I’m joining with Tim Challies, and probably several others, in reading one of the classics of Christian literature: J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. I read this book for the very first time while a student at Trinity College (Deerfield, IL). I re-read it for a class in seminary (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, also in Deerfield). My old copy of this book has so many notes and highlights that it’s nearly unreadable now. So, I’m reading a newer copy that was on my shelves and hoping to make this one mine as much as that much older copy.
What astounds me, and it’s why I think this book deserves the accolade of ‘classic’, is that even though written forty years ago, it’s truth is as relevant and powerful today as it was when Packer first put pen to paper (and in 1973, I’m sure that’s how he wrote much of it). In reading the first two chapters, I was moved to tears, lifted to points of exultation, driven to my knees in prayers of confession and contrition. And that’s just the first two chapters!
Packer will make much of the distinction between ‘knowing about God’ and ‘knowing God.’ One implies a knowledge, perhaps a great body of knowledge, but with no power, no life, nothing that brings change and transformation to the person. The other, however, oh, the change it brings. The power that is given to one (or many, as in a church) is great if they truly know God. The Puritans had a term for such knowledge: experimental religion. Today, many would despise that term for two reasons:
First, it uses the word ‘religion’, and if ever there was a word modern evangelicals seem to dislike greatly it is this word. They think it means and empty soul staring at the sky or blinded hearts following rituals and traditions with no thought at all. Sadly, I pity these who think like this. I understand the mind set; I once held it. Thank the Lord for mercy and granting repentance from such arrogance and pride.
Second, most wouldn’t ever use the phrase because they have no idea how ‘experimental’ can fit with ‘religion.’ Well, it simply means ‘to experiment,’ ‘to test,’ to prove.’ One is to test his faith. One is to prove the things of God, that He is faithful, loving in His covenant with us and so forth.
So, I’ll use this term for now, because that’s what Packer is describing in his book.
In chapter 1, he lays the course before us. There are five foundational principles given that will direct the course of this ascent (Packer refers to this entire study as one who is preparing to ascend the greatest heights of some great mountain, like Everest or Kilimanjaro):
- God has spoken to man through His Word
- God is Lord & King over His world
- God is Savior, active in His sovereign love through Jesus Christ
- God is Triune, all three members of the Trinity working to redeem lost men
- Godliness, which is required, is trusting what God has made known to us
These would be useful if written down on a bookmark and used throughout the entire book.
Chapter Two was powerful in its effect upon me as I read. Convicting. Empowering. Challenging. Clarifying. Here, Packer truly lays out the difference between ‘knowing about’ and ‘knowing.’ The focus is sharp; the scalpel is ready. ‘O Divine Physician, lay open my heart that I may know You!’
As I read the early part of Chapter Two, all I could find myself praying was, ‘I no longer want to dream of dung! I no longer want to dream of dung!’ (sorry, you’ll have to read it to find out what that’s all about). How could others tell that this was being answered by our great and loving Heavenly Father? Packer puts four principles forward, from the book of Daniel, for consideration:
- Those who know God have great energy for God
- Those who know God have great thoughts of God
- Those who know God show great boldness for God
- Those who know God have great contentment in God
What stands out particularly in these four truths is this: without prayer, none of them are happening. You have no energy for God if you have no prayer. And if your prayers are weak, well, enough said. Prayer brings us to great thoughts of God because it humbles us. Small prayers, small thoughts. As to boldness, prayer is an absolute necessity, as it was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, as well as Daniel. Packer quotes Oswald Chambers here: These men prayed, knew their God and ‘…they smilingly washed their hands of the consequences.’ And oh, the peace which all this brings to the Christian. Peace of mind, peace of heart, peace in life.
May God use Packer’s classic work to do a mighty work in His people, myself included.