The Thoughts of God
P. G. W. Rogers, Guildford
How easy it is for men to be occupied both with their own thoughts and with those of their fellow meu - thoughts which can so easily be assessed. But concerning God's thoughts, it is quite erroneous to assume that they are necessarily, or even probably, similar to man's thoughts. It would in fact be strange if they were, for God is holy and omniscient, and therefore His thoughts are on a different plane altogether. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts", Isa. 55. 9. Hence as we are not able to stand on the earth and touch the heavens, neither can we stand in our natural frailty and comprehend the thoughts of God, Not only arc His thoughts too high for us, they are also too deep: "O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep. A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this", Psa. 92, 5-6. The psalmist marvelled at the works of God and at the deep thoughts from which these works had their origin. Paul, when writing to the Romans, discussed the wonderful work of God's grace to the Gentiles and found himself positively carried away as he wrote, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?", Rom. 11.
Truly God's thoughts differ from ours. His thoughts are thoughts of undoubted authority; infallible, being essential truth; immutable, because infallible. God is holy throughout; He is the Source of all true judgment and all absolute standards. His thoughts spring from an unsullied fount; they cannot be denied, neither can they be deflected. "The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand . . . For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" Isa. 14. 24-27. Job doubtless thought he had a fair understanding of God's thoughts, but he got lost in a welter of unexpected sorrows and was bewildered. He did however learn, as it was intended, that the things of this life, which to him were dark and obscure, were all under God's hand for his good. Whilst Job could never have worked out what was in God's mind, he did learn that whatever God had planned must be carried out, and all the servant of God could do in his trial was to trust Him. "But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him", Job 23. 13-14.
But God's thoughts are equally steadfast in judgment when this must be given. "And the land shall tremble and sorrow: for every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against Babylon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without an inhabitant", Jer. 51. 29. And not only when dealing with His avowed enemies, but even upon His own land God's purpose of judgment is sure. "For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it", Jer. 4. 27-28. God's judgments are in no way influenced by the fact that godless men do not acknowledge Him. "But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor", Mic. 4. 12. And it is salutary to remind ourselves that God does not hesitate to warn His own people if they persistently rebel against His will. "I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, as ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel", Amos 4. 11-12.
There is, of course, a happier side. God who is sovereign may, and does in some measure, reveal His mind to men of His choice. Indeed Paul, speaking of the great privilege of those who have the Holy Spirit, says, "For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ", i Cor. 2. 16. It is therefore fitting that we, who have been saved by God's free grace, should contemplate as far as we may the wonderful thoughts of God towards His people. As we see how the Old Testament saints were thrilled when they contemplated the thoughts of God, we may well be chastened at our own spiritual coldness and sloth.
When the psalmist thought of God's care for him, he wrote, "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: when I awake, I am still with thee", Psa. 139. 17-18. It was not self-satisfaction or pride which caused the psalmist to write those words, for in another place he wrote, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?". He had discovered a thrilling truth; that God was his friend in all the plenitude of His power and majesty. He meditated upon God, and so relished the fact that he was in God's thoughts that he could not rest content until his own thoughts conformed to God's. "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", vv. 23-24. Jeremiah also, turning as it were with great relief from his sad message for a while, and referring to God's purposes of ultimate good to His people, said, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you, and ye shall seek me, and rind me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart", Jer. 29. 11-14.
If the thoughts of God were such a source of joy and inspiration to the Old Testament prophets, then they should certainly be of supreme interest to us. God's thoughts towards His people obviously imply all that is wrapped up in the expression the foreknowledge of God. This is used, not so much of events, but of people: "For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish", Psa. 1. 6. Jeremiah was taught this great truth when God said to him, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou earnest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee", Jer. 1. 5. God knew him i we are not told that God knew what would happen to him - obviously He did - but God knew him and sanctified him. Again, He said to Moses, "I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight", Exod. 33. 12, 17. By contrast, we read in. Matthew 7. 23, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity". The Lord is not here expressing ignorance; rather He is showing the difference between those who are not His, and those upon whom He has set His love. The expression foreknowledge of God means more than His anticipation through foresight of our actions. This would encourage the thought that salvation is in some way based on merit. But such a ground for salvation and election is untenable. We may quote Paul, "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love", Eph. 1. 4; and John, "which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God", John 1. 13; and Peter, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ", 1 Pet. 1. 2.
Before Thy hands had made
The sun to rule the day, Or earth's foundations laid,
Or fashioned Adam's clay; What thoughts of peace and mercy flowed From Thine own bosom, O my God!
Paul gives us a record of some of God's thoughts towards His people in Romans 8: His thoughts of grace in eternity, v. 28; His resolve that they should become nice His Son, v. 29; their justification, sanctification and their glorification before they had seen the light of day, v. 30. All through the Gospels we see the loving purposes of God being worked out; we see the Lord with His disciples telling them that He would come again to receive His own to be with Him. We hear Him promise to send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be with and in them while they await His own return. And ultimately we get a pre-glimpse of that glorious time when all things shall be headed up, as it were, in Christ - when His people shall be both with Him and like Him.
Of our own merit, we cannot attain God's standards. But as we read of, and contemplate, His majestic thoughts of holiness and grace; as we think of His mercy and love to those who were never worthy, and never had any hope of so being by themselves, surely we should be able to echo those words, "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them". And how wonderful too if, like the psalmist, we can say, "When I awake, I am still with thee".
A monument of grace, A sinner saved by blood,
The streams of love I trace Up to their source, O God,
And in Thy sacred bosom see
Eternal thoughts of love to me.