It is a solemn thought for the soul to be under the searching of Omniscience itself. Yet this is the foundation of solid peace to him who believes the gospel of the grace of God. The searching of Omniscience, moreover, gives real value to the present priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ; and it will be found also the only ground of practical holiness. In this respect there is an essential difference between him that is spiritual, and a man even of deep thought and high intellect. He that is quickened by the Spirit is frequently able to interpret things strange and paradoxical to others. “The spiritual man judgeth all things,” and he knows “the end of the Lord.”
Every human being has been searched by Omniscience, whether he is conscious of it or not. This will be made clear “in the day when God will judge the secrets of men.” The searching of “the thoughts and intents of the heart” by the word of God now, is the means of bringing God’s knowledge into application to our conscience before that day. And when this is the case, then are we conscious that our thoughts are understood afar off, and that there is not a word in the tongue, but the Lord knoweth it altogether. He has “beset us behind and before.” He can look backward, and He can look forward also. All our history is before Him, as if it had been written after we had run our course. “O Lord, Thou hast searched me” is the language of the Psalmist—not “Thou art doing it now, or wilt do it hereafter, but thou hast done it already.” “O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou winnowest [marg.] my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways” (v. 1-3).
We do not like to have our paths winnowed. We like to be accredited by men for our zeal and devotedness. But when our paths are winnowed, all our thoughts are discovered and opened to us. If God acted toward us according to our experience of ourselves, what believer would not have his peace disturbed? The practical experience of “the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of our hearts” is from bad to worse. Herein is the great error of that which is termed progressive sanctification. God is not forming a people for their own, but “for His praise.” He is shewing them what they are in themselves, in order to shew them by His Spirit the blessed suitability of Christ to all their need. If God be winnowing our path, it is on the ground that He has searched us already, known us altogether, and provided for what He knows we need. “The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of sold and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.” This is a painful process, either pricking the heart, and leading to godly sorrow (Acts 2), or cutting the heart (Acts 7:54), stinging the conscience, leading to murderous anger. And the word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 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. And when the word thus performs its office, it leads us to value the priesthood of Christ. “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest,” etc.
We can never get from under this searching process. “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee” (v. 7-12). The Lord Jesus says to the church of Thyatira: “All the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts.” When God quickens a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, He makes him to know what it is to be, not only a sinner by acts of disobedience, but a sinner by nature, that sin “dwelleth” in him. And this He does by searching him, and winnowing his paths, and making him, in measure, see himself, even as God sees him.
The Lord Jesus did not commit himself to those who believed in His name, when they saw His miracles, “because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man; for he knew what was in man,” John 2:23-25. With the fairest outside, both as to candour and religion, He knew what was in man. Others might have judged, that conviction was the groundwork of their faith; but such is man’s heart, that miracles do not produce solid conviction. Jesus knew this, for He knew all men. Israel of old saw “the great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians.” Then believed they His words, they sang His praise. “They soon forgat his works.” And when the Lord again visited Israel, this was the testimony, “Ye also have seen me, and believe not.” “Though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him.” His own select disciples, the eye-witnesses of His miracles, forsook Him and fled, when He was betrayed into the hands of men.
When the searching of omniscience discovers to one, what it really is to be a sinner, and that good does not dwell in him, that is, in his flesh, it discovers, also, that the ground on which God is acting towards him is that of the fullest grace.
The God who knows all our hearts, knows that these hearts are beyond measure worse than all the sins we have committed. His verdict against man is still the same that it was before the flood, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually.” All the progress of man has not set aside this verdict of God. We must recognise then that God knows us, knows us just as we are, knew us from the very outset, as He says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou earnest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5): or as later with the apostle: “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace,” etc. (Gal. 1:15). God knows us from the beginning to the end of our course; His estimate of us is, “the flesh profiteth nothing”; and it is well, if we lay down this estimate as our first axiom. But then the same God has spoken to us in the gospel, of the remission of sin. But it is remission of sin according to His omniscience, therefore of all sin—and if God speaks to us of the righteousness of faith, it is according to His omniscience, “everlasting righteousness.” “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,” has thrown the efficacy of what He Himself is into all that He has done. He has offered one sacrifice for sins, of abiding efficacy. He has “obtained eternal redemption,” and “brought in everlasting righteousness.” He has “perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” He is “consecrated a priest for evermore.” All the value of the work and offices of Christ flows from the glory of His Person. The whole question between God and the awakened sinner is settled upon the ground of the unalterable value of what Christ has done. In this sense, the word ‘progressive’ is human, not divine. “It is finished” excludes the idea of progression. “I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men may fear before him.” ‘Progress’ is necessarily associated with change, but truth is immutable. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” We have all truth in the word, and the Spirit to guide into all truth. The work of the Lord Jesus Christ is commensurate with, yea, rises infinitely above, all our need as sinners. There are things reported unto us by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, to tell out heaven’s estimate of Christ’s sufferings, and the glory to follow, which angels desire to look into; 1 Peter 1:12.
The great hindrance to solid peace, is a reasoning still in our own minds, as to whether we are really as bad as God knows us to be. It is expecting to find ourselves better and better in ourselves, instead of seeing that God acts upon His own omniscience as to what we are, and not upon what we are thinking of ourselves, and presents to us His own estimate of Christ’s work and priesthood. The gospel is “the gospel of God,” Rom. 1:1. It is God who bears witness to the total ruin of man, and it is the same God who bears testimony to the complete efficacy of Christ’s work. This is of all importance; for no one perfectly knows the badness of his own heart, and no one perfectly knows the perfections of Christ. We shall be learners throughout eternity of Christ’s perfections.
“I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well” (v. 14). Most marvellous! Look at man; is he not most skilfully and wonderfully contrived? See in the same person the loftiest flights of thought, and the most debasing passions! Physically and morally, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. If we regard the second Man the Lord from heaven, Immanuel, God with us, the One testified unto by Jehovah of Hosts, as “the Man my fellow,” Him who fills the highest heavens, and yet was down here a babe in a manger, who could command the waves, and still the storm, but was buffeted by His creatures—how fearfully and wonderfully made! But we are looking at the Psalm in another aspect, and who so fearfully and wonderfully made, as one quickened by the Spirit, the believer in God’s testimony to His Son? The believer holds to two heads. As naturally constituted, we are under “the law of sin and death.” Men may deny that man is so constituted, but the fact is before our eyes, that no progress man has made, no advancement, no cultivation, no invention, has liberated him from “the law of sin and death.” This is what human philanthropy cannot achieve. But it is here divine philanthropy begins. “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,” Eph. 2:4, 5. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death,” Rom. 8:5. How fearfully and wonderfully are believers made, holding both to the first, and to the Second Adam! And when we look within, how fearfully and wonderfully made! Our souls know what it is to leave things here behind, and to find Christ excellently precious: and then some vain trifle comes in, and pulls us down, and makes us more intensely interested about the passing trifle, than all the solid realities which are in Christ Jesus. Those who have learned something of themselves, know how often their songs of gratitude and praise are succeeded by murmurings, as with Israel of old—yea, they know how the atheistic thought, that would dethrone God, has battled with the spirit which would fain praise God for redeeming grace and delivering mercy. Those who are taught by the Spirit of truth, are learning the unmitigated evil of the flesh.— “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” In practice we often contradict this truth, probing into that which is below, and only learning disappointment. But God is never disappointed when we are disappointed. He allows us to be disappointed with ourselves, in order that we may better learn our need of, and be satisfied with Christ. It is hard and painful to us, to be stripped of self, to be searched, and winnowed. We become disappointed with the world, disappointed with other Christians (and this may be needful), but when God winnows our path, we learn to be thoroughly disappointed with ourselves. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork. But “we are his workmanship.” We are not workers, for “by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship.” And this we are “to the intent, that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” as well as that “in the ages to come, he may shew forth the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us, through Christ Jesus.” The church of the living God is God’s peculiar workmanship. There is a false church, the workmanship of man under the guidance of Satan, a foil to the true church. If Christ has a bride, there is a harlot audaciously claiming this honoured place. If God has His city, the heavenly Jerusalem, man is rearing Babylon (let us beware of her delicacies). If there are those who are sealed with the seal of the living God in their foreheads, there are those who have the mark of the beast. But the church of the living God is so peculiarly the workmanship of God, that whenever man has attempted to uphold, strengthen, or form it, he has undermined, weakened, and marred it. God is a jealous God—and He is very jealous of man’s presumption in interfering with His church.
“My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect, and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there were none of them” (v. 15, 16). We may remark in passing, that “substance yet being unperfect,” is one word in the original. Our translators have made use of a strange word ‘imperfect,’ in order to shew that the sense is not that of imperfect. The new-born babe is a perfect human being, as truly as a man. The rudiments of man are all wrapped up in the babe. The eye of God sees all these rudiments, before they are unfolded. When a sign was given from heaven to the shepherds, it was, “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger”—a strange sign! yet the testimony of heaven (and faith’s acknowledgment) was to that babe, as Christ, Jehovah.
Disappointed as we must needs be with ourselves, let us well mark this, that with respect to the members of Christ’s mystical body, God sees in every one of them, the rudiments of that which shall shine forth in the day of Christ, to the praise of His glory. We might avail ourselves of many things in nature in illustration, as for instance, the fragile egg of a bird. That egg is perfect—but we do not see in it the bill, the foot, or the wing on which the future lark shall rise toward heaven, trilling its sweet song. But God sees all these there. He did not tell Abraham, A father of many nations will I make thee, but “I have made thee.” It is written— “Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” God must speak His own language. There are links in the divine chain—and our experience may come in, as though to separate them; but God sees in each “vessel of mercy,” one “afore prepared unto glory.” The members of Christ’s mystical body are being here formed out of strange materials, and in a strange place, for that hour when they shall be glorified saints. Angels see God’s works in creation, in providence, and in those things in which they are the executors of His will, but they see nothing to compare with the wonderful workmanship of God in quickening into life those who were dead in trespasses and sins. But how unlike are such to glory! groaning in bodies of sin and death— groaning in the midst of, and with, a groaning creation—how unlike glory! But God sees us “yet being imperfect.” He sees us through and through, and He sees us as His grace has made us to be in Christ. He too has made provision for us in Christ, for all that He knows we need. “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”
There is a blessed turn in the Psalm, at verses 17, 18: “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand,” etc. This is a blessed theme, the theme of God’s thoughts—higher, as the heavens are higher than the earth, than our thoughts, the theme of God’s fathomless and illimitable grace. Here there is real liberty. Do we know what it is to have our own thoughts, so narrow, so beggared, so mean, beaten down by God’s high, generous, liberal thoughts—His thoughts of us as to what we are in Christ? “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man, therefore [says Jesus] that hath heard, and learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.” Jesus is the great thought of God—God’s thoughts are expressed to us in Him. It is not an unfallen angel, but a sinner quickened by the Spirit of God, who can thus get into the deep thoughts of God. When he is winnowing our ways, how precious are His thoughts to us: we sometimes try to put one another to shame, to degrade one another—but God works for an expected end. He only humbles us, in order to exalt us; He suffers us to hunger, in order to “prove us, and do us good at our latter end.”
The time is come when judgment must begin at the house of God. He will search each individual Christian, and make him consciously know the ground on which he can stand before God. “If it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? and if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” We can understand the meaning of the word ‘scarcely,’ when our path is winnowed. It does not imply either uncertainty or imperfection in the salvation which is of God, but we learn that salvation must be of God, and our constant need of it. Finished and complete in itself, faith apprehends it as continually needed, as though our whole life was one of escapes, and “He that is our God is the God of salvation.” “He hath delivered, he doth deliver, in whom we trust that he will yet deliver.” Those who, in exercise of soul, find out what is in their own hearts, well know that all that is going on in the world around them, is but the manifestation of the very evil, the principles of which God has been discovering, and they have been judging, in their own hearts.
There is a present restraint, under God’s hand, on man’s evil. Once for a moment God removed it— “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Again He will remove it, and men will be given over to “strong delusion, to believe a lie, that they all may be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” The present moment is a solemn one, popery and semi-popery spreading on the one hand, rationalism and infidelity on. the other. Of our own selves we must judge righteous judgment. “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God” (v. 19). If He is sifting His own people, He will judge all this proud Christianity, whether sacerdotal or sacramental efficacy, or despising lordship and government. But is the knowledge of being delivered from the wrath to come to settle us in self-complacency? By no means—but under the sheltering certainty, that God has searched and known us (as expressed in the first verse of this Psalm), we can turn this truth into a prayer, and say, in the words of the concluding verses, “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” (v. 23, 24). None but he who knows the shelter of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the mercy-seat of God, and is conscious that God has already searched him, and known him, could put up such a prayer. God must be acknowledged as omniscient. We need Him to help us in searching ourselves, because we are partial in self-judgment. The beam is in our own eye, the mote in our brother’s eye, and nothing but the Spirit of God can enable us to get the beam out. It is He who searches the reins and hearts, who has said, “Your sins and iniquities will I remember no more,” and it is because He remembers them no more, that we can ask Him to shew us what debtors we are to His grace.
There was once a man of like passions with ourselves, one who had cursed, and sworn, and denied his Lord, but for whom that Lord had prayed, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren.” And after this terrible sifting, when the Lord searched him, twice he answered readily to the challenge, as oft repeated— “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” But the question was repeated a third time: “And Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, Thou knowest all things—thou knowest that I love thee.” The Lord, in order to get at the bottom of our hearts, may have to remove a great heap of rubbish, such as self-confidence, pride and vanity, but He knows what His own grace has done for us, and He will find His love at the bottom of our hearts; He had to remove a great deal from Peter, a mass of fleshly confidence and forward zeal: He may have to take away from us much of that in which we have gloried, but after all, He will bring out, “Thou knowest that I love thee,” personal affection for Himself. In the winnowing of our paths, much may have to be winnowed out that has been cherished more than Christ Himself, but there is at the bottom faith in Christ, and love to Christ. What a mixture of double-mindedness, of pride, of vanity, there is in the best thing we do! Our prayers, our praises, and our service, are so poor and worthless, and yet we are proud of them. We seek praise from our fellow-men for the very things we have to confess, as tainted with sin, before God. What need therefore, to bare our hearts, and say, “See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” We, perhaps, are not able to detect some particular evil in our own souls, and others may not suspect it. There are instances in which we may thankfully say, “I know nothing by myself”—yet how needful to add, “yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord.” But when the Lord applies Himself to His priesdy discerning judgment, as the One who searcheth the reins and trieth the heart, we may be led to one discovery after another of some crookedness of motive, sufficient of itself to disturb our peace, but used by the Lord to lead us into “the way everlasting.” And is not this way Christ Himself, the only way, the true way, the living way, the way everlasting?
How prone are we to depart from this way, therefore is He pleased to search out our own ways, that He may lead us therein—to shew us that Christ must be practically to us that which He declares Himself to be in His word, “The first and the last,” our “Alpha and Omega.” Happy is it, if we are under that process which, however humbling to ourselves, and humiliating in the eyes of others, leads us still to justify God in using it, and to say, “Search me, O God.” All is well that leads us “in the way everlasting,” that beats us out of our own ways and brings us there, that makes us in result value Christ for the way, as well as at the outset, and the end— Christ learnt as our portion to live upon, as well as known for the pardon of our sins.
The Lord grant to all His people the blessed secret of self-judgment. “If we judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” But if we do not, and are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, “that we may not be condemned with the world.”