The Knowledge of God.

Notes of a lecture on 2 Peter 1:1-9.

We cannot rightly judge of any truth apart from the knowledge of God Himself. We may know certain truths correctly, but nothing gets its true and proper place in our souls apart from knowing Himself. However much I may think I know of truth, if it has not been learnt in connection with God I shall have to go over it again if it is to be really mine. God speaks to us in our own language, but He always has His own meaning in the words of scripture. Thus, when God uses the word "love" I ask myself what He means by it. It is a simple word, which we all use, but when He speaks of His love there is infinite fulness in the word. Whatever truth He may bring before us at these meetings, may He give us to consider it as in His own presence and in communion with Himself.

In Paul's salutations to the saints he begins at God's side, so to speak, and desires for them "grace … and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ"; while Peter looks at these same things from our side, "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord." Here Peter desires grace and peace for the saints through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. So that not only do grace and peace come to us as given of God (as Paul puts it), but they are multiplied to us by the knowledge of God. Thus Peter looks at the place they have in the soul, being multiplied there. What an important point then this knowledge of God is. All I seek to indicate is the importance of each getting it for himself. Of course there must first be the new nature; apart from that there is no capacity to perceive divine things. In John 3 Nicodemus came to the Lord as a rabbi, as one acquainted with divine truth and knowing the scriptures. He came to talk with the Lord about divine things, as one competent to understand them, and the Lord meets him at once with the statement, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The things of God are foolishness to the natural man. How apt we are to think when any question arises that we must of necessity know all about it, but it is not so unless we are in communion with the mind of God. We need to get into His presence and ask Him what His way is in it.

We read at the end of John 2 that the Lord knew what was in man. He knew what their thoughts were as to Himself. He knew who they were that believed in Him merely from outward miracles. He knew that Nicodemus was interested, and He says to him, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see" - that is, perceive - "the kingdom of God," by which He means a sphere of things where all is morally according to God. One must know God to know what is of God. The children of Israel never had an idea of what God took them up for. They saw His mighty acts and sang His praise, but immediately after it is added, "They soon forgat His works; they waited not for His counsel: but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness." I often wondered why that verse, "As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Num. 14), came in just where it does, till I saw that God took Israel up as a people to know Him, and from whom His glory should flow out into all the earth; but they had no knowledge of it, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt. Then God says, as it were, Though Israel has failed, I will have My purpose fully carried out. They have not known My ways; they shall fall in the wilderness, but I will yet have a people (their children) who will answer to the desires of My heart, and the earth shall yet be filled with My glory. We see they utterly failed in the knowledge of God. Now the Christian is not only born again, but we read here (2 Peter 1:3), "His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us by glory and virtue." People have the idea, "I am converted, and going to heaven when I die, and that is enough"; but can such people enter into the present enjoyment of the call of which Peter speaks here? Do you see the sphere of things to which you now belong? That the Lord Jesus Christ has gone out of this world, and sits at the right hand of God in heaven, and that everything for you, as belonging to Him, has been transferred from earth to heaven? Colossians 3 speaks of the things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Everything we expect will come out from heaven now the Lord is there. Here He was in humiliation; now He is at the right hand of God in the glory, and we are to seek the things that are there. We have to walk here as belonging there. The apostle speaks to Timothy of the mystery of godliness; God has been manifested in flesh. It is in Christ walking as a man in this world that we find the first secret spring of piety. Look at Him See how He walked down here, ever doing His Father's will. Now, that once humbled man has been received up in glory; that is the other great point in the mystery of piety. Man is in the glory of God, and that is the place for man according to the counsels of God for you, for me. And we are to take our character from those two truths - God manifested down here in flesh, and man in the glory of God. I do not say that Peter rises to the height of Paul. He is more the apostle leading up to where Paul begins. Paul begins with Christ in glory.

Perhaps you say, "I am not quite familiar with that point - a Man in the glory of God." Well, have you got this point - that He has called us by glory and virtue? Every moral excellency that can be displayed in man (that is what virtue is) is in the Lord Jesus Christ who is now in the glory. Now that He is there, God says, "I can call a people by that glory," and God sees everything in connection with the glory of His Son. In Acts 7 we read that the God of glory appeared unto Abraham. No doubt Abraham did not fully understand all that was meant by the God of glory calling him out from his country, kindred, and father's house. But see what moral effect the call had upon him. In Genesis 10 the whole earth was divided, and each family and nation had their part in it; but God calls Abraham out of it to that which He would give him. Abraham had another scene altogether before him from the moment he responded to the call of "the God of glory"; he could look at the cities of men and say, "That is not the city God has given me. I look for a city whose builder and maker is God." He could look upon the well-watered plain and not desire any part in it, or in the cities there - they were all characterized by man, not God. Abraham had such a knowledge of God that he knew how to refuse what was not of Him.

How this knowledge of God would settle all difficult questions for us, just to know what is of God, not what is of men, which always brings in conflicting opinions. You remember the old prophet who dwelt at Bethel. When God wanted a witness to go and testify against the idolatry practised there, He sent a man of God out of Judah to cry against the wickedness practised in the place. He was neither to eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way he went. By the word of the Lord he cried against the altar, and really stood for God in the presence of the wicked king. For a man of God is, as you know, one that stands for God when all is going wrong. According to the word of the Lord, the altar was rent and the ashes poured out, and more, the king's hand withered in seeking to lay hold of the man of God. It was restored in answer to prayer. The king said to him, "Come home with me, and refresh thyself"; but he refused. He said "no" to the king's invitation. He left the place, returning by another way. The old prophet who dwelt in Bethel overtook him and found him sitting under an oak: it is dangerous to loiter till we are thoroughly clear of the place testified against. "Come home with me," said the old prophet. It is no longer an idolatrous king, but a prophet, a prophet who had a home in Bethel. He said, "I am a prophet also as thou art, and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, 'Bring him back with thee.'" Now here were two conflicting statements. How could the man of God decide? Two words were before him, the second being put forward as the word of the Lord (compare Gal. 1:8); how was he to know which was really the word of the Lord for him? The knowledge of God and what is due to Him would have decided the question in a moment. He would have said, "What! you, a prophet of the Lord, dwelling here with the calves and the idols, and so at home in the midst of idolaters, to whom God has to send me to lift up my voice against them, and carry a warning of coming judgment." How the knowledge of God settles the whole thing in a moment. When you know God you know what is suitable to Him. And in the measure in which you know Him will you feel what is really at work in any question, and be able to reject what is not of Him. Like Abraham, as he looked over the cities of the plain, he felt not one of them would suit him, for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

So far it is negative - the knowledge of God enabling us to refuse what is not of Him. But there is the positive side. If I know Him that has called me by glory and virtue, I shall have a divine sense that what He gives is according to Himself, therefore we have, in verses 3, 4, "exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature." This does not mean being born again, but far more, even being brought into communion with what is of God; and what I understand by "partakers" is, not getting a share, but being brought into it. 1 John 4:12-13 is the nearest to it, "No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit." We have received His Spirit. It is not a question here as to our having received the Holy Ghost as personally indwelling, but as characterizing us, and so bringing us into what is of God. Having received of His Spirit, we abide in Him, and escape what is of this world. Being made partakers of the divine nature, we have the capacity, and "we dwell in God and He in us." "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." What an ocean we touch here. Who can fathom it?

Verse 4. "Exceeding great and precious promises." What are these promises? Certainly not those God had made to the fathers. They were great indeed; but the promises here spoken of are "exceeding great and precious." We must go back into eternity to find out what they are, and they come to us that we might be partakers of the divine nature. Doubtless they include all that God purposed in His own mind to bring us into, all He has promised us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 3:6; 2 Tim. 1:1.) As you understand these things you are formed by them; it must of necessity be so. To illustrate what I mean. Suppose I take a child who has been born in the slums of a great city, and has never seen the country, with its green fields, flowers, and trees. I tell him about them; he is charmed, but can form no idea as to what they are really like. Now suppose, further, that I wish to wake up a desire in that child's mind to know something of the beautiful things I have told him about as belonging to another sphere, where all is so different from that by which he is surrounded. I could show him a picture of the country and the objects in it; and in like manner the Old Testament saints had the word of promise - the patterns of heavenly things and pictures in the types. And suppose I say to that child, "I will come in a few days and take you there, to dwell in that very place I have been telling you of." The sense of such a promise would make him long to escape from the surrounding corruption, and he would be formed by his knowledge of the place to which he was going. These exceeding great and precious promises are given to us in connection with One who is already entered into glory. Hence He said to His disciples, "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know"; and He prepared the place for them by entering there. Thus we become partakers of the divine nature. We are formed according to the mind of God expressed in the promises, and escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.

The "precious faith" of verse 1 has been received through the righteousness of God. It is here that Peter is side by side with the truth given to Paul. The righteousness of God is by faith with Paul; while with Peter faith is through the righteousness of God. Peter leads those who have it, as we said, to the point where Paul can carry us on in the knowledge of God. (Eph. 1:17.) He prays to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Lord Jesus Christ is here looked at as a man; of course, He was God too), the Father of glory - that is, He is the blessed source of all glory - that He would give to the saints the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him - of God. The eyes of your understanding, or heart, being opened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what the surpassing greatness of His power to those who believe. What God Himself is as the Father of glory gives the character to the hope of the calling - the inheritance and the power by which all is accomplished according to His own counsels. The knowledge of God enables us to enter into the things given to us of Him, and to escape what is not of Him. T. H. Reynolds.