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 tothe 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. (92)
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.