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Christ; and that not only after his first conversion, but many years after, when he wrote this epistle, he was still of the same mind. "Yea, doubtless," saith he, "I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." He gladly parted with all his carnal confidence, all his former reputation, and all his worldly enjoyments, for this excellent knowledge; and thought himself an immense gainer by the change.
The true knowledge of Christ is as excellent as We ought to value it as much as Paul did; and that we may do so, let us consider,
I. What this knowledge is, and,
II. The excellency of it.
I. Let us show what this knowledge is.
We may consider the knowledge of Christ as opposed to Paganism, to Judaism, and to the merely notional religion of formal professors.
The knowledge of Christ stands opposed to the ignorance of the heathen. "The world by wisdom. knew not God." (1 Cor. i. 21.) The wisest Pagans, by their natural light and boasted philosophy, did not attain a true knowledge of God, and the way of salvation; "they became vain in their imaginations; and their foolish hearts were darkened." Witness, not only their altar "to the unknown God," but also the multitude of idols they worshipped! the absurd notions they entertained of their gods! and the horrid, bloody, and obscene rites of their worship!
The knowledge of Christ is to be distinguished from the knowledge of the law of Moses. "The law came by Moses; but grace and truth by Jesus Christ." The religion of the Jews consisted much in rites and ordinances, which were obscure, compared with the religion of the Gospel. They had "the shadow of good things to come; we have the
This knowledge is also something far superior to the speculative, unsanctified notions of nominal Christians, "who profess they know God, but in works deny him ;" who have" the form of godliness, but deny the power;" "who name the name of Christ, but depart not from iniquity;" and to whom Christ will say "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you." That knowledge which Paul so much prized was truly valuable and useful, and, indeed, includes the whole of true vital religion. We may define it to be
A spiritual, supernatural, experimental, and practical knowledge of Christ, in his person, character, and work; as revealed in the Gospel.
It is spiritual. It is the work of the Spirit of God to communicate it :-" God shines into the heart." Believers have" the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ;" (Eph. i. 17.) and the words which he speaks to the soul "are spirit and life:" "it is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing," John vi. 63.
It is, therefore, supernatural; it is above nature. No man can give it; no natural man can receive it. We are assured, 1 Cor. ii. 14, that "the natural man (that is, the animal or rational man; he who acts only upon principles of reason) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God;" that is, he does not embrace and approve them; "for they are foolishness to him:" through the darkness, pride, sensuality, and depravity of his mind, he cannot reconcile them to his own mistaken views of things; and therefore condemns them as weak, irrational, and enthusiastic: the apostle adds, "Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned :" for want of a renewed faculty he cannot receive them; for they are perceived in their divine truth, beauty, and glory, only by an understanding illuminated and rectified by the Spirit of God. What an eminent instance of this was St. Paul him
self! Before conversion, no man hated the Gospel more; after conversion no man loved it better: and, to this day, the change that takes place in the minds of men respecting gospel truth, is little less remarkable.
It is experimental. Believers "receive the love of the truth" they "taste that the Lord is gracious:" "as new-born babes, they desire the sincere milk of the word:" the faith which they mix with the word, gives a subsistence and reality to the truth in their minds; so that it greatly differs from a bare speculation; the truth is in them, and the truth makes them free. Once more,
It is practical. Knowledge in Scripture, is sometimes put for the whole of religion, and forms the grand distinction betwen the church and the world. Hence wicked men are often said "not to know the Lord:" as the sons of Eli, for instance, though they certainly had a speculative knowledge of the whole law. Knowledge often includes all its proper effects, as assent to the truth known; affiance in the person known; and that love to him, which secures obedience. Thus St. John speaks, 1 John ii. 3, 4, "He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; and hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments."
The knowledge we speak of, and which St. Paul so much commends, is the knowledge of CHRIST. Christ is the object of it; "Christ Jesus my Lord!" It is a principal part of this knowledge to have right views of him. Accordingly we find our Lord himself catechising his disciples upon this point (Matt. xvi. 13.) " Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?" and again, "Whom say ye that I am?" To others he said, "What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is he " Peter answered "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." This was a good answer; and he greatly commended it, saying, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonah; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my
Father which is in heaven." His knowledge of the person of Christ was supernatural and our Lord further, to show the importance of it, adds, "Thou art Peter," (which signifies a rock); and having mentioned his name, takes occasion to speak of this confession he made, this article of faith, as the rock, or foundation, on which the whole of the New Testament church shall be built. Indeed, this is the pillar and ground of the truth; and, without doubt, the great mystery of godliness, "that Jesus Christ is GOD manifest in the flesh;-the WORD made flesh, who dwelt among us."
The character, office, or work of Christ, is of equal importance. St. Paul's resolution was, "to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Christ as crucified; as a sacrifice and atonement, was his darling topic. Though it was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks, he knew it to be "the power of God to salvation;" and, indeed, the names he mentions in the text included much the same: Christ Jesus my Lord." The word Christ signifies Anointed. Priests, and others, used to be anointed with oil, which denoted their fitness for the office, and their appointment to it: so Christ was anointed by the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit, and set apart by divine authority, to be the Prophet, Priest, and King of the church. The name Jesus signifies a Saviour; it was given him "because he should save his people from their sins." And the apostle adds, my Lord; he acknowledges him to be the sovereign Ruler of his people, Head over all things; and calls him his, because he was his sworn servant.
The knowledge of Christ includes an acquaintance with his whole character, as drawn out in the New Testament. Here we see his innocence, his benevolence, his zeal, and especially his regard to poor sinners how readily he listened to the cry of misery! how graciously he relieved the sick, the poor, and the guilty, when they applied to him! In a word, we see
his glory," the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
But the knowledge of Christ also includes faith in him; according to that scripture, Isa. liii. 11, "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many." This cannot mean the knowledge that is in Christ, but the knowledge of Christ that is in his people; and so stands for faith, which alone justifies a sinner in the sight of God. The true knowledge of Christ is always accompanied with faith in him; for they that know his name will put their trust in him."
This then is that knowledge which St. Paul attained, and which he prized so highly, that he said, "I count all things but loss on account of it." Surely it must be most excellent in itself and in its effects, to be preferred above all things. If we saw a man willingly parting with all his property; selling his furniture, his house, his land, for the sake of buying one single article, we must conclude, if we had a good opinion of his prudence, that the article was of extraordinary value. And this is no more than the Christian is expected to do, according to our Lord's parable, Matt. xiii. 45: The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant, seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." Such a merchant was our apostle. May divine grace make us such also! That we may see the wisdom of his conduct, let us now proceed to consider,
II. The excellency of this knowledge of Christ.
I. It is the most necessary kind of knowledge. Of many things we must be ignorant, because we cannot attain the knowledge of them; and of many things we may safely be ignorant; but the knowledge of Christ is necessary to salvation. "That the soul be without knowledge, is not good." Prov. xix. 2. There can be no faith in Jesus without it; and without faith