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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Omniscience

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This attribute of God is constantly connected in Scripture with his omnipresence, and forms a part of almost every description of that attribute; for, as God is a Spirit, and therefore intelligent, if he is every where, if nothing can exclude him, not even the most solid bodies, nor the minds of intelligent beings, then are all things naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Where he acts, he is; and where he is, he perceives. He understands and considers things absolutely, and as they are in their own natures, powers, properties, differences, together with all the circumstances belonging to them. "Known unto him are all his works from the beginning of the world," rather, απ αιωνος , from all eternity; known before they were made, in their possible, and known, now they are made, in their actual, existence. "Lord, thou hast searched me and known me; thou knowest my down-sitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. The darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day. The ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings; he searcheth their hearts, and understandeth every imagination of their thoughts." Nor is this perfect knowledge to be confined to men or angels; it reaches into the state of the dead, and penetrates the regions of the damned. "Hell," hades, "is naked before him; and destruction," the seats of destruction, "hath no covering." No limits at all are to be set to this perfection: "Great is the Lord, his understanding is infinite."

In Psalms 94, the knowledge of God is argued from the communication of it to men: "Understand, ye brutish among the people; and, ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planteth the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the Heathen, shall not he correct? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?" This argument is as easy as it is conclusive, obliging all who acknowledge a First Cause, to admit his perfect intelligence, or to take refuge in atheism itself. It fetches not the proof from a distance, but refers us to our bosoms for the constant demonstration that the Lord is a God of knowledge, and that by him actions are weighed. We find in ourselves such qualities as thought and intelligence, power and freedom, &c, for which we have the evidence of consciousness as much as for our own existence. Indeed, it is only by our consciousness of these, that our existence is known to ourselves. We know, likewise, that these are perfections, and that to have them is better than to be without them. We find also that they have not been in us from eternity. They must, therefore, have had a beginning, and consequently some cause, for the very same reason that a being beginning to exist in time requires a cause. Now this cause, as it must be superior to its effect, must have those perfections in a superior degree; and if it be the First Cause it must have them in an infinite or unlimited degree, since bounds or limitations, without a limiter, would be an effect without a cause. If God gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to men of understanding; if he communicates this perfection to his creatures, the inference must be that he himself is possessed of it in a much more eminent degree than they; that his knowledge is deep and intimate, reaching to the very essence of things, theirs but slight and superficial; his clear and distinct, theirs confused and dark; his certain and infallible, theirs doubtful and liable to mistake; his easy and permanent, theirs obtained with much pains, and soon lost again by the defects of memory or age; his universal and extending to all objects, theirs short and narrow, reaching only to some few things, while that which is wanting cannot be numbered; and therefore, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so, as the prophet has told us, are his ways above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts.

But his understanding is infinite; a doctrine which the sacred writers not only authoritatively announce, but confirm by referring to the wisdom displayed in his works. The only difference between wisdom and knowledge is, that the former always supposes action, and action directed to an end. But wherever there is wisdom there must be knowledge; and as the wisdom of God in the creation consists in the formation of things which, by themselves, or in combination with others, shall produce certain effects, and that in a variety of operation which is to us boundless, the previous knowledge of the possible qualities and effects inevitably supposes a knowledge which can have no limit. For as creation out of nothing argues a power which is omnipotent; so the knowledge of the possibilities of things which are not (a knowledge which, from the effect, we are sure must exist in God,) argues that such a Being must be omniscient. For all things being not only present to him, but also entirely depending upon him, and having received both their being itself, and all their powers and faculties from him; it is manifest that, as he knows all things that are, so he must likewise know all possibilities of things, that is, all effects that can be. For, being himself alone self-existent, and having alone given to all things all the powers and faculties they are endued with; it is evident he must of necessity know perfectly what all and each of those powers and faculties, which are derived wholly from himself, can possibly produce: and seeing, at one boundless view, all the possible compositions and divisions, variations and changes, circumstances and dependencies of things; all their possible relations one to another, and their dispositions or fitnesses to certain and respective ends, he must, without possibility of error, know exactly what is best and properest in every one of the infinite possible cases or methods of disposing things; and understand perfectly how to order and direct the respective means, to bring about what he so knows to be, in its kind, or in the whole, the best and fittest in the end. This is what we mean by infinite wisdom.

On the subject of the divine omniscience, many fine sentiments are to be found in the writings of Pagans; for an intelligent First Cause being in any sense admitted, it was most natural and obvious to ascribe to him a perfect knowledge of all things. They acknowledge that nothing is hid from God, who is intimate to our minds, and mingles himself with our very thoughts; nor were they all unaware of the practical tendency of such a doctrine, and of the motive it affords to a cautious and virtuous conduct. But among them it was not held, as by the sacred writers, in connection with other right views of the divine nature, which are essential to give to this its full moral effect. Not only on this subject does the manner in which the Scriptures state the doctrine far transcend that of the wisest Pagan theists; but the moral of the sentiment is infinitely more comprehensive and impressive. With them it is connected with man's state of trial; with a holy law, all the violations of which, in thought, word, and deed, are both infallibly known, and strictly marked; with promises of grace, and of a mild and protecting government as to all who have sought and found the mercy of God in forgiving their sins and admitting them into his family. The wicked are thus reminded, that their hearts are searched, and their sins noted; that the eyes of the Lord are upon their ways; and that their most secret works will be brought to light in the day when God the witness shall become God the judge. But as to the righteous, the eyes of the Lord are said to be over them; that they are kept by him who never slumbers or sleeps; that he is never far from them; that his eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in their behalf; that foes, to them invisible, are seen by his eye, and controlled by his arm; and that this great attribute, so appalling to wicked men, affords to them, not only the most influential reason for a perfectly holy temper and conduct, but the strongest motive to trust, and joy, and hope, amidst the changes and afflictions of the present life. Socrates, as well as other philosophers, could express themselves well, so long as they expressed themselves generally, on this subject. The former could say, "Let your own frame instruct you. Does the mind inhabiting your body dispose and govern it with ease? Ought you not then to conclude, that the universal Mind with equal ease actuates and governs universal nature; and that, when you can at once consider the interest of the Athenians at home, in Egypt, and in Sicily, it is not too much for the divine wisdom to take care of the universe?

These reflections will soon convince you, that the greatness of the divine mind is such, as at once to see all things, hear all things, be present every where, and direct all the affairs of the world." These views are just, but they wanted that connection with others relative both to the divine nature and government, which we see only in the Bible, to render them influential; they neither gave correct moral distinctions nor led to a virtuous practice, no, not in Socrates, who, on some subjects, and especially on the personality of the Deity, and his independence on matter, raised himself far above the rest of his philosophic brethren, but in moral feeling and practice was perhaps as censurable as they. See PRESCIENCE .


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Omniscience'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/o/omniscience.html. 1831-2.

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