On Learning

John David Clark, Sr. - October, 1995

"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning"

Is it reasonable to think that you can learn the Bible without having your ideas concerning God changed? Is it reasonable to suppose that new knowledge can enter into your heart without requiring that wrong thoughts based on your former ignorance be cast out? If you knew very little about American History and you enrolled in a course on the subject, wouldn't you expect to have some of your ideas about American history reshaped by the learning? Surely we can understand that education means change; it means casting aside wrong ideas when we learn that those ideas are based upon a lack of knowledge. This is an escapable truth, whether one is speaking of natural or spiritual education. It is obvious that if we ever are to draw nearer to God, if we ever are to become more like Him, that we must first be willing to change any of our present thoughts and ways. We cannot grow and at the same time stay as we are. Growth is change. To grow in grace is to live in an attitude of constant repentance from beliefs about God which we learn are baseless.

Even after teaching the Bible for a number of years now, the attitude of many of my students still gives me pause. Almost all of my students seem eager to learn the Bible. After all, the Bible course is not required for anyone, and carries with it no college credit at all, so I suppose those who pay their money to take the course are doing so simply because they want to learn about God. But the strangest notion often afflicts them when it comes to learning the Bible. Their attitude seems to be that, regardless of what truths they may learn during the course, if they are Baptist, they expect to remain Baptists; if they are Catholic, they expect to remain Catholic; if they are Pentecostal, they expect to remain Pentecostal; if they are Muslim, they expect to remain Muslim. In short, few seem to approach the Bible wisely, expecting God by His mighty Word to make something of them they have never been before, to create understanding of Him that they would not previously have been able to believe. Few seem to understand that learning about God involves changes: changes in faith and changes in conduct. It brings about a revolution in our hearts. Learning about God is learning about God. It is not an exercise in self-glory. It will demand that we jettison inadequate beliefs when we learn that they are indeed inadequately based upon the revelation of God.

If you do not want your faith to be challenged, if you are unwilling to change your ways, then do not read your Bible. The Spirit of God, and the Bible it produced, endorses no sect, favors no man, and seeks no praise. It avoids no controversy, and does not fear your disapproval. The man who reads the Bible merely to justify himself in his faith is foolish. The honest-hearted soul opens the Bible to learn of God, not to find self-serving information.

In our Gentile culture, a wise man is often defined as one who possesses great knowledge. The truth is that no one but God knows God, and a wise man is one who humbles himself to receive the knowledge of the truth that God offers. Solomon was gifted with the ability to learn. In other words, God anointed Solomon with the rare ability to surrender his opinions when truth was revealed to him. The wisdom God gave to Solomon was not an abstract intellectualism, such as the ancient Greeks loved. It was instead a practical wisdom which we need, and which we can understand if we humble ourselves before God. Pride blinds the heart; it makes it difficult for us to admit that we have been wrong. It causes us to fear the thoughts of others. But it is the fool who will not change, even when the evidence shows that he has been wrong in his beliefs about God.

The only right way to read the Bible is in fear and faith. We must admit to ourselves that our beliefs are subject to God's approval, and then honestly and humbly approach the Scriptures, if we really expect to receive guidance. Every time we open the Bible, we must lay our thoughts and our preferences on the altar, and if the sacrificial fire is ignited by what we read and our ways are consumed, then we should be grateful to be rid of them.

The wisdom which God gave to Solomon was the ability to learn. Said Solomon, "A wise man will hear, and will increase learning. . . but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Pro.1:5,7). God showed Solomon that a wise man is the man who can be taught, while a fool is one who cannot. "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Pro.9:9). God can't make us wise if we refuse to hear His instruction and be changed by it.

Consider these verses from Proverbs, and notice that the quality of wisdom is its ability to take knowledge in, while the quality of foolishness is its resistance to new information, or correction:

10:8 The wise in heart will receive commandments, but a prating fool shall fall.

10:17 He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction, but he that refuseth reproof erreth.

12:1 Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge, but he that hateth reproof is brutish.

13:1 A wise heareth his father's instruction, but a scorner heareth not rebuke.

15:5 A fool despiseth his father's instruction, but he that regardeth reproof is wise.

15:10 Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way, and he that hateth reproof

shall die.

15:12 A scorner loveth not him that reproveth him, neither will he go unto the wise.

15:31 The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.

15:32 He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul, but he that heareth reproof

getteth understanding.

17:10 A reproof entereth more into a wise man than a hundred stripes into a fool.

18:15 The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeketh

knowledge.

19:20 Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.

19:25 Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware; and reprove one that hath

understanding and he will understand knowledge.

It is instructive to note that Solomon equates knowledge with correction. The one who is taught is "corrected" or reproved", for when a man takes in the knowledge of God, he is automatically guided in a new direction. But though a man is reproved by being taught, the wise man loves it! The wise man loves it because he understands that unless his thoughts and his ways are corrected by God, he can never please God, can never know Him, and will certainly be condemned in the Judgment. He knows that he needs help! While the fool is concerned with the appearance of possessing wisdom, the wise feel blessed by being taught. There have been a number of saints that I know who have been condemned by religious men for "constantly changing", from Catholic to Baptist to Pentecostal to the Truth, etc. My question is, what else should they be doing? Remaining in their errors like fools, so that others will consider them to be wise and stable? The only people who will ever come to the knowledge of God are those who are ready to change if God shows them that what they believe is a lie.

When God speaks, we move or we perish. God's Word is non-negotiable. But fools fear the displeasure of men more than the wrath of God, and they love the praise of men more than the praise of God. Blessed is the man who receives God's correcting guidance as coming from a loving hand! Eve was deceived because she was persuaded to believe that God did not really love her. And the foolish will not receive reproof because they see the one telling them the truth as an adversary, as one attacking their beliefs rather than seeing the revelation of the truth as a blessing, yea rather, an honor from God.

I understand very well that the truths which are published by the Pioneer Tract Society are not commonly taught. I also know that fact does not make those truths any less true. One of the first questions that a foolish person asks when presented with the truth is, "How many other people believe it?", as if that has any relevance at all. The person who has been seeking after the knowledge of God, as if it were treasure, rejoices at the coming of the truth. It is his answer; it is what he has longed for; it is like water to his thirsting soul. The wise soul does not perceive the truth as an offence; it is not seen as attacking anything. By a wise man the truth is embraced as a liberator from a dark, cold dungeon; it becomes his hero, his most cherished possession, a pearl of great price. To the thirsty soul, the truth is a long-awaited and most welcome guest. And in hopes that God's guest will stay, the wise make room for the truth by trashing ideas and behavior which are incompatible with that holy guest.

"Prove all things", wrote Paul. "Try the spirits", wrote John. In other words, don't be hasty either to believe or to despise what you hear. Put men's words to the test! But how can you do that until you yourself have been put to the test by God? Has your spirit been tested? Has your will been contradicted by the Spirit? Does it anger you when someone suggests you are misguided in your faith? Have you placed your ideas and opinions on God's altar and then approached Him in prayer, or then opened His book in humility? Has God sent one of His humble servants your way so that your spirit may be examined with truth? If not, pray for that blessing now. Be willing to be childlike; it is the only way to grow. Be willing to be wrong; it is the only way to be made right. Be willing to be found ignorant; it is the only way to learn. Be willing to be washed; it is the only way to be made clean.


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