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The Importance of a deep and intimate Knowi edge of Divine Truth.
HEBREWS v. 12, 13, 14.
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 nothing in which the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan are more opposed, than that the one is characterized by light, and the other by darkness. The cause of falsehood is itself a dark cause, and requires darkness to cover it; but truth is light, and cometh to the light, that it may be made manifest. Knowledge. is every where encouraged in the Bible; our best interests are interwoven with it; and the spirituality of our minds, and the real enjoyment of our lives depend upon its increase. Grace and peace are multiplied through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Nor is it necessary for
our own sakes only, but for the sake of others. It is a great encouragement to Christian ministers, when those whom they teach possess a good understanding in the things of God. Indeed, none but those who are engaged in the work of teaching can tell how much the ardour of the mind is damped by the contrary. The truth of this remark is exemplified in the writer of this epistle. In the verses immediately preceding the text, you perceive him highly interested in his subject, and proceeding in a glorious career of reasoning; when, all on a sudden, he is stopped. He had many things to say of his Lord and Master, but which were hard to be understood, seeing those to whom he wrote were dull of hearing. It is on this occasion that he introduces the passage now before us; in which his object is to shame and provoke them, by comparing them with those who, as to years, were men-but, as to knowledge, children; and who, instead of having made advances in science, needed to be taught the alphabet over again. There are some things supposed and included in the passage, which require a little previous attention.
First-It is here supposed, that all divine knowledge is to be derived from the oracles o God. It is a proper term by which the sacred scriptures are here denominated, strongly expres sive of their divine inspiration and infallibility: in them God speaks; and to them it becomes us to hearken. We may learn other things from other quarters; and things too that may subserve the knowledge of God; but the knowledge of God itself must here be sought, for here only it can be found.
Much has been said of faith and reason, and the question has often been agitated, whether the Qne, in any instance, can be contrary to the oth er? In the solution of this question, it is neces
sary in the first place, to determine what is meant by reason. There is a great difference between reason, and reasoning Nothing which God reveals can contradict the former; but this is more than can be said of the latter It is impossible for God to reveal any thing repugnant to what is fit and right; but that which is fit and right in one man's estimation, is preposterous and absurd in the esteem of another; which clearly proves, that reason, as it exists in depraved creatures, is not a proper standard of truth; and hence arises the necessity of another and a better standard, the oracles of God. By studying these, a good man will gain more understanding than his teachers, if they live in the neglect of them.
Secondly-It is supposed, that the oracles of God include a system of divine truth. They contain the first principles, or rudiments, of religion, the simple truths of the gospel, which require litthe or no investigation in order to their being understood; these are called milk. They also con tain the deep things of God, things beyond the reach of a slight and cursory observation; and which require, if we would properly enter to them, close and repeated attention; this is strong meat. Those doctrines, which the apostle enumerates in the following chapter, as things which he should leave and go on unto perfection, have been thought to refer to the leading principles, Judaism and it may be so; for Judaism itself contained the first principles of Christianity: it was introductory to it; or, as it is elsewhere expressed, it was our school-master to bring us to Christ.
Thirdly it is intimated that Christians should not rest satisfied in having attained to a knowledge of the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, but should go on unto perfection; not only so as to obtain satisfaction for themselves, but that they may be able to teach others. It is true, all are not
to be teachers by office; but in one form or other, all should aspire to communicate the knowledge of Christ. Every Christian is required to be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in him with meekness and fear; and if all the members of our churches did but possess this readiness, besides the advantages that would accrue to themselves and others, there would be less scarcity than there is of able and evangelical ministers.
The leading sentiment which runs through the passage, and comprises the whole, is, THE IMPOR
TANCE OF A DEEP AND INTIMATE KNOW EDGE OF
DIVINE TRUTH. To this subject, brethren, permit me to call your attention. In discoursing upon it, Ishall first inquire wherein it consists, and then endeavour to shew the importance of it.
1. Let us inquire, what a deep and intimate knowledge of divine truth includes.
That the oracles of God contain deep things, requires but little proof. The character of God; our own depravity; and that great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, &c are deep and interesting subjects. The prophets had to search into the meaning of their own prophecies. 1 Peter i. 10. The riches of Christ, with which the apostles were entrusted, were denominated unsearchable, Eph. iii. 8; and even the highest orders of created intelligences are described as looking into these things for their farther improvement.
1 Peter 1. 12.
It may seem presuming for any person, in the present imperfect state, to determine on subjects of such magnitude; or to talk of a deep and intimate knowledge of things which surpass the comprehension of the most exalted creatures. And if these terms were used either absolutely, to express the real conformity of our ideas of divine things to the full extent of the things themselves, or even comparatively, if the comparison respected saints
on earth and saints in heaven, it would be presumption. But it is only in reference to one another in the present state, that these terms are intended to apply. Compared with the heavenly inhabitants, all of us are babes: even an inspired apostle was no more. When I was a child, said he, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even also as I am known. Cor. xiii. 11, 12. There are such degrees, however, amongst good men in this life, as that, compared with each other some may be said to possess only a superficial knowledge of divine truth, and others a more deep and intimate acquaintance with it.
It is the importance of the latter of these that I wish to have impressed upon our minds. To attain it, the following, amongst other things, require our attention.
1. Though we must not stop at first principles, yet we must be well grounded in them.
No person can drink deeply into any science without being well acquainted with its rudiments: these are the foundation on which the whole structure rests. The first principles of the oracles of God, as specified by our apostle, are repentance from dead works, faith towards God, the doctrine of baptisms, and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. Whatever may be meant by some of these terms, whether they refer to things peculiar to Judaism, or to the early times of Christianity; it is clear from scripture, and the nature of things, that others of them are expressive of principles, which, in every age, are of the first importance. Though the apostle speaks of leaving them, yet he does not mean that we should give them up, or treat them with indifference, but go on unto perfection;