George Whitefield Sermon 45
The Knowledge of Jesus Christ the best Knowledge.
1 Corinthians 2:2, "I determined not to know any thing among you, save
Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
The persons to whom these words were written, were the members of the
church of Corinth; who, as appears by the foregoing chapter, were not only
divided into different sects, by one saying, "I am of Paul, and another, I
am of Apollos;" but also had man amongst them, who were so full of the
wisdom of this world, and so wise in their own eyes, that they set at
nought the simplicity of the gospel, and accounted the Apostle's preaching
Never had the Apostle more need of the wisdom of the serpent, mingled
with the innocency of the dove, than now. What is the sum of all his
wisdom? He tells them, in the words of the text, "I determined not to know
any thing amongst you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
A resolution this, worthy of the great St. Paul; and no less worthy,
no less necessary for every minister, and every disciple of Christ, to make
always, even unto the 3end of the world.
In the following discourse, I shall,
FIRST, Explain what is meant by "not knowing any thing, save Jesus
Christ, and him crucified."
SECONDLY, Give some reasons why every Christian should determine not
to know any thing else. And
THIRDLY, Conclude with a general exhortation to put this determination
FIRST, I am to explain what is meant by "not knowing any thing, save
Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
By Jesus Christ, we are to understand the eternal Son of God. He is
called Jesus, a Savior, because he was to save us from the guilt and power
of our sins; and, like Joshua, by whom he was remarkably typified, to lead
God's spiritual Israel through the wilderness of this world, to the
heavenly Canaan, the promised inheritance of the children of God.
He is called CHRICT, which signifies anointed, because he was anointed
by the Holy Ghost at his baptism, to be a prophet to instruct, a priest to
make an atonement for, and a king to govern and protect his church. And he
was crucified, or hung (O stupendous love!) till he was dead upon the
cross, that he might become a curse for us: for it is written, "Cursed is
every man that hangeth upon a tree."
The foundation or first cause of his suffering, was our fall in Adam;
in whom, as the living oracles of God declare, "We all died;" his sin was
imputed to us all. It pleased God, after he had spoken the world into
being, to create man after his own divine image, to breathe into him the
breath of life, and to place him as our representative in the garden of
But he being left to his own free will, did eat of the forbidden
fruit, notwithstanding God had told him, "The day in which he eat thereof,
he should surely die;" and thereby he, with his whole posterity, in whose
name he acted, became liable to the wrath of God, and sunk into a spiritual
But behold the goodness, as well as the severity of God! For no sooner
had man been convicted as a sinner, but lo! A Savior is revealed to him,
under the character of the seed of the woman: the merits of whose sacrifice
were then immediately to take place, and who should, in the fullness of
time, by suffering death, satisfy for the guilt we had contracted; by
obeying the whole moral law, work out for us an everlasting righteousness;
and by becoming a principle of new life in us, destroy the power of the
devil, and thereby restore us to a better state than that in which we were
at first created.
This is the plain scriptural account of that mystery of godliness, God
manifested in the flesh; and to this our own hearts, unless blinded by the
god of this world, cannot but yield an immediate assent.
For, let us but search our own hearts, and ask ourselves, if we could
create our own children, whether or not we would not create them with a
less mixture of good and evil, than we find in ourselves? Supposing God
then only to have our goodness, he could not, at first, make us so sinful,
so polluted as we are. But supposing him to be as he is, infinitely good,
or goodness itself, then it is absolutely impossible that he should create
any thing but what is like himself, perfect, entire, lacking nothing. Man
then could not come out of the hands of his Maker, so miserably blind and
naked, with such a mixture of the beast and devil, as he finds now in
himself, but must have fallen from what he was; and as it does not suit
with the goodness and justness of God, to punish the whole race of mankind
with these disorders merely for nothing; and since men bring these
disorders into the world with them; it follows, that as they could not sin
themselves, being yet unborn, some other man's sin must have been imputed
to them; from whence, as from a fountain, all these evils flow.
I know this doctrine of our ORIGINAL SIN, or fall in Adam, is esteemed
foolishness by the wise disputer of this world, who will reply, How does it
suit the goodness of God, to impute one man's sin to an innocent posterity?
But has it not been proved to a demonstration, that it is so? And
therefore, supposing we cannot reconcile it to our shallow comprehensions,
that is no argument at all: for if it appears that God has done a thing, we
may be sure it is right, whether we can see the reasons for it or not.
But this is entirely cleared up by what was said before, that no
sooner was the sin imputed, but a Christ was revealed; and this Christ,
this God incarnate, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, that he might be
freed from the guilt of our original sin; who was born of the Virgin Mary,
that he might be the seed of the woman only; who suffered under Pontius
Pilate, a Gentile governor, to fulfill these prophecies, which signified
what death he should die: This same Jesus, who was crucified in weakness,
but raised in power, is that divine person, that Emmanuel, that God with
us, whom we preach, in whom ye believe, and whom alone the Apostle, in the
text, was determined to know.
By which word KNOE, we are not to understand a bare historical
knowledge; for to know that Christ was crucified by his enemies at
Jerusalem, in this manner only, will do us no more service, than to know
that Caesar was butchered by his friends at Rome; but the work KNOW, means
to know, so as to approve of him; as when Christ says, "Verily, I know you
not;" I know you not, so as to approve of you. It signifies to know him, so
as to embrace him in all his offices; to take him to be our prophet,
priest, and king; so as to give up ourselves wholly to be instructed,
saved, and governed by him. It implies an experimental knowledge of his
crucifixion, so as to feel the power of it, and to be crucified unto the
world, as the Apostle explains himself in the epistle to the Philippians,
where he says, "I count all things but dung and dross, that I may know him,
and the power of his resurrection."
This knowledge the Apostle was so swallowed up in, that he was
determined not to know any thing else; he was resolved to make that his
only study, the governing principle of his life, the point and end in which
all his thoughts, words, and actions, should center.
SECONDLY, I pass on to give some reasons why every Christian should,
with the Apostle, determine "not to know any thing, save Jesus Christ, and
FIRST, Without this, our persons will not be accepted in the sight of
God. "This (and consequently this only) is life eternal, to know thee, the
only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent." As also St. Peter
says, "There is now no other name given under heaven, whereby we can be
saved, but that of Jesus Christ."
Some, indeed, ma please themselves in knowing the world, others boast
themselves in the knowledge of a multitude of languages; but could we speak
with the tongue of men and angels, or did we know the number of the stars,
and could call them all by their names, yet, without this experimental
knowledge of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, it would profit us nothing.
The former, indeed, may procure us a little honor, which cometh of
man; but the latter only can render us acceptable in the sight of God: for,
if we are ignorant of Christ, God will be to us a consuming fire.
Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; "No one cometh to the
Father, but through him;" "He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the
world;" and none ever were, or ever will be received up into glory, but by
an experimental application of his merits to their hearts.
We might as well think to rebuild the tower of Babel, or reach heaven
with our hands, as to imagine we could enter therein by any other door,
than that of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Other knowledge may make you
wise in your own eyes, and puff you up; but this alone edifieth, and maketh
wise unto salvation.
As the meanest Christian, if he knows but this, though he know nothing
else, will be accepted; so the greatest master in Israel, the most letter-
learned teacher, without this, will be rejected. His philosophy is mere
nonsense, his wisdom mere foolishness in the sight of God.
The author of the word now before us, was a remarkable instance of
this; never, perhaps, was a greater scholar, in all what the world calls
fine learning, than he: for he was bred up at the feet of Gamaliel, and
profited in the knowledge of books, as well as in the Jewish religion,
above many of his equals, as appears by the language, rhetoric, and spirit
of his writings; and yet, when he came to know what it was to be a
Christian, "He accounted all things but loss, so he might win Christ." And,
though he was now at Corinth, that seat of polite learning, yet he was
absolutely determined not to know any thing, or to make nothing his study,
but what taught him to know Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
Hence then, appears the folly of those who spend their whole lives in
heaping up other knowledge; and, instead of searching the scriptures, which
testify of Jesus Christ, and are alone able to make them wise unto
salvation, disquiet themselves in a pursuit after the knowledge of such
things, as when known, concern them no more, than to know that a bird
dropped a feather upon one of the Pyrenean mountains.
Hence it is, that so many, who profess themselves wise, because they
can dispute of the causes and effects, the moral fitness and unfitness of
things, appear mere fools in the things of God; so that when you come to
converse with them about the great work of redemption wrought out for us by
Jesus Christ, and of his being a propitiation for our sins, a fulfiller of
the covenant of works, and a principle of new life to our souls, they are
quite ignorant of the whole matter; and prove, to a demonstration, that,
with all their learning, they know nothing yet, as they ought to know.
But, alas! how must it surprise a man, when the Most High is about to
take away his soul, to think that he has passed for a wise-man, and a
learned disputer in this world, and yet is left destitute of that knowledge
which alone can make him appear with boldness before the judgment-seat of
Jesus Christ? How must it grieve him, in a future state, to see others,
whom he despised as illiterate men, because they experimentally knew
Christ, and him crucified, exalted to the right-hand of God; and himself,
with all his fine accomplishments, because he knew every thing, perhaps,
but Christ, thrust down into hell?
Well might the Apostle, in a holy triumph, cry out, "Where is the
wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world?" For, God
will then make foolish the wisdom of this world, and bring to nought the
wisdom of those who were so knowing in their own eyes.
I have made this digression from the main point before us, not to
condemn or decry human literature, but to show, that it ought to be used
only in subordination to divine; and that a Christian, if the Holy Spirit
guided the pen of the Apostle, when he wrote this epistle, ought to study
no books, but such as lead him to a farther knowledge of Jesus Christ, and
And there is the more reason for this, because of he great mischief
the contrary practice has done to the church of God: for, what was it but
this learning, or rather this ignorance, that kept so many of the Scribes
and Pharisees from the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? And what is it,
but this human wisdom, this science, false so called, that blinds the
understanding, and corrupts the hearts of so many modern unbelievers, and
makes them unwilling to submit to the righteousness which is of God by
faith in Christ Jesus? But,
SECONDLY, Without this knowledge our performances, as well as persons
will not be acceptable in the sight of God.
"Through faith," says the Apostle, that is, through a lively faith in
a Mediator to come, "Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain."
And it is through a like faith, or an experimental knowledge of the same
divine Mediator, that our sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgivings,
come up as an incense before he throne of grace.
Two persons may go up to the temple to pray; but he only will return
home justified, who, in the language of our collects, sincerely offers up
his prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord.
For it is this great atonement, this all-sufficient sacrifice, which
alone can give us boldness to approach with our prayers o the Holy of
Holies: and he that presumes to go without this, acts Korah's crime over
again; offers unto God strange fire, and, consequently, will be rejected by
Farther, as our devotions to God will not, so neither, without this
knowledge of Jesus Christ, will our acts of charity to men be accepted by
him. For did we give all our goods to feed the poor, and yet were destitute
of this knowledge, it would profit us nothing.
This our blessed Lord himself intimates in the 25th of Matthew, where
he tells those who had been rich in good works, "That inasmuch as they did
it unto one of the least of his brethren, they did it unto him." From
whence we may plainly infer, that it is seeing Christ in his members, and
doing good to them out of an experimental knowledge of his love to us, that
alone will render our alms-deeds rewardable at the last day.
LASTLY, As neither our acts of piety nor charity, so neither will our
civil nor moral actions be acceptable to God, without this experimental
knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Our modern pretenders to reason, indeed, set up another principle to
act from; they talk, I know not what, Of doing moral an civil duties of
life, from the moral fitness and unfitness of things. But such men are
blind, however they may pretend to see; and going thus about to establish
their own righteousness, are utterly ignorant of the righteousness which is
of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For though we grant that morality is a substantial part of
Christianity, and that Christ came not to destroy, or take off the moral
law, as a rule of action, but to explain, and so fulfill it; yet we affirm,
that our moral and civil actions are now no farther acceptable in the sight
of God the Father, than as they proceed from the principle of a new nature,
and as experimental knowledge of, or vital faith in his dear Son.
The death of Jesus Christ has turned our whole lives into one
continued sacrifice; and whether we eat or drink, whether we pray to God,
or do any thing to man, it must all be done out of a love for, and
knowledge of him who died and rose again, to render all, even our most
ordinary deeds, acceptable in the sight of God.
If we live by this principle, if Christ be the Alpha and Omega of all
our actions, then our least are acceptable sacrifices; but if this
principle be wanting, our most pompous services avail nothing: we are but
spiritual idolater; we sacrifice to our own net; we make an idol of
ourselves, by making ourselves, and not Christ, the end of our actions:
and, therefore, such actions are so far from being accepted by God, that,
according to the language of one of the Articles of our Church, "We doubt
not but they have the nature of sin, because they spring not from an
experimental faith in, and knowledge of Jesus Christ."
Were we not fallen creatures, we might then act, perhaps, from other
principles; but since we are fallen from God in Adam, and are restored
again only by the obedience and death of Jesus Christ, the face of things I
entirely changed, and all we think, speak, or do, is only accepted in and
Justly, therefore, may I, in the
THIRD and LAST places, Exhort you to put the Apostle's resolution in
practice, and beseech you, with him to determine, Not to know any thing,
save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
I say, DETERMINE; for unless you sit down first, and count the cost,
and from a well-grounded conviction of the excellency of this ,above all
other knowledge whatsoever, resolve to make this your chief study, your
only end, your one thing needful, every frivolous temptation will draw you
aside from the pursuit after it.
Your friends and carnal acquaintance, and, above all, your grand
adversary the devil, will be persuading you to determine not to know any
thing, but how to lay up goods for many years, and to get a knowledge and
taste of the pomps and vanities of this wicked world; but do you determine
not to follow, or be led by them; and the more they persuade you to know
other things, the more do you "determine not to know any thing, save Jesus
Christ, and him crucified." For, this knowledge never faileth; but whether
they be riches, they shall fail; whether they be pomps, they shall cease;
whether they be vanities, they shall fade away: but the knowledge of Jesus
Christ, and him crucified, abideth for ever.
Whatever, therefore, you are ignorant of, be not ignorant of this. If
you know Christ, and him crucified, you know enough to make you happy,
supposing you know nothing else; and without this, all your other knowledge
cannot keep you from being everlastingly miserable.
Value not then, the contempt of friends, which you must necessarily
meet with upon your open profession to act according to this determination.
For your Master, whose you are, was despised before you; and all that will
know nothing else but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, must, in some degree
or other, suffer persecution.
It is necessary that offenses should come, to try what is in our
hearts, and whether we will be faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ or not.
Dare ye then to confess our blessed Master before men, and to shine as
lights in the world, amidst a crooked and perverse generation? Let us not
be content with following him afar off; for then we shall, as Peter did,
soon deny him; but let us be altogether Christians, and let our speech, and
all our actions declare to the world whose disciples we are, and that we
have indeed "determined not to know any thing, save Jesus Christ, and him
crucified." Then, well will it be with us, and happy, unspeakably happy
shall we be, even here; and what is infinitely better, when others that
despised us, shall be calling for the mountains to fall on them, and the
hills to cover them, we shall be exalted to sit down on the right-hand of
God, and shine as the sun in the firmament, in the kingdom of our most
adorable Redeemer, for ever and ever.
Which God of his infinite mercy grant, &c.