Natural Man and Spiritual Man
1 Corinthians 2:14-16
But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them…

The natural man, who had not been forgotten by St. Paul in the first chapter, now comes under closer inspection. We can see him from the point of view occupied in the second chapter What is said of him? He "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." Nature is represented here as very different from grace, and the difference has the breadth of contrast. Low and vulgar forms of nature are not enumerated, nor would it have been like the apostle to select his illustrations from exceptional cases of human depravity. Corinth could have easily supplied such instances. But the noticeable fact is that he avoids this sort of specification, and chooses his typical examples from "the wise," "the scribe," "the disputer of this world," yea, the very "princes of this world;" and these are they who lack all spiritual discernment, and in their blindness look upon the glorious gospel of Christ as "foolishness." And the portraiture is not finished till these "princes of this world" are sketched against the darkest of possible backgrounds, even the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. It is not the brutal mob that he pictures on his canvas, but the best specimens, according to current opinion, of the mind and culture of the age. Against these - the guides of public sentiment and the accepted leaders of society, men of character and position - he directs his condemnation. And the grief of his heart is that these are the very men whose evil spirit has infected the Corinthian Church, and introduced vitiating elements long ago abandoned by believers as utterly inconsistent with morality and religion. The natural man of that day was not the creature of the day, not an accident of those volcanic times when the foundations of civil order were shaking, and. even the majestic hills of Rome were threatened with upheaval, life; time and opportunity and ample means for development had been allowed; the fairest portions of the world had been given him for home and commerce; a thousand miles around the Mediterranean yielded everything that material civilization demanded; art and philosophy and government had afforded whatever the intellect of the senses craved; and Judaism had diffused itself far and wide, till even Stoicism had felt its influence. After all, however, the natural man has wound up the history of ancient culture by crucifying the Lord of glory; and now, the stain of holy blood upon him, he has learned nothing from his own experience, but persists in treating the gospel as "foolishness", Nor can it be otherwise so long as the man remains under the thraldom of nature. Anomalous it may seem, but it is none the less true, that nature is morally known to us as the opposite of spirituality; and, though a human spirit is in the man, it is wholly incapable of itself to see, to feel, to will, to act, as a spirit in anything that concerns the truly Divine functions of spirit. Hence the need of the Holy Spirit to create spiritual discernment, and hence the supreme distinction of the Christian is that he has a spiritual judgment. "The things of God" are not discovered by him, but are revealed unto his spirit by the Holy Ghost. The discovering intellect of man is a splendid endowment, and yet it is altogether limited to the senses and their connections, nor can it pass under any urgency beyond the sphere of the visible universe, and penetrate the secrets of the Almighty. If, indeed, he could discover them, he would not be a Christian believer; for the traits of the natural man would adhere to him and be merely enhanced by power thus exerted, and there would be less room than before in his capacious soul for intellectual docility, for childlike trustfulness, for the obedience of self abnegation. And, therefore, the work of the Holy Ghost consists in teaching us to understand, to appreciate, to assimilate, the Divine truths disclosed by him; and, accordingly, what he reveals is not content to remain as ideas and dogmas, but seeks the inmost heart, allies itself with the instincts, and communicates to man a sense of himself and of the possibilities of character hitherto unimagined. Finally, St. Paul argues, "We have the mind of Christ" within us; and what better compendium of all embraced in spiritual discernment than this expression, "mind of Christ"? Far more than the truths he taught, and the practical lessons he enforced, is meant here; for it includes the entire method, the spirit, the aim, of his teachings, as imparting his own life to those believing in him. No moral principle, no doctrinal fact, no phenomenon of spiritual experience, now occupies ground and sustains relations to thought and volition and action that are independently its own. Not one of them is competent to self existence. There is not, there cannot be, a single abstraction in Christianity. "The mind of Christ" is in every ethical truth, in every miracle, in everything that involves taste, sensibility, reason, conscience, affection; and the life in one is the life in all. To dislocate is to destroy. And this "mind of Christ," the apostle urges, is in us, and, by virtue of its abiding presence and infinite "wisdom" and "power," the breadth of contrast between the natural man and the spiritual man is fully brought out. After eighteen centuries, the distinction is as luminous as ever. The very words remain to us - "wisdom," "power," "foolishness" - and "the princes of this world" attest their ancient lineage. The "natural man" of our day has grown to large dimensions. Never had the sense man, the intellectual man, the man of physical civilization, so much to boast of; for he has well nigh made good the claim of his sceptre to universal dominion. "Wisdom" was never so conspicuous. "Power" has been developed in a greater degree than its uses. And yet in this very hour, when destructive strength is the daily terror of mankind, and when liberty is ever threatening to riot in licentiousness, we see just what St. Paul saw in old Corinth; and the commentary on God's Word which the nineteenth century, like all centuries since Christ's advent, has written for our eyes, only enforces the truth that "the natural man" knows not God, and "receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." In science and art, in government, in all sorts of internal sovereignty, "the natural man" has made a vast advance upon himself. But all this has brought him and his institutions and his well being no nearer to "the mind of Christ." - L.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Now the natural man doesn't receive the things of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can't know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Unsanctified Men Cannot Read the Bible to Profit
Top of Page
Top of Page