A Lesson in Christian Grammar

[Gal.4:9]---'But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage.'

'Ye have known God, or rather are known of God.' Here we have St. Paul suddenly correcting himself and turning the thought round in the other direction. It is not so much a question of you Galatians knowing God, he says, as of God knowing you. There is a enormous difference between these two attitudes, or two relations, and it is a difference that is vital to the New Testament gospel. 'Ye have not chosen me,' said Jesus to the disciples, 'but I have chosen you.' And so St. John says, 'It is not that we loved Him but that He loved us.' We get the same doubleness of thought again in St. Paul where, for example, he says that he is pressing forward in order to apprehend that for which he has been apprehended by God, It is not so much a case of knowing God as of being known by God.

What is at the bottom of all this? What is the meaning of this basic reverse in the Christian faith?

St. Paul tells us there are two different attitudes that one can adopt towards God---a heathen attitude and a Christian attitude. The difficulty with the Galatians was that they were backsliding into the old heathen attitude to God and although they were professing Christians they were walking about in the cast-off clothes that Christianity had left behind. In fact, he says, they had turned their backs upon Jesus Christ and had gone back to the weak and beggarly elements of heathenism.

In Christianity knowledge of God consists in being known by God. Paul was afraid that the Galatians should imagine that they had discovered God. What actually happened was that God discovered them, had broken into the midst of their life by revelation. It was literally an invasion. With the coming of the Apostles and the word of the gospel the truth of God had broken into the midst of their minds, into the midst of their religion and set everything in an uproar. Everything was altered and turned upside down. The Word of God had pounced upon them. God had apprehended them. That was the one colossal fact in Galatians. The living God, God in Jesus Christ, absolutely sovereign in their midst. And now, what happened? These Galatians had tamed the word of God, they had domesticated God and so they settled down to a tame religion. They were respectable people for they no longer worshipped idols and they had a respectable God-a nice respectable God, and a respectable church with a nice middle-class religion and its tame respectable theology. Instead of the Word of God being the master, these Galatians thought they had mastered God's Word.

That is why St Paul corrected himself in this sentence. You had indeed come to know God, he said then suddenly stopped. That is just what is wrong, that is your great mistake. No! God has come to know you. God has discovered Himself to you.

There was another occasion when St Paul played Christian tricks with human grammar. It was in the Epistle to the Romans where he says, 'God be thanked that though you Romans were once the servants of sin you have now obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine which was delivered to you.' But Paul said that in such a way that the real meaning is gained by putting it the other way round and so the Revised Version translates it differently. 'Ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered.' It is not so much a case of the Word of God being delivered to you Romans as of you being delivered into the hands of the Word of God. Once more it is God who is the subject, the Lord and master of all.

That is the Christianity of the Bible. Faith is never a matter of your pronouncing an opinion on the Bible, but of the opinion of the Bible about you. You thought perhaps the Bible could be handled by men, but in fact men are handled by the Bible. Perhaps when you come to church you think you are called upon as repectable churchmen to pronounce an opinion on the Word of God, but the truth is exactly the other way round. The Word of God intends to pass an opinion upon you and to master you. That is the heart of the obedience of faith. Anything else is paganism ; to slide back into the old heathen attitude in which man is subject and God only and object.

How do you worship God?

Have you ever stood still somewhere in the wilds: perhaps in the secluded silence of a mountain valley? You thought you were alone in pensive contemplation, mastering with your eyes all you surveyed, then suddenly with a start you realized you were not alone. Another presence than yours was there. Some one had invaded your sanctuary. You did not now from where, but from behind some tree or rock there were eyes fastened upon you, watching your every movement. Your startled emotions became turgid with excitement and they tingle with apprehension. You were being observed and it disturbed you. You were not alone. There was another near you, within the orbit of whose gaze every step was taken.

It was something like that that the Psalmist felt when he said 'O Lord, thou hast watched me and known me.' That is the beginning of real faith. It is the overpowering sense that we are known through and through by God. It begins when God breaks into the circle of our own inner thoughts and suddenly we are aware of His eyes scanning every inmost corner of our being. It is only as we know ourselves to be known by God like that that we really come to a knowledge of Him. We do not know God until-sometimes it is like a flash of lightning in the dark- we see ourselves as we really are. Then we know we stand in the light and presence of God, that His eyes have turned aside all the shame and hypocrisy behind which we have tried to hide ourselves. it is in that moment when the nakedness of the human soul is laid before heaven that we know God and we know that we know Him because He knows us.

The important factor in this relation is not you, but God. There is a stupedous difference there, the difference between paganism and Christianit; the difference between a man who only 'knows' and the man who knows that he is known but of God. No doubt in ordinary experience and everyday language the important factor is you- you know, you look, you observe, you examine, you feel sure. But here in Christianity that relation is completely reversed in importance. It is God alone who is the subject. It is His eyes which search and scan the souls of men. When you know yourself to be discovered by God to yourself, then you know indeed. So long as the 'I' occupies the central place in your thought you are lapsing back into the grammer of the heathen, the weak and beggarly elements of this world. You do now have a living faith until you learn to put all the emphasis upon God. 'Thou knowest me.' 'Thou, God seest me." When the living God has invaded your life and turned the tables upon your soul like that you have an experience which cannot be constructed in human grammar, but which is the bedrock of reality. Before that vivifying and steadfast knowledge all other knowledge appears fleeting and vain. Until the tables of your soul have been turned like that, until you have allowed the living God and His Word to be the absolute master of your fate you cannot approach Him in humble worship or find the comfort and peace of the faith you desire.

In Christ, timothy.