Great Texts of the Bible
Acquaintance with God
Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace:
Thereby good shall come unto thee.
In the sense in which the speaker meant them, these words are not true. They mean little more than “It pays to be religious.” What kind of notion of acquaintance with God Eliphaz may have had, one scarcely knows, but, at any rate, the whole meaning of the text on his lips is poor and selfish. The peace promised is evidently only outward tranquillity and freedom from trouble, and the good that is to come to Job is plainly mere worldly prosperity. This strain of thought is expressed even more clearly in that extraordinary bit of bathos, which with solemn irony the great dramatist who wrote this book makes Eliphaz utter immediately after the text, “The Almighty shall be thy defence and—thou shalt have plenty of silver!” It has not been left for commercial Englishmen to recommend religion on the ground that it produces successful merchants and makes the best of both worlds.
These friends of Job’s all err in believing that suffering is always and only the measure of sin, and that one can tell a man’s great guilt by observing his great sorrows. And so they have two main subjects on which they preach at their poor friend, pouring vitriol into his wounds: first, how wicked he must be to be so haunted by sorrows; second, how surely he will be delivered if he will only be religious after their pattern, that is, speak platitudes of conventional devotion and say, “I submit.” That is the meaning of the text as it stands. But there is a higher sense in which it is true.
Acquaintance with God
1. The knowledge of God which the Bible insists upon as essential to peace and salvation, consists in personal or heart acquaintance with Him—such acquaintance as involves transformation of character and radical change of spiritual environment, as well as change of relationship to God, thereby introducing man into a new and blessed life of peace and enjoyment of all good. “Acquaint now thyself with him”—not with His works, not with His ways, not even with His words, life-giving and soul-uplifting though these be—but with Himself! We must be on intimate terms with God. To know Him, as to know a man, we must “live with” Him, must summer and winter with Him, must bring Him into the pettinesses of daily life, must let our love set to Him, must be in sympathy with Him, our wills being tuned to make harmony with His, our whole nature being in accord with His. That is work more than enough for a lifetime, enough to task it, enough to bless it.
We and God have business with each other; and in opening ourselves to His influence our deepest destiny is fulfilled.1 [Note: William James.]
When we speak of “knowledge of God,” do we not always mean something very far short, from the nature of the case, of comprehension? Surely we do. In one sense we never “know” God. In another, as all Christians believe, “This is Life Eternal, to know Thee, the only True God.” Knowledge of God, in the sense of comprehending Him, is always impossible. Do we really comprehend even each other? Do we not feel each other just as we feel God? and then take our feelings to pieces and find that they include, or are based on, a recognition of certain qualities in the person who excites them? And is not this recognition really knowledge—such knowledge as may be expressed in propositions? And if so, how does it differ in kind—I admit that it differs enormously in degree—from the knowledge that we have about God? Certainly our highest knowledge of God is only apprehensive, yet it is knowledge, as far as it goes, and it may be set forth in propositions. Even the most shadowy Theism includes at least one tremendous affirmative proposition—however this may be qualified. And this proposition makes this Theism a Theology as well as a Religion. Nor can I see any à priori difficulty in supposing that God may have furnished the mind of primitive man with some feeling or instinct about Himself—a feeling which would be irrational if not based on knowledge of some kind. Why should He have done this less easily than He has given all men the sense of right and wrong? Does not this sense of right and wrong itself imply God? Is it not a law? and does not a law imply a Law-giver?1 [Note: Life and Letters of H. P. Liddon, 233.]
2. Personal acquaintance with God is possible.
(1) Jesus Christ confidently and constantly affirmed the possibility of soul-saving personal acquaintance with God, and maintained that His disciples actually enjoyed such acquaintance or experimental knowledge. His appeals to His disciples were all based on the assumption that they knew God after a spiritual manner, and were thereby distinguished from the world which knew Him not. Indeed, so prominent is experimental knowledge of God as the basis of true discipleship in the Gospels, and especially in the Fourth Gospel, that it may be regarded as the supreme condition of eligibility to the privileges and blessings of the Kingdom of God.
(2) The Apostles confirm our Lord’s teaching on this point. John’s First Epistle is practically a positive affirmation and doctrinal setting forth of the great truth that all true believers personally and experimentally know God. “Hereby we do know that we know him.” “We know that we are in him.” “I write unto you … because ye know him.” “He that knoweth God heareth us.” “That we may know that is true.” Paul says: “That I may know him” … “the Gentiles that know not God”—distinguishing between them and believers who do know Him. “I know whom I have believed.”
(3) Further, good men in all the Christian ages, belonging to many lands, of various races and nationalities, while differing in regard to a thousand things, and perhaps having very little in common so far as material surroundings are concerned, have harmoniously testified, as a fact of experience, that they knew God. Men of purity of life, of force of character—distinguished among their fellows in many instances for probity, benevolence, intelligence, and usefulness—positively affirm with unswerving confidence, persistence, and absolute absence of unworthy motive that they know God; that they enjoy spiritual commerce and personal communion with Him; that He constantly reveals Himself in their consciousness and to their spirits in peace and power and answer to prayer.
God can reveal Himself, and can be known. Spirit with spirit can meet; to a person a Person can speak. Had man’s attitude remained normal his apprehension of God would have been continuous and, to the extent of its widening range, unclouded. There are faculties in man which render him capable of this. But, as things are, the knowledge of God has been arrested and confused and sometimes destroyed. The light shining in the darkness has been as good as lost. Yet it has been universal, and hints of the truth have never been altogether absent from any age or race of men; and in Israel a medium of revelation was found, chiefly in its great moral personalities—the prophets—which enabled God to let the real truth of His being and character shine forth with increasing clearness. In this way preparation went on for the final unveiling of God in Christ as Spirit, light, and love.1 [Note: Life of Principal David W. Simon, 339.]
I dare say that you remember the often quoted saying of Lessing, that “the Christian religion had been tried for eighteen centuries, and that the religion of Christ remained to be tried.” It seems rather boastful and extravagant, but it expresses the spirit in which any new movement for the improvement of theology must be carried on. It means that Christians should no longer be divided into Churchmen and Nonconformists, or even into Christians and non-Christians, but that the best men everywhere should know themselves to be partakers of the Spirit of God, as He imparts Himself to them in various degrees. It means that the old foolish quarrels of science with religion, or of criticism with religion, should for ever cease, and that we should recognize all truth, based on fact, to be acceptable to the God of truth. It means that goodness and knowledge should be inseparably united in every Christian word or work, that the school should not be divorced from the Church, or the sermon from the lesson, or preaching from visiting, or secular duties from religious ones, except so far as convenience may require. It means that we should regard all persons as Christians, even if they come before us with other names, if they are doing the works of Christ.1 [Note: Life and Letters of Benjamin Jowett, ii. 362.]
Can man by searching find out God? Yes! There is no need to seek Him in the unreachable heavens, or in the depths of the invisible darkness to look for Him. He is here in the life, and intelligence, and beauty of Nature. He is here in the conduct of the world. He is here in the sense I have of my own righteousness before Him. He is here in the sense of an absolute justice, even though that justice punish me. He is here, O God! how deeply, dearly, how intensely, in my undying, unquenchable trust that He is mine and I am His for ever.2 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke, Sunshine and Shadow, 7.]
I have just read that testimony by Goethe that you have quoted from Professor William James. I am about seventy-four—his age. My circumstances have not been nearly so favourable as his, but I am thankful to be able to speak much better of life in this world than he does. I have had many sorrows, and though I am not of sanguine disposition, life has been a joy to me, and is so still. Two great beliefs give me rest from the worry and dissatisfaction which torment so many: (1) that God is a Person. I cannot define the specific sense in which He is a Person. And (2) that God is Love. He must be love. An Agnostic will confess that if there be a Creator He must at least be the equal of His highest creation. It is a logical absurdity to say that any creature can love more than God loves. If, therefore, there is anything in creation that I cannot harmonize with love, it is because of my limited faculties. All must be right. When this, the great burden of Bible teaching, is heartily received, how much of perplexity and pain is taken out of the life!3 [Note: John Brash: Memorials and Correspondence, 70.]
3. Acquaintance with God is man’s highest and most glorious privilege. Do we not count it a privilege to know earth’s great men and women? How often have we heard the note of pride in the voice when one has been able to say of some distinguished person, “I know him; I am acquainted with him; I am on terms of familiarity with him, even of affection!” And there is a glow on the face, and a light in the eye, which seems to give the lucky man a reflected glory. When we admire some one greatly, we count it an honour to know him personally, and especially to be known by him; and we can conceive no higher privilege than to live on terms of intimate fellowship with him. What, then, must be the nature of his privilege who walks with God as did Enoch, who is the friend of God as was Abraham? There cannot possibly be a higher privilege than that.
When the light is in the west,
When the day goes home to rest,
When the busy pulse of city life in mart and lane beats low,
Then in earth’s garden lonely
I hear Thy footsteps only,
And the ancient words to me are new, “Be still, and thou shalt know.”
Thou hast been walking here
Each hour of every year;
’Twas not the evening coolness brought Thy presence to my side:
But in my heart’s great flutter
The day was darkness utter,
And I missed thee in my madness, and I passed Thee in my pride.
Thy holy, heavenly will
Must bid my heart be still
Ere it can catch a note so low as ripples in Thy rest;
For in its constant quiver
I cannot hear the river
That glides, to make Thy city glad, from gardens of the blest.
Why should I wait for even
To snatch a glimpse of heaven,
When the river from the garden can refresh the heated way?
Let but Thy stillness stealing
Impart its sweet revealing,
And through the fire I’ll walk with Thee in coolness of the day.1 [Note: George Matheson, Sacred Song of Solomon , 6.]
4. If you would know God, you must study Him in the person, and the character, and the life, and the work of His Son. As Christ Himself expresses it, Christ is “the Word.” And as a man’s words represent and declare the man,—so that you cannot know the man, the invisible mind of the man, but by the words he speaks,—so Christ represents and declares the invisible Father.
For us Jesus Christ is the Revealer. What men know of God apart from Him is dim, shadowy, indistinct; it lacks certainty, and so is not knowledge. I venture to say that there is nothing between cultivated men and the lose of certain knowledge of God and conviction of His Being but the historical revelation of Jesus Christ. The Christ reveals the inmost character of God, and that not in words but in deeds. Without Him no man knows God; “No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
This morning I arose a little after seven o’clock, in possession of my reason and of my health, and not without aspirations of soul towards the communion of God; but poor and heartless when compared with those experiences of the Psalmist, whose prayers prevented the dawning of the morning, and his meditations the night-watches; and my soul being afflicted with downwardness, and wandering of spirit, and coldness of heart, towards the God of my salvation, in the morning, which is as it were a new resurrection, it was borne in upon my mind that it arose in a great measure from my not realizing with abiding constancy the Mediator between me and God, but breaking through, as it were, to commune with Him in my own strength—whereby the lightning did scathe my soul, or rather my soul abode in its barrenness, unwatered from the living fountain, in its slavery unredeemed by the Captain of my salvation, who will be acknowledged before He will bless us, or rather who must be honoured in order that we may stand well in the sight of the Father.2 [Note: Life of Edward Irving, i. 255.]
5. What do we lose if we have not this personal acquaintance with God?
(1) Without acquaintance with God our thoughts of Him will be false thoughts. We shall have no just view of His real character. Some think Him harsh, stern, tyrannical. They regard the law as severe, and its penalties as unjust. They say that His government is arbitrary, and He Himself unworthy of confidence. Therefore, when they are disappointed, baulked in their expectations, denied their hearts’ desire, when trouble finds and sorrow lays a heavy hand upon them, they curse God. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” How mournful is the lament of Jesus: “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee”! The world had not understood God, and men had misrepresented Him; had charged Him with folly; had blasphemed His holy name; had taken it in vain; had wandered far into the darkness of unbelief. But Jesus knew the Father, and therefore, though His face was marred more than any man’s, and His form than the sons of men; though He was the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”; yet with the shadow of the cross heavy upon Him, He kept bright in His faith and serene in His trust; and He could pray, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 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.”
None can have low thoughts of Thee, but they that know Thee not.1 [Note: Andrew Wellwood.]
From Tungwa we went to Makuta. One afternoon I was strolling about the town. Seeing some women making pottery, I went over to them and sat down under the gables of the house, for the sun was hot. We soon changed the subject of conversation, although they were much interested in what I told them of making pots in England. Then we talked of the work at Tungwa, and how some there had learned of Jesus and were trusting in Him. I was speaking of the love of God, and how anxious He was to change our hearts and to fit us to go and live with Him in the Blessed Home above; how ready He was to help and bless all who sought Him, when the sister of one of the Tungwa lads who had been with us some time, and is now a member of the Church, spread out her hands and cried most pathetically, “Oh God! where are You, that I may know You?” My eyes fill up even now, somehow or other, as I think of her cry. We talked on for some time, and I tried to assure her that He was very near, and would hear her whenever she spoke to Him. Then we talked of Jesus and His great love, and the other women joined in, much interested, and wished that there was some one to teach them at Makuta.2 [Note: W. Holman Bentley, 320.]
(2) A man without the knowledge of God is simply so far an imperfect man. He is only partially educated, only partially developed. He is like a person who has not the colour sense and cannot see the beauty of the autumn leaves; or like a person who has a defect of the brain and cannot put two ideas together; or like a person who, having had a very narrow experience, can form no opinion of things beyond his ken, and judges the whole world by the little town in which he lives or the people according to the neighbours whom he knows. A man without a knowledge of God is simply a man who has left out of his study the most important and also accessible of all truths, that piece of knowledge which is not so much a branch of the tree as the root of the tree itself, the knowledge upon which all sound living and all sound thinking must ultimately depend; for one who has missed God in the universe has found himself in a universe which has no key, no meaning, no goal, nothing intelligible, and his own mind therefore reflects the meaninglessness and the chaos of the godless universe in which he imagines that he lives.
Acquaint thyself with God, if thou wouldst taste
His works. Admitted once to His embrace,
Thou shalt perceive that thou wast blind before:
Thine eye shall be instructed; and thine heart,
Made pure, shall relish with divine delight
Till then unfelt, what hands divine have wrought.1 [Note: Cowper.]
The Peace which comes from Acquaintance with God
Personal acquaintance with God brings peace to the soul. This peace is twofold:—
1. It is peace with God.—The enmity of the carnal mind is slain, Divine love has vanquished the spirit of opposition, all barriers are broken down; the soul glides from the storm-swept sea of doubt, fear, and uncertainty into the calm haven of God’s assured forgiveness and acceptance. The disquieted conscience finds rest from upbraiding; being justified by faith, the believer now has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. There is therefore now no condemnation to him, he has passed out of death into life.
From a boy I had been led to consider that my Maker and I, His creature, were the two beings, luminously such, in rerum natura. I will not here speculate, however, about my own feelings. Only this I know full well now, and did not know then, that the Catholic Church allows no image of any sort, material or immaterial, no dogmatic symbol, no rite, no sacrament, no Saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator. It is face to face, “solus cum solo,” in all matters between man and his God. He alone creates; He alone has redeemed; before His awful eyes we go in death; in the vision of Him is our eternal beatitude.1 [Note: J. H. Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 195.]
Dear Angel, say,
Why have I now no fear at meeting Him?
Along my earthly life, the thought of death
And judgment was to me most terrible.
I had it aye before me, and I saw
The Judge severe e’en in the Crucifix.
Now that the hour is come, my fear is fled;
And at this balance of my destiny,
Now close upon me, I can forward look
With a serenest joy.2 [Note: J. H. Newman, Verses on Various Occasions, 244.]
2. It is also the peace of God.—God’s peace is not merely a negative thing, not merely the removal of enmity and dispersion of wrath. It is like music. Harmony is the perfection of sound, not the absence of sound. The return of the soul in penitence and faith to God, and its union with Him in peace leads at once to harmonious commerce and reciprocal affection between the two spirits—finite and infinite. As the Divine Rewarder lifts upon those who diligently seek Him the light of His countenance all tumult subsides, peace at once takes possession and establishes its sovereignty. The immutable promise is, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee; because he trusteth in thee.” The perfect attitude of trust, with the mind unwaveringly stayed upon God as the sure support and never-failing help, secures perfect permanent peace.
The central thought of religion is of a peace that is beyond the unrest of life, of a harmony that transcends all its discords, of a unity of purpose which works through all the conflict of the forces of nature, and the still more intense conflict of the wills of men.3 [Note: Edward Caird.]
Acquaint thyself with God!
Know thou His tender love;
So shall the healing sunshine fall
Upon thee from above.
Acquaint thyself with God!
In Him alone is peace,—
Rest for the weary child of time,
And everlasting bliss.
Acquaint thyself with God!
Choose thou the better part;
So shall His heavenly sunlight be
The day-spring of thy heart.
Acquaint thyself with God!
He bids thee seek His face,
That thus thy youthful soul may taste
The sweetness of His grace.
Acquaint thyself with God!
In Jesus and His cross
Read there that love which makes all loss
But gain, all gain but loss.
Acquaint thyself with God
In childhood’s joyous prime;
So shall thy life a foretaste prove
Of heaven’s long summer-time.1 [Note: Hymns by Horatius Bonar, 162.]
The True Good which comes from Acquaintance with God
1. Eliphaz was only thinking, on Old Testament lines, that prosperity in material things was the theocratic reward of allegiance to Jehovah. But we have a better meaning breathed into his words, since Jesus has taught us what is the true good for a man all the days of his life. Acquaintance with God is, not merely procures, good. To know Him, to clasp Him to our hearts as our Friend, our Infinite Lover, our Source of all peace and joy, to mould our wills to His and let Him dominate our whole selves, to seek our well-being in Him alone—what else or more can a soul need to be filled with all good? Acquaintance with God brings Him in all His sufficiency to inhabit otherwise empty hearts. It changes the worst, according to the judgment of sense, into the best, transforming sorrow into loving discipline, interpreting its meaning, fitting us to bear it, and securing to us its blessings. To him that is a friend of God,
All is right that seems most wrong
If it be His sweet will.
Good—a little word, but how pregnant! What manifold treasures are wrapped up in it! Spectrum analysis has revealed wondrous things to us concerning God’s starry hosts; but who will analyse for us this single word “good” as it comes from the Father’s lips and leaps from His heart?1 [Note: J. E. Robinson.]
The infinite goodness which I have experienced in this world inspires me with the conviction that eternity is pervaded by a goodness not less infinite, in which I repose unlimited trust.2 [Note: E. Renan, Recollections of my Youth, 329.]
2. “Thereby good shall come to thee.” Good of every kind, and especially of the best kind. In fact, the state itself is the good begun. No good can ever come to a man from without, in the shape of possession of any kind, which can for a moment be compared with the blessedness of being good. There is a beautiful prayer in one of the Psalms to this effect. “Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good.” That short sentence is a religious philosophy as well as a prayer. For until a man is good, good of the highest kind God cannot do him. He can fill his veins with health, and his coffers with gold, and his rooms with pictures, and his gardens with flowers, and his fields with fruits, and his life with comfort and outward peace; but one thrill of the holy peace of this text, and of the Saviour’s legacy, he can never have, so long as he is unthankful and evil. These things are just hung about him, or thrown in his way; they are not in the man himself.3 [Note: A. Raleigh, The Way to the City, 237.]
The beginning of religion seems to me to be, first, resignation, and, secondly, trust in God. “O rest in the Lord.” This is a true word for the departing one as well as for the survivor. “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and there shall no torment touch them.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” It is weak and wrong to rebel against the order of nature, which is also the will of God, or to seek to know things which no one has ever known. Sympathy is a precious help, but our chief support must be the thought of God.4 [Note: B. Jowett, Life and Letters, ii. 449.]
Dinwoodie (J.), Outline Studies, 126.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Esther, Job, 49.
Morgan (G. C.), Christian Principles, 22.
Parkinson (R.), in Practical Sermons, i. 39.
Raleigh (A.), The Way to the City, 229.
Salmond (C. A.), For Days of Youth, 193.
Simeon (C.), Works, iv. 418.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Evening by Evening, 129.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons in Christ Church, Brighton, 1st Ser., 42.
Christian World Pulpit, lxx. 289 (Horton); lxxx. 140 (Tattersall).
Church of England Magazine, xliv. (1858) 344 (Clayton).
Church of England Pulpit, xxx. 1. (Kerr-Smith); xlii. 175 (Naylor); xliii. 133 (Maturin).
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., xii. 159 (Burrows).
Preacher’s Magazine, xii. 81 (Whittleton).