Death and Destruction lie open before the LORD – how much more the hearts of men!
Is your life different because you know that God sees and knows everything you do? Are your thoughts and words more restrained and more God centred because you are aware that the living God reads your mind and hears your words? If that is so then that is what living by faith means doesn’t it? That is the victory that overcomes the world. “I want to please my watching, loving heavenly Father in all I do.” You also have hope that delivers you from despair because of promises God has made about the circumstances you are in right now, that he knows about in which he can see you, and he knows how you feel and what you need.
The mass of Welshmen blot God out of their minds; they live as though there were no God at all. Men at work, children in school, housewives in their many duties, retired folk, pre-school children all behave as if God didn’t exist, as if we were facing no future evaluation of our lives, no judgment, and no hereafter. Let me speak today to stir up your minds and thoughts by bringing before you God the all-seeing One. But unless the Holy Spirit uses my words then the careless ones here will understand the words that I’m saying – that they can hide nothing from God – but they will continue to live exactly the same as they’re living now, their lives empty of any regard for God. I am going to press upon you the reality of the one true and living God seeing all our actions, and knowing all our ways, considering all our thoughts, that there is nothing hidden from him whatsoever.
I love the punchy way Arthur Pink opens his chapter on the knowledge of God. He comes out like a rocket, like a prophet speaking for his God. He confronts us with these three words, “God is omniscient,” one mighty divine uppercut that should fell the most godless, and then he continues, delivering a series of blows that should send us reeling: “He knows everything, everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures of the past, the present, and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail of the life of every being in heaven, in earth and hell. Nothing escapes his notice; nothing can be hidden from him; nothing is forgotten by him. So I cry, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high. I cannot attain it” (Psa. 139:6). His knowledge is perfect.”
You know that it is relatively easy for a Christian to make correct judgments about Christian teaching and religious ethics. The Bible is plain enough in those areas. Where we are weak is in judging other people. We underestimate them or we exalt them, by thinking they’re superstars. God never errs in his estimation of anyone, even of the baby in the womb of the most religious of people. And this is how God always is. He never changes; he never overlooks anything. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). The psalmist of the great 139th Psalm says, “Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising. Thou understandest my thoughts 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, though knowest it altogether” (Ps. 139:2-4). Let me break down into digestible and enriching portions the knowledge of God.
1. GOD KNOWS HIMSELF.
No one else knows God exhaustively. The devil is baffled by God. The angels who surround and always serve him have a limited knowledge of him. No created being, no human being and no angel can fully understand himself. Do I understand how my brain works, the distinction between my mind and my soul, why I behave as I do? We don’t understand one another. We make guesses as to why people behave as they do. A father may come to me and say to me, “Do you understand my boy? I don’t understand him, do you? Help me” Our own knowledge is so limited. Do we know 0.0000000000001 percent of what there is to know? Does the most brilliant scientist know a million millionth of what there is to know? No, far, far less than that. The genius of geniuses in this world knows one grain of sand on an entire beach. But there are no limits to the knowledge of God, and the most glorious fact of all is that he comprehensively understands himself. Nowhere in God is there some sealed box that he’s never opened, in an inaccessible compartment, in a fireproof safe with doors a metre thick, and it contains some information that God knows nothing about. God knows himself exhaustively. In the divine nature there are no dark, hidden recesses. If there were ignorance in God of God it would an ignorance of the most excellent and glorious reality in heaven and earth. How could God govern the universe if he didn’t know his own being and his own power? How could he know anything else if he didn’t know himself? To whom could God go and ask, “Do you understand me?” He has no need to search for someone else’s opinion because he knows himself as no other creature does.
2. GOD KNOWS ALL THINGS THAT ARE TO BE KNOWN.
If there were anything God didn’t know then he would no longer be infinite and divine.
i] God knows all the things that will never be. God knew that if David (who was being hunted to death by king Saul) remained in a certain area any longer then the inhabitants of that place would run to Saul and tell him, “This is where David is hiding” and young David would be killed. God knew what might happen if certain things should be done. Jesus tells us what events would have brought Tyre and Sidon to their knees in repentance, in sackcloth and ashes – mighty works that had they happened there then those cities would have changed. They would have known a great awakening of love for God and a hatred for their sins. God knows all the consequences of our possible actions, of what would certainly happen. God sees the first inklings of a thought in you, or some little desire, of a longing, of an itch, and God knows exactly what would be the outcome of your giving into that thought, what could be your history in the future should you go down the road of those thoughts. So God acts; and how we thank God he does. He is merciful and he makes us say no, or he takes the object of desire away from us, or he makes it repulsive, or God brings other desires into our minds. God delivers us because he has infallible knowledge of what might happen. We do the same don’t we? We have a scheme and we then weigh up how we are going to tackle it in this way or in that way, thinking about the future and what might happen and we come to a decision. We shelve one way and we choose another. We do that even with our limited knowledge, but God knows all that could be, even the things that will never be.
ii] God knows everything that to us is ‘the past.’ Iola recently discovered a long letter I had written to her in January 1978 describing events that were taking place on a visit to Texas. I had forgotten almost every one of the details. God never forgets; he has a perfect knowledge of past things. Think of the top of this pulpit as if it were the screen of a camera obscura and every single thing that occurs in time is projected on it. There is one line coming down, and that is where we are just now, and then there is the future – utterly unknown to us, and there is the past much of which is forgotten. God is from eternity to eternity. All the past is before him now, and all the future, and the present. The fall of man is there before God as vividly as that very moment when the woman ate the forbidden fruit. God sees her reach out for the fruit, sees her teeth biting into it and drinking down the juices though God had said, “Don’t do that!” But God hears again his own promise to send the Seed of the woman to bruise the serpent’s head – that is also there before him now. He does not need to be reminded of what he has promised. And then God sees the cross of Christ; the darkness; the cry of dereliction; the shout of triumph, “It is finished.” It is all there before Father, Son and Holy Spirit this moment of accomplished redemption as it was 2000 years ago. Neither the Son nor the Father has forgotten any of that darkness, or the pains that he endured that our salvation has secured.
We read in the Scripture this phrase, that God does not remember our sins against us any more. You want to know what that means don’t you? How can God who knows all things – past, present and future – ever forget anything? How can he forget our sins? He doesn’t. But you protest, “Doesn’t it say that he won’t remember our sins?” Yes it does, but that’s not the same as forgetting them. God is omniscient. God cannot forget anything in the past, but he can choose “not to remember.” You understand? Forgetting is passive. It is something we men and women do. I read that letter that I had written in my handwriting telling my wife of the escapades I had, much of which I had completely forgotten. I didn’t deliberately set out to forget. Forgetfulness happens. But “Not remembering,” is active. It is a promise and an action that we can make. God makes this promise to his people that he will not remember their sins against them. Here is a wife who has cheated on her husband but she has repented. The husband has forgiven her. He tells her, “I will never bring up that act of yours to you or to anyone else in the future. It is dead and buried. It will never be exhumed. I will never dig one bone out of the ground and hit you with it. I will never do that. For me it is totally gone and I will never use that sin against you.” He chooses to remember it no more.
God has done that with our sins. Here is our past, my past, and God chooses never, never to remember that fall and this fall of ours, not ever again. He will never bring it up and charge you with it. He will not do so on the Day of Judgment. That day will not be a day when our sins are paraded before us for hours! Because there is another more blindingly glorious incident in the past that is before God, the cross of God’s Son Jesus Christ, when the Lord laid all such sins on our Saviour. The guilt of what we did in the past is there in Jesus, condemned in Jesus, finished with in Christ, and remembered no more. Of course you will be reminded of your past sins by Satan because that is his work, to accuse us of our sins, to rub our noses in them, to disturb our peace, but we may face our cruel accuser and tell him, “My Saviour Christ has died, and obtained pardon for that sin too.” So God has chosen not remember that folly, and that embarrassment, and the way I hurt another person. It is all covered over. He will never bring them up. It is all remembered no more, all the sins of our past have been dealt with. You need to hold high the shield of faith when those fiery darts of the memory of your past follies are hurled at you. You need to remember the immense mercy of God, the loving kindness and covenant faithfulness of God, that all that is greater than all your sin. Don’t let your past sins pull you down. Trust in God’s promises. He has the cross of his Son before him and all your guilt is gone.
iii] God knows all things present. If God didn’t then you or Satan or Balaam’s donkey could boast that you all have greater knowledge than the knowledge of God. “But all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do,” (Hebs. 4:13). He knows how many stars there are and their composition and their surrounding planets. He knows each grain of sand, every atom and molecule. He knows each sparrow and when its life shall end and it falls to the ground. That is his will, not bad luck. He knows each speck of dust that floats on a sunbeam. He knows every drop of rain, and every wave that breaks on every shore. He knows every one of the bacteria in your gut. If God failed to know one rogue atom then he would not be infinitely divine.
The words that the king of Syria whispered in his bedroom were revealed by God to Elisha. Jesus knew what was in man, what was in Peter and he could warn Peter that he would deny him three times the next night before the cock crew and so he told him very accurately, “Peter be prepared. Watch and pray. This is coming, Peter.” He knew that Judas was going to betray him. Then remember the tenth commandment written by God; “Thou shalt not covet.” We covet in our hearts by our greed. It might not register in our facial expression or in our tone of voice, but God can survey that inward area of our life and judge what is going on there. He can implement that commandment by condemning the covetous because he knows all their thoughts, good and bad. The psalmist says, “You understand my thoughts afar off” (Psa. 139:2). On the day of judgment God “will expose the motives of men’s hearts” (I Cor. 4:5). He will say to some people concerning lives that went up like a rocket and came down like a stick, “That was all an ego-trip. You lived for yourself three score years and ten.” And they will be speechless before the only important Being that there is.
iv] God knows all things future. There was a morning when father Jacob called for his favourite son Joseph and sent him on a message to his brothers in Dothan. That decision of Jacob was not a terrible mistake. God knew the hatred in the brothers’ hearts towards Joseph. God knew that slave-traders would be passing by that day. God knew that Potiphar would purchase him in the Egyptian slave mart. God knew what manner of wife Potiphar was married to. God knew that in prison after some years Pharaoh’s butler and baker would join him. God knew that the butler would forget to tell Pharaoh. God knew of the dreams that Pharaoh would have and that Joseph would be able to interpret them. God knew all those future things. God gives abundant proof of this in his prophecies, all those prophecies concerning the birth and death and resurrection of the Messiah; he knew them all, scores of them. Jehovah knew that Cyrus would become emperor of Babylon and so after their 70 year exile in Babylon that Cyrus would permit the children of Israel to go home. God knows what will be. It is immutable knowledge. It is not subject to God stumbling across brand new discoveries, having new information, or new inventions, or new people or new circumstances who pop up with the passing of time. God speaks with certainty about the future as if it were already past or as if he were describing the present. Satan pretends that he too knows the future. He says to God about Job, “If you put forth your hand and touched him now, and removed from him his possessions then Job would curse you to your face” (Job.1:11). It was not true. Satan did not know the future. He can only guess. Fortune tellers guess; those who read crystal balls guess; those who claim to communicate with the dead – mediums – guess. The ability that little old lady in the headscarf has is her superior cunning. The only one who knows the future is the living God. The cross of Christ shows this; it was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God that our Saviour died that death carried out by wicked men.
v] Death and destruction lie open before the Lord (Provs.15:11). That is our text. What does the word say?
A] Death lies open before the Lord. God knows the actual minute that I am going to die. The grave does not fill by accident. We do not die by chance. It is appointed unto men by God one moment to be our last. Some die in the womb, some are centenarians when death comes to them, but all breathe their last breath at God’s chosen time, and there will come a day when God will explain to us all why it had to be so, at that specific time for us.
Our burial places are all known by God. Some are the tombs of the unknown soldiers lost in war and destroyed on the battle field, no one knowing who these soldiers were, but God knows. When John Murray was a soldier in the First World War his brother was missing in action, and John Murray went searching in no man’s land for Tommy’s body. How precious his dear brother was to him. They had shared a bedroom and bath nights and schooling and worship together. He never found him. His only comfort was that the whole world of death lies open before the Lord. Tommy’s dust was precious to the Lord as well as to John. He will rise in the great day of resurrection from the unknown place where he is buried just as much as the lord of the manor will rise, though buried with much pomp and having a great marble sepulchre with his name and ancestry and his children’s names carved into it. Those lost at sea or by a hideous air-crash will be known on the day of resurrection just like those who lie in the heart of a vast pyramid. God does not forget the burial place of his children or one atom of their dust. God alone knows where Moses sleeps in death. God knows where the remains of Adam lie. We know little of where the great and mighty of the past lie buried, but the whole realm of the dead lies open before the Lord.
Remember the hatred in the professing Roman church when John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and encouraged the Lollard preachers in their evangelizing of the nation? They not only burned Wycliffe’s body but they gathered his ashes and scattered them in the local river, and so on and on the ashes went from the river into the sea and out and out on the seas onto the shores of the whole world just like the gospel itself. All the persecution of man could not stop the message of God’s salvation filling the world. Infidels ask how could the body of Wycliffe or any martyr be restored in the day of resurrection. What of those eaten by cannibals, they ask, or devoured by wild beasts. We believe that God can track every one of their atoms if he so please. We do not think in the great resurrection it will be necessary for him to do so, but if God willed he could do that with every body that has ever lived – in a flash! It is nothing to God to know where every particle of our handfuls of dust is to be found. Death lies open before the Lord.
So it is with the soul of man. What must a soul be like when it is torn from the body in death? We have no idea, but we do know that Jesus said to the dying thief that that day he would be with him in Paradise. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and so God has planted in our hearts a longing for the rejoining of our body and soul which will happen when Christ returns. The saints before the throne in heaven today know of this and they cry, “How long O Lord?” They feel unclothed and they long to be clothed again. But we know they are enjoying the highest bliss. As the hymnist says…
“This much, and this is all, we know
They are supremely blest;
Have done with sin, and care, and woe,
And with their Saviour rest.”
So death lies open before the Lord
B] Destruction lies open before the Lord. You know the fantasies that exist about the horrors of hell, that it is pictured as a carnival of atrocity, with red demons with forked tails holding pitchforks in their hands and tormenting rebel sinners. But see our text! The destruction of hell lies open before Almighty God. He knows everything that is going on there. It is not a mystery to God. He superintends the judgment. It is his holy will that is done there in overseeing the deserved payment of the wages of sin. None will be treated unjustly or unfairly. Not one. It is an open prison, that is, open to the scrutiny of God, but not open for any to leave. God draws a veil over the state of the lost. Perhaps we could not bear to see it. It is enough for us to know that it lies open before the God and Father of our Lord. The loving Jesus himself knew what happens in that pit, and often he spoke about it. There is nothing in the outer darkness that is hidden from him. So death and destruction lie open before the Lord. Then in our text there is the inference, a stroke, a dash and these words . . .
vi] How much more do the hearts of men lie open before the Lord. If God knows all the future, and everything that is happening to the dead then certainly your heart must be transparent to God. If a man knows rocket science then he certainly knows his twelve times table. Man is compared in Scripture to a grasshopper. God knows grasshoppers. The mighty nations of the world, like China and India, are before God like a drop in a bucket. So he knows your heart and the hearts of all whom he makes in his image. The God who sees death and hell certainly sees your heart.
The Bible says that God ‘searches our hearts.’ You see a TV news item on a police raid on a house. The door broken down, the officers rushing in and the search for drugs or stolen property begun. Every room and every cupboard is ransacked. They enter the attic and the cellar, they check for loose floorboards. Then the sniffer dogs come in and they go all over the house. At the end they can safely say whether there was anything suspicious in the house. Do you remember in the Genesis narrative of the patriarchs how Laban goes into Rachel’s house looking for his stolen idols? Rachel had put them under the camel’s saddles and she is sitting on top of them. Laban can’t find them. But God can see under the camel’s saddles. Achan hid a wedge of gold under his tent, but God knew exactly where it was. David tried to cover up what he had done but it was not long before a man came into his presence and said, “You’re the man.” “‘Can any hide himself in a secret place that I shall not see him?’ saith the Lord.” He searches everywhere and he tries our hearts and searches our reins, our feelings. God says in Ezekiel chapter 11 and verse 15, “I know what is going through your mind.”
But to the Christian the fact of God’s omniscience is full of comfort…
i] It is a comfort to our assurance. We wonder at times whether we are real Christians. Is there true saving faith in our hearts? We can feel icy cold to God. We seem to be going through the motions of religion without any heart. I ask you do you think there might be a mustard seed of saving faith in your heart. A single molecule of awareness – let me begin with something as small as that, a tiny appreciation that you are a sinner who needs grace and redemption and that that comes through Jesus Christ the Son of God. You say that you don’t know if you have one such atom, but God knows what’s going through your mind. So you say to God, “Lord you know all things. You know whether I trust in you.”
Remember a time of perplexity in Job’s life, and finally in his confusion and heartache he said of God, “But God knows the way that I take,” (Job. 23:10). Why these fearful providences? Why my losses and crosses? Why my struggle with my Father’s will? It may seem to be profoundly mysterious to me. Why should the Christian life be one of such struggles for some Christians? We don’t know, but God knows the way that I take. It is all perfectly clear to him. “He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psa. 103:14). We can cry to a God before whom there are no mysteries, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psa. 139:23&24). We cast ourselves on God’s omni-knowledge, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee” (Jn. 21:17).
ii] It is a comfort to our praying. At the present time there would be more than a million congregations meeting all over the world and a million pastors leading them in prayer. Today there might be 100 million Christians praying and you are one of them among that multitude, and you feel you are the youngest, newest, most ignorant Christian in the world, a little Christian boy asking the question, “How will God hear my prayers among 100 million others?” The answer is that God is omniscient. There is no possibility of your prayer being overlooked or swallowed up in the millions of other prayers that at this very moment are being sent to the throne of heaven. The number will not jeopardize our little requests. There is not a sigh he doesn’t hear. Every imperfect and confused prayer is accepted and answered because it comes to God via our mediator Jesus Christ. It is de-sinned by our dear High Priest and answered far above our deserving through him who is our Advocate. God knows all the possible consequences of giving you this thing or refusing you that thing and he will work every one of his answers for our good. In fact, “It shall come to pass that before they call I will answer; and that while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isa. 65:24). “Great is our Lord, and of great power; his understanding is infinite” (Psa.147:5).
iii] It increases our amazement of God. What a small God have so many in the professing church. He is so predictable, and so unsurprising. We know the social sins that he is against, ‘extremism’, and the general virtues of goodness and tolerance that he supports. He’s a bit of a bore – the retired military general who lives in Tonbridge Wells. The God who conquered the grave! The God who is going to be our Judge! The God who knows everything about us! How shocking that the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ should never startle us with his holiness, grace, power and knowledge! God gives those who really know him goose pimples. Isaiah saw him and he cried, “Woe is me. I am undone.” John saw him and he fell at his feet as if all strength had been drained from him. Sometimes he causes me to tremble, the God who knows us far better than we know ourselves. He has seen us acting as badly as we could behave but in Christ he loves us still. How great Thou art! “The eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good” (Provs. 15:3).
iv] It does not take away our responsibility. The fact that “Great is our God and of great power; his understanding is infinite” (Psa. 147:5) is not the cause of everything. I know many things, but that knowledge doesn’t cause them to happen. I may know that a drunkard will go into a pub and become drink, but my knowledge of that fact doesn’t cause it to happen. God knew that the brothers would sell Joseph into slavery. They did mean it for evil; God’s foreknowledge didn’t take away the liberty of man’s will. He permitted them to do what they did. He removed his restraints from them. They chose to do what they did, though God knew what it would be. There are two things we have to avoid. One is fatalism, whatever will be will be. Other is atheism; there is no God in control of our lives or of this creation. It is a loose cannon. We are loose cannons.
Thank God for his omniscience. It will keep us from temptation. It will deliver us from being sloppy in our duties. It will make us sincere in our conduct. We will not be man-pleasers but God-pleasers. The psalmist in Psalm 119 says, “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee” (Psa. 119:168).
It will keep us humble. Imagine what God has seen of my life. Every ugly and cruel thing God has seen, every provocation, every hypocrisy, every lust, every doubt. What patience and kindness in spite of all this dross. He has overcome my evil with his good. So we rely on God in every circumstance. He knows what is best for me. So let me joyfully and confidently submit myself to his care and keeping.
20th July 2014 GEOFF THOMAS