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The Importance and Advantage of a thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.
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 of a certain defect in the Christian Hebrews, to whom he wrote. Wherein we may observe,
1. What the defect complained of is, viz. A want of such a proficiency in the knowledge of the doctrines and mysteries of religion, as might have been expected of them. The apostle complains of them, that they had not made that progress
* Dated November, 1739.
in their acquaintance with the things of divinity, or th taught in the oracles of God, which they ought to have m... 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 several things.
It appears by the manner in which the apostle introduces this complaint or reproof. The occasion of his introducing it, is this: In the next verse but one preceding, he mentions Christ's being an high priest after the order of Melchizedek: "Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchize dek":"This Melchizedek being in the Old Testament, which was the oracles ofGods held forth as an eminent type of Christ, and the account we there have of Melchizedek containing many gospel mysteries, these the apostle was willing to point out to the Christiair Hebrews. But he apprehended, that through their weakness in knowledge, and little acquaintance in mysteries of that nature, they would not understand him; and therefore breaks off for the present from saying any thing about Melchizedek. Thus, in verse 11, "Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered; seeing ye are dull of hearing;" i.e. there are many things concerning Melchizedek, which contain wonderful gospel mysteries, and which I would take notice of to you, were it not that I am afraid, that through your dullness 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 have 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 divinity, and the holy scriptures, to be able to understand and digest such mysteries: But it is not so with you."
Again, The apostle speaks of their proficiency in such knowledge as is conveyed and received 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 a knowledge, whereby Christians are enabled to digest strong meat; i. e. to understand those 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."
Again, It is such a 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 the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and to go on unto perfection."
2. We may observe wherein the fault of this defect appears, viz. 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 ought 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, which is milk, should learn to digest strong meat.
Every Christian should make a business of endeavoring 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 by, and that their time should not, in a considerable measure, be taken up 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 subject, I shall show,
1. What divinity is.
2. What kind of knowledge in divinity is intended in the doctrine.
3. Why knowledge in divinity is necessary.
4. Why all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in this knowledge.
I. I shall very briefly show what divinity is.
Various definitions have been given of it by those who have treated on the subject. I shall not now stand to enquire 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 notion of it to this auditory.
By divinity is meant, 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