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GROPING IN SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, November 7, 2010

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).


Dr. A. W. Tozer often pointed out the mistakes of modern Christianity. One of the themes he returned to again and again was the error of thinking that Bible study alone can help us. For instance he said, “Modern orthodoxy has made a great blunder in the erroneous [false] assumption that spiritual truths can be intellectually perceived…I contend that we are in error to believe that Bible study can remove the veil that keeps us from spiritual perception…Bible study does not, of itself, lift the veil or penetrate it…There is a vast difference between knowing about God and knowing God – a vast difference!” (A. W. Tozer, D.D., “How Christ is Revealed by the Holy Spirit: Not Through the Intellect!”, in When He is Come, Christian Publications, 1968 edition, pp. 31, 32, 33). Again Dr. Tozer said, “It is possible to grow up in a church, learn the catechism [memorize Scripture], and have everything done to us that they do to us…But after we have done all that, we may not know God at all, because God isn’t known by those external things” (ibid., pp. 26, 27).

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”
       (I Corinthians 2:14).

I agree with the Scofield note on the words “natural man” in the text. It says this refers to “the Adamic man, unrenewed through the new birth.” Dr. W. A. Criswell, in his note on this text, said that the natural man is “Groping in spiritual blindness…unable to comprehend the truths which belong to the spiritual realm” (The Criswell Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1979 edition, p. 1346; note on I Corinthians 2:14).

All good Baptists and Protestants believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Hebrew and Greek Bible.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).

But believing the inspired text is not enough! Nicodemus was the chief Bible teacher in Jerusalem. He believed every word of the Hebrew Scriptures, but Christ told him, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).

Last Sunday night I preached a sermon on the great Reformer Martin Luther. He had earned a Doctor of Theology. He knew Hebrew and Greek so well that he was later able to translate the entire Bible into German. But, to use Dr. Criswell’s phrase, Luther was “groping in spiritual blindness.” He read and studied the Bible every day, and he believed that the Bible was the divine Word of God. But that did Luther no good at all because,

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

I studied for three full years in the early 1970s at what was then an extremely liberal Southern Baptist seminary. Every one of the professors had been raised in Southern Baptist churches. Every one of them had been taught to memorize Bible verses in Sunday School. Every one of them had made a “decision” and had been baptized. Yet all but two of them were rank unbelievers. They denied that Moses was a real person. They denied the incarnation of Christ. They denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. They denied the second coming of Christ. Like Luther before his conversion, these men were “groping in spiritual blindness.”

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

Later, when I became an independent Baptist, I learned about a preacher who earned a Ph.D. at Bob Jones University. He was a brilliant man who could preach directly from the Greek New Testament. Yet later he became a flaming heretic, teaching the most absurd doctrines, and demanding that the very words of the King James English translation were given by inspiration. As I studied his errors and heresies, I realized that he too was “groping in spiritual blindness.”

So, I am saying that a belief in the inspiration of the Bible, of itself, is not enough. And I am saying that a knowledge of the Bible is not enough.

Look at the Apostle Paul! He was a terrific Bible scholar. He knew much of the Hebrew Scripture by heart. Yet see how blind he was, persecuting Christians, taking a zealous stand against Christ! He too was “groping in spiritual blindness.”

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

Then take the case of C. H. Spurgeon. He was born in the home of a Bible-believing pastor. He spent several of his childhood years in the home of his godly grandfather, who was also a Bible-believing pastor. Spurgeon was an avid reader. He read the Puritans by the hour. He sat beside his grandfather as the old man prepared his sermons. Spurgeon read the Bible every day. Spurgeon said, “I had heard the plan of salvation by the sacrifice of Jesus from my youth up, but I did not know any more about it in my innermost soul than if I had been born and bred a Hottentot” (C. H. Spurgeon, “How Can a Just God Justify Guilty Man?”, Chapel Library, Pensacola, Florida, p. 3). In spite of all his Bible knowledge, Spurgeon too was “groping in spiritual blindness.”

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

I can also give you my own case. The people next door took me to a Baptist church when I was 13 years old. I “went forward” at the end of the first Baptist sermon I ever heard. I was instantly baptized, without anyone asking me why I had responded to the “invitation.” I was then enrolled in Sunday School. In the Sunday School they drilled one Bible verse after the other into my head. But I was still “groping in spiritual blindness.” I felt called to the ministry and went to Bible school. There I was told to memorize 139 verses of salvation Scripture, yet I was still “groping in…blindness,” until I was suddenly converted on September 28, 1961 at 10:30 in the morning! In that moment I came directly to Jesus Christ Himself, and was cleansed from all sin by His atoning Blood! Only after this experience did the Bible begin to make sense to me! By a sudden conversion the veil was removed from my heart and I could see the truths revealed in Scripture with new eyes. I completely agree with Dr. Tozer, who said, “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” (Tozer, ibid., p. 35).

I spent nearly the whole day last Tuesday reading Dr. Tozer’s essays and sermons. I love him very much. I recommend that you buy his books and read them, and think about them deeply after you read them…and then read them again later. Here is a statement edited from his essay, “Why People Find the Bible Difficult.” Dr. Tozer said,

      I believe that we find the Bible difficult because we try to read it as we would read any other book, and it is not the same as any other book.
      The Bible is not addressed to just anybody. Its message is directed to a chosen few…some have spiritual capacity and some have not…Not only does God address His words of truth to those who are able to receive them, He actually conceals their meaning from those who are not…so our Lord’s words shine in the hearts of His people but leave the self-confident unbeliever in the obscurity of moral night…The notion that the Bible is addressed to everybody has wrought confusion within…the church (A. W. Tozer, D.D., “Why People Find the Bible Difficult,” in The Best of A. W. Tozer, compiled by Warren W. Wiersbe, Baker Book House, 1978, pp. 164-166).

Yes, the idea that the Bible is addressed to everybody has indeed caused great confusion in the churches in my lifetime. When I first came to a Baptist church in the fall of 1954 everyone read the King James Bible. But over the years we were sold on the idea that we needed modern translations because the King James was too difficult. As a result there is a tower of Babel in most church services. With 25 or more translations there can be no responsive readings, no Bible memorization – so the average “Christian” today is far more Biblically illiterate than he was in 1954. Thus, the false, unscriptural idea that the Bible was written for everybody has resulted in the judgment of God,

“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech” (Genesis 11:7).

It seems to me that that verse has a perfect application to the present situation, with all the confusing “translations” in our churches. We were far better off without them!

Instead of helping us, these modern paraphrases and clumsy translations have actually made the Bible far more obscure, and our people far more Biblically illiterate. As it was in ancient times, so it is in much of the evangelical world today.

“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”
      (Romans 1:22),

for it is still true that,

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

Dr. Tozer said, “The Bible is a supernatural book and can be understood only by supernatural aid” (The Best of A. W. Tozer, ibid., p. 166). New translations don’t help at all!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Bible reading and Bible memorization. Just the opposite – I am strongly in favor of daily Bible reading – and Bible memorization. But I believe that Bible study, by itself, will leave you “groping in spiritual blindness.”

That’s why I do not recommend these student-led “Bible study” groups. They are based on the false idea that anybody can understand [and even teach!] the Holy Scriptures. I have been preaching for 53 years and I have not seen strong and solid Christians come out of these “Bible studies.” They get together and pool their ignorance. They tend to produce carnality and a rebellious attitude toward the local church. One man who attended a “Bible study” like this told me, “These groups tend to produce critics of the churches rather than solid Christians, as though the peak of spirituality is present in their group – a group that won’t exist in two or three years! Those people will be moving on when they graduate, taking their critical attitude with them.” This verse seems to apply to many of them, “These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 19). The apostles started local churches, and nothing else. Get out of the carnal “Bible study” group and get into the local church! That’s where the action is!

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

The old Puritans, as well as the evangelists of the First and Second Great Awakenings, knew something that most modern evangelicals have forgotten. They knew that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, had to illuminate the Bible to a lost sinner.

The Holy Spirit has to “turn the light on” in a person’s heart when he reads the Bible and hears it preached. That’s what “illumination” means. The “natural man” can learn Bible words and Bible doctrine, but they are just words to him. The words he learns have no impact on his life. He is like the Pharisees, who knew the Bible by heart, having memorized the Pentateuch word-for-word. Yet Christ called them “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14).

You can learn that Christ is the eternal Son of God. You can learn that He died in your place on the Cross, to pay the penalty for your sins. You can learn that He rose bodily from the dead and ascended up to Heaven. You can learn those Bible facts – and believe them in your mind – and still be cast into the Lake of Fire! You can learn, and agree with, all five points of Calvinism and still be “groping in spiritual blindness,” as Spurgeon was before his conversion. One day Jesus will say, “I never knew you: depart from me” (Matthew 7:23). Jesus has to know you, and you have to know Him, not facts about Him!

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14).

“But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep”
       (John 10:26).

Dr. Tozer said,

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…flashed on in my darkness (“How Christ is Revealed by the Holy Spirit: Not Through the Intellect!”, ibid., page 43).

Again, Dr. Tozer said,

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…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 (“How Christ is Revealed by the Holy Spirit: Not Through the Intellect!”, ibid., p. 35).

Then what can you do? For one thing, you can attend every church service and pray for God to use the sermons as a means of grace to open your heart. You can pray every day for God to convict you of sin and draw you to the Saviour. Only union with Christ can save you from “groping in spiritual blindness.”

I’ve tried in vain a thousand ways
My fears to quell, my hopes to raise;
But what I need, the Bible says,
Is ever, only Jesus.

My soul is night, my heart is steel –
I cannot see, I cannot feel;
For light, for life, I must appeal
In simple faith to Jesus.

Though some should sneer, and some should blame,
I’ll go with all my guilt and shame;
I’ll go to Him because His Name,
Above all names, is Jesus.
   (“In Jesus” by James Procter, 1913).

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I Corinthians 2:9-14.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“In Jesus” (by James Procter, 1913).