The Arrogance of Advantage
“I’ve received such great light, and its beams are so bright
That the past of my life’s way seems dim.”*
“I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” (Ecclesiastes 1:16)
This is a state of mind and heart to be greatly abhorred and avoided at all costs. It is all the more dangerous because it does not seem so dangerous. Indeed, it seems accurate and fitting—simply acknowledgment of the facts—just basic honesty and truthfulness. That is the complacency of pride: the smug satisfaction of advantage. “I communed with mine own heart….” This inward disposition does not come from God.
Man is created “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5) and a great deal above many other wonderful created things. Instead of accepting his advantageous state of existence as a sacred trust from God and a fearsome responsibility (even the responsibility of an immortal soul), he is, for the most part, totally taken with “the pride of life,” a deadly and wicked disposition, which “is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16) Nor is this self-congratulating, self-important attitude confined to his created advantages, for it accompanies every perceived advantage that he acquires as he lives.
“Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2)
This scripture ought to bring a quiet humbleness over your soul. It is not the acquiring of knowledge that really advances us and improves us, it is the necessary character traits that come with the knowledge. When we only acquire knowledge, the effect is detrimental. The pride of man denies this. We live in an age when knowledge has greatly, unimaginably increased, and the pride of man is exalted beyond all measure, too. What is unacknowledged and pretty much unknown among the general run of people is that our ability to handle that knowledge aright is practically non-existent. We know far too much for our good; we are “too big for our britches,” as it were. Puffed up beyond the telling and independent, touchy. “He knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” As a race, the race of mankind, we have become Educated Fools.
This is a scathing indictment, yet it is perfectly true. We not only know enough to be dangerous, we have become more dangerous than we dare dream.
All around us is abundant evidence of the truthfulness of these statements. We are beset by bitter little wars, by highly questionable experiments of all kinds—social, biological, philosophical, religious. And in every avenue, we see the Bible proved true over and over. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) Talk about “a rat race”! No permanent gains. What appears to be progress is doomed to another fiasco, another unexpected and unwelcome outcome or undesirable side effect. “Ever learning….” Always frustrated. Something vital and important has been left out. “Knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
If each succeeding generation could take up where the preceding one left off, go on from there and build on their experiences, the human race would be way on up the line. It does not work out that way. Each generation has to learn its own lessons, by its own experiences, so we just keep covering the same ground over and over.
As far as knowledge is concerned, each succeeding generation does take up from the preceding one left off. And certain attitudes toward that body of knowledge are passed from generation to generation, as well. We call this culture. What is not passable from person to person is grace from God. It is not possible to hold spiritual things by human effort; it takes an infusion of divine grace to know things such as we ought to know them. It is the pride of man, the carnality of man, that interferes with receiving that special help from God and deprives us of real progress.
“He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? The LORD’S voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.” (Micah 6:8-9) Note the importance of these words, “He hath showed thee.” He has shown us, but that does not leave us capable of holding the right position in the right way without continuous help from Him. Now the meek and quiet spirit of the humble responds to God’s work by (1) seeing His name; (2) hearing the rod and Who hath appointed it. That is the path of walking humbly with thy God. God has not made all this and our capacity to absorb a little of it so that we can go “hog wild” and feel great about ourselves and what we have acquired. There is a rod. There are appointments of the Almighty for each and every one of us. It all has to do with why the creature (us) is made subject to vanity (Romans 8:20); i.e., the whole purpose of our existence, both temporally and eternally. “That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3) Here is a manifestation of the rod. If we take it right, it will establish, strengthen, settle us. It has an humbling effect.
God has a way of giving us true knowledge that will shield us from the puffing up. He will season the learning with divine charity and divine humility, in such a way as to cause us to do justly and to love mercy and to keep in step with God. Not lagging behind nor running ahead of Him. Listen to the inspired description of knowledge gained properly: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17) Take note. There is wisdom from below. And there is wisdom from above.
When the work of God is done right, there is no room for the flesh to glory. This is because God supplies something with the insights of understanding that humbles the flesh. “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” (2 Corinthians 12:7) Without the thorn in the flesh, the carnal exaltation is certain to happen. You may will for it not to happen, but unless the thorn is given and you receive the grace to take the thorn rightly, the “abundance of revelations” will most certainly damage you.
It is a serious thing to pick up the heritage of the spiritual and attempt to hold it and pass it on without the hand of God being heavy upon us. “So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me. Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.” (Ezekiel 3:14-15) Ezekiel was sent of God to a people who were in horrible spiritual trouble. A general knowledge of how they had erred was not sufficient to restore anyone. The hand of God put the prophet face-to-face with the putrid, repulsive reality of their spiritual apostasy until Ezekiel “remained there astonished among them.” He sat where they sat. The full weight, the heart-breaking horror of their miserable spiritual condition was etched upon his heart by the mighty hand of God. The process was absolutely necessary for the messenger as well as those to whom the message was intended. The burden could not be experienced as it must be or delivered as it must be, unless Ezekiel was put through the process under the strength of the mighty hand of God. There was nothing “cut and dried” about it. Nothing routine. Not business as usual. Not “by the book.” Not according to ordinary expectations.
A young woman is trusted with a Sunday School class of young children. She has been raised to respect and value a certain code of teaching—a form of truth that has a heritage of spiritual living. She is not called of God to the position. God does not anoint her or work through her; she acquires her “burden” for the children from human sympathy and psychological insight. Perhaps she is an excellent example of a concerned human being attempting to do good to other little human beings. Her lack of anointing, the fact that God does not use her, is most definitely communicated to the youngsters. They receive things that are spiritual in a way other than spiritual. The process appears good and commendable in many respects. It can be argued that they are far better off than if they received no religious instruction at all. The children end up with a spiritual standard attempted by human effort (at best), rather than, “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2:14) True religion is God triumphing in us. Many are oblivious to this.