Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 39, PAGE 4,13a

Prerequisites To Learning


One of the most interesting and challenging verses in all the New Testament is that declaration of Jesus as recorded by John: "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself." This promise is positive, simple, and clear-cut; it has no conditional or contingent elements expressed. The statement was caned forth by the controversy among the Jews who had come up to the feast of tabernacles. Some were saying, "He is a good man; others said, Not so, but he leadeth the multitude astray." (John 7:14)

Jesus cut through their murmuring with an incisive and unequivocal affirmation: The man who truly desires to do God's will shall know whether Christ was true or false, whether his teaching was human or divine, whether the teaching is of God or not of God. But notice that the knowing is based on the willingness to do. There is a vast difference between the scientist who is seeking after scientific knowledge and the sincere seeker after true religion. The scientist must be detached, impersonal, emotionally uninvolved. He is warned constantly against letting his own feelings or wishes or desires intrude into his investigation. The man who seeks God, on the contrary, will never find him with that attitude. He must be intensely interested, hungering and thirsting after righteousness. The truth concerning God cannot be arrived at through the sensory perceptions; it must be apprehended, if at all, and comprehended to whatever degree is possible through the heart.

These things being true there are certain prerequisites to the knowledge of God:


If man is to know God, he must be completely honest. He must free himself as completely as he possibly can from prejudice. All of us know how difficult this is. The traditions of a lifetime, the emotional patterns of our formative years are not easily broken. Students of the Restoration will recall how difficult it was for the Campbells and their associates to apply Thomas Campbell's famous maxim, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent," to so simple and obvious a matter as infant baptism. Yet, because they were completely honest, the problem was solved.


A second prerequisite to learning is humility, If prejudice can blind a man's eyes to truth, it is no less true that pride can do so. It is always dangerous and speculative to judge men's motives, but can there be any reasonable doubt at all that millions of people through the centuries must have failed to understand largely because their pride stood in the way? The deceitfulness of sin is such, and the vagaries of the human spirit are such that many of these people may have been completely honest. That is, they did not consciously reject the truth because of their pride; but the proud spirit created an emotional condition which made It impossible for them to see the truth. The peasant garb and Galilean accent of Christ and his disciples no doubt created an immediate unfavorable atmosphere among the proud Sadducees of Judea. The same must have been true on Mars Hill when the haughty Greek philosophers listening to Paul contemptuously asked, "What would this babbler say?" Conceivably they were not dishonest; but their pride stood in the way of understanding and comprehension.

We suppose no one questions but that pride is a big factor in religious controversies today. The arrogant boast of "numbers" is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of Catholicism in fighting against any teaching she considers inimical to her interests. Her followers are blinded by numbers, insulated against truth by pride.

Surely we have all known brethren in the present controversy who seem to be fully honest, but who simply cannot see the truth because pride in "our achievements" has created an encircling atmosphere which effectively neutralizes the power of truth to penetrate the understanding. They are not dishonest nor willfully rejecting God's word; but they have become blinded by pride.


Jesus' promise was "If any man willeth to DO his will, he shall know of the teaching." Reluctance to obey, a holding back from some clearly-recognized duty can bring a hardening of the heart which will finally immunize the mind and render it incapable of understanding. It was of this group that Paul wrote when he penned these words to the Thessalonians: "And for this cause God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess. 2:11-12) A stubborn heart, unwillingness to obey, can seal off the heart from any further learning.

"We learn to do by doing" is a common and oft-repeated aphorism. But the statement can be shortened to "we learn by doing." The carrying out of any commandment of God conditions the heart to be more receptive, more understanding of additional truth. Conversely, the failure to carry out any known and recognized duty conditions the heart against further learning. Truth cannot be held at arms length. It must be acted upon; it must be obeyed. If held in abeyance, like the manna of old, it grows rancid and sour.

Honesty, humility, obedience, these are the keys to learning.

— F. Y. T.