A Godly Man is a Man of Knowledge
By Thomas Watson; excerpted with minor editing from The Godly Man’s Picture,—
Drawn with a Scripture Pencil, or Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven
(BOT, 1992 [first published 1666]), 20-28
"The prudent are crowned with knowledge" (Prov 14:18). The saints are called "wise virgins" (Mt 25:4). A natural man may have some discursive knowledge of God, but he "knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Cor 8:2). He does not know God savingly. He may have the eye of reason open, but he does not discern the things of God in a spiritual manner. Waters go beyond their spring-head. Vapours cannot rise higher than the sun draws them. A natural man cannot act above his sphere; he is no more able to judge sacred things aright than a blind man is to judge colours. (i) He does not see the evil of his heart. If a face be never so black and deformed, yet it is not seen under a veil; the heart of a sinner is so black that nothing but hell can pattern it, yet the veil of ignorance hides it. (ii) He does not see the beauties of a Saviour. Christ is a pearl, but a hidden pearl.
But a godly man is theodidaktos, taught by God: "the anointing teacheth you of all things" (1 Jn 2:27), that is, all things essential to salvation. A godly man has "the good knowledge of the Lord" (2 Chr 30:22). He has "sound wisdom" (Prov 3:21). He knows God in Christ. To know God out of Christ is to know him as an enemy, but to know him in Christ is sweet and delicious. A gracious soul has "the savour of his knowledge" (2 Cor 2:14). There is a great difference between one who has read of a country, or viewed it on the map, and another who has lived in the country, and tasted its fruits and spices. The knowledge with which a godly man is adorned has these eight rare ingredients in it:
1. It Is A Grounded Knowledge
"If ye continue in the faith grounded" (Col 1:23). It is not a believing as the church believes, but this knowledge rests upon a double basis: the Word and Spirit. The one is a guide, the other a witness. Saving knowledge is not changeable or doubtful, but has a certainty in it. "We believe and are sure that thou art that Christ" (Jn 6:69); "being always confident" (2 Cor 5:6). A godly man holds no more than he will die for. The martyrs were so confirmed in the knowledge of the truth that they would seal it with their blood.
2. It Is An Appreciative Knowledge
The lapidary who has the skill to value a jewel is said to know it. He who esteems God above the glory of heaven and the comforts of the earth knows him (Ps 73:25). To compare other things with God is to debase deity; as if you should compare the shining of a glow-worm with the sun.
3. It Is An Enlivening Knowledge
"I will never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me" (Ps 119:93). Knowledge in a natural man’s head is like a torch in a dead man’s hand. True knowledge animates. A godly man is like John the Baptist, "a burning and a shining lamp." He not only shines by illumination, but he burns by affection. The spouse’s knowledge made her "sick of love" (SS 2:5). "I am wounded with love." I am like a deer that is struck with a dart; my soul lies bleeding, and nothing can cure me, but a sight of him whom my soul loves.
4. It Is An Appropriating Knowledge
"I know that my redeemer liveth" (Job 19:25). A medicine is best when it is applied; this applicative knowledge is joyful. Christ is called a "surety" (Heb 7:22). Oh what joy, when I am drowned in debt, to know that Christ is my surety! Christ is called an "advocate" (1 Jn 2:1). The Greek word for advocate, parakletos, signifies a comforter. Oh, what comfort it is when I have a bad cause, to know Christ is my advocate, who never lost any cause he pleaded!
But how shall I know that I am making a right application of Christ? A hypocrite may think he applies when he does not. Balaam, though a sorcerer, still said, "my God" (Num 22:18).
(1) He who rightly applies Christ puts these two together, Jesus and Lord: "Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8). Many take Christ as Jesus, but refuse him as Lord. Do you join "Prince and Saviour" (Acts 5:31)? Would you as well be ruled by Christ’s laws as saved by his blood? Christ is "a priest upon his throne" (Zech 6:13). He will never be a priest to intercede unless your heart is the throne where He sways His sceptre. A true applying of Christ is when we so take him as a husband that we give up ourselves to him as Lord.
(2) He who rightly applies Christ derives virtue from him. The woman in the Gospel, having touched Christ, felt virtue coming from him and her fountain of blood was dried up (Mk 5:29). This is to apply Christ, when we feel a sin-mortifying virtue flow from him. Naturalists tell us there is an antipathy between the diamond and the lodestone, insomuch that if a piece of iron is laid by the diamond, the diamond will not allow it to be drawn away by the lodestone. So that knowledge which is applicatory has an antipathy against sin, and will not allow the heart to be drawn away from it.
5. It Is A Transforming Knowledge
"We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image" (2 Cor 3:18). As a painter looking at a face draws a face like it in the picture, so looking at Christ in the mirror of the gospel, we are changed into his similitude. We may look at other objects that are glorious, yet not be made glorious by them. A deformed face may look at beauty, and yet not be made beautiful. A wounded man may look at a surgeon, and yet not be healed. But this is the excellence of divine knowledge, that it gives us such a sight of Christ as makes us partake of his nature – like Moses when he had seen God’s back parts, his face shone; some of the rays and beams of God’s glory fell on him.
6. It Is A Self-emptying Knowledge
Carnal knowledge makes the head giddy with pride (1 Cor 8:1,2). True knowledge brings a man out of love with himself. The more he knows, the more he blushes at his own ignorance. David, a bright star in God’s church, still thought himself rather a cloud than a star (cf. Ps 73:22).
7. It Is A Growing Knowledge
"Increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col 1:10). True knowledge is like the light of the morning, which increases on the horizon till it comes to the full meridian. So sweet is spiritual knowledge that the more a saint knows, the more thirsty he is for knowledge. It is called "the riches of knowledge" (1 Cor 1:5). The more riches a man has, the more still he desires. Though St. Paul knew Christ, yet he wanted to know him more: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection" (Phil 3:10).
8. It Is A Practical Knowledge
"The sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (Jn 10:4). Though God requires "knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hos 6:6), yet it is a knowledge accompanied by obedience. True knowledge not only improves a Christian’s sight, but improves his pace. It is a reproach to a Christian to live in a contradiction to his knowledge. To know he should be strict and holy, yet to live loosely. Not to obey is all one with not to know: "the sons of Eli knew not the Lord" (1 Sam 2:12). They could not but know, for they taught others the knowledge of the Lord; yet they are said not to know, because they did not obey. When knowledge and practice, like Castor and Pollux, appear together, then they herald much happiness.
Use 1: Test Ourselves by It
Let us test ourselves by this characteristic.
1. Are they godly, who are still in the region of darkness?
"That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good" (Prov 19:2). Ignorant persons cannot give God "a reasonable service" (Rom 12:1). It is sad that after the Sun of righteousness has shone so long in our hemisphere, persons should still be under the power of ignorance. Perhaps in the things of the world they know enough, none shall outreach them, but in the things of God they have no knowledge. Nahash wanted to make a covenant with Israel, that he might "put out their right eyes" (1 Sam 11:2). The devil has left men their left eye – knowledge in secular matters – but he has put out their right eye – they do not understand the mystery of godliness. It may be said of them as of the Jews, "to this day the veil is upon their heart" (2 Cor 3:15). Many Christians are no better than baptized heathens. What a shame it is to be without knowledge! "Some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame" (1 Cor 15:34). Men think it a shame to be ignorant of their trade, but no shame to be ignorant of God. There is no going to heaven blindfold. "It is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them" (Isa 27:11).
Surely ignorance in these days is affected. It is one thing not to know, another thing not to be willing to know: "men loved darkness rather than light" (Jn 3:19). It is the owl that loves the dark. Sinners are like the Athlantes, a people in Ethiopia, who curse the sun. Wicked men shut their eyes wilfully (Mt 13:15), and God shuts them judicially (Isa 6:10).
2. Are they godly, who, though they have knowledge, yet do not know "as they ought to know."
They do not know God experimentally. How many knowledgeable persons are ignorant? They have illumination, but not sanctification. Their knowledge has no powerful influence upon them to make them better. If you set up a hundred torches in a garden they will not make the flowers grow, but the sun is influential. Many are so far from being better for their knowledge, that they are worse: "thy knowledge hath perverted thee" (Isa 47:10). The knowledge of most people makes them more cunning in sin; these have little cause to glory in their knowledge. Absalom might boast of the hair of his head, but that hanged him; so these may boast of the knowledge of their head, but it will destroy them.
3. Are they godly, who, though they have some glimmering of knowledge, yet have no trustful application of Christ?
Many in the old world knew there was an ark, but were drowned, because they did not get into it. Knowledge which is not applied will only light a man to hell. It would be better to live a savage than to die an infidel under the gospel. Christ not believed in, is terrible. Moses’ rod, when it was in his hand, did a great deal of good. It wrought miracles; but when it was out of his hand, it became a serpent. So Christ, when laid hold on by the hand of faith, is full of comfort, but not laid hold on, will prove a serpent to bite.
Use 2: Labour for It
As we would prove ourselves to be godly, let us labour for this good knowledge of the Lord.
What pains men will take for the achievement of natural knowledge! I have read of one, Benchorat, who spent forty years in finding out the motion of the eighth sphere. What pains, then, should we take in finding out the knowledge of God in Christ! There must be digging and searching for it, as one would search for a vein of silver: "If thou seekest her as silver" (Prov 2:4).
This is the best knowledge. It as far surpasses all others as the diamond does the crystal. No jewel we wear so adorns us as this: "she is more precious than rubies" (Prov 3:15). "Man knoweth not the price thereof; the depth saith, It is not in me; it cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire" (Job 28:13-16). The dark chaos was a fit emblem of an ignorant soul (Gen 1:2), but when God lights up the lamp of knowledge in the mind, what a new creation is there! Here the soul sparkles like the sun in its glory.
This knowledge is encouraging. We may say of the knowledge of nature, as did Solomon, "He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow" (Ecc 1:18). To know arts and science is to gather straw, but to know God in Christ is to gather pearl. This knowledge ushers in salvation (1 Tim 2:4).
But how shall we get this saving knowledge?
Not by the power of nature. Some speak of how far reason will go if put to good use; but, alas! The plumbline of reason is too short to fathom the deep things of God. A man can no more reach the saving knowledge of God by the power of reason, than a pigmy can reach the pyramids. The light of nature will no more help us to see Christ, than the light of a candle will help us to understand. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: neither can he know them" (1 Cor 2:14). What shall we do, then, to know God in a soul-saving manner? I answer, let us implore the help of God’s Spirit. Paul never saw himself blind till a light shone from heaven (Acts 9:3). God must anoint our eyes before we can see. What need did Christ have to bid Laodicea to come to him for eyesalve, if she could see before (Rev 3:18)? Oh, let us beg the Spirit, who is "the Spirit of revelation" (Eph 1:17). Saving knowledge is not by speculation, but by inspiration, "the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" (Job 32:8).
We may have excellent notions in divinity, but the Holy Ghost must enable us to know them in a spiritual manner. A man may see the figures on a dial, but he cannot tell how the day goes unless the sun shines. We may read many truths in the Bible, but we cannot know them savingly till God’s Spirit shines upon us: "the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Cor 2:10). The Scripture reveals Christ to us, but the Spirit reveals Christ in us (Gal 1:16). The Spirit makes known that which all the world cannot do, namely, the sense of God’s love.
Use 3: Bless God For It
You who have this saving, sanctifying knowledge flourishing in you, bless God for it; this is the heavenly anointing.
The most excellent objects cannot be seen in the dark, but when the light appears, then every flower shines in its native beauty. So while men are in the midnight of a natural state, the beauty of holiness is hidden from them; but when the light of the Spirit comes in a saving manner, then those truths which they slighted before appear in that glorious lustre, and transport them with wonder and love.
Bless God, you saints, that he has removed your spiritual cataract, and has enabled you to discern those things which by nature’s spectacles you could never see. How thankful Christ was to his Father for this! "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast revealed them unto babes" (Mt 11:25). How you should admire free grace, that God has not only brought the light to you, but given you eyes to see it; that he has enabled you to know the truth "as it is in Jesus" (Eph 4:21); that he has opened, not only the eye of your understanding, but the eye of your conscience! It is a mercy you can never be thankful enough for, that God has so enlightened you that you should not "sleep the sleep of death." W
Many come to the Word only to feast their ears; they like the melody of the voice, the mellifluous sweetness of the express sign, the newness of the notion (Acts 17:21). This is to love the garnishing of the dish more than the food, this is to desire to be pleased rather than edified. Like a woman that paints her face, but neglects her health" (Thomas Watson)