The Knowledge of Christ
Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.Hosea 6:3
Who should seek to know the Lord Jesus? All men without exception, whether high or low, rich or poor, young or old. “Doth wisdom cry? ... Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man” (Prov. 8:1-4). But “wherefore is a price put into our hands to get wisdom if we have no heart to it?” Have we not precious souls? Are they not lost? Is there any Savior but Jesus? Can we be saved through Him without knowing Him? “Where there is no vision the people perish.” But where vision is neglected and despised, people must perish more miserably than where the means of religious knowledge are not enjoyed. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48).
Ignorant and uneducated persons should seek to know Christ. The entrance of His Word will give them light: “it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Ps. 119:130). Men of genius and learning should seek the knowledge of Christ, for without it their talents and acquirements will only intensify their misery in the place of woe. Awakened sinners should acquaint themselves with Him who is the only Savior of the lost, and from whom only they can obtain relief from their wretchedness. Believers, who are already rejoicing in His salvation, should desire to grow in the knowledge of Him whom their souls love; as yet they know nothing as they ought to know, or as they shall know hereafter (1 Cor. 8:2).
Let not the poor imagine that they are warranted to neglect the means of knowing Christ because most of their time is spent in laboring for their daily bread. They are not on that account to be guilty of preferring “the meat that perished to the meat that endureth unto everlasting life.” Let not the rich or noble act as if their dignity raised them above the necessity of becoming acquainted with Him to whom they owe all temporal blessings. Such, from their greater opportunities of acquiring information, are less excusable than the poor, if “they incline not their ears unto wisdom, and apply their hearts to the noblest kind of understanding!”
The young should learn without delay what the Bible tells of Him who said, “I love them that love me, and those that seek me early shall find me.” The old come far short of knowing Christ as they ought; and should spend their declining years in the pursuit of that knowledge which is better for them than thousands of gold and silver (Phil. 3:3).
The Elements of this Knowledge
What should we seek to know concerning Christ? His excellencies are innumerable, and, so far as possible, we should seek to become acquainted with them all. Something may and ought to be known by us of His original and underived glories, and of the love He cherished and expressed for us in the “counsels of peace” before we or the world existed. Then He was by the Father, as one brought up with Him, and was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him; and His delights were with the sons of men (Prov. 8:30, 31). We can never expect fully to understand the “great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.” But even this mystery has not been revealed in vain. We may know so much of the nature and design of our Savior’s incarnation as to make us rejoice in His ability and willingness to save all that come unto God by Him, and as to prepare us for “seeing Him as He is” in the world of glory (John 1:14).
The offices to which He has been appointed by the Father, and the gracious relationship in which He stands to His people, should be the subjects of earnest study. We should search into the glory that encircles Him, as the High Priest of our profession, “who was once offered to bear the sins of many,” and who “ever liveth to make intercession for them”; as “a Prophet, might indeed and word,” who, by His Word and Spirit, reveals to men the will of God; and as the King whom God has set on His holy hill of Zion, to subdue His people to Himself, and who “must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” If we have been reconciled to God through His sacrificial death, enlightened by Him in the knowledge of the truth, delivered from the power of Satan, and made His loving loyal subjects, then we ought to know that He has become our Surety, our Elder Brother, our Shepherd, our Husband, our Head. We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. His church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. If we love our earthly relations and seek to be acquainted with everything relating to them, much more should we seek full and accurate knowledge of Him who is “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” There is no friend like the Lord Jesus! His offices and titles are not empty names, but gracious realities from which we may derive unfailing consolation.
The wonderful things that Christ has done and suffered in accomplishing our salvation afford materials for frequent and profitable meditation: what He did for the ancient church from the days of Adam until the time of His appearance in the flesh; what works of power and mercy were wrought by Him while He lived in a state of humiliation on earth; what grace was shown forth in His sufferings and death; and in His resurrection from the dead as the first-fruits of them that slept and in His glorious ascension and sitting down at the right hand of God. What wonderful things He has been doing for the church since He left our world including how He has been overruling the events of providence for the advancement of His kingdom; and how the history of nations, no less than the history of churches, has been the history of the acts of His gracious administration (Eph. 1:22), and what gifts He has been bestowing upon some of His people for the good of others, and how each of them has been the object of His special solicitude and care! In these things we just behold a little portion of His ways. Happy are they who observe and understand them (Ps. 107:43).
What Christian can call to mind His mighty acts without exclaiming, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints” (Rev. 5:9, 10; 15:3).
The honors that have been or shall yet be paid to Jesus should engage our earnest attention. He has been the confidence of His people in every age; loved, trusted, and obeyed by all who looked to Him for the salvation of their souls. He is praised and honoured, not only by the church which He has redeemed, but by all the angels of God, who are the fellow-servants of them that keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus. These glorious, happy beings cannot claim Christ as their own Savior, but they never cease to honor and praise Him as the Savior of lost sinners of the human race, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).
When Isaiah saw His glory and spoke of Him, he saw Him encompassed with seraphs, who celebrated the praises of His glorious holiness. When John saw Him in His state of exaltation, he heard the angels sounding forth the praises of His grace, and all the creatures which are in heaven and the earth, under the earth, and in the sea said, “Amen. Blessing, and glory, and honour, and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever” (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 5:11-14). We see not yet all creatures praising and honoring our glorious King. We see too many of them lifting up unrighteous weapons of rebellion against Him; but the Word is gone out of His own mouth in righteousness, and shall not return void; unto Him every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear (Isa. 45:23). It cannot but fill our hearts with joy to contemplate those honors that are paid to Christ by believers, by angels, and by all the creatures of God.
But our joy must rise still higher when we contemplate the honors conferred upon Him by His eternal Father. These are the honors which Christ Himself chiefly regards, and in which we ourselves are most deeply interested. They are the sure proofs that our confidence in Him is not misplaced, for God hath raised Him from the dead and given Him glory so that our faith and hope might be in God. And the same exceeding greatness of power is manifested in us which worked in Christ when God raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principalities and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but likewise in that which is to come (1 Peter 1:20, 21; Eph. 1:1, 19-23).
Christians cannot but rejoice to know that Christ has gone to the Father and is crowned by Him with glory and honor. Nor will they be transported with less pleasure when they learn what honor is done to our Lord by His own Spirit, His agent in the world who glorifies Him by taking the things which are Christ’s and showing them unto us (John 16:14).
We should know the position which Christ holds in His own religion. There are some who allow no higher place to Christ in practical Christianity than Moses held in the religion of the Jews. But believers are better taught. To them Christ is “all and in all.” He is the object of their faith. He is their hope, their righteousness, their joy, their life, the rock of their salvation on whom is all their dependence for time and for eternity. If we give Him only a part where everything is due, we dishonor Him and turn His religion into a mere shadow because, rejecting the animating soul, we hold fast only a lifeless form. What benefit can we derive from the law if we know not Christ as the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth? What consolation can we derive from the gospel if we know not Christ to be the sum and substance of it? It is the glory of the gospel that it is the ministration of righteousness and of the Spirit. Now, the righteousness which it ministers is the righteousness of Christ. The spirit which is ministered by the gospel is the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 10:6).
Such are some things revealed concerning Christ which are specially worthy of our most serious consideration; as yet it is but little that we can know of His personal and mediatorial glory. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
The Nature of this Knowledge
Consider what sort of knowledge regarding Christ we should seek to obtain.
There is a knowledge of Christ which is obtained by the simple exercise of our rational powers. There is another kind of knowledge which proceeds from the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ. It was of the latter that Christ said to Peter, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” This sort of knowledge excels the former as much as light excels darkness. If we thus know the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall know the certainty of the things wherein we have been instructed by His Word; and while we see the beauty and glory of the truths that relate to Him, we shall feel their power and live under their influence. “The branch of the Lord” will be beautiful and glorious in our eyes, and all worldly excellencies will appear contemptible, when compared with the brightness of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A speculative knowledge of Christ is valuable on account of the use that is made of it by the Spirit, who is often pleased to make it really beneficial to our souls, by enabling us to understand the importance and to see the excellency of what we know. But a knowledge that is merely speculative produces evil rather than good effects. It is at the best like a winter’s sun, which gives light without heat. Very frequently it puffs up the soul with a fond and false apprehension of its own wisdom. The Laodiceans had no other kind of knowledge, and they fancied themselves rich and increased with goods, when in reality they were poor and miserable and blind and naked. It was knowledge of a very different character that Paul desired when he wished to know Christ, “and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:10).
When men have no other knowledge than that which consists in uninfluential notions, they know nothing as they ought to know. That man truly knows Christ, in the right sense of the term, who is taught by the Spirit to obey Christ; the man who says that he knows Him, and yet refuses to obey Him, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-5; Eph. 4:21-24).
Reasons for Seeking this Knowledge
Why should we seek to know Christ?
Our deep personal interest in Christ makes the knowledge of Him exceedingly valuable. Children are expected to know their own parents and servants their masters. Much more may it be expected of creatures that they know their Creator and Preserver, who shall also be their Judge. God made us, and all things in the world, by Jesus Christ. He rules us by Him, to whom He hath given power over all creatures. And He hath appointed a day in which He will judge us by Jesus Christ. Can anything be of greater personal consequence than the knowledge of Him who stands in such a relationship to us, and to whom we belong by a title so unquestionable? Then we are lost creatures and must forever perish without Christ. He is the only Savior of self-ruined sinners of the human family. His blood is the only true atonement. No power but His can break our fetters and bestow on us the glorious liberty of the sons of God. It must therefore be a matter of infinite importance to us to be acquainted with everything that can give us just apprehensions of the character of Jesus, of the efficacy of His death, of the love that is in His heart, and of the reliance which it may be safe for us to place on Him. If there were any other Savior, we might safely be ignorant of Him who is the Author of our religion; but if He be the only hope of the guilty, it is strange infatuation, indeed, to continue willingly ignorant of the glory of His person, of the riches of His grace, of the extent of His saving power, and of the marvelous things which He hath done!
Further, the knowledge of Christ is desirable, for it comprehends all we need to know for our present direction and our eternal happiness. The knowledge of Christ includes the knowledge of God the Father; for he who hath seen the Son hath seen the Father also. It contains in it the knowledge of heaven; for wherein does the happiness of heaven consist, but in seeing Christ, and being like Christ. It embraces also the knowledge of human duty; for Christ is our King and Leader in the ways of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment. If we know Christ, we know everything that is necessary to furnish us for every good work, for we are complete in Him who is the Head of all principality and power. If we know Christ, we know the way wherein we should walk, we are acquainted with the springs of all true consolation. It may be said that we know all things, for Christ is “all and in all,” and in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. But if we know not Christ, we are blind, and cannot see afar off – we are yet unacquainted with the first principles of true wisdom, and with the most essential requisites of true happiness! Hence it is that the happy effects of the knowledge of Christ also render it exceedingly desirable.
We cannot believe in an unknown Savior, and if we know Him as we ought, we cannot but believe in Him (Ps. 9:10; John 6:40). We must be forever lost if we are not lovers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1 Cor. 16:22); but we cannot love Him without knowing Him, and if we know Him we cannot withhold from Him our supreme affection. If we know Christ, it will be impossible for us not to love the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, for Christ is the brightness of His Father’s glory, the express image of His person, in whom He appears to be not only infinitely glorious in Himself, but infinitely gracious to us. If we know Christ we shall be like Christ, for “beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
The revelations which God has been pleased to give us of His son form powerful motives to diligence in this noblest of all studies. We could have known nothing concerning Jesus Christ without a divine revelation. The light of nature reveals nothing regarding Him. But from the beginning, communications about Christ have been given us from on high. God Himself spoke of Him in the ears of Adam as that blessed “Seed of the woman who should bruise the head of the old serpent.” New discoveries of Jesus were made by the ministries of Moses, of David, of Isaiah, and of other holy men to whom God spoke, and whom He furnished with treasures of knowledge, not for themselves only, but for us. Had we no other information about Christ save that which the ancient Church possessed, we should still be quite inexcusable if we did not search the Scriptures daily to know what they testified concerning Him. But our advantages are far superior to those enjoyed under previous dispensations. We have not only the prophets but the apostles for our instructors in the knowledge of Christ.
The mystery which was hid from ages and generations is now made manifest to the sons of men. Christ Himself has become our Teacher. From His Father’s bosom He has come to give us the knowledge of His Father and of Himself. He did not indeed write the books of the New Testament with His own hand; nor does He preach in our streets or churches, as He did in Jerusalem and Galilee. But the Scriptures were dictated by His Holy Spirit; and the writers of the New Testament were directed to record such of the discourses spoken by Him, in the days of His flesh, as He knew would be most useful to the Church in every age. Now, if this Divine Instructor came from heaven to earth, to give us the knowledge of Himself by words, deeds, and sufferings; if He still speaks to us from heaven, we surely are shutting our eyes against the clearest light if we refuse to receive the instruction He communicates. Who but those who are in love with folly will refuse to listen?
But our understandings are very narrow and corrupt. By nature we are blind; we are darkness itself. Can the light of the knowledge of the glory of God ever make its way into our minds? We never could have formed any right apprehensions of the mystery of Christ if we had been left entirely to ourselves. But through the mercy of God, the Spirit of counsel and knowledge is promised. We are directed to pray for this Spirit and to depend upon Him for that spiritual enlightenment which will enable us to understand what the Scriptures reveal regarding our blessed Redeemer. Blessed with such abundant means of information, how blind must we be to our own interest, how insensible to the obligations of duty and gratitude, if we do not study diligently to increase in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. If God had only given us ministers of the gospel to explain His truths, their instructions, however valuable, would not have availed to the chasing away of darkness from our souls; but when He has given us such a full and comprehensive revelation of His Son, and crowned the gift with the promise of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13) to make it effectual, what should hinder us from digging hopefully for the knowledge of Christ as for silver, and searching for it as for hid treasure?
The Means of Obtaining this Knowledge
How shall we best attain the knowledge of Christ, and increase in it more and more?
We have already advanced very considerably on the way, if we have a sincere and earnest desire to obtain it. If we regard this wisdom as more precious than rubies, and if all the things we can desire appear to us unworthy to be compared with it if we esteem the words of God’s mouth more than our necessary food because they bear testimony concerning Christ we shall soon be found rejoicing in the knowledge of our blessed Savior! It is a sign that we already know Him in some measure when we cannot think ourselves happy without knowing Him better.
Our anxiety thus to know Him will make us diligent in the use of means; and the means which God has promised to bless may be used with a joyful confidence of success, “for then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord.” The desires which His own Spirit has kindled within our souls shall not be disappointed. We must seek out the Book of the Lord and read. The Scriptures are the Word of Christ. They were designed and fitted by the infinite wisdom of God to give the knowledge of Christ unto men. From beginning to end they testify of Him (John 5:39). We must make use of the public ordinances, which Christ has appointed for conveying the knowledge of Himself to our souls (Eph. 4:11-13). We must wait upon the ministrations of the sanctuary, receive the truths preached, with faith and love, meditate upon them, converse about them, and practice them in our lives (Prov. 8:34, 35; Matt. 28:20).
We ought to edify each other by religious conversation. Christ is present with His people when their talk is such as it ought to be and makes their pious conversation the means of mutual communications of light (Luke 24:15, 27, 31). Frequent meditation on Christ tends to increase our knowledge of Him (Ps. 119: 97-99). By holy meditation, we may preach to ourselves more effectually than the most eloquent preacher. While we muse on the truths we already know, they become clearer, and new truths necessarily connected with them, spring up to our view. Earnest prayer to the Father of lights is absolutely necessary for those who desire to obtain the knowledge of Christ. The Lord alone gives true wisdom; out of His mouth cometh knowledge and understanding, and therefore we ought to cry to Him for wisdom, and to lift up our voice for understanding. The more we actually know of Christ, the more sensible will we become of our remaining ignorance, and of the value of increased knowledge, and thus shall we be led to importunate prayer for further communications of light. What man in David’s time was so wise as David himself, and yet how frequently and earnestly did he entreat fresh wisdom from above. In proof of this, we need only turn to Psalm 119.
Finally, we ought to depend upon Christ, as “made of God unto wisdom.” He is given for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people; for a “light to lighten the Gentiles,” that He may be God’s salvation unto the ends of the earth. He hath graciously promised His Spirit to take of His own things and show them unto us. This Spirit knows all the deep things of Christ, and in His light we shall see light. He irradiates the minds of believers and makes their path like the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day. While we seek the knowledge of Christ for ourselves, let us not neglect others. We are bound, according to our ability, to make Him known unto all around us, especially unto those whom divine providence has placed under our charge. If the knowledge of Christ is of great value in our eyes, it will be a pleasure to impart it to others. Happy are the men who are really, and not merely in their own estimation, guides of the blind, lights to them that are in darkness. While they water others, they shall themselves also be watered, and whatever success they may have in their labors of love, they will shine at last as the brightness of the firmament, and as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13:43).