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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 14

Verse 14. But the natural man. (qucikov de anyrwpov.) The word natural here stands opposed evidently to spiritual. It denotes those who are governed and influenced by the natural instincts; the animal passions and desires, in opposition to those who are influenced by the Spirit of God. It refers to unregenerate men; but it has also not merely the idea of their being unregenerate, but that of their being influenced by the animal passions or desires. See Barnes "1 Co 15:44".

The word sensual would correctly express the idea. The word is used by the Greek writers to denote that which man has in common with the brutes; to denote that they are under the influence of the senses, or the mere animal nature, in opposition to reason and conscience. Bretschneider. See 1 Th 5:23. Here it denotes that they are under the influence of the senses, or the animal nature, in opposition to being influenced by the Spirit of God. Macknight and Doddridge render it, "the animal man." Whitby understands by it the man who rejects revelation, the man who is under the influence of carnal wisdom. The word occurs but six times in the New Testament: 1 Co 15:44 twice, 1 Co 15:46; Jas 3:15 Jude 1:19. In 1 Co 15:44,46, it is rendered "natural," and is applied to the body as it exists before death, in contradistinction from that which shall exist after the resurrection— called a spiritual body. In James 3:15, it is applied to wisdom: "This wisdom is earthly, surreal, devilish." In Jude 1:19, it is applied to sensual persons, or those who are governed by the senses, in opposition to those who are influenced by the Spirit: "These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit." The word here evidently denotes those who are under the influence of the senses; who are governed by the passions and the animal appetites, and natural desires; and who are uninfluenced by the Spirit of God. And it may be observed that this was the case with the great mass of the heathen world, even including the philosophers.

Receiveth not. ou decetai. Does not embrace or comprehend them. That is, he rejects them as folly; he does not perceive their beauty or their wisdom; he despises them. He loves other things better. A man of intemperance does not receive or love the arguments for temperance; a man of licentiousness, the arguments for chastity; a liar, the arguments for truth. So a sensual or worldly man does not receive or love the arguments for religion.

The things of the Spirit of God. The doctrines which are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the things which pertain to his influence on the heart and life. The things of the Spirit of God here denote all the things which the Holy Spirit produces.

Neither can he know them. Neither can he understand or comprehend them. Perhaps, also, the word know here implies also the idea of loving, or approving of them, as it often does in the Scripture. Thus, to know the Lord often means to love him, to have a full, practical acquaintance with him. When the apostle says that the animal or sensual man cannot know those things, he may have reference to one of two things. Either,

(1.) that those doctrines were not discoverable by human wisdom, or by any skill which the natural man may have, but were to be learned only by revelation. This is the main drift of his argument, and this sense is given by Locke and Whitby. Or,

(2.) he may mean that the sensual, the unrenewed man cannot perceive their beauty and their force, even after they are revealed to man, unless the mind is enlightened and inclined by the Spirit of God. This is probably the sense of the passage. This is the simple affirmation of a fact, that while the man remains sensual and carnal, he cannot perceive the beauty of those doctrines. And this is a simple and well-known fact. It is a truth—universal and lamentable-that the sensual man, the worldly man, the proud, haughty, and self-confident man; the man under the influence of his animal appetites—licentious, false, ambitious, and vain—does not perceive any beauty in Christianity. So the intemperate man perceives no beauty in the arguments for temperance; the adulterer, no beauty in the arguments for chastity; the liar, no beauty in the arguments for truth. It is a simple fact, that while he is intemperate, or licentious, or false, he can perceive no beauty in these doctrines. But this does not prove that he has no natural faculties for perceiving the force and beauty of these arguments; or that he might not apply his mind to their investigation, and be brought to embrace them; or that he might not abandon the love of intoxicating drinks, and sensuality, and falsehood, and be a man of temperance, purity, and truth. He has all the natural faculties which are requisite in the case; and all the inability is his strong love of intoxicating drinks, or impurity, or falsehood. So of the sensual sinner. While he thus remains in love with sin, he cannot perceive the beauty of the plan of salvation, or the excellency of the doctrines of religion. He needs just the love of these things, and the hatred of sin. He needs to cherish the influences of the Spirit; to receive what he has taught, and not to reject it through the love of sin; he needs to yield himself to their influences, and then their beauty will be seen. The passage here proves that, while a man is thus sensual, the things of the Spirit will appear to him to be folly; it proves nothing about his ability, or his natural faculty, to see the excellency of these things, and to turn from his sin. It is the affirmation of a simple fact everywhere discernible, that the natural man does not perceive the beauty of these things; that while he remains in that state he cannot; and that if he is ever brought to perceive their beauty, it will be by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Such is his love of sin, that he never will be brought to see their beauty except by the agency of the Holy Spirit. "For wickedness perverts the judgment, and makes men err with respect to practical principles; so that no one can be wise and judicious who is not good."—Aristotle, as quoted by Bloomfield.

They are spiritually discerned. That is, they are perceived by the aid of the Holy Spirit enlightening the mind and influencing the heart.

{*} "natural man" "Carnal" {a} "receiveth not" Mt 13:11; Ro 8:5,7

{+} "discerned" "discerneth"

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