Overcoming Spiritual Information Overload
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
24 Nov, 2017

Sometimes it’s called infobesity. Constantly force fed hundreds of messages through all kinds of media, we are unable to digest information. Even if we could digest it, would it nourish our life and soul? We are drowning in information but starved for wisdom. Information overload paralyses our ability to think, make decisions and identify priorities. It’s a spiritual issue of course. What if all the information we consume makes us less able to “receive with meekness the engrafted word”? Everyone has an opinion to share online and they multiply exponentially. Even in the best things this can become spiritual information overload as we seek to stay afloat in the torrent of new material.

This is not a new problem. Ecclesiastes 12:12 warns “of making many books there is no end”. The technologies may have increased but the problem is the same: words being endlessly multiplied. When we understand these words in their context we can see that he is contrasting these things to “the words of the wise” (v11). We are to be “admonished” he says, and instructed by the words of the wise. The word “admonished” means enlightened or informed.  The key truth to grasp is that it is possible to go astray in seeking wisdom (as we see in the earliest chapters of Ecclesiastes). We need to be careful and cautious so that we do not mistake the true way to true happiness.

The danger of inertia due to information overload is a spiritual problem. Bewilderment and distraction concerning all the opinions swirling around us are also spiritually damaging. Many opinions only muddy the waters as opposed to creating clarity. We need the discernment to identify “the words of the wise” that agree with Scripture and those that do not. If we are looking for “words of the wise” that will feed our souls it is helpful to mine the riches of the spiritual wisdom of the past. If we turn to writers saturated in Scripture we will find that they draw us closer to the book of books, the Scriptures.

Alexander Nisbet comments on these words from Ecclesiastes. He identifies the words of the wise with every message of any sent minister of Christ. They come from “one Shepherd” (v11). There is a  key warning to be drawn about many books being endlessly made. If we are not satisfied with the admonitions of this book (and the rest of Scripture) we will become vain in our imaginations. Everyone will imagine a new and nearer way to happiness. Out of their boundless desire for vain glory they will make no end of their enquiries. Rather, they will spend the best of their time and strength to vent their own ideas. They will devote themselves to commending their vain imaginations about the way to true happiness and refuting others.  Many of the most intelligent have done this in many written volumes.

Thus, it is clear that this verse does not condemn writing or studying other books besides the Scriptures as long as they agree with it. It is a warning against those books that oppose Scripture, in so far as they pretend to point out a way to happiness contrary to what the Bible teaches. Our souls can never have true rest or quietness until we embrace the truths declared in this book. These truths are like nails fastened by the masters of assemblies. They fix and establish the hearts of those that receive them concerning this main question: where their true happiness can be found.

When the verse goes on to say that “much study is a weariness to the flesh” it is speaking of every study opposed to the study of the truth commended in this book. Anyone who applies themselves to any other study to attain true happiness may well weary his flesh. They will do no more good to themselves than this, weary the body. They will bring no true profit or satisfaction to their soul. Every child of wisdom must apply themselves to make use of these truths.

Nisbet applies this verse by showing how we must isolate the Bible and biblical teaching from everything else and approach them in a unique way. This helps us to avoid spiritual information overload.

 

1. We need to Value Scripture as Enough in Itself

Scripture is perfect compared with all other writings in the world. Every part of Scripture contains a perfect rule of faith and practice. No other writings besides or contrary to it are necessary to supply any deficiency. Solomon here assumes that though only a small part of Holy Scripture had been delivered to the Church at that time, it was still enough. What he and others before him had written was enough to admonish about duty and warn of dangers in attaining true happiness. This is why he says “by these, my son, be admonished”.

 

2. We need to be Admonished by Scripture

In studying Scripture we should not only aim at our comfort. Our main concern should be to receive clear information and warning about our sin and peril, the only true remedy to deal with this and how to attain it. This is one main use to be made of this book, and thus, the rest of Scripture, “by these…be admonished”.

 

3. We need to Approach Scripture as Children

Some of those who hear the gospel may be strong men compared to others who are but babes (1 John 2:13-14). All should come to Scripture as children to hear the Lord’s mind with meekness. They must come in submission to the reproofs and warnings of the Word. They must also come with love to their teachers in Scripture, desiring the sincere milk of the Word from them. Ministers should also exercise tender fatherly affection toward the people with whom they deal. Solomon therefore speaks to every hearer as a son, “by these, my son, be admonished”.

 

4. We need to be Warned About False Wisdom

There are those who will never make an end of seeking out many inventions to attain their imaginary happiness. They are so carried away with their desire for vain glory ( Job 11:12) that while they have time or strength they will begin one book after they have written another. They seek to show themselves wise in discovering the way to happiness. Yet it is so empty that until they take the new and living way to happiness which the Scripture reveals, they will meet with nothing but endless labour and continual disappointment. They will never have any true rest or quietness for their minds. Thus, Solomon says concerning such writings that ignore the Scripture’s way to happiness. “of making many books there is no end”.

 

5. We will Find Rest and Sweetness in Studying the Truth

Studying saving knowledge may prove wearisome to the flesh. This is due to our being slow to understand, lacking confidence of being successful and acquaintance with the basis for receiving comfort. It is also partly because the Lord intends the flesh to be wearied in that study in order to divert the heart from sinful delights. Such study is in fact, sweet in itself. It is the very rest and refreshment of the soul, it is health to the spirit and marrow to the bones. In comparison to this,  all other studies are wearisome to the flesh. This study must be rest and sweetness, it is only concerning other studies that Solomon says, “much study is a weariness to the flesh”.

 

 

Conclusion

Spiritual information overload leaves us with inertia, indigestion, frustration and confusion. When we submit to Scripture and the words of the wise, we will have clarity about how God wants us to glorify Him. We will also be warned about our urgent priorities and find true spiritual rest and sweetness in the truth. May the Lord help us draw such benefit from Scripture that we are able to discern the words of the wise that will only increase our understanding of and love for God’s Word.

Find out more about Alexander Nisbet and read other articles featuring his work.

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