"Every effort to impart spiritual knowledge to the natural man must prove abortive." ("Zion's Landmark," Dec. 1st, 1887 - see here)
This was stated in one of the leading Hardshell periodicals after the Civil War. In reading this I was taken aback by the utter nonsense uttered by second generation Hardshells. No leading Baptist apologist prior to the birth of the Hardshell cult would have uttered such utter unscriptural propositions, There are a number of things I want to say about this man-made proposition.
First, it is certainly true that "every effort to impart spiritual knowledge" to "the natural man," will fail where that "effort" lacks the spiritual influence and blessing of the Spirit of God. The word of God by itself cannot "impart spiritual knowledge" of course, But, a denial of the "word alone" view of the Campbellites and Pelagians does not force one into the Hardshell "spirit alone" view.
These Scriptures uphold this view of things:
"Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." (Psa' 127:1)
"So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase." (I Cor. 3:7)
So, indeed yes, every effort to impart spiritual knowledge to the non-spiritual apart from the blessing of God will prove abortive.
Second, we must accept the implied truth that affirms that EVERY EFFORT, WITH THE BLESSING OF GOD, RATHER THAN BEING A CERTAIN FAILURE, MUST PROVE A SUCCESS.
If all effort (at anything) must prove a failure ("in vain"), or be futile, when that effort lacks God's blessing, as taught from the above passages, then it must be true that all effort, with God's blessing and the special influence of the Spirit, must be successful (the opposite of what it means to be in vain). But, the Hardshells will not likely want to face such a logical fact.
Third, accepting such a man made and unscriptural proposition puts the Hardshells into great difficulty when they read passages where a prophet, teacher, or Christ himself, was involved in the act of imparting "spiritual knowledge" to lost souls. In such a case, the Hardshell heretic must go to work on such passages and do one of these things.
1) Deny that in a given passage (where it seems that spiritual knowledge is being imparted) that it is "spiritual" knowledge being imparted (in cases where it is clear that unregenerate or natural men were being addressed or taught). For instance, if a Hardshell says that the moral law is to be imparted to all men, then he must deny that the law contains spiritual knowledge.
2) Deny that in a given passage it is "natural," rather than "spiritual," men who are being taught. (And what is "teaching" but a way to "impart" knowledge?)
3) Deny that there is any case example in scripture where God, directly or indirectly, put forth effort to impart knowledge to men who were devoid of the Spirit (which is what it means to be a 'natural' man).
It is amazing to me how any serious and honest Bible student can read the Bible and make such a statement.
The whole old testament was addressed to the Jews, and most of these were unregenerate men. The book of Proverbs is addressed to all rational men and Wisdom, or spiritual knowledge, is there viewed as the responsibility of all to receive.
The ministry of the Baptist, of Christ, of the apostles and new testament evangelists, all make it their mission to impart the Gospel (which is true spiritual knowledge) to all men. Did not Paul write the following?
"Whom we preach , warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." (Col. 1:28)
Will the Hardshells say that it was not "spiritual knowledge" that Paul labored to impart? Will they deny that this teaching was to "every man"?
The above Hardshell proposition is not only grossly anti scripture, but it makes Jesus and the Bible teachers all fools for trying to do the impossible in their efforts to teach the lost spiritual truth.
Further, who can doubt that the Hardshells who invented this anti biblical premise have used it as an excuse for their being "anti effort" Baptists? For their lack of effort in imparting spiritual knowledge?
Also, my own experience is against this Hardshell proposition. Others (thank God for them) made "efforts" to get me to think about God and his word while I was a natural man. God blessed that effort and I received that knowledge and was saved just like the first Christians.