"John answered and said, `A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven." John 3:27
As we consider this text, two things ought to remain in our minds. It states that we humans do not have the ability to apprehend divine things, but it also states that the ability can be given us from heaven.
It is quite plain in the scriptural revelation that spiritual things are hidden by a veil, and by nature, a human does not have the ability to comprehend and get hold of them. He comes up against a blank wall. He takes doctrine and texts and proofs and creeds and theology, and lays them up like a wall - but he cannot find the gate! He stands in the darkness and all about him is intellectual knowledge of God - but not the knowledge of God, for there is a difference between the intellectual knowledge of God and the Spirit-revealed knowledge.
It is possible to grow up in a church, learn the catechism, and have everything done to us that they do to us, within reason. But after we have done all that, we may not know God at all, because God isn't known by those external things. We are blind, and can't see, because the things of God no man knows but by the Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit said through the apostle Paul, "...even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God." God knows Himself, and the Holy Ghost knows God because the Holy Ghost is God, and no man can know God except by the Holy Ghost. Now, for any man to disregard this truth is to entirely shut out spiritual things from his understanding.
How I wish that all of our teachers in the church could understand that the realm of the Spirit is closed to the intellect. It is really not difficult to understand why this is so. You see, the spirit is the agency by which we apprehend divine things, and the human spirit has died - it is dead because of sin. When I say that the human intellect is not the vehicle by which we apprehend divine things I am not saying anything very profound. For instance, if there were a symphony being played just now, we wouldn't hear that symphony with our eyes, for God didn't give us our eyes to hear. He gave us our eyes to see.
If there were a beautiful sunset, we wouldn't enjoy that with our ears because God didn't give us our ears to hear sunsets. He gave us our ears to hear music, the voices of our friends, the laughter of children and bird songs. He gave us our eyes to see those things which can be seen. He never confuses the two.
If a man stands up and says the realm of nature - visible nature - cannot be apprehended by the ear, no none gets excited. No one jumps up and says, "That man is a mystic!" He has only said that which is common sense, ordinary scientific fact.
When I say that God did not give us our intellect to apprehend Him, the Divine Being, but that He gave us another means of comprehension, there is nothing profound about that.
But at this point, let's share the Word of God in regard to this concept. Sometimes when we hear a thing explained and then we read the Scripture, it just comes alive for us.
We have read the passage in Isa. 55:8,9, "`For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. `For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.'" Also, in 1 Cor. 2:14, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Now, hear that, the natural man - that is, the psychic man, the man of mind, the man of intellect - cannot understand nor receive the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness to him and he cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned. God gave us spirit to apprehend Himself, and intellect to apprehend theology - there is a difference.
In Jn. 16:12-14, Jesus said, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you."
Now that is perfectly plain - the One who reveals God to us, who reveals Christ to us, is the Spirit of God.
In 1 Cor. 2:6-9, we have a passage that tells us, "However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: `Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'" It is strange how many times we stop when we should go on, and this is one of the places where people stop when they memorize, and put a full stop after those words "those who love Him." We stop there but the Bible doesn't stop there. It has a little conjunctive "but" and it says, "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit." Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor the heart of man understood but God has revealed it by His Spirit. Spiritual things are not apprehended by the eye, nor by the ear, and they are not apprehended even by the intellect. They are revealed by the Spirit, "For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God."
Paul uses an illustration in verse 11, saying, "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?" Now that's what we call intuition, and that is not a word that we should be afraid of. With the help of God, I don't run from words. I am not afraid of the word "intuition" or "intuit," because that is how I know I am me - and not somebody else!
How do you know that you are you - and not somebody else? If you were to walk up to fourteen other men who looked exactly like you, it wouldn't stun you at all. You would smile and say, "Isn't this an amazing coincidence that fourteen other men look exactly like me." It could be that my wife wouldn't know the difference - but I wouldn't wonder which one I was. You maintain your individuality because of your intuition. You don't run to your old family Bible to find out who you are - you know who you are. If you were left an orphan you might not know who your parents were, but as far as your individual self is concerned, you know who you are by intuition. And you know that you are alive - you don't reason that you are alive.
Now, let's apply this to the condition of the church in our day. We forget that there are some things that we cannot get hold of with our minds. The mind is good - God put it there. He gave us our heads, and it was not His intention that our heads would function just as a place to hang a hat. He gave us our heads, and He put brains in our heads, and that faculty we call the intellect has its own work to do. But that work is not the apprehending of divine things - that is of the Holy Ghost.
Let me remind you now that modern orthodoxy has made a great blunder in the erroneous assumption that spiritual truths can be intellectually perceived. There have been far-reaching conditions resulting from this concept - and they are showing in our preaching, our praying, and in our singing, in our activity and in our thinking.
I contend that we are in error to believe that Bible study can remove the veil that keeps us from spiritual perception.
I know that when we go to Bible school we have to learn theology, Old Testament and New Testament introduction, Old Testament and New Testament synthesis, and on and on it goes. The courses have long names, and I suppose the people who study them think they have something. They could have something provided they have the divine illumination of the Holy Ghost. Until they receive that illumination - that inward enlightenment - they will not have anything because Bible study does not, of itself, lift the veil or penetrate it. The Word does not say, "no man knows the things of God except the man who studies his Bible." It does say that no man knows the things of God except by the Holy Ghost.
It is the Spirit who wrote the Bible and who must inspire the Bible. Let me quote a little motto - I don't recall where it came from, "To understand a Bible text takes an act of the Holy Spirit equal to the act that inspired the text in the first place." Personally, I believe that is true. In 2 Tim. 3:16, Paul said, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable...," and that supports Jn. 3:27, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven."
Now, I contend, also, that we are in a state of error when we believe that we can talk each other up and put spiritual things down on a level with man's understanding.
We say that a preacher is a salesman - he's out selling the gospel. But don't try to tell me that the methods God uses in winning men are the same as the brush salesman uses in selling a back scratcher. I don't believe it.
The Holy Spirit operates in another realm altogether, and the method of winning a man to God is a divine method and not a human one. Oh, we can make church members. We can get people over on our side, and they can join our class and go to our summer camps. We may have done nothing to them but make proselytes out of them. When the Holy Spirit works in a man, then God does the work, and what God does, according to the Scriptures, is forever.
We imagine that we can handle it by the flesh, and we do handle it by the flesh - the Lord lets us do it. We can hold the creed and not know God in His person at all. We can know the doctrine and not know spiritual things at all. The fearful consequence is that many people know about God but don't know God Himself. There is a vast difference between knowing about God and knowing God - a vast difference! I can know about your relative - and still not know him in person. If I have never met him, I do not know the touch of his hand, or the look of his eye, or the smile of his face, or the sound of his voice. I only know about him. You can show me his picture and describe him to me, but I still don't know him. I just know about the man.
A scientist knows bugs. He may write books on bees or worms or other bugs of various kinds and yet never know a bug - never! He could never get through to him!
If you have a dog, you can know all about him and his habits, but you will never really know him. He may smile at you, stick out his red tongue and pant. He seems to be intelligent, but he is a dog, and as a human, you have no facility, no organs, no techniques for getting into his dog world. You can comb him, wash him, feed him, trim his ears and you can know him externally, but you never can know your dog in this sense in which we are considering. Your dog can never know you. He can know about you, he can know when you are glad and when you are angry with him. He can know when he has done the right thing or the wrong thing.
Sometimes I think dogs have a conscience almost as good as people, but still the dog dies and never knows the man, because he does not have the capacity given him to apprehend and perceive and understand as a human.
So it is that the human being can know about God, he can know about Christ's dying for him, he can even write songs and books, be the head of religious organizations and hold important church offices - and still never have come to the vital, personal knowledge of God at all. Only by the Holy Ghost can he know God.
Again, it is my contention that as a consequence of this kind of error, we really have two Christs. We have the Christ of history, the Christ of the creeds. On the other hand, there is the Christ whom only the Spirit can reveal.
Now, you can never piece Jesus together out of historic knowledge - it is impossible. It is possible to read your New Testament and still never find the living Christ in it. You may be convinced that He is the Son of God and still never find Him as the living Person He is. Jesus Christ must be revealed by the Holy Ghost - no man knows the things of God but by the Holy Ghost.
I would like to make an emphasis here and make it clearly: A revelation of the Holy Spirit in one glorious flash of inward illumination would teach you more of Jesus than five years in a theological seminary - and I believe in the seminary! You can learn about Jesus in the seminary. You can learn a great deal about Him, and we ought to learn everything we can about Him. We ought to read everything we can read about Him, for reading about Him is legitimate and good - a part of Christianity. But the final flash that introduces your heart to Jesus must be by the illumination of the Holy Spirit Himself, or it isn't done at all.
I am convinced that we only know Jesus Christ as well as the Holy Spirit is pleased to reveal Him unto us, for He cannot be revealed in any other way. Even Paul said, "Now know we Christ no longer after the flesh." The church cannot know Christ except as the Spirit reveals Him.
There are several evil consequences of believing that we can know God with our minds, with our intellectual capacity.
First, the Christian life is conceded to be very much like the natural life - only jollier and cleaner and more fun!
The faith of our fathers has been identified with a number of questionable things. We must admit that one is philosophy, and I think that this modern neo-intellectual movement that is trying to resurrect the church by means of learning is about as far off the track as it is possible to be, for you don't go to philosophy to find out about the Lord Jesus.
Now, the Apostle Paul did happen to be one of the most intellectual men that ever lived. He has been called by some to be one of the six greatest intellects that ever lived, but this man Paul said to the church in Corinth, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom...but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." (1 Cor. 2:1,4).
If you have to be reasoned into Christianity, some wise fellow can reason you out of it! If you come to Christ by a flash of the Holy Ghost so that by intuition you know that you are God's child, you know it by the text but you also know it by the inner light, the inner illumination of the Spirit, and no one can ever reason you out of it.
When I was a young man I read most of the books on atheism. I had my Bible and a hymnbook and a few other books, including Andrew Murray and Thomas a Kempis, and I got myself educated as well as I could by reading books. I read the philosophy of all the great minds - and many of those men did not believe in God, you know - and they didn't believe in Christ. I remember reading White's Warfare of Science with Christianity, and if any man can read that and still say he is saved, he isn't saved by his reading, he is saved by the Holy Ghost within him telling him that he is saved!
Actually, many of those philosophers and thinkers would take away all my "reasons" and reduce me to palpitating ignorance. On the basis of human reason, they would make a man just get down and walk out and toss his Bible on a shelf and say, "There goes another one!"
Do you know what I would do after I would read a chapter or two and find arguments that I could not possibly defeat? I would get down on my knees and with tears I would thank God with joy that no matter what the books said, "I know Thee, my Savior and my Lord!"
I didn't have it in my head - I had it in my heart. There is a great difference, you see. If we have it in our heads, then philosophy may be of some help to us; but if we have it in our hearts, there is not much that philosophy can do except stand aside reverently, hat in hand, and say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty."
Another of the questionable things is the manner in which we try to call upon science to prove Christianity.
We have just come through one of those long tunnels when the evangelical church was running to science to get some sort of help, not knowing that science has no technique for investigation of all that is divine in Christianity.
The things that science can investigate are not divine, and the things that are divine science cannot investigate. Oh, science can make the satellites and the space ships - many wonderful things in the human field - but all of that is really nothing. Christianity is a miracle and a wonder - something out of the heavens - something let down like Peter's sheet, not depending upon the world nor being a part of the world, but something from the throne of God like the waters of Ezekiel's vision.
Science knows nothing about that. It can only stand back, looking it over, and doesn't know what to say. But if we don't have this inner intuition, if we don't have this comprehension, we run to science. Some of those in this category say they want to believe in miracles. A fellow finds a fish washed up on shore and he gets a tape measure and crawls inside the bony skeleton and measures its gullet. He finds out that it is as broad as the shoulders of a man and he says, "See, Jonah could be swallowed by a great fish!"
Well, I believe the miracles - I believe them all, but I don't believe them because science permits me. I believe them because God wrote them and detailed them in the Bible. If they are there, I believe them!
You may have heard of the two scientists who reported that the story of Balaam's ass speaking to the prophet is false because "the larnyx of a donkey could not possibly articulate human speech."
A thoughtful Scotchman overheard them and he walked up to them and said, "Man, you make a donkey and I'll make him talk."
There you have it, brother. If God can make a donkey, God can make him talk. Christianity stands or falls on Jesus Christ - stands or falls on the illumination of the Holy Ghost.
Peter could have reasoned until the cows came home and still not known anything for sure, but suddenly, when the Holy Ghost came upon him, he jumped up and said, "God has made this man Jesus whom you crucified Lord and Christ!" He knew that by the Spirit of God.
Still another of the questionable things is the manner in which we patronize human greatness when we have no inward illumination.
A system of literature has grown up around the notion that Christianity may be proven by the fact that great men believe in Christ. If we can just get the story of a politician who believes in Christ, we spread it all over our magazines, "Senator So-and-so believes in Christ." The implication is that if he believes in Christ, then Christ must be all right. When did Jesus Christ have to ride in on the coattail of a senator?
No, no, my brother! Jesus Christ stands alone, unique and supreme, self-validating, and the Holy Ghost declares Him to be God's eternal Son. Let all the presidents and all the kings and queens, the senators, and the lords and ladies of the world, along with the great athletes and great actors - let them kneel at His feet and cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!"
Only the Holy Ghost can do this, my brethren. For that reason, I don't bow down to great men. I bow down to the Great Man, and if you have learned to worship the Son of Man, you won't worship other men.
You see, it is the Holy Spirit or darkness. The Holy Spirit is God's imperative of life. If our faith is to be New Testament faith, if Christ is to be the Christ of God rather than the Christ of intellect, then we must enter in beyond the veil. We have to push in past the veil until the illumination of the Holy Spirit fills our heart and we are learning at the feet of Jesus - not at the feet of men.
Now, consider with me the words of 1 Jn. 2:27, "But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him."
What does that mean, "...you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you..." The man who wrote that was a teacher, and we do not rule out the place of the teacher, for one of the gifts of the Spirit is teaching. What it says is that your knowledge of God is not taught to you from without. It is received by an inner anointing, and you don't get your witness from a man - you get your witness from an inner anointing.
Paul said, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." And, "...after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God." And, "...because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men."
Paul also assures us that "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, God has chosen, yes, and the things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in His presence." You see, the Holy Spirit rules out and excludes all Adam's flesh, all human brightness, all that scintillating human personality, human ability and human efficiency. It makes Christianity depend upon a perpetual miracle. The man of god, the true Spirit-filled man of God, is a perpetual miracle. He is someone who is not understood by the people of the world at all. He is a stranger. He has come into the world by the wonder of the new birth and the illumination of the Spirit, and his life is completely different from the world.
If you want a scriptural basis for this thought, Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:15, "But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one." The spiritual man has a penetration that judges everything, but he himself cannot be judged by anyone. "For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ." That's simple.
Now, what are we going to do with this truth? Are we going to argue about this? Are we just going to say that it was good? are we going to do something about it? Are we going to open the door of our personality - fling it wide?
Oh, we don't' have to be afraid - the Holy Spirit is an illuminator. He is light to the inner heart, and He will show us more of God in a moment than we can learn in a lifetime without Him. When He does come, all that we have learned and all that we do learn will have its proper place in our total personality and total creed and total thinking. We won't lose anything by what we have learned. He won't throw out what we have learned if it is truth - He will set it on fire, that's all. He will add fire to the altar.
The blessed Holy Spirit waits to be honored. He will honor Christ as we honor Christ. He waits - and if we will throw open our heart to Him, a new sun will rise on us. I know this by personal experience. If there is anything that God has done through me, it dates back to that solemn, awful, wondrous hour when the Light that never was on land or sea, the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world, flashed in on my darkness. It was not my conversion - I had been converted, soundly converted. It was subsequent to conversion. How about you?