Now more than ever we need real knowledge of God and his purposes:
We always need to keep our focus on the living God – especially in turbulent times like now. If we lose sight of God, we will allow our circumstances to derail our faith and cause us to succumb to paralysing fear. Knowledge of God is an essential antidote to all of this.
We must know God. But knowledge of God is never mere head knowledge. Sure, it is based on it, but it must go beyond it to real heart knowledge. We do not want to just know a lot of propositions about God, but we want to actually know the one true God as he is: a person.
So allow me to run with these thoughts a bit further. Instead of my usual articles about the culture wars, or my more recent articles about the corona crisis, let me look further at this matter, drawing upon two people: the Apostle Paul and the Welsh expository preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Yesterday I posted an article dealing with these two men, specifically on his sermons on Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. I mentioned his sermons are available in an eight-volume set, with vol. 3 – “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ” – covering Ephesians chapter three.
I included a number of quotes from that volume in my article: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/02/lloyd-jones-and-our-riches-in-christ/
Here I want to do more of the same, but by looking at just one of his sermons. It covers Ephesians 3:18-19 which says this: “[That you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Lloyd Jones opens his sermon with these words:
These two verses tell us what the Apostle’s real object was in praying for these Ephesian Christians. All the previous petitions prepare for and lead up to this petition. They were essential as preparation, but they are not ends in themselves; they are designed to lead on to this grand objective. We find ourselves, as it were, upon the pinnacle of Christian truth. There is nothing higher than this. God grant us His Spirit that we may consider it aright! We are in a rarefied atmosphere; in a place to which, alas, we are not accustomed. Far too many of us are content to spend our time in the lowlands and the plains amid the mists and the other characteristics of that level of life. So, in the words of the Apostle Peter, it behoves us to ‘gird up the loins of our minds and be sober’.
We are dealing with love, not a concept, but as the actual love of Christ. It is personal, it refers to personal knowledge of Him and of His love to us. The Apostle John in his First Epistle writes in a similar vein saying, ‘And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us’ (4:16). The end of all our knowledge should be this knowledge of the love of Christ to us. The end and purpose and objective of every doctrine is to bring us to this. It is possible for us to know all doctrine, in a sense, and yet not to know this. Doctrine is not to be an end in itself. It is, of course, vital and essential, as the Apostle has already made abundantly clear in leading up to this great petition. No man has ever known this love of Christ, to which the Apostle refers here, unless he has been deeply taught and well versed in doctrine. On the other hand it is equally true to say that if you stop at doctrine you still do not know this love of Christ.
What foolish creatures we are! Many of us are not interested in doctrine at all; we are lazy Christians who do not read, do not think, and do not try to delve into the mysteries. We have had a certain experience and we desire no more. Others of us, deploring such an attitude, say that, because the Bible is full of doctrine, we must study it and grapple with it and possess it. So we become absorbed in our interest in doctrine and stop at that. The result is that, as regards this question of the love of Christ, we are no further on than the others because we have made doctrine an end and a terminus. In this way the devil trips and traps us and robs us of our heritage. If your knowledge of the Scriptures and of the doctrines of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has not brought you to this knowledge of the love of Christ, you should be profoundly dissatisfied and disturbed. All biblical doctrine is about this blessed Person; and there is no greater snare in the Christian life than to forget the Person Himself and to live simply on truths concerning Him.
It is for this reason that some of us have always had a feeling that it is dangerous to have examinations on scriptural knowledge. Some of the Reformers held that view, Martin Luther especially. Some of the Puritans also held it. There should never be such a thing as a ‘Degree in Scriptural Knowledge’. This is so, not only because it is wrong in and of itself, but also because it tends to encourage this tendency to stop at truths and to miss the Person. We should never study the Bible or anything concerning biblical truth without realising that we are in His presence, and that it is truth about Him. And it should always be done in an atmosphere of worship. Biblical truth is not one subject among others; it is not something that belongs to a syllabus. It is living truth about a living Person. That is why a theological college should be different from every other kind of college; and that is why a religious service is essentially different from every kind of meeting the world can organise. It is always a matter of worship; we are in the presence of a Person.
The Apostle says this in an arresting manner in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Philippians. Although he had advanced so far in the Christian life, and had had many wonderful experiences, he tells them that this was his ambition: ‘that I might know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto His death’ (v. 10). And he proceeds to say, ‘Forgetting those things that are behind, I press forward’. Love cannot be satisfied. Once you know this Person and begin to love Him, you feel that all you have received is not enough, you want more and more. This is what Paul is praying for these Ephesians. He longs for them also to know Christ, because to know Him is to know His love. The more we know Him the more we shall know His love toward us. These things are indivisible, and cannot be separated.
Thus our first proposition is that this knowledge of the love of Christ is the goal of all our Christian endeavour. How much do we know of this? Is it real to us? Think again of expressions in certain of our hymns such as
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast.
Is this true of you? You may have believed, and you may be learned in the Bible and in doctrine; but the question to be faced is: Do you really know him? Do you know His love? This is the ultimate object of all Christian endeavour.
He closes his sermon this way:
So far we have merely been surveying the situation. We must go on to ‘comprehend’ and to ‘know’ more about the dimensions of this love. In the meantime ask yourself the question: Do I really know the love of Christ? Seek it from Him! Go to Him, apply to Him for it! Ask God, ‘according to the riches of his glory’, to ‘strengthen you with might by his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints . . .’ Such a prayer is never offered in vain. Trust yourself to His love. He has loved you with an everlasting love; so leave yourself in His hands. Keep His Commandments, do all the things we have already considered, and keep on in the spirit of the hymn which says:
Wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day.
Yes and amen. These are important words to live by, and not just during times of extreme crisis.