Love: Abounding Through Knowledge

From the book Grace and Glory by A.J. Gordon, first published in 1872.

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Peter Wade.

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Love: Abounding Through Knowledge

by A.J. Gordon

    I. Knowledge reveals character
    II. Knowledge brings communion “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” (Philippians 1:9).
        There is something very striking and unexpected in the climax of this prayer. That the love of Christians should abound is a frequent exhortation and petition of the apostle. But we should expect the direction of that love to be differently defined. “In fervour and in all charity, in zeal and in all self-sacrifice,” would perhaps be the terms which we should have chosen to indicate its course. But instead of this the direction is upward from the heart to the head, — “that your love may abound in all knowledge and in all judgment,” or discrimination, as the word means more exactly. This is the course in which the affections must flow, in order that they may deepen and widen and strengthen. And a little reflection will doubtless show us that it is necessarily so; that love can abound most fully only through knowledge.

    I. Knowledge reveals character

    The truth of these words appears, in the first place, from the fact that knowledge reveals character, and character draws out love. That is to say, we can only love a person as we know him to be possessed of amiable and praiseworthy traits. There may be such a thing as love without acquaintance; but it will only be transitory and evanescent, unless, upon more intimate relations being established, the character is found to be worthy of it.
           This holds especially true of our relations to God. “Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace.” Enmity to the Lord comes of ignorance of Him. For ignorance is the mother of suspicion as well as superstition. It sees just enough of God to be perplexed and estranged, but not enough to have its perplexities relieved; it encounters His austere attributes as they are displayed in providence, without knowing His gracious attributes as they are hidden in His heart It is this half acquaintance which often proves the most fatal ignorance. “When the world by wisdom knew not God.” The open eye without the open heart, the busy thoughts unaccompanied with the active affections, these are the conditions of the most dangerous estrangement. “When I knew nothing of God, I was indifferent to Him; when I knew a little of God, I mistrusted Him and complained of Him; when I knew much of God, I trusted Him and loved Him,” — would be the honest confession of many who have traversed the field from utter ignorance to the largest knowledge.
        How suggestive upon this point are those words of Jesus in His last prayer, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee”! This is His plaintive lament, and this is too plainly the secret of men’s hatred of the Father, of which He so often speaks. But hear what He adds concerning His disciples: “And I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it, that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them and I in them.” The doors of the heart, which ignorance has barred against the Father, knowledge opens, and affections flow out through the avenues by which light has come in. Such is the effect of Divine knowledge upon those who have also Divine faith.
        Now, it is clear what attributes of the Almighty’s character the men of this world are most likely to encounter. They know most of sin and disobedience in their experience, and therefore they are most likely to collide with the justice and judgment of God which sin calls out. And it is a dreadful thing, when we stop to think of it, for one to have only such acquaintance as this with the Lord. To know a father only by his corrections, and never by his caresses; to be reminded of him by a scourging conscience, and never by a loving heart, — is the most dreary destiny to which one can be consigned. And yet this is about all the contact with God that thousands have in this world, — in pains of conscience and pains of body and pains of fearful looking for of judgment. And little affection for Him is engendered by it all.
        And if, perchance, the conscience is quickened by a clearer knowledge of God’s holiness, the estrangement is only deepened. To be better acquainted with God as the Judge of all the earth doing right, does not certainly help to win the affections of His subjects, if this is all that is known. And therefore the mere example and teaching of Jesus Christ tended rather to deepen the enmity of men to God than to win their affection to Him. This He Himself plainly declares: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin… 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.”
        Therefore there was a solemn necessity for the cross, that the Son of God might thereby conquer the enmity which His words and works had rather deepened than assuaged. It was not enough that men should see God’s hands put forth in miracles, and His holiness shining out in a pure example; they must see His heart laid open before they will love Him. Here, then, in Christ crucified is the revelation that gives men the knowledge of God that could be found nowhere else.
        “God commendeth His love to us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” How with blind desire and helpless longing had the poor heart of humanity been feeling after such a revelation! If they had found hints of it in nature, they at least never had an exhibition powerful enough at once to lift the heart to God, and detach its affections from the world. The affections of the human soul are certainly not devoid of heavenly aspirations; but what if they do not clearly know God? Then, like the vine stretching up its tendril fingers, and finding no support, and so falling back again to creep upon the earth from which it sprung, the heart that fails to find God, only loves the world the more desperately and hopelessly. Blessed be God, therefore, for the cross of Christ, — that trellis for the heart’s affections. It is this by which the soul learns to know the love of God; and upon it the renewed affections climb higher and higher; beneath it they strike their roots deeper and deeper; upon its arms they reach out farther and farther, evermore increasing in love by increasing in knowledge, as they seek to “comprehend with all saints what is the length, and breadth, and height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”
        It cannot but be true that a study of God’s character, as revealed in redemption, shall deepen and strengthen our love as no other study can. Barren knowledge is common in other fields; it seems impossible here, unless indeed the atonement is utterly robbed of its evangelical meaning. Who has found it possible to unfold the precious doctrine of the cross without infolding, at every turn, new delights of joy and affection in his own heart? And even the knowledge gained in other departments of Biblical study seems to be fructified in the atmosphere of this. Our hearts burn within us, in pacing the courts of the temple, studying its brazen altar, and gazing on its mercy-seat, when once a ray from the cross has fallen there. With faith, as the eye through which we look, the dullest facts of Biblical lore kindle and glow before us as we ponder them.
        “Knowledge is power” — does philosophy teach us? Knowledge is love, we say, if only it be the acquirement of faith, and not of reason; for it shows us God, and brings us into a perpetual study of His character. And since knowledge is the abiding of the mind in the subject of its study, to know God is to dwell in God, and hence to dwell in love; for “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.”
        How full our Church life is of testimonies to the contrary truth! “My people is destroyed for lack of knowledge” is the epitaph written over the graves of scores of dead Christians. Neglecting the diligent study of the Scriptures, they have no nutriment for their love, and it starves. They sigh after their “first love,” strangely forgetting that God’s love is the first love; that “we love Him because He first loved us” and that our spiritual affections can only be kept ardent and glowing by a daily finding out from the Bible how immeasurably and persistently God has loved us. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” And how He thus loved us is written everywhere in Scripture: in the blood of the paschal lamb sprinkled on the door-posts; in the solemn ordinance of the scapegoat; in the holy rites of the great day of atonement; in the vessels of the tabernacle, in its altar and laver and ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold; in the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean; in the predictions of the prophets and the Psalms; in the story of the evangelists; in the doctrines of the Apostle, and in the lofty strains of the Apocalypse, — in all these myriad types and voices the same story is repeated, of the true “Lamb of God” giving His life a ransom for many, and “hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us.”
        They who do not search into these things know not what hid treasures they miss. And neglect of study ministers sure decay in the spiritual life. Where gross temptation slays one Christian, ignorance slays scores. It defeats the believer by cutting off his supplies; it puts him into darkness by withholding the oil which should feed his lamp; it nurses him into unbelief by giving him nothing to believe. A rebellious, wayward heart is sad enough; but a sterile heart is a bitter trial to one who is called to care for God’s Church, — a heart that yields nothing of testimony, or fruit, or self-sacrifice, year by year, because it is too indifferent to receive from God the seed of the word, and so lies perpetually fallow.
        My brethren, as you value your souls, and know your accountability to the Lord who bought you, remember that word of the Apostle, “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You cannot grow in grace except you grow in knowledge; and you cannot grow in knowledge except you daily search the Scriptures, wherein you have eternal life.

    II. Knowledge brings communion

    Let us consider, again, that knowledge of God brings us into communion with that Divine life which is the spring of all Divine love.
        Divine love is the measure of the Divine life. If God is love, the more we come into fellowship with Himself, the more we shall come into the exercise and experience of His love. But it is only through knowledge that we come into this fellowship with God’s life. “This is eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” So, then, the chain of our reasoning is this: the word of God gives knowledge of God; knowledge of God gives the life of God, and the life of God begets the love of God.
        Do you not see, then, how small a place the religion of ignorance has in the word of God ? We want a heart religion, but we must have an intellectual religion too. And if anybody, in his zeal for a religion of the heart, thinks to make a short cut of it, by closing the gates of the understanding and carrying on all his communications with God through the affections, he will find very little entering into the fulness of Divine grace. Nay! Both mind and heart must be called into fullest exercise in order that the grace of God may abound in us. And the word of God has this rare attribute of ministering to every element of our nature, giving nutriment to the mind and incitement to the affections; affording food for thought and delight to the emotions. Like the juices of the grape, which nature has distributed in such mild and even mixture that they minister nourishment and sweetness in the most perfect proportion, so the life of God, which is contained in His word, has all that can delight the affections, while it builds us up in our most holy faith. The curse of intoxication comes when man compresses and ferments these juices of the grape, and by violating nature’s proportions produces the hot stimulant which “sets on fire the whole course of nature.” And the evil of religious fanaticism comes when the Divine proportion is violated, and all the juices of thought are distilled into the intoxicants of emotion and transport on the one hand, or all the sweet and nourishing sap of inspiration and love is turned into mere intellectual incitement on the other. As Christ, while on earth, rounded out the largest intellectual sphere, and yet filled that sphere to its utmost limit with moral life and love, so Christ in us, if we receive Him in His fulness, will quicken our highest intelligence, and sound our deepest love; and He will so blend and harmonize the offices of affection that our love of God will be but knowledge of God kindled into a flame of adoration, and our knowledge of God will be but the love of God clarified and transfigured in His perfect light.
        We cannot lay too much stress on this idea, the necessity of an even co-operation of all our spiritual powers in order to the highest consecration. “Know ye not that Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” And, though our capacity is very meagre, we must seek to take in the whole Christ: “to be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” as well as to be filled with His love, which passeth knowledge. There are those who would fain eke out a narrow apprehension of His atoning love by a larger admiration of His matchless wisdom. There are those who would cover a criminal ignorance of His word by a parade of fondling phrases and trite endearments of His person. There are those who, letting all the channels of Biblical knowledge run dry in their souls, are seeking to irrigate the parched and thirsty heart by revolving the wheel of an endlessly repeated religious experience. But such make-shifts will soon exhaust themselves. There is no way in which the current of love can be strengthened, except by deepening the channels of knowledge.
        We have accepted Christ, not because we know Him, but in order to know Him. And if He has become to us a Saviour, He has become a lifelong subject of study and contemplation. And such study is the only thing which can furnish an inexhaustible stimulant to our affections. Hence the love of ease is a dangerous neighbour to the love of Christ. It will borrow from it more and more till all its store is exhausted, and will pay back nothing. In other words, it is impossible for one to maintain a love for the Saviour except he maintains a patient and painstaking search of the Scriptures, which reveal the heights and depths of His love to us. “Continue ye in My love,” says the Master. And when we ask, “How shall we, Lord?” His answer comes, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed.” It is right that we should long for devout feelings and warm spiritual exercises. And the Lord, so far from rebuking such aspirations, I am sure, rebukes us only because we are so barren in this respect. But we can find these exercises only in the way which He has pointed out: by “being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
        The more we study to know the love of God from the record of it which He has written, the more will our devout affections be kindled. We must think God’s thoughts after Him, in order to love God’s love after Him. And if you will study the lives of Christ’s most consecrated servants, such as Edwards and Pascal and Brainerd and Howe, you will find that their highest ascents into the regions of spiritual joy and delight were made, not on the wing of the soaring affections, but along the ladder of patient search after God, and in surmounting round after round of the scala sancta of revealed truth. Of Edwards this is pre-eminently so. His love seems to be knowledge set on fire; thought glowing with the incandescent heat of its own holy ardour. It is when his intense intellect is searching out God’s ways, sounding the depths of His foreknowledge, or measuring the reaches of His great atonement, that he seems most utterly to lose himself in Christ, and to be rapt away in inexpressible spiritual delight.
        Oh, it is not more incitements and stimulants to love which we need, but a deeper insight into the mystery of redemption! The contact of Christian heart with Christian heart is blessed. The communion of spirit with spirit among believers is vastly helpful; but, after all the study, the pondering, the looking into, the grasping and the exulting in, the story of redemption passes all else for opening the deepest fountains of affection. “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us by the way, and opened to us the Scriptures?” The key which opens to us the Word must open our hearts also, by revealing Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega of that Word.
        And the same principle which applies to love of Christ applies to love among brethren. This cannot be a sentimental and reciprocal thing merely. Two burnished reflectors can radiate the brightness from one to the other if there be a light between them. But, if each only reflects from the other, there can be no illumination; because neither furnishes any supply of light. So two Christians, reciprocating each other’s affections, will make but a poor exhibit of brotherly love, unless they have Christ between them as the centre and source of their life.
        We speak contemptuously of mutual admiration between friends, as we ought. And there is just as little to admire in mutual fellowship among Christians, unless Christ be in the midst of them as the centre of that fellowship. To exhort one another, to comfort one another, and to love one another, are all most solemn duties. But where will be the profit in them unless Christ be the central theme, and His grace and glory the central objects of our admiration and praise? The cherubim stood with “their faces one toward another;” but the mercy-seat was between. And it was upon faces bending in eager gaze upon those “things which the angels desire to look into,” that the glory of God was reflected. And, brethren, if we get any cheer or brightness from looking into each other’s faces, and communing with each other in the services of God’s house, it will be because Christ stands in the midst of us, the object of all our meditations and the fountain of all our joys. We want you to come to the place of prayer; but unless you have been bending over God’s word during the week, unless you have been facing and fronting the Lord as He stands revealed in that word, what can you impart? And the danger to-day in our meetings for social prayer and testimony is that, instead of lifting each other up, we let each other down by our superficial experiences and our empty reiterations of dead words. It is an old Book about which we are talking, but I am certain that any of you, by studying it patiently each week, can make discoveries of truth which will thrill you as a start ling piece of news does. Indeed, the old Book is “the good news from a far country.” And if a score of you should get possessed and fired with a piece of this Divine intelligence, and were to come into our assembly and pour it out, what a kindling there would be among the embers on our spiritual hearthstone! O brethren, light your fires anew at God’s word! Let us cease coming to one another for help and enrichment, and come to the Lord and abide in the Lord, ” in whom are hid all the riches of knowledge and wisdom.”
        Here, then, if we would be obedient children and useful servants and true witnesses, is one of our highest and most sacred duties. The maxim, “Know thyself,” was considered among the heathen philosophers to contain the sum of all wisdom. Let us remember what we have learned by the revelation of Christ and His apostles: “This is eternal life, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”

    This page Copyright © 2000 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site:

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