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IN THEIR PREACHING, MINISTERS ARE TO REGARD THE STATE OF
I. CORINTHIANS ii. 1, 2.
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual,
but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
CORINTII, an ancient and celebrated city of Greece, was the capital of the province, or canton, of Achaia, in the peninsula called Peloponnesus. Situated between the two seas of Greece, it became very opulent, and pride, luxury, and lewdness, were the consequences of its wealth.
In the eighteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we have an account of the visit of St. Paul to this city; of the treatment which he received; and of his success in plantjog a church.
At Corinth the Apostles found Aquila, and Priscilla, had been converted to the christian faith, and who had lately come from Italy, on account of the edict of the Roman Emperor, banishing all Jews from Rome. With these persons he resided, and wrought with them, at their trade of tent making,
Upon the sabbath he went to the synagogue and reasoned among the Jews, and with such Gentiles, as met with them upon the subject of religion. But his preaching in the synagogue appears not to have been of long continuance; for when by the coming of Silas, and Timotheus, from Macedonia, he was pressed in spirit, and testified to the Jews, that Jesus is Christ, they rose in opposition, and broke out into open blasphemy. Upon this he forsook the synagogue, warning the Jews of their danger, and afterwards taught in a house that was near, belonging to a Gentile of the name of Justus, who before had renounced idolatry, and had become a worshipper of God. Though the Jews made insurrection against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat to be tried by Gallio the deputy of Achaia, they were disappointed in their malicious purpose, and he was protected, and continued a year and six months at Corinth, so that Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptised.
Soon after Paul left Corinth, other teachers, of a different character, with high pretensions, disturbed, and divided the people. Of the state of the church the apostle was in one way and another informed, and he wrote this letter, probably, fromí Ephesus, in reply to one which he had recieved from Corinth. His letter to the church embraces more things than are to be found in theirs to him, for it notices corrupt doctrines, and practices, existing among then), concerning which they had made no mention. They were in a proper mood to be satisfied with nothing, for any length of time, and their ears itched for something more deep, and far fetched, than the plain, practical, doctrine which the Apostle had inculcated. He could better judge of their case than they could themselves, and he had adapted his preaching to their circumstances.
He mentions in the passage now selected for consideration, what was his method of teaching, while at Corinth, and why he adopted such a method.
In the consideration of this passage, we are led to inquire first what we are to understand by the terms milk and meat. The literal meaning, is obvious to every one; and we all know, that though milk is good for all periods of life, it is so peculiarly suited to infancy, that meat, designed as an aliment, for a state more advanced, will by no means answer as a substitute for it. No terms, perhaps, can be turend
from a literal to a figurative meaning, more easily and naturally, than these.
Christians are represented as born of God, and of course, they must have their infancy, their childhood, their youth, and manhood; every thing that denotes progress in human life, with an exemption from the imbecility, and decline, of old age. The same method of treatment therefore, is
expedient, and necessary, with respect to the spiritual man, or the christian in the different stages of his new life, that is practised with respect to the natural man, or the body as it advances from one stage to another. The period of infancy, and childhood, will be longer or shorter in the spiritual life, according as circumstances promote, or retard advancement, and thus he who has been a believer many years, may be in a condition to receive little or no nourishment, from any thing but that which was first adıninistered to him, after he began to live by faith. There must be some progress with every one, for in such a case there is no such thing as standing still; but the progress may be so slow as to be scarcely perceptible; and the utmost point ever reached in the present world may be but a dwarfish elevation.
If we take the apostle's own definitions, we shall not be liable to misapprehend his meaning. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, he says in his epistle to the Hebrews, 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. Ву milk therefore, he intended, the first principles of religion, which he supposed every child of God, having a capacity to understand, however young, and inexperienced he might be, would be able to receive, as the infant receives milk as soon as it is born.
To know what these first principles are, which are so easy of digestion, we must turn to another part of this epistle to the Hebrews. Therefore, having 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. Those things, though they are hard sayings to the men of the world, are obvious matters to the youngest christian, which he can no more be expected to refuse, than the infant can be expected to refuse the milk which is its natural, and necessary food.
Dead works are such as those persons who are alive without the law, perform. St. Paul was well qualified to judge of works of this description, for he had made such works the business of the early part of his life, when ignorant of God's righteousness, he went about to establish a righteousness of his own.
How strangely altered was his view of things, when looking back upon his life, he found that those very acts of external obedience, upon which he had placed his dependance, having originated from no principle of life in his heart, from no love to God, but from a motive of selfishness, were dead works, and of course acts of sin, calling for repentance.
Some may suppose that if all the works of an unbeliever are dead works, and if such works are to be repented of, the christian reviewing the conduct in which he was concerned while in a state of unbelief, will be sorry for all those things which he did which in appearance, were right, and in their tendency useful. If so it must be a matter of lamentation to him, that instead of paying his debts, he did not defraud his creditors; that instead of feeding the hungry, he did not drive every beggar from his door; that instead of calling upon God in his family, he did not live altogether prayerless; that instead of reading his Bible, he did not leave it neglected on the shelf; that instead of going to a place of public worship, he did not spend the sabbath in his worldly business; that instead of bridling his tongue, he did not employ it in profane, and libidinous discourse; that instead of a decent deportment, he did not indulge in riot, and debauchery. The bare mention of the consequences is sufficient, to show the absurdity of such a sentiment. Amaziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart. Had he ever repented, he could not have repented of that which was right in the sight of the Lord; but he must have repented, that what he did, right in itself, was not done from a perfect heart, or from a desire to glorify God. If the motive and the act are two distinct things, then
there is something to repent of, in dead works even when the works themselves are commendable. If to disregard the law is criminal; is it not more criminal to disregard the lawgiver; and is not that compliance with the law, virtually, noncompliance, which sets aside the authority of him who gave the law, as a rule of life, and put his own sanction
From dead works therefore, however profitable they may be to others, no profit can, ultimately, result to him who performs them. God cannot accept that as done to honor him, which was done without any such intention. Dead works will never be rewarded in another world, but unrepented of, they will bring condemnation, and misery, upon the soul.
How strange is it, that men, and even men of sense, and general information, and reflection, are desirous to have a system of morality inculcated from the desk, as the foundation of hope and happiness, which, to say the best of it, does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes, and pharisees; and which, if the scriptures give us correct information will as certainly, and as directly lead to misery, all those who depend upon it for acceptance with God, as any course of sin that ever yet was pursued. Ahab acknowledged that he hated Micaiah, because he did not prophesy good concerning him, but evil. It would have been much more agreeable to the prophet, to communicate good tidings to the king than evil, but he was under indispensable obligations to tell him the truth, and in the truth there could be nothing welcome to such a Micaiah must have known that there were some things in the conduct of Ahab externally right; but he considered them to be what they were, dead works; and for that reason he could not, in faithfulness encourage him to expect good. Ahab did right to comply with the direction of Elijah to assemble the people of Israel, and the prophets of Baal, at mount Carmel; he did right also to obey the prophet, who told him how to order his army in the battle with Benhadad; and a still better thing is recorded of him, for he rent his clothes, and put sack-cloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sack-cloth, and went softly, in consequence of the message