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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Hebrews 5:12-14

Commentary On Hebrews by Jean Calvin

Hebrews 5:12-14

12. 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.

12. Nam quum debeatis esse doctores pro ratione temporis, rursum opus habetis, ut quis vos doceat elementa initii sermonum Dei; et facti estis ii quibus lacte opus sit et non solido cibo.

13. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

13. Nam quisquis lactis est particeps, imperitus est sermonis justitae, infans est enim.

14. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

14. Perfectorum vero est solidus cibus, qui propter assuetudinem sensus habent exercitatos ad discretionem boni et mali.

12. For when for the time ye ought, etc. This reproof contains in it very sharp goads to rouse the Jews from their sloth. He says that it was unreasonable and disgraceful that they should still continue in the elements, in the first rudiments of knowledge, while they ought to have been teachers. |You ought,| he says, |to have been the instructors of others, but ye are not even disciples capable of comprehending an ordinary truth; for ye do not as yet understand the first rudiments of Christianity.| That he might, however, make them the more ashamed of themselves, he mentions the |first principles,| or the elements of the beginning of God's words, as though he had said, You do not know the alphabet. We must, indeed, learn through life; for he alone is truly wise who owns that he is very far from perfect knowledge; but we ought still to profit so much by learning as not to continue always in the first principles. Nor are we to act in such a way, that what is said by Isaiah should be verified in us,

|There shall be to you a precept on precept, a precept on precept,| etc. (Isaiah 28:10;)

but we ought, on the contrary, so to exert ourselves, that our progress may correspond to the time allowed us.

Doubtless, not only years, but days also, must be accounted for; so that every one ought to strive to make progress; but few there are who summon themselves to an account as to past time, or who show any concern for the future. We are, therefore, justly punished for our sloth, for most of us remain in elements fitted for children. We are further reminded, that it is the duty of every one to impart the knowledge he has to his brethren; so that no one is to retain what he knows to himself, but to communicate it to the edification of others.

Such as have need of milk. Paul uses the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3:2; and he reproaches the Corinthians with the same fault with what is mentioned here, at least with one that is very similar; for he says, that they were carnal and could not bear solid food. Milk then means an elementary doctrine suitable to the ignorant. Peter takes the word in another sense, when he bids us to desire the milk that is without deceit, (1 Peter 2:2;) for there is a twofold childhood, that is, as to wickedness, and as to understanding; and so Paul tells us, |Be not children in understanding, but in wickedness.| (1 Corinthians 14:20.) They then who are so tender that they cannot receive the higher doctrine, are by way of reproach called children.

For the right application of doctrines is to join us together, so that we may grow to a perfect manhood, to the measure of full age, and that we should not be like children, tossed here and there, and carried about by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14.) We must indeed show some indulgence to those who have not yet known much of Christ, if they are not capable as yet of receiving solid food, but he who has had time to grow, if he till continues a child, is not entitled to any excuse. We indeed see that Isaiah brands the reprobate with this mark, that they were like children newly weaned from the breasts. (Isaiah 28:9.) The doctrine of Christ does indeed minister milk to babes as well as strong meat to adults; but as the babe is nourished by the milk of its nurse, not that it may ever depend on the breast, but that it may by degrees grow and take stronger food; so also at first we must suck milk from Scripture, so that we may afterwards feed on its bread. The Apostle yet so distinguishes between milk and strong food, that he still understands sound doctrine by both, but the ignorant begin with the one, and they who are welltaught are strengthened by the other.

13. For every one who uses milk, or, who partakes of milk, etc. He means those who from tenderness or weakness as yet refuse solid doctrine; for otherwise he who is grown up is not averse to milk. But he reproves here an infancy in understanding, such as constrains God even to prattle with us. He then says, that babes are not fit to receive the word of righteousness, understanding by righteousness the perfection of which he will presently speak. For the Apostle does not here, as I think, refer to the question, how we are justified before God, but takes the word in a simpler sense, as denoting that completeness of knowledge which leads to perfection, which office Paul ascribes to the Gospel in his epistle to the Colossians, 1:28; as though he had said, that those who indulge themselves in their ignorance preclude themselves from a real knowledge of Christ, and that the doctrine of the Gospel is unfruitful in them, because they never reach the goal, nor come even near it.

14. Of full age, or perfect, etc. He calls those perfect who are adults; he mentions them in opposition to babes, as it is done in 1 Corinthians 2:6; 14:20; Ephesians 4:13. For the middle and manly age is the full age of human life; but he calls those by a figure men in Christ; who are spiritual. And such he would have all Christians to be, such as have attained by continual practice a habit to discern between good and evil. For he cannot have been otherwise taught aright in the truth, except we are fortified by his protection against all the falsehoods and delusions of Satan; for on this account it is called the sword of the Spirit. And Paul points out this benefit conferred by sound doctrine when he says, |That we may not be carried about by every wind of doctrine.| (Ephesians 4:14.) And truly what sort of faith is that which doubts, being suspended between truth and falsehood? Is it not in danger of coming to nothing every moment?

But not satisfied to mention in one word the mind, he mentions all the senses, in order to show that we are ever to strive until we be in every way furnished by God's word, and be so armed for battle, that Satan may by no means steal upon us with his fallacies.

It hence appears what sort of Christianity there is under the Papacy, where not only the grossest ignorance is commended under the name of simplicity, but where the people are also most rigidly prevented from seeking real knowledge; nay, it is easy to judge by what spirit they are influenced, who hardly allow that to be touched which the Apostle commands us to handle continually, who imagine that a laudable neglect which the Apostle here so severely reproves, who take away the word of God, the only rule of discerning rightly, which discerning he declares to be necessary for all Christians! But among those who are freed from this diabolical prohibition and enjoy the liberty of learning, there is yet often no less indifference both as to hearing and reading. When thus we exercise not our powers, we are stupidly ignorant and void of all discernment.

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