THAT YE MAY KNOW.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." -- 1 John 5:13.
ONE of the most common-sense principles in every-day life is a clear knowledge of one's earthly position and one's earthly possessions. And nothing is plainer in the Bible than that we were meant to have this knowledge in our religious life as well. Uncertainties are fatal to all true progress, and are utterly destructive of comfort or peace. And yet it has somehow become the fashion among Christians to encourage uncertainties in the spiritual life, as being an indication of the truest form of piety. There is a great deal of longing and hoping among Christians, but there is not much knowing. And yet the whole Bible was written for the purpose of making us know. The object of a revelation is to reveal. If nothing has been revealed to us by the Bible beyond longings and hopes, it has failed of its purpose for us. But I fear a large proportion of God's children never get beyond these hopes and longings. "I hope my sins will be forgiven some day;" "I hope I may be favoured to reach heaven at last;" "I hope God loves me;" "I hope Christ died for me." These are samples of the style of much Christian testimony in the present day. Indeed, I have even known Christians who could never get further than to say, "I hope that I have a hope." If this word were used in the sense that the Bible always uses it, that is, in the sense of firm expectation, it might be all right; but in the use of it which I have described, there is so great an element of doubt, that it does not amount to a Bible hope at all. We need sometimes to bring our words out into the light of common-sense to see what we really do mean by them, and I am afraid in very many cases we should find that the word "hope" would mean, being interpreted, the word "doubt."
"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (1 Cor. 2:12).
The Holy Spirit is given to Christians, not to make them have longings and hopes only, but to enable them to "know the things that are freely given to us of God." Doubts and uncertainties about spiritual things belong to the spirit of this world, knowledge belongs to the spirit which is of God. As long as we fail to say "I know" in regard to spiritual things, just so long are we allowing the "spirit of this world" to rule instead of the spirit which is of God.
"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name" (John 20:30, 31).
"He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son. And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (1 John 5:10, 11).
The "record" God has given us of His Son has been given for the express purpose of making us know that in His Son we have eternal life. "This is the record," i.e., that God hath given to us eternal life in Christ, and whoever believes in Christ has this life; and of course, ought to know it. If we do not believe this record, and consequently do not know that we have eternal life, we are "making God a liar." These are solemn words, and yet, taking the common-sense view of things, what is a doubt of God's record but the making a liar of God? If I doubt the record of one of my friends, I do in effect make that friend a liar, although I may never dare to use that word. The only way in which we can really honour God is to declare that what He says is always true, and that we know it to be true; and are sure therefore that we have eternal life, because He says so, let the seemings to the contrary be what they may.
In the Bible it is always taken for granted that we know. In his first Epistle John says, "I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth." He could hardly say the same in these days! "We know that the Son of Man is come;" "We know that we are of God;" "We know the things that are freely given us of God;" "I know whom I have believed;" "We know that all things work together for good;" "If I should say I know Him not, I should lie;" "We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him;" "We know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." The Bible is full of declarations like these; but how would they sound if we should substitute in them all the word hope for the word know? Never anywhere in the whole Bible are we given the slightest intimation that God's children were to be anything but perfectly sure of their relationship to Him as children, and of His relationship to them as Father. The flood of doubt and questioning, that so often overwhelms Christian hearts in these days, was apparently never so much as conceived of in Bible times nor by Bible Christians, and consequently it was nowhere definitely provided against. The one uniform foundation upon which were based all commands and all exhortations, was the fact, taken for granted, that of course those to whom the commands and exhortations were addressed, knew that they were God's children, and that He was their Father.
"I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one" (1 John 2:12-14).
Even the little children in Bible times were supposed to know that their sins were forgiven, and that God was their Father. In fact, common-sense would tell us that the knowledge of one's position and standing in any relation of life is always the essential foundation of all action in that relation; and how Christians ever came to tolerate (if they do not even sometimes inculcate) such a mist of doubt and uncertainty in regard to the soul's relations with God, is incomprehensible to me.
No service could be rightly performed by any Israelite who was doubtful as to his nationality or his family record.
In the first chapter of Numbers we are told that only those Israelites who could "declare their pedigree" might be numbered among the men of war; and in the second chapter of Ezra no one who could not "find his register" and "reckon his genealogy," was allowed to exercise the office of priest. Any doubts and uncertainties on these points made them "as polluted," and consequently unfit to serve (see Num. 1:2, 17, 18; 2:2; Ezra 2:62, 63). I believe the same thing is also true of Christians now. We can neither be numbered among the Lord's soldiers, nor enter into priestly relations with Him, until we also can "declare our pedigree" as children of God, and "reckon our genealogy" as being born of Him.
There seems something very anomalous in the fact of a man undertaking to call people back to their Father's house, who does not know whether he himself has any right there or not. And yet I fear it is far too common a thing for even clergymen not to know anything certain in regard to their spiritual "pedigree" or "genealogy." I knew a congregation of Quakers where at one time a Friend had been for a year or two "exercising his gift in the ministry." Among the Quakers, "ministers" are not made by colleges or by bishops, but, after a man or woman has "exercised their gift" in the congregation for a sufficient length of time, the spiritually minded in that congregation meet together and decide whether, in their judgment, their friend has really received from the Lord a "gift in the ministry;" and if their decision is favourable, that gift is then acknowledged, and that friend becomes an "acknowledged" or "recommended" minister. The case of the Friend I speak of had been laid before the spiritually minded members of his meeting several times for "acknowledgment," but a favourable decision could never be arrived at, because one man invariably declined to sanction it. The Friend in question finally asked this man the reason of his persistent opposition. After a little hesitation, the man replied it had been a great grief to him that he could not unite in acknowledgment of the Friend's gift, "but," said he, "I have listened to thy preaching very carefully, and I have heard thee very often express a 'humble hope' that at some future time the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life might be thy portion; but I have never heard thee express one single time the knowledge or belief that these blessings had really been bestowed upon thee; and I cannot feel that it is right to encourage any man to preach a gospel to others, about which he himself has so little knowledge." This reply left the Friend without excuse, and he inwardly resolved never again to open his mouth to tell others about eternal life in Christ until he could say with assurance that he knew that that eternal life was his own. Ashamed of the uncertainty, which before he had cherished as a sign of humility, he went to the Word of God to see what was there taught. His faith laid hold of the announcement in 1 John 5:1, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God," and he said, "I do believe that Jesus is the Christ with all my heart; and God says that if I do this I am born of Him; therefore I know I must be His child;" and he was able from that moment boldly to assert it in the face of every seeming to the contrary.
"But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Gal. 4:4-7).
"The adoption of sons;" surely this is an adoption about which there can be no uncertainty! One would think that we for whom Christ died could not question a fact so plainly stated, nor refuse in response to call God our Father! And yet how many do refuse, and think it is presumption to call God their Father, or to take their places boldly as His undoubted sons and heirs.
"Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1, 2);
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).
"Having therefore these promises," and, of course, knowing that we have them; "being justified by faith," and, of course, knowing that we are, this is the necessary ground of all peace and all purity. Had these passages read differently, had the Apostle begun by saying, "Therefore, feeling very doubtful as to whether we are justified or not," could he have gone on to say so triumphantly, "we have peace with God"? Would he not rather have found it necessary to continue in the same doubtful strain, and to say, "We are very hungry for peace with God, but we do not know whether we have it or not"?
If we were to introduce into the Bible the spirit of uncertainty and doubt that fills the churches to-day, it would revolutionise the Book!
If you will look at the opening verses of each Epistle, you will see that they are all addressed to people of whom it was taken for granted that they knew, without a shadow of doubt, their standing as reconciled and forgiven children of God. I give only two samples.
"To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:7).
"Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:1-3).
Imagine the Epistles addressed to doubters, and how different their contents would have been!
Again, notice the present tense of assured possession throughout every Epistle. Take, for instance, as a sample, the first seven verses of the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Notice "hath blessed," "hath chosen," "having predestinated us unto the adoption of children," "hath made us accepted in the beloved," "we have redemption." And these are only samples. Every Epistle is full of similar tenses of present possession.
Again notice how invariably all the exhortations to holiness are based upon an assured knowledge of our position as the children of God.
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3).
"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph. 4:30-32).
We are not called upon to forgive one another in order to induce Christ to forgive us, but we are to forgive others, because we first know that He has already forgiven us. We are not commanded to be followers of God in order to become His children, but because we know we are His children.
A man cannot act like a king unless he knows that he is a king; and similarly we cannot act like the sons of God unless we know that we are His sons. In fact, the knowledge of our position and standing is the essential foundation of everything else in the Christian life.
The vital question, then, is how we can come to know. Our foundation text tells us, "These things are written that we may know." We must believe the things that are written in the "record" God has given us of His Son. Then we will know. For believing is the same as knowing, where the person we believe is absolutely trustworthy. There are human beings whose word is so absolutely trustworthy, that we would believe them even almost against the testimony of our own senses; and surely God's word can be no less trustworthy.
"God is not a man that He should lie, neither the Son of man that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" If I see therefore that He has unmistakably said anything, I may boldly say I know it, even though every feeling I have should declare the contrary.
"He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true" (John 3:31-33).
Contrast the expression used here, "hath set to his seal that God is true," with the expression we noticed a little while ago, "hath made God a liar." Which is it you do, dear reader?
We often hear the expression used, "I know such and such a thing is true because such or such a person says so," and this, even when we may have no other testimony than that person's word, and in spite of the fact that we are well aware men often lie. But we seem afraid to say, "I know such and such things are true because God says so," although we are perfectly sure it is impossible for Him to lie.
I believe the explanation of this strange inconsistency may be found in the fact, that most people do not accept God's testimony as being really final, but look for some feeling or emotion of their own to witness to its truth. "I could believe such and such things to be true, if I could only feel that they were." In earthly matters we never are so foolish as to make facts depend upon our feelings; but in religious matters a great many seem to think this is the right way. How we ever came to think so, I cannot imagine; for a little exercise of common-sense would tell us that facts can never in any region depend upon feelings, but feelings must always in all things depend upon facts. The divine order is always first to get your facts; then to put faith in those facts; and then, as a natural result, will follow the feelings commensurate with the facts. This order is always followed in earthly things by every sane person. But curiously enough in religious matters a great many people, otherwise very sensible, reverse this order, and put feelings first, then faith in those feelings, and come to the facts last, looking upon these facts, one would suppose, as the result of their feelings.
To show how foolish this course is, let us imagine a man intending to take a voyage to a distant country, who should go to the docks and get on board the first vessel that came to hand, and should then retire to his state-room, and sit down with his eyes shut, to try and "feel" whether he was on the right vessel or not! Such foolishness is inconceivable in any sane human being about earthly things, and yet, strange to say, it is looked upon as being all right in regard to heavenly things.
"If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God, which He hath testified of His Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God" (1 John 5:9-13).
In the case of going aboard the vessel the "witness of men," or, in other words, the assurance from some one who knew, would be the only source of peace. And in the case of the Christian the "witness of God," or in other words, God's assurance that He hath given to us eternal life in His Son, cannot fail to bring perfect peace, if only we will believe it.
A great many, however, will say, "Ah, yes, I could easily believe it, if only I had the witness in myself, as the Bible says I am to have." When are you to have that witness in yourself? before you believe, or after? Does it say, "he that hath the witness in himself shall believe," or does it say, "he that believeth hath the witness"? It makes all the difference which way you read it, whether you put the believing first, or the witness first. The Bible puts the believing first; which do you?
"At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you" (John 14:20).
The day of knowledge will dawn for us when we come to the point of implicitly believing God!
It must be understood, however, that this knowledge will come to us not as a feeling but as a perception. I mean that we shall know it, even though we may not feel it at all. We do not "feel" that two and two make four, but we know it; and to know is far more valuable and stable a matter than merely to feel. What would we think of a teacher in mathematics who should tell his pupils they were to "feel" whether or not the multiplication table was correct? One's studies in mathematics must be based on a much more stable foundation than feeling, if they are to stand the test of facts; and one's experience in spiritual things must be the same. We ought to be, and we may be, as sure of God and His love, and of our relations to Him, as we are sure that two and two make four. Feelings may do for Sundays, or for exceptional occasions of special religious experience, but knowledge is the only thing that will avail us in our every-day life.
In all the lessons in this book my object is to help souls to this place of knowledge. I want that we should each one lay aside our conventional pre-conceived ideas of religion, and get if possible at the heart of the matter, the absolute truth; that is, the truth as it is, not in traditions, nor in creeds, nor in prejudices, but as it is in Jesus. May the blessed Holy Spirit be our Guide and Teacher through all this book!
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