By Pastor Glenn Pease
When Julia Ward Howe toured a battlefield during the Civil War her heart was heavy for things were not going well for the union cause. The soldiers were trying to keep their moral up by singing snatches of then popular army song-John Brown's Body. Mrs. Howe's minister, James Freeman Clark, urged her to write some good words to that stirring tune. The next morning she leapt out of bed and poured out unto paper the words that had formed in her mind.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He hath loosed the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword.
Tis truth is marching on.
The song was published in the Atlanta Monthly, but nothing came of it for a year. Then Chaplain McCabe learned it by heart and taught it to those in Libby Prison. Soon the whole prison echoed with this stirring hymn. Lewis Dunnington writes, "From that moment, the Battle Hymn Of The Republic took wings and flew through all the camps of the army. Soldiers sand it in bivouac at night. They sang it on the march. They sang it rushing into battle. And where it was sung, it did more than many men for victory. It gave discouraged men the certainty that His truth is marching on-now!"
Nothing is so necessary as for a soldier to know that he is fighting for the truth. It is not enough to be brave and courageous. He must also be right and just. A brave man pursuing a wrong course is a curse to himself and all in his way. Peter commands those who would be soldiers of the cross to hasten to be heroic. Be diligent in adding to your faith virtue, and that means manly courage and boldness. Now Peter does not stop there, and we dare not stop adding either, for Peter says go on to add to your boldness-knowledge. Unless we are equipped with knowledge our boldness can be dangerous, and it can do harm to the cause of truth rather than aid it in marching on. Zeal without knowledge is a vice.
John Brown wrote, "Without appropriate knowledge, with due consideration, a man with the best intentions may do evil rather than good; and after running himself out of breath, find that it would have been his strength, his duty and interest, to have stood still. This was the case with Paul. He thought he was doing a great service in persecuting the Christians, but he says after his conversion that he did it in ignorance. Jesus said that those who crucified Him did it in ignorance, and he said to His disciples that will think they are doing God a favor by killing them. Ignorance is no friend to God or man, and to be bold but ignorant leads only to folly. No general wants courageous soldiers who do not know how to use their weapons. A brave man who is not trained is of less value than a coward who knows what he is doing.
On the other hand, no soldier wants a brave general either who has no sense of judgment. Never was there a greater demonstration of boldness and bravery than when 600 English cavalry charged the Russian battery at Balaklava. It was a wholesale sacrifice of heroism to no purpose. The poet described it-
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of death,
Into the mouth of hell.
"Grand, terrific, magnificent!" Exclaimed the general. Thank God we have no such general in Peter. He commands us to be bold, but not for boldness sake as an end in itself. It is of value to have blind zeal that courts martyrdom. Peter demands that his troops be equipped with knowledge. Peter stresses knowledge so much that you would think he was an ex-professor rather than an ex-fisherman. His reference says to knowledge are as thick as commercials around station breaks.
There is no other chapter in all the Bible that so stresses knowledge. Paul comes close in I Cor. 8 with 5 references. That is what Peter has here also, but all 5 of Paul's are on the Greek word gnosis, which simply means knowledge, but 3 of the 5 Peter has here are epignosis, which means full knowledge. We are in the great knowledge chapter of the Bible, and the fact that Peter makes so much of it tells us 2 things quite clearly.
I. KNOWLEDGE IS IMPORTANT.
It is important to the Christian life, and to being a successful soldier of Christ, and for the same reason it is important in every other realm of life. No-how is the key to success and effectiveness. Benjamin Franklin said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." J. M. Clark in Overhead Costs in Modern Industry said, "Knowledge is the only instrument of production that is not subject to diminishing returns." Business is always ahead to have people employed who are growing in knowledge. A lack of knowledge can be expensive.
For example, a small factory had to cease operations when a vital piece of machinery broke down. The firms own mechanics couldn't get it working again, and so an outside expert was called in. He looked the situation over for a couple of minutes. Then he took a hammer and tapped on the machine at a certain spot, and it started running beautifully. When he submitted a bill for 100 dollars the plant owner hit the ceiling and demanded an itemized bill. The expert cooperated and this is what he sent. "For hitting the machine one dollar. For knowing where to hit 99 dollars." It was not labor but knowledge they were paying for. The majority of people who get rich do not do so by means of physical labor, but by means of knowledge.
A New York socialite came into the salon of Walter Florell, a famous milliner to movie stars. She announced that she needed a hat at once for a party she was attending. Walter took a couple of yards of ribbon twisted it around, and put it on her head. He said, "There is your hat madam." She looked into the mirror and exclaimed, its wonderful." Florell said, "Twenty five dollars." "But thats to much for a couple of yards of ribbon," she gasped. Florell unwound the ribbon and handed it her saying, "The ribbon madam is free." It was not material but knowledge she was paying for. Know-how is what is expensive, and that is what leads to success. The Bible confirms what we see to be true in life. Prov. 24:3-5 says, "By wisdom the house is built, and by understanding it is established. By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is mightier than a strong man, and a man of knowledge than he who has strength." Riches in power belong to the man who knows, and this carries right over into the spiritual realm.
There is no salvation apart from knowledge. The Gospel is hid to those who are lost. The god of this world has blinded their minds. Shakespeare said, "Ignorance is the curse of God, and knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven." Jesus said, "This is eternal life that they know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." No one can believe the good news of the Gospel until they have knowledge of it, and so knowledge comes even before faith as a means to salvation. Peter, however, is not referring here to this knowledge which his readers already have. He is writing of knowledge which is to be added to faith after one is saved.
If our goal is to be Godlike and Christ-like, then to be equipped with knowledge is essential to reach that end, for as Hannah said in praising God in I Sam. 2:3, "The Lord is a God of knowledge." Jesus is the wisdom of God and in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Jesus spent a great deal of His short life on earth teaching and preaching, for knowledge was important to the building of His church. All the Epistles are written for our instruction and learning. Education is at the very heart of Christian faith, as it was of the Jewish faith. To neglect this vital aspect of God's plan, and to fail to equip yourself with knowledge is to lose much of the riches and power God intends for you to have.
Paul is always saying, "I would not have you to be ignorant brethren." Why? It is because being ignorant is to be poor when we might be rich, and to be weak when we can be strong. A good Christian is one who is forever adding knowledge to his faith, for he knows it is important to the success of the church and his own life. Dr. John Knox has written, "Christianity began magnificently. It stepped from the soil of Palestine on its Westward march with the tread of an conquered....It did not sit at philosophy's feet; philosophy was soon sitting at its feet. For all its humble origin among peasants of Galilee, and working men, poor and unschooled, it became the teacher of Greece as it became the ruler of Rome.
The wisdom of this world became foolishness in comparison to the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is what is exciting about the knowledge the Christian is to add to his faith. Anyone can do it. You do not have to be a genius or a scholar. Peter is not writing his letter as an lecture to be delivered at the institute for super-duper Christians. This is a general Epistle written for the instruction for the common Christian, most of whom had far less education to grow in knowledge than anyone does today. We must recognize that Peter is saying that knowledge is important for every believer, and not just the leaders. This leads us to consider the second clear implication of what Peter is saying.
II. KNOWLEDGE IS IMMENSE.
A vast infinite reservoir is what we have to dip into with our finite little minds while we recognize the importance of knowledge, we must also recognize its immensity and our limitations. Not even a genius can begin to scratch the surface. In a single day modern man undertakes enough research to fill 7 complete sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica. You have probably read of how man's knowledge doubled in 1750; again in 1900; again in 1950; and then in 1960; and again in 1965; and now is doubling almost yearly. Much of it is technical data, and needs only to be known by specialists. The gap between us and the ancients is not that great, however, when it comes to essential knowledge. We are constantly learning that they knew things we didn't know they knew. You cannot measure the relative increase if you don't know what they knew. Much of what we think is new is old, but we are just learning of how much the ancients knew.
Like the woman who was shopping the garden department, and she noticed a strange object. She asked the clerk what it was, and he explained that it was a sundial. He told her how the shadow of the sun moving across the dial could indicate the time of day. The lady said, "What will they think of next!" Let's not underestimate the ancients in secular or spiritual knowledge. The New Testament and history reveal that Christians were often as wise as serpents and harmless as doves. They out thought the pagan philosophers of their day and captured the minds of the masses. Paul is forever urging Christians to walk circumspectly and not as fools, and to walk in wisdom toward those that are without.
But it was Paul who said that we know only in part now. There is much we cannot know. Because knowledge is so important, and because we must be constantly adding it to our faith, and because it is so immense, we must be selective. Paul warns about foolish speculations and science falsely so called. We cannot afford to waste our time and mental energy on nonsense and matters that are indifferent. We must learn those things that make us better Christians in the field in which we serve. This means that we will all be interested in various aspects of knowledge. The one area we have in common is knowledge of God's Word. By this knowledge we are saved. Philip found the Ethiopian reading Isaiah and asked if he understood what he was reading. He said he did not and needed someone to explain it. Philip did explain it and the man received Christ as his Savior. He would never have been saved if he had not understood. Just owning a Bible, or even reading it, does not save without understanding.
We can never gain the blessings of God until we understand them, and understand what God requires of us. D. L. Moody was a great man of prayer, but at the end of his life he is said to have commented that if he could live life over again he would spend more time in Bible study because he had wasted so much time praying for things he later found out we not in line with God's interests as spelled out in Scripture. You cannot pray effectively without knowledge.
Christians often waste time in pursuing answers to questions that cannot be known, or are not worth knowing. They are like the boy who kept turning out the lights to see how he looked in the dark. You can never build a solid structure with the bricks of speculation. Such bricks are made without the straw of truth and they will not last. Paul says in Titus 3:9, "Avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and vain." We will never know all that is worth knowing, and so when we add knowledge to our life we need to make sure it is worthwhile. Knowledge is important, and so we need to get busy learning. Knowledge is immense, and so we need to specialize in that which is of the highest value for our lives.
The Greek philosopher Socrates was once asked by a man how he could get wisdom. Socrates told him to follow him, and he led him down to a river. He asked the man to follow him into the water to a depth up to his nose. Then suddenly he pushed the man's head under water and held it there for a while as the man struggled to get his head above the water to breathe. When he came up he was angry and asked Socrates why he did that. Socrates replied, "You asked me how to gain knowledge. When you want knowledge as badly as you wanted air when your head was under water, you will get it."
This is in keeping with the New Testament language of hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and of asking, seeking, and knocking. It fits Peter's attitude of urgency where he says to diligently add these things to your life. Paul was a student to his dying day, and even in prison he urged Timothy to bring him the books and the parchments. Benvenuto Cellini was cast into a dungeon in the Castle of San Angelo. It was horrible with its rats, wet, and mold everywhere. His leg was broken and his teeth were falling out from scurvy. It was hardly an atmosphere conductive to study. But one hour each day the rays of the sun penetrated through a small hole down into his cavern, and in that hour Cellini held his Bible in the light and read. All of us have limitations and handicaps, but God expects us to do the best with what we have, and to love Him with all our minds. Let us respond in obedience to the command to become equipped with knowledge, and pray with the poet-
Oh God, I offer Thee my heart,
In many a mystic mood, by beauty lead.
I give my heart to Thee. But now impart
That sterner grace-to offer Thee my head.