1 Corinthians 12:2
You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, even as you were led.
It seems a very simple thing to say that Jesus is the Christ, and yet the apostle declares that no man can do this but by the Holy Ghost. This is cutting down human power to a very low point indeed; and if that be so, then must the whole of Revelation be a sealed book to us, unless laid open by the Spirit of God.
I. THE TEXT DOES NOT ASSERT THE INCOMPETENCY OF THE HUMAN UNDERSTANDING IN MATTERS OF RELIGION. Though the understanding was greatly injured by the fall, nevertheless in the main it still faithfully executes its part. But it can only judge of things according to the representations laid before it; and if those representations be incorrect, it may deliver a wrong judgment, and yet be no ways in fault. E.g., we lay a case before a lawyer; he delivers a favourable opinion; nevertheless, when we go into court, the verdict is against us. Now, it is possible enough that the lawyer may have been to blame, but the case may not have been fairly submitted to him; a colouring may have been thrown over certain facts, which has distorted them. Then surely the lawyer is not in fault.
II. THE UNDERSTANDING MAY BE DECEIVED.
1. By the senses. Let us suppose a man born with impaired senses, but with a clear understanding. Suppose that his eye distorts everything, or is unable to discriminate colours; suppose his touch imperfect, or his ear faulty. Now what will the powers of the man's understanding avail him when such senses make their report? Would he not himself require to be made the subject of a rectifying process ere he could frame any true and fitting conceptions of the world in which he is placed?
2. By the affections. There are in all of us faculties by which we love and by which we hate certain things; the former is in right order if it fix on nothing but what is worthy of our love, and the latter if it fix on nothing but what is worthy of our hatred. But if, like the diseased eye or ear, they misrepresent objects, what will the understanding be able to do, seeing that the impression transmitted to it of evil may make it seem good, and of good may make it seem evil? And is not man in his natural state a being with depraved affections, though he may not be a being with vitiated senses? By nature he regards as worthy of his best love what God would have him despise, and gives his aversion to that which God would have him value; he seeks happiness where God asserts that it cannot be found, and denies that it exists where alone God would place it. The task demanded from the understanding by religion is, that it determine that in God is man's chief good, and that in obedience to God is also true happiness. But whilst the affections in their natural state give preference to some finite good and shrink from God's service, how can the understanding deliver the verdict required by religion any more than it could form a correct notion of a tree, if the senses represent it as lying on the ground in place of springing from it?
III. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS REQUIRED TO WORK ON THAT BY WHICH THE UNDERSTANDING IS DECEIVED, i.e., in the heart; removing the corrupt bias from the affections, and purifying them so that they shall find their chief good in God, ere the head can apprehend the great truths of the gospel, confess their force, and bow to their authority. Men often profess to count it very strange that we should make them out incapable of understanding spiritual things, when they have confessedly so much power in other departments of knowledge. The proper answer is, that the affections are to spiritual things what the senses are to natural things. If, then, the affections misrepresent the objects of which they have to give impressions to the understanding, the result will be of the same kind as if the work were done by the senses. The Holy Ghost did not come to give a new understanding, for there was strength enough in the head; He came to set in order those faculties through which the understanding is necessarily influenced. And it follows indubitably, from such passages as our text, that until a man has submitted himself to the influences of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the meaning of the Bible, and yield himself to the duties of religion.
(H. Melvill, B.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.