The Immediate Knowledge of God
1 Corinthians 15:34
Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

Who, then, are these Corinthian disciples, that they have not so much as the knowledge of God? Plainly enough our apostle is not charging them here with ignorance, but with some lack of the Divine illumination which ought, if they are true disciples, to be in them. They certainly know God in the traditional and merely cognitive way. Indeed, the apostle is discoursing to them here of the resurrection of the dead, which is itself a matter based in Christian ideas. We shall best understand the point assumed in this impeachment, I think, if we raise the distinction between knowing God, and knowing about God. Doubtless it is much to know about God, about His operations, His works, His plans, His laws, His truth, His perfect attributes, His saving mercies. But true faith itself discovers another and more absolute kind of knowledge, a knowledge of God Himself; immediate, personal knowledge, coming out of no report, or statement, or anything called truth, as being taught in language. It is knowing God within, even as we know ourselves. The other is only a knowing about God, as from a distance. It may be well to say that we have two denials set against this doctrine. One is the denial of the philosophers outside of Christianity, speculating there about the cognitive functions, and making what they conceive to be their specially profound discovery, that knowledges are possible only of things relative. Therefore, God being infinite, cannot be known — God is unknowable. They say nothing of faith, they have no conception of any such super-eminent, almost Divine talent in our humanity. Could they simply trust themselves over to God, to live by His tender guidance and true inward revelation, they would never again call Him the Unknowable. The other and second form of denial as regards the immediate knowledge of God, sets up its flag inside of the Christian Church and among the muniments of doctrine. Here the possibility of faith is admitted, and the necessity of it abundantly magnified. But the faith power is used up, it is conceived, on propositions; that is propositions which affirm something about God. It does not go through, and over, and beyond, such propositions, to meet the inward revelation or discovery of God Himself. They do not even conceive it as a possibility, that we should know God Himself as a presence operative in us; even as we know the summer heat by its pervasive action in our bodies. We do not know the heat by report, or debate, or inference, or scientific truth interpreting medially between us and it; we do not see it, or hear it, or handle it, and yet we have it and know that we have, by the inward sense it creates. What then is the truth of this matter? Why it is that human souls or minds are just as truly made to be filled with God's internal actuating presence, as human bodies are to be tempered internally by heat, or as matter is made to be swayed by gravity, or the sky-space to be irradiated by the day. God is to them heat, gravity, day, immediately felt as such, and known by the self-revelation of His person. So at least it was originally to be, and so it would be now, had not this presence of God internally and personally to souls, this quickening, life-giving God-sense, been shut off by sin. Is it, then, to be said or imagined that, in the new birth, or new-begun life of faith, the subject really knows God by an immediate knowledge? He may not so conceive it, I answer, but it is none the less true. He will speak, it may be, only of his peace, but it will seem to him to be a kind of Divine peace. Thus you have every one two kinds of knowledge relating to yourself. One is what you know mediately about yourself, through language, and one that which you have immediately as being conscious of yourself. Under the first you learn who your parents were, what others think of you, what effects the world has on you, what power you have over it, and what is thought to be the science, it may be, of your nature, as an intelligent being. Under the second you have a knowledge of yourself so immediate, that there is no language in it, no thought, no act of judgment or opinion, you simply have a self-feeling that is intuitive and direct. Now you were made to have just such an immediate knowledge of God as of yourself; to be conscious of God; only this consciousness of God has been closed up by your sin and is now set open by your faith; and this exactly is what distinguishes every soul enlightened by the Spirit, and born of God. Observe now in what manner the Scriptures speak on this subject. And the time would fail me to merely recount the ways in which it is given as the distinction of faith or holy experience, that it carries, in some way, the knowledge of God, and differs the subject in that manner from all that are under the blindness of mere nature. The Holy Spirit, in like manner, is spoken of in a great many ways, as the intercoursing life and immediate inward manifestation of God. But there is an objection to this mode of conceiving holy experience, as implying an immediate discovery of God, which I am properly required to notice. What is the use, in this view, some will ask, of a Bible, or external revelation? what use of the incarnation itself? Does it follow that because we have an immediate knowledge of heat we have therefore no use at all for the scientific doctrine of heat, or the laws by which it is expounded? There is also another objection to be noticed here, which moves in the exactly opposite direction, where those who know not God complain that revelation, as they look upon it, does not reveal Him, and that God is dark to them still, as they could not expect Him to be. If there be a God, they ask, why does He not stand forth and be known as a Father to His children? Why allow us to grope and stumble after Him, or finally miss Him altogether? They are not satisfied with the Bible, and if we call it a revelation of God, they do not see it. We must not make Him responsible for the blear and self-blinding of our sin. And if it were not for this I think we should all see Him plainly enough, and always, and everywhere. For it is the whole endeavour of His management to be known. Now this exposition of God's truth converges practically, as I conceive, on a single point of broadest consequence; correcting a mistake almost universally prevalent in some greater or less degree; the mistake I mean of being overmuch occupied in religion with matters of the head. The true evidence of discipleship is knowing God. Other men know something about Him. The Christian knows Him, has Him as a friend. And there is no substitute for this. Observances, beliefs, opinions, self-testing severities — all these are idle and prove nothing. If a man knows God, it is a fact so grand, so full of meaning, that he wants no evidence beside. Now as these keep off the light of their day by the ever-busy meddling of their understanding, there is another class who have never found the day by reason of their over-busy, over-curious endeavours to make ready for it. They are waiting, and reading, and reasoning, as they think, to get light for conversion. They are going to be converted rationally, nursing all the while a subtle pride of this, which only makes them darker and puts them farther off. After all you have reasoned, faith is still to come. The roads of the natural understanding are in a lower plane, you must rise, you must go up into trust and know God — God Himself — by the inward discovery of His infinite spirit and person. What is wanted, therefore, for us all, is summed up in this Christian word faith — faith in Christ, or faith in God; for it makes no difference. Thinking and questioning stir the mind about God, faith discerns Him, and by it, as the soul's open window, he enters to be discerned. Would that all of you could know how much this means.

(H. B Bushnell, D.D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

WEB: Wake up righteously, and don't sin, for some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

Sin Not
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