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11. observation from the text was, That those who are not careful to add to their knowledge, are in danger of losing what they have already acquired.
This was the very case of the Hebrews. They had not been at due pains to increase their knowledge, in consequence of which neglect, they were even decayed in their former attainments. are become such," says the apostle, “ as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” He does not say, Ye are still in the condition of babes ; but ye are returned or shrunk back again to that condition, thereby plainly intimating that there had been a time when the case was otherwise with them.
And as this proposition is well founded in the text, so it is sufficiently supported both by reason and experience. Our own observation, if we have not been extremely inattentive, cannot fạil to furnish us with instances similar to what is here recorded. The truth is, a comprehensive knowledge of the whole, in all its connexions, is the only security for the distinct knowledge, or remembrance of any one part. Nothing is so difficult as to retain the rudiments of any science, unless we pursue them to their proper use, and discover their subserviency to the general scheme to which they belong.
Let a man be introduced to the view of a complete piece of machinery, without being acquaint
ed with the general purpose it is intended to accomplish ; let him survey every part of it with the most minute attention, and labour to imprint the idea of each as deeply as possible in his mind; yet if he fall short of comprehending the intention of the whole, all that he has seen will be equally useless to himself and to mankind.
His observations, unconnected with any leading principle, will float without method or application in his mind; or if they have any effect, it will be only to make him rash and petulant in hazarding opinions on a subject which he imperfectly understands.
Our pursuit of religious knowledge, under the disadvantages of our present dark and degenerate state, may be compared to a person swimming against the current, who has no other way to maintain his advantage but by pressing forward. Our faculties, by disuse, contract a rust, a disability either for discerning or pursuing those things that are excellent. Hence the apostle says, at the 14th verse, “ Strong meat is for those who, by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil ;" thereby intimating, that the mind must be kept in constant exercise, otherwise we may lose the faculty of distinguishing between things the most widely different. But this is not all: A person who stops short in his pursuit of religious truth, plainly discovers that he has lost that relish which alone
imprints it in deep and lasting characters on the mind. It is well known how slowly we imbibe, and how quickly we forget, those parts of learning which we study with reluctance. will be careful to preserve a matter about which he is become indifferent, especially if this cannot be done without much labour and attention. Accordingly, it is never supposed in Scripture, that we should remit our application to make farther progress, through a lazy satisfaction with our present attainments. No saint ever set such an example of indolent self-contentment. “ I count all things but loss,” said the apostle Paul, “for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith ; that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead : not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reach.
ing forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The
III. and last observation from the text was, That without a proper acquaintance with the plain principles of religion, men are utterly unfit for receiving doctrines of a higher and more speculative nature.
This is the precise argument of the text, and needs only to be mentioned to force our assent. It is saying nothing more strange, than that a person, in order to be able to read, must first know letters; a proposition so plain and obvious, that it would be ridiculous to attempt a formal proof of it. The operations of grace, as well as those of nature, are, for the most part, gradual. Miraculous gifts indeed have been enjoyed, and miraculous progress hath been made in divine knowledge, beyond what the common use of means could have produced; but these have been rare instances for special purposes in Providence, and are by no means to be expected in the common course of things. If, therefore, we aspire to eminent knowledge in religion, we must begin by cultivating distinct apprehensions of its first principles. Nothing has been of more prejudice to Christianity, than the premature indigested reasonings of novices, about its more speculative doctrines, before they have been well established in
its great and fundamental articles. Hence have arisen all those odious names with which particular sects have stigmatized one another, while, in contending for the name of disciples, they have thrown away that badge of charity by which the true disciples of Christ are most effectually distinguished.
Justly, then, does the apostle say, that strong meat belongeth only to them who, by reason of use, bave their senses exercised to discern between good and evil.
The metaphor is highly proper and significant; for as strong meat, administered to a weak stomach, contributes only to encrease its infirmity; in like manner, the more difficult doctrines of Christianity, meeting with weak presumptuous understandings, have no other effect than to swell the natural vanity of the heart, which afterwards vents itself in words and behaviour, equally dishonourable to God and offensive to man.
Having thus endeavoured to confirm the observations which naturally arise from the text, it remains only to make a practical application of the subject.
In this application, the hearers of the gospel seem to have the first and principal concern. Ye have enjoyed this advantage from your earliest years. For the time, ye might have been teachers of others. Let us suppose that ye had attended as punctually upon instruction in any other