True Wisdom and Knowledge Alone by the Holy Spirit
When the holy Church of the living God, which is the pillar and ground of the truth among men, was first set up, it was the apostle's boast that all worldly wisdom or learning was nothing. "Where", said he, "is the wise, the scribe, the disputer of this world? Has not God made the wisdom of this world foolish?" (1 Corinthians 1:20). But now it is the aim of all churches to be full of the worldly wise, the scribes, the disputers, and learned scholars, who sit to analyze and teach the letter of Holy Scripture in the power of human wisdom. From a Church once aflame with heavenly love, now division, bitterness, envy, pride, strife, hatred, and persecution break forth with as much strength in learned Christendom as ever they did from a religion of pagan idolatry set up by satan. And thus it must be, so long as there is any trust in wisdom or knowledge that is not wholly from the Spirit of God.
But, says the well-read scribe of today, must there then be no learning or scholarship, no erudition in the Christian church? Must there be nothing thought of or gained by the gospel besides salvation? Must its ministers know nothing and teach nothing but such salvation doctrines as Christ and His apostles taught? Nothing but the full denial of self, poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, unwearied patience, a never-ceasing love, an absolute renunciation of the pomps and vanities of the world, a full dependence upon our heavenly Father? Must there be no joy or rejoicing but in the Holy Spirit, no wisdom but that which God gives, no walking but as Christ walked? One can go to extremes,says the scribe, in such a sole reliance upon the Holy Spirit that the Church is thereby left defenseless against the learned attacks of scholarly skeptics and atheists.
My answer to this is, Happy, thrice happy are they who are only thus learned in the gospel, and who through all their lives seek nothing for themselves or others but to be taught of God! Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who own no master but Christ, no teacher but His Holy Spirit, and who are as unable to join with the contenders after worldly wisdom as with those who "labor for the wind" (Eccl. 5:16), and "give their money for that which is not bread" (Isaiah 55:2). Happy are they who know that a life of total submission to Christ and absolute dependence upon the Holy Spirit is the only choice that enlightened reason can make. Indeed, it is to the honor of this life of faith that none can neglect it except those who are so inconsiderate of their own destiny as to fail to weigh all their actions in light of what God, reason, eternity, and their own happiness require of them.
To look anywhere for wisdom except in the leading of the Holy Spirit is to give oneself up to darkness. Nor is this valid only for those who consider themselves called to serve God in the capacity of a pastor or priest or preacher. Would a man neglect his own happiness because he did not feel called of God to preach the same to others? Willa man have no regard for his own health unless he is a doctor engaged in caring for the public health? Yet it is more unreasonable for any man to neglect a full compliance with the call of our Lord to love as He loved and to walk as He walked simply because he is not a bishop or an apostle.
All in man that is not by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can only be ignorance and folly; and he is whom the law, the prophets, and the gospel are fulfilled is the only well-educated man and is one of the first-rate scholars in the world. But who is he that has this true wisdom from above? Who is he in whom all is known and fulfilled that is in the law, the prophets, and the gospel? The lip of truth has told us that it is he and he alone who "loves God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, with all his strength, and his neighbor as himself" (Mark 12:30-31).
This is the man that is all wisdom, all light, and who has entered into possession of all that is meant by the mysteries contained in the Scriptures. And where this divine love is lacking, a diabolical self sits in its place, be there a great wit, a shining critic, a poet laureate, a man of science, or a learned philosopher.
"A new commandment," said Christ, "I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34). The newness of this precept did not consist in the fact that men were commanded to love one another, for this was an old precept both of Moses' Law and of nature. But it was new in this respect, that it was to imitate a new and until then unheard-of example of love: it was to love others as Christ has loved us. "And by this," said our Lord, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have this love one to another" (John 13:35). Now if men are to know that we are the disciples of Christ by our thus loving one another according to His new example of love, then it is certain that if we are void of this love, we make it plainly known unto men that we are not His disciples, that we do not have His wisdom, His mind, nor are taught of Him.
If we would have the mind of Christ, if He is to be our wisdom, then we should often consider the reasons on which the duty of love is founded. We are to love our neighbors, that is all mankind, not because they are wise, holy, virtuous or well-behaved, for all mankind neither ever was nor ever will be so. Therefore it is certain that the reason for our being obliged to love them cannot be founded in their virtue. Again we are sure that the merit of persons is not the reason for our being obliged to love them, because we are commanded to pay the highest instances of love to our worst enemies; we are to love and bless and pray for those who most injuriously treat us. God loves, not because we are wise, and good, and holy, but in pity to us, because we need this happiness. He loves us in order to make us good. Our love therefore must take this same course, not looking for or requiring any merit in our brethren, but pitying their disorders and wishing them all the good that they need and are capable of receiving. And if the lack of this heavenly love be so serious a defect as Paul has said, that it renders our greatest virtues but empty sounds and tinkling cymbals, how highly does it concern us to be sure at all times that the Spirit of love is filling our lives.
The greatest idea that we can frame of God is a conception of Him as a being of infinite love and goodness, using an infinite wisdom and power for the common good and happiness of all His creatures. The highest notion that we can form of a man who is created in the image of God is a conception of him as nearly like God in this respect as he can be; using all his finite faculties for the common good of all his fellow creatures, lovingly desiring that they may all have the happiness for which God has created them. The man who thus lives in harmony with God's love and God's will for himself and mankind is the only man who is truly wise; and any intelligence less than this is not worthy of the high names by which it is often called among men of learning. What could be emptier than the scholarship which sets itself up as great in Scripture interpretation, yet lacks this love which our Lord said is the very essence of all the teaching so variously contained in the law and the prophets!
One of Christ's would-be followers said, "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father" (Matthew 8:21). Our Lord's answer was, "Let the dead bury their dead; follow thou Me" (8:22). Another said, "Let me first go bid them farewell that are at home in my house" (Luke 9:61). Jesus answered, "No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God" (9:62). Now let it be supposed that a third had said, "Lord, I have left my Greek grammar at home, and some learned commentaries full of logic and eloquence; suffer me first to go back for them, lest losing the light which I had from them, I might mistake the depth and truth of thy heavenly doctrines, or be less able to prove and preach them powerfully to others." Would not such a request as this have had a folly and absurdity in it not chargeable upon those two other requests which Christ rejected? Yet what better thing does the general approach throughout Christendom to the gospel of Christ have to say for itself than this? And how can a scholarly learning about the letter of Scripture be called true wisdom or knowledge so long as that love toward God and neighbor is neglected, which is so plainly stated to be the essence of all that which Scripture has to teach.
Who can fail to realize his absolute need of the Holy Spirit to be the sole means by which the divine love demanded by Christ of His disciples has any hope of being worked out in his life? For when He says, "as I have loved you, so you are to love one another" (John 13:34), He makes it plain that His love is the standard and rule by which our actions are to be judged. And what man could hope to have this love by his own power much less by the greatness of his learning about this love from the description of it given in Scripture. Clearly nothing less than a birth of this love in the heart can make us that which, as His disciples, we are to be.
If love is not the breath of your life, the spirit that forms and governs everything that proceeds from you, everything that has your labor, your allowance and consent, you are cut off from the creative power of God, you are dead while you live, and your nature and works can have no other breath but that which is called pride, wrath, envy, hypocrisy, hatred, revenge, and self-exaltation under the power of satan and his kingdom of darkness. Nothing can possibly save you from being the certain prey of these evil passions of fallen nature through the whole course of your life but a birth of that love which is God Himself, His light and Spirit within you. "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10); and whatsoever is not of love is therefore contrary to the law, and the greatest of sin. Could any man be considered truly wise who remains in this state of corruption through rejecting that remedy which God offers in our Lord Jesus Christ?
Now since divine love can have no beginning but from a birth of the divine love in us, therefore says John, "We love him because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). For as His Holy Spirit must first be a gift to us or born in us, and only then can we worship God in spirit and in truth, so His love must of all necessity be a gift to us, or born in us, and then we have that of God in us which alone can love Him with His own love. A truth absolutely asserted in these words "Love is of God, and he that loveth is born of God" (1 John 4:7).
Let this be my excuse to the learned world for owning no school of wisdom or knowledge but where the one lesson is divine love, and the one teacher the Spirit of God: "For though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge and have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). Is it not a vain work to be probing and searching for that which Paul says can only leave us poor and empty, and to neglect this divine love which we must have at all cost if we are to be anything in God's kingdom? But what school of divinity turns its students first of all to this heavenly love? Nay, far from putting their scholarship under this one essential rule, they gather to themselves the fruit of that ancient tree of knowledge that Eve saw was "so much desired to make her wise" (Genesis 3:6). No marvel then that those thus educated prove themselves to be the children of Eve, still under the power of that same satanic deception.
Believe me then, great scholar, that all you have gained of wisdom or learning without this divine love to God and man being the power of your life, will stand you in as much stead and fill you with as high heavenly comfort at the hour of death as all the long dreams which night after night have filled your sleep. Until a man knows this with as much fullness of conviction as he knows the vanity of a dream, he has his full proof that he is not yet in the light of truth, not yet taught of God, not like-minded with Christ. As Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they might be strengthened with might by the Spirit in their inner man unto the indwelling of Christ by faith, in order for them to be rooted and grounded in this divine love, so we know with certainty that only the Holy Spirit of God, who alone is Love, can fill us with that love that He has required of His children. And as this love passes all knowledge, we know that it is not acquired by gaining a scholarly knowledge of it, but by the power of the living God through His indwelling Spirit in our hearts. Hence Christ's prayer to the Father for His disciples: "That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them" (John 17:26).
Show me a man whose heart has no desire or prayer in it but to love God with his whole soul and spirit, and his neighbor as himself, and then you have shown me the man who knows Christ and is known of Him - the best and wisest man in the world, in whom the first heavenly wisdom and goodness are come to life. In this man all that came from the old serpent is trodden under his feet. Nothing of self, pride, wrath, envy, covetousness, or worldly wisdom can have the least abode in him, because that love which fulfills the whole law and prophets, and which is Christ come to birth and life in him, is the source and power of his every thought, word, and deed. And if he has no share or part with foolish errors, cannot be tossed about with every wind of doctrine, it is because to be always governed by this love is the same thing as to be always taught of God.