And to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.
It is the distinguishing mark of God's people that they know the love of Christ. All the children of God do not know this love to the same extent. Indeed, an increase of love, a more perfect apprehension of Christ's love, is one of the best and most infallible gauges whereby we may test ourselves whether we have grown in grace or not.
I. Well then, to come first of all to the bottom of the ladder. One of the lowest ways of knowing the love of Christ may be described as THE DOCTRINAL METHOD — a very useful one, but nothing to be compared to those that we shall have to mention afterwards. If a man would know the love of Christ, he should endeavour to study the Word of God with care, attention, constancy, and with dependence upon the Spirit's illumination that he may be enabled to understand aright. It is well for a Christian man to be thoroughly established in the faith once delivered to the saints. Doctrines are but as the shovel and the tongs of the altar, while Christ is the sacrifice smoking thereon. Doctrines are Christ's garments; verily they all smell of myrrh, and cassia, and aloes out of the ivory palaces, whereby they make us glad, but it is not the garments we care for so much as for the person, the very person of our Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore, while I entreat you (and I hope not to be misunderstood here), while I entreat you to be very jealous and earnest in attaining unto a clear doctrinal knowledge of the love of Christ to His people, yet when you have got it, say not — "I am the man! I have attained to eminence! I may now sit still and be content." Sirs, this is but the threshold.
II. And what next? Let us lift our feet and take another step. True saints know Christ's love GRATEFULLY AND THANKFULLY, having experienced it. Day after day He cometh to us. Night after night He draweth the curtains of our bed. He is ever with us, and all that He has is ours. He talketh sweetly to us by the way, and He sitteth down by us in our afflictions, and comforteth us, and maketh our hearts to burn within us; and as we think of all that He has done for us, we feel we do know something of Him, for gratitude has been our schoolmaster.
III. Let us pass on to the third step, we have not got far yet. We are only as schoolboys at our first school, and we have now to go on to something higher. The true children of God know Christ's love in a way which I can only describe by the word PRACTICALLY. If any man would know His doctrine, let him keep His commandments. When soldiers are wanted, the best place to make them is, doubtless, the battlefield. If we would have veterans, there must be the smoke and the smell of powder, for great commanders are not to be manufactured in Hyde Park. And we cannot expect to have men who shall win victories, drawn out from mere loungers at the clubs; they must attend the drill, and by practice become qualified for their duties. A young man cannot learn farming by the study of books. To read books may be useful, if he take them as companions to the great book of nature. But he must be put apprentice to some farmer, who sends him out into the fields to see how they plough, how they sow, how they mow, how they reap, and how they house their corn. By entering practically into the various toils and duties, he becomes skilled therein. Just so, if we would learn Christ, we must be practically engaged in His service. We must learn His love by keeping His commandments.
IV. There is a fourth and higher stage by far than these. There is a way, not known to many moderns, but much practised by the ancients, of knowing the love of Christ by CONTEMPLATION. Do you know that in the early ages of the Church they spoke more of Christ and of His person, and thought more of Him than we do. And in those times, whether or not it was that men had not so much to do as they have now, I cannot tell, but they found time to have long seasons of contemplation, and they would sit alone and worship, and draw near to Christ, and steadily fix their gaze upon His person; for to them He was a real person, whom the eye of their faith could see as clearly as the eye of sense can see outward objects, and they looked, and looked, and looked again, till the love of Christ grew brighter to them than the sun at his meridian, and for very dimness of mortal sight they veiled their faces and paused their speech — while their souls were bathed in inward joy and peace unspeakable. There have been some such in these, later times, but not many. There was Isaac Ambrose, author of that book, "Looking unto Jesus." He was pastor of a church at Preston, in Lancashire, and "it was his usual custom once a year," says Dr. Calumy, "for the space of a month to retire into a little hut in a wood, and avoiding all human converse, to devote himself to contemplation." It was true he then only had eleven months in the year to preach in, but those eleven were a great deal better than the twelve would otherwise have been, for there, alone with his Master, he received such riches from Him, that when he came back, he threw about jewels with both his hands, and scattered glorious thoughts and words broadcast in his ministry. That book, "Looking unto Jesus," is a blessed memorial of his quiet hours and his secret communion with Jesus. Then there was Rutherford, the man who has expounded the whole of Solomon's Song of Solomon without knowing it, in his celebrated letters. When he was in the dungeon at Aberdeen, he exclaimed first of all, "I had only one eye and they put that out." It was the preaching of the gospel, and before long he has got both his eyes back again. Hear him writing in his letters, "My foes thought to punish me by casting me into a prison, but lo! they have blessed me by taking me into Christ's withdrawing room, where I sit with Him and am with Him both by night and day without disturbance."
V. Well now, we have taken you up some height, but we must prepare for a flight which is higher still. To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge by contemplation is very high, but there is a higher stage than this. There are times when I almost fear to speak of these things, but there are some here, surely, who will comprehend me, some here who have passed through the same state and will not think that I am dreaming. There are times when the soul has long contemplated Christ, and there are some who know not only to contemplate, but to ENJOY. Even on earth faith sometimes gives place to a present and conscious enjoyment. There are times with the believer when whether he is in the body or out of the body he can scarce tell: God knoweth; and though not caught up to the third heaven he is brought to the very gates, and if not permitted to see Christ on His throne, he does so see Him on His cross, that if an infidel should say to him, "There is no Christ," he could say, "I have seen Him; my eyes have looked upon Him, and my hands have touched Him after a spiritual sort." There are many such rapturous seasons as this on record in the biographies of good men. I shall quote but one or two, and I hope there are some here who have known them in their own experience. In the life of Mr. Flavel, who was one of the most temperate of the Puritans, and one not at all given to anything like fanaticism, there is an event mentioned which once occurred to him, He said that being once on a journey alone on horseback, the thought of the love of Christ came upon him with great power, and as he rode gently along the road, the thought seemed to increase in force and strength, till at last he forgot all about earth and even where he was. Somehow or other his horse stood still, but he did not notice it; and when he came to himself, through some passer-by observing him, he found that he had bled very copiously during the time, and getting off his horse he washed his face at the brook, and he said, "I did verily think as I stood there, that if I was not in heaven I could hardly hope to be more blessed in heaven than I was then." He mounted his horse and rode on to a place of entertainment where he was to pass the night. Supper was brought in, but left untasted on the table. He sat all night long without sleep, enjoying the presence of Christ, and he says, "I was more rested that night than with any sleep I ever had, and I heard and saw in my soul, by faith, such things as I had never known before." The like occurred to Mr. Tennant, who was a man who spent many hours in private, and sometimes when it was time to preach he was quite unable to stand unless first carried into his pulpit, when he would put his hands out and lean there, and say such glorious things of Christ, that those who looked upon him verily thought that they looked upon the face of an angel. Rutherford, too, is another specimen. When he used to preach about Christ, he preached so wonderfully, that on any other subject he was not at all like himself; and the Duke of Argyle was once so warmed when Rutherford got upon that subject, that he cried out in church — "Now, man, ye are on the right strain; keep to it;" and he did keep to it, and the little man's thin voice seemed to swell with supernatural grandeur when he began to talk of his precious, precious Lord Jesus, and to extol and exalt him who was the Bridegroom of his soul, his Brother and his blessed Companion. "Oh, these are flights," you say. Yes, they are flights indeed, beloved; but if you could get them sometimes, you would come back to the world's cares and troubles like giants refreshed with new wine, caring nothing for anything that might happen. Christ would be so sweetly and blessedly within you, that you could bear the burden and think nothing of it, and though the grasshopper was a burden before, you could now carry it right readily.
VI. But I want to take you higher than this; not higher in some senses, but higher really, for these raptures are, of course, only like angels' visits, few and far between; but here is something which may be more lasting, and which, certainly, is a higher state of mind as to the knowledge of Christ. To know Christ SYMPATHETICALLY, is a yet higher stage than any to which we have attained before. It is related of a certain monk, who, having been long in his cell alone, thought whilst in his devotions that he saw the Lord Jesus. Of course the tale is fabulous, but I relate it for the sake of its moral. He thought he saw the Lord before him as crucified, and he heard His voice, speaking sweet and comfortable words to him. Just at that moment, when his soul was in a very flood of delight, he heard the convent bell ring, and it was his turn to go out to the gate and give away bread to the beggars who stood there. Oh, he had never heard that bell ring so dolefully before! It seemed to him the knell of all his joys. The impulse of duty, however, was stronger than that of delight, and he went his way with a heavy heart to distribute the bread. As he came back to his cell, he thought, "Ah, I shall never see that again! Christ is gone from me, and I shall never know these enjoyments again!" When, to his surprise, there was the vision still, and as he bowed before it with delight, he heard a voice which said, "If thou hadst stayed I would have gone; but since thou didst my work I tarried to give thee thy reward." Now, there is a tendency when we have been alone and in private, and have had sweet fellowship with Christ, for us to feel — "I do not want to go out from this; I do not want to be disturbed just now; I would rather not do anything just now." I do not suppose there are very many of you who get into this state, but there may be some who think at such times, "I do not want to preach today; I would rather not do anything; it is best that I should be alone." Ah, it is a strong temptation, and you must strive against it, and say, "No, I have enjoyment in my religion, but I did not seek my religion for the enjoyment it would give me. I must look higher than that, to the God I serve, and to the Lord and Master whose I am and whom I serve. I love the jewels He gives me to wear upon my fingers, but I love His person better, and I am not to look upon these rings, and forget to look into His eyes; I love the sweet couch that He makes for me at night, but I am not to lie there and forget the fields that are to be ploughed and the battles that are to be fought. I must be up and doing. The contemplative life must lead me to duty, and then shall I know Christ even as I am known.
VII. And now, the last and highest step of all, upon which we can only say a few words, is that which is called by deep writers and experienced believers on this point, THE ABSORBING LOW OF CHRIST. How shall I tell you what this is? I cannot, except I quote Wesley's words —
"Oh, love Divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my willing heart
All taken up with thee."I thirst — can you get as far as that? "I faint" — that is a high state, indeed I "I die" — that is the top.
"I thirst, I faint, I die to prove
The fulness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.