In reading the excellent letter of brother Durand, as published in our last number, we have been led to a more close examination of those portions of the word wherein these figures are used, and we do most fully concur, and doubt not that all our brethren, on a full investigation of the subject will, in the conclusion that they were not intended to signify or teach that some portions of the gospel of Christ are compared to meat, and others to milk. For if the inspired writers had so designed they would have told us what part should be regarded as meat and withheld from babes; and what part as milk, and unfit for those of riper age. The ministers of Christ who are called to feed the flock of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood, would surely need very special and particular instruction, or in the absence of such instruction they might do much mischief, by dealing to the tender ones of the flock some parts of the gospel too strong and solid for them to digest, and starve them by ministering such food as they cannot eat. Certainly if there is any part of the doctrine of Christ unwholesome or unfit to be eaten by any portions of the flock, such as would have a pernicious effect on them, it is highly important that we should know what it is. But the apostle Paul, for himself, declares most solemnly, and on a very solemn occasion, in his farewell address to the Elders of Ephesus, and those among whom he had labored long and faithfully, and whose faces he knew he should never see again, and called them to witness how he had kept back nothing, even in the face of persecutions, stripes and imprisonment. "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27)." Now as Paul at this time gave a solenm charge to the elders to take heed to themselves and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers, to feed the church of God, would he on this occasion have declared that he had kept back nothing in his ministry, nor shunned to declare to them all the counsel of God, if he had designed to warn them against declaring all the counsel of God in feeding all the flock of God, over the which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers?
If it were true that any part of the doctrine of the gospel of Christ ought to be withheld from any portion of the church of God, we should have been thoroughly furnished as to what part we might conceal, and what part to exhibit.
It is a fearful thing to either add to or diminish from what God the Lord hath spoken. Hear the admonition given in the last chapter of the book of God. "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches (Revelation 22.16)." "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, [or as in the margin rendered, from the tree of life] and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly (Revelation 22.18-20)." "The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord (Jeremiah 23:28)."
The meaning and design of the apostles in using the figurative words milk and meat, the former for the weaklings, dwarfs, or babes, who, either from infancy and want of more experience, are unable to digest the truth, and the latter for those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil, teaches us, not that either Christ or his gospel is or can be divided. There is a difference in the capacity of the children of God to comprehend so as to feast upon the doctrine of God our Savior. Paul speaks of the Corinthians as being babes in regard to spiritual things, from their strong propensity to look back to the law of a carnal commandment. Their digestive organs had not been sufficiently exercised to comprehend the perfection of the gospel. And he told the Hebrews that when, for the time, they ought to be teachers, they were in need of one to teach them the first principles of the oracles of God, and therefore he had to treat them as babes, and feed them on milk.
Now let us examine these figures. What is meat? And what is milk? All the productions of the earth, every green herb, tree, etc., were given unto man to be meat for man to subsist upon. Man in his first estate being made of the dust of the ground himself, and man from his creation with fully developed natural powers, could at once eat and digest the strongest meat. And so also with all the beasts of the field; while they in their developed capacities could feed on the grass and herbs of the field, their young required to be supplied with milk. Well, what is the difference? Nature has provided for that portion of the animal creation which cannot in infancy, by reason of weakness, masticate and digest the productions of earth, that the mother's or parents' teeth and digestive organs shall masticate and prepare the same food on which the parent subsists, so as to suit the weaker capacity of the babes, or young; food so prepared is called milk. So whether in nature or in spiritual life, the babes live on precisely the same food as that which sustains the parent, from whose maternal organs the food is rendered suitable for the babe.
Now apply this figure to the saints, all of whom are born of incorruptible seed by the word of God. Jerusalem, which is above, which is free, is the mother of all the children of God. This Jerusalem means the church which is raised up together with Christ, in her gospel exaltation above the old Jerusalem. In the gospel church, as all the children are born of the incorruptible word of God must live on every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; and in the infancy of experience they are to desire the sincere milk of the word. To supply them with milk suited to their capacity, the church, which is the mother of us all, is supplied with gifts, by which the doctrine of the gospel is elucidated and adapted to the understanding of the babes of the family, or lambs of the flock. Not by selecting some portions of the doctrine and calling it milk, but by defining the whole, every word which cometh from the mouth of God, so as to make it plain to the feeblest of the saints. Thus in beautiful figures used in the Song of Songs, it is said to the church, "Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which come up from the washing;" etc. The teeth of the church are not only ornamental, but useful in masticating the food for the body. The gifts which God has placed in the church add greatly to her beauty, for they are even-shorn, as they come up from the washing, and are set in the church for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. As in the perfectly organized body of Christ, God has set all the gifts as it has pleased him, there are teeth to masticate the food, and organs to so perfectly digest it, that its nutritious virtue is dispensed to every part. "For there is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling." A rich variety of figures, forming one perfect cluster, are used to illustrate the peculiarities of the church. Not only as a perfectly organized body, with teeth even-shorn to aid the body in the reception of its spiritual food, but as a mother, prepared with the breasts of her consolation, to supply her newborn babes with the sincere milk of the word. Special mention is made in the Song of Songs of the breasts of the church; her breasts are like towers, affording strength and security, comfort and safety to all the children of her maternal care. The church, or mother of us all, eats the flesh and drinks the blood of the Son of Man. She lives on the bread which comes down from heaven, and on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, and she is thus prepared to impart through her organic gifts succor and food to the feeblest of her children. But the mother, in order to afford wholesome supplies to her children, must herself be fed only on wholesome food. The milk, to be the sincere milk of the word, must be wholly derived from the doctrine of God our Savior; it must be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and that defined and explained by the gifts in the church so that all may understand it, and realize the healthful virtues of it. Should any but the sincere milk be ministered to the feeble ones, they will still remain feeble and sickly.
Peter speaks of its suitableness for new-born babes, or infants in the divine life, and Paul speaks of those who being carnal in their propensities, when for the time they should be able to instruct or feed others, require to be instructed in the first principles of the oracles of God, and when for the time they have had hope in Christ they should be men, with fully developed minds, they are mere babes, and to be treated as such.
Practically, then, as the creatures of earth are to be fed and nourished by every vegetable production of the earth, every green herb, etc., so in our spiritual life received from and by the word of God, which by the gospel is preached unto us, we must be fed, nourished and sustained by every communication from heaven contained in the word which by the gospel is preached unto us.
The distinction made by the apostle between milk and meat for the saints is to impress us with the importance of defining, examining and instructing the feeble ones and babes so that the essence and virtue of the strongest food may be received by them. If there be some old members in the church whose senses or capacities by long experience are able to more fully comprehend the deep things of God, they are to bear the infirmities of the weak by employing their gifts for the mastication and digestion of the strong meat, for the benefit of the feeblest of the flock.
None of us have grown so strong as not to need the instruction of the apostles of Christ to teach us to observe all things which he has commanded us. In this sense they are the teeth for chewing our food, or breasts of the church for supplying us with the spiritual nutrition of the gospel. And all the gifts which God has bestowed on the church are also for the same purpose, that we may be helpers one of another.
How absurd then to suppose that there are portions of the Scriptures so full of instruction, so sweet and nutritious that the babes and weaklings of the flock must not taste them. Above all others they need to be strengthened and fed; and the strongest meat in the gospel, when duly defined, is the richest milk, and most wholesome food on which the little ones can feed.
The apostles have given example as well as precept for feeding the church of God. Paul says he has fed some of the children with milk; and his manner of doing this is clearly manifest in the record of his whole ministry; not by withholding from any of the saints any portion of the counsel of God; for he declares, as we have seen, that he had done no such thing; but by adapting his instructions to the weakest capacity as well as to the strongest. In his own account of his manner he says: "For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you (I Corinthians 9:19-23)." Thus, in his ministry the apostle, whom we have as a pattern or example, adapted his ministry to all classes, capacities and conditions of the children of God, that he might gain them all, that is in the sense in which Christ says, "If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." (See Matthew 18) Not a wit inferior to the very chief of the apostles, yet less than the least of all saints. Able to vie with the strongest and most gifted, yet to the weak, because he is weak; adapting himself to the condition of all the saints, just as the prophet Elisha did to the child of the Shunanimite, when "And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child (II Kings 4:34)." Thus making himself as small as the child, while in stature he was able to measure with the greatest of the prophets. So the apostle could make himself useful to any and to all the children of God. To those of riper age and stronger capacity he could speak as unto wise men, so that they could judge of what he said: but unto the weak, like a nursing father, he could make himself as weak, and use such language and figures, illustrations and words as they could comprehend. But be it remembered that in all his ministry, under no circumstance, did he ever shun to declare the whole counsel of God.
November 15, 1867.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 98 - 103