Stephen Charnock.

Discourses upon the existence and attributes of God online

. (page 56 of 82)
Online LibraryStephen CharnockDiscourses upon the existence and attributes of God → online text (page 56 of 82)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

himself, and delight in himself, upon the knowledge of himself
But that which is properly practice, is where there is a dominion
over the action, and it is wrought not naturally and necessarily, but
in a way of freedom and counsel. As when we see a beautiful flower
or other thing, there ariseth a delight in the mind ; this no man will
call practice, because it is a natural affection of the will, arising from
the virtue of the object, without any consideration of the understand-
ing in a practical manner by counselling, commanding, &c. (2.) A
practical knowledge : which tends to operation and practice, and is
the principle of working about things that are known ; as the knowl-
edge an artificer hath in an art or mystery. This knowledge is in
God : the knowledge he hath of the things he hath decreed, is such
a kind of knowledge ; for it terminates in the act of creation, which
is not a natural and necessary act, as the loving himself, and delight-
ing in himself is, but wholly free : for it was at his liberty whether
he would create them or no ; this is called discretion (Jer. x. 12) :
" He hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion." Such also
is his knowledge of the things he hath created, and which are in
being, for it terminates in the government of them for his own glori-
ous ends. It is by this knowledge " the depths are broken up, and
the clouds drop down their dew" (Prov. iii. 20). This is a knowl-
edge whereby he knows the essence, qualities, and properties of
what he creates and governs in order to his own glory, and the com-
mon good of the world over which he resides ; so that speculative
knowledge is God's knowledge of himself and things possible ; prac-
tical knowledge is his knowledge of his creatures and things govern-
able ; yet in some sort this practical knowledge is not only of things
that are made, but of things which are possible, which God might
make, though he will not : for as he knows that they can be created,
so he knows how they are to be created, and how to be governed,
though he never will create them. This is a practical knowledge :
for it is not requisite to constitute a knowledge practical, actually to
act, but that the knowledge in itself be referable to action. "

3. There is a knowledge of approbation, as well as apprehension.
This the Scripture often mentions. Words of understanding are
used to signify the acts of affection. This knowledge adds to the
simple act of the understanding, the complacency and pleasure of the
will, and is improperly knowledge, because it belongs to the will,
and not to the understanding ; only it is radically in the understand-
ing, because affection implies knowledge : men cannot approve of

<* Suarez de Deo, lib. 3. cap. 4. p. 138. ' Ibid p. 140.


that which they are ignorant of. Thus knowledge is taken (Amos
iii. 2), " You only have I known of all the families of the earth ; and
(2 Tim. ii. 19), " The Lord knows who are his," that is, he loves
them ; he doth not only know them, but acknowledges them for his
own. It notes, not only an exact understanding, but a special care
of them ; and so is that to be understood (Gen. i.), " God saw every
thing that he had made, and behold it was very good :" that is, he
saw it with an eye of approbation, as well as apprehension. This is
grounded upon God's knowledge of vision, his sight of his creatures ;
for God doth not love or delight in anj^hing but what is actually in
being, or what he hath decreed to bring into being. On the con-
trary, also, when God doth not ap23rove, he is said not to know
(Matt. XXV. 12), " I know you not," and (Matt. vii. 23), " I never
knew you ;" he doth not approve of their works. It is not an igno-
rance of understanding, but an ignorance of will ; for while he saith
he never knew them, he testifies that he did know them, in render-
ing the reason of his disapproving them, because he knows all their
works : so he knows them, and doth not know them in a different
manner : he knows them so as to understand them, but he doth not
know them so as to love them. "We must, then, ascribe an univer-
sal knowledge to God. If we deny hun a speculative knowledge,
or knowledge of intelligence, we destroy his Deity, we make him
ignorant of his own power : if we deny him practical knowledge, we
deny ourselves to be his creatures ; for, as his creatures, we are the
fruits of this, his discretion, discovered in creation : if we deny his
knowledge of vision, we deny his governing dominion. How can
he exercise a sovereign and uncontrollable dominion, that is ignorant
of the nature and qualities of the things he is to govern ? If he had
not knowledge he could make no revelation ; he that knows not can-
not dictate ; we could then have no Scripture. To deny God knowl-
edge, is to dash out the Scripture, and demolish the Deity. God is
described in Zech. iii. 9, " with seven eyes," to show his perfect
knowledge of all things, all occurrences in the world ; and the cheru-
bims, or whatsoever is meant by the wings, are described to be fall
of eyes, both "before and behind" (Ezek. i. 18), round about them;
much more is God all eye, all ear, all understanding. The sun is a
natural image of God ; if the sun had an eye, it would see ; if it had
an understanding, it would know all visible things ; it would see
what it shines upon, and understand what it influenceth, in the most
obscure bowels of the earth. Doth God excel his creature, the sun,
in excellency and beauty, and not in light and understanding ? cer
tainly more than the sun excels an atom or grain of dust. "We ma_y
yet make some representation of this knowledge of God by a lower
thing, a picture, which seems to look upon every one, though there
be never so great a multitude in the room where it hangs ; no man
can cast his eye upon it, but it seems to behold him in particular,
and so exactly, as if there were none but him upon whom the eye
of it were fixed ; and every man finds the same cast of it : shall art
frame a thing of that nature, and shall not the God of art and all
knowledge, be much more in reality than that is in imagination ?
Shall not God have a far greater capacity to behold everything in


the world, which is infinitely less to him than a wide room to a pio-

11. The second thing, What God knows ; how far his understand
ing reaches.

1. God knows himself, and onl}^ knows himself. This is the first
and original knowledge, wherein he excels all creatures. No man
doth exactly know himself; much less doth he understand the full
natui'e of a spirit ; much less still the nature and perfections of God ;
for what proportion can there be between a finite faculty and an
infinite object? Herein consists the infiniteness of God's knowl-
edge, that he knows liis own essence, that he knows that which is
unknowable to any else. It doth not so much consist in knowing
the creatures, which he hath made, as in knowing himself, who was
never made. It is not so much infinite, because he knows all things
which are in the world, or that shall be ; or things that he can
make, because the number of them is finite ; but because he hath a
perfect and comprehensive knowledge of his own infinite perfec-
tions. *" Though it be said that angels " see his face" (Matt, xviii.
10), that sight notes rather their immediate attendance, than their
exact knowledge ; they see some signs of his presence and majesty,
more illustrious and express than ever appeared to man in this
life ; but the essence of God is invisible to them, hid from them
in the secret place of eternity ; none knows God but himself
(1 Cor. ii. 11) : " What man knows the tilings of a man save
the spirit of a man ? so the things of God knows no man but the
Spirit of God ; the Spirit of God searches the deep things of God ;"
searcheth, that is, exactly knows, thoroughly understands, as those
who have their eyes in every chink and crevice, to see what lies
hid there ; the word search notes not an inquiry, but an exact
knowledge, such as men have of things upon a diligent scrutiny:
as when God is said to search the heart and the reins, it doth not
signify a precedent ignorance, but an exact knowledge of the most
intimate corners of the hearts of men. As the conceptions of men
are unknown to any but themselves, so the depths of the divine
essence, perfections, and decrees, are unknown to any but to God
himself; he only knows what he is, and what he knows, what he
can do, and what he hath decreed to do. For first, if God did not
know himself, he would not be perfect. It is the perfection of a
creature to know itself, much more a perfection belonging to God.
If God did not comprehend himself, he would want an infinite per-
fection, and so would cease to be God, in being defective in that
which intellectual creatures in some measure possess. As God if.
the most perfect being, so he must have the most perfect under-
standing : if he did not understand himself, he would be under the
greatest ignorance, because he would he ignorant of the most excel-
lent object. Ignorance is the imperfection of the understanding
and ignorance of one's self is a greater imperfection than igno-
rance of things without. If God should know all things without
himself, and not know him^self, he would not have the most perfect
knowledge, because he would not have the knowledge of the best

' Moulin.


uf tibjects. Secondly, "Without the knowledge of himself, he could
not be blessed. Nothing can have any complacency in itself, wich-
out knowledge of itself Nothing can in a rational manner enjoy
Itself, without understanding itself The blessedness of God consists
not in the knowledge of anj'thing without him, but in the knowledge
of himself and his own excellency, as the principle of all things ;
if, therefore, he did not perfectly know himself and his own hap-
piness, he could not enjoy a happiness ; for to be, and not to know
to be, is as if a thing were not. "He is God, blessed forever"
(Rom. ix. 5.), and therefore forever had a knowledge of himself
Thirdly, Without the knowledge of himself, he could create noth-
ing. For he would be ignorant of his own power, and his own
abihty ; and he that doth not know how far his power extends,
could not act : if he did not know himself, he could know nothing ;
and he that knows nothing, can do nothing; he could not know
an effect to be possible to him, unless he knew his own power as
a cause. Fourthly, "Without the knowledge of himself, he could
govern nothing. He could not, without the knowledge of his own
holiness and righteousness, prescribe laws to men, nor without a
knowledge of his own nature order himself a manner of worship
suitable to it. All worship must be congruous to the dignity and
nature of the object worshipped : he must therefore know his own
authority, whereby worship was to be enacted ; his own excellency,
to which worship was to be suited ; his own glory, to which wor-
ship was to be directed. If he did not know himself, he did not
know what to punish, because he would not know what was con-
trary to himself: not knowing himself, he would not know what
was a contempt of him, and what an adoration of him ; what was
worthy of God, and what was unworthy of him. In fine, he could
not know other things, unless he knew himself; unless he knew
his own power, he could not know how he created things ; unless
he knew his own wisdom, he could not know the beauty of hit
works ; unless he knew his own glory, he could not know the end
of his works ; unless he knew his own holiness, he could not know
what was evil ; and unless he knew his own justice, he could not
know how to punish the crimes of his offending creatures, A.nd^

(1.) God knows himself, because his knowledge, with his will, is
the cause of all other things that can fall under his cognizance :
he knows himself first, before he can know any other thing ; that
is, first according to our conceptions ; for, indeed, God knows him-
self and all other things at once ; he is the first truth, and there-
fore is the first object of his own understanding. There is nothing
more excellent than himself, and therefore nothing more known to
him than himself. As he is all knowledge, so he hath m himself
the most excellent object of knowledge. To understand, is propei-Iy
to know one's self No object is so intelligible to God as God is
to himself, nor so intimately and immediately joined with his under-
standmg as himself; for his understanding is his essence, himself.

(2.) He kn6ws himself by his own essence. He knows not him-
self and his own power by the effect, because he knows himself


from elurnity, before there was a world, or any eifect of his power
extant. It is not a knowledge by the cause, for God hath no cause ;
nor a knowledge of himself by any species, or anything from with-
out : if it were anything from without himself, that must be created
or uncreated ; if uncreated it would be God ; and so we must either
own many Gods, or own it to be his essence, and so not distinct
from himself: if created, then his knowledge of himself would de-
pend upon a creature : he could not, then, know himself from eter-
nity, but in time, because nothing can be created from eternity, but
in tmie. God knows not himself by any faculty, for there is no
composition in God ; he is not made up of parts, but is a simple be-
ing; some, therefore, have called God, not intellectus, understanding,
because that savors of a faculty, but intellectio^ intellection: God iii
all act in the knowledge of himself and his knowledge of other

(3.) God, therefore, knows himself perfectly, comprehensively.
N^othing in his own nature is concealed from him ; he reflects upon
everything that he is.g There is a positive comprehension, so God
doth not comprehend himself; for what is comprehended hath
bounds, and what is comprehended by itself is finite to itself; and
there is a negative comprehension — God so comprehends himself;
nothing in his own nature is obscure to him, unknown by him ; for
there is as great a perfection in the understanding of God to know,
as there is in the divine nature to be known. The understanding
of God, and the nature of God, are both infinite, and so equal to
one another: his understanding is equal to himself; he knows him-
self so well, that nothing can be known by him more perfeetljr
than himself is known to himself. He knows himself in the high-
est manner, because nothing is so proportioned to the understand •
ing of God as himself. He knows his own essence, goodness,
power; all his perfections, decrees, intentions, acts, the infinitu
capacity of his own understanding, so that nothing of himself is in
the dark to himself: and, in this respect, some use this expressioD,
that the infiniteness of God is in a manner finite to himself, because
it is comprehended by himself Thus God transcends all creatures ;
thus his understanding is truly infinite, because nothing but him
self is an infinite object for it : what angels may understand of
themselves perfectly I know not, but no creature in the world un-
derstands himself. Man understands not fully the excellency and
parts of his own nature ; upon God's knowledge of himself depends
the comfort of his people, and the terror of the wricked : this is
also a clear argument for his knowledge of all other things with-
out himself; he that knows himself, must needs know all other
things less than himself, and which were made by himself; when
the knowledge of his own immensity and infiniteness is not an
object too difiicult for him, the knowledge of a finite and limited
creature, in all his actions, thoughts, circumstances, cannot be too
hard for him : since he knows himself, who is infinite, he can-
not but know whatsoever is finite. This is the foundation of all
his other knowledge; the knowledge of everything present, past,

« Magalaneus.


ftna to come, is far less than the knowledge of himself. He is more
incomprehensible in his own nature, than all things created, or
that can be created, put together can be. If he, then, have a per-
fect comprehensive knowledge of his own nature, any knowledge
of all other things is less than the knowledge of himself; this ought
to be well considered by us, as the fountain whence all his other
knowledge flows.

2. Therefore God knows all other things, whether they be possi-
ble, past, present, or future ; whether they be things that he can do,
but will never do, or whether thej 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 i3roper 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 par-
ticular 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 inflniteness 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" (Eom. iv. 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. xxiii. 11) ; he knew what they would do upon
that occasion, though it was never done ; as he knew what was in

^ Petar. Theol. Dogm. lib. p. 267.
VOL. 1.-27


tlieir power and in their wills, so lie 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 per-
mission, 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. xi. 21),
This must needs be so, because,

1. Man knows things that are possible to him, though he will
never eifect 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 understand-
ing of man hath a virtue, that where it sees one man it mav imag-
ine 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 under-
standing of (jrod much more know what he is able to effect, since
the understanding of man can know what he is never able to pro-
duce, 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 under-
stand 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 under-
stand them, then he cannot understand what a human mind can un-
derstand ; for our understandings can multiply numbers in infini-
tum ; and there is no number so great, but a man can still add to it r
we must suppose the divine understanding more excellent in knowl-
edge. 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,i*^ since he eminently contains in himself 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
sause sufficient for more things than he hath created. How can he

' Ficin de Imniort. lib. 2. cap. 10. ' Gamach.


compreliend 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 ex-
tends to numberless things, his knowledge also extends to number-
less 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.
<jod knowing the fruitfalness 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, in-
numerable 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 in-
finite worlds, infinite numbers of men, and other creatures in him-
self, 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 in-
clude 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

Online LibraryStephen CharnockDiscourses upon the existence and attributes of God → online text (page 56 of 82)