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Preached at the Ordination of the Rev. EDWARDS WHIPPLE, to the Pastoral Care
of the First Congregational Church in Charlton, January 25, 1804.
1 CORINTHIANS iii, 2. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: For hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now
THE apostle Paul, in passing through Greece, came to Corinth, where he found a Jewish synagogue,
and in which he preached for several sabbaths, endeavoring to convince the Jews, that Jesus was the Christ. But after they openly and violently opposed the gospel, he turned to the Gentiles, and preached among them a year and six months. During this time, he was so successful in his work, as to gather a large and flourishing church. But after he left this happy society of Christians, they fell into great animosities and contentions about the preachers and the doctrines of the gospel. To heal these difficulties, and reunite them in affection and sentiment, appears to be his principal design in this epistle. He addresses them on the subject of peace and harmony, with peculiar tenderness and pathos. “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." And to convince them of the peculiar propriety of his giving them this exhortation, he afterwards observes, that he had endeap. ored to prevent all religious controversies among them, by preaching no other than the most plain and profitable doctrines of the gospel. “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.” Truth is the same to the mind, that food is to the body. Food nourishes and strengthens the body; and truth nourishes and strengthens the mind. There is a propriety, therefore, in the apostle's making use of milk and meat, which are different species of food, as metaphors to represent different sorts of truth, which he preached at different times, to those who were under different circumstances. By his feeding the Corinthians with milk instead of meat, we are to understand, that he taught them such doctrines as were best adapted to their peculiar character and condition, instead of others, which he might have taught them, but which they were then unable to receive and improve to their spiritual benefit. This is the plain and obvious sense of the text; which naturally leads us on the present occasion, to inquire,
I. What doctrines the apostle did preach to the Corinthians.
II. Why he calls the doctrines which he preached to the Corinthians milk.
III. Why he preached these, rather than any other doctrines, to that people.
1. Let us inquire what doctrines the apostle did preach to the Corinthians,
In teaching any art or science, it is necessary to begin with its most essential and fundamental principles. The same mode of instruction seems proper in preaching the gospel to those who never heard it. And since this was the case with the Corinthians, we may justly suppose, that the apostle would adapt his preaching to their peculiar state; and, in the first place, teach them the nature and design of the gospel, which would necessarily lead him to unfold the great and leading doc. trines of Christianity. This supposition we find confirmed by his own declarations. “And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” And in another place he says, “according to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master-builder I have laid the foundation.” These passages afford a strong presumptive evidence, that the apostle taught the most essential and fundamental doctrines of the gospel to the Corinthians. But we shall find more ample evidence of this, if we now examine the contents of his two Epistles to that people.
The moral depravity of human nature lies at the foundation of the gospel. If all men were not involved in moral corruption and guilt, they would not need that salvation, which the gospel reveals and offers. "The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” The apostle could not preach the gospel intelligibly to the Corinthians, without teaching them the doctrine of moral depravity. Accordingly we find him bringing this doctrine into view in order to illustrate the redeeming love of Christ. These are his words: “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.” He means dead in trespasses and sins, which is complete moral depravity. And in the chapter preceding the text, he describes the entire depravity of the heart, by its leading influence upon the understanding. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” These are plain instances of the apostle's
teaching the Corinthians the total depravity of human nature.
This sentiment is intimately connected with that of the renovation of the heart, by the special influence of the divine Spirit. For if natural men are entirely destitute of holiness and wholly under the dominion of sin, then their hearts must be renewed before they can become heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Our Savior says, "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The reason he assigns is, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” The necessity of regeneration arises entirely from the total corruption of the human heart. The apostle therefore, having taught the Corinthians the doctrine of total depravity, equally taught them the doctrine of regeneration by the special operation of the Deity. “God, says he, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” He exhibits the same sentiment in another form. “Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God.” By this expression he meant to teach the Corinthians that they could not be prepared for heaven, unless they were formed into the divine image, by the special operation of the divine Spirit.
The immediate effect of regeneration is pure, disinterested love. “That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.” The Spirit in his special operation upon the heart, conforms it to the moral image of God. God is love. Regeneration consists in shedding abroad the love of God in the heart which was before entirely destitute of true benevolence. This holy love, which is the fruit of the Spirit, is the essence of all true religion. So the apostle taught the Corinthians, in the most plain and pointed language. “Though I speak Occa.
with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I have become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." And in farther de. scribing the peculiar qualities of this holy love, he says, "charity seeketh not her own.” By this it appears, that he inculcated upon the Corinthians the doctrine of disinterested benevolence, as essentially different from every selfish affection, and as absolutely necessary to the performance of any thing, that is truly acceptable in the sight of God.
Saving faith naturally flows from love. We read “faith worketh by love, and with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” Love to God produces love to Christ, and love to Christ is the very essence of that faith, which is connected with eternal life. Accordingly the apostle exhorted the Corinthians not only to become reconciled to God, but also immediately to embrace Jesus Christ, as the only ground of pardon and salvation. He speaks as though it were his principal object in preaching, to urge the immediate duty of saving faith. “All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for