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Knowing Christ Personally and Know His Love
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Unsearchable Riches of Christ.” The sermon was preached at Westminster Chapel, London, in 1956 and first published in 1979 and reprinted in 2004.
`And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.'
We have seen that according to the teaching of the Scriptures (and it is amply confirmed by all who have experienced richly this knowledge of the love of Christ) that though we cannot claim this great blessing, or argue that because certain things are true of us we already have it, there are nevertheless certain things which can help to put us in the way of the blessing. Bearing all that as a background in our minds, let us proceed at once to the detailed consideration of what we have to do. The overriding and overruling principle is to seek the Person---not to seek general blessings, but to seek Himself. But there are also certain things which we have to do in detail. I am increasingly convinced that many go through their Christian life in this world without this knowledge simply because they have never moved from the realm of generalities to particulars. You must start with the general, but that must lead to the particular. It is useless to read a book which describes some great experience and to feel that you could give the whole world if you could but have it, if you then do nothing about it. We have to put ourselves in the way of the blessing as blind Bartimaeus did.
The first and obvious rule is to read the Word of God regularly. This Word has been given in order to reveal Him to us. In a sense the central purpose of Scripture is to reveal the Lord Jesus
Christ. This is true of the Old Testament as well as the New. We recall how after His resurrection our Lord took two of His confused disciples through the Law and the Prophets and the Book of Psalms in order to show Himself to them in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27, 44). He is to be found everywhere in the Scriptures. A well-known hymn reminds us that the Bible is 'The heaven-drawn picture of Christ, the living Word'. He is to be found, not only in the Four Gospels where we see Him in His earthly state of humiliation, but also in the Epistles. They all refer to Him, they are all revelations of Him. So whenever you read the Bible you can find Him if you know how to do so.
It is possible for us to read the Scriptures in an utterly profitless manner. If you only read the Scriptures mechanically because you believe it is right and good to do so, or because you have been told to do so, you will probably derive little benefit. You may have an immediate sense of self-satisfaction and self-righteousness, because you have read your portion for the day; but that is not to read the Scriptures. Every bit of intelligence we possess is needed as we read the Scriptures; all our faculties and propensities must be employed. Even that is not enough; we must pray for the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we turn to the Scriptures we must talk to ourselves before we begin to read, otherwise our reading will not profit us. And we should do this, not only with the Bible, but also with other books or textbooks. We may spend hours with an open textbook in front of us looking at the pages and the words, but if we do not concentrate our attention we shall receive no instruction. You can do more in five minutes sometimes when you are really concentrating, than in many hours when your mind is wandering and you are not applying yourself.
There is no book which calls for greater application and concentration of all our powers and faculties than the Bible. So we must talk to ourselves and ask ourselves certain questions such as: What do I expect to receive from Scripture? Why am I reading? What is my object? We must not stop at saying it is good to read it because it is God's Word. We must go beyond that and say to ourselves: This is God's Word through which He still speaks to us; it is a living Word. The fact is that God has continued to speak to the saints through His word throughout the centuries. Read their experiences and you will find that many of them, indeed virtually all of them, say that they have had their greatest personal experiences of the love of Christ as they were reading the Scriptures. Suddenly He seems to meet them through a particular word; He comes out of the Book, as it were, and they know, that He personally is speaking to them.
And we can know like experiences if we learn how to read the Bible in a thoughtful, meditative manner. But meditation and contemplation are not easy, as we know from experience. To concentrate on what we are reading and to meditate upon it, demands effort and discipline. Contemplation and inward thinking are still more difficult. According to the manuals on the devout life, the ultimate stage in the holy life is that of contemplation. Few attain to it. So if in this matter of knowing the love of Christ we are left to ourselves we should find it to be well-nigh impossible. But God has stooped to our weakness, and He has provided us with the Word, with the pictures, the instruction and the teaching. So we must take full advantage of this and use it in our efforts to seek Him.
When you read the Gospels for instance, remind yourself that they are portraits of Him, showing us what He was like when He was here in this world. Then remind yourself that He is still the same essential Person. We must deliberately apply our minds to the seeking of Him and the knowledge of His love. In other words, we should go to the Scripture with a spirit of great expectation. We should go to it in a state of eagerness, asking, Is He going to speak to me personally, as well as indirectly through the Word? Having looked at the picture, remind yourself that He is still the same, `Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever'. That was the wonderful, thrilling discovery that was made by the various apostles who saw Him after His ascension.
There is a description of the risen Lord in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, where John tells us how, when he was on the Isle of Patmos and Christ appeared to him, he was alarmed until our Lord put His hand upon his shoulder, proving that He is still the same, though He is in glory. We must deliberately remind ourselves of this and not be content with some vague notion of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must realize that He is still a `Lamb as it had been slain', the One who was dead but is `alive for evermore'. We must therefore seek Him. The Scriptures have been given in order to help us, and we must apply what we read in them. The great principle is that true reading of the Bible involves thought, meditation, preparation of ourselves, and above all expectancy, and eager anticipation, a looking for Him, and a readiness to find Him everywhere.
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The second essential in this quest is prayer. Earlier I had to emphasize precisely the same principle. We can spend much time in the posture of prayer and yet not really pray. That is why time-tables, though essential to many, can be most dangerous in these matters. Here again, spiritual instruction seems to be contradicting itself, at one time teaching the importance of discipline and regularity and then pointing out the dangers connected with that. The fact is that we need to know ourselves and our needs, and what we must avoid at given stages. We also need pastoral help in this respect. Let me state this in the form of an illustration. In modern scientific farming they have discovered this principle increasingly. If you want to obtain the best crops out of your land it will pay you to make a scientific analysis of your soil. You take a specimen of the soil and send it to the laboratory, and they will tell you whether it is too acid or whether it is too alkaline. You then have to treat it according to the analysis. If you put lime into land that is already too alkaline you will ruin your yield. But if your land is acid, then it needs more alkali. But it is interesting to learn that as you go on with that process you may find that the soil seems to have changed its character altogether. So you cannot say that, because the first specimen was acid, your land will need alkali for ever and ever. You may well reach a point at which it has become too alkaline; and you will then have to give it acid. You appear to be contradicting yourself, but actually you are simply being intelligent. You realize that you are dealing with living processes in the soil and not static inorganic material, and that therefore you have to treat it as it is at any given time. The same applies to the human frame and constitution. You can so correct over-acidity in your constitution that you produce a new disease called alkalosis. You have become too alkaline and you may have to take some acid to redress the balance.
The same principle applies in the realm of the spiritual life. We may begin, mainly because of natural disposition, by being slack and indolent. We realize that we must have a time-table and we adopt one. But quite unconsciously and gradually we become slaves of our time-table, and we need to be told to forget the time-table and experience more of the freedom of the Spirit. Because of our remaining sinfulness we go from one extreme to another. Thus we have to know ourselves, we have to be examining ourselves, and watching ourselves, and making quite sure that we have not lost sight of the grand objective, which is, to known Him and to know His love.
I urge therefore that there is nothing more important in connection with prayer than preliminary meditation and consideration of what we are going to do. This is what the saints have called `recollection', which really means that you talk to yourself about yourself and what you are doing. Our chief fault is that we do not talk to ourselves as much as we should. We must talk to ourselves about ourselves. There is little purpose in beginning to talk to God and praying unless we realize our own condition. To fail to do so means that we may be going into the presence of God in a completely false state. We may feel that we have been dealt with very harshly and unkindly and indeed cruelly; we are full of self-pity; and we go to God in that condition and ask Him for certain things. Had we stopped to analyse ourselves, and had we spoken to ourselves quite honestly, we would have discovered that we were probably in a thoroughly bad and unworthy state, that we really needed to be whipped spiritually, and that the trouble was essentially in ourselves. Had we done that, how different our prayer would be! Before we begin to pray we must examine ourselves; and, then, having done so, we must remind ourselves of what we are going to do. We must meditate upon this again, and we must realize the possibilities. Above all we must think again of Him, our great High Priest above. With Isaac Watts we must say:
With joy we meditate the grace
Of our High Priest above;
His heart is made of tenderness,
It overflows with love.
To do this, and to realize that it is true for us, will transform our praying. We shall be truly seeking Him, and expecting a living response from Him.
A third important element is that of thanksgiving. When we read a great passage such as this which we are considering, or the experiences of those who have known the love of Christ, our tendency is to feel that this is what we need, that we would give much to possess it, that we must begin to pray for it and to plead for it; and just go on and on doing so. But such an attitude contains a real fallacy. It is like a child who is always making demands and requests of his parents but never shows any appreciation whatsoever. We must realize that God delights to hear our thanksgiving and our praise. Hence the Apostle, in correcting the tendency to anxiety in the Philippians, says, `In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God' (4:6). Before we ask God for any new and additional blessings and benefits, we should always be careful to thank Him for what we have already received. If you believe that the Lord has died for you, thank Him for doing so. How often have you done so? That is a real test of our faith. If a human being does us a kindness we thank him at once. We say we believe that Christ died for our sins, but how often do we thank Him? The more you thank Him and express your feeble love to Him, the more likely you are to know His love to you in the greater sense to which Paul refers. The more prominent praise and thanksgiving are in our prayer life the more we shall know His love which passeth knowledge.
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It should be obvious also that we must try to please Him in all things. This is quite self-evident when expressed in terms of a human analogy. If we love certain persons we instinctively try to please them; and the more we please them the more they will show their love to us. It really is as simple as that. Our Lord Himself states this quite plainly and clearly in John's Gospel: `He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. And he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him' (14:21). And yet how often do we forget this! We tend to divide our lives into compartments. When reading the Scriptures or some good book, of the life of a saint, I see this wonderful possibility and I want it, and I begin to pray for it urgently and plead for it. But then I meet the hard facts and difficulties and problems of life, and I seem to forget it all. I become irritable, I become hasty, I become unkind and impatient. I revert to thinking on the human level again, and I do things which I should not do. The result is that my prayer is really of but little value.
The Bible is a very practical book, and it would have us see that love is not a vague sentiment. Our Lord tells us to show our love to Him by keeping His commandments. If we really do desire to know Him and His love, then we must do with all our might everything that He has ever told us to do. We are without excuse if we fail to realize this. It is taught in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Epistles, indeed everywhere in the New Testament. Let us therefore be diligent in the keeping of His commandments. Or, to state the matter negatively, let us realize how important it is to avoid displeasing Him. Certain things are quite incompatible with His presence. This is sometimes expressed in a phrase which I abominate. People talk about `taking Christ with them'. That is quite wrong, for we do not take Him with us. The question is, whether He will accompany us if we do certain things. There are certain things which He did not do in the days of His flesh; and He still will not do them, for they are quite unthinkable in His presence. The Scriptures therefore warn very clearly about the danger of `grieving the Spirit'. What applies to the Holy Spirit applies equally to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why it is so important always to be thinking of Him and reminding ourselves that because we are Christians, Christ is in us and the Holy Spirit is in us, wherever we may go, or whatever we may do. If you long for the manifestation of His love, therefore, avoid the doing of things which you know He cannot abide, things which He hates, the things which sent Him to the death of the Cross. Avoid them!
I can illustrate this by a simple illustration which has often helped me personally, and still helps me. It is a simple, almost a ridiculous story of something which happened within the realm of my own experience; and it always reminds me of all I try to say to myself when facing this particular question.
I was brought up as a boy in an agricultural, rural district, where we all knew everything about one another and knew everything that was happening. There was a man in that area, a farmer's son, who was very much in love with a certain young lady, and wanted to marry her. And she was in love with him. But there was one obstacle to be overcome. This poor fellow, like so many others, had one weakness, and that was the tendency when he went to the market town once a week to drink too much. She hated this, so he fought against it. But suddenly he would break out again and fall to the temptation. She would then have nothing to do with him. The whole neighbourhood was watching this as it went on for several years. She made it perfectly plain to him that as long as he touched alcoholic drink she would have nothing to do with him. We all wondered what the outcome would be. What actually happened was that the man so loved her that he forsook drink once and for ever. The result was that they got married and they lived very happily together for many years.
That simple story illustrates the very essence of this matter. The choice confronting the man was, which did he really want the more, this girl whom he loved or the drink and the boon companions on the market day? He had to arrive at a basic decision; and his love for the girl was so great that he gave up the drink once and for ever. So he won her, and she gave her love and herself to him.
There are certain things which the Lord Jesus Christ hates and abominates: so it is a simple matter of logic to argue that if we hold on to such things and indulge in them we really have no right to expect a manifestation of His love. I remind you once more that you can be a Christian without knowing His love in this way; but if you want to be the kind of Christian Paul wanted these Ephesians to be, then you must give up the things He hates, cost what it may. Then you will find that in His own time He will smile upon you and manifest Himself and His love to you.
Each one of us knows individually the thing, or the things, that are standing between us and Him. Let them go! Strike them out! Even though they may be legitimate in and of themselves, if you are aware in your heart that they are a hindrance, they must go. `If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee': `if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee' (Matt 5:29-30). That is the Lord's own teaching in this matter. Please Him positively; and avoid everything that you know is displeasing in His most holy sight. And do this not merely for a limited period, such as Lent; do it for ever.
* * *
The fourth principle involved in this matter urges importunity, that is to say, concentration or whole-heartedness. We find it stated in the Book of Jeremiah: `And ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart' (29:13). That has become familiar in an oratorio, in the words `If with all your heart ye truly seek me, ye shall surely find me'. The emphasis falls on the phrase, `with all your heart'. Again in the Book of Psalms we read: `Unite my heart to fear Thy name' (86:11). The Psalmist is conscious of the difficulty, so he prays God to unite his heart that he may seek Him with the whole of his being. Recall our Lord's teaching concerning the single eye: `If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness' (Matt 6:22-23).
Nothing is more important in this realm than having the `single eye', that is to say, looking in one direction, concentrating, shuttering everything else out of the field of vision; almost a monomania. This has been a great characteristic of the saints of God. Or take the teaching of our Lord, as recorded in Luke's Gospel, about the importunate widow. The unjust judge, who `feared neither God nor man', is confronted by a widow woman who keeps on coming to the court with her petition. At last the judge, reduced to a state of desperation, decides that he had better grant her request. Go to God with the importunity of that widow, says the Lord Jesus Christ. Who else would have dared to say that? Importunity is essential. We are all ready to start, yet all too ready to be content with an occasional feeling, and occasional spasmodic efforts. But we must keep on, and persist, and never give up.
We must become more like the patriarch Jacob at Peniel. Think of him there on that critical night; in a few hours' time he was going to meet Esau. Recall his fear and foreboding. He had sent everything and everyone across the stream, and there he was alone, when suddenly a man came and began to wrestle with him. Jacob, sensing that this was God dealing with him, held on even to the break of day and uttered those immortal words, `I will not let thee go except thou bless me'. That is the spirit we must cultivate, the spirit of concentration, the spirit of importunity, the spirit that says, `I will not let Thee go'. As we do so, He will do various things to us. Leave the time element entirely to Him; but---to borrow a word used by the Puritan Thomas Goodwin---`Sue Him for it', and keep on doing so, as the importunate widow did with the unjust judge.
* * *
That brings us to our last principle, which, like all the others, is also most vital. It can be described as responsiveness to the Lord's approaches. We are dealing with very sensitive and very delicate matters. Or, to vary the picture, we are on the mount of God, where the air is very pure and very rarefied, and slight changes are immediately felt. Responsiveness to His approaches means that you look for them, that you wait for them, and expect them. Often we are so busy reading the Scriptures and praying, and doing all we have been considering, that we feel that nothing is happening. But much may be happening, and the trouble is that we are so dull and so unresponsive or so busy, that we are not aware of it.
The Lord may well come at first very quietly and very gently. The Holy Spirit is compared to a dove, the most gentle of all the birds. That is a picture of our blessed Lord also. He does not always manifest the fulness of His love. He may only give you very slight indications of it. Human love can be expressed in just a look. The eye that can look severe can also look tender and loving. A mere slight flicker in the eye can tell us everything and bring us untold joy. Our Lord deals with us in that way. He is our heavenly Lover, and He manifests His love sometimes very faintly; He gives but a slight indication of it. So we should be looking for these things. His love does not come in one stereotyped manner. He has many ways of manifesting His love to us. Be always on the lookout for the slightest manifestation of it! Never `despise the day of the small things'.
The moment you feel the slightest drawing or indication of His love, act upon it at once, however it may come. You may be reading a book, for instance, and not really thinking very much about this particular matter, when suddenly you become aware of some urge or some call to prayer. The whole essence of wisdom in this matter is to put down your book immediately, no matter how interesting it may be, and begin to pray. Do not decide to finish the chapter and pray afterwards. If you do so, you may well find that the wonderful, glorious moment has gone; and you cannot recapture it. The moment you feel the slightest movement or indication of His love, respond, act, yield to Him immediately. Whatever He calls you to do, do it at once. And as you do so, you will find that He will come more frequently, and the manifestations will be plainer and clearer. And then a day may come when it will be glorious in its might and power. As William Cowper says:
Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings.
Let us at the same time give heed to the warning concerning this very matter found in The Song of Solomon in the fifth chapter, in the first six verses:
I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, 0 friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, 0 beloved.
There we have the approach of the bridegroom as he knocks at the door of the bride. But her response is:
I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
Her beloved is there, even entreating her to open the door; but she is tired and feels that she cannot be bothered to get up and soil her feet again in opening the door. She desires him, of course, but it does not suit her convenience at that moment to receive him. `I sleep, but my heart waketh'. She recognizes the voice but she cannot be troubled to rise at that moment. The account continues:
My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.
Having seen his hand she says:
I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet-smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.
She thought that she was going to see him and to be ravished by his love. But this is what we next read:
I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave no answer.
The Song proceeds to describe how she sought him. She went out as she was and walked through the streets. People maltreated her and she received chastisement and punishment and was ill-used; but on and on she went, seeking Him. Thank God He did not leave her for ever. He was simply teaching her this great and central and all-important lesson, that whenever He makes an approach it is to be grasped at, to be held on to immediately, with a ready response. Do not delay it, do not postpone it. Thank Him for every indication, however faint; run to Him, receive Him, be responsive to Him. And as we are responsive to Him and His every approach, He will come more and more to us; and we shall find ourselves basking in the sunshine of His face, rejoicing in His embraces, and drinking in His glorious and eternal love.
We find ourselves here in a very delicate and sensitive atmosphere. May God fill us with His Spirit and with wisdom and understanding, so that we may be alive and alert and sensitive to His every approach, and never find ourselves being chided by Him for having refused, or having failed to recognize, one of His tender approaches. Remember that He is saying to you, `Behold, I stand at the door and knock'. God forbid that there should be so much noise in the house of our souls that we do not hear Him! God forbid that there should be so much blaring of the world's noises that we do not hear Him at all, and leave Him standing outside. Let us be sensitive to Him, let us be ready, let us be ever listening and longing and waiting for Him. And as we do so, He will most surely come and manifest Himself to us. [265-276]
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