The Elements of Knowledge

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Will Rogers is credited with saying something like this:  "It is not what people don't know that is the trouble.  The trouble is caused by what people think they know that ain't so."

 

Most Christians can relate to this.  How many times we have met people, who were convinced of something, when we knew it wasn't so.  They "know" that evolution is a fact, and that science has disproved the Bible.  They "know" that Christians once believed in a flat earth.  They "know" that everyone is sexually promiscuous.  They "know" that Christians are moralistic hypocrites.  And so it goes.   Christians are also accused of thinking they know things that just can't be true: the Virgin Birth of Christ; His resurrection from the dead; the infallibility of the Bible, and many other such things.

 

How you can be certain?  It is critical for you to be sure of what you think you know.  But such certainty is largely ignored in the modern day.  "What is true for you," is all that matters.   "Even the Bible means different things to different people, and everyone is convinced his ideas are correct," goes the modern refrain.  The Bible is therefore irrelevant in the public marketplace of ideas.  In fact, even the marketplace of ideas has no legal tender, and everyone brings his own species.   Even Christian people often enter into the marketplace with the coin of another kingdom, hoping thereby to trade on equal terms with aliens.

 

Does the Bible present an epistemology that will retain its value no matter what the coin of the realm is?  This writer is convinced that it does, and that it is summarized in Psalm 19.  The following is a brief outline of the Psalm:

 

          Part One: vs. 1-6: The testimony of Creation.

          Part Two: vs. 7-11: The testimony of Scripture.

          Part Three: vs. 12-14: The testimony of the Spirit in the heart.

 

Part One: vs. 1-6.  Creation speaks with a clear voice to all people in terms that they can and do understand.  The heavens and the firmament show the glory of God to all men, for there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.  They hear and they understand the message, according to the plain words of Paul in Romans 1:19, 20.   God created all things by His Wise and Powerful Word, and the message penetrates to the heart of every man--even man's own rational and emotional makeup declare the truth concerning God.    This truth leaves men without excuse, for his suppression of this truth results in the denial of his own rationality and renders him thankless and disapproved of God.   Judgment rests upon men because of this denial, for the denial leaves his very reason under judgment and blinded (Romans 1:28).

 

This revelation of God includes his moral law, for man cannot escape his moral nature, imbedded in his very consciousness, that witness we call conscience.  God's moral law is planted in the very warp and woof of man's being, according to Romans 2:14, 15.  Man must make moral judgments, but by the very exercise of his moral nature he condemns himself, for he transgresses in the very things in which he condemns others (Romans 2:1-3).   Because of his transgressions, his conscience is seared as with a hot iron, and his alienation from God is revealed in his perverted moral judgments: for he puts good for evil and evil for good.   But the truth remains: created in the image of God, man must make such decisions, and thereby shows himself corrupt.   He may deny that there are any moral standards that apply to all men, but even in this assertion he shows himself corrupt by waging war on "evil" Christians who affirm such standards.

 

This revelation of God in Creation is absolutely necessary for knowledge; it comes with absolute authority and clarity, and is sufficient to leave men without excuse before God.

 

Part Two: vs. 7-11.   Because man is corrupt in reason and in conscience, God in His mercy and grace, has given man a written revelation, which we call the Bible.  This witness is perfect and, with the Holy Spirit, converts the soul.  The written testimony is sure, and makes the simple wise.    Those who receive the testimony of the Lord find that it is true and righteous altogether.  In no way do God's written testimonies contradict the witness of Creation: either in the glory of God revealed in the heavens, or in the moral witness in the consciences of men.   Many a man, whose conscience has been seared and deadened, has found his conscience awakened by the reading or preaching of the Scriptures, and has found repentance and faith.  The words are more precious than the best gold, and are sweeter than the best dainties that the world can offer.   "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and they were the joy and rejoicing of my heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord of Hosts" (Jer. 15:16).

 

Scripture has no meaning except within the context of God's revelation in Creation and the history of the world.   The Scripture speaks of people, of sheep, of houses and lands, of money and business, of love and hate.  It speaks of the Wisdom of God, the Lord Jesus, who entered into this world of Creation, to suffer a historical death, the death of a creature of God, in order to redeem God's creation and put away sin forever.  If we deny Creation, the objective truth of Scripture slips away and leaves each man locked into his own mind and imagination (or lack of it).

 

The warnings of Scripture keep the wise person in the way of truth.  There is great reward for loving and keeping to the Scripture.   This revelation of God in Scripture is also absolutely necessary for knowledge. The Scriptures speak with absolute authority and clarity; and are sufficient as the only objective standard of truth concerning man's origin, purpose, and redemption.  They clearly reveal the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel as the only Savior and Redeemer of mankind.

 

Part Three: vs. 12-14.   But the testimony of Creation--both outward and inward--or the witness of the Scripture is not sufficient if the heart remains alienated from God.  The heart is not disposed naturally to seek the Lord, either in His works of Creation or in the testimony of Scripture.  Notwithstanding, he is without excuse for these objective standards reveal the bias and wicked blindness of his heart.

 

"Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults?" the Psalmist cries.   As long as pride and arrogance rules the heart, we are blinded from the truth.  We may kill people--even Christians--thinking we have done God service.  There is no drunkenness like pride, which blinds the mind and renders true knowledge impossible.

 

The first work of the Spirit in the heart is to abase pride and take away confidence in the flesh.  "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.  Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," is the testimony of Job (Job 42:5, 6).  The testimony of Isaiah was similar:  "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).

 

This work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for knowledge and sufficient to unite the soul to Jesus Christ, who is the way the truth and the life.    In connection with the Scripture, the Holy Spirit brings assurance of salvation and newness of life.  Being God, His work is authoritative and clear, condemning the flesh and its works and causing Christ to be formed in us.  This grace that brings salvation teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, to live soberly and righteously in the present world (Titus 2:11, 12).

 

Proud confidence of knowledge is one of the devil's great works, for it renders the heart immune to knowledge.  Only the power of the Spirit can break up the heart of stone, and give a heart that knows God and the truth:  "I will put my law into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest" (Heb. 8:10,11).

 

Summary:  These three things are absolutely necessary for true knowledge.  If there appears to be any contradiction between them: the testimony of Creation; the testimony of Scripture; and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the heart, then the soul should be greatly concerned, for it means that it does not know as it ought, and does not know what it thinks it knows, for God cannot deny Himself in any of His works: either in Creation, in Scripture, or in the work of the Spirit in the heart.  These all with one voice speak the truth about God.

 

What a fine prayer closes this great Psalm on epistemology!  "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer."  Truth is not what I perceive it to be, but what is approved of God and acceptable in His sight.  If not approved and acceptable in His sight, what I think I know just "ain't so."           Return to menu