Walter MacGilvray on ‘the love that passeth knowledge’ (Eph. 3:19) – Part 2

But while the love of Christ thus passeth knowledge as to its rise, its cause, and its extent, it is yet implied, or rather distinctly stated, that we may attain to some comprehension of it. And although it seems like contradiction in terms to say, that we may comprehend what is declared to be incomprehensible, and to know what passeth knowledge, the real meaning of the statement before us is plain enough. For there is scarcely any truth connected with the character of God, or with the work of Christ, of which the same thing may not be said – that it is knowable and yet unknowable, comprehensible to some extent and yet incomprehensible as regards its essential nature and limits. Indeed, this holds true more or less, not only of the deeper mysteries, but even of the ordinary principles of the faith which we profess. Hence, while the Apostle exhorts us to know the love of Christ, he sets forth at the same time the means by which this knowledge may be attained.

He tells us, in the first place, that in order to rise to something like right conception of this love, we must be ‘strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man’. It is the office of the Spirit to take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us; and it is also by His power that our souls are ‘strengthened’, that our moral perceptions are quickened and exalted, so as to enable us to apprehend those mysteries of grace and truth that are hidden in the Divine mind, and especially in the person and work of the Word incarnate. It is to this idea the Apostle refers when he says, in another place, ‘What man knoweth the things of man, but the spirit of man that is in him? So no man knoweth God but the Spirit of God.’ The import of which is, that man understands his own ‘things’, or thoughts, by means of his own consciousness; but that he is not capable of knowing God, who is so much above and beyond his own level. It is only by ‘the Spirit of God’ that God is fully known, or that the knowledge of Him can be conveyed to our minds. This idea is familiar to us in connexion with the ordinary departments of human learning. To understand the highest and innermost thoughts of great writer, we must be brought into a state of intellectual sympathy with him, and be imbued with something of ‘the spirit that is in him’.

But besides the strengthening influence of the Spirit, the Apostle tells us further, that Christ must ‘dwell in our hearts by faith’. The mystical inhabitation thus mentioned implies that Christ is one with us, and that we are one with Him; that there is such an immediate personal relation between us, that we are in state to understand Him in some measure as He understands us, and to know His love as He knows ours. The marriage tie, to which this mystic union is most frequently compared in Scripture, will help to throw some light on the statement before us. A man and his wife are ‘no more twain, but one.’ Where this is really the case, they may be said to know each other as fully as they know themselves and especially to comprehend the nature and measure of that love by means of which they have come to be bound up together ‘in the bundle of life’. Even so, through the mutual indwelling spoken of in the text – the close and intimate communion of soul and spirit implied in it – we are in a state to understand how great, and deep, and wonderful is that love which led Him, not only to give Himself for us, but to give Himself to us. Resting on this clear and crowning evidence of His grace and mercy towards us, we are, so to speak, ‘rooted and grounded in love’; planted in the very soil, and inhaling the very breath, of this divinely-inspired affection; so that we are enabled, in common with ‘all saints’ – that is, with those who are in the same privileged position – to know something of the love of Christ which ‘passeth knowledge’.

Having thus endeavoured to unfold the import of this most pregnant and profound statement, let me entreat you, in conclusion, to think over it, to examine yourselves by it, and to supplicate earnestly that the Apostle’s prayer may be fulfilled in your own experience, and that you also ‘may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the height, and depth, and length, and breadth, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.’ And then will your hearts be laden with the riches of heaven; with its life, its grace, its glory; for then shall you ‘be filled with all the fulness of God’. The fulness of the Godhead bodily dwelleth in Christ; and if He ‘dwells in our hearts by faith’ – possessing and permeating all our moral powers and capacities by His Spirit – that saying, marvellous though it be, is mystically realised – we are filled with ‘all the fulness of God’!


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