Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
11. Prayer for Faith and Knowledge
In The First Half Of Ephesians 1 we have what is probably the profoundest and most comprehensive doctrinal summary to be found in Holy Writ; in the second half of the chapter we are shown, by implication, what our response should be to that doctrine. In view of the wondrous spiritual blessings with which God has blessed us, His people in Christ, we should go to Him in praise and prayer. Those duties are clearly suggested by the example which the apostle sets before us here. His prayer on this occasion is the longest one recorded in the New Testament. It reaches depths and points to heights which faith alone can sound and scale. For the purpose of analysis we may outline the prayer thus. First, its occasion, when the apostle had heard of the faith and love of the Ephesian saints (Eph. 1:15). Second, its nature, namely, praise and petition (Eph. 1:15-16). Third, its Object, "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory" (Eph. 1:17). Fourth, its requests (Eph. 1:17-19), which we consider to be four in number. Fifth, its revelation, concerning Christ and the Church (Eph. 1:20-23).
Occasion of the Prayer
First, the occasion for the prayer. "Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers" (Eph. 1:15-16). The opening "wherefore" intimates to us why the apostle prayed as he did here. Most writers restrict Paul’s reason for writing to what immediately follows. He had received tidings of their spiritual prosperity and that caused him to bless God for His goodness to them and to seek further favors for them. While that is undoubtedly to be included, yet we see no reason why the "wherefore" should be severed from what precedes. In the previous verses a description is given of the inestimable benefits which had been conferred on them. As Paul considered how God had chosen, predestinated, redeemed them by the blood of His Son, given them faith, sealed them by His Spirit, he could not forbear to give thanks for them, and he ceased not to do so. After a most precise doctrinal enumeration of the rich blessings which God’s people have in and from Christ, Paul rejoiced as he was assured these Ephesians had a personal interest and participation in those blessings.
More immediately still, in the verse preceding, the apostle had pointed out that the climax of those blessings lay in the Holy Spirit of promise, wherewith they had been sealed (identified and secured). This sealing was the "earnest of . . . [their] inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory"
(Eph. 1:14). The grand end of God in all the blessings of His so-great salvation was that He should be glorified by and for them. This end had been mentioned in Ephesians 1:6: "to the praise of the glory of his grace." And in Ephesians 1:12 in its application to the Jews: "that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ." And it is mentioned again here in its application to all the Gentiles: "in whom ye also trusted,... unto the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:13-14). "Wherefore," says the apostle, "I... cease not to give thanks for you" (Eph. 1:15-16). God is not to lose the revenue of praise due Him. Paul therefore feels it his duty to glorify Him on their behalf. If God glorify us, the least we can do is to act and live to His glory.
Paul a Prisoner in Rome
It is to be remembered that at the time Paul offered up this prayer he was in detention by the Romans, but it is most blessed to mark how he viewed his incarceration: "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord" (Eph. 4:1). Note that well, my reader. Not the prisoner of Caesar but of the Lord. Paul knew full well that none could lay hands on him except as it was ordered by the One who regulates every creature and every event, "For of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Equally blessed it is to behold how this "ambassador in bonds" (Eph. 6:20) occupied himself: not in repining at the unkindness of Providence, asking "What have I done to deserve such treatment?" but rather in praising and petitioning God. And do you not think there is an intimate connection between the two things? Most assuredly. There can be no peace for the mind, no joy of heart, if we fail to recognize that our lot—our circumstances, our condition—is fully ordered by a sovereign and gracious God.
Paul said he also gave thanks, meaning in addition to the thanks of the Ephesian believers themselves and those who had communicated to Paul the latest tidings of their case. Doubtless those saints were full of gratitude to God because he brought them out of darkness into his marvelous light. And here the apostle assured them that he joined with them in fervent thanksgiving for that glorious event. He also assured them that he continued to bless God as he received word that their lives gave evidence of the genuineness of their conversion. Nothing affords the servant of Christ such happiness as hearing of the salvation of sinners and the accompanying transformation in their lives: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth" (3 John 4). Paul himself was the founder of the Ephesian assembly (Acts 19:1-10; 20:17-38), but he had been away from them now for several years. Therefore the statement "after I heard of your faith" is not to be understood as meaning for the first time. Paul continued to receive most favorable reports of their spiritual health and prosperity.
Praise Belongs to God
By making known his thanksgiving to God on their behalf the apostle also intimated their own privilege and duty. Paul would by his example stir up their hearts to the renewed praising of God for His sovereign and amazing goodness to them. Nothing is more acceptable to Him; "whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Ps. 50:23). Nothing is more becoming in us; "rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright" (Ps. 33:1). Nothing is more conducive to stirring us up to this God-honoring and delightful exercise than considering the greatness of His benefits to us, named in the verses preceding this prayer. If the Christian takes a believing view of all his blessings in Christ, labors to see his own personal interest in the same, and then considers how God has ordered this not only for his salvation but for "the praise of his glory," his heart cannot but be moved to pour out itself in adoration and gratitude. Nor is such thanksgiving to be confined to his own case but rendered for all who give evidence that they are new creatures in Christ.
"After I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints" (Eph. 1:15). Faith and love are the best evidences of a genuine conversion, for they are the fruits brought forth by the two principal graces communicated to us at the new birth. Faith is known by what it effects and produces. It was not the Ephesians’ first believing in Christ that the apostle alluded to, for he had witnessed that for himself, but rather the working and constancy of their faith of which he had heard—the influence it had on their daily walk. The faith of God’s elect is active in purifying the heart (Acts 15:9) by engaging it with holy objects. The faith of God’s elect brings forth good works (James 2:14-22), such as those described in Hebrews 11. This faith "overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4), enabling its possessor to resist the world’s seduction, scorn its principles and policy, and be "not of it" in his affections and ways.
Another mark of the faith of God’s elect is that it "worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6): love for the truth, for Christ, and for His redeemed. Faith is but an empty name if it does not fructify in love. Faith in Christ is only a delusion if it issues not in love for those who are His. Scripture is too plain on this point to admit any uncertainty: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4:20). Saving faith in Christ and spiritual love for all whom He loves are inseparably connected (see Col. 1:4; Philem. 5; 1 John 3:23). "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). If we love one saint as a "saint"—for what we see of Christ in him—we shall love all saints. Faith in Christ and love for His people are inseparable, and as one waxes or wanes so does the other. If my love for Christians is cooling (if I pray less for them and am less active in seeking to promote their highest good), my faith in Christ is declining.
The Nature of Faith
Second, the nature of the prayer. The character of this particular prayer was twofold: it consisted of thanksgiving and requests—praise for what God had done for the Ephesians and wrought in and through them, petitions for further blessings for them. The order of these two things is something we need to lay carefully to heart, for there is much failure at this very point. Scripture is very explicit on this: "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6). "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2). Here we see how the apostle set us an example. Praise gives wings to our petitions. The more my heart is occupied with God’s goodness, the more thankful I am for the favors already bestowed on me, the more will my soul be stirred up in seeking further mercies, the more liberty shall I experience in making requests for them, and the more expectation shall I have to receive the same. Cultivate the habit of gratitude, reader, if you would be more successful at the throne of grace. "I sought the LORD, and he heard me" is preceded by "I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth" (Ps. 34:4, 1).
We should thank God not only for His mercies to us personally but also for His grace to fellow saints, which is more especially in view in our present passage. Said Paul on another occasion, "But we are bound [as a matter of duty] to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation" (2 Thess. 2:13). "For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God?" (1 Thess. 3:9). There is so little of this unselfish affection in our day.
But Paul did more than give thanks for what God had done for the Ephesians and wrought in them; he requested further blessings on their behalf. Carnal wisdom would draw the very opposite conclusion from that opening "wherefore"; it would have inferred that since they were so highly favored of the Lord there was no need to seek additional mercies for them. But the spiritual mind sees in the smile of God on a people an encouragement to ask for further benefits to be vouchsafed them. Similarly should we argue in our own case, regarding each fresh token of love from God as merely a down payment of more. Note that Paul did not pray that God would exempt them from persecution or give them a smooth passage through this world. Nor did he beg God to make them eminent winners of souls. Nor did he ask that they might be given a deep insight into the mysteries of prophecy or skill in "rightly dividing the word of truth," as might be expected if many of our moderns were right. What he did pray for we hope to consider in due course.
The Object of Faith
Third, the Object of the prayer: "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory" (Eph. 1:17). As we dwelt at some length upon God as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ" when we expounded on Ephesians 1:3, we will confine ourselves now to "the Father of glory." With this phrase should be compared "the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2:8) and "the Spirit of glory" (1 Pet. 4:14) which bring out the co-equality of the three Persons in the Godhead.
"The Father of glory." Ah, who is competent to write thereon! To describe or even define the meaning of that ineffable title transcends the power of any mortal tongue or pen. At most we can but offer a few notes. We are told that the Father is "glorious in holiness" (Ex. 15:11), that "his work is honorable and glorious" (Ps. 111:3), that he is seated upon a "glorious high throne" (Jer. 17:12). We read of His "glorious voice" (Isa. 30:30), His glorious apparel (Isa. 63:1), His "glorious arm" (Isa. 63:12), the "glorious honor of... [His] majesty," and the "glorious majesty of his kingdom" (Ps. 145:5, 12). Well may we exclaim, "Blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Nehemiah 9:5), for "his glory is above the earth and heaven" (Ps. 148:13).
When we have affirmed that "the glory of God is the excellency of His being or character, that it is the sum of His perfections or the outshining of all His attributes in resplendent combination," we are conscious of the paucity of human language and of the incapability of the finite to comprehend the Infinite. But if we have experimentally tasted of "the glory of his grace" (Eph. 1:6), if we have felt in our souls "his glorious power" (Col. 1:11), if our sin-blinded eyes have been opened to see Him "glorious in holiness" (Ex. 15:11), then we know He is the glorious God, even though we can only lisp out what He has made known to our hearts. All the regenerate have such a knowledge (though only a foretaste). "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). By supernatural illumination and inward revelation (cf. Matthew 16:17; Galatians 1:16) the saints are given spiritual discernment and a view of the divine glory, such as no creature can communicate to another and which no mere mental acumen can ever attain. They know without any uncertainty that He is "the Father of glory."
The Father of Glory
Thomas Goodwin states: "He is called ‘the Father of glory.’ First, by way of eminency of fatherhood: there is no such father as He is. He is a glorious Father, and by a Hebrewism He is a Father of glory: that is, a glorious Father, such as no father else is. He is called ‘the King of glory’: there are other kings, but He only is the glorious king. There are other fathers: he only is the Father of glory; He is therefore called the ‘heavenly Father.’... Heaven and glory are the highest things we can conceive of, and therefore when He would put forth how great a God, how glorious a Father, He is, He calleth Himself the heavenly Father, the Father of glory, in distinction from all fatherhoods. The use of this is: Never be ashamed of your Father, you that are the sons of God, for you are the highest born in the world—no nobility rises up to glory. Therefore walk worthy of Him, and let your light so shine before men that you may glorify your Father, the Father of glory, which is in Heaven." As the God of glory, the Father first appeared to the father of the faithful, when He called him to leave Chaldea and go forth to Canaan (Acts 7:2). And as the most glorious God He reveals Himself to the newly born soul.
Second, God is designated "the Father of glory" not only because He is infinitely glorious in Himself, but also because He is the Bestower of glory upon His dear children: "The LORD will give grace and glory" (Ps. 84:11). He is the Author of all the glory with which His saints are or ever will be invested. There is what we may call (for want of a better term) the official glory of God, which is incommunicable; and there is His moral glory, of which He makes His people partakers. That distinction is observed in those words of Christ’s: "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them"; on the other hand, "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my [mediatorial and incommunicable] glory, which thou hast given me"
(John 17:22, 24). A measure of His moral glory is communicated to us in this life: "But we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). Utterly unable as we are to explain the mystery of that spiritual alchemy, yet the fact is clearly stated. And the fact receives verification in the experience of the saints, for as faith is exercised that divine glory has a transforming efficacy on their souls.
Third, there was a particular propriety in addressing God on this occasion as "the Father of glory." As we have pointed out in former chapters, the titles given to God when approaching Him in prayer were not selected at random, nor were different ones used merely for the sake of variety. Rather was the particular character in which God was viewed most in accord with the special exercises of Paul’s heart and the specific nature of the requests he was about to make. Such was the case here. He was about to pray for spiritual knowledge of glorious things, an apprehension of the riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints and of the exceeding greatness of His power. Suitably, therefore, he called on the Father of glory just as he addressed Him as "the God of hope" when making request that the saints might "abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 15:13).
We cannot anticipate too much that which immediately follows in this prayer, but we may at least point out that each of its petitions is closely related to the particular title which is here ascribed to the Father. Paul asked God to give His people "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him"—a knowledge of Him as the glorious One. Paul also requested that they might know "what is the hope of his calling." From 1 Peter 5:10 we learn that, among other things, this calling is "unto his eternal glory." Yes, we are called to glory itself (2 Pet. 1:3). The phrase "riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" (Eph. 1:18) signifies a glorious inheritance, an inheritance in the Glory. In making request that we might know "what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward" something more than the bare exercise of Omnipotence is included, namely, the putting forth in a special manner of "his glorious power" (Col. 1:11). Thus we may better perceive why the apostle here addressed God as "the Father of glory," this title being most consistent to the particular favors he was about to ask for.
What We Should Pray For
Our fathers used to say, "A word to the wise is sufficient." And so it ought to be. To a receptive mind and responsive heart a hint should be enough. Thus, if a godly and mature saint who was deeply interested in my spiritual welfare wrote to say he was praying unceasingly that God would grant me a larger measure of patience or that He would make me more humble, then—if I value his judgment—I would at once regard that as a gracious word from God, informing me what I especially need to be petitioning Him for. We should look in this way on this prayer we are now considering. In making known to these saints what he sought from the throne of grace on their behalf, the apostle intimated indirectly what they needed to make the particular burden of their supplications. If the Ephesian saints needed to ask these blessings, most certainly God’s people today need to do so. Let us then view this prayer as divine instruction regarding what we most need to pray for.
The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation
"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him" (Eph. 1:17). We believe that God is here viewed in this way to strengthen our faith and to fire our hearts. Request is to be made for a fuller knowledge and a closer communion with God. To encourage us to ask for this knowledge with confidence, we are assured that the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ" gives this knowledge to those who seek it. To stimulate our aspirations we are reminded that He is "the Father of glory." Then with what trustful reliance we should present these petitions! With what ardor we should seek for their fulfillment! If we view God in this character, our view will have a most animating effect upon the soul. This God is the One who so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son for us, the One who was the all-absorbing Portion of our Savior during the days of His flesh. He is His and our covenant God. Further, He is the most glorious Father whom Christ revealed and of whom we have already obtained a glimpse in the face of the Redeemer.
We are living in a day of such appalling ignorance that nothing may be taken for granted. Therefore we need to point out that in asking God for these particular things Paul did not signify the Ephesians were totally devoid of them any more than his opening "grace be unto you and peace" (Eph. 1:2) implied they possessed neither the one nor the other; rather he desired for them an increase of both. Thus it is here. They already had a saving knowledge of God or he would not have addressed them as "saints" and "faithful in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:1). In asking God to grant them the "Spirit of wisdom and revelation," Paul most certainly was not making request for the Spirit to be given them for the first time, for he had just affirmed in the context that they were "sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). No, rather he was making request for further supplies and a richer outpouring of the Spirit upon them. In this way we must view the words "in the knowledge of him." Paul prayed for a fuller, deeper, closer acquaintance and fellowship with Him, an "increasing in the knowledge of God" as Colossians 1:10 expresses it. So too must we regard each of the other things prayed for.
"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation." The careful reader will note that the word Spirit is spelled with a small s in his Bible, and our capitalizing of it calls for an explanation. The original Greek manuscripts were written in capitals throughout so that there is nothing to distinguish between "the Spirit" and "the spirit." Thus it is entirely a matter of interpretation on the part of the translators in using the small or capital letter. Where it is the "Holy Spirit" or the "Spirit of God" all is quite clear. But when it reads, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6), the principle of grace or "new nature" which is imparted to the regenerate partakes of the character of its Begetter or Communicator and is named after Him. Consequently there are some passages where it is rather difficult to determine whether it is the Giver of His gift which is in view, whether the reference is to the person of the Spirit or to His gracious operations, the one being so inseparably connected with the other. In such cases, this writer includes both.
The word spirit is sometimes used as expressive of such mental states and acts as the new nature brings forth in the believer yet under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Thus we read of the "spirit of meekness" (1 Cor. 4:21), the "same spirit of faith" (2 Cor. 4:13), the "spirit of your mind" (Eph. 4:23). On the other hand when we read of the "Spirit of truth" (John 15:26), the "Spirit of holiness" (Rom. 1:4), the "Spirit of Christ" (Rom. 8:9) it is obvious that the person of the Spirit is in view. But when we are told, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace," and so on (Gal. 5:22), what are we to understand? In the context Paul has described some of the "works of the flesh," or old nature (Eph. 5:19-21). Therefore we conclude that the products of the new nature, or "spirit," are set over in contrast with the products of the flesh. Yet, since the new nature bears fruit only as it is energized by the indwelling Spirit, He is the real Author of that fruit and is to be acknowledged as such. Thus, this writer would give the twofold meaning to "the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22, namely, what the Spirit of God produces through the principle of grace in the regenerate. And it is thus he regards the expression in the verse now before us.
It is true that the saint received the "spirit of wisdom" at the time of his regeneration (symbolized by the case of the one described in Mark 5:15), and it was the Holy Spirit who imparted that wisdom to him and who was also the Author of its development and activities.
But something more than the spirit of wisdom is here included, namely, revelation, which cannot be understood as an inherent gift. Had the verse only named the "spirit of wisdom" we would have regarded it as referring to a principle infused into Christians. But "revelation" necessarily implies a Revealer, for revealing is an act of one without us, of a person distinct from us, and Scripture leaves us in no doubt as to who that person is. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit . . . Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (1 Cor. 2:9-10, 12).
Our understanding then of this opening petition is that the apostle first sought from God an increased measure of the Spirit, from whom all spiritual wisdom comes and who reveals the certainty, the reality, the surpassing blessedness of divine things. Second, Paul sought for an enlargement of the gift of wisdom to be bestowed upon the Ephesians, a fuller capacity to take in the things of God, that He would further manifest Himself to them (John 14:21), that they might perceive more clearly His ineffable and soul-satisfying glory. Paul prayed that God would make good His promise that all their children would be taught of the Lord (Isa. 54:13), for it is in such ways that we obtain knowledge of Him. And that leads us to ask more distinctly: "Knowledge of whom? Of the Father or of Christ?" Some believe the former to be true, but the majority hold to the latter, being unduly influenced by Philippians 3:8. The "Father of glory" is the One spoken of in the immediate context of Ephesians 1:15-23, and it is to Him that the "his calling," "his inheritance," and "his power" of verses 18-19 clearly refer. Yet He was specifically viewed as the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ." So, putting the two together, it is the knowledge of God in Christ which is here referred to.
The Knowledge of God
Coming to the substance of this petition, what is meant by the "knowledge of Him"? As more than one kind of faith is spoken of in Scripture, so there are several species of "knowledge"—not only of different objects and subjects known but of ways of knowing the same. One may know or be fully assured from the testimony of reliable witnesses that fire produces most unpleasant effects if an unprotected hand is thrust into it. But if I have personally felt the consequences of being burned, I have quite a different order of knowledge. The one may be termed notional, the other experiential—usually wrongfully termed "experimental." The distinction frequently drawn between real and assumed knowledge does not define the difference. When the unclean spirit said to Christ, "I know thee who thou art" (Mark 1:24), his knowledge was both real and accurate, but it profited him nothing spiritually. On the other hand, "they that know thy name will put their trust in thee" (Ps. 9:10) speaks of a knowledge which inspires such confidence that its possessor cannot help but believe.
As there are degrees of trusting God, so there are degrees in our knowledge of Him, and the measure in which we know Him will determine the extent to which we love, trust, and obey Him. Since that is the case, we may at once perceive the vital importance of obtaining a fuller knowledge of God and why this is the first petition of the four. The defectiveness of our faith, love, and obedience is to be traced to the inadequacy of our knowledge of God. If we were more intimately and influentially acquainted with Him, we would love Him more fervently, trust Him more implicitly, and obey Him more freely. We cannot sufficiently realize the value of a better knowledge of God. But let us again remark it is not a mere notional knowledge of Him but a visual and vital one that is needed. The former kind is one in which ideas or mental images are presented to the understanding to work upon, but the latter brings the reality of them down into the heart. By such a knowledge we behold the glory of the Lord and are "changed into the same image" (2 Cor. 3:18).
There is also a knowledge by way of special gifts which is quite distinct from this spiritual knowledge. One may have much of the former and very little of the latter, as with the Corinthians. They came behind "in no gift," being "enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge" (1 Cor. 1:7, 5). They were not only well informed but also able to so express themselves on spiritual things as to stamp upon the minds of their hearers an accurate image of them. Yet of those same highly gifted and talented Christians Paul said, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes" (1 Cor. 3:1). Thus they were largely deficient in spiritual knowledge. But there are other saints with a much deeper and closer acquaintance of God, who are incapable of expressing themselves so freely and fluently as the Corinthians. A heart knowledge, not a head knowledge, of God makes a person more holy.
The opening petition in these verses in Ephesians 1 was that the saints might be granted through the operations of the Spirit a fuller entry into that knowledge of God in which eternal life primarily consists. It was a request that they might perceive more clearly the glory of God, to give them an inward realization of His ineffable perfections, to make their hearts so in love with these perfections that their wills would choose them for their chief delight. God first prepares the mind by an act of renewal to receive spiritual instruction, giving His people an understanding that they might know Him (1 John 5:20), and then He imparts to them a larger measure of "the spirit of wisdom and revelation." At the new birth we are called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, yet further light, fuller manifestations of Himself to us are needed if we are to know Him better.
God has promised, "All shall know me" (Heb. 8:11). Isaiah prophesied, "All thy children shall be taught of the LORD" (Isa. 54:13). Those promises are for faith to lay hold of and plead before God. Neither the arts nor the sciences can impart one eternal idea to the soul; still less can they impart any vital knowledge of God Himself. It is only in His light that we can see light. It is only as He shines upon our understandings and reveals Himself to our hearts that we can become better acquainted with Him. It is by means of the Word that the Holy Spirit carries on the work of God in the soul; therefore whenever we read or meditate upon it we need to beg Him to take of the things of God and of Christ and show them to us, apply them to our hearts, that we may be more and more changed into their very image. But it is one thing to be convinced of that need and another to put it into practice. Pride, or self-sufficiency, is the chief deterrent. The things of God are only revealed to those who preserve this humble characteristic of the "babes" (Matthew 11:25).
The Greek word rendered "knowledge" in Ephesians 1:17 is epignosei. Gnosis signifies "knowledge" and epi "upon." So as our moderns would express it, it is "knowledge plus," or as the lexicons define it "full knowledge." The word occurs in Romans 3:20, which will enable the average reader to better perceive its force: "By the law is the knowledge [or full knowledge] of sin." A man knows something of what sin is by the light of nature; but only as sin is viewed and measured in the light of the authority, the spirituality, the strictness of the divine law, does he obtain a full and adequate knowledge of the sinfulness of sin. Thus something more than a bare, fragmentary inchoate acquaintance with God was here prayed for—a full knowledge of Him. Not a perfect knowledge but a firsthand, well-rounded, intimate, and thorough knowledge of His person, His character, His perfections, especially as He is revealed in and by Christ.
The margin of some of our Bibles gives "for the acknowledgment of him," as the Greek may be thus rendered. To acknowledge is to own a knowledge of, to admit the same, and this we do of God first in our secret communion with Him and then outwardly by confessing Him before men with our lips and lives. Goodwin pointed out this distinction thus: "One knoweth a stranger, but he doth ‘acknowledge’ he knew before his friend. So that the intimate knowledge of God as of a friend is the thing which the apostle meant. As He said of Moses ‘I know thee by name’ and Moses knew God in turn: and as John 10:14 ‘I know my sheep, and am known of mine.’ It is to have this mutual knowledge, God knowing me and I knowing God so as to converse daily with Him and to have communion with Him as with a friend." Thus we see the excellence of this particular knowledge. It is not only a more enlarged knowledge about the things of God such as Christ communicated to His disciples in Luke 24:27 but also the end or issue of such knowledge, namely, such a knowledge as leads to real fellowship with Him, intimate communion with Him as with a friend.
This is the ultimate intent of God in His grace and favor to us: that we may so know Him as to acquaint ourselves with Him, delight ourselves in Him, be free with Him, enjoy mutual converse with Him. "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3), so that He knows us and we know Him, He owns us and we own Him, and as the consequence—we cleave to Him as our supreme Good, give up ourselves to Him as our absolute Lord, delight ourselves in Him as our everlasting Portion. That acknowledgment will be evidenced in our daily walk by submitting to His authority, seeking to please Him in all things, and thus becoming more and more lively toward Him. Then obedience will be spontaneous and joyful. The more we increase in this knowledge of God the easier shall we find it to acknowledge Him in all our ways (Prov. 3:6).
Spiritual Knowledge a Divine Revelation
Now this spiritual knowledge of God which leads to the practical acknowledgment of Him comes to us in a way of wisdom (that is, faith exercising itself on the Word) and of revelation (that is, the Spirit operating by the Word). The word revelation in this connection signifies the particularity of it; something is made known by the Spirit to the saints which is hidden from the wise and prudent of this world, as is clear from Matthew 11:25 and 27. It is a knowledge which is peculiar to the regenerate. Revelation also connotes a knowledge which is additional to what "wisdom" or the workings of faith produce; not a different kind of knowledge but a different degree of it. Faith obtains clear apprehension of God, but when the Spirit shines through the Word upon the understanding, God’s glory is more awe-inspiring to the soul. Revelation also emphasizes the excellency of this knowledge; that of wisdom is discoursive or acquired by information, but that of revelation is intuitive. That difference has to be experienced in order to be understood. But has not the Christian reader, when at prayer, been favored at times with an unusual revelation of God to his soul which at other seasons was not the case!
In conclusion we will summarize the exposition of Goodwin, who pointed out the bearing of each word of the text on its central theme. An increased, more intimate knowledge of God may be obtained in a way of wisdom, that is, by faith making sanctified use of reason, by meditating on the various parts of truth where God’s excellencies are revealed. That is the ordinary way, for wisdom is a rational laying of things together, perceiving their harmony. But there is also a way of revelation whereby the Holy Spirit comes down into the heart with a beam from heaven, enabling us to discern the glory of God such as no cognition can produce. It was thus with Job when he said, "But now mine eye seeth thee" (Job 42:5). It is thus when Christ makes good that word "I will come in to him and sup with him" (Rev. 3:20). This is not done apart from the Word but by God causing a beam of light from that Word to suddenly and powerfully strike into the heart.