It is a commanded duty, that we grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. iii.18; and the knowledge of him being life eternal, John xvii.3, and our measure of knowledge of him here being but imperfect, for we know but in part, it cannot but be an useful duty, and a desirable thing, to be growing in this knowledge. This is to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, to be increasing in the knowledge of God, Col. i.10. Knowledge must be added to virtue; and it layeth a ground for other Christian virtues, 2 Pet. i.5, 6. In this knowledge we must not be barren, 2 Pet. i.2. And this being so necessary, so desirable, so useful, and so advantageous a grace, the believer cannot but desire to have more and more of it, especially seeing it is a part of the image of God, Col. iii.10.
Now it is the truth that must teach them here, first and last. |The light of the knowledge of the glory of God must be had in the face of Jesus Christ,| 2 Cor. iv.6. The question therefore is, how we should make use of Jesus Christ for this end, that we may attain to more of this excellent knowledge.
First. It is good to live in the constant conviction of a necessity of his teaching us, and this taketh in those particulars:
1. That we should be conscious of our ignorance, even when we know most, or think we know most, remembering that the best knoweth but in part, 1 Cor. xiii.9. The more true knowledge we attain to, the more will we see and be convinced of our ignorance; because the more we know, the more will we discover of the vastness and incomprehensibility of that object, which is proposed to our knowledge.
2. That we should remember, how deceitful our hearts are; and how ready they are to sit down upon a shadow of knowledge, even where we know nothing as we ought to know, 1 Cor. viii.2; and this will keep us jealous and watchful.
3. And to help forward our jealousy of our own hearts and watchfulness, we should remember that our hearts naturally are averse from any true and saving knowledge; whatever desire there be naturally after knowledge of hidden things out of curiosity; and of things natural; or of things spiritual, as natural, for the perfection of nature, as might be pretended, whereby in effect those that increase knowledge, increase sorrow, Eccl. i.18. Yet there is no inclination after spiritual and saving knowledge, in us naturally, but an aversion of heart therefrom.
4. That we should study and know the absolute necessity of this knowledge. How necessary it is for our Christian communion with God, and Christian walk with others; how necessary for our right improving of dispensations, general and particular; what a noble ornament of a Christian it is, and a necessary piece of the image of God, which we have lost.
Secondly. Upon these grounds mentioned, we would also be convinced of this:
1. That of ourselves, and by all our natural parts, endowments, quickness and sagacity, we cannot attain to this saving knowledge, which is a special and saving grace, and so must be wrought in the soul by a divine hand, even the mighty power of God. By our private study and reading, we may attain to a literal, heady, and speculative knowledge, that will puff us up, 1 Cor. viii.1; but thereby shall we never attain to this knowledge, which is spiritual, hearty, and practical, and so saving, we must have the anointing here, which teacheth us all things, 1 John ii.27. And of this we should be persuaded, that we may look to a higher hand for light and instruction.
Thirdly. There should be an eyeing of Christ's furniture and fitness for this work of teaching of us, to wit,
1. An eyeing of him as the substantial wisdom of the Father, Prov. viii.
2. An eyeing of him, as one come out of the bosom of the Father, John i.18; and so sufficiently enabled to acquaint us with the mysteries of God for salvation.
3. An eyeing of him as Mediator, fully endued with all necessaries for this piece of his work, and so having received the Spirit without measure, for this end, John iii.34; and as having hid in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Col. ii.3; and as having all fullness dwelling in him, Col. i.19; and also Isa. xi.2; lxi.1,2.
4. An eyeing of him, as having power to send the Spirit, that anointing that teacheth us all things, |and is truth and is no lie,| 1 John ii.20-27; not only by way of intercession and entreaty, begging it of the Father, John xv.16, 17; but also authoritatively, as conjunct with the Father. The Father sendeth him in Christ's name, John xiv.26; and Christ sendeth him from the Father, John xv.26; and this Spirit of truth which guideth into all truth, shall receive of Christ's, and shew it unto us, John xvi.13-15.
Fourthly, There should be an eyeing of Christ's readiness, willingness, and engagement to help in this case; and this will encourage the soul to go forward. And for this cause we would remember those things:
1. That he standeth obliged to help us with instruction, by virtue of his office, as a prophet, a witness, a leader, and a commander, Isa. l v.4.
2. That he is commissioned of the Father for this end, and so is the Father's servant; and is given for |a light to the Gentiles,| Isa. xlii.6; xlix.6; and the Father is said to speak by him, or in him, Heb. i.1.
3. That he received his gifts and qualifications for this end and purpose, that he might give out and dispense to his members according to their necessity; as is clear from Psalm lxviii.18, compared with Eph. iv.8; what he is said to have received in the one place, he is said to have given in the other.
4. That he hath begun this work already by his Spirit in his followers; and therefore standeth engaged to see it perfected; for all his works are perfect works.
5. That he hath a love to his scholars, and a desire to have them all thriving, and making progress in knowledge; this being his glory who is their master and teacher.
6. That he laid down ways and means, and a constant course for instructing of his people: for,
(1.) He hath given his word, and settled and established ordinances for this end.
(2.) He hath established a ministry for instructing his people, Eph. iv.8-13.
(3.) He hath gifted persons for this work of the ministry, 1 Cor. xii.4-11.
(4.) He maketh these officers, in the faithful administration of their function, and through his blessing and Spirit, maketh their work prosperous and effectual in his own, as he seeth fit.
Fifthly. There should be an eyeing of the promises of the covenant of grace made for this end, whether general or particular, or both; such as those which we have, Isa. ii.9. Hab. ii.14, |The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,| or of |the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea;| and that, Isa. xxxii.4, |the heart of the rash shall understand knowledge,| &c.; and Jer. xxxi, 34, |They shall all know me.|
Sixthly. There should be a constant, diligent, serious, and single using of the means of knowledge, with a faithful dependence on Christ by faith, gripping to him in his relations, offices, engagements, and promises, and waiting upon his breathing in hope and patience, Psal. xxv.5.
Seventhly. There should be a guarding against every thing that may obstruct this work, and grieve him in it; and therefore we would beware,
1. To undervalue and have a little esteem of knowledge; for this will grieve him; and (to speak so) put him from work.
2. To misimprove any measure of knowledge he giveth.
3. To weary of the means and ordinances whereby he useth to convey knowledge into the soul.
4. To limit the holy One of Israel to this or that mean, to this or that time, or to this or that measure, who should have a latitude as to all these.
5. To despise the day of small things, because we get not more.
6. To be too curious in seeking after the knowledge of hidden mysteries, the knowledge whereof is not so necessary.
7. To lean too much unto, and to depend too much upon the ordinances, or instruments, as if all, or any thing, could come from them.
Eighthly. There should be a right improving of any measure of knowledge we get to his glory, and to the edification of others, with humility and thankfulness, and so a putting of that talent in use, to gain more to his glory. Whatever measure of knowledge we get, we should in all haste, put it into practice, and set it to work; so shall it increase, and engage him to give more.
Ninthly. There should be a lying open to Christ's instructions, and to the shinings of the Spirit of light and of truth, and a ready receiving of what measure he is pleased to grant or infuse. Which includeth those duties, 1. A serious and earnest hungering and thirsting after more spiritual knowledge.
2. A diligent use of every approven mean for this end.
3. A going about the means with much self-denial, spirituality, singleness of heart, and sincerity, looking to and depending upon him, who must breathe upon the means, and make them useful.
4. A greedy receiving, drinking in, and treasuring up in the soul what is gotten.
5. A guarding against selfish and bye-ends, with a single eyeing of his glory.
6. A guarding against pride in the heart, and a studying of humility and meekness; for the |meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way,| Psal. xxv.9.
7. A putting of the heart or understanding in his hand, together with the truth, that is heard and received, that he may write the truth, and cause the heart receive the impression of the truth.
Tenthly. There should be a rolling of the whole matter by faith on him, as the only teacher, a putting of the ignorant, blockish, averse, and perverse heart, into his hand, that he may frame it to his own mind, and a leaving of it there, till he by the Spirit, write in it what he thinketh meet, to his own glory and our good.
And sure, were this way followed, growth in knowledge would not be so rare a thing as it is.
For further direction and caution in this matter, the believer would take notice of these particulars:
1. That he should not sit down upon any measure of knowledge he hath attained to, or can attain to here, as if he had enough, and should labour for no more; but he should still be minding his duty of seeking, and pressing for more.
2. Whenever he is about any mean of knowledge, such as preaching, reading, conference, &c. his heart should be only upon Christ. He should be hanging on his lips for a word of instruction; and with greediness looking for a word from his mouth; he should be sending many posts to heaven, many ejaculatory desires for light and understanding, and that with singleness and sincerity, and not for base ends, or out of hypocrisy.
3. Let him not think, that there is no growth in knowledge, because possibly he perceiveth it not, or is not satisfied as to the measure thereof; yea, though possibly he perceive more ignorance, than ever he did before. If he grow in the knowledge of his own ignorance, it is a growth of knowledge not to be despised; and in a manner, what can we else know of God, but that he far transcendeth all our knowledge, and that he is an incomprehensible one, in all his ways.
4. Let him not think, that there is no growth in knowledge, because he perceiveth not a growth in the knowledge of such or such a particular, which he desireth most; for if there be a truth in the knowledge of other particulars, necessary to be known, there is no reason to complain. If one grow not, as he supposeth, in the knowledge of God, and of the mysteries of the gospel; yet if he grow in the discovery of the treachery and wickedness of his own heart, he cannot say that he groweth not in knowledge.
5. Let him not measure his growth in knowledge, by his growth in the faculty of speaking and discoursing of such or such points of religion; many measure their knowledge by their tongue, and think they know little, because they can express little; and so they think they attain to no increase or growth in knowledge, because they perceive no increase or growth in this faculty of discoursing, and talking of such or such points of truth. It is safer to measure their knowledge by the impression that the truth hath on their spirits, and the effects of it on all their carriage, than by their ability and skill to talk and dispute of it.
6. Let them beware to imagine, that they shall be able to search out the Almighty unto perfection, |Canst thou (said Zophar, Job. xi.7, 8, 9.) by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? He is as high as heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than hell, what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than, the sea.| Or that they shall be able ever to win to the bottom of their own false deceitful heart, which, as Jeremiah saith, chap. xvii.9, |Is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?| and which it is God's prerogative alone to search and try, ver.10. Neither let them think, so long as they are here, to win to an exact and perfect knowledge of the mysteries of God, wherein is the manifold wisdom of God, Eph. iii.10, which very principalities and powers in heavenly places are learning; and which the angels are poring and looking into with desire, 1 Pet. i.12. There is no perfection in knowledge to be had here; for here the best but knoweth in part, and prophesieth in part, 1 Cor. xiii.4.
7. Let them not think that every one shall have the same measure of knowledge; every one hath not the like use for it, or the like capacity for it. There is a measure proportioned to every one; they should not then complain, because they have not such a measure of knowledge as they perceive in some others. It may be, the Lord hath some harder piece of service, which calleth for more knowledge, to put others to. Let every one then mind his duty faithfully and conscientiously, and let him not quarrel with God, that he attaineth not to such a measure of knowledge as he seeth others attain unto.
8. Neither let them think, that the same measure is required of all. For more is required of some, by reason of their office and charge in the house of God, being called to teach and instruct others; and so more is required of such, as have larger capacities, and a better faculty of understanding than others, who naturally are but of a narrow reach, and of a shallow capacity. More also is required of such as live under plain, powerful, and lively ordinances, and under a more powerful and spiritual dispensation of the grace of God, than of others that want such advantages. So likewise, more is required of old Christians than of new beginners; old men, of much and long experience, should know more than such as are but babes in Christ and but of yesterday.
9. Let their desires run out after that knowledge, not which puffeth up, -- for there is a knowledge which puffeth up, 1 Cor. viii.1, -- but which humbleth, and driveth the soul farther from itself and nearer to Christ.
10. They should carefully distinguish betwixt the gift of knowledge and the grace of knowledge: That ordinarily puffeth up, this humbleth; that bringeth not the soul to Jesus, this doth; that is but a form, Rom. ii.20, and doth not retain God, Rom. i.28, this is a real thing, laying hold on God and holding him fast, having the fear of the Lord for its principle, for this |fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,| Job. xxviii.28. Psalm cxi.10. Prov. i.7, and ix.10.; that lieth most in the head, and venteth most in discourses, words, yea, and sometimes vanisheth into vain notions, but this goeth down to the heart, and lodgeth there and appeareth in the man's walk and conversation; as these two would be distinguished, so the one would not be measured by the other.
11. When they do not profit indeed, let them beware of quarrelling with Christ, or of blaming him in any manner of way; but let them lay the blame of their shortcoming on themselves, for not making more use of him by faith and single dependence upon him. It is true, none will be so bold as in words to quarrel with or blame him; yet the heart is deceitful and tacitly may raise and foment such thoughts of him and his dispensations, as can pass under no other notion than a quarrelling with him. Now these would be guarded against.
12. Beware of urging for, or expecting immediate revelation, or extraordinary manifestations. For we should not tempt the Lord, nor set limits to him, neither should we prescribe means and ways to him, -- we must be satisfied with the ordinary means which he hath appointed, and wait at wisdom's doors, with our ears nailed to his posts.
13. Whatever point of truth they learn, or whatever measure of knowledge they get, they would do well to give that back again to Christ, to keep for them against a time of need; and wait on him for grace to improve it for his glory.
14. Let them beware of minding things too high, Psalm cxxxi.1. It is better to fear, and to stand in awe, and to seek to lay the foundations well, to get the saving knowledge of things necessary to salvation. This will yield most peace and satisfaction.