Rev. Terpstra is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.

“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; 

The proper study of mankind is Man.”

These words of the English poet, Alexander Pope, found in his philosophical work, “An Essay on Man” (1733-34), are certainly echoed by our modern-day evolutionists and self-esteem proponents. But in contrast to this view, the Reformed Christian says, “Know then thy God! Presume to scan the Godhead, for the proper study of mankind is God!” It is true, as John Calvin writes in the opening words of hisInstitutes, that all the wisdom we possess is composed of two parts—knowledge of God andknowledge of ourselves. But as he says a bit later, “. . . It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself” (I, chap. 1, sect. 2). It is the knowledge of God which is first and foremost in all of life.

I intend in my brief series of articles under this rubric to have us make a “study” of God, to “contemplate” Him. I have been assigned to write on the area of doctrine knows as “theology,” the doctrine of God. And the way I want to treat this subject is not dogmatically but practically, i.e., to consider what a blessing it is for the Christian to know God. This is not to downplay sound doctrine and right thinking, for as Sinclair Ferguson has written, “to be a Christian is not a mindless experience, but involves knowledge and understanding” (A Heart For God, p. 13). Yet as he goes on to explain, this knowledge and understanding are most practical; it means “a personal relationship and personal acquaintance with the Lord” (ibid, p. 13).

This implies that our approach is that of faith. We do not approach the doctrine of God as unbelieving skeptics, wondering whether God can be known and inquiring into various proofs for His existence. We approach this subject as those who believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We start with the basic belief that God not only is, but also that He is the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. We begin with the understanding that He can be and is known by all those who believe in Him.

This is our starting point, not because the knowledge of God is something we have of ourselves naturally, but because God has revealed Himself to us. That is, He has made Himself known to us in His holy Word, the Bible, and He has worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, ” that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (I Cor. 2:13). This truth of divine revelation is what Rev. Marvin Kamps has laid down as a foundation in his series of articles on the doctrine of Scripture. This is the only reason we can truly know God and believe on Him unto salvation.

With that introduction, I want us to see the great preciousness of the knowledge of God. To know God is to have something of great worth and value; it is something to esteem very highly and cherish. This is what the catechism students in the Protestant Reformed “Essentials of Reformed Doctrine” class learn. The first question of their book asks, What is above all things precious?” And the answer is: “The knowledge of the true God through Jesus Christ Whom He has sent.”

Knowing God is precious, first of all, because it is the HIGHEST KNOWLEDGE there is. There is no greater knowledge that a person can obtain than the knowledge of God. In our day when every other science (area of knowledge) is elevated and worshiped, we do well to remember that the science of God is the greatest knowledge one can seek and attain. Our Reformed fathers used to refer to the doctrine of God (theology) as the “queen of the sciences” (cf., e.g., the “Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology” in the Psalter). How many of us still consider it to be so?! How many of us are seeking this queen?

Charles H. Spurgeon expressed it well in a sermon of his:

The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls Father. . . . The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing will so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity (Quoted in Knowing God, J.I. Packer, pp. 13, 14).

This is corroborated by the holy Scriptures. In Proverbs 9:10 the inspired Solomon teaches us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” The apostle Paul inPhilippians 3:8 confessed what was most precious to him: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. . . .” And this apostle sought the same thing of the people among whom he labored, so that, for example, he prayed without ceasing on behalf of the Ephesian believers, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” And finally, in Jeremiah 9:23, 24 we read:

Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD, which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.”

Notice this. Jehovah says that we must not boast in anything else but in the fact that we know Him. Is that true of us? What do you and I glory in? In our wisdom? In our might? In our riches? Or in our knowledge of the true and living God? Only the last mentioned boasting delights the Lord. All other glorying is vain.

In the second place, the knowledge of God is so precious because it is SALVATION and, LIFE. As S. Ferguson has written, “The knowledge of God is the heart of salvation and all true spiritual experience. Knowing Him is what we were created for. It will occupy us throughout all eternity” (ibid., p. 13).

This too is plainly taught us in the Word. In the prophecy of Jeremiah God promised that the essence of His new covenant with His people would be this: “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD” (31:34). And in that startling statement of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer we find Him saying, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Notice that. According to our Lord, to know God is everlasting life! Do we understand this? The knowledge and skill we have in our work will not save us. Our knowledge of math or biology or English literature will not save us. But the knowledge of God will, for it is eternal life.

Finally, in the third place, to know God is so precious because it is of great COMFORT to the child of God. C.H. Spurgeon again put this beautifully:

Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated (Quoted in Knowing God, Packer, p. 14).

And the Word of God substantiates this. Daniel 11:32teaches us that “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.” Would we be strong to endure our sufferings and trials? We must know God. Would we be strong to overcome Satan and his temptations? We must know the Lord. Proverbs 18:10further instructs us thus: “The name of the LORD (i.e., the knowledge of Him as revealed in the Word – CJT) is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” And to quote no more, it is in knowing God that “we know that all things work together for good” and that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:28, 39).

It is for these reasons that the knowledge of God is precious to the believer. What an incentive then for us to know the Lord and grow in the knowledge of Him! Let us apply our hearts and minds to the continual study of our God, the knowledge of whom is the highest knowledge, is saving knowledge, and is comforting knowledge!

Since in this series of articles we cannot possibly cover the scope and depth of the doctrine of God, allow me to recommend some good reading:

1. Calvin’s Institutes, Books I, II

2. J.I. Packer’s Knowing God

3. Sinclair Ferguson’s A Heart For God

4. A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy

5. Arthur Pink’s The Attributes of God