SPIRITUAL BABES AND SPIRITUAL MEN.
These classes are contrasted in the Epistle to the Hebrews in a manner not complimentary to the babes (iv. 12-14).
Men become believers, in the New Testament sense, when through penitent faith they submit to God and receive Jesus Christ as both Saviour and Lord, and realize forgiveness of sins and the filial feeling which cries, "Abba, Father." To be a believer is to have conscious regeneration and the witness of the Spirit. Many are enrolled on earthly records as believers who have no such inward consciousness and witness. These need help which differs from that needed by true believers. Our present chapter is directed to those who are sure that they have been delivered from the power of darkness and have been translated into the kingdom of the Son of God. There are many of these who rest in the fact of the new birth and regard it as the sum total of Christian experience and character. They are spiritual babes, contented with their cradles. Says Dr. Parkhurst, the terror of Tammany, "When a man says that he is satisfied to keep to the rudiments, and that he has no appetite for anything more than the sincere milk of the Word, all depends upon whether he means by that that his one desire is to be religiously fed, or whether it is a confession that he has no Christian ambition, and that he is satisfied to live all his days on religious gruel rather than, to have holy gristle wrought into him by the appropriation and digestion of liberal quantities of the gospel's 'strong meat.'" It is a great mistake to regard as a finality the faith which delivers from guilt, and not as a preliminary to, the glorious waiting attainments of perfected Christian manhood. To avoid this mistake which dwarfs so many believers we advise an earnest study of the progress of doctrine in the New Testament from the elementary utterances of Jesus Christ about repentance and seeking the kingdom of God up to His last address in which He announces the incompleteness of the gospel and bids His disciples look for another and final stage of instruction under another Teacher whom He would soon send. Pentecost was the fulfilment of this promise and the completion of that visibly progressive course of doctrine which Christ began to unfold. Now, doctrine is not an end but a means to an end, and that is transfigured character. This progress of doctrine under two teachers signifies that completed Christianhood lies in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Says Bernard, "The teaching of the Lord in the Gospels includes the substance of all Christian doctrine, but does not bear the character of finality." When it reaches its highest point it announces itself as unfinished and opens another stage of instruction. In the practical work of salvation there is an exact parallel to this progressive scheme of doctrine. Christian infancy is prophetic of Christian manhood. The movements of still lingering carnality with which the Spirit strives intimate a still remaining work when the flesh shall be crucified and the Spirit shall be the sole tenant of the purified heart. Hence every believer, while highly prizing the attained experience preached by Jesus to Nicodemus, should move onward beyond the four Gospels into the Acts of the Apostles and the glorious Epistles, if he wishes to appropriate his full heritage in Christ. The alphabet is a necessary beginning of a liberal education, but he who lingers in his primer year after year, and never enters that rich treasury of literature to which it is the key, is no more foolish than the believer who never "ceases to speak of the first principles of Christ," and ever fails to press on unto perfection.
We are aware of the mysteries involved in this subject which we cannot explain. We are glad we cannot; for what man can fully comprehend man may have invented. Hence says Robert Hall, "A religion without a mystery is like a temple without a god." Yet all must admit that the Holy Spirit is not a vague and impersonal abstraction, but a colossal fact in Christian doctrine and an omnipotent personality in the experience of fully advanced believers. There is mystery pertaining to the theology of the Holy Spirit and His relation to the Father and the Son. But a faithful study of the Gospels and the Acts clearly demonstrates that the Son relegated to the Paraclete that, completion of Christian character which it was not His mission to accomplish before His ascension. After His resurrection he gave a foretaste of this completion when He breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." Nevertheless they were commanded to wait for the full measure of the Spirit perfecting their character and equipment: "Tarry ye in the city until ye be indued with power from on high." Thus in the new birth there is a capacity for the fulness of the Spirit, and, in all properly instructed believers, a presentiment and a prayer for its glorious realization. To this prayer there should be added an intelligent, persevering and all-surrendering trust in the glorified Redeemer.
We recently heard a preacher declare that the great purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God was to perfect believers by the plenitude of the Spirit. This novel statement does not contradict the Scripture which says that He came "to give his life a ransom for many," for the atonement is only a means to an end, to link unhinged humanity with God. The only link long enough to reach both and strong enough to hold them in blissful and eternal union is the personal Holy Spirit, the original band between God and men before the rupture wrought by sin. The bridge swept away by that deluge is conditionally restored by the mediatorial work of the Son of God. The condition is unwavering faith put forth by a wholly consecrated soul.
It has been said that doctrine is the skeleton of religion. If this be true, the backbone of that skeleton is the scriptural doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Let every believer, by prayerful study of the Holy Scriptures, secure for his faith this spinal column. The faith of many is weak and flabby because it is invertebrate. In nature only the vertebrates have strength and speed and dominion in their sphere, as the lion and the whale. It is so in the spiritual realm. The lions are few, while the jellyfishes and sponges are many. Here our parallel must end. Things natural have no freedom. A backbone may be acquired in the spiritual realm, but not in the natural. Hence the immense responsibility of every free agent, and his obligation to be conformed to the image of the Son by accepting the offer of the transforming and conforming Spirit.
Some one has suggested "the lions did not eat Daniel because he was all backbone."