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tells them very plainly, how disgracefully deftcient they were in the improvement which might have been expected, from the time that they had been in the school of Christ. Instead of being in a capacity of teaching others, they were themselves in the lowest class of learners. Instead of making progress in the knowledge of divine truth, they had forgotten what they once possessed. Instead of growing to the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus, they had shrunk again to the condition of babes, whose weak and tender organs must be nourished with the simplest food. Instead of expanding with a regular and solid growth, opening and enlarging, their faculties, through disuse, had become so contracted as to refuse admittance to the plainest truths, much more to doctrines so deep and involved as those which he had begun to state. Such is the spirit of the apostle's reproof contained in 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."
The case of the Hebrews, as represented in these words, is by no means singular. The neglect, at least the slow improvement of the means of knowledge, has not ceased to be a reproach in these latter days. Although blessed with the most abundant means of becoming wise unto sal
vation, how trifling are our attainments, how ill arranged are our religious ideas, how little established are we in the faith, and how ill qualified to give a good reason of the hope that is in us! Amidst all these infirmities, how disdainful are we often of common truths! how desirous to be gratified with novel speculations! how fantastical in our taste for religious instruction! I hope I may be allowed to offer some observations on these topics, without being supposed to aim at any peculiar censure, my sole design being to stir you up to further improvements, even to aspire to the wisdom of the perfect, and of those who, by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
The text naturally gives rise to the three following observations:
I. That all who are favoured with the light of the gospel, shall be utterly inexcusable, if their improvements in knowledge do not bear a proportion to the time they have continued to enjoy it.
II. That those who are not careful to add to their knowledge, will be in great danger of losing what they have formerly acquired.
III. That without a proper acquaintance with the first plain principles of religion, men are unfit to receive doctrines of a higher and more speculative nature.
These observations I will confirm by some rea
soning, and then make a practical application of the subject. The
I. observation was, That all who are favoured with the light of the gospel, shall be utterly inexcusable, if their improvements in knowledge do not bear a proportion to the time they have continued to enjoy it.
This is one of those propositions which neither needs, nor will admit of much positive proof. There cannot be a plainer dictate of common sense, than what our Saviour hath taught us in these words: "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him the more shall be required." Every advantage bestowed on us by providence is a trust, of which we must give an account hereafter. The advantages which tend to our improvement in heavenly wisdom, are a trust of the most important kind; and therefore the guilt of neglecting or abusing these must be of the deepest nature. But let us hear what may be said in opposition to this. Every objection that can be stated may be resolved into one or other of these two-either that Christianity is not worthy of our study; or that, from its incomprehensible nature, it is impossible to make any considerable progress in the knowledge of it. To maintain the first of these, is in fact to deny the divinity of our holy religion; for certainly a revelation proceeding from infinite wisdom, with this merciful intention, to direct
wandering sinners to everlasting and unspeakable felicity, must be allowed to deserve all the time and attention we can possibly bestow on it. As to the second objection, relating to the mysterious nature of Christianity, it must partly be admitted, but in no sense that will apply to the point in question. There are indeed doctrines taught in it far surpassing the extent of our understandings, which must be received with the obedience of faith, resting on this solid principle of reason, that they are revealed by him who cannot lie. But though there are deep and inscrutible mysteries in Christianity, it is far from being mysterious in all its parts. Its discoveries of the moral character of God, and of his gracious purposes toward the human race; its precepts, promises, and sanctions; and its general influence upon human conduct, present the noblest and most improving subject of contemplation, in which the faculties of man can be engaged. In these a well formed mind will taste a pleasure and satisfaction far beyond what all the treasures of science and philosophy can bestow. It is true, that even in this study, certain difficulties will at first be experienced; but shall it form an objection to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom, that it bears an analogy to every improvement of which the human mind is susceptible? Where is the valuable advantage that is to be acquired without patience, method, and application? Shall we expect to become mas
ters of religious truth, with less diligence and application than we bestow on the most trifling science, or the meanest mechanic art? I mean not that it is either necessary or possible for every private Christian to attain a thorough knowledge of theology. The leisure and the capacities of men are so different, that an equal progress in divine knowledge cannot be supposed in every individual. This much, however, may be reasonably required and expected, that persons soliciting the outward privileges of religion, should know the great truths to which these privileges refershould be able to tell what benefit they expect from them-should be able to shew some fruit of all the instructions they receive. Yet how often is even this moderate expectation disappointed? How many are there to be found in this land of gospel light, almost as ignorant of Jesus and his religion, as those who never heard his name? How deep must be their shame, how heavy their condemnation, when at last it shall appear in what manner their time has been employed? This will stop the mouths of all ignorant Christians, and expose their vain apologies, when their consciences, awakened by the dawn of an everlasting day, shall reproach them with the hours, days, and months, in which they fatigued themselves with vice and folly, instead of studying how 30 become wise unto salvation. The