2 Peter 3:18
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
To increase in the knowledge of God is distinctly commanded, not in this passage alone, but in very many. The progress of the mind in the knowledge of physical truth, scientific truth, depends very much upon the exercise of the senses upon matter; but the growth of knowledge in moral truth depends upon the exercise of moral feelings. While sense is the source of physical or scientific knowledge, disposition is the source of the knowledge of moral truth. Growth in the knowledge of a Divine Being unites both of these.
1. The earliest knowledge which we have of Divine existence is derived, undoubtedly, from teachers And parents. It differs, therefore, in children, according to the instruction which they receive. It is ampler or scantier, it is more wisely or less wisely imparted, according to circumstances. If the notion entertained by children could be analysed, I think it would be found to consist largely of the social and moral qualities which exist in the family, framed and bordered with their imaginations, in which physical qualities largely inhere.
2. I suspect that the next stage of growth consists in clothing these abstract notions, which we gain very early, and which are taught out of catechisms, with the facts of the history of the Lord Jesus Christ as they are narrated by the evangelists. So that it may be said of hundreds of people, that their God is literally, yet entombed in the Bible. They do not use these records as building materials out of which to develop an ever-increasing conception of heavenly excellence.
3. But if one be of a devout nature, and he be earnestly alive to moral growth, then his reading and his childhood instruction, after being subject to reflection, to mental digestion, will carry him forward one step further in the growth in the knowledge of God. His conception of the Divine nature will begin to enlarge and fill out in every direction if only there is a real, active, earnest moral life going on within him. In this work the imagination will be the architect, reason will be the master-builder, and the materials will come largely from experience. Men's minds are magnets. One man going into the Bible, or into the realm of experience, his mind seeks that which shall feed his strongest faculties — his ideality, his self-esteem, his conscience, and his reason; and he draws those elements out, and leaves all the others. He sees those, and feels those, and he is astonished if anybody can resist the evidence which is so irresistible to him. He has a Calvinistic conception of God which is overwhelming to him, and to every other man who is organised just as he is. But here is another man that stands near him whose magnet draws another kind of filings, and who is just as true to himself. He has an inward want of a conception that is all beaming, and genial, and sweet, and tender. He does not disbelieve in righteousness, nor in conscience, nor in law, nor in government; but he is relatively insensitive to these as he is sensitive to those other elements. This man's constitutional endowment draws to him all that goes to make up this partialism, and he is amazed to hear one talk so like a fool as his brother does. He has read the Bible, and he has seen no such evidence as that which his brother professes to have seen. Why, to him it is as clear as noonday that God is all summer. A third man, standing and looking upon these disputants, says, "They are fools, both of them. I do not think God cares much about government, or much about this benevolence. It seems to me that God is a lover of things in order, full of taste, full of proportion, and full of harmony. He is all music, and all blossom, and all beauty as I conceive Him." That part of this man's mind which craves these things being most sensitive, he takes just that class of materials. His magnet draws those things and no others.
4. There is a powerful influence at work in the formation and growth of the knowledge of God as derived from experience. If a person lies sick, to him all the world is cut off, all hopes are ended, all life seems sad. He does not turn to the jubilant side of God. He turns to those sides on which God declares that He comforts the sorrowing as a mother comforts her children. Another person is put in circumstances by God's providence where he needs perpetual nerve and perpetual enterprise. The sterner, the more active elements of the Divine nature, are congenial to his want and to his experience. And so he ponders these most, and comes to these most. Is one discouraged? He looks for something in his God that shall encourage him. Is one sad from remorse and repentance? He looks to the forgiving side of God. Is one set to defend the truth in a period of backsliding and persecution? He instinctively goes after the prophet's God.
5. One of the most powerful influences, aside from those which I have mentioned, for the shaping of our conceptions and the development of our knowledge of God, is the necessity or the attempt to employ the Divine nature in the rescue and education of our fellow-men. To bring the Divine nature home to all the phases of character which surround us, to all the conditions of life, and to the subjugation of the strong attributes of the mind; to find men just where they are in all their infinite variations of condition; to find that which arrests their attention; to find that which shall inspire in them some moral reaction; to find that which shall feed them — this is one of the most potential of all influences for developing in you the growth of the Divine idea. For there is no material like human nature, and there is no dignity like working in it, and there is no grandeur like success in thus working. It is declared that he who saves a soul from death shall shine like the stars of the firmament in the future kingdom of God. These are the principal ways that suggest themselves to me in which we grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And if we be living Christians, true men, we are growing. Our conception of the Divine nature never remains at the same stage for any considerable length of time. It is enlarging itself by experience; it is enriching itself by the position and circumstances in which we are placed, so that no man can compass in words what he believes of God. If he believes all things that come through his intensified affections, through his various wants, and through the wants of those round about him, these, methodised by reflection, and vitalised by imagination, constitute an air-filling notion of God, so vast and so continually changing that anybody would say, "It is impossible for a man to write what he thinks or to say what he thinks" — as we should suppose it would be if God is infinite and is overflowing according to the conception which the thought of infinity inspires. And so every creative mind, every active mind, that is really in union with God, by prayer and affinity, and is working like Him, as well as with Him, and day by day is still augmenting in these various ways his realisations of God, having the Divine spirit in him, and growing evermore up into Him in all things, who is the Head, Jesus Christ — every such man has a growth of which he himself is not conscious, and which he never can and never could represent to others. This view should lead persons to study and consider what their condition is whether they have any living influential conception of God. You have been taught that He is the Ruler, that He is the Governor. Is He your Guide? Is He your Master? Is He your Friend? Is He your Companion? Does He smile on you? Does He converse with you? Is He the Toiler with our toil? Does He rest when you rest, and travel when you travel? Do you live and move and have your being in Him? If so, you have a God, and you have reason for endless congratulation and joy. One evidence that we have a true conception of God is, that it is growing. Why, the whip that stood before my door has become a bush; and the bush has become a large shrub, and the shrub is mounting up into a tree, and the tree shall yet spread its branches wide abroad. And that little germ which first came up, and that vast tree, are the same, although they have differed every year more and more by development and growth. And so does our conception of God grow abroad, multiplying its branches, and sub-dividing them into infinite twigs, but they all cohere in the unity of the original idea of conception. Growth does not imply the abandonment of our former notions, then. It is simply the unfolding, in a line or direction, more, not less, and differing, not by rejecting one element and inserting another, but by making each element that was true yesterday more true to-day by fulness, variety, and application in all directions. And this variety, renewing multiplicity and intensity of conception, is of more benefit to man than are selectness and definiteness of statement. That which you see most in God I am not bound to beat down because I see another quality more than you see it, and do not see the one that you see as much as you see it. Men are the complements of each other. Some men interpret God through beauty. They are my brothers, though I may be deficient in interpreting the Divine nature through this quality. I am your brother, though I may not gain the same conception of God that you do. One stands in Milan Cathedral, under the nave, and looks up into those mysterious depths until he seems as though he would exhale and fly into space. There, in the brooding darkness, the feeling of reverence weighs upon his very soul. And the Milan Cathedral to him is that which it seems to be when the low-lying sun has shot through the window and kindled the whole interior. At the very same moment there stands upon the roof another man, and about him are those three thousand statues carved and standing in their several niches and pinnacles; and everything looks like the bristling frost-work in a forest of icicles; and far above and far on every side swell the lines of beauty. How different is his conception from that of the man who stands in the nave below! But, at the same time, a man stands outside looking at the cathedral's fretted front and its wondrous beauty and diversity; while a fellow-companion and traveller is on the other side looking also at the exterior. Here are four men — one before the structure, one behind it, one on the roof, and one in the interior I and each of them, as he gives his account of the Milan Cathedral, speaks of that which made the strongest impression upon his mind, and that most carried him away. But it takes the concurrent report of these four men to represent that vast work of architecture. Is it so with a man-built cathedral? and shall it not be so with the mighty God who is from eternity to eternity? Is there any man that can take the reed of his understanding and lay it along the line of God's latitude and longitude as if he were measurable as a city? Is there any man that can cast his plummet into the depths of the Infinite and say, "I have sounded God to the bottom"? Each man has that conception of God which he is capable of receiving. This is added to the common stock. And it is these concurrent differences, these harmonious separations, that make the symphony of knowledge. We do not want unison: we want harmony. Harmony is made by different parts, and not by the repetition of the same sounds and tones.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.