We Know

1 John 5:20  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Nothing is more characteristic of the inspired writers than the calm assurance with which they speak. It is not theirs to surmise, or suppose, or infer, but simply to state. The former processes no doubt have their place in the affairs of this life, and not least in the domain of science, where thoughtful men increasingly recognize that it is risky to generalize too rapidly. For from time to time fresh facts come to light that conflict with some previous generalization, and demand reconsideration from the ardent builders of the oft-repaired edifice. The discovery that geology and physics do not agree as to the antiquity of the earth is one illustration of this; another is the shock recently given to the dream of Darwinism by an eminent scientist, who affirms that acquired habits are not transmitted. Now the doctrine that such are transmitted, and not instincts only, is an assumed buttress, perhaps keystone, of the evolutionary hypothesis. But if the German professor be correct, what becomes of its vaunts? How many advocates fondly hoped it had passed the probationary period, and was as secure as the law of gravitation itself; and many others, though reluctantly, have thought it necessary to make terms.
Now there is nothing strange in this, if, as is probable, it be true; nor does it in the least invalidate the discoveries of science, nor the advantages that result. It merely shows that all man has to discover for himself must be of a progressive nature, and that science itself, in certain branches, must be in a state of flux. It is foreign to the object of this paper to discuss evolution. The point pressed is simply the hypothetical character of much of human science; it may often seem a dazzling guess, but much is still a guess. On the other hand no intelligent person need ever seek to belittle its efforts.
But can man by searching find out God? Surely the same answer must be returned now as when the question was first propounded. Yet without the knowledge of God there can be no true happiness. For, as Augustine said of old, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” But science has nothing to do with that which is highest in man, the spirit, and can give no peace or joy. For none probably would designate by such comfortable words the austere pleasure man's science is able to afford. It is indeed “dry light.”
And so, were there no revelation, the lament of the poet, “Behold, we know not anything,” must be but too well-founded. What should we have beyond the progressive investigation of the extent of our ignorance? This, while benefiting man marvelously in a material way, has only enabled us to work our iron and not our souls (as one of our poetesses has expressed it). Hence it were pitiful indeed, had we nothing better. No wonder that when revelation is ignored, men are sad: a fact painfully disclosed in much of the literature of the day, in which is seen how no culture (that is the word) can avail to make hard negations seem like the “children's bread.” Wherein lies a weighty difference between ancient and modern, or rather what is known as up-to-date literature. If the ancient poet was not true to the light he had, at least he knew no turning away, from the “great light” (Matt. 4:1616The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. (Matthew 4:16)); for he had not seen it. How infinitely more serious for those who go back to Pagan reveries, and to worse than the twilight of the Jewish world! It is a well-known fact also that those who make a point of cultivating the beautiful apart from the true fail in the former almost as much as in the latter. No, “'tis first the true, and then the beautiful,” as a Christian poet sings.
But what if God in His grace give a revelation? Does not He know what is good for His poor fallen creature, man? And, knowing, is He not able to impart such knowledge? No doubt mere curiosity is never gratified. But all that concerns man's spiritual welfare is abundantly revealed, and this with divine plainness and simplicity. Besides, how much there is momentous about man and the world before the deluge and since, where the classical oracles are dumb! But as to things eternal even now “we know,” as John says again and again. Nor is the disciple, whom Jesus loved, alone if conspicuous in directness of statement with its concomitant profundity of truth. It characterizes, as was said at the outset, all the N. T. writers, as well as the O. T. ones not less truly.
When we ask what it is that we know, we hear the blessed words, “We know that the Son of God is come.” Clearly such knowledge must dwarf all others into absolute insignificance. Other things may be true for and on this little stage. He indeed is the truth. For it is evident that if I know that a Divine Person has come, and truly man in this world, and that by faith in Him I have life eternal, with the blessed issue of being with Him forever after this short life is over, then nothing down here can be of consequence—save to do God's will. What, when weighed in those balances, are science, art, or literature? Surely in themselves but of ephemeral interest, save where they possibly minister to divine purposes. We know that the Son of God is come, the True Light; and all else passes into the shadow out of which it came. Hence it is that the question propounded by our Lord (“What think ye of the Christ”?) becomes the all-important thing. For, if I think rightly as to Him, if I am taught by the Holy Spirit to believe on Him, this will clearly set me right on every other important question, and enable me to see each thing in true perspective, when God's Son occupies the central place in the heart and mind. And this is the firm ground of the apostle, who had already at the start testified to Christ's atoning blood, which cleanses from all sin. He simply in language of the truest sublimity presents the Son of God come, and tells of the understanding given us that we may know Him. Oh, how much hangs, and what holiness of life should follow, on such priceless knowledge!
This then is divinely given knowledge, in a world where all is out of course, and where there is no light but what streams from Him Who came by water and blood. No other key unlocks the enigma of this groaning creation, the “burden of this otherwise unintelligible world.” What else claims to be light, when it is not spurious, or mere will-of-the-wisp, is but a reflection of the rays of Christianity. It is forgotten often by those who point to the sometimes upright lives of doubters, that they have been nurtured in the Christian tradition. Truly no high standard of morality in society at large could survive the dethronement of the Bible. The reflected radiance seen in philanthropy, crusade of peace, &c., &c., would soon vanish in the eclipse of doctrinal faith.
What the knowledge is, and in Whom known, has been briefly stated; it remains only to add how it may be obtained. This, all are assured, is by simple faith. And the simpler we are, the better, both for ourselves, and in order to help others. Does not our Lord commend above all things the simple faith of a little child? Hear the Gentile apostle, “Let no one deceive himself: if any one thinketh he is wise among you in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise” (1 Cor. 3:1818Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. (1 Corinthians 3:18)). R. B.