OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
How wrong can the experts be? Let's look at history and see. Daryl F. Zanuck, who was head of 20th Century Fox, back in 1946 said, "TV won't be able to hold on to any market after the first 6 months-people will soon tire at staring at a plywood box every night." Marshall Foch of France said in 1911, "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." James Hoffa, president of the teamsters said in 1975, "I don't need bodyguards." Hitler at the peak of his power said the third Reich will last one thousand years. He was only off by 988 years. General George Custer said there are only about 300 Indians down there by the Little Big Horn. He was off by two thousand eight hundred. Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic said, "This ship will never sink." He was close, for he only missed it by one, for it only sank once.
We get a kick out of just how wrong experts can be in there judgments, for it makes us feel superior. If we knew just how often they are wrong we would probably rid the world of the feelings of inferiority. The poet writes,
The world is full of experts, but with every breaking story
The experts seem a whole lot like Professor Irwin Corey.
Because they are authorities, they stand out from the throng,
The only problem being that they are so often wrong.
It is almost impossible not to be wrong, for not only can nobody know that needs to be known, but it is possible to be wrong even when you are right. It is possible to be subjectively right, and yet objectively wrong.
This is the paradox we find in the words and spirit of John the Baptist. He is famous for his sentence about his relationship to the Messiah where he expresses profound humility. He says in Mark 1:7, "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie." John is saying, I am not worthy to be this mans slave, and do for him the task of the lowliest servant.
Since John was the forerunner of the Messiah, he was the only man alive on earth who knew the Messiah was about to make His move. He was the worlds authority on the Messiah. Yet he made this statement which was truly how he felt, and thus, a right statement, but one which was nevertheless wrong according to the objective facts of the Biblical records. Jesus came to John and said not only are you worthy to untie my sandals, I want you to be the one who baptizes me. John did not want to do it, for he sincerely felt unworthy, but Jesus insisted, for Jesus considered him the most worthy man, not just of his day, but of all of history. Jesus said John was the greatest man ever born of woman.
So what we have here is the greatest man ever born, and the leading authority of his day on the Messiah, saying something that he sincerely felt, and thus, it was a virtue, but it was objectively false. He was worthy to untie his Masters sandals, and a whole lot more than that. He was the man Jesus chose to baptize Him. Now this distinction between the subjective and the objective is no minor matter. It is important for our understanding of what otherwise would be a direct and plain contradiction in the New Testament. Last week we saw how the last two verses of the Old Testament prophesied that Elijah would come, and that was the hope of Israel. We also saw how John the Baptist fulfilled that prophecy, and thus, the New Testament begins where the Old Testament left off.
But we now need to see that John the Baptist did not know that he was Elijah. In John 1:21 we read o how the priests came to John and asked him who he was. The verse reads, "They asked him, then who are you? Are you Elijah? He said I am not." If you take John's word as your final authority you would conclude that he was not Elijah. But if you take the words of Jesus as your final authority you would conclude that he was. Listen to the discussion about this issue in Matt. 17:10-13. "The disciples asked Him, 'Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?' Jesus replied, to be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that He was talking to them about John the Baptist."
Jesus said it even more clearly in Matt. 11:13-14. "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come." Here you have Jesus saying John was Elijah and John himself saying he was not. Is that not a clear contradiction? Of course, it is, but no more so than John saying I am not worthy to untie His sandals, and Jesus saying you are worthy even enough to baptize me. Subjectively John felt worthless compared to Jesus, but objectively he was wrong. Subjectively he did not feel he was the great prophet Elijah but objectively he was wrong for Jesus said he was the fulfillment of that great hope.
We learn a valuable lesson from this reality of the conflict between subjective and objective truth. The lesson is this: The objective truth always has priority over the subjective. John really felt unworthy, and he really felt he was not Elijah, but he was wrong. We can all feel all sorts of things deeply and sincerely, but this does not mean we can't be wrong. If the greatest man born of woman can be wrong, no one can boost that their subjective feelings and opinions must always be right.
It is not that there is no truth to a false subjective feeling. There always has to be some truth to it, for it represents a real feeling even if it does not conform to objective facts. The well known poem reveals my point. It is called The Blind Men And The Elephant.
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant,
Though all of them were blind
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Again his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we hear
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"
The Fifth who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
They all had a subjective experience that was real, and thus, authentic to some degree, but none of them had an adequate grasp of all the facts to come to a conclusion we could call the truth. That is why subjectivity is an inadequate foundation on which to build. Truth to be solid has to be based on objective authority. Thus, we take the clear teaching of Christ over the subjective feelings of John. He was far greater than he ever dreamed he was. The facts were greater than his feelings. Subjective feelings are personal and internal, but objective facts are external, and can be varied by others.
The good news is that the facts are often better than our feelings. We can feel so unloved when in fact we are greatly loved. We can feel so forsaken when in reality we are in the very hands of God. Our feelings can be so negative about a lot of things in life when the facts are very positive. The bottom line then, because of this reality, is that we cannot go by our feelings. They can lead us into temptation and depression, and all sorts of negatives. We need to get the facts and build on them for a solid foundation.
Most all of the depressed saints of the Bible and history are depressed because they are living on their subjective feelings. They are saying I am not worthy, I am not loved, I am not of value, when in reality none of this is true. They need to get out of the sand of the subjective and over to the rock of objective. There is a vast amount of objective truth God has given us, and this is the rock on which we are to build.
But before we leave this subject we need to point out that subjectivity is not necessarily in conflict with objectivity. John the Baptist was also thought to be the Messiah, and he said in John 1:20, "I am not the Christ." That is how he felt, and his feelings were right with reality. So we do not want to give the impression that the subjective cannot be true objectively. The problem is, the only way you can know if that is the case is by some objective truth by which to test it. That is why all feelings need to be tested by facts. If you go by John's subjective feelings, he was no big deal. If you go by the objective revelation of New Testament facts, he was the greatest man to ever live next to the Son of God Himself.
All of this introduces us to a much more serious theological issue than the status of John. In verses 7 and 8 we have the message John preached described very briefly. He preached that one more powerful than he was coming, and he was coming with a different baptism. John says in verse 8, "I baptize with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." We see then that though the water baptism of John and that of Jesus were the same, there is another kind of baptism that Jesus was to perform that was all together different, and nobody could perform it but Jesus. Anybody can baptize with water, but only one can baptize with the Holy Spirit, and that is the Messiah. This text has led to all kinds of subjective interpretations that have influenced the lives of millions of people.
The Quakers, for example, use this text as the basis for eliminating water baptism altogether. They say the physical baptism in water was made obsolete by Jesus, and all that matters is being baptized in the Spirit. They have a strong emphasis on the inner life of the spirit rather than a focus on external rights performed on the body. They are godly people who have had a marvelous impact on the history of America. Nobody can fault them for their spirituality. We are not trying to put them down, but simply pointing out that according to the objective revelation they are wrong on this point. They are in good company, for from John on good and godly people have gone by their subjective conviction.
But we have an obligation to go by the objective revelation when we see it. Jesus in His great commission said to go into all the world and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is clear objective revelation that Jesus did not intend for the baptism of the Holy Spirit to replace and eliminate the practice of water baptism. The Quakers chose to make the baptism of the Holy Spirit a personal subjective experience, and the result is, they departed from God's objective revelation.
The Pentecostals and charismatics do the same thing. They are equally good and Godly people, and are part of the family of God. But they have chosen the subjective over the objective. John was no less the greatest in spite of his subjective mistakes, and we do not want to imply that Pentecostals and charismatics are less Christian because of theirs. They may very well, in many cases, be far superior to other Christians. That is not the issue. The issue is, is the baptism of the Holy Spirit a subjective experience, or is it an objective experience that was clearly fulfilled at a specific time?
Let's look at the facts. The first thing we need to see is that John had been given an objective way by which to identify the Messiah who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. He tells us about this in John 1:32-33 where we read, "Then John gave this testimony: I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him.
I would not have known Him except the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, the man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit."
John knew then at the baptism of Jesus that He was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. It is only Jesus who can do this. He never baptize anyone in water himself, for His unique ministry was to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now the strange thing is Jesus did not go out and baptize with the Holy Spirit. He was the one, but He didn't do it, and we have no record that in all His ministry he ever baptized anyone with the Holy Spirit. So what is the problem? Jesus made it clear that the Holy Spirit could not come until He was taken out of the world, and so Jesus did not baptize with the Holy Spirit until He ascended to the Father. This baptism then was a work of Jesus as the ascended Christ. Just exactly when was it that He began this ministry that John said He was coming to perform? We don't have to guess, for Jesus tells us clearly in Acts 1:4-5. Jesus says to His disciples, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Jesus then ascended and on the day of Pentecost the promise was fulfilled, and the church was baptized with the Holy Spirit. This was no personal subjective experience. It was an objective historical event for the body of Christ. This was extended to cover the Gentiles later on. When Peter confronted Cornelius the Gentile, the Holy Spirit came upon him and his followers. Peter describes how it was a second Pentecost to convince him and other Jewish Christians that God had made the Gentiles equal to Jews in Christ. In Acts 11:15-17 Peter says, "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came upon them as He had come upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said, John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. So if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?"
Peter was hung up on subjective feelings that Jews were superior to the Gentiles. All prejudice is subjective feeling and not objective fact. God had to give Peter objective facts that matched what they experienced at Pentecost to convince him the Gentiles were made equal to the Jews. The Apostle Paul sums up the significance of these objective facts in I Cor. 12:13, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." As soon as anyone receives Christ as their Savior, they are baptized into the body of Christ, and are one with the rest of God's children. How do we get into the family of God? By baptism of the Holy Spirit. We repent and believe and Jesus baptizes us with the Spirit into His body. This is objective fact, and not a subjective experience we are seek for after being saved. It is done for us by Christ. It is done for all Christians says Paul. It is not something some get and others do not, for all are baptized into the body.
There are all kinds of subjective experiences with the Holy Spirit after one is saved. John was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mothers womb, and the Spirit led in the life of Jesus, and Jesus gave the Spirit to His disciples to empower them. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit, and not to quench the Spirit, but cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. All of these experiences are personal and subjective. They involve our personal choices, and in any group of Christians some may be filled with the Holy Spirit and others not. We decide how much the Spirit will have control in our lives. It is subjective and individual. But the baptism of the Spirit is not a choice. This is the objective work of Christ the only baptizer with the Spirit.
No where are we commanded to be baptized with the Spirit. We are commanded, however, to be filled with the Spirit. So you might ask, what is the difference? Is it a matter of mere terminology. No, it is a matter of objective verses subjective. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is the exclusive work of Christ. It is something He does as the ascended Lord by which He incorporates all who believe into His body. It is not a second work of grace, but the first. The filling of the Spirit is a subjective experience that is open to all believers to be repeated over and over. There is only one baptism, but there is no end to the number of fillings.
The point of all this is, we do not strive to have some subjective experience called the baptism of the Spirit. We are, if we believe in Christ as our Savior, already baptized into His body, and are, therefore, temples of the Holy Spirit. It is our responsibility to keep the temple clean and alive with the fruit of the Spirit. Another illustration of the contrast between objective and subjective is communion. We come to the table seeking forgiveness. That is a personal and subjective experience we are to seek. However, we do not seek an atonement for sin. That is the objective work that Jesus finished on the cross. He atoned for our sin once and for all. He died for the sins of the whole world. That is a once for all unrepeatable work of Christ. It is finished and is now the objective rock on which we build. But we have a lot to say about the application of His finished work in forgiveness. If we confess our sin He is faithful and just and will forgive. But if we do not confess we can claim no forgiveness. This is an subjective experience that depends on our personal response to the objective work of Christ. The goal of the Christian is to bring the subjective into harmony with the objective and make them one.