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THE NATURE AND IMPORTANCE OF A DEEP AND IN.
TIMATÉ KNOWLEDGE OF DIVINE TRUTH.
(Preached before the Baptist Association at St. Albans, June 1, 1796. ).
HEB. V. 12-14.
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 pot of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskiltul 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 king. dom of Satan are more opposed, tban 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 ardor 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 reasoping ; 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 bis 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 of God. It is a proper term by which the sacred scriptures are here denominated, strongly expressive 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 on faith and reason, and the question has often been agitated, whether the one in any instance can be contrary to the other? In the solution of this question, it is necessary 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 arrises the necessity of another and a better standard, the
aracles 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 sys. tem of divine truth. They contain the first principles, or rudi. ments, of religion; the simple truths of the gospel, which require little or no investigation in order to their being understood : these are called milk. They also contain the deep things of God, things beyond the reach of a slight and cursory observation : and which require, if we would properly enter into 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 of 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 schoolmaster 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 themselver, 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 knowl. edge 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 IMPORTANCE OF A DEEP AND INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF DIVINE TRUTH. To this subject, brethren, permit me to call your attention. In discoursing upon it, I shall first inquire wherein it consists, and then endeavour to show 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 ; qur 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. The riches of Christ, with which the apostles were intrusted, were denoninated unsearchable ; and even the highest orders of created intelligences are described as looking into these things for their farther improvement.
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
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 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 as also I am known. There are such degrees, however, among good men in this life, as tbat, 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 your minds. To attain it, the following, among 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 toward God, the doctrine of baptisms, and the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and etornal judgment. Whatever may be meant by some of these