« EdellinenJatka »
Che Perfection of Christian Knoldingz.
Heb. v. 12, 13, 14.-vi. 1, 2, 3.
For when for the time you 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 in unskilful in the word of righteousness ; for he is a babe. By strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those, who by reason of age have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. 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 towards 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.
I HAVE put two subjects together which are
closely connected, and I intend to explain both in this discourse. The last part of the text is a consequence of the first. In the first, St. Paul reproyes some christians for their little knowledge; in the last, he exhorts them to encrease it: and the connection of both will appear, if you attend to the subject under his consideration. The epistle to the Hebrews, which may be considered as the apostle's principal work, treats of the most difficult points of divinity and morality. In particular, this is the idea that must be formed of Melchisedec's priest
hood, as a prefiguration of Jesus Christ's. This mysterious subject the Apostle had begun to diseuss, but he had not proceeded far in it before he found himself at a stand, by recollecting the character of those to whom he was writing. He describes them, in the text, as men who were grown old in the profession of christianity indeed, but who knew nothing more of it than its first principles; and he endeavors to animate them with the laudable ambition of penetrating the noblest parts of that excellent system of religion, which Jesus Christ had published, and which his apostles had explained in all its beauty, and in all its extent.
This general notion of St. Paul's design, in the words of my text, is the best comment on his meanilag, and the best explication we can give, of his terms.
By the first principles of the oracles of God, to which the Hebrews confined themselves, the apostle means the rudiments of that science of which God is the object; that is, christian divinity and morality; and these rudiments are here also called the principles of Christ*, that is, the first principles of that doctrine which Jesus Christ taught. These are compared to milk, which is given to children incapable of digesting strong meat ; and they are opposed to the profound knowledge of those who have been habituated by long exercise to study and meditation, or, as the apostle expresseth it, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. · In this class St. Paul places, first, repentance from dead works, and faith towards God. These were the first truths, which the heralds of the gospel preached to their hearers: to them they said, Repent, and believe the gospel.
* TuS apims Tou Xperou digoso
St. Paul places in the same class, secondly, the doctrine of baptisms, that is, the confession of faith that was required of such as had resolved to profess christianity and to be baptized. Of such persons a confession was required, and their answers to certain questions were demanded. The formularies, that have been used on this occasion, have been extremely diversified at different places and in different times, but the most ancient are the shortest, and the most determinate. One question, that was put to the catechumen, was, Dost thou renounce the devil ? to which he answered, I renounce him. Another was, Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ ? to which he replied, I believe in him. St. Cyprian calls these questions the baptismal interrogatory ; and the answers are called by Tertullian the answer of salvation : and we have a passage upon this article in an author still more respectable, I mean St. Peter, who says, Baptism doth also now save us, not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God, 1 Epist. iii. 21. that is, the answer which was given by the catechumen before his baptism. - Thirdly, Among the rudiments or first principles of christianity, St. Paul puts the laying on of hands, by which we understand the gift of miracles, which the apostles communicated by imposition of hands to those who embraced the gospel. We have several instances of this in scripture, and a particular account of it in the eighth chapter of Acts. It is there said, that Philip, having undeceived many of the Samaritans, whom Simon the sorcerer had of a long time bewitched baptized, both men and women, ver. 11, 12, 14, 17. and that the apostles, Peter and John, laid their hands on them, and by that ceremony communicated to them the gift of the holy Ghost.
The resurrection of the dead, and eternal judg. ment, are two other articles which St. Paul places in the same class : Articles believed by the weakest christians, received by the greatest part of the Jews, and admitted by even many of the heathens. Now the apostle wishes that the Hebrews, leaving these principles, would aspire to be perfect. Let us go on unto perfection, says he, let us proceed from the catechumen state to a thorough acquaintance with that religion, which is wisdom among them that are perfect; that is, a system of doctrine which cannot be well understood by any except by such as the heathens call perfect. They denominated those perfect, who did not rest in a superficial knowledge. of a science, but who endeavored thoroughly to understand the whole. This was the design of St. Paul in writing to the Hebrews: and this is ours in addressing you. .
We will endeavor, first, to give you as exact and adequate a notion as we can of christian divinity and morality, and from thence to infer, that you can neither see the beauty, nor reap the benefit of either of them, while you confine yourselves, as most of you do, to a few loose principles, and continue unacquainted with the whole system or body of religion.
Secondly, We will inquire, why so many of us do confine our attention to these first truths, and neyer proceed to the rest.
Lastly, We will give you some directions how to increase your knowledge, and to attain that perfection, to which St. Paul endeavored to conduct the Hebrews. This is the whole we propose to treat. of in this discourse,
I. It is evident from the nature of Christianity, that you can neither see its beauties, nor reap its benefits, while you attend only to some loose principles, and do not consider the whole system : for the truths of religion form a system, a body of coherent doctrines, closely connected, and in perfect harmony. Nothing better distinguisheth the accurate judgment of an orator, or a philosopher, than the connection of his orations or systems. Unconnected systems, orations, in which the author is determined only by caprice and chance, as it were, to place the proposition which follows after that which precedes, and that which precedes before that which follows; such orations and systems are less worthy of rational beings, than of creatures destitute of intelligence, whóm nature has formed capable of uttering sounds indeed, but not of forming ideas. Orations and systems should be connected; each part should occupy the place, which order and accuracy, not caprice and chance, assign it. They should resemble buildings constructed according to the rules of art; the laws of which are never arbitrary, but fixed and inviolable, founded on the nature of regularity and proportion : or, to use St. Paul's expression, each should be a body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, Eph. iv. 16.
Let us apply this to the subject in hand. Nothing better proves the divinity of religion, than the connection, the harmony, the agreement of its component parts. I am aware that this grand characteristic of christianity hath occasioned many mistakes. among mankind. Under pretence that a religion proceeding from God must harmonize in its component parts, men have. licentiously contrived a chain of propositions to please themselves. They haye substituted a phantom of their own imagina