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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
1 Corinthians 2



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Verses 1-8

Lecture 6

Jesus Christ And Him Crucified

1 Corinthians 2:1-8

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (vv. 1-8)

In the book of Acts we have the account of Paul’s entry into Corinth where after a year and a half of earnest work he left a church that came behind, we are told, in no gift. Going into that brilliant but godless city where they gloried in human ability and in human attainment, where they made much of the various arts and where they deified human lust and knew nothing of the true God, the apostle’s soul was deeply stirred. He had been but a few days before in Athens and there, we read, had gone by invitation to the place where the philosophers, the intelligentsia, gathered to hear and to tell some new thing, and where at their own request he undertook to explain the message of the gospel. However, they did not permit him to come to the crucial point, for they interrupted him as soon as he spoke of a Savior who died and was raised again, and refused to listen further. Probably never was a more eloquent sermon preached than that which the apostle delivered that day on Mars Hill, and yet the results were somewhat meager. There were a few who clave to him, but the great majority turned away, rejecting him and his proclamation.

From Athens he went to Corinth. I do not believe there is any reason to think that he felt he had made a mistake in preaching as he did at Athens. His rule was this: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” There he realized that he was addressing men of the highest culture and had to present the message in a way that he hoped would appeal to them; but upon going to Corinth he put aside everything, as far as he possibly could, that was merely human and went in absolute dependence upon the Spirit of God with one great message, “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

He says, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.” He realized it was quite possible by the flowers of rhetoric to cover up, to obscure the shame of the cross, and so he did not permit himself any flights of fancy or of the imagination in presenting the glad tidings; but seriously, earnestly, solemnly, as became a man who stood between the living and the dead, he preached the message of the cross in all simplicity, for he determined, he said, “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” And that should still be the method of the servant of God; for after all, there is no other message that will avail for the salvation of sinners or the edification of God’s beloved people. Everything centers in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” That is the Person and the Work. Always Christ personal was presented in apostolic preaching. Men were not asked to believe a creed, they were not asked to subscribe to a system of doctrine, but they were asked to receive a Person, and that Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think we make a mistake in supposing that just pinning our faith to a verse of Scripture is salvation. I wonder whether many have not been deceived in that way. I hear people speak of knowing they are saved, and when asked why, they reply, “Because I believe John 3:16 or John 5:24,” and you look for some evidence of a new life in them and do not find it. They never appear at a prayer meeting, but if there is a social affair, or something like that, they are present. Apparently they have no real interest in the study of the Word of God; you never see them at a Bible lecture. They have time for anything that ministers to the flesh, but very little time for spiritual food, and it makes one tremble for them. I cannot think of anything more dreadful than to have gone through life thinking that one was really saved, and then at last to be suddenly ushered into eternity and wake up forever lost. You see, believing a text does not save anybody. Believing in Christ saves all who trust Him. I believed every text in the Bible before I was converted. I never thought of doubting one of them until after I was converted. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but as a lad I believed all that I was told, that the Bible was the Word of the living God. I accepted it all. Some years after I was converted I became perplexed over certain things and began to doubt, and it led me to a deeper investigation, and then my faith was confirmed. But in all those years that I believed everything in the Bible I was not saved. I had never been regenerated, I had never received a new nature. I was lost. And if I had died in my sins, I could have quoted hundreds of Bible texts, I could have repeated chapter after chapter of Holy Scripture in the flames of hell while bewailing the fact that I had never been acquainted with the Person that these passages of Scripture glorified. Do not make any mistake here, for it is one that can never be remedied if you go into eternity resting on a false hope. Examine your foundation, ask yourselves, Is Christ Himself precious to me? If He is, why do I not enjoy His Word more? Why do I not love to spend more time with Him in prayer? Why is there so much frivolity and levity and carelessness in my life? Why do I do so many things that I know the Lord Jesus would never do and cannot approve in me if I really love Him? He has said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (John 14:23). “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

What is the use of professing to be a Christian if there is no evidence of it in the life? What is the use of speaking of the new birth, of talking about having eternal life if I live the same kind of a life that tens of thousands of respectable Christless men and women live all around me? What is the difference between my life and theirs? If this change has ever taken place in me, when did it take place? When did I open my heart’s door to Christ and receive Him? If I have received Him, then He has come to dwell in me and that changes everything for me. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the [children] of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

Now observe, it is “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Some say, “We preach Christ,” but the Christ who lived on earth for those thirty-three wonderful years could never save one poor sinner apart from His death. Jesus Christ was crucified? Why? The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ throws into relief several tremendous facts. First of all, it emphasizes the wickedness, the corruption, the vileness of the human heart. Who was Jesus Christ? He was God manifest in the flesh. He was here in the world His hands had made, and His own creatures cried, “Away with him, away with him; crucify him!” Could we have any worse commentary on the iniquity of the human heart than that? Man, as far as he was capable, was guilty of the awful crime of deicide, he would murder God, drive Him out of His own universe. “ The fool hath said in his heart,…no God” (Psalms 14:1). It is not exactly as in our King James Version, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Many a man admits there is a God who says, “No God,” and that is what that verse really tells us, in the Hebrew. “ The fool hath said in his heart,…no God.” “No God for me.” He has said, “I do not want God to come into my life, I do not want to be troubled about God, I want to take my own way, to do my own will.” And because men were set on that, they nailed the Christ of God to a cross. If there is anything that tells out what man is, this does.

Stand in faith by that cross, see the blessed Savior suffering, dying there; see the nails upon which He hangs and the blood dripping from those awful wounds; see the thorns crushed upon His sacred brow and the blood enwrapping His naked body as with a crimson shroud. That is what sin has done, the sin that is in your heart and in mine. That tells out the story of the wickedness, the deceit-fulness of our hearts. The men who thronged about that cross and cried out in derision, “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40), were no different from ourselves; their hearts were like our hearts. They were representative men. We may see ourselves there. The cross brought out, declared all the malignity that was in the heart of man, but it also told out the infinite love that was in the heart of God. One might well have understood it if God looking down upon that scene had let loose the thunders of His wrath and the lightnings of His judgment and had destroyed that throng in a moment; if He had said, as He did so long ago, “ My Spirit shall not always strive with man…I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:3, 7). But no, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). When man cast Him out and nailed Him to a tree, God in infinite love for sinners made His soul an offering for sin. It was as though He said, “That cross, the symbol of shame and agony, shall become the great altar upon which will be offered the one supreme Sacrifice which atones for the sin of the world-Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What wonderful evidence of God’s love for sinners is seen in that cross!

In the light of that cross how can men still go on doing the things, living in the sins, that led to it? The cross of Christ is that which casts light on everything that men glory in this world and stains all its glory, so that the apostle could say elsewhere, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). Did you ever think of it in this way? You profess to be a Christian, you say that you owe everything for eternity to the One whom the world rejected. What effect does that have upon your life? Do you still have fellowship with that world that cast Him out? Do you still participate in the things that characterize that world?

A Christian walked down the street one day intending to go to the theater. Something was on that he thought he would be interested in. He came to the very entrance, even stepped up and bought his ticket, and the next moment there came flashing into his mind, “If I go in there, I crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame.” He tore the ticket up, and ran from the place, thankful to be delivered. If you as a Christian go back into the things of the world from which the death of Christ has separated you, you are denying the cross of Christ. That is what it means. If we understood this, what a separated people we would be, how it would do away with all this dilly-dallying with the world and its folly. How we would realize that we owe too much to the One whom the world rejected to go on with that system which has thus treated the Eternal Lover of our souls-”Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

“I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” I think every servant of Christ knows a little of that. How often as one thinks of facing an audience, the heart fails and the spirit cries out, “O Lord, what can I do, what can I say? Suppose I should make a mistake, suppose I should give the wrong message, how dire the effect might be on some! I can never undo it for eternity!” I can see Paul bowing before God every time he contemplated going out to preach the Word, and crying out, “O Lord, keep me from mistakes, let me have just the right word, give me to be Your messenger, save me from trying to attract attention to myself, save me from glorifying man.”

“My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Paul recognized the fact that there is such a thing as meeting man on the soul-plane instead of the spiritual. A man may preach the gospel and yet do it “soulishly,” on the soul-plane, depending upon that which simply appeals to the human mind, and finding perhaps, that at the psychological moment he had gotten a grip on the audience by a tender story, ask for decisions. And when the people respond, he says, “There now, what a lot of people have come to Christ,” and perhaps not one in the crowd has had the conscience reached or has had to do with God about his sins. Paul was afraid of that. He said, “I do not want to preach things in such a way that my human effort will persuade them. I am depending upon the Holy Spirit of God and divine power to do the work.”

“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Because, you see, if I make a profession of salvation on the strength of a discourse that has stirred simply my emotions and made me feel that I ought to do something about it, and also because of my admiration for the preacher; then, when the preacher is gone and my emotions are no longer stirred, I will find myself wondering whether I am converted or not, whether there is any reality in this thing or not. I felt so differently under the spell of that emotion; now I do not feel that way at all. If the Holy Spirit of God has presented Christ to me and I have received Him, never mind about my feelings, I am saved and saved for eternity. My faith stands, “not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” I rest upon His sure testimony.

We do not mean by this, the apostle says, that we have nothing but the simplicity of the gospel message to give to men; we seek also to lead believers into the deep things of God. “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect.” What does that mean? Did you ever see a perfect Christian? Surely not in the absolute sense, but it means perfect in the sense of well-developed. When he talked to the unsaved or to young believers, he had one message, and when he talked to mature saints, he sought to lead them on into the deeper things of God. He does that in this epistle and elsewhere.

“We speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world.” Christianity is a divine revelation, not a human theory. “Not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery”-something that is hidden from the Christless, that which the Spirit of God reveals to believers-”even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” There are rich treasures of wisdom, wonderful truths to make known; for in Christ are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And as we go on with Him we enter into a depth of understanding that the world knows nothing about.

“Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” If they had only known that the Man who stood in Pilate’s judgment hall that day, so meek, so lowly, answering never a word as He was vehemently accused, was God manifest in the flesh, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. And so God takes mankind up on the ground of ignorance and says, “I am going to excuse your ignorance, but there is one thing I will never excuse. After I enlighten you and present My Son to you, if you do not receive Him, I will never excuse that.” Men are excused because the light has not come, but not excused when the light has come. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

This is not to say that God will not judge sin wherever it is found. But simply that He holds men responsible for what knowledge of His truth they have, and not for what has never come to them. “All have sinned” and all “are guilty before God,” but judgment will be according to works and in perfect righteousness.

But when one trusts the Lord Jesus he is delivered forever from judgment. What a wonderful thing it is to know Him-”Jesus Christ, and him crucified!”




Verses 9-13

Divine Revelation

1 Corinthians 2:9-13

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (vv. 9-13)

The apostle declared that in making known the gospel he sought to use all simplicity of speech, but when it came to opening up the truth of God to believers, there are deep things, wonderfully precious things, that cannot be given to the world at large, which form the hidden wisdom of God. The world has its various schools of philosophy, its deep things to which the average man on the street does not pay much attention; and so God has His deep things which are not for the world outside, but for those who have already received the gospel message. The Lord Jesus Himself warned His disciples against casting pearls before swine. What did He mean by that? Simply this, the unsaved man, the man who has never been regenerated, has no more ability to appreciate, to enter into and enjoy spiritual unfoldings than the swine has ability to set a value on beautiful pearls, and therefore, the message for the unsaved is the gospel; but to the Lord’s own people He would impart this hidden wisdom, that which none of the princes of this world knew, for he says, “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

The apostle is quoting from the sixty-fourth chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. The singular thing is that a great many people stop here with the Old Testament quotation and say, “You know we cannot understand, we cannot be expected to understand or enter into the things which God hath prepared for us, because the Word tells us that, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’” And so they settle back and conclude that we must be content to be ignorant of these things, for God has said that they are not for us to know. Let us look at the passage in the Old Testament and see the connection in which it is found. In verse 4 we read, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” This is the translation from the Hebrew. That which we find in the New Testament is the translation of the Greek version of the Old Testament, hence the difference in words, though the meaning is exactly the same. What is it that Isaiah tells us? It is that no man apart from divine revelation can understand what God has in store for His people in times to come. That was true in Old Testament days, but when we come to the New Testament, since God has revealed Himself in the Person of His Son and given this new revelation of the new covenant in the Gospels and in the Epistles, we must not stop with the verse in Isaiah. We must not be content to take for granted that we are still where they were in the Old Testament days, for that is the very thing the apostle tells us is not the case.

“ But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” In other words, the Old Testament speaks of times when there were great and wonderful mysteries which were kept hidden from all men. Even the prophets themselves, as enlightened as they were, knew nothing of the special truths of this dispensation, but God has made them known now. Read the books of the Old Testament, read the Psalms, for instance, which give you the highest inspiration of the saints before the veil was rent, and you get no inkling of the heavenly calling or of believers entering through the rent veil into the very presence of God without an officiating priest between. You get nothing of Christ exalted at God’s right hand and of believers linked with Him so that we can say, “He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). The Old Testament gives us the preparation time. There we have God’s people as children going to school, learning through symbols and types and shadows, but with no realization of the wonderful truths now made known, and therefore, Isaiah could say, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” But all that has changed today. Now our eyes do see, our ears do hear, and our hearts should be able to comprehend the wonderful things which God hath prepared for those linked up to Himself through the Lord Jesus Christ. “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit,” and so we still need the Old Testament, for the things written there were for our learning.

We go back in the Old Testament and see the exercises of the people of God in years gone by, but we do not stay there; we learn wondrous lessons, but we move on to the full and glorious revelation that God has given in the new dispensation. It is here our souls revel in the precious truths now made known. Christians sometimes imagine that if they come to God in worship, for instance in singing, in the very words of Holy Scripture, like some of our friends who sing the Psalms, their worship takes a higher character than that of Christians using what they call “man-made hymns,” and yet what is the fact? We might gather together and sing the Psalms week after week and year after year, and always be conscious of the fact that we are singing the very words of Scripture, but there would not be a syllable that would give us our place within the holiest, accepted in the Beloved; and you will find that where Christians are content thus to approach God in worship, they have no realization of the fullness of the Christian’s position. It could not be, because the Psalms as all other Old Testament Scripture lead us up to the door, but they do not carry us inside into the fullest blessing. Therefore, you will generally find people who are wedded to the Psalms, precious as they are, a legal people, knowing very little of the fullness of grace, and most of them are content to go through life thinking it is altogether too much to believe that a man can be saved and know it in this life, just let them go on trusting and hoping, and perhaps God will give them dying grace at last.

You have heard of the good old Scotch woman who said, “We will not sing any of these man-made hymns, we will sing just the Psalms of David to the tunes that David wrote!” The fact is that a Spirit-taught Christian today can enjoy in a hymn precious and wonderful truths which would have been amazing to David, truths of which he knew absolutely nothing. What a wonderful thing it is to think that we live in the dispensation of the grace of God. By the Holy Spirit God has now revealed these things formerly hidden unto us, “for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” That may seem like a peculiar expression. The Holy Spirit is One with the Father and with the Son; our Lord Jesus puts the Trinity all on an equality when He tells His disciples to teach and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You could not think of putting a creature in there and saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the blessed Virgin Mary,” or, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy apostles.” You could not do that, for you would be bringing His creatures on a level with God. But when you say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” everything is in keeping because all are coequal and coeternal.

In what sense does the Holy Spirit have to search to find out the mind of the Lord? “For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” In Himself He does not need to search, He does not have to study to learn the mind of God. But the wonderful thought is that in our dispensation the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us, and it is through Him that we do the searching and the studying, and the Spirit of God opens the truth of God to us. People say, “I do not know how it is that some folks get such wonderful things out of their Bibles. I do not get them out of mine. I know I ought to read my Bible, and I do read it, perhaps a chapter a day, but I do not have much appetite for it, I do not get much out of it.” I will tell you why. It is because you do not sit down over your Bible in a self-judged, broken spirit, putting out of your life everything carnal, everything worldly, everything unholy, and then depending absolutely on the Holy Spirit who dwells within you to search into the Scriptures for you, to open the truth of God to you. God has given you the Holy Spirit for that very purpose. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13). Take a poor, simple, ignorant Christian who can barely read or write and put him down over his Bible in dependence on the Holy Spirit of God, and he will get more out of a given passage of Scripture in half-an-hour than a Doctor of Divinity or a Doctor of Psychology, who studies it with a lot of learned tomes about him depending upon his intellect instead of upon the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God opens the truth to those who depend on Him. I am afraid that many of us are absolutely careless of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are trying to make our own way through the world, trying to find out what is right and wrong in spiritual things instead of handing over everything to the Spirit of God and depending on Him to guide and lead and unfold the Scriptures. He came to do this very thing and He delights to fulfill this mission.

How strikingly the apostle illustrates this in verse 11: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” What does he mean by “the spirit of man which is in him?” Materialists tell us that the spirit of a man is the breath of a man. It is a striking thing that in Greek and Hebrew the same word may be translated “spirit,” “air,” “breath,” “wind.” They say the spirit is the air that you breathe, there is no personality about it, the body is all there is of man as far as personality is concerned. If that were true, would it not be absurd for the apostle to speak as he does here? Translate the word “spirit” by “breath” and you would read, “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the breath of man which is in him?” Is that not remarkable?-an intelligent breath! Is it your breath that knows things? Is it your breath that reasons and weighs evidence? Surely not. It is the spirit of a man. And what is the spirit of a man? It is the real man.

When God created man He created him a spirit living in a human body, and therefore God is called “The Father of spirits.” Translate that, “God, the Father of breaths,” how would that sound? No, God is a Spirit and man is a spirit, and therefore, in that sense, even unregenerated men are God’s sons. The spirit is the personality. It is that which differentiates him from the lower creation, enables him to think, to weigh evidence, to reason, to investigate. “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” I cannot read your thoughts, you cannot read my thoughts. We find people who profess to be able to do so, but they always make a botch of it. We try to read people’s minds by their faces, but we often accuse them of things that are not so, as Eli falsely accused Hannah.

“What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” I might talk as humbly as possible and you might be foolish enough to go away and think, “What a lowly man that is!” and all the time I might be a kind of Uriah Heep, of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, with a false humility. Another might seem to you to be proud while in reality he might be very humble. So Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” We are not to try to read other persons’ minds for we will often be mistaken if we do. “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” If my human spirit understands my thoughts, if my human spirit knows what is going on in my mind, do you not see the apostle’s argument? The Holy Spirit knows everything that goes on in the mind of God. Is not that a wonderful thought?

“Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” And He has chosen to make them known to us. I can make known my thoughts to you, and you can make yours known to me. Very well, the Holy Spirit of God makes known the thoughts of God to us. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” This blessed Holy Spirit has been received by believers. He has come to indwell us, to control us, for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in order that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. That is the secret of learning the Bible, and understanding the truth. You come to the Book and study it in dependence on the Holy Spirit who dwells within and He will open it up. But let me give you another secret. He won’t do that if you are grieving Him. As long as the Spirit is happy within you because you are living in a godly, unworldly, consistent manner, it is His delight to take the things of Christ and open them up; but the moment you grieve Him, the moment you give yourself to unholy thoughts or worldly behavior, yield to carnality, to things contrary to the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are called upon to represent here, then you grieve the Spirit of God and instead of the Holy Spirit being free to do what He delights to do, take of the things of Christ and show them unto you, He has to occupy you with your own failure and sins and shortcomings, in order to bring you to repentance and confession where you will seek to put everything right before God. So the secret of getting the mind of God as you study His Word is to live in the power of an ungrieved Spirit and go to the Book in dependence on Him.

“We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” We have them here, but do we know them? It is one thing to have a vast amount of knowledge shut up between the covers of a book, it is another thing really to know it.

You may have a large library. Everything in all those books is yours. But it is quite another thing to make all that accumulation of knowledge yours practically. It requires diligent study and careful reading. So with God’s wonderful library, the Bible. We need the illumination of the Holy Spirit as we meditate upon its wondrous truths, for it is only in this way we can enter into its treasures. This Book was not written by men, except as they were used as penmen; it was given by God. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). And think of the folly of expecting to understand it if I just approach it from a carnal or intellectual standpoint. That is not the way to get God’s truth. He has given it to me, but if I would appreciate it the Spirit must open it up, and I must walk in the Spirit.

“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Some people wonder what we mean when we speak of the verbal inspiration of the Bible. There are those who talk of the Bible being inspired in the sense that God gave to the writers of the different books certain thoughts and they embodied them in their own language to suit themselves, but that is not the truth of inspiration as taught in the Book. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth.” They did not take divine truths and write them down in their own words. They expressed divine truths in the words that the Holy Spirit gave. He gave the words as well as the thoughts. Verbal inspiration means inspiration of the words. If the Bible is inspired at all, it is in its words, and that is what the apostle insists upon. When you come to the study of this Book and recognize the fact that the words were given of God, you will have such a conception of the wonder of the Book that you will delight in lingering over every syllable. How often we have studied the Book and one little word seemed to jump at us; we have looked it up and found the original meaning in the Hebrew or the Greek, found what the root is, and as we delved into it we have found there was not any other word that would have expressed that truth. It is like God Himself; it is perfect. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.”

He concludes this section with an expression that is a bit peculiar, one about which theologians have had a great many different views. “Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” That may suggest a comparison of one divinely-imparted line of truth with some other opening up of eternal verities. That is blessedly true, and that was perhaps the thought that the translators had in mind, but there is something deeper than that. Others have translated it, “Expounding spiritual things to spiritual minds,” and that is surely important. If men are not spiritual, they cannot take in spiritual truth. One might endeavor to give them the deepest and most wonderful revelation from the Word of God, but they would not be able to take it in. It is the same in spiritual things as in natural things. Take music, for instance. If you do not have music in your soul, if you do not have a real sense of music, you cannot understand it.

I heard a man once tell of going to hear Jenny Lind, the famous “Swedish Nightingale,” who eventually gave up the concert stage for love of Christ. Beside the man sat a sea captain who had paid five dollars for his ticket but who drowsed and slumbered all through the concert. He went, out of curiosity, to see the noted singer, but he had no ear to enjoy her marvelous tones. He was unable to appreciate that wonderful voice that thrilled myriads who had a sense of musical values. To enjoy music one must have music in his own soul. This is just as true in regard to spiritual things. That is why people need to be born again and then they need to walk in the Spirit, for one cannot understand spiritual things unless he is living a spiritual life.

On the other hand, this last expression is not exactly personal in the Greek, it does not necessarily refer to individuals, and a better translation might be, “Communicating spiritual things by spiritual methods,” or “by spiritual words.” That seems to be a very satisfactory translation. It is the business of servants of Christ to communicate spiritual things by spiritual methods, not stooping to the cheap claptrap methods of the world as they seek to expound the Word of God, but in a reverent way opening up spiritual truths and using suited words in accordance with the testimony that the Holy Spirit Himself has given men. God give to each one of us a deeper appreciation of this marvelous revelation which we have in His Word.




Verses 14-16

Lecture 8

Natural, Carnal, And Spiritual Men

1 Corinthians 2:14-16; 1Co_3:1-8

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. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. (2:14-3:8)

In this passage we have three men brought before us: the natural, the carnal, and the spiritual. What are we to understand by these expressions? We often say there are only two classes of people in the world, those who are regenerated and those who are not; or, to put it in another way, those who are saved and those who are lost; and of course that distinction stands. But here the apostle divides mankind into three classes: the natural, the carnal, and the spiritual.

Who is the natural man? We read in verse 14 of chapter 2, “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.” The natural man is the man who has simply been born according to nature. Our Lord Jesus says in John 3, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” That is the natural man. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That is the genesis of the spiritual man. But the word translated “natural” does not merely mean of the flesh. The word really means, psychical. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the apostle Paul says, “And I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He shows that man is tripartite. The spirit, the highest part of the man, that which differentiates him from the lower creation, is that to which God speaks. We read, “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” It is the spirit that gives man intelligence above the brute. By the spirit man reasons, is able to weigh evidence; by the spirit he is able to listen to the voice of God.

On the other hand, the second part of man is called the soul, the psyche, and this word natural is an adjective formed from that word, psychical. “The [psychical] man [or the “soulual” man] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” When God created man, somebody has well said, he was like a three-story house; the lower story, the body; the second story, the soul, the seat of his natural instincts and emotions; and the third story, the spirit, the highest part of man by which he could look up to God. But when man sinned, there was a moral earthquake, and the top story fell down into the basement, and that leaves him a psychical man, it leaves the soul in the preeminent place instead of the spirit. When you remember that the soul is the seat of man’s emotional nature, you will realize that the natural man is a creature led not by conscience, not by an enlightened spirit, but by following the desires of his own heart as a soulish man because he follows his own affections and desires. He is a creature of emotions, and that is why it is so easy to say that every sin appeals in some way to the emotions of the natural heart. At base all sin is selfish; we sin because we think we shall find a measure of satisfaction in that sin. Sin is always selfish, and the psychical man is a selfish being, he is a self-centered person, for after all, the soul is the self. The natural man, therefore, is the man who lives the self-life, the man whose spirit has never been quickened into newness of life; it is still down there a captive in the basement, if you will. You can see at once where that applies to you. What is your motive in life? Are you living to glorify God or are you living to enjoy yourself? Are you seeking your own desires or are you seeking to please the Lord Jesus Christ? As every saved person looks back to the old life, he can say:

I lived for myself, for myself alone,

For myself and none beside;

Just as if Jesus had never lived,

And as if He had never died.

That is the psychical man. He may be outwardly a very good man, a very gracious man, a very courteous man, a very kind man, as long as he can have his own way. He lives for himself and finds a certain satisfaction even in doing good. He learns as he goes through life that honesty is the best policy, that he is happier if he is honest, and therefore many an unregenerate man is a model of integrity. He gets a degree of happiness out of meeting the needs of other people; he may be a very kind man, and there is a glow of warmth in his heart when he hands something to a needy person and that person responds, “God bless you, sir, you don’t know how much good you are doing.” There may be all that and yet no thought of living for God, no thought of glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. Some natural men descend into things groveling and debasing, their appetites lead them into licentiousness and inebriety, but other natural men take what has been called the clean side of the broad way, the higher way of the natural man, but it still is the way that leads to destruction. As you walk down that broad way you find all classes and conditions of people, some openly immoral, some vicious, some abominably unclean, others eminently respectable, looked upon with admiration by their fellows; some of them very religious and finding a certain amount of satisfaction as they wend their way to the great cathedral or little chapel, as the case may be; as they sit in a Christian, Jewish, or some other service, and as the meeting goes on they find satisfaction in feeling that they are doing the right thing. They are affected by the service, they love the music; if the preacher happens to be eloquent and appealing, they enjoy listening to him, and sometimes even though he is not eloquent, if he is earnest they like to listen to him.

When Charles Spurgeon was at the height of his fame as one of the greatest preachers of the gospel, many an unbeliever thronged to hear him, many a man who rejected Christianity delighted to listen to his sermons. On one occasion as a man, well-known as an infidel, was returning from Spurgeon’s meeting, he met a friend who said, “Where have you been today?”

“I have been to hear the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon,” he said.

“You surprise me,” said his friend; “you do not believe a word he says.”

“No, I do not, but he does, you know, and I get a certain amount of satisfaction in listening to a man preach as though he really believed what he was preaching.”

Even a natural man can appreciate that, for he may set a certain value upon earnestness and intensity. It is very possible that one may be outwardly good, his life may be a very righteous one, he may be a man of integrity in business, be very kind and benevolent, and have a certain amount of religious feeling, and yet be a natural man.

What is needed to bring a man out of that state into that of a Christian? There must be a new nature, a renewing of the mind, he must be born of God. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This natural man at his best with all his amiability and respectability cannot enter into, nor understand, divine things. Talk to him of the wondrous truths of the Word of God and he will look at you in amazement and will say, “I do not see the importance of these things.” Tell him that God became Man for our redemption, that He was born of a virgin, and the man smiles tolerantly and says, “If you get any comfort in believing that, all right, but as far as I am concerned it involves a biological miracle which I cannot accept.” Tell him that Christ died for our sins upon Calvary’s cross and that it was there He shed His blood for our redemption, and he will smile again and say, “Rather an old-fashioned idea, that idea of blood atonement. I notice in my studies it has rather a large place in all the ancient religions, but of course I do not see it at all.” “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Corinthians 4:3). Talk to him of the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and again he says: “Of course it does not make very much difference whether His body rose; that is a small thing. His principles have been resurrected after being rejected by the men of His day, and they abide, and if we follow the rules He laid down everything will be all right.”





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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.

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Monday, November 30th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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