|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Known of God (Date not known)|
|Text||Galatians ch.4 v.9 |
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The subject which comes before us here is that of the knowledge of God. There is knowledge of God which is innate in all mankind. There is no such thing as a normal human being who is not aware of the existence and being of God. The very fact that God originally made us in His image guarantees that all persons, who are at all normal, recognise the meaning of the word: God. And indeed, they have some sense of the reality and of the existence of God. God, indeed, has framed and shaped and fashioned the universe round about us, in such a manner, that wherever we look we have reminders of God's being and of His existence. Even poets, who are not believers, refer on occasion to a sense of God which they feel even in the beauty of nature itself. Now that was God's intention, and therefore there is no such thing as an honest atheist. If a man is an atheist then he is suppressing the knowledge of God which is instinctive to him.
I'm not however talking this evening about this knowledge of God; this innate knowledge of God which even unbelievers have some sense of. What I am speaking about in connection with the text is a saving knowledge of God, and that indeed is what the apostle Paul is referring to in verse 9: "after that ye have known God" (text); that is what it means to be a Christian: to know God. And you notice it represents a great change, because in the previous verse he says this, "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods" (Galatians 4,8). So there was a time when they did not know God savingly, they did know Him by that general knowledge that I referred to earlier, as all men do - even the worst and most pagan of them. Hence in all ages and all places, religion is practised, however defiled and deformed and deserted it is, there is no human civilization known to man but where some sort of religion is conducted, some sort of worship is carried out. And so these Galatians too, had their primitive forms of worship, they were pagans, they were idolaters; but then the apostle refers to this break with the past. The old gods now have gone and they have this saving knowledge of the true God and he refers to it in my text in verse 9, "But now, after that ye have known God" (text) so that is what conversion is: it is essentially a knowledge of the true God. And I want to explore with you some of the meanings of that expression and of that phrase: what does it mean to 'know God'?
Well, one thing is clear enough and that is that it is a very fragile thing - easily damaged - because even these people who now were Christians were drifting into false ideas about God, "how turn ye again" he says, "to the weak and beggarly elements ... Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years" (Galatians 4,9-10). And what he was saying to them there, is that though they did know God and had this saving, true, genuine knowledge of the living God, yet through spiritual immaturity and through ignorance of the Bible they were sliding back into pagan ways, or at least, into Old Testament ways of thinking, which were not appropriate for these New Testament times; days, and months and times and years, all these things belong to the Old Testament and they belonged, indeed, to a certain extent to pagan religions as well. And they're not appropriate he says, for Christian times; we don't any more have days of atonement; we don't any more have these times like Pentecost and Tabernacles which they had in the Old Testament. These things have passed; the only holy day there is in New Testament times is the weekly recurring Sabbath, which is a commemoration of the resurrection of our blessed Saviour.
So I say again, here is the point he makes: that it is possible for those who have a true saving knowledge of God to have that knowledge weakened and damaged by superstition; by false forms of worship; through ignorance; through a failure to recognise the teaching and the meaning of the Bible.
However, this 'knowledge of God', what are we going to say about it? Because this is what salvation consists of. The great difference between those who are Christians and all others is that the Christian alone knows God in a true and an enjoying sense of the phrase. Well, I could put it to you like this, the more complex the object of our knowledge is the more complex is the knowledge we have of it and God is the most complex and wonderful of all Beings. So it is not surprising that when we speak of the knowledge of God we are referring to that which is infinite. And the more glorious and the more wonderful any person is, then the more many-sided is that knowledge which we have of him. Take for instance your own friends, some of them you could say, you know; you know this one, and you know that one, but you know some people better than others, some people you could say 'I know inside out', others you feel you've known them for half a life time and you still don't know them and that is because people conceal themselves, they don't disclose themselves, they hide their true thoughts, and you can never get inside their minds. Now, if it is as difficult as that to know a person, how much more is it difficult to know the true and living God. It is the most profound of all forms of knowledge. To know God, is indeed, the most wonderful and glorious and yet the most many-sided of all forms of knowledge that we may have in this world.
Now one of the elements in it, of course, is that we know God by our minds. Our mind receives revelation from the Bible. The Word of God is the source of all our saving knowledge of God. That is why all God's children instinctively read and feed on the Word of God. Here is the quarry from which our saving and perfect knowledge of God comes. And the better we know the Bible, the better our view of God will be; and yet, there is more to the knowledge of God than simply, what you might call, head knowledge: there is our own experience of God in our lives. The way in which God has proved Himself to be God in our own experience, in the way in which He has led us through this life, many are the experiences which the Lord's people have, many are the ways in which God has revealed Himself to them and shown to them what manner of God He is. And this compliments our knowledge of the Bible.
We know God, insofar as He has proved the truths of the Bible in our own experience and in our own life. And this indeed is how it ought to be, there is to be a reaction and an interaction between what we know with our minds and what we experience in our lives. What happens in our lives is not infallible knowledge, but it is complimentary knowledge and confirming knowledge of what we know in our minds from the Bible. The mind is first, and the Bible is first, but this is all strengthened and confirmed by what we experience from day to day in our life here below. And indeed, God designs and intends that in some experiences of our life we should have such an experience of Him, as proves to us beyond all doubt, that God is truly with us "My wand'rings all what they have been thou know'st, their number took; Into thy bottle put my tears: are they not in thy book?" [Metrical Psalter(Psalm 56,8)]
There are times when God manifests Himself to us in our hearts and in our experiences, as He did for the apostle Paul many times and particularly in Acts 27 when the shipwreck was taking place. God spoke to him and revealed Himself to Paul. Now that, of course, is supernatural revelation and we are not to expect that today, but we are to look for God's guidance and His personal dealings with us as an old writer put it 'God deals familiarly with man'. We are to expect Him to deal personally and intimately and familiarly with us because we know Him and we are known by Him.
In the Scriptures there are especially four illustrations which are repeatedly used by God to describe and to define this knowledge of God which the believer has.
The first one is the knowledge which sheep have of a shepherd. We were singing about that in Psalm 23 and we can read about it in other places, especially in John 10. Where, you remember, our Lord says this "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one": one God (John 10,27-30).
So we are to understand then, that our knowledge of God as believers is analogous to, similar to, that sort of relationship which exists between a shepherd and his flock. In other words, in this sense: that the Lord's people daily look up to Him to provide for all their needs; the Lord's people are defenceless in this world, there is none that fights for us, but only God. And it is the instinct of a Christian heart to look to the Lord for protection, and guidance and direction, and strength and provision.
I remember once an illustration as to how sheep can be so intelligent. I was walking as a young man in a field, where there were some lambs, in County Durham. I was a very young man at the time; I was walking to meditate and perhaps to talk with a friend and as we went along, two or three lambs came up to us, to our surprise, because lambs usually don't do that, they usually run away from you. They came up to us. And in a manner of speaking they pestered us and it became evident that they wanted to lead us somewhere, so we followed them and they lead us on to one of their number, another lamb, who was caught by his feet in a fence and couldn't extricate itself. These lambs had the sense to lead human beings to one of their number. I never forgot it, it was an astonishing experience; they had the wisdom to do that. Well, we are the Lord's flock and the Lord's people. We are to care for one another. And we are to look up to the great Shepherd who cares for all His flock. You and I know only a small number of the Lord's people, but He knows them all. "I ... know my sheep, and am known of mine" (John 10,14). Now that's one then of the illustrative uses that Scripture makes to indicate the nature of this knowledge that the Lord's people have of God: the shepherd with his sheep, it betokens care and provision and intimacy.
But then, another illustration is found: that of a king with his subjects. Many times in scripture we read about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. Now what do we mean by that? Well the kingdom of heaven really means all God's people in this world, who are truly converted and who really do know the Lord and are the subjects of God's special protection and care. Together with all those members of the church who are above already in glory. So we are not on our own in this world, there is a great cloud of witnesses who testify that God is faithful.
I never forgot an illustration of a good old minister from Lewis years ago. He referred to the church as being a table and we're at the lower end of the table in this world and at the higher end of the table is Christ at the head and all His people were there. But we belong together, we are not there yet, but we are still sitting at the table, the same table as our beloved brethren are in glory, those who have gone before us. Now that is the picture we have of the invisible church and kingdom of God and the kingdom of Christ refers to the fact that God is the king immortal, eternal and invisible over all His children in this world. And we are the subjects of that kingdom; we are those who recognise the authority of God over our lives. Other people do not; they're not interested in God or His glory or His authority. But the Lord's people are concerned about the knowledge of God and the glory of God and the authority of God in their lives. They are conscientiously endeavouring to do His will, because they are His subjects. He is their Lord and they honour Him and respect Him for what He is, others do not, but they do. Their desire is to live as in His sight and under His eye; and so to live so that when they come to the end of their earthly journey they shall be acknowledged by Him and graciously rewarded by Him with a place in His everlasting kingdom. God will say to them then 'Come up higher'. And that's the second illustration that is commonly used in scripture and Christ often uses it, you remember, in His parables.
But then the third illustration which is used in scripture is that of the son with a father. Now we know that a son has a special relationship to a father. There is a certain speciality about that relationship and it is true with an adopted son. I never forgot a little girl who was adopted into a Christian family. She had previously been in an orphanage in Russia and she did not know what it was to have a mother or a father, but now she had been adopted and she couldn't express her love and gratitude enough toward this mother and this father. They were everything to her and she would go about the house singing gratefully that now she had a father and a mother. Well, the Lord's people have that knowledge of God. He is our heavenly Father and we must never forget that. Perhaps this is an emphasis which we do not stress enough. But the Scriptures stress it, "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" and such we are, "and it doth not yet appear what we shall be" (1 John 3,1-2). But it is as children of a father that we know Him; He is not a strange God; He is not a God of whom we are ignorant: we know Him, we know Him. And we experience His love in our hearts in this life. That's the third of the illustrations of scripture and the fourth one is the most intimate of all.
The knowledge of God is conveyed to us in the Scripture by this relationship between a husband and a wife. And that of course is, as we well understand, the most intimate of all relationships of the husband with the wife. They are closer in connection than any other relationship can be in this world. And the Lord takes that illustration and He uses it to describe our knowledge of Him and His knowledge of us: "thy Maker is thine husband" (Isaiah 54,5) says the Bible. "I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord" (Hosea 2,20). God regards Himself as married to His people and He regards His people married to Him. And to allow anything to interrupt the relationship is a form of spiritual fornication and adultery as the Bible frequently indicates; our hearts are to be given to Him in love.
Well now these are the four, I think, commonest illustrations in the Bible which are used by God Himself to indicate this knowledge that we have of Him: as the sheep look up to the shepherd so we look up to God for all our daily supplies and our daily help. As a subject is grateful to have a good government, and a wise, judicious king and ruler over him, so are we; glad to have God ordering our lives, giving us wise laws and good government. And then we are glad as children to have a Father, within the heavenly relationship of the family of God. A Father who never ceases to look down upon us, His eye is upon us all the time. And then we have One whom, wonder of wonders, regards Himself as our heavenly Spouse. No wonder therefore He grieves when anything enters our hearts and interferes with our first love. Wasn't that the reproach that He levelled at a certain church in the book of Revelation, the church at Ephesus; that they were doing many things, but one thing they were not doing; they had left their first love. And that's what God first desires from us, more than service and more than everything else, this is the cream of our knowledge of God; that He loves us and we are to love Him, and nothing will ever destroy that bond of love and union between us.
So says the apostle here, you have come, he says, to know God. Isn't that his phrase in verse 9: "After that ye have known God" (text). You used to worship these dumb idols; you used to be like others, in the world, under the power of superstition, but now you have truly come into the saving knowledge of God. Now my dear friends the Bible would have us know that our daily duty is to grow in this life. To abound in this life, to let no false knowledge spoil it, no superstition. Sometimes the Free Church of Scotland and the Puritans generally have been accused of being 'kill-joys' because they have frowned at Christmases and Easters and Whit sun tides and All Saints days and they say 'What's the harm of these things?' Well, it's to bring anything into our religion which isn't scripturally based, whatever it is. And there are far more serious things that people can bring in than that. But our knowledge of God is weakened whenever we bring in anything into it which isn't grounded in Truth in Scripture and is not an exposition of the Word of God.
So I say then we are to stir up ourselves to know this God and to know that we know Him, and to rejoice in our knowledge of Him, and not to hide our knowledge of Him, but to live like those who know God. What a privilege to know God, and of course, it has an emotional side to it. That if we love God it will upset us to live in this world and hear people reproach God and despise God. There are many illustrations of this in the lives of good men and women.
I just have time for one simple illustration in the life of a missionary: Henry Martin. He was once in the presence of some Muslims in the middle east, I think it was Persia or Arabia, somewhere like that, and he was arguing for the Gospel and they were arguing for Islam, and they appreciated he was a very excellent man and a great scholar, a Bible translator into various languages, a very brilliant Cambridge scholar and he would argue from the Christian point of view. But one of scholars on the Muslim side, he said something very disrespectful about Christ, and he looked at Henry Martin's face and he saw this man in agony, his expression betrayed inward agony. And he said, 'what's the matter?' He said, 'To hear Jesus Christ evil spoken of is like hell to me,' he said. And he said it with such conviction, the point went home. You see, he loved God.
It's not that we defend the Sabbath day because we're called upon to be campaigners, for this, that, and the other cause. It's not that we get upset and anguished when we see Roman Catholism gaining ground because we have some party interest like politicians in maintaining a cause of our own. No! No! Our concern is because it is our love for God, our knowledge of God, and we realise that if any other religion comes into the land and overspreads the land, then the knowledge of the true God is lost, and there is no loss comparable to the loss of the true God; to lose God is to lose everything that is worth having. Better to lose everything and have God, than lose God and have everything else. That is what every Christian knows; every Christian has this certainty: that the knowledge of God is the most essential element in life. So then, that's what the apostle is telling these Galatians. "But now," he says, "You have come to know God" (text).
But then he goes on and he says something which I find very fascinating, I can't think of any other way to put it - fascinating. Look at this: "after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God" (text). Isn't that strange? "or rather". What he means is this: that our knowledge of God is not so much to be emphasised, as His knowledge of us. When we use this expression "or rather" we are correcting ourselves of course. And the apostle Paul is correcting himself. He is saying 'You have come to know God, or rather, I should say, to be known by God'. Now I would like to suggest to you that that is a most interesting phenomenon, here is the apostle speaking by inspiration and as he speaks he says something which is true, but then he corrects himself and says something which is still the more true, and still more important. To be known of God is more important than to know God.
What does he mean? Well, it must be this of course; he must mean by this expression that God's knowledge of us comes first. We would never know God if He had not chosen first to know us and so the knowledge which God has of us is primary and our knowledge of Him is secondary. You have this illustrated in the case of the conversion of the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. You remember he saw the vision and heard the voice and Paul cried out "Who art thou, Lord?" (Acts 9,5) You see God knew him, but he didn't yet know God. So the knowledge God had of him was primary; and so it is with you. If you know God you must remember that it was only because He first knew you. "We love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4,19). We know Him, because He first decided to know us.
My friends, God does not know everybody in this sense; of course He knows everybody in the sense of omniscience. He knows all about everybody, that's true, but that's not the same as knowing as a friend. When God is said to know somebody it means to know them as a friend and to make them His friends. "Henceforth I call you not servants;" says Christ, "for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends" (John 15,15). God has made people His friends and His chosen ones: "I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine" (Isaiah 43,1) says God. Now God has not done that with everybody, as you well know. There are not many in Inverness who know God, still fewer in Scotland, still in fewer in Britain, still fewer in the wider world. Oh my beloved friend, what an honour to be known by God. Shall I tell you that when He looks down upon the millions He decided he would put ten thousand to one side and choose one here; and ten thousand to one side, and choose another there. It is the grace and sublime privilege to be known by God, to be singled out for this personal, intimate relationship with God: as a wife with a husband, as a son with a father. I say it is an exquisite privilege which God has not given to many and in our times not given to very many at all. And so we should regard this knowledge as extremely precious. And God's knowledge of us comes first.
Secondly, under this particular aspect here: God's knowledge of us constitutes the relationship that we have with Him. In other words, it's because He loves us in this saving way that we react as we do to His gracious overtures of love. It's amazing how the secret impulse of God's Holy Spirit is at work whenever God speaks savingly to a man or to a woman. We'll take the case of Peter and James and John and Andrew and Matthew the Publican in the early chapters of the Gospels. Do you remember Jesus went along the shore and He said to this one "Follow me" "Follow me" "Follow me", there were thousands of people there. But He singled out this one and then that one and here was a man at the seat of Custom, Matthew, "Follow me"; immediately in every case, this is what I'm coming to, in every case they rise up and follow Him. You could say they hardly know why, but there is a secret impulse of God's Spirit, they recognise who He is, they know Him and so do you know Him, so does every Christian know Him. There's no difference between a Scotsman and a China man and an African Christian, they're all the same, they all know the Lord and they're all known by the Lord. He knows them and it is because He knew them and loved them with an everlasting love, therefore they have this knowledge in their own hearts. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life" (John 10,27-28).
That's the end of it all, and in heaven this knowledge will be greatly expanded. We have but begun to know about God; the greatest theologian on earth only knows put a pin prick of the knowledge of God. Heaven will be very much a matter of expanding for evermore in our knowledge of God. There's a phrase which we should weigh carefully, the apostle says in 1 Corinthians 13 "now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Corinthians 13,12). That is to say in glory our knowledge of God will be greatly increased and that's what will make it heaven. Heaven will be heaven because of our knowledge of God greatly advanced.
And as I close, two things: in heaven we shall all see eye to eye. John Wesley and A M Toplady, both great Christians, they argued fiercely all throughout their lives, or much of their lives, but in heaven they see eye to eye. All the Lord's people will see eye to eye. In heaven we'll be growing in the knowledge of God. Heaven is not a static state, we shall not be like statues, we shall be growing like the sons of God evermore in the knowledge of God, evermore approximating to a perfect knowledge of God, but never reaching that point, no not through all eternity, because the finite cannot contain the infinite. But the glory of heaven will be to grow and grow in the knowledge of God evermore and more, coming ever closer to a perfect knowledge of God, an inexhaustible knowledge of God but never, ever able to reach that - that will be heaven and the Christian's life is heaven begun right now.
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