Ultimates of Knowledge and Beginnings of Faith
1 John 5:20
And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true…

How can we now reach such heights of assurance as are marked by these words of St. John? First of all, we need to go straight through our own experiences, thoughts, and questionings, until we find ourselves facing the ultimates of our life and knowledge. Many a young man comes nowadays to church in a state of mental reserve; and this is one of the real practical hindrances to clear, bright discipleship. It hinders the progress of the Church as fogs hinder navigation. Men in this state listen to the great commandments of the gospel — repent, believe, confess Christ before men — and while not intentionally or deliberately rejecting them, they receive them and lose sight of them in this great fog bank of mental uncertainty which lies in their minds all around the horizons of present and near duties. Back, then, let us force ourselves to the ultimates of our life! Back in all honesty and urgency let us go, until we face "the flaming bounds of the universe"! I find four ultimates, then, upon which to stand; four fundamentals of human life and knowledge from which to survey all passing clouds and turmoil. One of these ultimates — the one nearest to the common sense of mankind, and which I only need to mention — is the final fact that there is some all-embracing Power in the universe. This is the last word which the senses, and the science of the senses, have to speak to us — force. But when I look this physical ultimate of things in the face, and ask what it is, or how I have learned to give this name of power to it; then I find myself standing before a second ultimate of knowledge. That is the fact of intelligence. I cannot, in my thought, go before or behind that last fact of mind, and reason compels me to go up to it and admit it; there is mind above matter; there is intelligence running through things. Upon the shores then, of this restless mystery of our life are standing, calm and eternal, these two ultimates of knowledge, Power and Reason, Intelligence and Force; and they stand bound together — an intelligent Power, a Force of Mind in things. But there is another line of facts in our common experience, the end of which is not reached in these ultimates of science and philosophy. You and I had not merely a cause for our existence; I had a mother, and you had before you a fact of love in the mother who gave you birth. Love breathes through life and pervades history. It is the deathless heart of our mortality. Moreover, this fact of love in which our being is cradled, and in which, as in our true element, man finds himself, has in it law and empire. In obedience to this supreme authority men will even dare to die. There are, then, for us such realities as love, devotion, duty. And with this it might seem as though I had gone around the compass of our being and said all that can be said of the last facts of our lives. But I have not. There is another last fact in this world which not only cannot be resolved into anything simpler than itself, and with which, therefore, we must rest, but which, also, is itself the truth abiding as the light of day over these fundamental facts of our knowledge. It is the illumination of man's whole life. I refer, of course, to the character of Jesus Christ. The Person of the Christ is the ultimate fact of light in the history of man. We cannot resolve the character of Jesus into anything before itself. We cannot explain Him by anything else in history. The more definite we make the comparison between Jesus and men the more striking appears His final unaccountableness upon the ordinary principles and by the common laws of human descent. We can bring all human genius into organic line with its ancestry, or into spiritual unity with its nationality or age. Rome and the Caesar explain each the other. Human nature in Greece, vexed by the sophists, must give birth both to an Aristotle and a Socrates. These two types of mind are constantly reproduced. And the Buddha is the in carnation of the Oriental mind. But Jesus is something more than Judaea incarnate. Jesus is something unknown on earth before incarnated in a most human life. He was in this world but not of it. He was the fulfilment of the history of God in Israel, yet He was not the product of His times. He chose to call Himself, not a Hebrew of the Hebrews, not a Greek of the Gentiles, but simply and solely the Son of Man. And we can find no better name for Him. He is for us an ultimate fact, then, unaccounted for by the lives of other men, unaccountable except by Himself; as much as any element of nature is an original thing not to be explained by any thing else that is made, so is the character of Jesus Christ elemental in history, the ultimate fact of God's presence with man. Now, then, such being the fundamental facts of our knowledge — the ultimates of bureau experience — it is perfectly legitimate for us to build upon them; and any man who wishes to build his life upon the rock, and not upon the sands, will build upon them. A Power not ourselves upon which we are dependent — a first intelligence and love, source of all our reason and life of our heart — and Jesus Christ the final proof of God with us and for us — such are the elemental realities upon which our souls should rest. He who stands upon these Divine facts in the creation and in history shall not be confounded.

(N. Smyth, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

WEB: We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

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