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The Knowledge Which is Life Eternal.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 196-200.


First part of Sermon LXIII. for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.
 Eph. iii. 13-21.    St. Luke vii. 11-17.
And to know the love of CHRIST, which passeth knowledge.EPH. iii. 19.

IN the Epistle for to-day St. Paul appears, as it were, lost in contemplation at the unspeakable vastness and majesty of the Church, and the incomprehensible love of Christ. I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. To himself his own tribulations were but light, but his only fear was that his sufferings might become to others a cause of offence, like the cross of Christ itself was. But as the cross of Christ was become the glory of the believer, so also might be the sufferings of His servants, who drank of their Master’s cup. For this cause, he adds, breaking forth into very glowing eloquence at the thought of that great mystery by which all things are drawn unto Christ by His cross,— for this cause I bow my knees, as in heartfelt solemn supplication, unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named; the family not of Abraham only, but of all angels and saints united in service of one common Lord. That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory; not according to the thought of man, but according to that abundant goodness which is in Christ beyond all thought; to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. This is his very earnest prayer for them, kindled and quickened by his own tribulations. And as explaining this strength in the inner man of which he speaks, he adds, that Christ, the New Man, after the unspeakable Image of God, may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye being rooted and grounded in love; not as if faith were the root only, and love the fruit, but as rather love itself were the very root and ground of all, while it is also the immeasurable expansion and height. That, rooted in love, ye may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, that love of God which is boundless every way as the heavens, by which, far as the east is from the west, He hath set our sins from us; or, as St. Paul more distinctly adds the same, and to know the love of Christ, and as if to correct himself, as speaking of that which no man can understand, as being in every way infinite,— which passeth knowledge. To know that “which passeth knowledge,” to know that which cannot be known, this sounds like a contradiction; as if it were to understand that which heart of man cannot understand, and yet which may, in a manner, be understood by the Spirit of God within. As in another place, St. Paul speaks of those things which have not entered into the heart of man, but God hath revealed them unto us, he says, by His Spirit. [1 Cor. ii. 10.]  And this he here further states, by an expression singularly eloquent and comprehensive, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 

And then, bringing down the same mystery of Godliness to bear upon themselves, by supplication and thanksgiving, he carries on this exceeding loftiness of expression, as if words were unequal to contain it, and adds: Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,—to do more than we ask or think were much, but to do “exceeding abundantly” above, this is a very strong expression,—not only greater, but abundantly greater, and not that only, but exceeding abundantly. [St. Chrys. ad loc.]  So vastly does the gift of God surpass the highest conception of our weak faith and love; and as if to mark such Divine power as shown, not in outward miracles in this perishable world, as that of removing mountains, but in that inward and marvellous work of indwelling grace, which, by experience, they knew, he says, according to the power that worketh in us. And in speaking of a gift so amazing, so transcendent, so unspeakable, he passes into worship and praise, unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen. 

Now, one great point in running through the whole of this passage, of St. Paul is, that this love of Christ of which he speaks, and this indwelling power of His Spirit connected with it, is something far beyond what we can understand. We know what love is, we understand its nature, but this love exceeds all that we understand, not in kind, but in degree; it is something beyond what we can comprehend, from the greatness of it; it is like the vastness of the natural world, the material universe, or like the vastness of eternity, ideas which we cannot grasp, because they are infinite and without end. So is the love of Christ: we know what love is, from a parent’s love to his children, a bride to the bridegroom, friends to each other, and the compassionate love of a kind heart; and from these we apprehend what the love of God is, as manifest in Christ’s Incarnation; and yet St. Paul seems to say, that while knowing we know it not, not on account of its nature but its greatness, except that even this, according to our degree, is by the Spirit shed abroad, and manifested to the heart. 

It is evident, therefore, that this, the love of Christ, is not to be measured, or entered into, by any ardent imagination, no strong feeling or sublime conceptions of men; nor even by exceeding greatness of understanding and “largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore;" but it is spiritually discerned by faith. It is not different from, or unlike, what we ask or think; but above, or beyond, what we ask or think. The more we ask of God, the more we think of Him, the nearer do we approach to it. It is prayer which gives the knowledge. Do you wish to know whether God is love? pray to Him, and this will tell you, as no words of man, no teaching can do. Do you wish to know how great the love of God is? pray to Him more, and you will know better. Pray to Him more humbly, and you will know more the height and depth of that love; pray to Him more earnestly, and you will know more the intensity of that love; pray more constantly and perseveringly, and you will know the unfailing steadfastness and strength of that love; let your prayers be longer, and you will know more the length of that love; pray more frequently, on all occasions, and you will know more how encompassed you are on all sides by that love. Deny yourself when you pray, and you will find out the mystery, how that love is connected with the Cross. 

It is, therefore, not with the understanding, but with faith and prayer, my brethren, that I would ask you to attend to that account of the love and power of Christ which is recorded to us in the Gospel for to-day.... 

.... (for the second part, on the Gospel.)