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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, January 12, 2008

Speaking of the difficulty that a pastor is confronted with, Dr. Thomas Chalmers, a famous Scottish preacher of the nineteenth century, said,

There is the malignity [the malice and hatred] of the Fall which [clings] to us. There is a power of corruption and blindness along with it, which [cannot be overcome by] human means… There is a dark and settled depravity in the human character which [obstinately resists] all our warnings, and all our arguments. There is a spirit working in the children of disobedience which no power of human [preaching] can [overcome]. There is a covering of thick darkness upon the [hearts] of all people, a mighty influence…upon the world, with which the prince of the power of the air [Satan] keeps his thousands and his tens of thousands under [his control]. The minister who enters into this…conflict, may have zeal and talents, and [be a good speaker]. His heart may be [full of] the love of the truth, and his mind be [full of arguments to prove it]…He may come forth [to preach feeling ready to turn lost] souls from the dominion of Satan unto God. [With] hopes of victory, he [may preach to them with all his might]. Week after week, he may [preach from] the Scriptures. [Sunday after Sunday] he may [preach with great mental and physical energy]; he may [preach] the terrors of the law [on one Sunday], at another [service] he may try to win them by the free offer of the Gospel, and…he may think that nothing can [stop] him, and that the heart of every hearer [will] give [in when they hear] his zeal, and the power of his…arguments. Yes, they admire him, and they may follow him, but the question we have to ask is, Will they be converted by him? They may even [think] that all he says is true. He may be their favourite preacher; and when he [preaches] there may be [a look of] deep and solemn attention [on every face in the congregation]. But [what are their hearts like?]. How do these people live; and what evidence are they giving of being born again under…his ministry?...Alas! he may look around him, and, at the end of the year, after all [his great preaching and discover most all] of them just where they were [when he started preaching to them a year ago]. [He finds them just the same as they were before] – as unconcerned about the things of eternity – as [stubbornly] alienated from God [as they were] – as firmly devoted to selfish and [unimportant worldly] interests – [just as interested in games and worthless things] with [their] heart given…to the vanities of the world…[and] of the wickedness…in it. After all his sermons, and all his passionate [hard preaching, the pastor] finds that the powers of darkness [Satan and his demons] still keep [them in their power]. He is grieved [and worried] to learn, that all he has [preached] has had no more effect than the foolish and [weak talk of a little child]. He is overwhelmed by a sense of his own helplessness, and [in a way, this is good]. It makes him feel that the [power] is not in him, but in God; it makes him understand that [God’s] power must be brought to bear [must come down] upon the mass of resistance which is before him [in his congregation] (Works of Thomas Chalmers, Collins, n.d., vol. 8, pp. 27-37, modern English supplied by Dr. Hymers).

I feel that every word of Dr. Chalmers’ sermon is right. It is an almost perfect picture of what I feel as I stand before some of you tonight. Your nature is ruined by the Fall of Adam. There is a demonic spirit working in you that blinds you and keeps you from Christ. I may preach my heart out, but Christ means little to you no matter how I preach. No matter what subject I speak on, nothing moves your heart; nothing I say brings you under conviction of sin. I know you love and admire me as your pastor, I know you follow me and don’t rebel outwardly. But will you be converted under my preaching? You may agree with what I preach, but will it move your heart? Will it convert you? You may look at me with a serious face, but is your heart converted? Dr. Chalmers said,

Alas! [the preacher] may look around him, and, at the end of the year, discover [after all that great preaching] most of them [are] just as they were before…After all his sermons, and all his passionate [hard preaching, the pastor] finds that the powers of darkness still keep [them bound]. (Ibid.).

This worries me greatly. It seems that all I have preached has been just a waste of time. I am overcome, even overwhelmed, with a sense of my own helplessness. It makes me feel that the power to convert you lies not in me. It makes me realize that God’s power must come down upon you, and free you from the power that makes you resist Christ. It makes me understand that God’s power must come down upon you and break down the resistance in your heart. In a time like this I can only say, “God, I am helpless. These people in our church do not hear and seek Christ. They feel no conviction of their sins, which are many. They come like dead men into the services, and leave again as dead men. Oh God, there is nothing I can do, but pray for you to convict them, and move them to seek Christ. Oh God, you and you alone must do this, or they will live and die without ever knowing Thy Son, without ever being saved, without a word I say making any difference at all in their lives. ‘It is time for thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void thy law’” (Psalm 119:126).

This, at last, brings me to our text this evening. It is a familiar text. I know how dangerous it is to preach from a text that is so well known. I realize that the very unconverted people I am speaking to will push this verse out of their minds quickly, thinking “I’ve heard it before.” But, O God, I pray that they will look at this verse with new minds, and that this text will be used by you to speak to them. Here it is, on page 1281 in the Scofield Study Bible. It is II Timothy 3:7. Please stand and read it aloud.

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

You may be seated.

I am speaking to those of you who are not converted. The words in the text describe you perfectly. By giving a brief exposition of them, I pray that God will do what I cannot do, and create a desire in you to know Christ and be saved – and be done with it! No more lingering. No more listening and immediately forgetting. I pray that this text will be used by God to humble you, and break you, and convict you, and convert you in Christ Jesus.

The text begins with the words,

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

It will be good for you to think about the main subject of the text, so that is my first point.

I. First, the knowledge of the truth.

What is the knowledge of the truth, and why is it important? The knowledge of the truth is the knowledge of Christ, the Saviour of mankind. Jesus said,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am…the truth.” That’s what Jesus said. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the “knowledge of the truth” is the knowledge of Christ – for He is the truth.

This verse does not say you need to have knowledge about Christ. Not at all. Most “learners” addressed by the text have some knowledge about Christ. Most know that He was born of a virgin, bore our sins in His Blood-soaked garment in Gethsemane, then carried our sins to the Cross, where He paid the penalty for them in the atonement. Most of you know that He rose from the dead, ascended to Heaven, prays for us there, and will one day return through the clouds to set up His Kingdom on the earth. I say that most of you know those basic facts taught in the Bible. But learning those Scriptural facts for their own sake will not help you at all.

Yet our text is not talking about learning and knowing those facts in the Scriptures. It says,

“the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

It speaks of a real experience in which a person comes to know Christ, who is the very embodiment of truth.

You could study the Bible for years and not come to know Christ. The knowledge of the truth means knowing Jesus Christ personally.

Think how excellent, how wonderful it is to know Christ, to experience Him, to lean on Him, to know Him and trust Him, as a man knows and trusts his wife. It is the most wonderful thing in the world to know Christ that way.

“And this is life eternal, that [ye may] know…Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).

Your life in eternity hangs on one thing – that you know Jesus Christ – and that you know Him as you know any other person – by coming to Him and trusting Him. This is the “knowledge of the truth” spoken of in our text – the full experience and knowledge of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect embodiment of Truth. No one can be saved without knowing Christ. No one can be saved unless he comes face to face with Christ and trusts Him by faith!

II. Second, the reasons people fail to know this.

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

Some people are ever learning the Bible. The Orthodox Jews do that. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do that. Many Baptists and evangelicals do that. But their learning is an end in itself. They learn to learn. They have no other purpose, no other goal in their learning. If your purpose is to learn the Bible you will die in your sins and perish in eternal flames. The purpose of learning the Bible and hearing sermons is “to come to the knowledge of the truth” in Christ Jesus. All Bible study and all listening to sermons is trash – wood, hay, and stubble if your goal in hearing the preaching is not to know Christ!

Another reason people fail to find Christ is that your hearts are attached to sin and worldly things. A young person whose heart is attached to video games and having “fun” is a worldly boy. He will not “come to the knowledge of” Christ! He must be serious about knowing Christ, or He will not find Him.

Another reason people fail to do this is that they are self-righteous. No matter what they say, in their hearts they think they are good enough. Doesn’t that make you exactly like those Jews in Christ’s time, those Pharisees who thought they were good enough – that they didn’t need Christ? I wonder how many of you think you are good enough already? If you do, no matter what I preach, you will be

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

Another reason people do this is because they are lazy minded, what the Puritans called “triflers.” They are so lazy minded that they sit half-listening to the sermon, and then are too lazy to go out of the service and think about what they heard!

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

They simply aren’t listening. They are too lazy to listen. But the person who is serious about salvation is quick to listen to the preacher. And that leads us to the last point.

III. Third, the way the truth in Christ is found.

This is where prayer for the lost comes in. We must pray that their hearts will stop resisting Christ. They, too, must pray for this themselves. The Bible says,

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not”
      (John 1:11).

They resisted Jesus even though they heard Him preach many times. It is the same with unconverted people today. We must pray for them to be made to stop resisting Christ. Only God can overcome their resistance.

Also, they must receive Christ. The Bible says,

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12).

We must pray for them to be drawn to Christ and receive Him. Those are the two points we should pray for earnestly,

1.  Pray that they be made to stop resisting Christ. Only God can do it.

2.  Pray for them to be humbled and receive Jesus. Only God can draw them to the Saviour.

Let us pray for God to grant those things to these who are

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

And one more thing. The text says that unconverted people are “never able” to come to a true knowledge, a true experience, with Christ himself. “Never able.” What terrible words! “Never able” shows that they have no natural ability in themselves to ever know Christ. Their wills are bound by Satan and their own depraved natures. Only God can break the bondage of “never able” and free them to throw aside their reasonings and come by real faith to “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and be washed clean by His Blood – and be truly born again, new creatures in Christ Jesus!

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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

(Psalm 119:126)

I.   First, the knowledge of the truth, John 14:6; 17:3.

II.  Second, the reasons people fail to know this, II Timothy 3:7.

II. Third, the way the truth in Christ is found, John 1:11, 12, 29.