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November 1, 2006

Behold, God exalteth by his power: who teacheth like him? Job 36:22

…and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; Colossians 2:2

Christians and non-Christians alike routinely mix up subjects and objects. It’s bad enough to say, “to her and I,” but that sort of grammar lesson isn’t my present intention. My concern, because it harms the reputation of individuals and of the Church, is the use of “a Christian is a person who….”“A Christian is a person who…” is not a proper construction. Its implications are humanistic. The correct form is: “A Christian is a person in whom God….” The Christian is not properly the subject, but the object of a work of God.

With that clear, I can proceed with what I was really thinking about: my struggle for teachability. In reflecting on teachability, subjects and objects are important.

John Owen, and other gospel fathers, are teaching me and molding me into a more teachable creature. Good friends and I ask each other where and what we would be without the teaching we receive. Like the animals whose pictures are suspended on telephone poles: “Lost, stolen, or strayed.” Let’s not deceive ourselves: We would not be coming anywhere near the “riches of the full assurance of understanding” left to “our own light.”

John Owen discusses spiritual illumination of Scripture as a work of the Holy Spirit.

“[I]t is the Holy Spirit who teacheth us to understand aright the mind and will of God in the Scripture; without whose aid and assistance we can never do so usefully nor profitably unto our own souls.” The Work of the Spirit, Vol. 4 of The Works of John Owen, Banner of Truth Press, 1995, p. 152

Owen asserts that man’s natural mind assents to evidence through the senses and reason; however “full assurance of understanding” cannot come through natural revelation.Joe Morecraft preached a sermon on Jesus’ healing of Bartimaeus, in which he noted that Bartimaeus’ faith preceded his ability to receive natural revelation through sight. He knew who Jesus was, the Son of David, and his Lord–he had saving faith. Then he was delivered from blindness. Pastor Morecraft explains the difference between Augustine and Aquinas with this example: Augustine declared that reason is derived from faith, that faith is necessarily the author of all reason; Aquinas asserted that reason precedes faith, and that through reason, one arrives at faith. Needless to say, Reformed Protestants are Augustinians.

John Owen says, “Men may have a knowledge of words, and the meaning of propositions in the Scripture, who have no knowledge of the things themselves designed in them. (Owen, p. 156) In other words, Owen observes, there are many competent people who can fully understand, but do not believe, the Scriptures.

“That wisdom in the mystery of the gospel, that knowledge of the mind and will of God in the Scripture, which affects the heart, and transforms the mind in the renovation of it unto the approbation of the ‘good and acceptable, and perfect will of God,’ as the apostle speaks, Rom. xii. 2, is alone valuable and desirable, as unto all spiritual and eternal ends.” (Owen p. 157)

Of course we cannot sit passively and stare into the Scriptures anticipating spiritual illumination. Owen directs us to Hebrews 5:13-14:

For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

We are to aspire to strong meat. We are to exercise ourselves to make it digestible. We listen to the word preached, we read the word, we rely on the gifts of illuminated teachers. We are responsible for making ourselves teachable and for staying in teachable shape. Owen, one of the greatest gospel fathers who has lived since Paul, tells us to pray.

“[T]here is no duty which in this world we perform unto God that is more acceptable unto him than fervent prayers for a right understanding of his mind and will in his word; for hereon all the glory we give unto him, and the due performance of all our obedience, do depend.” (Owen, p. 160)

Paul tells us: If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. (1 Corintall riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ. There is no other possible aspiration for enduring work unless one is utterly interred in self-deception.Paul was a “father” to his churches. Again, to his Corinthians, For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15) We are not fatherless. We who are most fortunate have illuminated pastors. Others have illuminated preaching available on the internet at and Monergism. But there are few excuses for being unchurched and not hearing the word of God preached, the method of choice of God for enriching our understanding: …it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

I regard my real and hardest work as praying, hearing, and studying toward teachability. It is a daunting task that is before me; it is the hardest work I have ever done and it will never end. I have been at it for some years and don’t get “better” at it. Most fortunately, we who are undertaking this work have the assurance that, your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:5) His mercies fail not.


Victorbravo said…
Good post for my morning. Faith precedes reason indeed:”Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Hebrews 11:3.

Many think they just need faith, but no understanding. And others strive for understanding without faith. Our teachers, and scripture, tell us the proper order and the need for us to work at it.

10:18 AM  

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