The Knowledge of God and Divine Power — An Address by Thomas H. Reynolds

2 Peter 1

 

There are two leading thoughts in this chapter. Evidently the last verses that we read point on to the Lord’s coming and the day of glory. The apostle speaks in the first part of the chapter of things which pertain to life and godliness, and these things enter very much into christian experience. We are going onwards towards the glory, but then while we are going on towards glory there is a life of godliness down here. We get the same idea in Titus; Paul speaks of himself as an apostle, “according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;” but he adds, “in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” There we get that which lies at the end – eternal life, which God promised before the world began; but also the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is according to godliness. That word is often translated piety. I rather like the word “godliness.” I do not say it exactly represents the word in the original language, but it brings in the thought of God, and that is just, for piety must bring God into all it has to do with. If you remember, in the psalm the idea given of a wicked man is, “God is not in all his thoughts” (Psalm 10: 4). That is why I rather like the word godliness, because it brings in the idea of a life which has to do with God, even in the ordinary details of our conduct down here, and that is very important for us.

Now I desire to look at these two things in detail, because our life down here is in a kind of way an education. The education is, I doubt not, in the knowledge of God. How far, beloved friends, we have gone in the school of God I do not know, but I put it before you that our christian life down here is looked at in view of the glory; our education down here is in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; that is what this second Epistle of Peter greatly dwells upon. We get the secret of godliness brought out in the Epistle to Timothy: “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.” What I understand by that is the hidden motive power, the secret spring of godliness. If you had asked a godly Jew, What is the secret of piety? he would have spoken at once of a man who meditated in the law of God and walked according to it. Like we read of Zacharias and Elisabeth, who walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the law blameless. It is a secret spring, a mystery, because the world does not see or know the motives upon which a Christian acts. The world has no idea that there is a hidden spring of life which governs the Christian, he walks by faith – the faith of the Son of God, who loved him, and gave Himself for him. There is a Person in heaven that he knows, and the faith of that Person who loved him and gave Himself for him is what governs him down here.

People nowadays do what never was done in Israel, and that is, they put up the tables of the law in places of worship. That was not done in Israel; they were put in the ark; never set up in the camp. People put them up publicly as if they were a rule of life which they had competency to keep. Beloved friends, the secret of godliness with any soul is Christ, Christ who has been here, but who is now in glory. Those are the two great elements. God has been manifest in the flesh, and the other side of it is, that man is in the glory of God. This world is not according to godliness. The great secret of piety is that God came into the world. It is not now that He sent a law into the world, but He came into it. God has been manifested in flesh, and everything that could give to man the knowledge of God was manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ down here; then there was another thing, and that is, that in this world there was no place for the Lord; He was turned out of it, and now Man is in the glory of God. These two things would have a great effect upon every one of us if we kept in the faith and light of them.

The Christian has to walk down here as Christ walked, for Christ has brought him the knowledge of God; then, on the other hand, our eyes are directed to a Man in glory, that is the One to whom we are to be conformed – there is the secret of piety. If we look a little closer at it, you will see that this life of godliness, which really brings God, as made known to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, into all our thoughts, becomes the way of our education, and prepares us for entering into God’s purpose by giving to us, midst all the circumstances down here, increasing experience in the knowledge of God; we grow in it. Speaking a little lower down in the chapter the apostle says, “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge,” &c. Then he says, “If these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ;” because you get exercise in those things. Nobody, in the things of this world even, acquires knowledge by merely reading a book; it may give him all the details, but what he wants to do is to put it into practice, and then he gets to know in a very different way. We have to bring what we know of Christ into practice in our daily life, and thus we become exponents of the truth which is according to godliness, and grow in the knowledge of God, and of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Now one word as to heaven. If you were to ask Christians in general what they were going to enjoy in heaven, you would find that their thoughts of its blessedness are very indefinite. With many it does not go much further than the negative thought that sin and death and the sorrows of earth will be experienced no more. Many hymns go upon that line. The hymn we sung is a happy exception.

“There no stranger-God shall meet thee,

Stranger thou in courts above;

He who to His rest shall greet thee,

Greets thee with a well-known love.”

A well-known love! What shall we find when we enter heaven? The presence of God as known in His dear Son. Jesus fills that holy place – He who made God known to us – and we shall be like Him. Are we growing in the knowledge of God? so that when we enter there, it may be a well-known love with which we are greeted. Israel proved what God was to them during the forty years they spent in the wilderness – their raiment waxed not old, nor did their foot swell. It is true they proved what they were, but in Canaan that is left behind, and the love that brought them through remained.

Is it not a great thing to grow in the knowledge of God by learning what He is to us in all the circumstances through which we move. There was not one single thing that Israel met with in the wilderness but that it brought to them a fresh experience. Perhaps you say, of what they were. Granted; but was it not a fresh experience of what God was? Then there is another way in which God has been made known to us, and that is in what He proposes to us; He has given us exceeding great and precious promises, and in these we learn what He is. If I think of His sending His Son, and I see the Son here, I see that everything centred in Him; all the promises were in the Son, and now in glory all the purpose and counsels of God are established in His Son, and that leaves us out altogether. It is not a question now of His ways with us; it is God acting from His own heart. We read here: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises.” I do not think exactly that these were promises made in time, as we read of them to Abraham and the like; but they were promises that were the expression of what was in God’s mind before time was. It does not say they were made to anybody. We read of the promise of life in Christ Jesus before the world was (2 Timothy 1: 1); it is not said there that the promise was made to anybody, but there it was, and it was brought out in time. These promises were in God’s mind in eternity, before ever the world was, but expressed in time. When we think of all that, we are left behind. It is what is in the Blessed God’s heart to do. As one thinks of these promises, one comes to know God. What a God He must be that ever such things should be in His mind! Oh, if our hearts thought of what there was in the mind and thoughts of God! If we only knew the Lord Jesus Christ better, as He came down here from the Father, and is gone back to the Father, how we should be brought in communion with what is divine. Human nature knows the things of man, the divine nature knows the things of God.

There were very few who entered into what came out in Christ when He was here. You see how oftentimes people took the blessing who little knew the Blesser; but there are beautiful occasions where we see the Blesser became known: take, for example, Mary of Bethany; look how the heart of a sister was met by her brother being brought back to her; but how she learned the Person who gave him back; where do we find an instance like it of a woman who could pour the alabaster box upon Christ because of what she found in Him? Would to God we knew more of Himself by learning what is in His own blessed heart as revealed in Christ Jesus, as well by the wonderful way in which He can meet us. Many here are young, and some of us have trodden the way many a long year. We are all in different stages of experience; but what can we each say for the blessed God? How He has met us all the way along; how He has borne with us, how He has been above all our weakness and unbelief? and when we reckoned and calculated from ourselves what He would be to us, we found He was not what we thought, but that He was above it all in a ministry of grace and of blessing, so that we had nothing to do but, like David, to sit down and praise Him. We learn Him in the expression of all His thoughts to us in Jesus, and we learn Him in what He can be to us in the wilderness, where we have needs and difficulties. Every one of us here, perhaps, has a different pathway, different needs, different temperaments, different temptations, and our condition of life is different, not one of us want exactly the same grace. How good God is to us! How He meets and supports us as we go along day by day, giving just the grace that suits us; the circumstances are not altered, but we get grace poured into our souls, and we are refreshed and strengthened. We get the water abundantly from the Rock. Like Peter says here, “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you,” that we should have a deeper sense of grace and a deeper sense of peace in our pathway down here through a world where there is nothing but trouble and sorrow; and how? Because circumstances are altered? No; by the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. In knowing God we have a divine ground given us from which to act. You could not find any direct text, perhaps, that would meet your case in a given circumstance; but the knowledge of God would meet it. I give you an instance; I take the man of God from Judah. You know he went to Jeroboam to cry against his altar. He was told that he was to go by one way and come back by another, and he was not to eat bread nor drink water in Bethel. The old prophet of Bethel, who went after him, said: I am a prophet as you are, and I had a message by an angel that I was to bring you back. Here is a dilemma; here are two words. How is he to decide? I know what would have decided him – the knowledge of God. He would have said, You a prophet, and dwelling in Bethel, where there is an altar to the calves, your word cannot be from God, and I will not listen to a word you say. The knowledge of God is an immense thing. You will not find a text in the word for everything. What you want is day by day to be growing in the knowledge of God, so that you should understand really what is suitable to Him, and many a difficulty would vanish if we had more of the knowledge of God, and thus also grace and peace are multiplied to us.

Now he says, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. That is rather a difficult phrase to translate into English. In reality divine power is given to us and with it all things that pertain to life and godliness. It is divine power in contrast to natural power. Natural power does not avail us. Divine power is given to us, and with this divine power is given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness; and how? Through the knowledge of Him that hath called us by glory and virtue. Two things come out. God hath called us by glory; that is, our calling is not according to what we find in this world at all. It is not exactly that He has called us to glory, though that is true; but He has opened to us the glory of Christ in another scene. The gospel opens to us another Man, the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour, and the knowledge of Him; but it opens to us, too, another scene which that blessed Man fills, and of which He is the centre. Now He has called us by that. Abraham was called to go out into a country which he should receive for an inheritance; it was another country that characterised his call when the God of glory appeared to him. Then, our call is by virtue; that is, the energy which pursues the object. Divine power has come in. We have an object before us, Christ in glory, and that we shall be conformed to His image, and be with Him there; but also He has given us divine power and thus a moral energy that pursues the object. A child is put to school with a view to his future life. His education is according to what is before him, but he must have a moral energy to pursue the object his parents have in view for him – that is done by human power. What we get is divine power. Power comes in and gives us to pursue this object. I will take the illustration of a Nazarite. You see entire devotedness in him, a moral energy that had nothing before him but to be devoted to Jehovah; he abandoned all human energy; he took the place of weakness, letting his hair grow; he relinquished the gratification of self by things here, everything that came of the vine, figurative of earthly joy; he gave up all his rights as a man; now what for? We see the answer in Samson, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him; the Nazarite was to be the instrument of another power altogether. There was energy and devotedness that gave up everything here to be in the power of the Spirit of God.

I have carried you on to Ephesian truth, where you get the two things: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;” it has a reference to the priests who were not to drink wine or strong drink, so that they might be vessels of the knowledge of God for Israel. All that shews us that there is needed with us a moral energy which pursues that which is set before us, and that is, another scene where Christ has entered. But in this scene we acquire the knowledge of God. The more you know Him, the more love will be drawn out towards Him.

One more point, and then I quit that part of the subject. You find two great doxologies in the New Testament: one celebrates the purpose of God, and the other celebrates His ways. What we have been considering here are His ways, and His ways lead to His purpose. One is in the end of Ephesians 3: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” The church is the vessel of the glory of God in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, because in it everything answers to the glory of God; it is formed according to the perfect wisdom of God, and all the fulness of divine love and glory which has come out in Christ is to be reflected in the church, so that the church in that sense will be the great temple in which there will be glory to God for ever. The doxology of Ephesians 3 looks up to heaven, Godward, so to speak. What a doxology! What is it to be part of that church, that holy temple! In the new Jerusalem all is looking earthward; it is administration, it is what flows out to the earth below; but the church in that sense also is really the temple of God’s glory. The other doxology is in Romans 11: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who bath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” It celebrates God’s ways and judgments, all that is done in working out the wonderful scheme of redemption, settling the question of good and evil for ever, and bringing man out of death and darkness and danger and unbelief, working it all out according to His own mercy. It celebrates the ways of God, and I think in one sense it will be as wonderful to trace these as to enter into the glory of His purpose. How God has worked in this scene of man’s sin and misery and woe and Satan’s power, in all the patience of that grace which has borne with man in longsuffering, and yet in goodness and truth is a wonderful subject. We experience it in our little lives, as well as see it worked out in 6,000 years of this earth’s history; and what praise it will be to God who has worked it all out, and thus again we may say:

“There no stranger -God shall meet thee;”

a “well-known love” has guided us through the whole scene here, kept us and ministered to us and the effect of it has been, our education in the knowledge of Himself; we become, too, more quiet, more restful in our souls; what we once thought we could not do without, we are quite willing to give up; if He takes away from our sight earthly things, He opens heavenly ones to us.

Dear young people here, those of us who are older can tell you that you will find the blessed God all that He says He is, and you may cast everything upon Him; thank Him for everything, everything that thwarts your will, everything down here that makes you know yourself. He works that you may know Him and His grace revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I need not say much about these things that come out here, because it is not so much that they need exposition as that you should read and ponder them. What characterises Christianity is that there is another Man brought in, and that He fills another scene. Then faith is that which perceives it; it looks at the scene which that blessed Man fills. Then you get, “add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verses 5 – 8). One who lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, he does not see the glory beyond; he is groping in the midst of present things. How often people are groping in the dark, and forget that they are purged from their old sins. All our old history in this world was only a history of sins. It was the history of a sinner living in his sins; the cross of Christ has ended that history, that we should live in another way altogether, as it is said in the first epistle: “Being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness” (1 Peter 2: 24). We are to make our calling and election sure, we are to do it. It is not that we can make it more sure, but we can establish it to ourselves, and then there is the abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Now the apostle speaks to them of what he saw on the holy mount, because, as taught of God, he had a presentiment that the coming kingdom and glory would fade from people’s minds. People might say that they were enthusiasts, and it is being very plainly said nowadays that the early brethren who were so full of the coming of the Lord, and looked out for it in their lifetime (I wish there were more of it now), were enthusiasts, for He has not come. Perhaps there was not quite the patience of Christ in their anticipations, but there was affection and a real looking for the Lord. Peter did not want the prospect of this coming glory to be lost in people’s souls, as if it were something to be put off in the distance; we want to have the glory near to us morally, and it may be nearer actually than people think. It may be but a little moment and we shall be in the glory. I remember a beloved brother in early days saying, “They calculate how long it takes for light to travel from the sun to the earth, but,” he said, “we shall take the journey to heaven in the twinkling of an eye.” Look how simple it is with a dying saint, how near the unseen world is to such an one. Absent from the body – and there is no interval – present with the Lord. How near the Spirit can make that scene of glory to us where Jesus is! Look how near the Lord brought it to Peter, James and John on the holy mount; they entered into the cloud with the Lord; Peter says, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” He wanted them to have in remembrance after he was gone, that they were called by glory and virtue. He had made known to them the glory of the kingdom that was to come in, and they had the prophetic word of the Old Testament confirmed by the vision on the mount. There would be a time when the glory would be manifested, because in the vision on the mount there are two sides, there was the manifested glory, it says, Moses and Elias appeared with Christ in glory. Then, on the other hand, there was a cloud which was the secret place of the divine glory, and into which Peter, James and John entered with Jesus. So there was the manifested glory which confirmed the prophetic word; but there is another thing, the cloud; they did well to take heed to the prophetic word “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” If one is going through this dark world, the prophetic word sheds upon it the light, that this world is not always going on as it is. Things are going to be administered from the glory. Everything will be ordered and bear the stamp of the divine glory. All will come into beautiful order under Christ in that day, and the glory of the Lord and the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Are we near the glory in our hearts? has the day dawned and the day star arisen in our hearts? Christ is the day star. The day star is merely the Greek name in the original for the morning star. Before the manifested glory breaks forth upon this world, our hearts are in the light of the heavenly Christ. A heavenly Christ is the Morning Star. God grant that our hearts may be full of it – that that glory – that scene where Christ is – may be nearer to us than ever it was before, and then, as it is nearer to us, and we walk in the light of it, and the day star lights up our hearts, beloved friends, we shall walk in godliness down here. The glory where Christ is near to us; the Spirit of God acquainting our hearts with Him who is the Centre of it; and then that energy of soul by which, through the power of the Spirit, we make our way towards it, not as a thing somewhere up in the clouds, but as something well known to us, because Jesus is known to us. The Lord grant that we may more deeply enter into it, for His name’s sake.

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