Chapter III The Knowledge Of God

When we realise how the Soul of man is disabled by inertia, by preoccupation, even by aversion, from apprehending God, we discern, at the same time, what is the great thing which the Will has to do; and it rises to a noble effort, to the uplift of a great thought. So long as we think that the things of God which we sum up under the name, religion, may be taken or left according as we have a mind; so long as we wait passively for sufficient persuasion, for a strong enough impulse, towards our chief duty, Will cannot sustain us. But once we realise that we have not only the world, the flesh, and the devil, but alien tempers in our own soul to combat; when we see that, in desiring God, we have set before us a great aim, requiring all our courage and constancy, then the Will rises, chooses, ranks itself steadfastly on the side of God; and, though there be many failings away and repentings after this one great act of Will, yet, we may venture to hope, the Soul has chosen its side for good and all. The disorderly soldier is fined, imprisoned and worse––but he is not a rebel, and, when fighting comes, he does not desert.

We meet many people in the world whom we do not know; some are too high for us and some too low, some too good and some not good enough; with some we feel we could have perfect sympathy, but they are too far off, we cannot get at them; while the meannesses and limitations of the persons about as make them unworthy, so we think, of the outpouring of our mind and heart.

But there is one great, perfect and satisfying Intimacy open to us all,––whether we are lonely because we feel 'superior,' or because we know ourselves to be 'poor things,' unworthy of much notice. We are abashed when we think of the promotion open to every poor human soul. "This is eternal life," said our Lord, "to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent"; and this knowledge, this exalted intimacy, is open to us all, on one condition only––if we choose. Feeling as we do that we ourselves are not good or clever enough for the friendship of some people, and are much too good and clever for that of some others, it is startling to know that this supreme friendship is to be had by each of us if he will, because every human soul has capacity for the knowledge of God; not for mathematics, perhaps, nor for science, nor for politics, but for that vast knowledge which floods the soul like a sea to swim in––the knowledge of God. The late Professor W. K. Clifford has told us of the agony with which, when he lost faith in God, he realised that "the great Companion was dead." The "great Companion" never dies. "He knoweth our downsitting and our uprising, and understandeth our thoughts long before," holds sweet counsel with us upon all we do and all we intend, cheers our dulness, rests our weariness, consoles our grief, gladdens our joy, chides, rebukes, chastises our sin, and gives us in ever-increasing measure that which all who have ever loved generously know to be the best and most perfect joy––the gradually disclosing vision of Himself. Like that blind man restored to sight, at first we see not at all; then we see men, as trees, walking; and then our eyes are fully opened to the vision of our God.

There are several ways by which the knowledge of God first comes to us; we may be struck by the words, acts, and looks of those who know––a very convincing lesson. A little plant of moss, the bareness of a tree in winter, may, as we have seen, awake us to the knowledge; or, dealings of strange intimacy with our own hearts, visitings of repentance and love, sweet answers to poor and selfish prayers, tokens of friendship that we can never tell, but most surely perceive, are all steps in this chief knowledge.

The Bible teaches the Knowledge of God.––But, as the friend listens to the voice, pores over the written word of his friend, so the lover of God searches the Bible for the fuller knowledge he craves. It matters very little to him that one manuscript should be superimposed upon another; that such and such passages should be ascribed to other authors than those whose name they bear; that not only the history, but the legends and myths, of the Jewish nation have found their way into the Book; that science disproves here, and history contradicts there: these things may be so, or may not be so. He is willing and thankful that science and scholarship should do their work, that the laws of textual criticism should be applied; at the same time, he sees a thousand reasons for caution and reserve in accepting the latest dicta of the critics. He reads in his newspaper how the King of Servia had twice to remove the crown during his coronation because he could not bear its weight, how the royal standard fell during the progress to the cathedral, and how uneasy these omens made the people; and he perceives that the future historian of Servia, reading of these incidents, pronounces them legendary, according to all the laws of criticism, and strikes them out of pages which shall only contain history scientifically treated.

Little things like these give the Bible student pause; he reveres truth and welcomes investigation, but he also perceives that the latest critic is not necessarily infallible. But all this is, for him, beside the mark. If errors of statement, false ascriptions, and the rest were found and proven beyond doubt upon every page of his sacred books, yet he believes that in these is to be found, and nowhere but in these, a revealed knowledge of God.

Greece, Rome, India, Persia, China, unwittingly affirm––alike through their poetry, history, and sacred books-––that men cannot by searching find out God. A lovely gleam of the divine reaches one sage here, another there; but each attempt to combine these stray lineaments, and seize upon a complete idea of the Godhead, has produced a pantheon here, a monster there. And that, although the insight and wisdom of the past have given us all the philosophy of human life that we possess, every knowledge but the knowledge of God.

In what are we better than those great nations of antiquity who knew so much and did so much? Only in this, that we inherit a possession vouchsafed to the world by means of a nation whose spiritual insight fitted them to receive it. We have a revelation of God which satisfies and directs every aspiration of the Soul of man.

Think even of the one amazing revelation,––that God is love:––

   "The very God! think, Abib: dost thou think?
   So, the All-Great, were the All-Loving too––
   So, through the thunder comes a human voice,
   Saying, 'O heart I made, a heart beats here!
   Face, my hands fashioned, see it in myself!
   Thou hast no power, nor mayst conceive of mine,
   But love I gave thee, with myself to love,
   And thou must love me who have died for thee.'1

Here is a knowledge that men had never dared to dream, except as it is revealed in the Bible; and, yet, there are those who behave as one who found a huge nugget, and discarded it because the gold lay in a matrix of ore, and he would not take the pains to separate, and had no eye to distinguish, the precious metal. Such behaviour seems puerile in the eyes of the diligent miner. This is how the matter lies. The Soul is able to apprehend God; in that apprehension is life, liberty, fruition. Knowing God, the Soul lives in its proper element, full, free, and joyous as a bird of the air. Without that knowledge, "the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world" crushes out life.

But, fit and necessary as it is to us to know our God, it is by no means inevitable; indeed, as we have seen, the Soul in very wilfulness tries to evade the knowledge which is its health. We must begin with an act of steadfast will, a deliberate choice; and then, we must labour to get our best good, knowing that, if we ask, we shall receive; if we seek, we shall find; if we knock, all shall be disclosed to us. But the seeking must be of single purpose; we must not be bent upon finding what we take for dross, whether in the Bible, in the ordering of the world, or in that of our own lives. Our search must be for the grains of gold, and, as we amass these, we shall live and walk in the continual intimacy of the divine Love, the constant worship of the divine Beauty, in the liberty of those whom the Truth makes free. 

 

1Browning.