Some people like knowing things just for the sake of knowing things. But this isn’t an option when it comes to Christianity, when everything the Bible tells us has a definite purpose in view — to make us honour God more in our lives. Hugh Binning preached a sermon on 1 John 2:3, “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments,” in which he emphasises that if we truly know God, this will be evident by our obedience to God. Theology and controversy are never ends in themselves, and should not distract us from the true knowledge of God which brings us to love and worship Him. In the following updated extract Binning outlines some features of true knowledge.
True knowledge of God is essential
The words of the apostle give the designation of a true Christian to be the knowledge of God, and the character of his knowledge to be obedience to his commands.
“Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Here, in a narrow circle, we have all the work and business of a Christian. The Christian’s direct and principal duty is to know God, and keep his commands. These are not two distinct duties, but make up one complete work of Christianity, which consists in conformity to God.
Then the reflex and secondary duty of a Christian, which makes much for his comfort, is to know that he knows God. To “know God and keep his commands” is a thing of indispensable necessity to the being of a Christian, and to “know that we know him” is of great concernment to the comfort and well-being of a Christian.
True knowledge of God is hard for sinners to find
Knowledge is a thing so natural to the human spirit that the desire for knowledge is restless and insatiable. But this is the curse of man’s curiosity at first, in seeking after unnecessary knowledge, when he was happy enough already. For that wretched aim, we are to this day deprived of the knowledge which Adam once had, which was the ornament of his nature and the repast of his soul. The track of it is so obscured and perplexed, the footsteps of it are so indiscernible, and the way of it is like a bird in the air, or a ship in the sea, leaving us few helps to find it out, that the majority of people lose themselves in seeking to find it. In all their inquiries and searchings, at length nothing is found out remarkable, but the increase of sorrow, and the exposure of ignorance.
“But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?” The more people seek her, the more ignorance they find — the further they pursue, they see themselves at the further distance. That’s how it is in things that are obvious to our senses, and how much more is our darkness increased in spiritual and invisible things! For God himself should be the first and principal object of the soul, and his glorious light should first strike into our hearts. But of God, Job testifies, “How little a portion is known of him!” In natural things, we have one veil of darkness in our minds to hinder us, but when it comes to knowing about God, we have a twofold darkness to break through — the darkness of ignorance in us, and “the darkness of too much light” in him. God’s glorious majesty is all out of proportion to our low spirits.
Pride is the daughter of ignorance. “He that thinketh he knoweth anything knoweth nothing as he ought to know,” saith the apostle (1 Cor. 8:2.) For he who does not know his own ignorance, however much he knows, is the greatest ignorant.
It is a manifest evidence that people have only a superficial grasp of things, and have never broken the shell or drawn aside the veil of their own weakness and ignorance, when they do not apprehend deeply the unsearchableness of God and his mysteries, but think they have mastered them because they have made a system of theology, or set out some conclusions of faith and can debate them against adversaries, or because they have a model of theology, as of other sciences, in their mind.
True knowledge of God kindles both love and hatred
My beloved, holy Job attained to the deepest and fullest speculation of God, when he concluded, “Because I see thee, I abhor myself.” As Paul says, “If any man love God he is known of God, and so knows God” (1 Cor. 8:3).
From these testimonies of Job and Paul I conclude that the true knowledge of God consists not so much in the comprehension of all points of divinity, as in a serious apprehension and conception of the divine majesty which enkindles and inflames these two affections, love and hatred, towards their proper objects. It is the kind of knowledge which carries the torch before the affection, the kind of light which shines into the heart (as Paul’s phrase is, 2 Cor. 4:6) and so transmits heat and warmness into it, till it makes the heart burn in the love of God, and the loathing of himself.
True knowledge of God puts things in perspective
As long as you only hear of God in sermons, or read of Him in books, you keep a good conceit of yourself. That knowledge “puffeth up.” It blows you up full of wind and self-confidence, and commonly those who doubt least are not the freest of error and misunderstandings.
And truly, if you seriously reflect on the difficulty of knowledge, and darkness of our minds, and the general vanity and vexation of all things, you cannot but look at excessive confidence in the same way as people running a race at full speed in the dark night, on a route full of pits and snares. Often our confidence flows not from evidence of truth, but the ignorance of our minds, and is not so much built on the strength of reason, as the strength of our passions and the weakness of our judgments.
But when once you come to see God, and know Him in a lively manner, then you see your own weakness and vileness in that light, and you cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me, I am a man of polluted lips!” You discern in that light the loveliness of God, which ravishes your heart. Then, as Jeremiah says, you will not glory in riches, or strength, or beauty, or wisdom, but only in this, that you have gotten some discovery of the only fountain of happiness. Then you will not think so much of tongues and prophesyings, and knowledge of controversies, nor gifts of body or of mind. Nor will external appendages of providence much affect you. You will be content to pass over all of these into a fuller discovery and enjoyment of God Himself.
True knowledge of God is plain
When we search the Scriptures, they do not entertain us with many and subtle discourses on God’s nature, and decrees, and properties, nor do they dwell on the many perplexed questions about which so many volumes are spun out, to the infinite distraction of the Christian world. The Scriptures do not claim to satisfy your curiosity, but to edify your souls.
That is why they hold out God in Christ, as clothed with all His relations to mankind, in all those plain and easy properties that concern us everlastingly — His justice, mercy, grace, patience, love, holiness, and such like. From this I gather that the true knowledge of God does not consist in comprehending all the conclusions that are deduced and controversies that are discussed, but rather in the serious and solid apprehension of God as He relates to us, and consequently in the moving of our hearts to love, and adore, and reverence Him. He is displayed to us only in those garments that are fit to move and affect our hearts.
You may know all those controversial things, and yet not know God Himself, for knowing Him cannot be abstracted from loving Him — “They that know thy name will trust in thee, and so love thee, and fear thee.” This is the only possible natural result, if He is truly known at all, because there is nothing and nobody more beautiful, more dreadful at the same time, and more worthy of choice. Seeing infinite beauty and goodness, and infinite power and greatness, and infinite sufficiency and fulness are combined together in Him with infinite truth, the soul that truly apprehends Him, cannot but apprehend Him as the most ravishing, and the most to be revered too. If you do not find your heart suitably affected, it is an evident demonstration that you do not truly apprehend Him, but an idol.
True knowledge of God wins our obedience
But everyone thinks they know God. So the Holy Ghost, as He designates a Christian by the knowledge of God, so He characterises knowledge by “keeping the commandments.” “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
Religion is not defined by a number of opinions, or by a collection of certain articles of faith, but rather by practice — obedience to the known will of God. Knowledge is instrumental to something else. In Scripture, knowledge is not principally intended for itself, but rather for obedience.
Perhaps some may think that the Scripture, or theology, is merely contemplative, because of the many mysteries infolded in it, which seem irrelevant to our practice. I confess that it is a departure from the great purpose and plain intent of the simplicity and easiness of Scripture to use it with such industry and subtilty to discuss so many things of mere speculation and notion, dry and sapless to the affection, and unedifying to our practice, and to force these on people’s consciences as points of religion.
All that is in the Scriptures either directly intends us to practice God’s will, or is ultimately intended for that end — either it prescribes our obedience, or else it tends principally to engage our affections, and so to secure our obedience. Those elevated discourses about God, His nature and properties, His works, and all the mysteries infolded in them, are directed towards this end. Further than mere knowing, they are to bring the heart of a believer to more love, and reverence, and adoration of God, that so he may be brought more easily and steadily to a sweet compliance and harmonious agreement to the will of God, in all His ways.
True religion is an art
This shows us the notable art of religion — to extract affection and obedience to God out of all natural contemplations. True theology, engraved on the soul, is a kind of architectonic science, which gives structure to all other points of knowledge. Whatever they are, a holy heart can apply them to the divine uses of engaging itself further to God and obedience to God. “Who would not fear thee, O King of nations!” (Jer. 10:7) “Fear ye not me, who have placed the sand as a boundary (etc)?” (Jer. 5:22). That’s what extracts praise (Psa. 104:1) and admiration (Psa. 104:33), and submission and patience under God’s hand (Job). If we only seek to know things so that we will know them, and can discourse on them, we disappoint the great purpose of the whole Scriptures, and we debase and degrade spiritual things. We transform holy things into a carnal, empty, and dead letter, whereas true knowledge spiritualises earthly and carnal things into a holy use.
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