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THE SLOW PROGRESS OF MANY REPROVED.
Heb. v. 11-14. We have many things to say, and hard to be
uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness : for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
THERE is in the Holy Scriptures a great diversity of truths suited to the various states and capacities of men. There are some so plain and simple, that “ he who runs may read” and understand them: there are others so deep and mysterious, that persons of the strongest intellect and most extensive erudition are utterly lost in the contemplation of them. In human sciences, men of genius and penetration have a great advantage over those of a less cultivated and comprehensive mind; because the strength of their faculties enables them to prosecute their researches to a far greater extent than the others can : but in divine knowledge, it is not the most learned, but the most humble and heavenly-minded, person, that will make the greatest progress.
Ignorance in divine things (especially among those who enjoy a faithful ministration of the Gospel) springs from wilful remissness, rather than from any want of capacity; and involves the offender in very deep guilt. It is on this ground that the Apostle reproves the Hebrews for their inability to receive what he had to say respecting Melchizedec and Christ. He represents their infantile state as the consequence of their own sloth, and as an occasion of considerable embarrassment to himself, since he knew not how to open to them the sublimer truths of Christianity, because they were yet so ill-instructed in its very first principles
In explaining the drift of his address we shall, I. Inquire whence it is that men's progress in divine
knowledge is so disproportioned to the advan
tages they enjoyThat many who hear the Gospel are but little profited by it, is a melancholy and undeniable fact
[That persons should continue ignorant when little else than heathen morality is set before them, cannot be wondered at. But
many, who for a course of years have had “ Christ crucified set before them," and have from time to time been addressed with the greatest plainness and fidelity, yet are surprisingly dark in their views of the Gospel. They think they understand the plan of salvation; and yet they confound things the most distincta, and disjoin things the most inseparable. But, when their notions are ever so clear and accurate, they still remain without any experimental acquaintance with the truths of God. They are “ unskilful in the word of righteousness." Whatever they profess to believe respecting the depravity of the heart, and "a life of faith upon the Son of God," they have not an experience of it in their own souls; so that they still need as much as ever to have " the first principles of the oracles of God" inculcated and enforced. “ Considering the time” that they have been learning, “ they ought to have been long since qualified to teach others;" and yet "have they need to be taught the very same things again" and again. They still need as much as ever to have “ line upon
line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little."]
The reason for this must be sought for in their own negligence
[If this want of proficiency had existed only since the days of the Apostles, we might have ascribed it to the weakness and insufficiency of the teachers: nor are we disposed entirely to exclude that as a concurrent cause of the slow progress that is made amongst us. But the same complaints which we make, were uttered by the Apostles ; and the want of proficiency in their hearers is imputed to their " dulness in bearing“," and slothfulness in improving what they heard. You
* They mix faith and works, either uniting them as joint grounds of our salvation, or making their works a warrant to believe.
• They cannot conceive how the exercises of their own free-will must, as far as they are good, be ascribed to the agency of the Holy Spirit, while, as far as they are evil, they are not to be considered as the emanations of their own wicked hearts in concurrence with the agency of Satan.
d vw poi.
are ready enough to hear; and perhaps, like Ezekiel's hearers, are pleased with the sound of the Gospel, as you would be with some delightful musice : but are you careful to apply to yourselves what you hear? Do you examine yourselves by it? Do you labour to treasure it up in your hearts? Do you pray over it? Do you make it the subject of your conversation with your families, and of your meditations in the hours of retirement? Do you not, on the contrary, find, that, through your neglecting to harrow in the seed," the birds of the air come and take it away ;" or that, “ through the cares and pleasures of this world, it is so choked that it never grows up to perfection? Yes; this is the reason of that slow progress which people make in divine knowledge: this is the reason that persons, who would account themselves idiots if they received so little benefit from instructions in any other branch of knowledge, continue mere “babes” throughout their whole lives.)
Having found the reason of men's unprofitableness under the ministry of the Gospel, we proceed to, II. Shew the sad consequences arising from it
The misimprovement of this talent is greatly overlooked among the sins we commit, or the evils we deplore. But, 1. It incapacitates men for receiving instructions
[“ Babes” must have food suited to their age : if “strong meat” were administered to them, they could not receive it: instead of being profited by the deeper mysteries of the Gospel, or by a full exhibition of the divine life as it exists and operates in the hearts of more advanced Christians, they would very probably be injured: the display of light would be too bright for their organs; or, to use the metaphor in the text, the meat would be too strong for their digestive faculties. What a loss then is this to the persons themselves ! What a loss too to many who would be greatly benefited by the stronger food, but who must have only milk presented to them, lest others, unable to partake of their repast, should be deprived of what is absolutely necessary for their subsistence !
Let this be duly considered; and it will surely prove an effectual incentive to diligence !] 2. It imposes a restraint on their instructors
[“ We have many things to say, and hard to be uttered :" not that the difficulty lies in expressing them: but in reducing them to the comprehension of persons who are so "dull of
e Ezek. xxxiii. 32.
. [2288. hearing.” When we speak to "those who are of full age," we can enter largely into every part of the Gospel; because they, having their spiritual senses exercised by use and habit, can discern both good and evil.” They have a clear perception of the things we say, just as a man has of things bitter or sweet. We need not be labouring always to prove that such or such things are bitter or sweet; because they see in an instant the true and proper quality of the things that are set before them : they understand the analogy of faith; and are prepared to follow us as far as God enables us to lead them. But, however delightful such deep researches might be, we dare not, except in a very sparing manner, prosecute them. forced to use the same caution as Christ did towards his hearers'; and as St. Paul did in addressing the Church at Corinth : “ I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual; but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it; neither yet now are ye able.”
And is not this a sad effect of men's “ dulness?” Is it not an injury to us, as well as unto them? Would not our own ability in ministering be increased, if we were more at liberty to search into “the deep things of God” for their instruction ? And would not the growth of all be more speedily advanced ?
Let this then be an additional motive for diligence. When you see how extensive and lamentable are the consequences of supineness, learn, in pity to yourselves and to the whole Church of God, to press forward with increasing earnestness and zeal.] ADVICE
1. Let us improve to the uttermost the advantages we enjoy
[God notices how long, and how often, we have the means of grace afforded us; and he will call us to an account for them as talents committed to our charge. And if the Gospel we hear be not a savour of life unto life, it will be a savour of death unto death"." The opportunities of improvement which the Jews had under the ministry of our Lord, rendered their guilt and punishment more aggravated than that of Sodom and Gomorrhai. The Lord grant that such may never be the effects of our ministry on you!] 2. Let us not be satisfied with low attainments
[It is doubless a mercy to be “babes in Christ,” if we be really such. But what parent in the universe, however pleased
h 2 Cor. ii. 16.
f John xvi. 12. 8 1 Cor. iii. 1, 2, i Matt. xi. 20—24. with xii. 41, 42.
with the birth of a child, would take pleasure in it, if, instead of growing towards manhood, it always retained its infantine weakness and stature? Can God then behold with complacency such a monster in his family? Does he not expect that, from “ children we become young men, and from young men we advance to be fathers in his Churchk ?" Let us then have our
spiritual senses exercised :" let us endeavour to have them matured " by use and habit:" let us get a nice “ discernment of good and evil.” Let us “ desire the sincere milk of the word,” not merely that we may be satisfied with it, but that we may grow thereby', and be qualified for the reception of stronger food.
“In malice," or any other kind of evil, “ be children; but in understanding be menm."]
3. Let us make a good use of the attainments we already possess
[They who themselves “need to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God," have no pretensions to set up themselves as teachers of others: and it is much to be lamented that such teachers should ever be admitted into the Church of God; or, when admitted, be suffered to retain their office. But all who are taught of God, “ought” to exert themselves in teaching others. We say not, that all are to become preachers of the word: but we say, that all should endeavour to instruct their friends, and their neighbours, and more especially their children and dependents". In labouring thus to do good, they would get good; and “ in watering others, they would themselves be watered" with the dews of heaven]
k John ii. 12–14. 11 Pet. ii. 2. n Rom. xv. 14. Heb. iii. 13
m 1 Cor. xiv. 20. o Prov. xi. 25.
GOING ON TO PERFECTION,
Heb vi. 1–3. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine
of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.
IN arts and sciences of every kind, the greatest proficients feel a need of improvement: their very advancement only serves to shew them how little they know, and to increase their zeal in the pursuit