A Study of 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
The dangers confronting Christian people are not uniform and always the same. There are different types of personality and different emphases in the life of the Christian church and in the gospel. We who gather here are very well aware of the particular dangers that confront the actvist—that type of person who is so common amongst us in evangelical circles—the man who lives on his energy and on what he does, who is always busy, organizing meetings and attending them etc. and who says that you must always be doing something. We have realized very clearly the terrible danger that is inherent in that kind of activism, and we are never tired of protesting against it and of showing the danger of an almost exclusive emphasis on life, living and activity at the expense of doctrine, understanding and growth in knowledge. But while we see that so clearly, there is a real possibility of our being unaware of the entirely different type of danger that confronts us, and which is something that applies to a different kind of individual. The first thing we always have to do is to know ourselves, to note the particular group to which we belong, and to realize that there are dangers inherent in every type and in every group. To come immediately to the point, there can be no question at all, it seems to me, that the peculiar danger that threatens those of us who meet anually in this Conference, is the danger of pride of intellect and pride of knowledge…
I propose, therefore, to consider this whole subject with you, and I do so in terms of what we find in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:
‘Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he kn wet anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God the same is known of him.’
I want to consider this with you, in order that we may apply it to ourselves. We need take no time in dealing with the particular context and the state of affairs in the church at Corinth. The Apostle is dealing here with the question of the meats offered to idols because it was a cause of division in the church. There were the more enlightened, the stronger brethren, and there were the weak brethren. They did not see alike on this matter. The strong brother said that there was no such thing as another God, that there was but one God. Everybody should know that, any man who knows anything at all knows that; therefore the idea that you should not eat meat offered to idol s was just nonsense, and was virtually going back to idolatry. A Christian was free to eat any meat he liked. Some them went so far as to say that, if asked, they could even go to the heathen festivals. ‘Why not,’ they asked, ‘as “these gods” are really non–existent?’ So they went. And thus they were becoming a stumbling–block to the weaker brethren, whom they despised, of their weakness of intellect and grasp and understanding. There was grievous trouble in the church of Corinth because of this conflict between the enlightened men of knowledge, and those who were weaker and lacking in knowledge.
The exact context is most interesting. But we are concerned with the way, the most interesting way, in which the apostle deals with it. As is his custom he does not deal with the thing just in and of itself and directly; he lifts it up; he finds a great principle. And the principle he finds is this whole question of knowledge. The real trouble in Corinth, in a sense, was not at all the question of meats offered to idols, but simply men’s view of their own knowledge. So he discusses the matter primarily in terms of their attitude towards knowledge. Our theme therefore, and the principle which we extract from our text, is the danger of a false view of knowledge.
To be accurate in our exegesis let me indicate that the ‘knowledge’ Paul speaks of here is not the same as that referred to in 1 Timothy 6:20, where he talks about some who have gone astray and made shipwreck of the faith because of—as it is translated there—‘science falsely so-called’. ‘Science’ there means knowledge, ‘Knowledge falsely so-called’. But that is not the same ‘knowledge’ as we have here in 1 Corinthians 8. There, the problem has reference to a kind of mystical knowledge, and to people claiming that they were receiving some direct knowledge by inspiration; it was the danger of a false mysticism. But here, it is ‘knowledge’ in the sense in which we normally use the term and in which, certainly, it applies to us who are members of this Conference.
There is no need, of course to emphasize the fact that knowledge is all important. We can never know too much. Knowledge is essential, doctrine is vital. The Bible is full of doctrine, and the New Testament particularly so. The epistles are mighty, glorious expositions of doctrine and of truth. The Apostles not only preached the truth but they emphasized the all–importance of a knowledge of the truth. Ultimately most of the troubles in the church, according to the teaching of the epistles, stem somewhere or another from a lack of knowledge and of understanding. Knowledge, therefore, is in and of itself absolutely essential; indeed we must give it priority and see to it that it always comes first. We were reminded of that in the paper which gave an exposition of Dr. John Owen’s teaching on the question of apostasy. Truth came first, you remember, then godliness, and then worship. We are all agreed about that. It is no problem to us. But and this is where our theme comes in—it is possible for us to develop a false notion of knowledge. It is possible for this gift of knowIedge and understanding, which is in many ways God’s most precious gift to us next to the gift of his Son and our salvation, to become a snare to us and a very real danger in our spiritual life. Such was the position in Corinth. It is good for us therefore at the end of this Conference, in which we have been spending so many hours in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding—it is good for us that we should face this possible danger which may be confronting us. I suggest the following treatment of the subject.
The Causes of a False View of Knowledge
First, we must consider the causes of this false view of knowledge. We cannot go into these in detail, but we may divide them into general and particular. Obviously at the back of everything is the adversary. The devil having failed to keep us out of the faith and in a state of ignorance and darkness of the mind, and having seen that we have discovered the danger of a busy activism that may be nothing but a man revolving round himself, suddenly completely changes his tactics. Transforming himself into an angel of light, he drives us to such an extreme in this matter of knowledge as eventually to ensnare us quite as successfully as he ensnares the activist. In other words we are back to a phenomenon with which we are all so familiar—the danger of going violently from one extreme to the other, the danger of over–correction. It seems to be the besetting sin of mankind and one of the most terrible results of the Fall, that there is no thing so difficult as to maintain a balance. In correcting one thing we go to such an extreme as to find ourselves in an equally dangerous position. We are always confronted by the devil, who is ever ready to take the best things and turn them into his own instruments of unrighteousness and to produce the shipwreck of our souls.
A second general cause is, as a well–known proverb reminds us, ‘a little learning’. ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing’. That does not mean, of course, that there is no danger in much knowledge. There is. But I am not sure that in this respect there is not a greater danger in a little, because it always means that the element of the tyro or novice who imagines that his litt1e knowledge is all knowledge comes in. Is it not notorious that first–year students always know much more than final–year students? I leave it at that—the danger that arises from a little learning. But we must give more attention to the third cause which may be a little more controversial. To me, there is a very special danger at this point and in this matter which we are discussing, in reading as against preaching. Perhaps in the age in which we live this is one of the greatest dangers of all. I am asserting that reading is much more dangerous than listening to preaching, and I suggest that a very real danger arises in this connection if a man just spends his time reading and does not come under the power of preaching. What do I mean? I mean something like this. While a man is reading a book there is a sense in which he is in entire control. It depends partly on the book, I know, and if it is beginning to make him feel uncomfortable he can shut it up and go for a walk and—he can do many things. But you cannot do all that when listening to preaching. Of course, you may be rude enough to get up and go out, and some people do so, but on the whole that is not the custom.
Preaching in a sense, therefore, safeguards us from these peculiar dangers that arise from reading only, provided of course that it is true preaching. For when a man is listening to true preaching he comes under the ‘power’ of the truth in a way that he does not when he is only reading. You may or may not like Phillips Brooks’ definition of preaching as ‘truth mediated through personality’, but there is a great deal to be said for it; and the Scriptures give us many illustrations of that. God does use the human personality. Not only that, a preacher not only expounds but also applies the Scriptures, and thereby makes sure that application takes place. When a man reads a book, however, he may never come to application. He can decide to shut the book and stop whenever he likes; there is no insistence on the application. I fear that in this present age, when people are tending to listen less and less to preaching, and preaching becomes shorter and shorter, and our reliance upon reading becomes correspondingly greater, we are therefore more exposed to the danger than our forefathers were. I am not of course denouncing reading, and saying that there should be a ban on all publications! Of course not! I am simply trying to show the dangerous tendency that arises, and asserting the priority and primacy, and the superiority of preaching. We need to be brought under the power of the truth. We do not like that, but it is the business of the preacher to do that, and if he fails to do so, he is a very poor preacher. We always try to evade these conclusions and applications, but the preacher brings them home. He holds us, and makes us face them, and therefore he safeguards us against certain dangers. An age which attaches greater importance to reading than to the preaching of the Word is already in a dangerous position.
But let us pass to particular causes. One is, to take a purely theoretical and academic interest in truth and knowledge, to make knowledge an end in and of itself—the purely theoretical and accademic approach. This is an obvious and well–known danger. I therefore take the general principle for granted, and mention only certain particular illustrations of it here.
I have always felt that it is wrong to hold examinations on Scriptural knowledge, for the reason that it tends to develop this theoretical interest in it. It makes a subject of it, something which you have to learn in order to pass your examination or to get a certain number of marks. It may not happen, I grant, but I am suggesting that the moment you have an examination you have already started this tendency to regard biblical knowledge as a subject in and of itself, like any other subject. I remember lecturing at a certain conference in America in 1932. The conference had been started by a saintly bishop in 1874 for religious people, but it had degenerated, not so much in numbers but in its theology and approach to truth. I found there that the great claim for this conference (and this is how it was advertised) was that it taught any subject in which anybody could be conceivably interested. I also found that item number sixteen on the list of advertised subjects was ‘Religion’. There is an example of this purely academic and theoretical interest in truth you take it up as a subject: chemistry, history, art, religion, theology—knowledge about these matters. And if you have an examination in addition, the whole thing is greatly aggravated.
It is also, and I say this with very real regret, one of the dangers inherent in a study of religious history. I have known three men who have been expert historians on the history of Christianity, the history of the church, and the history of its great men and movements. They have given their whole lives to this, and all three were particularly interested in the 18th century. But what has always amazed me is that though they spent their lives in reading about those glorious revivals of religion and those mighty men of God, it had not touched them at all. To them it was just a subject, a matter of academic and historical interest. They knew all the details, but as for the spirit of the thing, it was as if they had never read about it at all. That, I suggest, is a danger that is always inherent in the historical approach, and is an illustration of this purely theoretical approach.
The same thing can apply also even in the process of studying theology. It can become just a subject set for an examination, or a subject essential to obtaining a certain degree or diploma. And the very fact that this is the system may result in a man viewing the knowledge of God entirely in this way. But even without examinations this is still a possibility. A man can take a purely academic and theoretical interest in theology. I have known many such men. They happen to have had that as their hobby, whereas others turned to crossword puzzles. It was essentially the same approach—there was no question about that at all. It was purely theoretical, and thus it had become this false type of ‘knowledge’. Are we entirely free from this danger?
The second particular cause is that we approach truth purely in terms of intellect—intellect only. There is nothing so dangerous as to isolate the intellect. We are all agreed about the priority of intellect. But there is all the difference in the world between our asserting its priority and talking only about intellect and regarding man as if he were nothing but an intellect. There is nothing that is so calculated to lead a man directly to this ‘false knowledge’, about which the Apostle is speaking, as a purely intellectual interest in truth, in which the heart is never engaged at all and the power of the truth is not felt, indeed in which feeling does not enter at all. The man is merely concerned to absorb knowledge with his mind. And it is precisely the same when the will is not engaged. If the interest does not lead to any action, or move the ill, it is equally bad. We need not stay with this. The text for all this is, of course, Romans 6:17: ‘But God be thanked’, says the Apostle, ‘that ye have obeyed’—will!—‘from the heart’—heart!—‘the form of (sound) doctrine delivered to you’— to the mind. There you have them together. If you isolate the intellect and leave out the heart and the will, it is certain that you will end in this position of having a false view of knowledge, and indeed as I want to show, with false ‘knowledge’ also. To vary the expression, this danger is one of knowing ‘about’ a subject rather than knowing it! What a vital distinction this is. What a difference there is between preaching about the gospel and preaching the gospel! It is possible to preach round the gospel and say things about it without ever presenting it. That is quite useless—indeed it can be very dangerous. It may be true of us that we know ‘about’ these things, but do not really know them. And this, of course, becomes all–important when we realize that the whole end and object of theology is to know God! A Person! Not a collection of abstract truths, nor a number of philosophical propositions, but God! A Person! To knowHim!—‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent!’ There we have what I would regard as the main causes of this trouble…
The Signs and Indications of the Condition of False Knowledge
We come now to the second general heading, the signs and indicaions of this condition. There are certain general signs of this possession of a false knowledge and a false view of knowledge. For instance in such cases, there is always a lack of balance. it is the bit of knowledge that the man happens to have that he is always interested in, and he knows nothing else. So there is lack of balance at once. He has been suddenly attracted by a type or aspect of knowledge, and goes after it. He acquaints himself with this; but he knows nothing else and is lop–sided and lacking in balance. That in turn expresses itself in the use of slogans, cliches, tabloid expressions and phrases which always characterizes this condition. These phrases keep tripping off the tongue; the same catch phrases and slogans always. That is unfailingly indicative of a little knowledge, a lack of true knowledge, and above all of this lack of balance of knowledge.
The Apostle uses the term ‘puffed up’—’Knowledge puffeth up’. What an expression! What does he mean? he is describing a proud man, is he not? Here is a man who thinks he really ‘knows it all’; he is not like those other people, he knows; he is a man of knowledge and understanding. He knows it all! He is not like those others who never read; he is a great reader. And, of course, as a result of this he has arrived, and he is proud of it. ‘Puffed up!’ How do we know that he is proud of his knowledge? Well, he is always parading it. The heavy, important, Puritan gate! The way of speaking and so on! That is a part of the parading that is inevitably one of the manifestations of being ‘puffed up’. How difficult it is to stand erect with all this great weight of knowledge!
It manifests itself also in an impatience of any restraint and any correction; and still more in an impatience with any opposing view. It is intolerant of anything else. It ‘knows’, and nothing else must even be suggested. No opposing view has a right to exist, and must not even be considered. In other words it is a part of this bein g ‘puffed up’. It means ‘arrogance’. The Apostle James knew certain people of th is type, and so he says says, ‘Be not many masters, my brethren’ (James 3: 1). What a terrible thing it must be to have a church with nothing but masters in it. All are authorities, all know everything and ‘all about it’. ‘Be not many masters, my brethren’. But there is always this tendency to feel that you do know, and understand, and, of course, to let it be known. So men arrogate unto themselves positions—and thereby betray themselves.
But still more serious is the way in which this-manifests itself in its attitude to others. That was the trouble in the church at Corinth where these men who were enlightened said, ‘We have knowledge, we know’. The Apostle’s reply was, ‘We know that we all have knowledge’. Now he was there, according to some of the commentators, repeating their own phrase, ‘We have knowledge’. The result was that their attitude to others was one of superiority. They tended to despise others, they were like the Pharisees. They did not boast so much of the good works they did as of their knowledge and their understanding. These others who did not understand, who were not clear about idols—why, they were almost beneath contempt. So they looked down upon them, were inconsiderate towards them and said they were hardly worthy to be considered at all. It may show itself like that. Or it may show itself by just ignoring these others altogether. You ignore them to such an extent that you do not even feel contemptuous toward them, because in a sense they are not there at all! You are so much up in the air and in the clouds yourself that you do not even see them. It is as if they were not there. Then another way in which it manifests itself is in feeling that these other people who are so slow to learn are a hindrance to us. Why should the preacher still be dealing with such simple matters? These men who know so much would like to go on to the great things, but the preacher is always staying there with some preliminaries. There he is, preaching evangelistic sermons every Sunday night, and on Sunday mornings he seems to be thinking that he has many people in his congregation to whom everything has to be explained in great detail. Because of that they are being held back and cannot go on to the great heights. They have long scaled the Alps, why does the preacher not take them to Mount Everest? These other people are just a nuisance and a hindrance with their slowness. Now that was the case in Corinth, and it is the case in many churches today. These men of knowledge want to go on, but they are being held back by these others whom they therefore despise. There it is, displayed in the attitude towards others.
The last sign that I am going to mention, in order that I may pass on to something else, is that in some cases this wrong view of knowledge, and this possession of what is not true knowledge, manifests itself by it’s victim just doing nothing at all; he simply enjoys his ‘knowledge’. He does not seem to be aware of the fact that there is a lost soul anywhere in the world. He spends the whole of his time in reading and if he meets people, in letting them know what he has been reading and in having discussions about Truth. There are sections of the church today, with the world as it is, which never have any contact with the world at all. You never hear of them having a single convert, they do not seem to be aware of the existence of the problems of mankind and the ravages of sin. Why not? Becausethey spend the whole of their time within that circle of theirs, dotting their i’s and crossing the t’s, arguing about their great knowledge, and displaying it to one another. They are thus completely useless and entirely cut off from any kind of activity. We may not know this in it’s extreme form; but I would ask everyone present to examine himself or herself. Have you not found that it is a very easy thing indeed to spend the whole of your time in just reading and adding to your knowledge and building up your understanding, and forgetting all about the sinful world in which you live? It is the peculiar temptation that comes to people of intellect and ability who have realized the importance of knowledge. You can spend the whole of your life in merely adding to your own knowledge or in comparing notes with others who are like yourself.
The Uselessness of False Knowledge
But let us come to the third section which is the uselessness of such supposed knowledge. Look at the way in which the Apostle puts it in the second verse: ‘if any man think that he knoweth anything.’ Well, he says, there is only one thing to say about him—’he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know’; which means pattly, that this man, who is proud of the knowledge that he thinks is his, has not really got any knowledge at all. Is this not obvious? The argument is that if this man has a true knowledge of God he simply could not be like that. So the apostle says, this man who thinks he knows, in fact ‘knows nothing yet as he ought to know’, because if he did know as he ought to know he could not possibly be behaving as he is. This does not need any demonstration; it is a sheer impossibility; he has no true knowledge. He thinks that he has a knowledge of God, but all he has is some kind of knowledge ‘about’ God; it is not a knowledge of God, otherwise he could not possibly be what he is.
Let me put it in the words of the great George Whitefield. He is talking about the Bible:
‘This is my rock, this is my foundation. It is now about thirty–five years since I have begun to read the Bible upon my pillow. I love to read this Book, but the Book is nothing but an account of the promises which it contains, and almost every word from the beginning to the end of it speaks of a spiritual dispensation, and the Holy Ghost that unites our souls to God and helps a believer to say, “My Lord and my God.” If you content you content yourselves with that—[now he means by that, the Bible itself, remember]—if you content yourselves with that, the devil will let you talk of doctrines enough. You shall turn from Arminianism to Calvinism; you shall be orthodox enough, if you will be content to live without Christ living in you (Sermon on Isaiah 60:19, ‘God a Believer’s Glory’).
Note what Whitefield says. If you just go in for that sort of theoretical intellectual knowledge, the devil will let you talk of doctrine enough; you will turn from Arminianism to Calvinism, you shall be orthodox enough, if you will be content to live without Christ living in you. Th e devil does not care at all whether you change from being an Arminian to being a Calvinist if you do not know Christ and if you do not know God. One is as bad as the other. A theoretical Calvinism is of no more value than a theoretical Arminianism—not the slightest. That is what Whitefield is saying. He therefore warns against this because he is concerned about our having the Spirit. And he goes on to say, ‘Now when yo u have got the Spirit, then you may say “God is mine”.’ His point is that any knowledge which falls short of that does not interest the devil at all, because it is not really true knowledge which is going to make a difference to y ou. That is how Whitefield puts it, who was himself a Calvinist and one of the greatest evangelists the world has ever known.
But let me adduce another reason. Why is this such a ridiculous position to be in—this feeling that we really do know and that we have knowledge, this pride in ourselves and this despising of those activities, those busy people who do not know any theology or doctrine, those people of whom we speak in a derogatory manner and whom we more or less dismiss? Why is this so utterly ridiculous? And why is it not areal knowledge at all? The answer is—because of the vastness of the knowledge! What do I mean? The knowledge about which we are speaking is a knowledge of God! All these doctrines are about God! The moment you realize that, you see how impossible it is that a man should be proud of his knowledge. The moment he realizes the endlessness, the vastness of the knowledge, he is bound to realize that he is but a pigmy, a mere beginner, a little child paddling at the edge of the ocean. He thought he was out in the great depths. Great depths! He knows nothing about them, he has been thinking in purely theoretical terms. But when you realize that all this knowledge, everything in the Bible, is meant to bring us to know God, the Everlasting and the Eternal in the Glory and the Majesty of His Being—how can a man be proud of his knowledge when he realizes that that is knowledge about which we are speaking? 0r take the way the Apostle puts it in writing to the Ephesians. He is praying for these Ephesians and he ‘bows his knees unto God the Father.’ What for? Well this, he says: ‘That they, together with all other saints, may come to know the breadth, and the length, and the depth, and the height; and to know the love of God, which passeth knowledge’ (Eph, 3: 18, 19). Think of a little man strutting about because he khows so much, because he has read the Puritans and has read theology and is not like these other people who are ignorant. ‘Puffed up!’ Poor fool, who is not aware of his ignorance—‘heknoweth nothing yet as he ought to know’. If he really had a true knowledge of God he could not be like that. The thing is a sheer impossibility. The endlessness, the vastness of it all!…
In order to emphasize this great truth I felt I could do nothing better than remind you of the experiences of certain men who knew just a little about this knowledge of which I am speaking…Charles Haddon Spurgeon…puts it like this:
All ye that think that you know and have a knowledge of the truth, may the Holy Spirit grant that we may not say a word which is not strictly verified by our experience. But I hope we can say we have had converse with the Divine Father. We have not seen Him at any time, nor have we beheld His shape. It has not been given to us, like Moses, to be put in the cleft of the rock, and to see the back parts, or the train of the invisible Jehovah. But yet we have spoken to Him, we have said to Him, “Abba, Father”. We have saluted Him in that title which came from our very heart, “Our Father, which art in Heaven”. We have had access to Him in such a way that we cannot have been deceived. We have found Him, and through the precious blood of Christ we have come even to His feet. We have ordered our cause before Him, and we have filled our mouth with arguments. Nor has the speaking been all on our side, for He has been pleased to shed abroad by His Spirit His love in our hearts. While we have felt the Spirit of adoption He, on the other hand, has showed us the lovingkindness of a tender Father. We have felt though no sound was ever heard; we have known, though no angelic messenger gave us witness, that His Spirit did bear witness with our spirit that we were born of God. We were embraced of Him—no more at a distance. We were brought nigh by the blood of Christ.” That is real true knowledge of God!….That is what we should understand by knowledge (Sermon on 1 John 1:13, September 15, 1861).
The Tests of True Knowledge
My argument is this, that when we realize that that is the knowledge to which the Bible is meant to bring us and that that is the whole end of theology and the whole purpose of all teaching concerning these matters—when we realize that that is ‘knowledge’, can we possibly feel that we have knowledge and be ‘puffed up’ and boast of ‘our knowledge’ and ‘our learning’ in these matters? The thing is a sheer impossibility.
But let us consider the tests which show whether we have this true knowledge. First and foremost, obviously, is love of God. As the Apostle puts it in verse 3 (1 Cor. 8:3): ‘If any man love God’. That, he says in effect, ‘is knowledge’. In other words, here is the argument. To know God, of necessity, is to love Him. You cannot know God wiithout loving Him’. It is impossible. Why? Because God is love, because of the glory of His Being, because God is who and what He is. If any man really knows God he will be ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’; he will love God. True knowledge always leads to a love of God. If therefore we cannot say that we love God, have we any right to claim any knowledge of God? We can have a great deal of knowledge about Him and concerning Him, we can even apprehend with our minds the full scheme of salvation, but we still may be ignorant of ‘knowledge of God’. ‘This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.’…
Secondly, another way to test knowledge is by the character it produces. ‘Knowledge puffeth up’ says the Apostle,’but charity edifieth’,—builds up? What kind of character does it build up? It is described perfectly in 1 Corinthians 13: ‘Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not, charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.’ That is the character! What are its characteristics? First and foremost, humility. Look at those men in the Bible who have had a glimpse of God. They fall down as ‘dead’. They say with Isaiah, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone!’ Proud of their knowledge and their learning and their superiority? No!—they feel they are unclean and not fit to be there at all, that they are not in a position to criticize anybody because they are so aware of their utter unworthiness. True knowledge invariably leads to humility, and also to holiness and godliness.
What about the attitude to the neighbour? It has been stated perfectly there in 1 Corinthians 13—we will love our neighbour. Our Lord Himself said that it is the second great commandment: ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ And, of course, especially so if he is weak and ignorant. What if he is an Arminian? What if he does not understand doctrines of grace? How are we to treat him? Are we to despise him, are we to dismiss him as a fool, or as a nonentity or as a man who knows nothing—is that to be the attitude? Let me again quote Whfitefield to you: ‘Believers consider Christ’s property in them. He says “My sheep”. Oh, blessed be God for that little, dear, great word ”My!” We are His by eternal election, “the sheep which Thou hast given Me” says Christ. They were given by God theFather, to Christ Jesus in the covenant made between the Father and the Son from all eternity.’ What a noble, wonderful statement of the great doctrine of election, one of the doctrines of grace! But Whitefield goes on: ‘They that are not led to see this, I wish them better heads, though. I believe numbers that are against it have got better hearts. The Lord help us to bear with one another where there is an honest heart!’ There is nothing to be added to that. It is the righ t way to look at it…Oh yes, when a man has this true knowledge he must love his neighbour as himself.’
In other words, to sum it up, what is the result of true knowledge? First: it is that we rejoice in the Lord. My friends, we do not only believe in the Lord “when we know Him, we rejoice in Him. ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice.’ The happiest people in the church ought to be those who know the doctrines of grace. They should not be ‘puffed up’ with their little knowledge, they should be men filled with joy because they know God and something about His love.
Likewise they should have a holy zeal for God’s Name, and resulting from that they should be filled with compassion for the lost. The greatest evangelists the world has ever known have been men who have held the doctrines of grace. Why? Because they have had the greatest knowledge of God. Did you know that this was a fact, that every single person who was involved in the beginning of the great missionary enterprise in the 1790s was what is called a Calvinist? I dislike the use of these labels and extra–biblical terms, but that is a simple fact of history. There is a notion abroad today that a man who holds these doctrines of grace is a man who does nothing, and that he does not believe in evangelism. Why is that notion abroad? Why have people got that notion? Is there something in it? If there is, it means this, that the knowledge we think we have is no knowledge at all. We have got this theoretical, useless knowledge, and it is not a knowledge of God. If a man knows God he will above all others have a zeal for the glory of God and the Name of God. He will want the whole world to come to God, he will be the most active preacher and evangelist of all. He must because his knowledge of God is greater and his compassion for the lost is greater. And, as we know, there was no man in the eighteenth century who was so active, none who laboured so indefatigably as that great George Whitefield from whom I have been quoting.
The man who has true knowledge will be full of compassion for the lost and of zeal for the glory of God. There is no need to prove this, the thing demonstrates itself. lf only we knew Him! That is why the Son came from heaven, to let the world know something about the glory of the Father. He even came into the world and died to do this. And we should know Them—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And as we do so we shall in our little measure produce our Lord’s life and shall be patient as He was patient: ‘A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench.’ God have mercy upon us for the intolerance that often results from our false knowledge, and for the arrogance which is so often displayed. ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ The 1owly Jesus! Let us show that we know God by not only loving God but by loving our neighbour, and especially the lost and those who are weak and feeble and who have fallen by the way, the children in the faith, the beginners, and those who are slow to learn. Let us be patient with them, even as He has been patient with us.
My last word—how are we to get this knowledge? I give you but the bare headings. Bible study! Obviously you start there. But in addition, self–examination. How vital that is! Reading the Bible is not enough. Self examination! How do you examine yourself? If you read your Bible correctly, you will soon discover. Ask yourself questions, apply what you are reading to yourself. Say: ‘This was spoken to a Pharisee, is it true of me?’ and so on. But if you want further help as regards self–examination, read the diaries of men who have truly known God. Jonathan Edwards drew up a list of questions for people to ask themselves. John Fletcher of Madeley did exactly the same thing. You can use them if you like. But however you do it, be sure that you do it. Examine yourself!
Then another thing—and I want to emphasize this—balanced reading! I am concerned about this. I know of nothing that has such a tenndency to produce false knowledge and to make men victims of this false knowledge, as reading which lacks balance. If a man reads nothing but theology, he is exposing himself to this danger. I would therefore advise that we should always balance our reading as we balance our material diet. You should not eat only one kind of food. if you eat nothing but proteins you will soon be ill. You should always have a balanced diet. That principle is equally essential here. ‘What do you mean?’ asks someone. Well, if I may say so with humility, the thing that has been of the greatest help to me has been to balance theological reading with the reading of biographies. That is the best advice I can give. I have always done this: I have always done it on holiday and I have tried to do it day by day. But on holiday in particular I used always to give my mornings to reading some theological work, but I was also careful to read some biography at night. It worked like this. Having read for three or four hours in the morning I felt before lunch that I was quite a considerable man, and that I had a great deal of knowledge which I would be able to display to others. There I was! But I remember very well when I first ‘stumbled’—and I am speaking the truth literally—when I first stumbled across Jonathan Edwards in 1918. 1 had never heard of him before but I began to read him and I soon discovered that you cannot read a page of Jonathan Edwards without feeling very small indeed. It completely corrected what had been happening in the morning. The best antidote to the poison of false knowledge is to read a biography like that of Jonathan Edwards or Whitefield or Fletcher of Madeley…How monstrous, how ridiculous how foolish it is to think that we know these things, that we have a knowledge of God simply because we have garnered a certain amount of intellectual and theoretical and academic information! ‘Grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.’ Can we say with Spurgeon that we know what it is to be ‘embraced’ by Him? Have we ever really been there in His presence in a ‘sensible’ way—using the term ‘sensible’ as the Puritans used it? To ‘know and feel’ that God is near!
What is the value of all the knowledge we may have if we are ignorant of that! ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.’ (I Cor. 13: 2). May God preserve us from this ‘false knowledge’ which is not knowledge but a counterfeit, and which is finally useless!
This article is an excerpt from an article appearing in the book The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors published by Banner of Truth. This volume brings together the addresses given by Dr. Lloyd–Jones at the Puritan Studies and Westminster Conferences held in London, England between 1959 and 1978.