From the Editor’s Note Book: That I May Know Christ

MIF 11:2 (Mar-Apr 1979)

From the Editor’s Note Book

W. Ross Rainey

That I May Know Christ

Suppose God appeared to you some night in a dream, and said, “Ask what I shall give you?” What would you say to Him? This is exactly what He did one night with King Solomon at Gideon (1 Kings 3:3-5), and Solomon answered God as follows: “Give, therefore, thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad. For who is able to judge this thy great people?” (v. 9). In two words, what Solomon asked for was divine wisdom.

The great Apostle Paul was never given the opportunity that Solomon had, yet I believe he tells us in Philippians 3:10 what he wanted most in life. It was something wide open to him in his day, as it is to every true believer today, yet it is sadly evident that few Christians have made this their chief ambition or desire in life. And what is it? “That I may know Him (Christ), and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.”

Paul’s supreme desire in life was to know experientially: Christ’s Person (“that I may know Him”), Christ’s power (“and the power of His resurrection”), and Christ’s pathway (“and the fellowship of His sufferings”). The end result of this experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ is “being made conformable unto His death.” “Conformable” literally means “to make like form with” and is closely akin to the word translated “fashioned like unto” in 3:21. It is a word involving an inner experience which relates to the essential form and not to the outer fashion, The Greek word translated “being made conformable” is in the present tense, indicating that this inner experience is a process, yea, a life-long process. Furthermore, the word is in the passive voice, stressing that the process is in reality accomplished by another. In other words, it is God who works in us to conform us to His Son as we in turn are subject to His molding of us.

It seems to me that the key to this great text of Philippians 3:10 lies in the revelation and experiential reality of “the power of His resurrection.” Apart from the experience of our Lord’s resurrection power, we cannot know Him in personal salvation or in practical sanctification. As one who had been saved many years prior to writing Philippians, it was the apostle’s desire to come to know Christ better and better, this being made possible by knowing experientially Christ’s resurrection power, not simply as a fact but as a force in his daily life, having realized that therein lies the secret of daily victory over sin, self, and Satan.

The matter of knowing experientially Christ’s resurrection power in salvation is set forth in Romans 5:9: “Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him”; whereas the words of 5:10 express knowing experientially His resurrection power in sanctification: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

It was F. E. Marsh who wrote:

“To know Christ as our Saviour, is to be saved by Him from sinning. To know Christ as our Sovereign, is to be ruled by Him. To know Christ as our Sanctifier, is to let Him manifest His own life through us. To know Christ as our Satisfier, is to delight only in Him. To know Christ as the One who died for us, is to die to sin with Him. To know Christ in His resurrection power, is to live to God by Him. To know Christ as our Cross-Bearer, is to take up our cross daily and to follow Him. Oh, to know HIM in the truest and fullest sense of the word!”

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P. C.

Recently I took a piece of paper and, after much thought, wrote down the names of fifteen people who had most deeply influenced my life. P. C. was one of them. “Who was P. C.?” you ask. Well, he was one of my teachers during the five years I spent at the Stony Brook School on Long Island, New York.

PIERSON CURTIS was born in Japan of missionary parents in 1889. He attended a mission school in China and came to the United States at the age of sixteen to attend Mt. Herman School in Massachusetts. From there he went to Princeton University for his college education, and went on to teach in several preparatory schools before going to Stony Brook in 1924 where he taught for forty-four years. But “P. C.” (as he was affectionately called by those who knew him) was more than an excellent teacher of English and other subjects. He was a man of God who poured out his life in training young men in the ways of the Lord and His Word. He was also a tremendously versatile man who loved sailing and camping, and whose hobbies included not only the foregoing but painting, photography, writing poetry, and inventing and developing camping equipment as well.

To me personally, his initials stood not so much for Pierson Curtis as they did for Practical Christianity. I first met P. C. in the fall of 1941, having entered Stony Brook in the seventh grade. Unknown to me, he observed me closely through that year, then two months into the following school year he consulted with my parents and me, suggesting that I skip the eighth grade and enter the ninth. Some years later I was made to realize how our Lord had definitely guided P. C. in this move, even though at times the work load through the ninth grade in particular (and making up those two months!) was a rather heavy load for this then thirteen-year old boy.

One never-to-be-forgotten memory of P. C. was the day I plunked down a stack of books on a classroom desk. Somewhere in the middle was my Bible. P. C. came along, surveyed the stack momentarily, proceeded to shuffle the books, and placed my Bible on top. I don’t recall his exact words, but they were something like this: “Ross, the Bible is the greatest Book in the world and it always belongs on top of all other books.” To this day I find myself doing what P. C. did when I see a Bible under books, magazines, etc.

My last visit with P. C. was on a visit to Stony Brook in October 1964. I was having meetings at Sea Cliff, some thirty or so miles from the school, so took advantage of an open day to return to my alma mater. It was a memorable occasion, the highlight of the visit having been a fifteen or twenty-minute private chat with P. C. He always had time to talk with his students and with his former students as well. I still recall much of what we chatted about, our conversation centering on books, his urging me to read a particular book by C. S. Lewis (P. C. had introduced me to C. S. Lewis in one of his English classes), a favorite teacher of mine who was no longer at the school, a classmate of mine who had authored several books (P. C., so I found out, had helped this young author by reading his manuscripts and making valuable suggestions), and then P. C. asked me a question which I am sure was closest to his heart. “Ross,” he inquired, “would you say that your years at Stony Brook had a major influence in your life relative to going into the Lord’s service?” My affirmative answer brought a look of genuine joy to the aged, weather-beaten countenance of this beloved teacher and man of God, who even then at 76 was still pouring his heart and soul into the service of teaching and helping others, which service was always carried on in a quiet, consistent, humble yet open manner.

Unknown to me at the time, this was to be our final visit together on planet earth. Last summer on June 28th, 1978, I received the news that P. C. had died at age 89. The following message had been sent to the school by his wife and daughter, Cynthia: “Abundant entrance for P. C. Big welcome on High. Grace abounding. One of Jesus’ art treasures moved.” In that same communique it was also stated: “One of Stony Brook’s foundation makers has thus entered God’s joy; and he was a joy for us in purity, simple depth, and in uncomplicated love, eager to serve.”

Perhaps you are wondering why I have shared these personal details with you about P. C. I have done so simply to remind both you and me that the most important thing in life is not how much money we make, how high we rise on the world’s tottery success ladder, or how much prestige and authority we may command, but how well we live, whether our life is long or short. P. C.’s long and fruitful life was poured out in sacrificial service for others, a life lived for Christ and His glory, a life that in particular deeply influenced hundreds of young people for God and good, and in them much of the practical Christianity which he so admirably personified lives on in this earthly scene.

In the light of all that I have shared with you about P. C., I find no more fitting close than the practical application of the words of Hebrews 13:7: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (NASB).