Ignorance, Unteachableness, Obstinacy and Carelessness Cannot be Conquered any Otherwise than by the Spirit of God

Ignorance, Unteachableness, Obstinacy and Carelessness Cannot be Conquered any Otherwise than by the Spirit of God

by Thomas Manton

Because there is so much corruption in a man that hindereth the soul from believing in Jesus Christ, that it cannot be done away without the Spirit's manifestation. There is a double seat of this corruption—the mind and the heart. First, in the mind there is ignorance and unteachableness. Secondly, In the heart there is obstinacy and carelessness; which things cannot be conquered any otherwise than by the Spirit of God. Let us look upon these things severally. Consider a man naturally as he is:—

[1.] In his mind; and so—

(1.) There is ignorance; he hath no savoury apprehension of the truths of God: 1 Cor. 2:14, '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: There is no suitableness between the heart and the things of Christ; and, therefore, though they understand the words, they have confused apprehension of the thing, and cannot tell what to make of them for their comfort and peace. These sottish conceits in the minds of men prepossess them against the receiving of Jesus Christ. They are like leaky vessels that cannot hold this precious liquor; the cockleshell of their brains cannot empty this ocean. A natural man hath abundance of confused, indistinct, indefinite conceits of Jesus Christ. Festus said, Acts 25:19, That the Jews and Paul had 'a controversy about their own superstitions, and of one Jesus, that was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive;' as if it were no more. And the like conceits are to be found not only in him but in all natural men. They do but look upon him as Austin in his infancy said he did upon God, Tanquam aliquem magnum—assome great remedy against all evils. Now these conceits, though they be a little rectified in some by pregnancy of wit, ripeness of experience, and industrious meditation, yet no savoury knowledge, nor wisdom to salvation, can be fetched out of these divine truths but by the Spirit. We cannot learn Christ, as the apostle speaketh. A man may know Christ, but he hath not learned Christ, Eph. 4:20. That supposeth a teacher, which is the Spirit of God: John 6:45, 'They shall all be taught of God.' The Spirit teacheth us Christ, so as to have communion and fellowship with him—to fetch comfort out of him; and this helpeth our natural light, and doth indeed set off Christ to us: Job 32:8, 'There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.' Then we begin to look upon Jesus Christ with a true and distinct eye. A man may have eyes, but if he have not light he cannot see well, nor discern the distinct shape of things. Light must come to light;—first the light of the sun or candle to the light of the eye. Thus our reason must be helped to fasten upon divine truths so as to fetch comfort out of them. Thus ignorant men cannot tell what to make of the promises of the gospel or the commandments of the gospel, what to think of Christ or what to believe. Therefore, it is said, 1 Cor. 2:10, 'The deep things of God' are 'revealed to us by his Spirit;' that giveth us the knowledge of the truth and worth of them.

(2.) Unteachableness. We are not only in the dark, but blind; we have not only lost the use, but the faculty: 1 Cor. 2:14, 'The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of Goo, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.' We have no spiritual eyes, and therefore we cannot see spiritual things. Things are apprehended by us according as they carry a proportion and suitableness to our hearts. Now our hearts are so gross that we cannot measure truths by them. This unteachableness remaineth in the soul till the Spirit disposes it to knowledge; and therefore St Paul prayeth, Eph. 1:17,18, 'That God would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and open the eyes of their understanding'—take away the scales. And so you read, Luke 24:29, That Christ 'opened their understanding;' i.e., made it, teachable. The word is not only proposed to them to rectify their apprehensions of Christ, but their minds are opened; which implieth, that as they had no light, so they had closed eyes, a wicked mind as well as a weak mind, a mind disaffected, prejudiced, full of corrupt principles and reasonings that are advanced [against] the truth.

[2.] In the heart there is carelessness and stubbornness. And therefore, as God must teach their minds, so he must draw their hearts; as it is said, John 6:44, 'No man cometh unto me, except the Father draw him.' The power of the Spirit must be put forth into the soul to bend it to Christ.

Let us take notice of these two evils.

(1.) Carelessness. Men slight Christ, and then they are not won to believe in him. This carelessness cometh from two things:—(1st.) A love of ease. Men cannot think of Christ without reluctancy, and they are loth to put themselves to the trouble. When the spouse is lodged in the bed of security, see how she pleadeth: 'I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?' A carnal, careless heart, that loveth ease, sticketh at every little hesitancy and vain excuse. In hot countries, where they went barefoot, they were wont to wash their feet after travel. They are loth to arise to entertain Christ for fear of trouble and loss to themselves: Prov. 20:4, 'The sluggard will not plough because of the cold: Many do not care for Christ, because it will cost them some pains and care to pursue after him. They must follow him through so many prayers, meditation, and observation, that they had rather sit still. There is need of a great deal of revelation to make the soul seriously to attend. The spouse fainted, Cant. 5:6, when Christ put his finger into the key-hole of the lock: 'Then I rose up and opened to my beloved, and my beloved had withdrawn himself and was gone; my soul failed when he spake.' When he beginneth to touch the wards of the heart, all idle excuses vanish, then nothing but Christ will satisfy the heart. So Acts 2:37, 'When they were pricked in their hearts, then they cried out, Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Men that are not converted indulge their vain thoughts and excuses still; but when that is once past, they cannot dally with salvation any more: Acts 16:30, the jailer saith 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' Oh, tell me quickly, it can brook no delay!

(2dly.) Doting upon other excellencies. One love, like a nail, driveth out another. A man slighteth a thing when the stream of his affections are carried another way. Some had a farm, some a yoke of oxen, some had married a wife, some one excuse, some another; but they all said, 'I cannot come.' Men are severally taken up, either with honours, or profits, or pleasures; but all keep from Christ. Therefore there is need of the Spirit's revelation, to display the beauties of Christ before the soul, that they may see that there is more in this beloved than in other beloveds, Cant. 5:9; that so the force of our ill affections may be broken, and the stream of the heart diverted another way, and brought about to Christ. This is that which is desired in that request, 'Draw me; we will run after thee,' Cant. 1:4; that the Spirit would display the glory of Christ to the soul, that we may look upon him as an attractive object, and so find our hearts and our desires following after him. Thus for carelessness.

(2.) Stubbornness of heart, that is another thing. There is a wilfulness in men; they will not believe, because they will not believe. Men will not close with Jesus Christ; God showeth them the way, and they contemptuously reject it: John 5:40, 'Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.' Christ inviteth men by the gospel 'Come unto me, all you that are weary and heavy laden;.' and they will not come; there is no answer in the heart to God's call because of this stubbornness of spirit. But now, when gospel invitations are seconded with the Spirit's motions, they command their own entrance into the soul, the heart submits to the way that God revealeth for its good. The heart, like a quick, strong echo, returneth the full answer of gospel demands: Ps. 27:8, 'When thou saidst unto me, Seek ye my face, my heart said, Thy face, Lord, will I seek;' Zech. 13:9, 'I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.' So much for the proof of the point.

I shall answer a doubt or two before I go on to the application.

The doubts are these:—

1. If the want of the Spirit's revelation be the cause why so few believe, how can God be just in punishing men for their unbelief, since he doth not give them all a like revelation?

I answer—Two ways: First, From God's sovereignty: Exod. 33:19, 'I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy;' so Rom. 9:15,16. God's will is the measure of his actions, as the moral law is the measure of our actions. That is a rule to us, not to God; he giveth no account of his matters, he acteth out of infinite sovereignty, and so he may do what he pleaseth Who shall set a task for him? Mat. 11:25, 26, 'I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy sight' That is the upshot of all, and the result of all disputes about it: 'Even so, Father, because it pleaseth thee.' He doth not tell you for what cause it pleased the Father; but even so it pleased him, as if that were reason enough: it is just because it pleased the Father. You are not to be judges of God's actions, but doers of his will. God made you not to censure him, but to give him glory. The pattern of all justice is to be copied out from God's will; it is just because God did it.

Secondly, The beauty of God's justice shineth in this, in that the positive cause of unbelief—

[1.] Is in ourselves, it being through our own blindness and stubbornness. We 'will not come to him that we may have life.' Hosea 13:9, 'O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help.' God is the positive cause of faith, the privative cause of unbelief. The Spirit's revelation worketh faith; but in case of the want of it, our own perverse hearts are the cause of unbelief. If the earth be light, it is from the sun; but if it be dark, it is through the lack of the sun, that is from itself: 2 Cor. 4:3, 'If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.' It is to those that take a course to ruin themselves.

[2.] Men do not their utmost, and therefore are justly punished, because they did not what they were able to do to get faith. He is justly condemned that complaineth of the length of the way, and therefore doth not stir one foot to see whether he shall conquer it, yea or no: Mat. 25:26, 'Thou wicked and slothful servant.' Many complain, as if God required brick and gave no straw. They are wicked and slothful; they do not what they should. Men had rather accuse God than reflect upon their own idleness; they will not come to him.

[3] They abuse their parts, and are so far from improving of them to the utmost, that they employ them against God: Jude 10, 'What they know naturally as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.' So 2 Peter 2:12, it is said, 'They utterly perish in their own corruption.' There is wickedness enough in them to cause the wrath of God to proceed against them. This is the first doubt.

2. The next is (which is somewhat answered out of this) if this be cause—viz., the want of the Spirit's revelation—Why then should we labour after faith? Our labour will not do without the revelation of the Spirit.

Ans. {1.] We should labour after it, to see our own weakness, that we may took up to God the more earnestly for it. Men think it is easy to believe till they put themselves upon the trial. They do not see a need of the Spirit till they perceive the fruitlessness of their own endeavours: 'If thou appliest thy heart to understanding, and criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as hidden treasure; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God,' Prov. 2:3-5.

[2] That we may manifest our obedience to God, and meet him in his own way, He hath commanded us to believe; let us do what we can towards it. Improve your natural abilities, and use the means that God hath appointed, and refer the success to him: Luke 5:5, 'Master, we have toiled all night, and catched nothing; nevertheless, at thy command I will let down the net.' Consider God's prerogative over you, and make the best of the power you have; and if for nothing else, yet at his command perform thy duty. God hath enabled you to do somewhat, and he may justly require you should do the utmost of it. Every man hath a command over his locomotive faculty; he can choose whether he will come hither or go thither. Every man can 'watch at the gates of wisdom,' Prov. 8:34, 'and wait at the posts of her door.' Therefore, let the command of God enforce you to do what you can.

[3.] That you may manifest your desires after it. God doth not give Christ to many, because they do not care for him. If a man did care for a thing, he would endeavour after it. Excuses are always a sign of an unwilling heart. Where the desires are vehement, they will not easily be put by: Mat. 13:45, The merchant that 'found a pearl of great price,' 'went and sold all that he might buy it.' Those that desire not Christ, do not look upon him as a pearl of price; if they did, their hearts would follow hard after him. Those that say they have no power, it is to be feared they have no heart. It was the slothful person said, 'There is a lion in the way,' Prov. 26:13. Therefore strive after faith, if for nothing else, yet to show that Christ is worth your most earnest seeking and pursuit after him.

[4.] Because though by the using of means we do not get faith, yet without the means we shall not have it. It is conditio sine qua non, though not causa fidei: Rom. 10:14, 'How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?' A man hath it not by hearing, nor for hearing, yet he hath it not without hearing. There is not merit nor efficacy in the means, and yet there must be the presence of them, because it holdeth negatively, if ye do not use the means ye shall never believe. The Spirit causeth faith, but it is by the word: see that text, Acts 13:46, 'It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken unto you; but seeing ye have put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.' Men that refuse the means, pass the sentence of condemnation upon themselves, they declare themselves to be those whom God will judge to be unworthy of eternal life—unworthy, because they would not seek after it. When the psalmist describeth desperate men, he represents them to be such as reject the means: Ps. 58:4,5, 'They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear, which will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.' The adder stoppeth one ear with her tail, and the other lieth close upon the ground. So wicked men, if they come to the ordinances, take care they shall not prevail upon them; they are not diligent to attend to the word.

[5.] It is very likely God will come in and meet with us if we seek him in his own ways; and who would not venture upon a likelihood of safety to come out of a certain danger? If you do not use the means, you are sure to perish; if you do, you may be likely to obtain mercy; and certainly it is the safest course to adventure upon these hopes. The soul reasoneth in such a case just as the Aramites did: 2 Kings 7:4, 'If we enter into the city, there is the famine, we shall die there; if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come and let us fall into the host of the Assyrians; if they save us alive, we shall live, and if they kill us, we shall but die.' So if we continue in our sins, it is death; if we neglect prayer, or hearing, or meditation, it is death; though there be but an if of mercy, venture upon it, a little to keep up the heart. Men near drowning will catch hold, though it be but of a reed or a twig.

[6.] This is God's usual way, to meet those that seek him. The God of Jacob would not have them seek his face in vain, Isa. 45:19, and Luke 11:9; though he would not arise and give as his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will arise and give him. When the soul is importunate with God thus, it is a sign of mercy, and it is through the preliminary efficacy of the Spirit. This earnestness after faith is the first impression of the Spirit's efficacy. Thus I have answered the doubts.


Source: A Practical Exposition of the Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah