When travelling the other day with a friend on board one of the small steam-boats which ply back and forward amongst the piers on the Thames, it was our privilege publicly to preach the gospel to the many fellow passengers who thronged the deck of the vessel. The circumstances of the case did not allow much more than the reading of the precious word of God in their hearing. Our time was, of course, very limited and the people were in constant movement. I noticed that some listened, some turned away so as not to hear the sound, some derided, some criticised. The effect was different in different cases; but at the close, and just previous to our disembarking at our landing place, one man, who had listened only to criticise, asked the question “Who is God?”
On looking at him I observed that he was well dressed, and from the manner of his conversation that he was far from being uneducated; and yet such was his question—a question asked soberly and solemnly, in the very centre of the most civilised city of the most civilised country on earth! Well might it startle! it was not prompted, however, by ignorance, but by infidelity—that cold, heartless, daring accompaniment of the boasted enlightenment of the nineteenth century, that raiser of doubts, that which seeks to question the truth, but which can settle nothing and can never satisfy. Infidelity was the parent of that blasphemous question. On hearing it my friend made the beautiful reply, “God is love.” “No,” said the infidel, “God is hatred, for God curses.” My friend rejoined, “God is love, and God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting-life.” We heard no more, but had to leave him in the hands of that God who loves such as he, and who desires that such should be saved.
It will be seen that my friend made rather reply than an answer. He showed rather what God is than who God is.
But me thought in the question “Who is God?” two points were admitted; first, that the man himself was ignorant of God, and, second, that he allowed in his very words the stupendous fact that “God is.” He did, not ask “Who was God?” as he might have enquired of some earthly potentate who had passed off the scene to be heard of no more, but “Who is God?”
True, God cannot be seen nor heard, yet “God is;” true, sin may be rife and rampant, yet “God is;” true, there may be no miraculous interposition, yet “God is;” true, “the foundations of the world may be out of course,” yet “God is;” true, evil men and seducers may wax worse and worse,” yet “God is.” “I am that I am … I AM, this is my name for ever and this is my memorial unto all generations” (Ex. 3:14-15). Faith believes this and acts on the strength of it. Infidelity sees fit to deny, and, in spite both of creation and revelation, boldly to say, “Who is God?” It may be remembered that when the Apostle Paul was in the city of Athens he beheld an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown God.” It might have comported with Athenian philosophy to ask, “Who is God?” But is Christian London to be placed on a par with heathen Athens, and must a similar declaration of this “unknown God” be made now? To the men of Athens Paul spoke of two things; first, man’s responsibility to God, “for in him we live, and move, and have our being; and, second, the appointment of a day of judgment.
Now all men are responsible to God, and they know it. And responsibility ends in judgment—a judgment which will embrace all, except such as have “fled for refuge”—for “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 1:27).
This is the clear and certain decree of a God who is not unknown—it is His appointment. So says that precious book of which God is the author. And now I would ask my reader this question: Whilst admitting and owning that God is, dost thou know Him? Dost thou know God? This is no cant expression, no unintelligible demand. To know God is the blessed portion of all His children. It is not knowing something about God in creation, or through sacred history—it is knowing Himself. Granted that many of His children are but little acquainted with the “mystery of godliness,” and might find a difficulty in answering objections raised by infidelity, yet they know God, they “know the truth,” and this knowledge has the effect of creating that repose of spirit, of heart, and of mind, even under circumstances the most crushing, yea, when in view of death itself, that makes them the objects of envy of their professedly wiser yet infidel neighbours. He who knows not God is not His child.
The knowledge of good and evil was acquired through the disobedience of our first parents, and with that knowledge came sin and death, but now, in Christianity, the knowledge of God the Father is made good to the believing soul in the power of the Holy Spirit, and this is eternal life. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). And so the Apostle Paul says, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). So also it is written to the Galatian believers “after that ye have known God” (4:9). Clearly, therefore, God is not only revealed through the word in the person of the Son, but is made actually known in the souls of his children. They once were sinners, like others, but, wakened up by the Spirit of God to a sense of their lost condition, they came to Him, by faith, who bids all welcome. Believing on Him they became the sons of God, and “because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6), is the divine record.
Thus, to them, God is known; and the sweetness of a Father’s tender care, a Saviour’s perfect and eternal love, and the Spirit’s joy and comfort furnish their well known delight, making the journey through the earthly vale of tears one of peace and communion till it shall end in the gladness of the Father’s house on high.
“And then shall the mists be removed,
And around us Thy brightness be poured;
We shall meet Him Whom absent we loved,
We shall see Whom unseen we adored.”