Two Types of Ignorance

Nicodemus

“Nicodemus.”

What We Should and Shouldn’t Know

In John 3, Jesus reprimands Nicodemus for his ignorance of the teaching of Scripture regarding the necessity of spiritual rebirth. Interestingly, however, he goes on to state that there is a proper ignorance of when and where God regenerates individuals in the manner he explains in the Scriptures. These two types of ignorance are attributed to Nicodemus, but only one is excusable, viz. ignorance of those whom God has chosen to save.

As is to be expected, men have reversed the values of these two kinds of ignorance. Man wants to have knowledge of that which he cannot know, and he refuses to know what God has revealed. Doctrine is given us that we may know our God, and apart from doctrine we cannot know him. Extra-biblical revelation is hereby ruled out, for it is false information about God masquerading as knowledge. It is darkness masquerading as light.

In the context of John 3, specifically, Jesus is reprimanding Nicodemus for his ignorance of God’s Sovereign work of regeneration, a wholly divine act that God performs according to his own free will.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him,“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?…”[1]

Simultaneously, however, Jesus is paralleling Nicodemus’s ignorance of the direction the wind takes on its own to man’s ignorance of the Spirit of God’s freely chosen course of operation (I.e. the body of individuals whom he freely chooses to regenerate). Contra Arminius, therefore, Christ is reprimanding Nicodemus’s ignorance of the fact of sovereign, unconditional, divine election, while pointing out the natural ignorance man necessarily exhibits regarding the identity of the recipients of God’s grace.

Synergists wrongly reverse these kinds of ignorance, inexcusably claiming ignorance of the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in convicting, granting repentance to, and granting faith to the elect, while claiming to know where the Spirit of God is operating to lead the elect to salvation. It isn’t humble, in other words, to be ignorant about a particular doctrinal matter all the while claiming to know what can only be known by God. As Christopher Ness points out:

…the Arminians call the justice of God to the bar of reason; they dare confidently wade in the deep ocean of divine mysteries, and in stating the decrees of God, where blessed Paul could find no bottom, but cried out “O the depth” etc. (Rom 11:33); they dare undertake to fetch the Apostle from off his nonplus, saying, “God foresaw that Jacob would believe, and that Esau would  not  believe;  therefore,  the  one  was  loved  and  the  other  hated.” Thus  Arminius’ school teaches deeper divinity than what Paul learned in the third heaven. And they not only gratify the pride  of  man’s  reason with  the  Socinians,  but  also  the  pride  of  man’s  will,  in  extenuating  and lessening  both  the  guilt  and  filth  of  original  sin;  even  as  Popery,  their  elder  sister, gratifies the pride of outward sense.

[…]

It is a dangerous presumption for men to take upon themselves, with unwashed hands, to unriddle the deep mysteries of God with their carnal reason. Where the great apostle stands agaze, crying, “O the depth, how unsearchable!” and “Who knows the mind of the Lord!” Had Paul been of the Arminian persuasion he would have answered, “Those who are foreseen to believe and persevere are elected!” This answer would not have been hard to understand even by the unlearned (that is, the carnal) men of the world, who “wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction” (2Pet 3:16). But Paul was ignorant, and these men are wiser than the Holy Ghost; for he tells us that our election proceeds from the will of the Elector, and not from anything in the elected. The sovereign will of God is the supreme rule of all righteousness; He will have “mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens” (Rom 9:18). Had foreseen faith and perseverance been the causes and conditions of election, there would have been no mystery in it.

Some Implications

The reader should note that Jesus is here holding Nicodemus accountable for what he should have known. Thus, refusing to study important doctrinal matters will not absolve one of his duty to study and show himself an approved worker of God. Elsewhere in Scripture, we hear God speaking to his people in a similar manner. The doctrine of unconditional election is taught in Scripture and, therefore, is to be studied and known by the child of God.

There is no doctrine of Scripture that is not intended to edify even the youngest Christian. To say that there is such a doctrine (viz. Divine election) is to contradict the Lord Jesus. What weshould know is that God, solely and omnipotently, regenerates an elect people for himself. What we don’t know is the identity of those people individually, and when they will be acted upon by the Sovereign Holy Spirit.

-h.


[1] John 3:1-10.

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