The Knowledge of God.
A message given at the Mildmay Conference on June 27th, 1884.
AS I look upon this vast assembly, my heart is burdened; and I do pray the Lord to speak His Word to me and to you ere we separate. We have been considering together for the last three days the subject of the knowledge of God, and none of us, I am sure, have prayerfully and carefully attended to the things that have been spoken to us without realizing that God has drawn us nearer to Himself. And now comes the responsibility. We are going away. Where are we going? What are we going to do? How are we going to live? How are we going to serve this gracious One, the knowledge of whom has been our theme from day to day?
The practical part of our subject which has been brought before us to-night is very closely connected with the meditations of the preceding days. There is a far closer connection than we sometimes realize between the knowledge of God and practical use of that knowledge. It is just as we are faithfully living out the life He has put in us, and faithfully using the knowledge given to us, that we learn practically to know Him. The Apostle Paul, who did so act, said that for him to live was Christ, and the one great desire of his heart was this, that he might know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death.
We cannot separate these things; if we want to know the power of His resurrection, we must also know the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death. There must be the living out of the life of God in order that we may learn to know Him more fully and perfectly. We only know and understand that through which we have passed. We all know that we sometimes come in contact with persons who have never had experiences similar to those through which we have passed; and consequently, they cannot understand us, or help us, or truly sympathize with us. We meet others who have passed through the same experiences, and we at once feel that they know and understand us. It is in carrying this Gospel throughout the world, in manifesting it at home and abroad, that we shall realize and learn to know God. As we become like Him, we shall understand Him—we shall know Him.
Thirty-one years ago , I was leaving the shores of England for China. My beloved and honoured and now sainted mother went down to Liverpool with me. I shall never forget that day when I sailed for China—how that loved mother went with me into the little cabin that was to be my home for nearly six months. With a mother's loving hand, she smoothed the little bed. She sat down by my side and joined me in singing the last hymn we sang together before we separated. We knelt down, and she prayed—the last mother's prayer I was to hear before I went to China. Then the notice was given that we must part, and I had to say good-bye to that loving mother, never expecting to see her again. (I did see her again, several times; but I had no expectation of it then.) Mainly for my sake, she restrained her feelings as much as she could. We parted; and she went on shore, giving me her blessing. I stood on deck, and she followed the ship as we moved toward the dock gates. As we passed the gates, and the separation was commencing, I shall never forget the cry of anguish that was wrung from that mother's heart as she felt that I was gone. It went to my heart like a knife. I never knew so fully as then, what "God so loved the world" meant; and I am quite sure that my precious mother learned more of the love of God for the world in that hour than in all her life before.
Oh, friends! when we are brought into the position of having practical fellowship with God in trial and sorrow and suffering, we learn a lesson that is not to be learnt amidst the ease and comfort of ordinary life. This is why God so often brings us through trying experiences.
Fourteen years later, I was at work in China, and my own beloved first-born child [Grace Dyer Hudson] was with me. She was not well, and I took her, with the other members of my family, to the hills, a little distance from Hang-chau, hoping that it would benefit them. When we reached our destination, it was Saturday night, and too late for the party to go ashore, so we spent the Sunday in our boats. On Sunday afternoon, as the sun was beginning to decline, we went on shore, and my dear children and I walked towards a wood, that we might have some quiet prayer together under the shade of the trees. On our way, my first-born child, a little girl—only eight years of age—for the first time saw a man making an idol. The sight grieved her to the heart. She looked up into my face and said, "Oh, papa, that man does not know Jesus! He would never make an ugly idol like that if he knew Jesus! Tell him about Jesus!" I had not so much faith as to the result of my message as my dear child had, but I stopped and told the man the story of God's great love in the gift of His Son. Then we went on our way, and the man went on making the idol.
After we had gone a little distance, we sat down under the trees, and I said to my dear child (I saw her heart was burdened), "What shall we sing, Gracie, dear?" She said, "Let us sing, 'Rock of Ages, cleft for me.' “
We sang that hymn, and then I said to her, "Will you engage in prayer first?" She prayed, and I never heard such a prayer as she offered. She had seen the man making an idol; her heart was full, and she prayed to God on behalf of that man. And the dear child went on and on, pleading that God would have mercy on the poor Chinese, and would strengthen her papa to preach to them. I never was so moved, my heart was bowed before God; I cannot describe it to you.
Next morning, I was summoned away to see a sick missionary at a distance, and I had to leave my loved ones. When I came back, my dear child was unconscious, and she never recognized me again. Those prayers for the poor Chinese were almost the last conscious words I heard her speak. As I stood over her grave, I thanked God that it was in His service, and for China, that He called me to part with my loved child [on 23rd August 1867]. I knew then, still more fully than before, what "God so loved the world" meant.
That is how some of us have been led on in the knowledge of God. He has given us to have sympathy with Himself, in His not withholding His only begotten Son, and in that Son, giving Himself in order that the world might be saved. With such experiences, you will not wonder that we are very eager to bring before you the great needs of the heathen. We have learned to love them in that school. We heard Professor Drummond on Wednesday afternoon tell about the graves he had seen in Central Africa. We know what that means, and it teaches us a little more what the grave meant in which our Lord Jesus lay buried. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
If I could only give you a glimpse of what the perishing world really is! Perhaps you have wondered why at a conference like this, we should be so eager to press upon Christian friends the book, "China's Spiritual Need and Claims,'' that has been offered for sale outside the gates of these grounds. It is because there are two hundred and fifty millions [in 1884] who are perishing in China, that we are seeking to circulate this book, and asking you to sympathize with us to the extent of buying it, and of lending it to as many as you can. Two hundred and fifty millions in China do not know of this wonderful love of God.
Have you thought of, have you tried to realize the state of the world? The Apostle John spoke about it in his Epistle. You remember his word, "The whole world lieth in the wicked one.'' That is still true. Two hundred and fifty millions of souls in Africa are for the most part lying in the wicked one. Two hundred and fifty millions of souls in China are for the most part lying in the wicked one. Two hundred and fifty millions of souls in India are for the most part lying in the wicked one. It is as true to-day as when the Apostle John spoke these words, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (R.V., In the evil one).
Now what is the outcome of wickedness? Have you realized that sufficiently? In these days, there are so many people who have such Broad Church views, as they call them, but who really have no Scriptural views at all of sin, that we are apt to be carried away and forget what sin is, and what is the outcome of sin. Look at the last book of the Bible. What do we learn? The glorious state of those who know their God. "He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people; and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away." But that is not all that is written there. A little further on, we read of "the fearful." Oh, how fearful the heathen are! You go to a heathen man and ask him what are his thoughts about death. You will find him full of fear. Men have described to me their feelings when very near their end, as they thought. It is just what you might expect, a fearful looking forward to they know not what. Conscience tells no lies in that hour, and it tells the dying sinner that there is no blessing awaiting him. "The fearful and the unbelieving." What about the two hundred and fifty millions of unbelieving ones in China? What of the two hundred and fifty millions of unbelieving ones in India, and the two hundred and fifty millions in Africa? What about the unbelieving multitudes in Madagascar, and in the islands of the sea? What about the perishing ones in Europe, America, and everywhere? "The whole world lieth in wickedness." "The fearful and unbelieving and the abominable." Ah! you do not know what heathenism is. We could not put it into words or speak it here. "The abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars" (idolaters and liars are nearly synonymous terms) "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Oh, friends, shall we leave them to die that death and meet that doom without holding out a hand to save? Shall we not seek to rescue them? Shall we be content to stay at home because it is pleasant, because we have opportunities of meeting in Conferences like this, and can sit with loved ones around us, and think ourselves children of God, while we leave the heathen to pass into darkness, unsaved and unblessed? It will not do to sing, "Waft, waft, ye winds, the story."
No! mothers must give up beloved sons; fathers must give up precious daughters; brothers and sisters must cheerfully yield one another to the Lord’s service in China, and Africa, and India. That will be to them a blessed day; I am praising God continually for having sent me; and there are some of you who will never get to know God as fully as you may until you go to Africa or China and seek to lead others there to know Him.
It is in the path of obedience and self-denying service that God reveals Himself most intimately to His children. When it costs most, we find the greatest joy. We find the darkest hour, the brightest, and the greatest loss, the highest gain. While the sorrow is short lived, and will soon pass away, the joy is far more exceeding, and it is eternal. Would that I could give you an idea of the way in which God has revealed Himself to me in China, and to others whom I have known. In the presence of bereavement, in the deepest sorrows of life, He has so drawn near to me that I have said to myself, Is it possible that the precious one who is in His presence can have more of the presence of God than I have? Is it possible that more manifestation of Himself can be given there than here? It has been a wonder to me if it is possible for those out of the body to have more of His presence than He has given us in the hour of greatest darkness and sorrow. It is well worth while to go for what we gain, not to speak of what they gain who are rescued from perishing and are brought to know God in Christ as their Father and their God.
But there is a higher thought still than that of rescuing the perishing; higher still than spreading the knowledge of God—and that is bringing joy to the heart of the Master Himself. Dear friends, when we think of Him whose form was more marred than any man's, who was crowned with the crown of thorns, when we think of Him in the garden of Gethsemane, where His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood; when we think of Him that hung upon the cross at Calvary, will you not rejoice to bring joy to Him? What joy can you bring to Him like going to these poor heathen and making known to them the precious blood that cleanses from all sin, and bringing them as trophies to His feet?
May the Lord incline many of you to go out to heathen lands, and labour there for Him. And may those of you who cannot go, be enabled to show sympathy in many ways, and to help those who are sent.
”China’s Millions” August 1884