For when for the time you ought to be teachers…
This is a chiding for want of intelligence. It is a reproach for an indolent use, or rather for the disuse, of reason in the province of duty. The sacred Scripture stands almost alone as a book of religious directions in exhorting to a full, free, and constant use of the reason. The Word of God is an enlightener; and wherever it has been a free Bible, and its influence has really entered into the lives and hearts of men, there intelligence has prevailed, and there the human understanding has unfolded its best works, and developed its best efforts. So that the Word of God is not a tyrant book. It imposes no manacles and no restraints, except those which belong to the nature of the human mind, and the nature of the subjects which the human mind is called to investigate. So, then, it is indispensably necessary that men should think, and that they should think for themselves. It is necessary, in repeated instances, that they should make their own deductions and conclusions, and follow in the lines of conduct which flow from them. But, on the other hand, men cannot, in all things, think for themselves. It is right, it is wise, to accept the thoughts of others. We give and take. In one place a man thinks for yea, and in another place you think for him. There is this interchange of knowledge on the great principle of the faith of man in man. When, therefore, men insist upon it that to be in the full exercise of reason one must throw off the past and lift up his head into an independent sphere, where no man before has been, and think out all things, to him may be applied the words of the proverb: " Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him." Not philosophy, but folly, inheres there. Let us look a little, then, at the elements and the proofs of that reason which men talk so much about, and know so little of. First and lowest, is that which we possess with the whole range of the lower animals perceptive reason — that part of the human understanding which takes cognisance of physical facts and events that are exterior to ourselves — which perceives the existence of things and their various qualities — which recognises whatever belongs to the framework or physical structure of the globe. Now, if any man supposes that there is certainty in this realm, he has given very little consideration to it. Men say, "Do you not believe the sight of your own eyes?" I have nothing better, I admit, by which to see things. But are these instruments so perfect that men may rely upon them implicitly? No. Every court of justice shows that the same event, being looked at by two, by four, by six different men, is not, although they are honest, and mean to state the truth, seen by any two of them alike. The sense of seeing in each one acts imperfectly, and each sees differently from the others, and makes a different report from theirs. The same is true of the sense of hearing. Men do not hear half that is going on, to begin with. Let the leader of a choir or a band hear a semi-tone of discord, and his ear will detect it instantly. Mine does not. That belongs only to the musician, and comes only by education. Hearing is not very accurate as between one man and another. In some it is tar better than in others. It is not very accurate as between one period of a man's life and another. Different statements are given where men listen carefully and report truly what they have heard. The same is true in respect to the sense of touch. The five senses, with the perceptive intellect back of them, are alike in this respect. The sense of colour, the sense of shape, the sense of quality, all the senses, when you apply the test to them, and measure their accuracy, are found to be very unreliable. Nothing is more inaccurate than the reports of a man's perceptive intellect. The genius of knowing even the lowest form of truth is a rare genius; and in respect to the great mass of men the senses are fallible. Though they answer a certain rough use of life, and afford a basis for general confidence, yet, after all, when the question is one of exactitude, there is nothing less to be trusted than the senses, until they have been trained. And there are not many men who are capable of being trained so that their senses shall be irreproachable. This is one of the grounds and signs of the scepticism of science. Men w o are scientific investigators apply to truth the tests of physical investigation. They perceive the mistakes which are made by others and themselves, and they come to have a realising sense, as the old ministers used to say, of the fallibility of man's perceptive reason. When they hear a man reasoning from the Bible, and forming judgments and drawing deductions therefrom, they hold these judgments and deductions in suspicion, and say, "That man is not using his understanding accurately." If you go still higher, to the reflective reason, it is that which recognises the relations of things to the relations of truths. Ordinarily we call the use of this reason philosophy. Where it exists in certain forms, and considers everything in the most abstract way, we call it metaphysics. Now, when we look at the reliableness of this superior reason, has it proved to he a safe ground for trust? Men have been for ages reasoning, drilling, training, accumulating; and, after all, the consciousness of mankind is that the reflective reason, while it has vast advantages, while it supplies a human want and a human necessity, is as far from being infallible as anything can be. No man can afford to lean his whole weight upon it without suspicion, without test, without trial. It partakes of the fallibility, of human nature, Nor does it follow because a great many different minds, in different directions, come together on a truth, that it is more true than it would otherwise be. The fact that things have been accepted from the days of rue patriarchs may create a presumption or probability that they are true, but it is not absolute evidence of their truth; for many things have been believed from the days of the patriarchs that have proved not to be true, and been taken out of the category of truths. When, then, you come to judge of the action of the understandings of men — their perceptive reason and their reflective reason — you will find, that though they have practical serviceableness, they are so crude, so untrained, and so disturbed by the emotions of the mind, that they are not infallible, nor absolute, nor to be depended upon. There is another sphere of the reason — that one in which truths are apprehended in their social and moral relations. We come into the knowledge of truths of fact and matter by the mediation of our senses; but there is a higher realm than that of fact and matter. There is an invisible realm where emotion, where sentiment, where spirituality reside. We come into communion with that realm by the understanding, through the mediation of our personal emotions and feelings. I will illustrate it. Take a little air, or strain, which an organist may give you. It shall be some familiar tune, like "Dundee," or some old carol. Let him, by-and-by, after playing it on one or two small stops, introduce another stop — a hautbois or wood-flute, for instance; and you will see that while the air remains, there is a new quality in it. Now, it is so with the human mind. The intellect is looking at things; and if all the emotions were shut off, and were not allowed to colour them, how barren, how unrich they would be! But you draw one emotion, and instantly the things perceived through the intellect are affected by that emotion. As in playing a tune, every additional stop that is introduced adds a new quality to the sound, so the understanding is modified, changed, enriched, by this or that emotion which is let on. When the intellect is thus electrified, magnetised, polarised, it comes to a recognition of the greater truths of affection and sentiment. Take a man who has no conscience naturally, and let him stand in the midst of actions and presentations, whatever they are, and he will perceive no sense of equity; he will have no fine appreciation of honour, no intense feeling of what is right or wrong; he will be entirely without any such emotion; but others, standing eight by him, and highly constituted in their moral nature, will be sensible to what is right, and true, and noble, and just. Take the emotion of ideality, which we call imagination, fancy, aspiration, yearning, and what not. Where that joins itself to the understanding it makes the orator, the poet, the mystic, the dreamer. It makes men that see truths in regions where they do not outwardly appear. In all such cases the understanding is magnetised by that feeling which brings them in relation to things invisible — to superior truths. Throughout the world the sentiment of benevolence, the sentiment of hope, the sentiment of faith, the sentiment of conscience, the sentiment of love, bring us into relation to spheres of truth which are infinite, Divine, transcendent. When, then, you come to look at what are called moral intuitions in men, what are they but the results of such a highly-organised, sensitive state of mind. that feeling, flashing upon the understanding, brings into the form of knowledge or perception all the truths that belong to the emotion which has coloured, or magnetised, or polarised the understanding? Now, in this realm what style and degree of certainty is there? I think, generally speaking, it may be said that those intuitions which are against nature — using nature in a qualified sense — are more apt to be true than those which are with nature. In other words, the spontaneous feelings which a man has in the direction of the animal sphere — anger, pride, cruelty, and the like — are, generally speaking, more erroneous than those intuitions which go out toward the generous, the noble, the pure, the self-denying. It is more natural for a man to act with those immense swells of feeling which work toward the animal, than to act with those emotions which work toward the spiritual, and yet in that direction he most often acts wrongly. It is only by long practice with reason and feeling that we bare learned to discern the right from the wrong — the good from the bad. It requires education — that is to say, the introduction of the element of habit upon this joint action of the reason and the emotions — to enable us to make just moral distinctions. So far, then, as to the fallibility of men's reason. It would seem, at first thought, in looking over this subject, as though there was a strong argument in favour of having the Church think for men, and tell them what is right and what is wrong; but there is always this fallacy, that where the Church thinks out a truth, and tells it to me, I have to think of it before I can understand it. I meet the same liabilities to error in accepting from the Church what it says as infallible that I do in the exercise of my own thought independent of the Church. The very act of receiving truths from other persons, or from bodies of persons, is attended with as many risks as the act of searching for truths unaided by others. I am liable, in accepting what comes to me from others, to no less limitations and mistakes than I would be if I went forth and gathered my own materials and made my own deductions. Moreover, we have had the experience of ages, which shows us that the truths which are handed down to us by corporate bodies are not any more true than those which are developed by our own individual experiences. Take the household. The father and the mother can think for the children until they are fifteen, or eighteen, or twenty years of age; but then they must think for themselves. Why? Because no child is like its father and mother. All truth is relative to the person by whom it is applied. Then, next, let me speak of the arrogance of those who are throwing aside or attempting to disesteem or to disown all the deductions of the spiritual sense; all tire results of the action of the upper understanding. Shall 1 disown the sounds that fill the air, because, applying my eye to them, I cannot see them? Shall I disown all odours, because, putting my ear to the flower, I cannot smell them? Shall men disown truths because they cannot taste them when they are discoverable, only through the joint action of passion or affection or spiritual emotion, and the higher understanding? Shall men apply the crucible, or the mathematical rule, or any outward measure to things that, if perceived at all, must be perceived through the channel of higher thoughts and feelings, and disown them because they cannot stand the test of the lower reason? The lower reason has its tests, the superior unspiritualised reason has its tests, and the spiritualised reason has its rests; and each must rest on its own ground. One other point. In view of the carefulness required in the investigation of truth; in view of the time and training and discipline that are required; in view of the nature of the mind and the skill required to judge of its actions rightly, I say to all those who are speaking lightly of the faith of their fathers, and of the manners and customs of their childhood; I say to all those who, without any special knowledge, are talking of progress and emancipation, and of the glorious era of reason; I say to all those who are curveling in physical philosophy, as against the higher modes of arriving at the truth, "You are going too fast and too far. No man is wise who leaves his head behind him; and you are travelling faster than your train can go." To bring new thought to the balancing of truth; to put thoughts to thoughts, and to make them march in ranks and train together to term systematic facts and co-operating truths — this is a slow, a cautious, and a difficult process. Knowledge, virtue, morality, spirituality, manhood, can only be acquired by long effort and practice. Men gradually find new elements of truth, or larger proportions of old truths. Be willing to receive new light; but until you ha, e something substantial and clear as crystal to take the place of the old, hold on to what you already have. Nothing is so bad as for a man to be afloat; nothing is so bad as for a man to lose faith in everything. Put in a skiff, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a babe that knows neither the stars, nor the sea, nor storms, nor sail, nor compass, nor rudder, and what such a child is, that is the young man who drifts through life, contemning all faith, all knowledge of the past, yet without having acquired any knowledge of the present, or gained any intuitions of the future.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: For although by this time you should be teachers, you again need to have someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God. You have come to need milk, and not solid food.