Last week GLH Publishing released a new Kindle edition of Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander. I barely got a page or two into the book before I came across such a helpful section that describes the connection between knowledge and piety—between what we know and how we practice our Christian faith. Here is what Alexander wants you to know.
If genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind by the energy of the Holy Spirit, then it is evident that a knowledge of the truth is essential to genuine piety. Error never can, under any circumstances, produce the effects of truth.
This is now generally acknowledged; but it is not so clearly understood by all that any defect in our knowledge of the truth must, just so far as the error extends, mar the symmetry of the impression produced. The error, in this case, is of course not supposed to relate to fundamental truths, for then there can be no genuine piety; but where a true impression is made, it may be rendered very defective for want a complete knowledge of the whole system of revealed truth, or its beauty marred by the existence of some errors mingled with the truth, which may be well illustrated by returning again to the seal.
Suppose that some part of the image inscribed on it has been defaced or that some of the letters have been obliterated; it is evident that when the impression is made on the wax there will be a corresponding deficiency or deformity, although in the main the impress may be correct. There is reason to believe, therefore, that all ignorance of revealed truth, or error respecting it, must be attended with a corresponding defect in the religious exercises of the person. This consideration teaches us the importance of truth and the duty of increasing daily in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is the true and only method of growing in grace. There may be much correct theoretical knowledge, I admit, where there is no impression corresponding with it on the heart; but still, all good impressions on the heart are from the truth, and from the truth alone.
Hence we find that those denominations of Christians which receive the system of evangelical truth only in part have a defective experience, and their Christian character, as a body, is so far defective; and even where true piety exists we often find a sad mixture of enthusiasm, self-righteousness or superstition. And even where the theory of doctrinal truth is complete, yet if there be an error respecting the terms of Christian communion, by narrowing the entrance into Christ’s fold to a degree which his word does not authorize, this single error, whatever professions may be made to the contrary with the lips, always generates a narrow spirit of bigotry, which greatly obstructs the free exercise of that brotherly love which Christ made the badge of discipleship.
If these things be so, then let all Christians use unceasing diligence in acquiring a correct knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, and let them pray without ceasing for the influence of the Holy Spirit to render the truth effectual in the sanctification of the whole man—soul, body and spirit. “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth,” was a prayer offered up by Christ in behalf of all whom the Father had given him.
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