The Perfection of Christian Knowledge
Hebrews 5:12-14
For when for the time you ought to be teachers…

I. It is evident from the nature of Christianity that you CAN NEITHER SEE ITS BEAUTIES, NOR REAP ITS BENEFITS, WHILE YOU ATTEND ONLY TO SOME LOOSE PRINCIPLES, AND DO NOT CONSIDER THE WHOLE SYSTEM: for the truths of religion form a system, a body of coherent doctrines, closely connected, and in perfect harmony. I am aware that this grand characteristic of Christianity hath occasioned many mistakes among mankind. Under pretence that a religion proceeding from God must harmonise in its component parts, men have licentiously contrived a chain of propositions to please themselves. They have substituted a phantom of their own imagination, for that body of doctrine which God hath given us in the Holy Scriptures. Hence so much obstinacy in maintaining, after so much rashness and presumption in advancing such phantoms. For of all obstinate people, none excel more in their dreadful kind than those who are prejudiced in favour of certain systems. But if infatuation with systems hath occasioned so many disorders in the Church, the opposite disposition, I mean, the obstinate rejection of all, or the careless composition of some, hath been equally hurtful; for it is no less dangerous, in a system of religion, to omit what really belongs to it, than to incorporate anything foreign from it. Let us be more explicit. There are two sorts of truths in religion: truths of speculation, and truths of practice. Each truth is connected not only with other truths in its own class, but truths of the first class are connected with those of the second, and of these parts thus united is composed that admirable body of doctrine which forms the system of religion. There are in religion some truths of speculation, there is a chain of doctrines. God is holy: this is the first truth. A hot, God can have no intimate communion with unholy creatures: this is a second truth which follows from the first. God, who can have no communion with u holy creatures, can have no communion with men who are unholy creatures: this is a third truth which follows from the second. Thus follow the thread of Jesus Christ's theology, and you will find, as I said, each part that composeth it depending on another, and every one giving another the hand. For, from the loving and merciful inclination of God to relieve a multitude of His creatures from a threatening abyss of the deepest miseries, follows ,he mission of Jesus Christ; because it was fit that the remedy chosen of God to relieve the miseries of men should bear a proportion to the causes which produced it. From the doctrine of Jesus Christ's mission follows the necessity of the Spirit of God: because it would have been impossible for men to have discovered by their own speculations the way of salvation, unless they had been assisted by a supernatural revelation. From the doctrines of the infusion of the Son of God, an, of the gift of the Holy Spirit, follows this most comfortable truth, that we are the objects of the love of God, even of love the most vehement and sincere that can be imagined. In like manner there is a connection between practical truths. The class of practical truths is connected with the class of speculative truths, and each practical truth is connected with another practical truth. Tile class of practical truths is connected with the class of speculative truths. As soon as ever we are convinced of the truth of the doctrines just now mentioned, we shall be thereby convinced that we are under an indispensable necessity to devote ourselves to holiness. All virtues mutually support each other, and there is no invalidating one part of our morality without, on that very account, invalidating the whole. To illustrate this we may compare spiritual with natural things. The more art and ingenuity there is in a machine composed of divers wheels, the more necessary it is to consider it in its whole, and in all its arrangements, and the more does its beauty escape our observation when we confine our attention to a single wheel: because the more art there is in a machine the more essential is the minutest part to its perfection. Now deprive a machine of an essential part and you deface and destroy it. Apply this to spiritual things. In a compact system, in a coherent body of doctrine, there is nothing useless, nothing which ought not to occupy the very place that the genius who composed the whole hath given it. What will become of religion if ye consider any of its doctrines separately? What becomes of religion if ye consider the holiness of God without His justice, or His justice without His mercy?


1. The first cause is a party-spirit. This is a disposition that cannot be easily defined, and it would be difficult to include in a definition of it even its genus and species. It is a monstrous composition of all bad genuses and of all bad species. It is an hydra that reproduceth while it seemeth to destroy itself, and which, when one head hath been cut off, instantly produceth a thousand more. This spirit must naturally incapacitate a man for considering the whole of religion; it must naturally incline him to take it only by bits and shreds. On the one hand, it contracts the mind: for how can a soul that harboureth and cherisheth all the phantoms which a party-spirit produceth, study and meditate as religion requires? On the other hand, a party-spirit depraves the heart and eradicates the desire of knowing religion. A man animated with the spirit of party directeth all his attention to such propositions of religion as seem to favour his erroneous opinions, and irregular passions, and diverts it from all that oppose them; his system includes only what strengthens his party, it is exclusive of everything that weakens or opposes it.

2. The second cause of the evil that we would remove is the choice of teachers. In general, we have three sorts of teachers. The first are catechists, who teach our children the principles of religion. The second are ministers. The third prepare the minds of young people for the ministry itself. The carelessness that prevails in the choice of the first sorter teachers cannot be sufficiently lamented. The care of instructing our children is committed to people more fit for disciples than masters, and the meanest talents are thought more than sufficient to teach the first principles of religion. And yet what capacity does it not require to lay the first foundations of the edifice of salvation! What address to take the different forms necessary to insinuate into the minds of catechumens, and to conciliate their attention and love! What dexterity to proportion instruction to the different ages and characters of learners! The pastors of our churches are our second class of teachers. What precaution, and, in some sort, what dread ought to prevail in the choice of an office, which so greatly influences the salvation of those among whom it is exercised! There needs only the bad system of a pastor to produce and preserve thousands of false notions of religion in the people's minds, notions which fifty years' labour of a more wise and sensible ministry will scarcely be able to eradicate. What hath been said on the choice of pastors still more particularly regards the election of tutors, who are employed to form pastors themselves. Universities are public springs, whence rivulets flow into all the Church. On the contrary, place men of evil character at the head of our universities, and they will send out impoisoned ministers, who will diffuse through the whole Church the fatal venom which themselves have imbibed.

3. The third cause, which we have assigned, of the infancy and novitiate of most Christians in religious knowledge, is the multitude of their secular affairs. Far be it from us to aim at inspiring you with superstitious maxims. We do not mean that they who fill eminent posts in society should devote that time to devotion which the good of the community requires. Amidst the most turbulent solicitudes of life, a Christian, desirous of being saved, will devote some time to his salvation.

4. The last cause of the incapacity of so many Christians for seeing the whole of religion in its connection and harmony; the last cause of their taking it only by bits and shreds, is their love of sensual pleasure. We do not speak here of those gross pleasures at which heathens would have blushed, and which are incompatible with Christianity. We attack pleasures more refined, maxims for which reasonable persons become sometimes apologists; persons who, on more accounts than one, are worthy of being proposed as examples; persons who would seem to be the salt of the earth, the flower of society, and whom we cannot justly accuse of not loving religion. Recollect here that genera! notion of religion watch we have laid down: it contains truths of speculation, and truths of practice. Such sensual pleasures, as we have just now mentioned, form invincible obstacles to the knowledge of both.

(1) To the knowledge of speculative truths. How is it possible for a man to obtain a complete system of the doctrines of the gospel while he is a slave to sensual pleasures? To obtain a complete system of the doctrines of the gospel there must be a certain habit of thinking and meditating. Tats habit cannot be acquired without exercise, it is unattainable without serious attention and profound application. But how can people devoted to pleasure acquire such a habit? To counterbalance the difficulty of meditation and study there must be a relish for it. But nothing is more capable of disgusting us with the spiritual pleasures of study and meditation than the love of sensual pleasures. To acquire a complete knowledge of religious truths, it is not enough to study them in the closet, in retirement and silence; we must converse with others who study them too. But the love of sensual pleasure indisposes us for such conversations.

(2) But, secondly, if the love of sensual pleasure raises such great obstacles to the knowledge of speculative truths, it raiseth incomparably greater still to the truths of practice. There are some Scripture maxims which are never thought of by the persons in question, except it be to destroy them, at least they make no part of their system of morality. In your system of morality, what becomes of this Scripture maxim, "Evil communications corrupt good manners "? Nothing forms connections more intimate, and, at the same time, more extravagant, than an immoderate love of pleasure. In your system of morality, what becomes of those maxims of Scripture which say that we must "confess Jesus Christ before men," that " whosoever shall be ashamed of Him before men, of him will He be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father"? In your system of morality, what become of those Scripture maxims which threaten those with the greatest punishments who injure others? The love of sensual pleasure causeth offences of the most odiums kind; I mean, it betrays your partners in pleasure into vice. Ye do not injure your families; but do ye not occasion other men to injure theirs? Ye are guilty of no fraud; but do ye not tempt others to be fraudulent? What become, in your moral system, of those maxims of Scripture that require us to contribute to the excision of "all wicked doers from the city of the Lord" (Psalm 101:8); to discountenance those who commit a crime as well as to renounce it ourselves? The love of sensual pleasure makes us countenance people of the most irregular conduct. In your system of morality what become of those maxims of Scripture which expostulate with us, when the Lord chastiseth us, to "be afflicted and mourn," to :humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God"; to "enter into our chambers, and shut the door about us, to hide ourselves until the indignation be overpast"; to "examine ourselves before the decree bring forth"; to "prepare ourselves to meet our God"; to "hear the rod and who hath appointed it"; to mourn in sackcloth and ashes; and, while we feel present miseries, to remember those that are past, tremble for those that are to come. and endeavour by extraordinary efforts to avert the anger of Heaven? The love of sensual pleasure turns away people's attention from all these maxims, and represents those who preach them as wild visionaries or dry declaimers. In your system of morality, what become of Scripture exhortations to redeem the time, to know the time of our visitation, to do all that our hands find to do, because there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither we go? The love of pleasure inclines mortals, who have so short a time to live and so great a task to perform, to waste a considerable part of this fleeting life in amusements, that obliterate both the shortness of life and the necessity of death.

(J. Saurin.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: For although by this time you should be teachers, you again need to have someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God. You have come to need milk, and not solid food.

The Oracles of God
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