Arrested Spiritual Development
“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, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
A baby that is normal is a lovely and interesting thing. On the other hand, a baby of arrested physical development is one of the saddest sights of earth. Arrested spiritual development is what troubled the soul of this great writer to the Hebrew Christians. The writer’s whole heart was wrapped up in the welfare of his countrymen and the extension of the kingdom of Christ. He looked around and saw one very common feature that characterized these Hebrew Christians — arrested development — chronic babyhood. This was the burden of his message. In many passages he points out the symptoms, and in many others he suggests the cure. Let us prayerfully, and reverently look into this condition, and then take a look at the marvelous cure that the writer recommends.
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I. THESE BELIEVERS WERE SLOW TO COMPREHEND SPIRITUAL THINGS
“Seeing ye are dull of hearing! For when by reason of the length of time (since your conversion) ye ought to be teachers and leaders and soul-winners, ye have need again that someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God.” They had been taught once, but they had not put into practice what they had been taught, and finally had forgotten the simple, primary truths of the blessed Gospel.
No doubt they had been taught the “first principles” of Christ, or the Christian religion, such as the conviction of sin by the Holy Ghost, repentance of sin — a turning away from it with abhorrence, and the giving up of the practice of it. We may certainly include with these the acceptance of Christ by faith as the one and only Saviour from sin. Without Him there is no salvation.
However, these Hebrew believers were prone to backsliding, and were on the ragged edge of fatal apostasy, because they were unable to comprehend spiritual truth. The writer wishes to teach them the deep things of God, but they had become like new converts “again”. Instead of being in College English, and basking in the glorious literature of the classics, they were back in the Primer class, and learning the A, B, C’s.
The writer graphically describes the cause of this condition. He declares with boldness that carnality is the chief cause of this lack of comprehending spiritual things. Every thoughtful Biblical preacher knows something about this condition in believers. He has seen that perplexedand vacant stare on the faces of his hearers that ought to have glowed with the light of Heaven. “I do not understand,” they say, “about this perfect love — this sanctification — this holiness! What is this new-fangled teaching?”
New-fangled, did you say? Yes, as new-fangled as Enoch who walked with God for three hundred years, and was translated that he should not see death — for before his translation he had this testimony “that he pleased God.” As new-fangled as Moses through whom God said, “Ye shall be holy for I am holy.” As new-fangled as Paul who wrote, “But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” As new-fangled as Peter through whom God said, “Like as he who called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of living — because it is written, be ye holy, for I am holy.” As new-fangled as John whom God inspired to write, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” And as new-fangled as Jesus who said, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect. “Unpopular as it may be, thank God I have fallen in love with this new-fangled doctrine and experience of entire sanctification!
Some of these prolonged infants exclaim, “We cannot help sinning. Why, I sin daily in thought, word and deed.” Yes, Satan does that himself, and in no more ways than that. The state of the heart, with depravity, is at the bottom of this whole sinning business. “Out of the heart are the issues of life.”
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II. THESE HEBREW BELIEVERS WERE BABIES
“Ye are become such as have need of milk and not solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness — for he is a babe.” Paul had this same trouble with the Corinthian Christians. “And I brethren, could not speak unto you as 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 unable to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” I fear we have too many spiritual babies in our churches, who should press their way into holiness of heart and life. Some of these babies have been converted ten, twenty, thirty, and even forty years ago. By some trick of Satan, their normal spiritual development has been arrested, and they are still infants in conduct, thought, and conversation.
We have many unfailing characteristics of them. Most babies like to be amused. They want rattleboxes, whistles, pictures and toys. Is it not so with some who profess the name of Christ? No prayer meetings, or half-nights of prevailing prayer! No wrestling with the grave problems of the Church! But, too often they are interested in funny preachers, amusements, broom-drills, grab-bags, and the like.
Then, we have some spiritual babies that are easily fretted. Some of them are peevish, and want to be coddled and nursed and handled and rocked. What pastor does not know of that grayhaired, sixty year-old babe (sometimes younger ones) who was dreadfully put out because on Friday afternoon she looked out of her window and actually saw her pastor go right by her house without calling! There was no excuse for such conduct, even though he was making a hurried call on a sick man two blocks away! She was a woman of consequence in the parish, and the pastor certainly ought to have honored her with a good social visit. She stays away from church a whole month to pout about it, and to teach that young pastor not to neglect his first families!
And Mr. B is mortally offended because he was not elected on the Church Board at the last Annual Church meeting. Mrs. C is very put out because she was not asked to sing the solo in the Sunday morning service. Another is badly offended because she was not re-elected as the President of the young people’s work. Another is mortally hurt, because the preacher insisted that all Christian people should tithe their wages. Yonder is another that is hurt because the pastor missed him and does not shake hands with him at the close of the service. The successful pastor must carry a milk bottle in one hand and a pacifier in the other to take care of the babies in his congregation.
I must not overlook another characteristic of a baby. Most babies have a talkative spirit. Perhaps you have seen that professor of salvation who could not talk in public. Yet he could talk freely and eloquently to his neighbor over the back yard fence. Then, you have seen that person who says, “I am not gifted in speech.” Too often, such a one cannot pray in public, nor lead the prayer meeting, but can fluently discuss the faults of the preacher, his family, the neighbors, and scatter discord among the brethren. The cause for all of this unnecessary and loose talk among believers, is the result of a carnal heart.
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III. THESE BELIEVING CHRISTIANS WERE UNSKILLFUL
“For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience in the word of righteousness.” Of course such persons do not seem to understand anything about entire sanctification, perfectlove, and the fiery baptism with the Holy Ghost. Such things are beyond the Primer class or the kindergarten. There are some things that can only be known by experience. There is the joy of the orator who advocates some great truth or cause. He plays on the emotions of the soul and calls to action the hesitating will as readily and efficiently as the harper sweeps the silent strings and calls forth entrancing strains of melody. Who can know such supreme joy, except the musician himself?
Who can know the joy of a physician, who grapples with disease that has prostrated some loved patient, and vanquished the monster death, and brings such a one back to health and usefulness? Only the attending physician can know such supreme joy. And who can know the supreme joy of a sanctified experience, except the one who has consecrated his all to the Great Physician, and received the blessed baptism of the Holy Ghost?
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IV. THE REMEDY FOR THIS CONDITION
Yes, there is a glorious cure for this carnal condition. The writer says, “Therefore, leaving the principles (elementary grades) of the doctrines of Christ, let us go on unto perfection — not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection from the dead, and of eternal judgment.” Thanks be unto God for this marvelous cure — a complete deliverance from the infected nature. The writer continues to say, “Wherefore, he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Still this wonderful writer says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” The royal blood of Christ, can cleanse the believer from all moral defilements. He can save from the lowest depths of sin to the loftiest heights of holiness and purity. The blood has never lost its power — today, you may plunge into this crimson stream!