Seek you the LORD while he may be found, call you on him while he is near:…
1. If you mentally retire a few steps from it, and look at it reflectively and from a general point of view, you will find in the passage this notable paradox; that it invites you to seek a God who yet cannot be found, to know a God who yet cannot be known. For where should we seek God if not in His "ways;" or how shall we know Him, except by coming to know His thoughts! And yet, while we are urgently invited to seek Him, we are expressly told that them is the widest disparity between His thoughts and our thoughts, between His ways and our ways. Now this strange paradox opens up to us what is, and is likely to remain, the great religious question of the time. Whether there is a religion at all, whether there is any revelation of the will of God, nay, whether there is any God to speak to us and to reveal His will; and, if there is, whether we know or can know anything about Him. In its higher modern form, atheism does not so much deny the existence of God as declare that, if there be a God it is impossible to demonstrate His existence, impossible to have any true knowledge of Him and of His will; impossible, therefore, to have any real fellowship with Him. If the atheism of to-day erect any altar at all — and some of its representatives are men of a profoundly religious temperament, and must have some form of worship — the only altar they will consent to erect is one which, like that at Athens, bears the inscription, "To an unknown God." If He does exist, they are sure that He cannot be what men have for the most part taken Him to be, nor like what even the best men are; sure that, being infinite and eternal, all virtues, all moral qualities and graces, must take a very different form in Him to that which they take in us. Their assumption, together with their calm and reasoned assertion that Science yields no proof of His existence, have bred some doubt even in the bosom of the Church itself. What we think of the sun does not much matter to the sun and cannot possibly alter its nature or put an end to its existence. And what men think of God does not and cannot change Him. Science says, or some of her disciples say for her: "In the whole range of visible and observed phenomena we find no proof of God." What then? If men will go to the visible for the invisible, to phenomena for realities, how can they hope to find what they seek? They might as well go to the sand of the desert for water, or to the troubled sea for a solid foundation. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God. And yet does it not everywhere affirm, what Science and Philosophy are proclaiming as a discovery of their own, that God is past finding out; that He is unsearchable, neither to be discovered nor comprehended by man's feeble powers? The Scriptures, then, do proclaim God to be unknowable, above our reach, in a great variety of forms; they declare that as the heavens are high above the earth, so high are His ways above our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts. So that modern scepticism, original as it takes itself to be, is simply announcing, as its last discovery, what the apostles and prophets found out centuries on centuries ago.
2. But you will naturally ask: "Does not the Bible teach us something more than this? something more than that God cannot be found out by dint of intellectual research?" Yes! Admitting God to be unknowable, it yet affirms that He may be known. We cannot find Him out to perfection, but He sufficiently, and most truly, reveals Himself to us in His works, in His Word, in His Son. God's thoughts and ways, we are told, are as high above ours as the heavens above the earth. But the heavens, high as they are, are yet known to us; and, though known, are yet unknown. We none of us know all that the heavens contain and reveal, nor all the laws which are at work upon and within them. But though "heaven" be so imperfectly known to us, does any sane man doubt that there is a heaven, or that it holds within it the sun, moon, and stars? Does any sane man doubt that we know something of the mechanical and chemical structure of the heavenly bodies, of the laws by which their movements are governed and controlled, of the mode in which they affect us, and the world in which we live, and the other worlds related to them? Unknown to us, and even unknowable, not to be found out to perfection, we nevertheless know them — know at least enough of the heavens to be sure that they exist, and to guide us in all the practical purposes of life. And it is precisely in the same sense that God is both known to us, and unknown. We have not learned, we cannot learn, all that He is, all that He does, or all the reasons which determine the several aspects and movements of His providence: but we may know, we do know and are sure, that He is, and that He rules over all. No doubt we know Him, in part, by our reason. It is not to reason alone, nor to reason mainly, that the Bible appeals. The Bible nowhere deals with God as a problem to be demonstrated, nor professes to give a complete or a philosophical view of His Being and the qualities of His Being. It shows us a more excellent way of finding Him. It affirms that as we ourselves grow in righteousness we shall come to know Him who is righteous; that as we grow in purity we shall see Him who is pure; that as we grow in love we shall become one with Him who is love. "Blessed are he pure in heart, for they shall see God." And is that not the way in which we come to know all persons, and especially good persons? The child does not know his father perfectly: but need he doubt that he has a father? The child can never know the goodness of a good father until he becomes good himself and a father: but need we, therefore, doubt whether his father be a good man? And may not we in like manner know that God is; do we not know that He is, although we are but children in understanding? If you have once come to know God for yourselves in this most natural yet Divine way, you will cleave to Him, and to your faith in Him, though the heavens should fall and time should be no more. Your feet are on the rock, and the everlasting arms are about you for evermore.
(S. Cox, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: