Imatges de pÓgina
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impossible for those once enlightened” and having made certain advances in the christian

course, “if they apostatize to renew them again unto repentance,” or save them from utter ruin. Thus literally compelling them at the peril of their souls, to give attention to the weighty considerations which he was about to advance concerning the priesthood of Melchizedek. Such then are the considerations which lead me totally to dissent from the opinion that Paul kept back any part of what he had to communicate on this subject.

And that there is nothing in it which is beyond human capacity to understand, I think is equally clear. It is true that the apostle did find difficulty, and no little of it, in enabling his Jewish readers to understand and properly regard this matter. But on what account? Not surely because there is any thing peculiarly mysterious or incomprehensible in the subject itself; but as he says, because they were dull of hearing. He does not here as in another place talk of “ unspeakable words which it is impossible for a man to utter,”—he does not once hint at the incompetency of the human intellect, nor at a general or irremediable weakness. The infirmity of which he speaks is one peculiar to the christianized Jews at that particular time, and one which he does not fail to reproach. “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing, 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. 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, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Here is language which plainly teaches that to those Jewish babes-unskilled in the word-needing to be taught even the first rudiments —and capable of feeding only on milk, the subject is indeed a difficult one. But it also carries with it the strong intimation, that to men of full age, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil, and are capable of feeding on strong meat, the whole matter is simple and plain enough. And that such is the fact will be more satisfactorily shown when we come to the more immediate discussion of the subject itself.

You have already observed, my hearers, that the specific nature of the difficulty of Paul in the instance of the text, was meagerness

of religious knowledge. The impediment in the way of his even progress with the argument, and which led him to apprehend a failure in his efforts, was a want of that improvement and cultivation in sacred wisdom to which it was the privilege of his readers to have advanced. They were but babes when they should have been of full age-they could only receive and digest milk when they should have been able to feed on strong meatthey were unskilful in the word of righteousness and had need to be themselves instructed in the first rudiments of religion, when for the time they should have been able to discern good and evil and to be teachers in Christ. The same I think may be affirmed of the great body of christian professors in the present day. I may say, that the major portion of those who claim membership in the church of Christ, and have considered themselves christians for years, are as yet but bubes, who have need of milk, and are not yet established in the first principles of the oracles of God. And that such is the fact may be seen in various particulars.

The blind zeal of many professors of religion, shows a state of distressing ignorance in the churches. As if names gave existence and character to things, how many are there, who are by far more concerned for the interests of a party or the success of a sect, than for their own personal holiness and the salvation of souls. How many who are more bent upon binding down the consciences of their fellows to certain dogmas and standards of piety, than to advance their spirits toward the lofty seats of glory. How many who are run completely mad upon certain tenets of faith and systems of speculative theology, whilst they continually outrage the more indispensable practical precepts of the word of God. How many who burn with an apostolic ardor and compass sea and land to make proselytes, though it be by the defamation of their brethren and at the expense of charity and truth. How many enthusiastic modern reformers have we, who are so struck with the magnitude of certain evils, and so filled with the grand purpose of their correction, as greatly to underrate the power of the Gospel, as well as to run into all the extremes of intemperance and fanaticism. What do these things argue, but ignorance of the nature of religion, and of that heavenly charity without which no soul can be saved.

Nor can any one accustomed to move among professing christians fail to be struck with the ignorance of the great mass respect

ing the scriptures and the doctrines therein taught. Though they theoretically adopt the old and new Testaments as their only and infallible rule of faith and practice, yet there are multitudes in the church who know so little about these heavenly documents, as to be unable to find a text though you tell them the chapter, verse and book. Others there are who are so entirely regardless and inconsistent as not even to have Bibles in their houses. Some who have them, value them so little as never to look into them but when they wish to see their ages, or to record the birth, death or marriage of a child. Some read them, but only for the purpose of seeking out difficulties, or to find passages which they think go on to establish some foolish notions which they have taken up. Enough there are who study the signs in their almanacs with a great deal more care and diligence than the high and holy messages of Divine truth. Many who understand the doctrines and opinions of every political party and the arguments by which every measure of state policy is supported far better than the first principles of the word of God. And if I were to ask each individual of this assembly personally what the gospel is, I fear that I should find few who would be able to give me a correct reply, much less. give me a satisfactory account of its prominent features and practical requirements.And when we consider that it is in the Scriptures we have eternal life, and that it is there that the way to heaven is revealed and all true piety kindled and kept alive, we are constrained to look upon this state of things as exhibiting the most distressing igno

rance.

The same may also be seen in the many superstitious notions in vogue in the church, which are entirely contrary to the spirit and letter of the Scriptures. Into the particulars of this matter it would be neither prudent nor necessary for me here to enter. But such is the fact, that in too many places, the heathen opinions respecting dreams, omens, ghosts, witches, apparitions, &c., &c., have received a credence from professing christians, which betrays a lamentable ignorance, not only of philosophy, but even of the nature of Divine Providence. And there are many other particulars which we might specify, which too plainly evince a want of cultivation and improvement in sacred knowledge, not much dissimilar to that with which Paul reproached the Jews. Nor can we look upon this state of things in any other light than that in which the apostle regarded such

ignorance in his day. And though there may be mitigating circumstances in certain cases, we must nevertheless pronounce ignorance of the doctrines of the Bible in christians, reproachful and criminal. This will the more plainly appear, if we consider first, the nature of religion.

The foundation of all true piety is knowledge. Solomon invariably calls it wisdom. And whatever definition we give or in whatever terms we express our idea of the matter of man's piety toward his Maker, it will eventually resolve itself into knowledge. You may define religion to be supreme love to God. The Savior says that this is the sum of the law and the prophets. But how can man love an object without knowing something of its existence and character. Love is that emotion of the soul excited by the perception and contemplation of an object which presents itself to our judgment as amiable and worthy. Hence there must be knowledge as the very basis of love. You may define religion to be the sincere and faithful service of God. But who can serve God acceptably and intelligently without an acquaintance with his character and his will? Solomon says, the fear of God and obedience to his commandments is the whole duty of man. But how can we fear and obey a being of whom we have no knowledge ? So that you perceive the fundamental element of religion to be knowledge. Not that cold and passive assent of the mind to certain propositions; but knowledge in its highest sense and highest objects, even that acquaintance with the being, attributes and wishes of the Deity which furnishes motive for honest and intelligent action. And all religion which is not based upon such knowledge, is no better than the blind rites of paganism and superstition. Ignorance of sacred things is entirely incompatible with scriptural piety. The great business of Christ's embassadors on earth is to teach. And the church itself is but one universal seminary, where immortal souls are educated in the theory and practice of those eternal principles of justice and right taught originally by the Savior. No man can become a christian without being first instructed. He must first have a knowledge of the character and government of God, of his relation to that government and his consequent obligations to obey the Deity, before he can feel bimself a sinner. Then he must know something about Christ, the nature of his atonement, and his willingness and ability to save sinners, before he can properly venture on him for salva

tions upon

tion. Then again he must have a correct conception of the condi

which Christ saves those who desire deliverance from sin at his hands, before he will be able to decide the question in his own case whether or not he is a child of God. And although there are those in the church who know but very little about these things, and yet are accounted good members; I must insist upon it, that no man can be a christian in the scriptural sense of the term without knowledge of these fundamental points. And that God in his mercy will overlook such ignorance, I am not authorized to say ; following the example of Paul I cannot pass it without reproach.

And if knowledge be necessary to the existence of christian character, how much more indispensable to the perfect development of that character? Men may talk about christian perfection as they please, but God has linked together in eternal union sanctification and knowledge. And growth in grace always implies also growth " in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” When Jesus prayed for the sanctification of his people, he prayed that they might be sanctified through the truth ;” nor can the truth sanctify unless it be known. I do then most positively insist, that information and thorough scripture knowledge is utterly indispensable to a scriptural christian. · Ignorance is of the devil, it is not of God, nor is it compatible with the spirit of his word. It is evil and ruinous in all its tendencies. And in those professing christianity and having the means of improvement, it is reproachful and criminal.

You may feel here like asking me, how much knowledge it requires to make a christian? and why it is that many of our most intelligent people are not disciples of the Savior? To the first inquiry I may answer,--not a great deal if it be of the right kind; but in every case so much as will enable him to have a clear view of his obligations, his duties, bis sinful condition, and the plan of salvation through Christ. To the other I may answer,-a man may be learned, he may travel all the rounds of science and literature, and yet not be educated in the things of God. There is a specific kind of schooling required to make an intelligent christian. Hence the most learned in the things of this world may yet be fools and babes as regards the facts of that higher philosophy of the Bible. There is also such a thing as being acquainted with religious subjects after the manner of a cold speculatism, without suffering those

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