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The Knowledge of God: Not Possessed by the World: to be Communicated
by the Church.
Friday Morning, 27th June, 1884.
A. BLACKWOOD, Esq., C.B., opened the proceed
ings of the last day by saying :-I remind you of this verse : "Be still, and know that I am God;"
and another : “ The words of the wise are heard in quietness ;" and then again : “In quietness and confidence should be your strength.” May God keep our hearts in quietness, waiting upon Him and for Him !
A few moments of silence, and then Mr. Blackwood led in prayer, and hymn No. 13 was sung :
“ O Lord, 'with one accord,'
We gather round Thy throne." The Rev. D. B. HANKIN then presented prayer, and Mr. BLACKWOOD read Psalm xxvii, after which hymn No. 32 was sung :
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty !
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee." The first address was given by the
REV. JAMES H. BROOKES, D.D. The first passage of Scripture given in the subdivision of the subject now before us is, “The knowledge of God not possessed by the world,” in Acts xvii. 23. Centuries ago the Apostle Paul was wandering through the streets of Athens a lonely but a very happy stranger, when his eyes fell upon an altar with this inscription, “To the Unknown God.” The word translated “unknown” is the very word from which is derived our modern English word “Agnostic.” The inscription might almost be transposed into our language, and we might read, “ To the Agnostic's God.” Eighteen hundred years have passed away since then. The world has made great progress, we are told; but if there has been any progress at all, it has been backwards. If an Agnostic in England, or America, or France, or Germany, were to rear an altar in the streets of great London, or busy New York, or gay Paris, or cultivated Berlin, he would put upon it this inscription, “ To the Unknowable God." In what direction does this indicate progress? The ancient Agnostic sadly confessed he did not know God; the modern Agnostic proudly boasts he cannot know God. The ancient Agnostic, standing amongst the works of genius that have never been equalled, and displays of human art that have never been surpassed, cried out in despair to the unknown God; the modern Agnostic standing in the midst of Nihilism, Socialism, Communism, the distress of nations and roaring of seas, declares God unknowable, and invites us to look upon “sweetness and light” amid surroundings that are shockingly sour and dark. The ancient philosopher reared an altar to the unknown God; the modern sceptical philosopher rears an altar to the unknowable God. That old altar on the streets of Athens, and the modern altar of dull, hopeless doubt reared by modern sceptics, are sad and terrible witnesses to the truth of the proposition now before us, that the world does not possess the knowledge of God.
Let me call your attention to the testimony of the Word on this point; and as I pass rapidly from passage to passage I hope some of you may take them down for future study. In Gal. iv. 8, 9, we find the apostle referring to an earlier period in the lives of believers, and saying, "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are
no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage ?” There had been a time in their history when they knew not God. And, mark you, no man can know God till he is first known of God. That is the way to get the knowledge of God.
Then turn to 1 Thess. iv. 5, and read this: "Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” And again, Eph. ii. 12: “At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” Also Eph. iv. 18-20, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ." “ Learned Christ!" Let me ask you to notice this strange expression, “ Ye have not so learned Christ.” It is the title of our exalted Lord. Whom have we heard ? The Christ. And we have been taught by the Christ, concerning whom? Concerning Jesus. The exalted Christ is now teaching us the exalted Jesus. Mark what is taught, “as the truth is in Jesus.” Not as we hear it quoted, “the truth as it is in Jesus." You may say that is hypercriticism. Not at all. There is a mighty difference. And we must cling to the very words of Scripture.
If you say "the truth as it is in Jesus," you have some truth apart from Him, but “as the truth is in Jesus” means that He is the source and channel and the end of all truth. There is no truth but comes from Jesus and leads to Jesus, who alone reveals to us the knowledge of God.
Now this testimony that God is unknown by the world is found in all ages of the world's history. For example, in Egypt, the mother of science and art, God was unknown, as we find in Exod. v. 2: “And Pharoah said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will Í let Israel go." There is the testimony of the proudest monarch of earth that he knew not the Lord. He told the truth that time anyway.
Then go to Psa. liii., which is substantially a repetition of Psa. xiv., and yet a little different. For example, in the earlier Psalm God looked down and found men all gone aside, but in the later Psalm they have got further away : “Every one of them is gone back. There is a decided advance, there is now apostasy. “They are altogether become filthy, there is none that doeth good, no not one.” It is Psa. liii. and Isa. lix, which are principally quoted in Rom. iii., the former longing for Christ to come and set to right a ruined world, the latter promising that He shall come. But upon this we cannot dwell.
Then later in Jer. X. 25, after a description of the superstitions and idolatries of man, we read, “ Pour out Thy fury upon the heathen that know Thee not, and upɔn the families that call not on Thy name.” Go back to Job xi, and you find the challenge, “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?” All through the Scripture we find this truth, that the world does not and cannot possess the knowledge of God.
This knowledge the world cannot get by searching. The Holy Ghost takes His stand in 1 Cor. i. 20, and asks, “Where is the wise?” and as no answer is given, Hegnes on to say, “Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For aster that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” And again in 1 Cor. iii. 19, “ The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." It is a very profound remark made by an English brother, of whom I have been told, “We might be so wise if it were not for our wisdom." You remember the ancient heathen philosopher who, when asked for a definition of God, required a certain length of time to frame his reply. At the end of the time he asked more time, at the end of that more again, and so repeatedly he asked more time, more time, more time.
At last, when the patience of his questioner was worn out, the reason of the delay was demanded, and the answer was, “ The more I consider it, the less able am I to understand it and answer your question.” This poor world can never find out anything about God. That is the testimony of the Word, and the teaching of experience and history.
Secondly, God in Christ draws near to us; and then we have an unknown Christ as well as an unknown God, and that is the saddest of it all. The testimony of the Word is clear on this point. In John i. 18 we read, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." He came to declare God, to make God known, but the world knew Him not. Read the tenth and eleventh verses of the same chapter. “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” How sad, how humiliating a view of man's utter ruin—the world did not know its own Creator when He came to save it !
And so in John iii. 19 we read, “ This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” The heaviest judgment that has fallen upon an ignorant world arises from the fact that the Light of life shone, and it was contemptuously rejected. Because men loved darkness, of course they hated light. Turn to John vii. 7 : “ The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.” And again John xv. 18: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” And further on our Lord says, “He that hateth Me hateth My Father also.” “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin : but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father. But this cometh to pass that the Word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated Me without a cause." How unutterably touching it is to find the same word “ without a cause" translated as
freely” in the Lord's last invitation to ruined men, “Who. soever will, let him take of the water of life without a cause -it is the same Greek word in both cases. The world hates Him without a cause; but He offers salvation without a cause. There is no cause in Him why the world hates Him; there is no cause out of Him why a poor sinner is saved.
And notice again that not only have we an unknown Christ, but also an unknown Holy Ghost. Because God is unknown to men, Christ came to reveal the Father; and because Christ is unknown, the Holy Ghost has come to reveal Christ, and He who is the Revealer is Himself unknown. “ The Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him, for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." So in John xiv. 17 we find the Father unknown, the Son unknown, and the Holy Ghost unknown. And hence it is His work and office to convince