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CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE, &c. &c.
Hebrews v. 12.
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.
THESE words are a complaint which the apostle makes against the Christian Hebrews, for their want of such proficiency in the knowledge of the doctrines and mysteries of religion, as might have been expected of them. The apostle complains, that they had not made that progress in their acquaintance with the things taught in the oracles of God which they ought to have made. And he means to reprove them, not merely for their deficiency in spiritual and experimental knowledge of divine things, but for their deficiency in a doctrinal acquaintance with the principles of religion, and the truths of Christian divinity; as is evident by the manner in which the apostle introduces this reproof. The occasion of his introducing it is this : in the next verse but one preceding, he mentions Christ as being "called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedec. In the Old Testament, the oracles of God, Melchizedec was held forth as an eminent type of Christ; and the account we there have of him contains many gospel mysteries. These mysteries the apostle was willing to point out to the Christian Hebrews ; but he apprehended, that through their weakness in knowledge, they would not understand him: and therefore breaks off for the present from saying any thing about Melchizedec, thus, (ver. 11.)“ Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered; seeing ye are all dull of hearing;' i. e. VOL. VI.
so with you.
there are many things concerning Melchizedec which contain wonderful gospel mysteries, and which I would take notice of to you, were it not that I am afraid, that through your dulness, and backwardness in understanding these things, you would only be puzzled and confounded by my discourse, and so receive no benefit: and that it would be too hard for you, as meat that is too strong.
Then come in the words of the text: “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 need of milk, and not of strong meat: As much as to say, indeed it might have been expected of you, that you should have known enough of the holy scriptures, to be able to understand and digest such mysteries : but it is not
The apostle speaks of their proficiency in such knowledge as is conveyed by human teaching: as appears by that expression, “When for the time ye ought to be teachers ;' which includes not only a practical and experimental, but also a doctrinal knowledge of the truths and mysteries of religion.
Again, the apostle speaks of such knowledge, whereby Christians are enabled to understand things in divinity which are more abstruse and difficult to be understood, and which require great skill in things of this nature. This is more fully expressed in the two next verses: “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." It is such knowledge, that proficiency in it shall carry persons beyond the first principles of religion. As here, “Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.” Therefore the apostle, in the beginning of the next chapter advises them, “ to leave tbe first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and to go on unto perfection."
We may observe that the fault of this defect appears, in that they had not made proficiency according to their time.--For the time, they ought to have been teachers. As they were Christians, their business was to learn and gain Christian knowledge. They were scholars in the school of Christ; and if they had improved their time in learning as they oaght to have done, they might by the time when the apostle wrote, have been fit to be teachers in this school. To whatever business any one is devoted, it may be expected that his perfection in it shall be answerable to the time he has had to learn and perfect himself.-Christians should not always remain babes, but should grow in Christian knowledge ; and leaving the food of babes, they shall learn to digest strong meat.
DOCTRINE. Every Christian should make a business of endeavouring to grow in knowledge in divinity. This is indeed esteemed the business of divines and ministers; it is commonly thought to be their work, by the study of the scriptures, and other instructive books, to gain knowledge, and most seem to think that it may be left to them, as what belongeth not to others. But if the apostle had entertained this notion, he would never have blamed the Christian Hebrews for not having acquired knowledge enough to be teachers. Or if he had thought, that this concerned Christians in general only as a thing by the bye, and that their time should not in a considerable measure be
with this business ; he never would have so much blamed them, that their proficiency in knowledge had not been answerable to the time which they had had to learn.
In handling this subjcct, I shall show-what is intended by divinity-what kind of knowledge in divinity is intended-why knowledge in divinity is necessary.
And why all Christians should make a business of endeavouring to grow in this knowledge.
What is intended by Divinity, as the Object of Christian
VARIOUS definitions have been given of this subject by those who have treated on it. J shall not now stand to inquire which, according to the rules of art, is the most accurate definition ; but shall so define or describe it, as I think has the greatest tendency to convey a proper notion of it. It is that science or doctrine which comprehends all those truths and rules which concern the great business of religion.
There are various kinds of arts and sciences taught and learned in the schools, which are conversant about various objects; about the works of nature in general, as philosophy; or the visible heavens, as astronomy; of the sea, as navigation; of the earth, as geography; of the body of man, as physic and anatomy; of the soul of man, with regard to its natural pow. ers and qualities, as logic and pneumatology; or about human government, as politics and jurisprudence. But one science or kind of knowledge and doctrine, is above all the rest ; as it treats concerning God and the great business of religion. Dia vinity is not learned, as other sciences, merely by the improvement of man's natural reason, but is faught by God himself in a book full of instruction, which he hath given us for that end. This is the rule which God hath given to the world to be their guide in searching after this kind of knowledge, and is a summary of all things of this nature needful for us to know. Upon this account divinity is rather called a doc
. trine, than an art or science.
Indeed there is what is called natural religion. There are many truths concerning God, and our duty to him, which are evident by the light of nature. But Christian divinity, properly so called, is not evident by the light of nature; it depends on revelation. Such are our circumstances now in our fallen state, that nothing which it is needful for us to know concerning God, is manifest by the light of nature, in the manner in which it is necessary for us to know it. For the knowledge of no truth in divinity is of significance to us, any otherwise than as it some way or other belongs to the gospel scheme, or as it relates to a Mediator. But the light of nature teaches us no truth in this matter, therefore it cannot be said, that we come to the knowledge of any part of Christian truth by the light of nature. It is only the word of God, contained in the Old and New Testament, which teaches us Christian divinity.
This comprehends all that is taught in the scriptures, and so all that we need know, or is to be known, concerning God and Jesus Christ, concerning our duty to God, and our happiness in God. Divinity is commonly defined, the doctrine of living to God: and by some who seem to be more accurate, the doctrine of living to God by Christ. It comprehends all Christian doctrines as they are in Jesus, and all Christian rules directing us in living to God by Christ. There is no one doctrine, no promise, no rule, but what some way or other relates to the Christian and divine life, or our living to God by Christ. They all relate to this, in two respects, viz. as they tend to promote our living to God here in this world, in a life of faith and holiness, and also as they tend to bring us to a life of perfect holiness and happiness, in the full enjoyment of God hereafter.
What Kind of Knowledge in Divinity is intended in the
There are two kinds of knowledge of divine truth, viz. speculative and practical, or in other terms, natural and spiritual. The former remains only in the head. No other faculty but the understanding is concerned in it. It consists of having a natural or rational knowledge of the things of religion, or such a knowledge as is to be obtained by the natural exercise of our own faculties, without any special illumination of the Spirit of God. The latter rests not entirely in the head, or in the speculative ideas of things, but the heart is concerned in it: it principally consists in the sense of the heart. The mere intellect, without the will or the inclination, is not the seat of it. And it may not only be called seeing, but feeling or tasting. Thus there is a difference between having a right speculative notion of the doctrines contained in the word of God, and having a due sense of them in the heart. In the former consists the speculative or natural knowledge; in the latter, consists the spiritual or practical knowledge of them.
Neither of these is intended in the doctrine exclusively of the other : but it is intended that we should seek the former in order to the latter. The latter, or the spiritual and practical, is of the greatest importance; for a speculative, without a spiritual knowledge, is to no purpose, but to make our condemna. tion the greater. Yet a speculative knowledge is, also, of infinite importance in this respect, that without it we can have no spiritual or practical knowledge.
I have already shown, that the apostle speaks not only of a spiritual knowledge, but of such as can be acquired, and communicated from one to another. Yet it is not to be thought, that he means this exclusively of the other. But he would have the Christian Hebrews seek the one, in order to the other. Therefore, the former is first and most directly intended; it is intended, that Christians should, by reading, and other proper means, seek a good rational knowledge of the things of divinity : while the latter is more indirectly intended, since it is to be sought by the other. But I proceed to
The Usefulness and Necessity of the Knowledge of Divine
There is no other way by which any means of grace whatsoever can be of any benefit, but by knowledge. All teaching is in vain, without learning. Therefore, the preaching of the gospel would be wholly to no purpose, if it conveyed no knowledge to the mind. There is an order of men which Christ has appointed, on purpose to be teachers in his church; but they teach in vain, if no knowledge in these things is gained by their teaching. It is impossible that their teaching