The Importance Of The Knowledge Of God

Adapted From A Sermon By

George Burder

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 17:3

Our verse this morning is John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” And we will consider The Importance Of The Knowledge Of God, adapted from a sermon by George Burder.

The belief of a God is the foundation of all religion. If we “come to God,” for the purpose of worship, we “must believe that he is;” and we cannot come to him aright, without knowing what he is, or what are the perfections which he possesses. It is, therefore, vastly important that we obtain a right knowledge of his character; and this is what is affirmed by “the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14) in the words of our text. Our Lord asserts that “it is eternal life” to know the only true God—that is, it is the means, the way, the sure and only way to eternal life:—that there is a connection between the right knowledge of the only true God, and the attainment of eternal happiness, of which, indeed, this knowledge furnishes the true Christian with the beginning and the guarantee.

Let us consider —

1. The glorious objects of saving knowledge; and

2. The connection of this knowledge with eternal life.

1. The great and glorious objects of saving knowledge, mentioned in the text, are—“the only true God,” and “his Son Jesus Christ.”

The mind of man was formed for knowledge. He is blessed with faculties superior to those of all other creatures on earth, which make him capable of obtaining the knowledge of God. You cannot, by any means, communicate to the most intelligent animal, the least idea of the great Creator; but man was originally made in “the image” of his Maker; of which image, “knowledge” formed an essential part; and when fallen man is renewed by grace in the image of God, he is renewed “in knowledge and true holiness.”

It is an unhappy consequence of man's apostasy from God, that he is not disposed to seek him. On the contrary, wicked men say to God in their hearts and by their practice, “Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.” (Job 21:14) In all other matters, it is natural for man to look at every object around him, and to ask—What is it? What is it for? Where does it come from? Man naturally inquires into the reasons and causes of things: and, surely, the first cause, the great maker of all, should be the first and chief object of inquiry.

And, were we rightly disposed to seek him, we would soon find him. “He is actually not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27) We are surrounded with God. The heavens, the earth, the sea, display his glory. The whole world is a kind of mirror, in which his perfections are reflected; for “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20) But sadly! “the world did not know God through wisdom:” (1 Corinthians 1:21) and the reason was, “they did not see fit to acknowledge God,” therefore “God gave them up to a debased mind,” (Romans 1:28) —“they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator:” (Romans 1:25) they even “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:23) The better sort of the gods which the heathens adored, were, in general, patterns of abominable vices; and it is no wonder that their worshippers imitated them, and mingled their devotions with the most awful deeds. And so it was that some of their wise men who could see the dangers of such a system, wished that the poets, who dressed up in fine language the stories and the vices of the gods, should be banished from the country, as the enemies of society.

In opposition to this wretched collection of deities, the knowledge of “the only true God” is commended in our verse. Jehovah is the only true God; all others are false: they are “vanity and lies.” A principal goal of divine Revelation was to maintain this great truth,—There is one God, “and there is no other besides him.” (Mark 12:32 ) “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) and the Jewish nation had the honor, for many ages, of being the main custodians of this great doctrine, amidst a world of blind idolaters. The sacred Scriptures which they possessed, and which were the treasury of this sacred truth, have been handed down to us; and we enjoy, in addition to them, the testimonies of the inspired apostles in the New Testament; and above all, the testimony of the Son of God himself in our text, and in many other places. In the scriptures of truth we learn all that is necessary to be known of God. There, all his moral as well as his natural perfections are displayed. There we learn that he is Eternal, Almighty, Omnipresent, Holy, Just, Wise, Faithful, and Good. Blessed be God for these bright displays of infinite perfections! It is life eternal to know you, the only true God!

But, in our text, we find the knowledge of Jesus Christ is made equal in importance with the knowledge of God; which seems to imply that Jesus Christ is equal with God; and so indeed he is. At the first sight, some may think that the inferiority of our Savior is hinted at, for it is said—“this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ.” But the title of “the only true God” is not intended to exclude the Son of God, but to exclude idols. Jehovah is the only true God, and idols are nothing; but as Jesus Christ is, in many places of the Scripture, declared to be the true God, the text cannot be understood as a denial of his Deity; but it is intended to show that it is necessary to salvation, not only to know God as a Creator, but also, as a Savior: it is as necessary to know Jesus the Mediator, by whom we come to the Father, as it is to know the Father himself; and as was said before, in this way making the knowledge of Christ as necessary to eternal life as the knowledge of God the Father, the text, instead of rejecting the divinity of Jesus, provides a powerful argument for it;—and here let it be observed, that the three names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are not intended to explain to us the manner in which the three divine persons subsist, for that is not revealed, nor could we understand it if it were; but they express the characters they assumed in the covenant of grace; and these “Three are One”—three in person and in office, but one in nature and in essence.

The true divinity of our Savior is strongly declared in the following scripture: John 5:22, 23. “the Father ... has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” And in the 20th chapter of the gospel of John, verse the 28th, we find the apostle Thomas, saying to Christ, “My Lord, and my God.” The apostle Paul also charges the elders of Ephesus to “care for the church of God, which he” (that is, Christ) “obtained with his own blood.” Acts 20:28 Many more passages might be cited in proof of this doctrine, but we add only the following: Romans 9:5 “To them” (that is the Israelites) “belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” It is necessary to know the Son of God as described by those two names—Jesus and Christ, as descriptive of his character and office. The name Jesus was given him to denote the great work of salvation which he came to perform: ‘you shall call his name Jesus,” said the angel to his mother, “for he will save his people from their sins:” (Matt. 1:21) for he came from Heaven on purpose to deliver his people from their iniquities by the sacrifice of himself, and by the power of his Spirit attending his word.

But, it may be asked by the anxious sinner, Is he appointed, and perfectly able to do this? Yes, he is, for he is Christ also, which means Anointed in the Greek language, as Messiah does in the Hebrew. The name denotes his being fully qualified for the office, being anointed by the Holy Spirit, “full of grace and truth;” and as, in ancient times, kings, priests, and prophets were solemnly set apart to their several offices by being anointed, so Jesus Christ is divinely consecrated and authorized to perform the grand work of saving sinners; and this is further expressed by his being Sent—“Jesus Christ, whom he has sent.”

Jesus Christ, though equal with the Father with respect to his divine nature, condescends, in his human nature, and in his office of Mediator, to become “the servant of the Father;” (Acts 4:27) and, in regard to that character, he was sent; he did not come without authority; he came with all the authority of Heaven, to accomplish the great plan, determined upon in the councils of God before the foundation of the world.

To know Christ, therefore, is as necessary to salvation as to know the Father; he is as much the object of saving knowledge and of saving faith as the Father; and he is distinguished from him, not on account of any inferiority of nature, but on account of the character of his office; and it may be remarked, that the same apostle, who records the words of the text, expressly says of Christ “He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:21) Our Lord himself also declares, that he himself is, equally with the Father, the object of faith “Believe in God; believe also in me”(John 14:1.)—that is, You have faith in God the Father according to what is revealed in the Old Testament; have the same faith in me, his Son, the Savior, according to what is revealed the New Testament.

Let us now proceed, as was proposed, in the second place to point out:

II. The connection between the knowledge of the Father and of his Son and the attainment of eternal life.

And here let us pause a moment, and consider the importance of the words—“eternal life.” This is the glorious blessing which the Son of God came from Heaven to purchase for sinners who deserved eternal death, and were justly doomed to it by the broken law of a righteous God. “The wages of sin is death”—not merely the death of the body, but that which may be called the Death of the Soul—complete and everlasting separation from God, who is the only source of life and happiness; and this is called “the Second Death;” (Rev. 21:8) this is that dreadful state which our Lord himself calls “eternal punishment”—“eternal fire”—“where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:28) But, although the wages of sin be death, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Opposed then to eternal death, is that eternal life of which our text speaks; the foundation of which is laid in justification and life, as the apostle Paul terms it (Romans 5:18) which includes both an exemption from the sentence of death, and a title, through the perfect righteousness of Christ, leading to the complete enjoyment of happiness in Heaven; for which blessed state every true Christian is prepared by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who, as an active principle of Spiritual life, is compared, by our Lord, to “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) What the glories and happiness of that state will be, is not yet fully revealed; but we know that they will consist, partly, in that knowledge of God in Christ which is begun here below; for “we shall see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2) and “know fully even as we have been known fully.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Now, such is the importance of divine knowledge, that our text declares ‘it is eternal life’—it is so connected with it, that eternal life is not to be expected without it, but may be confidently hoped for as the result of it.

This will become apparent, if we consider that the knowledge of ourselves, in relation to God; conviction of sin; an awareness of danger; prayer to God for pardon; trusting in Him, through Christ, for salvation; love to Him; delight in Him; hope in His mercy; and obedience to His will (all which are necessary in a Christian,) depend upon, and result from a knowledge of his true character; and, consequently, that complete ignorance of him, or great mistakes respecting him, must be extremely dangerous to the soul.

It is through the knowledge of God, as infinitely pure and holy, that we become humble and penitent. We see his infinite purity in the mirror of his holy law; we discern our own deformity; “despise ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes,” (Job 42:6) as pious Job did. The heathens thought God to be “one like themselves,” (Psalm 50:21) no wonder then that they were proud and wicked. Where ignorance of God is widespread, there, sin also is widespread. The prophet Hosea, complaining of the people in his days, says, “there is no knowledge of God in the land,” and he ascribes to this, the prevalence of “swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery.” (Hosea, 4:1,2)

Where ignorance reigns, there Satan also reigns, for he is “the prince of the power of the air,” (Ephesians 6:12) and wicked men are under “the domain of darkness.” (Colossians 1:13) So when Jesus Christ commissioned Paul to go and preach the Gospel to the heathen, it was “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” (Acts 26:18) It was ignorance of God that caused the Pharisee in the temple to boast; it was a true knowledge of him that humbled the tax collector and constrained him to cry out,—“God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

It is through the knowledge of God in Christ that we are led to believe in him. “Those who know your name,” says the psalmist, “ put their trust in you.” (Psalm 9:10) We dare not, in any important affair, especially in a matter of life and death, confide in a stranger, a person of whose ability and integrity we know nothing of. If our property, if our health, if our life is in danger, we are anxious to know who it is we are trusting to defend us: how much more necessary is it to know Him to whom we commit our immortal souls; to whose advocacy we leave our cause; on whose faithfulness we rest, and who is the only foundation of our hopes of eternity.

Our faith will certainly bear some proportion to our knowledge; if our knowledge is very imperfect, our faith will be weak. Abraham's acquaintance with the character of God, preserved him from distrust, even in the most trying circumstances; therefore, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:20, 21) Likewise the blessed apostle Paul, as he considered his approaching martyrdom, says, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

Love is another distinguishing disposition of the real Christian, without which all pretensions to religion are worthless; but how is it possible to love any person, however amiable he may be, if we are perfectly ignorant of his character! The knowledge of God and the love of God are inseparable; for the apostle John says—“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

It is the moral qualities of any person that makes him amiable in our esteem. Wisdom, justice, goodness, recommend a fellow-creature to our regard; but that regard must arise from some acquaintance with the person possessing these virtues, and it is heightened by our having first hand experience in the fruit of these qualities. Likewise the glorious God presents himself to our view, in his works, and especially in his Gospel, as infinite in power, wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth; and as exercising all these perfections through the redemption that is in Christ, for us and for our salvation; to deliver us from guilt and danger, to reinstate us in his favor and friendship, to render us happy in communion with him here, and most blessed forever at his own right hand where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. Surely, such a being must appear to us infinitely worthy of our highest veneration, our warmest affections, our most devoted obedience. But all this depends upon the knowledge of God and of his Son Jesus Christ.

It is equally plain that the true and acceptable worship of God must depend on the right knowledge of him. “You worship what you do not know,” said our Lord to the Samaritans; “we worship what we know,” (John 4:22) said he of the Jews, who derived their knowledge from the sacred Scriptures. More deeply ignorant than the Samaritans were the Greeks; for in their metropolis, in Athens, so famed for its wisdom, the apostle of the Gentiles beheld an altar with this inscription,—“To the unknown God.” (Acts 17:23)—Unknown, sadly! in Athens! unknown by the learned and wise Greeks! so true it is, that “the world did not know God through wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 1:21) Neither Egypt, nor Greece, nor Rome, with all their advancements in science, arts, and arms, knew or worshipped the true God. But Jehovah has revealed himself to us; he has also revealed to us the way and manner in which he may and will be worshipped; and “every one who has heard and learned of the Father, comes to him by Jesus Christ:” (John 6:45)—for no man comes to the Father but by him; and coming to him in this way, we must also worship him “in spirit and in truth,” not with bodily service merely, nor merely with the best worded petitions, but with the heart: with sincerity, reverence, fervent desires, and humble hopes; all which imply the knowledge of God.


The great importance of the right knowledge of God having been sufficiently proven, there are some practical lessons which we may learn from the subject.

From this we see in what a deplorable condition a great part of the world continues to this day. There are millions of our fellow-creatures who do not know God; who, following the superstitions of their fathers, worship, if they worship at all, idols of their own making; while, for the greater part, they are addicted to the crudest vices and most cruel practices; walking, as the apostle Paul expresses it, “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2) How earnestly ought it to be wished that proper and effectual means may be taken to dispel this dreadful darkness, and to communicate to them the saving knowledge of God!

To be even more pitied, because far more criminal, are those persons among ourselves, who have access to the word of God and sound teaching, who yet do not know God; for it may truly be said of many in this country, as the apostle Paul said of others in his day, “Some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame!” (1 Corinthians 15:34) How many are wilfully and contentedly ignorant. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:5) Unhappy creatures! their ignorance is their sin; yet their ignorance hides from them both their sin and their danger.

My people,” said the Lord concerning Israel, “are destroyed for lack of knowledge;” (Hosea 4:6) and the same may be said of many who are called his people now: but let such persons know this, that the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven in flaming fire; and when he comes, he will take “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8) Let none then who live with such privileged access to the Gospel, think that they will be excused on account of their ignorance; for all have had ample opportunity to read or hear the Gospel; and to neglect the proper means of obtaining divine knowledge is to incur the displeasure of God; for “this is the judgment,” said the Savior himself, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 1:19) Would that such persons may resolve, by the grace of God, from this moment, earnestly to apply their hearts to wisdom; and, while they use the means, pray fervently to “the Father of lights” to make them wise to salvation!

Others among us have the greatest cause for thankfulness. Has he, who, in the first creation, “commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shined into your hearts, to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?” (2 Corinthians 4:6) Consider well the greatness of the blessing! Christ congratulated his disciples on this account, saying, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see;” (Matthew 13:16) and he offered up praises, to his heavenly Father, that he had revealed to little children the great truths of the Gospel, which the wise and the prudent had rejected. Let it be your constant care to let “your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

If you have indeed been “taught of God,” prove it, by “putting off your old self,” and by being “renewed in the spirit of your mind.” (Ephesians 4:22) For the true knowledge of God is always practical. We deceive ourselves if we pretend to know him, and yet persist in sin. The apostle John tells us, that “Whoever says I know him but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4) On the contrary, he who truly knows God, will love, and serve, and obey him. And so the obedience of the young king Josiah is mentioned, by the Lord himself, as the evidence of the right knowledge of him:—“he judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 22:16)

A right knowledge of Christ produces an imitation of him: we behold his glory, and are changed into the same image; we behold the glory of his holiness, meekness, humility, and self-denial; and we study to be holy, and meek, and humble, and self-denied, like him. This is the true knowledge of God: and if you possess this, in any measure, you have cause to be thankful.

Then, indeed, you may rejoice in this—not that you are rich or mighty in the world, but that you know the Lord; that you are going on to know him better; and that the happy day may be expected, when, in the heavenly world, you shall “know even as you are known;” not see any longer “in a mirror dimly, but then face to face;” (1 Corinthians 13:12) and learn, by blessed experience, the full meaning of the text—“This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)—To whom, with the Holy Spirit, the one God of our salvation, be ascribed everlasting praise!