1 John 4:7-10
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God.…
To know is man's highest ambition. Knowledge of God — what is it and how can we secure it?
I. I remark THAT KNOWLEDGE IS VERY VARIOUS, AND IN EVERY DEPARTMENT MUST BE SECURED BY ITS OWN METHODS, IN ITS OWN DIRECTION, BY ITS OWN APPLIANCES, AND FOR ITS OWN USES. If I wish to know an object that is near, I must use my eyes; an object that is remote, I call for a field glass or a telescope; an object that is minute, a microscope. If I would test the texture of an object, I touch it with my hands; the solidity, I strike it with a hammer. If I want to know the chemical or medicinal properties, I have my chemical tests, my medicinal tests. The most valuable knowledge is the knowledge of things with reference to their uses; with reference to what we can do with them by combining them with other things; with reference to how we can make them serve us. This is the dominion which God intended for man. If with reference to things immaterial, to things not seen and eternal, scientific men have sometimes said they are unknowable, it is because they have tried to test them by material appliances, with microscopes and telescopes and hammers, which cannot be done. Men have proposed a prayer gauge on the principle of the rain gauge.
II. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD MAY BE JUST AS VARIOUS AS OUR KNOWLEDGE OF MATERIAL THINGS, for He has put Himself variously into material things; but, like all other scientific knowledge, IT MUST ALWAYS BE RECOGNISED BY ITS OWN APPROPRIATE TESTS. The knowledge can come only in its own correspondent way. There is an intellectual knowledge of God — that is, if God is a thinker, an architect, a builder, man, who is made in God's image, may think God's thoughts over after Him, may trace his achievements to His plans and make inferences as to His wisdom and power — that is, may thus know Him. God is thus revealed in what we call nature. This is natural theology. If we want to know God as a thinker, we must use our thinking powers, employ our thinking processes. As a thinker, God reveals Himself to our thinking. Geology reveals to us God as an architect and builder; so does astronomy. One of the methods of intellectual culture is to think over the thoughts of other thinkers. When you say, "That man knows Shakespeare, is a good Shakespearean scholar," I understand this, that he has thought over Shakespeare's thought in all of his great dramas, knows Shakespeare through these thoughts. In one passage, for example, he has felt the power of Shakespeare's imagination has felt it in his own imagination, by yielding his Imagination up to the control of Shakespeare's imagination, as a sparrow might try the same flight as an eagle. Thus only can he feel it. There is an ethical knowledge of God — a knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself to the human conscience. When Coleridge says that the Bible finds him in deeper depths of his nature than any other book, he refers to this revelation of God which He has there made of Himself to man's moral sense. It is not the book, but the Author, who finds him there. It is this ethical revelation of God in the Bible which gives its grip upon man's nature. The conscience is man's deepest part, the essential man. There is an ethical knowledge of Shakespeare which is quite as real as our intellectual knowledge. To his treatment of our moral sense we respond with perfect unanimity. Hamlet's uncle and Lady Macbeth feel just as you and I should feel had we the conscience of a murderer. They both break down in their three-fold nature under the burden of their guilt; go utterly to pieces in body, soul, and spirit. This ethical character of the Bible and of Shakespeare is revealed only to our moral sense. That this ethical character of the Bible appears to us so marked and prominent is partly owing to our own moral attitude toward its Author, to the moral hurt of our own nature. We feel as though a surgeon were dressing a wound which we dread to have disturbed. A creature of sinless nature would be very differently affected, would not find this ethical character at all offensive, even if he consciously recognised it.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD SPOKEN OF IN THE TEXT IS NEITHER INTELLECTUAL NOR ETHICAL, although it requires both the intellect and the conscience in order to reach it, to prepare the way for it. Those who do not go beyond the Sermon on the Mount stop with the intellectual and ethical in Christianity. They know God only so far as that. There is a higher mountain than that on which this sermon was delivered — namely, Mount Calvary. There is something beyond them that is distinctively Christian. God is the Creator; He is the moral Sovereign; but He is more, and Christianity shows it. The text reads, "Everyone that loveth is born of God, for God is love." It is a charmed circle, to be entered only thus. It is very evident that the knowledge of God here spoken is not intellectual. Nor is it ethical knowledge. It does not imply any disrespect to the law of conscience to say this. They are both preparatory to something higher and better. If the views already presented are correct, if knowledge must come through methods correspondent to that knowledge, this other knowledge of God cannot come through the intellect or through the conscience. It is impossible. God is. Is what? He is a Creator. Yes. He is a Sovereign. Yes. These are what He does. God is. Is what? Is love! How can I know Him? By loving Him. There is no other way. "He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love." It is just like saying, He that will not think God's thoughts shall not know God intellectually; he who will not observe the working of God in his conscience shall not know God morally. So, here, he who will not love shall not know God essentially, for God is love. Love understands love. Nothing else does. This is the solution, and God has adopted it. If you begin by asking how the Son of God knows God, He Himself has told us: by loving Him. "I and My Father are one." The teachings of the Saviour are thrown into the simplest intellectual form. Indeed it would be a strong epithet to apply to them to call them intellectual at all. Intellect is not prominent in them, does not preponderate there; truth is there; life is there. It is just so as to the conscience. Ethics are not prominent in them. He Himself has said, "For I came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Me might be saved." Humanity already carries its great burden of condemnation. How can the burden be relieved? Lifted? By showing humanity that God is love. The love which reveals to us God, is love which we are taught by experiencing it and trying to imitate it. We learn to know God by loving as God loves; loving Him, loving man, and entering into God's purposes to save him. We find God's love in the Bible. The Bible is the record of God's patience with men and nations. How are we to know God, who is love? Only by loving Him and walking in the footsteps of the Being who says, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." God, who is love, has taken this pains to show us Himself. By studying this life for the sake of making our lives like it, for the sake of putting into our lives the mind and spirit of it, we may come to know God. True knowledge of God can come only as we are like Him. You can come to an intellectual knowledge of the love of God as you see its exercise in the man Christ Jesus. Many a student of the Bible does that. You can bring yourself to know God in the sense of the text only as you try to do as Christ did, and from the motives that actuated Him. There is a proper emphasis to be put upon what are called good works. They have their place in the Christian system; but it is not in the light of present merit or of future reward that we are chiefly to regard them. They will have their suitable recognition when He shall come whose reward is with Him. But in good works — and that is of more practical importance — in imitation of the Son of Man in our lives, are we to find the sphere where we are to know God, since only thus do we become like Him. A great deal is said, and rightly said, about the necessity of being practical Christians in order to keep our Christianity alive; but it is the only way also in which we can keep vivid our knowledge of God, which is the basis of all our Christianity. Every such effort brings one into closer sympathy with that God who is love. The reformed man is urged to try to save other men who need the same change. It is his only safety.
(J. E. Rankin, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.