Experience in Christian Thinking = Deliverance

1 Cor. 2:14.---' 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.'

The natural man, that is to say the unregenerated man, is unable, Paul says, to receive the things of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. It is not the merely clever man, but the man who has felt the power of spiritual forces who is competent to deal with spiritual issues. The judge of religious truth is not the critic, but the saint.

Now what are we to make of the principle the Apostle here lays down? Does it amount to a repudiation of reason in the realm of religion? Is it a denial of the rights of the intellect? By no means. The Christian faith appeals to men as reasonable and intelligent beings. This is the challenge it addresses to them: 'Come and let us reason together, saith the Lord.' It courts investigation; it welcomes inquiry. It calls upon men to serve and love God not only with the heart and the soul, but with the mind as well. Paul himself brought a mighty brain to bear upon Christian truth. He is par excellence the thinker of the Apostolic group. He would be the last in the world to challenge the function of the reason or to deny the rights of the intellect. On the contrary, he commends the Christian faith and the Christian service on the ground that it is essentially a reasonable service. This is not a denial of the rights of the intellect; it is not an assertion that the reason has no part to play in religion. But it is the assertion that reason by itself is not enough, that something more than a keen and clever intellect is necessary for the discernment of religious truth. And there is nothing unreasonable in the Apostolic contention. He is really only laying down a principle the reasonableness and, indeed, necessity of which are freely acknowledged in other spheres of human learning.

As a matter of fact, there is very little of our knowledge that has come to us as the result of mere and pure reason. Emotional and moral factors are called into play as well. To appreciate painting, for instance, we need much more than a clear eye and the power to distinguish colors. We need more than the brain. We need a certain moral and spiritual gift: we need sympathy with the painter's mind and purpose.

To appreciate music we need more than an accurate ear; we need a little of the musical temperament. There are plenty of keen, clever men to whom music of all kinds is an intolerable weariness. To appreciate poetry we need more than the power to read; we need that curious, subtle feeling for the harmonies and cadences of words. Or [to take an illustration on a different plane] to understand men we need more than a clear head; we need also a sympathetic heart. The power to read human nature, as we say, comes not so much through our intellectual faculties as through our emotional and moral qualities of insight, sympathy, sensibility.

It is the same principle that Paul is applying here to the matter of Christian truth. It comes to men, not through the mind only, but through the heart, the emotions, and the will as well. And to understand Christian truth you need more than intellectual cleverness; you need moral sympathy with the truth you seek to grasp; you need the Christian spirit; 'these things are spiritually tested.' The only difference is that, if this principle holds good in other spheres of human knowledge, it holds with tenfold validity in the apprehension of Christian truth. For Christianity is not a theory , it is not a set of maxims, it is not even a body of truth; it is a personal relation, it is an obedience, it is a life. Christianity, at bottom, is life in Christ.

EXPERIENCE and DOCTRINE.---It is important to recognize that in the Christian religion experience precedes doctrine. There is a certain body of doctrine which we recognize today as being the intellectual statement of the truth of Christianity. But, as a matter of history, Christianity did not begin as a set of doctrines; it began as a vital experience in the hearts of men. Experience came first, dogma came second. It was not the Christian doctrine that gave rise to the Christian experience; it was the Christian experience that gave rise to the Christian dogma. Men felt certain things, and then they felt constrained to try to give an intellectual account of them. Take the cardinal doctrine of the Incarnation. The Apostles did not start with the doctrine. But Jesus Christ produced a certain impression upon them, and accomplished certain works in them, and coming to account for that impression, and those mighty and revolutionary works, they explained them by saying that Jesus was no mere man, but God manifest in the flesh. Take Paul's doctrine of Atonement. It was drawn out of the blood and fire of his own experience. The crushing burden of sin, the ineffectiveness of law, the redeeming and life-giving power of the crucified Christ---they were vital experiences with Paul before they were translated into doctrines. His doctrine of release through the atoning sacrifice of Christ is simply the attempt to give intellectual expression to what he had already experienced. Now if that be the true order, it follows that for the true appreciation of these great Christian doctrines an identity of experience, a sympathy of spirit is required.

EXPERIENCE and KNOWLEDGE.---If Christian truth were purely intellectual, like the multiplication table or the problems of Euclid, the intellect would be sufficient for its apprehension. But Christian doctrine is simply Christian experience translated into speech. To understand and appreciate the speech into which it is translated you must first of all have some sympathy with and some share in the experience. Take the great and cardinal doctrines to which reference has been made.

Take first the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Gnostics in John's day challenged this doctrine. They denied that the infinite God could express Himself in a finite personality. They scouted the bare idea that God could become manifest in the flesh. It was not the least bit surprising that they should do so. From the merely intellectual point of view the doctrine seemed impossible and absurd. But to John and the Christians at Ephesus it was not impossible, and it was not absurd. They had felt and seen and handled the Word of Life. They had come into direct contact with Jesus; He had exercised God's power upon them and done God's work within them. The Incarnation to them was not an impossible thing; it was a sure and certain thing. Their conviction sprang from their experience. They had an anointing from the Holy One, and they knew.

Take the great doctrine of the Cross, with which Paul is dealing in this chapter. To the natural man it was mere foolishness. This is nothing to be surprised at. The natural man cannot know this great truth. The man who has never felt broken and crushed by his sin will never understand it. He does not realize the need of forgiveness, and so the whole idea of an atoning sacrifice becomes to him a ridiculous superfluity. But the man who has passed through Paul's experience finds no diffiCULTy about Paul's doctrine. The man whose heart has been broken by his sin appreciates the Cross, understands the Cross. To the wise and prudent it seems a superfluity. To the penitent soul it is God's answer to his urgent and bitter need, and a great multitude of sin-burdened men and women have found in it their hope and comfort.

Now all this has a very vital bearing upon our Christian apologetic. Clever men are once again denying the Incarnation and scouting the Atonement. We need not be unduly alarmed. To the natural man, however keen and clever, these great Christian doctrines seem absurd, and he tells us so loudly and continually. But how is a man to know who and what Christ is if he has never put himself in Christ's hands? How is a man to know whether the Cross is the power and wisdom of God or not if he has never felt the ache and burden of his own sin? These things are spiritually tested, and a man who has no experimental knowledge of Christ, and who has never felt the sinfulness of sin, is as incompetent to pronounce judgment upon the Incarnation or the Atonement as a blind man would be to pronounce judgment on color or a deaf man on sound.

It does not trouble us very much that the mere critic sees nothing in these great doctrines. The faith is secured, because multitudes and by us also; have experienced and found them true. The saint---the man who has tried---the man who has made experiment---is the only competent judge of Christian truth.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha