« PreviousContinue »
sometimes advanced by such as you esteem christians. It might be known at Corinth, what success attended Peter's preaching upon the day of pentecost, when about three thousand souls were added to the church; and this affair might confirm the opinion entertained, that Peter was the first, and ablest preacher.
While at Corinth, some were for Paul; some for Apollos; and some for Cephas; some were for neither of them; nor for any other preacher; but for Christ. There have been such persons, perhaps, in all ages, calling themselves christians, and setting up high pretensions to religious experience, while living in the general neglect of public worship, if not of family worship, and of many other duties, as plainly enjoined as either. That such a course of life is to be accounted for from the carnality of the heart, is unquestionable; and whether those who live in this manner, can have any knowledge of christianity, is known only to him who has a thorough knowledge of all things. It seems to be plain, that the enjoyment of a christian must be in proportion to the sincerity, and strictness of his obedience; For if ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
It is to be noticed thirdly, that the carnality of the Corinthian church, was the reason why the Apostle fed them with milk, and not with meat; why he confined his preaching among them to the first, and easy principles of religion, instead of dwelling upon the hidden wisdom, or the abstruse things which he spoke of before those who were more perfect in knowledge, and experience. Two reasons were influential with him to regulate his practice. He well knew they could not understand the deep things of God, which God, by his spirit, had revealed to him; and of which he delighted to speak to others, when he found any capable of receiving them.
As the nurse would not give meat, but milk, to an infant; as the preceptor would not set a mathematical problem, but the alphabet, before one who had just begun to learn his letters; so the apostle conducted, inculcating such things as the circumstances of the case rendered expedient; becoming all things to all men, that he might by all means save some, and making it his rule to keep back nothing
from any, from any motive whatever, which he judged could be profitable.
However desirous he might be to give his Corinthian brethren farther instruction, he felt himself under necessity to wait for the time to come, when their minds would be sufficiently expanded, and their hearts suitably disposed, to allow him an opportunity. He was farther sensible, that as they could not derive benefit from truths difficult to be understood, and to them quite unintelligible, so damage might accrue to them from any attempt which he should make, prematurely to instruct them; and this was another reason, why he gave them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little. It is readily admitted, that unsuitable food would injure an infant, and that the mind of a child should not be pushed beyond its strength, and capacity.
But it may be thought, if salvation is secured to the christian by the covenant of grace, nothing can be an evil to him. Nothing indeed can deprive the christian of that inheritance, to which, as a child of promise, he has a title. All christians may adopt the exulting language of St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, For I am persuaded, that neither death; nor life; nor angels; nor principalities; nor powers; nor things present; nor things to come; nor height; nor depth; nor any other creature; shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. It does not follow however, that he can sustain no damage, who will not be finally lost. Ye did run well, the apostle says to the Gallatians, who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? If by any thing they had been so hindered in their christian race, as to be turned from a course of duty to one of disobedience, it was a serious evil; it was a damage which nothing could repair, but a humble and faithful retracing of their steps. St. Peter directs husbands and wives, to live together in harmony and love, that their prayers be not hindered. As blessings are granted in answer to prayer, much must be lost by the neglect of that duty. But when ye sin so against the brethren, St. Paul says to the Corinthians, speaking of such meats as were offered in sacrifice to idols, and wound their weak
conscience, ye sin against Christ. If a christian is injured, when his body is wounded, why not when his conscience is wounded? But whoso shall offend one of these little ones, who believe in me, says our Savior, it were better for him that a mill stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. If the crime here mentioned is so great, then the damage caused by the criminal, inust be great in proportion. Those who are in a condition to receive the plain truths of the gospel, might be filled with darkness, and doubts, in consequence of the inculcation of deep mysteries; and instead of being edified they would be puzzled, confounded, and well nigh distracted.
Our subject leads us to some reflections, the first of which is, that if we are opposed to things in religion, which are hard to be understood; to the hidden mystery of which the apostle speaks; our opposition must arise from our carnality. The apostle fed the Corinthians with milk, because they were not able to bear meat; and the reason why they were not able was, that they were carnal. The carnal mind is enmity against God; and against his way of salvation. The world has always been in arms against the truth. God sent his prophets to proclaim the truth, and carnal men, exasperated at the message, put the messengers to death. Jesus Christ came, in the fulness of time, and he was treated in the same way. It was in vain for Pilate to inquire, Why; what evil hath he done? He had borne witness to the truth, in public, and upon all occasions. To this end was he born, and for this cause came he into the world. The apostles followed their Lord: and with the same doctrine provoked the same wrath, and shared with scarcely an exception, the same fate. The martyrs all suffered in the same cause. Let us not undertake to justify our opposition. It admits of no justification. If we allow the scriptures to be a revelation from heaven, where is our consistency, in denying any thing that they contain?
Though it appears evident, that all opposition, to deep and mysterious things in religion arises from carnality in the heart, it does not follow, that the heart is wholly carnal, which opposes these things. St. Paul's address to the
Corinthians is, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth; and he says to them, I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual; but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. He did not think it impossible for them to be in Christ, and at the same time carnal, for he knew, that carnality is but another name for sin, and that as all men are imperfect in the present world, there will be more or less carnality, or sin, in every christian. He had a standard by which to estimate the degrees of carnality, and by that standard, indeed, he found the Corinthian church to be carnal, in a very high, and an uncommon degree. But though we find the apostle dealing much in reproof, he no where uses any uncharitable language. He was as good a judge of the human heart and of the change which grace causes in it, as we can expect any where to find. His example we should endeavor to follow. If our brethren do not see with us, or withstand us in things of an abstruse nature, we should not on that account withdraw our charity from them, and conclude they cannot be brethren of the Lord, but rather look back to the Corinthian church, which was fed with milk, because in such an infantile and carnal state as to be unable to receive any thing beside.
Those who entertain a hope, that they are the children of God, and are yet against hearing any thing but the simplest truths, would do well, frequently, and attentively, to read those scriptures which treat upon mysterious matters; particularly the epistle to the Romans, and consider what is meant by the terms used. When you read of election, or of predestination, you must suppose, that something is intended. What is it? Make up an opinion for yourselves; but be careful to take such materials as the Holy Ghost has furnished.
Apparent as it is, that nothing but carnality in the heart opposes the difficult doctrines of the Bible, we must not too hastily conclude, that we are not carnal, if those are the doctrines which we wish ever to have brought into view. There were those who were for Paul at Corinth, and they, for ought that appears, were as carnal as the others. From his own mouth, or in some other way, individuals might gain some idea of the mysterious doctrines which he embra
ced, though he did not broach them generally at Corinth. From the apostle's mode of address to that church we infer, that he would have been more acceptable, had he dealt more in mysteries. It may be thought impossible, that carnal men should be both opposed to mysteries and in favor of them. But we are told that the law is good if a man use it lawfully. May there not then be an unlawful use of the law? We read also, But Israel which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. May not persons therefore opposed to the law, make it their object, and study, as Saul of Tarsus did, with Gamaliel? However it may be accounted for, I could refer you to men notoriously intemperate, who are great sticklers for the stoutest orthodoxy of the Calvinistic creed.
One reflection more shall conclude this discourse. There are different opinions respecting what is the proper, and profitable, method of preaching. Paul observed in his last interview with the elders of Ephesus, I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. It has been inferred from this, that every thing which is true, and especially, such truths, as are most difficult to be understood, should be brought by the ministers of the gospel before their congregations. If this is a fair inference, was not the apostle, in his preaching at Corinth, as much to be blamed as any one who ever undertook the business of preaching; for according to his own statement he fed them with milk, and not with meat; and when he spoke of the hidden wisdom, it was before such as were perfect. He probably considered the elders of Ephesus to be capable of understanding the hidden wisdom, so far as was necessary to make a proper improvement of it; and for this reason, he declared to them the whole counsel of God. Since those who are carnal, can bear nothing but milk, or the first principles of religion, and since in every congregation, there are, probably, many persons of this description, what shall the ministers of the gospel do, to conform to the practice of Paul, and to be able to say, like him, when parting with their people, I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men?