The Knowledge of God

by Herman Bavinck

God is the highest good of man--that is the testimony of the whole Scriptures. The Bible begins with the account that God created man after His own image and likeness, in order that he should know God his Creator aright, should love Him with all his heart, and should live with Him in eternal blessedness. And the Bible ends with the description of the new Jerusalem, whose inhabitants shall see God face to face and shall have His name upon their foreheads.

Between these two moments lies the revelation of God in all its length and breadth. As its content this revelation has the one, great, comprehensive promise of the covenant of grace: I will be a God unto thee, and ye shall be my people. And as its mid-point and its high-point this revelation has its Immanuel, God-with-us. For the promise and its fulfillment go hand in hand. The word of God is the beginning, the principle, the seed, and it is in the act that the seed comes into its full realization. Just as at the beginning God called things into being by His word, so by His word He will in the course of the ages bring into being the new heaven and the new earth, in which the tabernacle of God shall be among men.

That is why Christ, in whom the Word became flesh, is said to be full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

He is the Word which in the beginning was with God and Himself was God, and as such He was the life and the light of men. Because the Father shares His life with Christ and gives expression to His thought in Christ, therefore the full being of God is revealed in Him. He not only declares the Father to us and discloses His name to us, but in Himself He shows us and gives us the Father. Christ is God expressed and God given. He is God revealing Himself and God sharing Himself, and therefore He is full of truth and also full of grace. The word of the promise, I will be a God unto thee, included within itself from the very moment in which it was uttered, the fulfillment, I am thy God. God gives Himself to His people in order that His people should give themselves to Him.

In the Scriptures we find God constantly repeating His declaration: I am thy God. From the mother-promise of Genesis 3 :15 on, this rich testimony, comprehending all blessedness and all salvation whatsoever, is repeated again and again, be it in the lives of the patriarchs, in the history of the people of Israel, or in that of the church of the New Testament. And in response the church throughout the ages comes with the endless varieties of its language of faith, speaking in gratitude and praise: Thou art our God, and we are Thy people, and the sheep of Thy pasture.

This declaration of faith on the part of the church is not a scientific doctrine, nor a form of unity that is being repeated, but is rather a confession of a deeply felt reality, and of a conviction of reality that has out of experience in life. The prophets and apostles, and the saints generally who appear before us in the Old and New Testament and later in the church of Christ, did not sit and philosophize about God in abstracted concepts, but rather confessed what God meant to them and what they owed to Him in all the circumstances of life. God was for them not at all a cold concept, which they then proceeded rationally to analyze, but He was a living, personal force, a reality infinitely more real than the world around them. Indeed, He was to them the one, eternal, worshipful Being. They reckoned with Him in their lives, they lived in His tent, walked as if always before His face, served Him in His courts, and worshiped Him in His sanctuary.

The genuineness and depth of their experience comes to expression in the language they used to express what God meant to them. They did not have to strain for words, for their lips overflowed with what welled up out of their hearts, and the world of man and nature supplied them with figures of speech. God was to them a King, a Lord, a Valiant One, a Leader, a Shepherd, a Savior, a Redeemer, a Helper, a Physician, a Man, and a Father. All their bliss and well-being, their truth and righteousness, their life and mercy, their strength and power, their peace and rest they found in Him. He was a sun and shield to them, a buckler, a light and a fire, a fountain and a well-head, a rock and shelter, a high refuge and a tower, a reward and a shadow, a city and a temple. All that the world has to offer in discrete and sub-divided goods was to them an image and likeness of the unfathomable fullness of the salvation available in God for His people. Hence it is that David in Psalm 16 :2 (according to a telling translation) addresses Jehovah as follows: Thou art my Lord; I have no higher good than Thou. Thus also Asaph sang in Psalm 73: Whom have I in heaven hut Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. For the saint, heaven in all its blessedness and glory would be void and stale without God; and when he lives in communion with God he cares for nothing on earth, for the love of God far transcends all other goods.

Such is the experience of the children of God. It is an experience which they have felt because God presented Himself to them for their enjoyment in the Son of His love. In this sense Christ said that eternal life, that is, the totality of salvation, consists for man in the knowledge of the one, true God and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent.

It was an auspicious moment in which Christ spoke those words. He stood at the point of crossing the brook Kidron in order to enter the garden of Gethsemane and to suffer the last struggle of His soul there. Before He proceeds to that point, however, He prepares Himself as our High Priest for His passion and death, and He prays the Father that the Father may glorify Him in His suffering and after it, so that the Son in turn may glorify the Father in giving out all those blessings which He is now about to achieve by His obedience unto death. And when the Son prays in this way, He knows of nothing to desire except that which is the Father's own will and good pleasure. The Father has given Him power over all flesh in order that the Son should give eternal life to as many as the Father has given Him. Such eternal life consists of nothing other than the knowledge of the one, true God and of Jesus Christ who was sent to reveal Him (John 17:1-3).

Our Reasonable Faith. Herman Bavinck. Baker Book House. 1956. Pages 24-26.

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