiliation, shall now scarcely produce a sigh.
And can it be, that any one is so far left, as to have his eyes blinded as to the malignity of sin, and his conscience seared as to the commission of it? — — — Yes: there are many who are thus beguiled by Satan from the simplicity that is in Christ;” and they have reason to fear that God will speedily take his flight, and execute that threat, “If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy.” Verily, “there is but a step between them and death.”]
This leads us to set before you,
The dreadful state of those who are forsaken by him—
“Woe unto them,” says God, “when I depart from them [Note: Hosea 9:12.]!” yes, woe unto them indeed; for,
They are delivered up into the hands of their spiritual enemies—
[As, when Jesus had departed from Mount Olivet (the very mountain on which the glory of God abode, when it had forsaken the temple and city) that began to be fulfilled, “Your house is left unto you desolate:” and when, “by grieving and vexing the Holy Spirit we have provoked him to become our enemy,” our case is become altogether desperate: he says concerning us, “They are joined to idols; let them alone.” Then “the evil spirit that had been driven out, taketh to him seven other spirits to occupy our hearts;” and our “last state becomes worse than the first.” Not that such a person must necessarily be given over to gross and open vice: he may be left under the power of pride and infidelity, or of terror and despondency, or of hardness and obduracy: but, to whatever he is left a prey, “God swears in his wrath, that he shall never enter into his rest.”
They live only to increase their guilt and misery—
[Every day they live, they only augment the measure of their iniquities: and, strange as it may seem, immediate death, though attended with immediate damnation, would be to them a mercy. In one view indeed, the shortest respite from death may appear a blessing: and so it would be, if they were not sealed up under condemnation: but, being “given over to a reprobate mind,” they live only “to heap up misery against the last days,” and to “treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.” Unhappy soul, whoever thou art, when thus forsaken by thy God! “Good were it for that man if he had never been born.”]
We will conclude this subject with answering two questions—
How are we to reconcile this doctrine with other parts of Scripture?
[It is certain that the Scriptures speak much respecting the determination of God never to forsake his people [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.Isaiah 54:9-10; Isaiah 54:9-10. Jeremiah 32:40. Hebrews 13:5.] — — — And we believe that God will fulfil his promises, and that not one of them shall ever fail. But there are passages equally strong on the other side [Note: 2Ch 15:2. 1 Corinthians 9:27. 2 Peter 2:20-22.]; and they in their place need equally to be enforced. The former are necessary to encourage hope: the latter, to excite our fear. The truth is, we apprehend, that no person is warranted in believing himself a child of God, any farther than he has an evidence of it in the conformity of his soul to the will of his heavenly Father. With the progress of sanctification his confidence may well increase; but with a declension in sanctity there ought to be a proportionable relaxation of his confidence. When therefore he is in a truly spiritual state, he may fitly he carried forward on the wings of hope, and love, and peace, and joy: but when he declines from that state, he needs the quickening influence of jealousy and fear: and, if any “turn back unto perdition,” they then prove to the world, that their former confidence was delusive; and we must say of them, as St. John does, “They went out from us; but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us [Note: 1 John 2:19.].”
If men would receive the whole word of God, without contending for human systems, they would find no such contradictions as they are apt to imagine: or, if they found some expressions which they knew not how to reconcile with others, they would at least learn to exercise candour towards those who differed from them, and to leave the full explanation of these hidden mysteries till the day when God himself shall cast the true light upon them. Our concern is, not so much to reconcile the difficulties of Scripture, as to learn from every part its appropriate instruction, and its legitimate use.]
How are we to avert this awful calamity?
[We should mark with extreme care the very first motions of the Deity that indicate his displeasure. The occasional hidings of his face should lead us to inquire, what there has been amiss within us, what neglects or miscarriages that have grieved his Holy Spirit. We should instantly betake ourselves to fasting and prayer, entreating him to “shew us, wherefore he contendeth with us?” Like Jacob, we should “wrestle with him all the night, and say, I will not let thee go until thou bless me:” and, having regained his presence, we should labour constantly to “keep a conscience void of offence towards both God and man.” Were we thus to exert ourselves in the first instance, we should walk continually, as it were, in the light of his countenance: but if we disregard the first intimations of his displeasure, and suffer him to depart, from his throne to the threshold, from the threshold to the court, from the court to the gate, we shall find it no easy matter to recover the testimonies of his love, and the influences of his grace. “Be instructed then, (says the Lord,) lest my soul depart from thee [Note: Jeremiah 6:8.].” Be instructed in the necessity of unintermitted watchfulness and prayer. Be instructed to “guard against the very appearance of evil,” on your own part, and against the smallest withdrawment on the part of God. Thus will your whole life be a continual feast; and God will be greatly glorified in the whole of your conversation.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ezekiel 11". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany