" Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection."- Heb. vi. 1.

The apostle, in this chapter, exposes the danorer of apostacy, and guards ao^ainst it. A desire after perpetual progress is one of the most effectual antidotes to a spirit of declension ; and St. Paul, having estahlished the verity of the Christian system, and thus laid a safe foundation for practical admonitions, exhorts the Hebrew converts, in the words of the text, to diligence in seeking after a perfect acquaintance with the wliole Christian scheme. Without any formal introduction to the passage before us, I shall endeavour, first, to explain, and, secondly, to enforce the exhortation of the text.

First : What are " the principles of



UNTO PERFECTION? "The principles of the doctrine of Christ" are those elementary truths which lie at the foundation of Christian experience and Christian practice. Paul specifies the chief of these in the verses which follow the text — the duty and necessity of repentance enforced by the solemnity and certainty of the judgment to come ; the necessity of the Holy Spirit's influences, and of his reception by all Christian believers ; with the joys produced by a sense of pardon, and the hope of future glory. These truths St. Paul denominates "the principles of the doctrine of Christ," because they constitute the fundamental parts of the Christian system : they are, so to speak, the alphabet of Christian doctrine. Now, these " principles" are not to be left, in any sense of

the term, till they are thoroughly under-

stood. To leave principles before they are thoroughly mastered, is to expose ourselves to constant error in our future course. Every person who has been employed in public instruction knows that false or inadequate notions of first principles propagate themselves, and produce multiplied errors in all subsequent steps of our progress. In communicating a knowledge of any system, you first require that the elements should be mastered. You will never introduce a pupil into the art of spelling before the alphabet is acquired : this step is essential to future attainments. So, in mathematical science, certain axioms, admitted to be true, must first be mastered, before the application of them to the demonstration of more abstruse and complex propositions can ever be ad3


Many mistakes, with regard to the nature of experimental religion, would be avoided, if men would only adopt the same maxims in the study of religion which they admit to be important in all other studies, and if men did not presume to decide, to dogmatize upon the matters of experimental religion, and to sound its depths, before they had put themselves into possession of the line which should fathom them. It is an important part, therefore, of the duty of every public teacher, frequently to inculcate " the principles of the doctrine of Christ," and to insist upon them often and with great emphasis, especially in the case of those who, " ever learning, are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." Ignorance of these principles sometimes





reflects discredit upon the teacher, and always reflects disgrace upon the pupil. Till first principles, then, are mastered, they are not, in any sense, to be left. A principle is mastered when satisfactory evidence is possessed by the student. Truth has its own kind of evidence. With regard to truth which may be submitted to the test of experience, we have satisfactory evidence of it when we feel its experimental effects : he understands the doctrine of repentance who has felt its sorrows — he understands the doctrine of pardon who has tasted the peace which

flows from it — he knows the principles of the gospel, with regard to the influence of the Spirit, who has been " sealed" by that Spirit, as a Spirit of adoption, and 'vho has " the witness in himself." Now, when principles are mastered by a knowledge of their experimental results, then we are to " leave" them.

But, again, as principles are not to be left, in any sense, till they are thoroughly understood, so neither are they to he abandoned. To abandon principles is to apostatize fatally. This appears to constitute the character and danger of those numerous professors, whose condition St. Paul describes, in such vivid language, in the verses that follow the text. They, it appears, had reached a state of hopeless and irrecoverable apostacy — how 1 by renouncing first principles. How is a man to be recovered from speculative or practical error? You must attempt his recovery by making your appeal to some

truth which he yet admits; but suppose he admits none — suppose he has renounced the whole body of Christian truth, and you and he have no one religious principle in common — how is the recovery of such a man to accuracy of thought, or propriety of conduct, to be effected 1 The thing is practically impossible. First principles, then, are not to be renounced. When St. Paul, therefore, exhorts us to " leave" them, it is of course implied that these principles are to be left for the purpose of applying them to subsequent discoveries and attainments in religion. Principles are to be left as the alphabet of a language is left when the pupil proceeds to put letters together ;

— principles are to be left as the axiom* of a science are left, when understood, for the purpose of making application of them to larger propositions ; — principles

are to be left, as a conquered country, which has fallen into the hands of a successful general, is left, after he has garrisoned it with his own troops, that he may bring under his dominion that portion of the enemy's territory which yet stands out against his arms.

In this sense principles are to be left; and we oppose this part of the exhortation of the text to errors which it appears to provide against. First, we oppose the spirit and maxim of the text to the error of those who are continually suffering their faith in first principles to be shaken — men who indulge a doubtful and skeptical temper — who know not when to be satisfied with evidence — who are constantly examining questions touching the principles of religion, as though they never had been settled, and as though they never were to be settled. The conduct of such persons, St. Paul describes as resembling the conduct of a man who,

after having laid with care the foundation of his building, should be perpetually removing the stones that constituted it, distrusting the stability of the ground beneath. W by, a man should take care that the ground on which his foundation stands is good — that is to be his first business ; but after he has satisfied himself, by careful inspection, that he has good ground to rest upon, and his foundation is once laid, of course it ought to be laid once for all. Now, with regard to the leading truths of religion, and our personal interest in them, no man, as I have said just now, should satisfy himself till he has sufficient warrant for his faith, and scriptural reason for concluding himself to be an accepted child of God ; but after he has satisfied himself on that point, he is to take the matter for granted, and not to be perpetually and doubtfully asking for fresh evidence in order to make that clear which has already been established to his own satisfaction : he is not

to be perpetually calling up again from their graves the ghosts of objections which have repeatedly been exorcised by the



light and power of truth : he is not to be continually beginning anew the great work of religious inquiry, as though doubt were always to hang on this important subject. To indulge a temper of this kind is to foster the unbelief of our hearts — it is to create a skeptical spirit — it is to expose ourselves to every wind of doctrine — it is to invite the assaults of temptation — it is effectually to debar

ourselves from all progress in religion.

Principles are to be left, and we oppose the maxim of the text, secondly, to the conduct, to the indolence of those who regard principles as though they constituted the whole of religion. There are some, it is to be feared, of this character. They can ascertain with great precision the date of their spiritual birth ; — they can describe most minutely all the circumstances which accompanied and which, to their own satisfaction, verify the change; — they are continually recurring to the fact of their conversion, sometimes with self-complacency and sometimes, it is to be feared, in a spirit of indolence and satisfaction inconsistent with all religious improvement. Now, my friends, though the principles of religion are of importance because they are fundamental, yet the principles of religion are but the alphabet of the system. The doctrine of justification by faith is important rather from the

grand truths with which it stands connected, than when viewed in its own insulated state. The great design of the New Testament — of the epistles that were written for our instruction and admonition, and of the promises which are given to excite Christian diligence, is to make the man of God perfect, and thoroughly to furnish or qualify him for every good word and for every good work. What is the value of what we know in religion, except in as far as it is preparatory to what remains to be learned 1 What is the value of the attainments already secured in religion, except in as far as they may be stepping-stones to future attainments'? " Not as though I had already attained," was the spirit of the apostle, such his ardent solicitude to make future and larger advances in religion — " Not as though I had already attained, either


were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." We are, then, to " leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ" — we are to " go on unto perfection." .Must I, then, &condly, spend a few moments in explaining THE EXHORTATION, AND THEN PRESS THE WHOLE ON YOUR SERIOUS ATTENTION? — "Let US go on unto perfection." What is this perfection towards which we are continually to make progress \ The term here refers, perhaps, rather to doctrine — to Christian knowledge, than to Christian experience or practice; but then, of course, knowledge is only of importance as it is connected with holiness, and as it is connected with practice ; and we may take the term, therefore, without committing any error, in its common and largest acceptation. What, then, is this perfection towards which we are to be continually making advances'? Suppose I could not describe

it, or suppose I were to decline doing so — what then ] Suppose one acquainted with the alphabet of religion only were to decline attempting any explicit representation of the perfection of the scheme — what then'? We prefer taking some scriptural statements which will be found to place the subject the most unobjectionably before us, and then to offer a few remarks by way of guarding the doctrine. Would you, then, have a scriptural representation of that perfection towards which we are to go on '? then take it in the prayer of the apostle for the Ephesian churches — " For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith ; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with

all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." Go on till you understand all the parts of that comprehensive c3



and sublime prayer — till you have spiritual ideas corresponding to all the ex-

climbing, while we are endeavouring to

reach the summit above us, to be able,

pressions in it, and till your religious till we reach it, clearly to command the state represent and imbody the whole of whole of that prospect which the sunmiit them. There is the perfection of faith — i itself will give to us. If the descriptions there is Ihe perfection of love — there is given to us of its scenery are, in some

described the fulness of the Christian character.

Would you take a more brief and summary view of the same state ] then you you shall have it in the words of the apostle John — that simple and yet sublime writer — " God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him !" Or will you take a view


of the same state from another expression of the same apostle 1 What is the evidence — are you asking — by which we may know that our love, the leading and cardinal grace of the Christian character, has attained to its maturity — what is the evidence by which its maturity is distinguished ¦? " There is no fear in love ; but perfect love casteth out fear : because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." " Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is so are we in this world." Brethren, I confess, unhesitatingly, tliat if I abstain from making any comment upon expressions like these, it is because I feel satisfied that no terms I could employ could render them more clear in their meaning, and that to substitute any others in their place would be only to " darken counsel by words without knowledge."

Will you allow me to say a word or

two by way of caution here and of direction there ? Are you then ready to say that many of these expressions describe a state of which it is extremely difficult to form an adequate conception ] Let me make one remark. In going on " unto perfection," we are not to be solicitous that doctrinal clearness should precede, and be independent upon, an experimental acquaintance with the truth. Religion is a subject, from beginning to end, to be experimentally understood. Clear views depend much more on fidelity to the grace and knowledge we profess than they do upon any thing else; and we

respects, difficult to be understood ; and if we would have clear views, let us use all diligence in the ascent, and the higher we reach the clearer will be our views, and the more extensive the prospect we command.

Let us " go on unto perfection." Do you ask — how ? By fidelity to the light and the grace we possess, and by the prayerful submission of our hearts to the teaching of the Holy Ghost. Let us " go on unto perfection !" How? diligently, daily, continually ! Let us " go on unto perfection," and beware, that we do not, with regard to this great doctrine of our holy religion, take our standard of it from the experience and views of others — we must take our standard of it, exclusively, from the representations of holy Scripture. In the methods by which God the Holy Ghost conducts Christians to the knowledge of his will, and to the enjoyment of conformity to him, there is an almost endless diversity ; and though religious biography is extremely serviceable, from the general principleswhich it establishes, it becomes injurious to us when we propose the experience of others, as the certain standard by which our own progress

and attainments are to be regulated. It is an evil which has a tendency to generate an artificial character in religion, inconsistent with that beautiful variety which obtains alike in the productions of grace and in the works of nature. And we are sometimes disposed to think that, in this way, some sincere inquirers after holiness prescribe to the Almighty a path by which he shall conduct them, which does not leave the Holy Spirit to work as he will ; forgetting, that as " the wind bloweth where it listeth," so the Holy Spirit, in working upon the human mind, acts by laws of which he does not give any account unto us, and which are not, in respect of their applications, always uniform.

must not always expect, while we are | Let us " go on unto perfection ;" and




let us take care not to confound a part of religion with the whole, nor to substitute one Christian grace for the whole Christian character. We sometimes think this is a mistake which we are in danger of committing. In describing Christian perfection, the sacred writers do, indeed, sometimes select one special grace to illustrate the character of the saint. They select often the grace of love ; and they describe Christian perfection by the maturity of love; and they tell us, as the proof that love is mature, that " it casteth out fear." But then, the maturity of love

supposes and depends upon the maturity of other graces besides love; and if we confine our views exclusively to this, we may be liable to mistake in sentiment and in practice too. In order to Christian perfection, maturity in knowledge as well as maturity in love is to be sought. It implies the perfection of our faith — the perfection of our hope as well as the perfection of our charity.

Once more, let us remember, in going on unto Christian perfection, that the terms employed here and by other sacred writers have a definite meaning, and describe a state to be attained in the present world. Do the sacred writers exhort us to mortify the deeds of the body 1 They assure us, also, that the flesh, with its affections and lusts, may be crucified and slain. They do not exhort us to a warfare of the successful issue of which there is no prospect. Do they exhort us to " go on unto perfection ]" They use the term

" perfection" in a definite and in an explicit sense, to describe a state actually attainable in the present life ; and with reference to which, we may have as clear views and as satisfactory experience as we have in regard to the principles of the doctrine of Christ. We understand what we mean, when we apply the term " perfection" to vegetable productions. Vegetable productions are perfect when they have reached their proper size — when they possess all their qualities in a perfect state — there is a law beyond which it cannot pass. We know what we mean, when we speak of the perfection of the human nature. When we speak of the maturity and manhood of a rational being, we

attach precise ideas to the expression. What the characters of the understanding of a man, as distinguished from the understanding of a child are, is not difficult

for us to ascertain; and though the maturity of manhood does not preclude improvement, yet it does designate a precise and explicit state. Now, so it is with regard to the Christian : we are to " go on unto perfection" — unto the perfection of our faith — until the eye of our faith is purified from every darkening and obscuring film, is vigorous and clear in its perceptions, and the discoveries made to it are constantly and incessantly enlarging. As to the faculty of understanding, also, we are to seek to be men. We are to go on to perfection of love — and love is perfect when it absorbs all the powers of the soul, fixing them upon God — when it excludes everj' contrary propensity, and when we love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. But with regard to all those subjects, it is the privilege of the Christian — and there we leave the matter — to seek and to have the constant teaching of the Holy .Spirit^

that " unction from the Holy One" which will make every matter plain to him, as far as present duty renders it desirable; and therefore, above all things, a spirit of docility and prayer should be inculcated upon us in all our religious pursuits.

I proceed, lastly, in a very few words, to enforce upon you the exhortation of the text — " Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." And how shall I enforce the exhortation 1 I will enforce it, first, by reminding you that your safety depends upon your obedience to the admonition of the text. If you would not be forsaken by first principles, you must leave them; if you would not make a retrograde movement in religion, you must seek to advance. The only term upon which you retain the possession of that which you now enjoy, is, that you profit by the talents intrusted to you, and set them out

to proper use. Indolence is the first step towards declension ; spiritual declension will be followed by apostacy, provided



we persevere in it ; and the only security against final apostacy, against the total abandonment o-f our religious creed, and the entire loss of our enjoyments, is in Christian diligence. The history of every backslider will illustrate this remark, and the awful possibility of backsliding, finally and fatally, should impress it upon us. It is awfully possible, not only that an individual may lose the

cheering sense of the Divine favour, but that he may doubt the reality of his past experience; that, from doubting the reality of his past experience, he may go on to question the truth of all spiritual religion, that he may treat the whole as visionary and enthusiastic ; and that, to use the strong language of the apostle Peter, he may "forget that he was purged from his former sins" — that the sense which memory retains, or might retain, of past enjoyments, is so totally obliterated, that no trace remains, no intellectual perception of spiritual things; and in the utter void and darkness of a spirit, thus abandoned by the light and comforts of the Holy Ghost, skepticism, unbelief, take up their abode, and the last estate of that man will often become much worse than the first! With regard to faith in divine things, it has in it very much the quality of a moral virtue. That faith which Christianity requires is not necessarily produced by the force of evidence ad27

dressed to the understanding; it depends very much upon the state of the affections, and resides in the heart, viewed on the whole, as much as it does, or perhaps more than it does, in the understanding ; and unfaithfulness to religious light and enjoyments will very frequently conduct us to speculative infidelity. Now, our safety depends on our Christian diligence ; and if we do not desire, if we do rot wish to lose entirely the mental perception and the satisfying conviction of first principles, let us leave them, and " go on unto perfection."

Must I enforce upon you the exhortation of the textl Then I will do it, secondly, by reminding you that the value of all your past aftai7vnents depends upon the application which you make of them to future possessions. You believe in the


Son of God — on what does the value of faith depend 1 It depends on the interest which it gives you in the sacrifice and intercession of Christ — it depends on the union which it establishes between you and the Son of God. And upon what does the value of that interest depend ? and why is that union with the Son of God to be prized] Why, because that relation to the Son of God will conduct you to the possession of divine nature and into the enjoyment of conformity to the Son of God. Now, to detach faith from the great end of it — to separate the knowledge we have acquired of principles from the important truths to which they are intended to conduct, is to deprive them altogether of their value. You admit the importance of prayer — you have often felt the consolations which it imparts ; in trouble it has been to you a place of refuge, and in weakness it has been your strength : you know a way to the throne of grace. On what does the

value of that knowledge depend 1 You have put into yourliands a privilege which, if rightly exercised and improved, may command all the blessings of the new covenant. You have learned to pray that you may " pray without ceasing ;" you have had the mental eye of faith opened, that there may be spread before it all the wonders of spiritual sight here, and, finally, all the surpassing glories of the beatific vision hereafter ; you have tasted the sweets of communion with God that you may be excited to aspire after more intimate and uninterrupted fellowship with him ; you have felt the powers of the world to come, that you may be encouraged to go on till you are made perfectly meet for the inheritance of the saints in light ! Of what value is an acquaintance with the alphabet of Christianity unless w^e make an application of this knowledge to further attainments in it?


Must I still enforce upon you the exhortation of the text? Then, thirdly, I will remind you, that a regard to the credit of religion and your own consistency of character, should induce you to attend to it. Is religion valuable in any degree 1 Then it must certainly be valua-



ble in the highest degree in which it can be attained. There is nothing noxious in religious knowledge — it is impossible that our desires after holiness can be excessive, and that our ambition to be distinguished by a full conformity to Christ

can be too absorbing and ardent. Here the largest desires are laudable — here the most vigorous exertions are to be commended ; and as we consult the credit of the Christianity which we profess, we ought to be desirous of making a fair representation of it to the world around us. And how can we do so unless we have ourselves attained to " the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ T' We are to " let our light so shine before men" — it is said — " that they, seeing our good works, may be led to glorify our Father who is in heaven." But yon know very well, that with regard to spiritual productions, as with regard to natural productions, generally speaking, their beauty is not reached till their maturity is reached. The bloom, the beauty of the tree, is not perfect till the fruit is ripe — the beauty and symmetry of the man is not exhibited, till his full stature and proportions have been reached. So it is with the Christian — the f\iir exhibition to the world of

the beauty of holiness, of the loveliness of the Christian character, is not to be expected but in the case of those who have attained its perfection. " Whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" and do them. Let all these, beautifully blended together, be the ornament of your character, that others may glorify your Father who is in heaven. Let your humility be freed from all meanness of spirit — let your benevolence be purified from all selfishness ; seek for that dignity of the Christian character, which is entirely removed from all pride ; and remember that the mixture of selfish and corrupt affections with spiritual graces, has a tendency to debase the quality of them, as it prevents their growth and full expression.

Must I enforce still further the exhorta33

tion of the text 1 Then I will do it by

Vol. IL— 5

another argument, and that is drawn from the injluence which Christian diligence will have on the character of your closing hours. If we desire that our death should be honourable to the religion we profess — if we wish to make a triumphant as well as a peaceful exit — a joyful as well as a safe one, then let us remember that, generally speaking, the character of deathbed scenes is determined by the diligence, by the fidelity of our previous lives. Many conflicts which disturb the repose of the dying saint would be spared, if he were, in his earlier stages, more conscientiously faithful in the duties of the Christian warfare ; much self-reproach — many painful fears — many distressing doubts, wjiich too often cast a gloom

over the closing scene of his earthly pilgrimage, would have — many of them— been avoided, had he attended to this exhortation of the apostle. Do you desire to have " an entrance ministered to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ ¦?" Then, remember the direction which precedes that passage — '• Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue ; and to virtue, knowledge ; and to knowledge, temperance ; and to temperance, patience ; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness ; and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." What a fine exposition of the text before us ! " Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure : for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall : for so an entrance shall be ministered unto

you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." Your exit shall be the exit of a conqueror, your last expressions shall be notes of triumph.

Shall I still enforce the exhortation of the text? Then I will do it by reminding you, finally, that Christian diligence will have a favourable influence on our future state as well as upon our present condition. We sometimes give death credit for effecting a greater alteration in




the intellectual and spiritual state of a Christian, than it deserves. I say this is possible. At any rate, the degree of future glory — the splendour of our future crown — the weight and magnitude of our recompense, will be determined by the degree of our fidelity and of our Christian diligence. Borrowing, then, the allusion from the words of the text, I ask you, on what form in the heavenly school, do you intend, when you enter it, to take your eeati Do you mean there to go into the alphabet class T you begin there where you leave off here. Where do you intend to begin ] with what class of the celestial inhabitants do you desire hereafter to be associated 1 Will you always be in the rear] or do you desire to take the foremost rank among the inhabitants of the celestial world 1 According to your diligence and fidelity now, will be your future attainments — according to the zeal you manifest in the seed-time, will be the returns you shall, under the Spirit, re37

ceive in the time of the harvest. Let us, then, " leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and go on unto perfection." " And this will we do, if God permit." Let ours not be the state of those described in the verses following the text — " For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance ; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." " But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak." Let us, therefore, all use " the same diligence to the

full assurance of hope unto the end !"

And may God grant us this grace ! Amen.


The evidences of Christianity are of a rational nature. They address themselves neither to the feelings nor passions of men. Had not this been the case, the minds of men would have been over-awed and their belief extorted by terror. Moral evidence is of all others the best fitted to answer as a test by which to try the sincerity of our faith. The clear light of demonstration, or any kind of evidence which men might be disposed to regard as irresistible, would be ill adapted for the trial of our understandings on practical questions, because it would lead to right conduct in opposition to the greatest insincerity of mind. Were a man to be raised from the dead in order to attest the

truth of Christianity, and were he to operate immediate conviction on the mind of the person to whom he made his appearance, where would there be a permanent test of the sincerity of his belief? Assent would be extorted by fear, the faculties of the mind would be put to no tti&l. Hence it appears that moral evidence is best suited to our circumstances, as it puts our faith to a constant trial. Of this kind is the evidence actually furnished in support of Christianity. It is addressed to the intellectual faculties; it calls for the full exercise of the judgment and whole reasoning powers ; and it is fitted to produce a rational and permanent conviction so powerful as to triumph over the suggestions of carnal reason, and the sudden bursts of irregular passions or of animal feeling. — Burns.





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