Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
By Daniel Rowland(1713-1790)
First published in 1739 by Nicholas Thomos under the title Y Llaeth Ysbrydol, Neu Bregeth, Yn dangos mawr hiraeth y ffyddloniaid am laeth y gair ynghyd a'r ffordd I mae cynyddy trwyddo, O Gasgliad Eglwyswr.
[The Spiritual Milk]
Or a Sermon showing the great longing of the faithful for the milk of the word; together with the way to grow thereby.
(From a Churchman's Collection.)
A corrected version appeared in Pum Pregeth [Five Sermons] in 1772.
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.
1 Peter 2:2
Sermon on 1st Peter 2:2
Preached sometime around 1735
This scripture contains an earnest exhortation to urge the believing Jews to grow in faith and all other graces. The means whereby they grow and increase in God is the lively preaching of the word of truth. Therefore the apostle constrains us to thirst and long for the word of God, which is the food and sustenance of the soul - as little children cry for their mother's milk which nourishes and keeps them alive. The Scripture mentions two sorts of birth: one birth is fleshly and natural, which is by our descent from the first Adam, from whom original sin, like a serpent's poison, passes to us; the second birth is heavenly and spiritual, which is by the second Adam (who is Jesus Christ) by which grace and holiness is implanted and grows in us. In this birth, God is our Father to win us; the church, his spouse, the mother to bear us; the seed whereby we are born again is the Word of God; the nurses, to nurture and rear us, are the ministers of the gospel; and the breasts from which we suck are the breasts of the gospel, from which comes sincere milk, as the text asserts. We shall by God's help consider five noteworthy things that naturally spring from the separate branches of this text:
I desire to expound a little on each of these points as follows:-
- We observe the instinct that all who would be bettered and grow by the Word of God should be.... that of newborn babes.
- We note the characteristic impulse of little children.... that is desire.
- We consider what is to be desired.... the milk of the Word.
- We note the kind of milk that is to be desired.... sincere milk.
- We mark the end and use for which we should desire the sincere milk of the Word.... that we may grow.
Firstly on their instinct, that they are 'as newborn babes'.
We know that little children are commended for their simplicity and harmlessness; so also must we, whoever we are, be like this if we desire to receive benefit and profit in the school of Christ, and receive light and comfort by the preaching of the word. Our Saviour says, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me' (Mark 10:14). No one is fit to be taught of Christ until he is renewed and changed into a little child. David says, 'The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him' (Psalm 25:14) showing that God does not own a single unregenerate soul as knowing what that secret is. Therefore those who desire to have Christ as their Teacher to reveal His mind must have their sins stripped from them and be cleansed, for wisdom will not rest in a defiled soul, nor in a heart soiled with sin. As Satan would not stay.... but in a house swept clean from godliness; so the Spirit of God will not dwell.... but in a house swept and cleansed from ungodliness: for God will not pour new wine into old vessels (Matthew 9:17). If we do not desire new hearts, we should not look for new blessings. Most wretched is the condition of the Jews because of their unbelief: they read the Scriptures daily in order to see Christ, but in vain, because the darkness of their stubborn hearts blinds their eyes; even so do we preach in vain, and you hear in vain, because the veil of sin hides and obscures the light of the gospel from you. Therefore, my dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, if you desire the Lord to bless your hearing, and to prosper our preaching, you must cast away the dregs and filth of sin, which sours your souls, and brings down God's curse when you expect to receive a blessing, and causes the word of God to be a savour of death unto you and not of life (2 Corinthians 2:15,16). The bosom sins of men, alas, stop the mouth of Christ from speaking to them by his Spirit or his ministers. This is as true as that the unbelief of his countrymen tied his hands from working miracles (Matthew 13:58). Jeremiah's counsel is for us to 'break up the fallow ground, and not to sow among thorns' (Jeremiah 4:3) which are the worldly cares that spring up and choke the plants of wholesome instruction. And Solomon says, 'Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God' (Ecclesiastes 5:1). By comparing the conduct of the land in general with these and the like Scriptures, a man of sense and consideration has cause to be grieved in his soul. O! O! what shall we say about ourselves when we consider how great a tumult there is with some concerning the world, what foolish desire among others, what scorn there is in the heads of others. The eye of faith can see them going into church with a devil in their hearts, and many coming out with the curse of God upon their heads. Many men change their clothes on the Sabbath, yet think nothing of coming to the Sabbath service with the same heart that they have had all week. Their sons and daughters, for the most part, spend more time at their looking-glasses, decking their bodies to come before men, than they employ in prayer, to sanctify the soul to come before God. O wretched souls! What do you say to this? It does not serve me to hear your levity, and to hear you shaming me in every place for rebuking you. But I fulfill the words of Isaiah; therefore, if any of the Lord's people hear this, loathe the sinful conversation and conduct of the world, long to be like little children, and not just little children, but newborn babes, having new hearts, new members, new life, and a new will implanted in them; do not turn from one sin alone, but be altogether turned into other men, to become new creatures. The old heart, nor old hand, nor old eye will not serve, but all things must be moulded and formed anew (1 Samuel 10:9). Now, if we desire to be a retentive hearer, we must cease associating with, and welcoming sin; but as the serpent sheds its skin, and the eagle its bill, so must we put away our old covetous lusts and come like little children to hear the word of God. The iron must be heated before it can be wrought; so the soul must be warmed by the fire of divine meditation, before it is fit to be wrought upon by the word of the Lord. We must not touch sin, even with a fingertip (2 Corinthians 6:17), because one little thief in the house opens the door to greater ones; one devil brought seven others with him, each worse than himself (Matthew 12:45). Behold, in short, this is the temper that should be in us when we go to hear the word of God; those renewed like this receive from the Lord a portion to their souls, and answer to this text -as new born babes.
We come now to the second thing in the text, the characteristic impulse.
As newborn babes, we desire; yet we are not to be wavering, inconstant children 'tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine' (Ephesians 4:14) reeling from faith to faith, from religion to religion, like a drunken man from wall to wall. Again, we are not to be children in understanding and knowledge, as Paul says, 'Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men' (1 Corinthians 14:20). As children we must thirst and long for the word of God: 'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled' (Matthew 5:6). God fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich needy away. Indeed, when our hearts have been kindled with a longing for the word, and have a desire and great appetite to hear it, that is when the word works most powerfully in us; for our hearts are then like wax that has been warmed, and ready to receive any impression. The Shunamite's child, whom Elijah raised, as soon as his flesh became warm, sneezed, and opened his eyes, and revived; so, when we become warm in the spirit, and conceive a desire and thirst for the Word of God, this is a certain sign that we have been born again, and that there is breath and a soul within us, and that we are not utterly dead without grace. As conversely, those who do not have hungry stomachs to be fed and satisfied with the milk of the word are but mounds of dead carcases, and skins full of rotten bones; and it would be the same as to desire the naturally dead to leave their graves as to desire these to leave their sins. Our land can be easily likened to Golgotha, that is a place full of dead men's skulls. It is awful that there are many thousands of miserable souls in it, dead in sins, and dead in affections, who have no thirst or longing for the word of God. If they have some pretence of a priest to read, they count themselves in a blessed state, as if Elijah's staff was sufficient to raise the dead child to life without Elijah himself; they imagine that the word is sufficient to give life, without asking for the Spirit of the Lord. If they had but Judas they would be satisfied with him, and would not go a step further to hear Paul. Woe is me, that I am obliged to say that the ministers who reprove them least for their sins, and keep them for the least time in the churches, are the ones most praised; they are far from agreeing with these scriptures :- Psalm 1:2; & Luke 2:37. They clearly show that they have no taste for the Word of God, and that they do not desire it like little children.
Question. What is meant by our being urged to be as little children, desiring the sincere milk of the word?
1. It is said that children cry for their mother's milk as soon as they are born into the world. Likewise the Christian cries, hungers, and thirsts for the milk of the word, as soon as he hears the grace of God when he has been renewed. If the mother were to neglect to give milk to her child, would he be able to live for a month, a week, or a few days? Much less could our faith sustain itself, unless it was nourished and fed with the food of life. Our Lord commanded them to give food to Jairus's daughter, as soon as he raised her to life from the dead (Mark 5:43), as if it were in vain for us to be quickened by the finger of God, unless we are also fed with the word of his grace. This is a great fault among us, that we do not (when God has quickened us with his Spirit, when we feel the grace of God budding and blossoming in us) then seek for abundant moisture to water it, to prevent it drying up like seed on the rock or housetop. We count it most remarkable that Elijah lived forty days without food, but it is more remarkable, if we would but consider it, that hundreds of souls can be forty years, perhaps more, without a morsel of food. This is a miserable famine in our midst: it is shameful that some famish in a land where an abundance of food is offered (Isaiah 55:1).
There are many people in our land who think that it is too soon to begin, when they ought to be ready to end. As Christ was sent for to heal the ruler's daughter, when she was about to die, so many do not desire the prayers or company of ministers, until they receive the summons of death. Then they wish to die with God, though they have lived to the devil. They now cry, 'O! O! for repentance,' though they despised the offers of it before. They do not go about the ark, until they see the flood coming; or about repenting, until the devils are at their beds waiting for their souls. Thus they delay from day to day, like the bad lawyer driving off his client from term to term, until the suit is lost. Lot remained in Sodom, until the angel had to drag him out, he was so unwilling; and certainly, unless God should pluck us out of our blindness and ignorance by means of his free grace, scarce one of a thousand would be saved. Therefore, my dear brethren, if Paul has planted you in the true faith, desire an Apollos to water you. If you have received one grace, desire the means of grace, that you may grow thereby; for the best gifts will but wither and decay, unless they are watered with the sap of the word.
2. We know that children are most eager for food when they are hungry, they neither regard leisure, nor necessity, nor the willingness of their mothers; but disregarding excuses, they must have suck when they cry. In exactly the same way, it is not enough for us to desire the word, but we must be earnest and fervent in calling and crying for it. There is an excellent parable about this in Luke, how one called for bread in the night; the other answered that he was in bed, which some think would have served the man as a most reasonable answer, but it did not do in this case (Luke 11:5). So, my beloved people, if we have long called for the bread of life, yet we should not be disheartened, but continue asking, like Peter knocking at the door, until it is opened. The mother does not always feed her child for love, but sometimes to keep it still and quiet; so, if our mothers neither reverenced God nor feared man, yet if we were fervent with her, crying and calling earnestly, as babes do for food; eventually they would give us milk, if not of love, yet in order to have peace. We must strive and wrestle if we want to receive. Jacob wrestled with the angel, and said, 'I will not let thee go, except thou bless me,' (Genesis 32:26). So ought the hearers wrestle with the ministers, saying, 'You will not have any peace until you feed us with knowledge and understanding.' This doctrine is a reproof to a great many of us who take it upon ourselves to walk in the ways of God, yet are so chill and very cold. We have some love to the truth, yet we do not labour for the sake of the truth, like a merchant who likes gain, but cannot venture on the seas for fear of drowning. There are some in our land, who will avow God, while the goddess Diana will permit them, but no longer. They prefer to be at home among their cattle, in the service of Satan, than to be with God in the church. Others would rather let the devil tear and deform their souls in their armchairs at home, than let a shower of rain touch their clothes by going to the house of God. And others, of greater knowledge, as they imagine, who you would think would choke on a gnat, think nothing of swallowing a camel by telling a lie in hypocrisy; and though their faces are seen being washed with tears in the church, yet you would have your work cut out to drag them from among the Pagans in the market. The fulfilling of the words of the apostles is applicable to them, 'They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof; from such turn away' (2 Timothy 3:5).
3. We know that children, having been fed, after a little pause turn to the breast again, as in earnest (as they say) from time to time. We must be of Elijah's diet, bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening (1 Kings 17:6); so our souls ought to be fed morning and evening. The apostle exhorts us thus, 'Let the word dwell in you richly' (Colossians 3:16); because it is not sufficient for it to take up a night's lodging, and be gone in the morning, like a traveller; the word must have a daily and continual residence in our hearts. Though the ground is good, yet it must still have the former and latter rain before it will be fruitful.
Alas! Alas! some men think that one shower will do the job, and go to heaven by hearing one sermon, or if they have 'Lord, have mercy upon me' but once on the tip of their tongue. Woe is me, if this were true then our Lord's words in Luke 13:24 would be vain, 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate.' No, no, it is not so dear souls; we must be like little children desiring the word presently, without delay, or postponement; earnestly, without fainting; diligently, without loathing; and ever, without slothfulness.
III. [lit. IV.] That which we ought to desire, namely, our food and nourishment in Christ, which is called in the text 'the milk of the word'. To this our Saviour calls us from our dainties: 'Labour, not for the meat which perisheth; but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life' (John 6:27). The word is everlasting nourishment, and immortal seed, because it keeps the one who eats it from famine and death (1 Peter 1:23-25). We desire many things but not the milk of the word. Some desire money, but it is the root of all evil; there is a desire of the flesh, but it wars against the soul; there is also a desire of pre-eminence, but it swells the proud; there is also a desire of revenge, but it arises from a rash and carnal spirit; there is also a desire of praise, but it stems from ae Pharisaic desire; but the blessed and godly desire is, to desire the milk of the word. When Jonathan saw the honey dropping, he licked it; so when we see the milk of the word, we ought to suck it. Of all the blessings of the land of Canaan this was the chiefest, that it flowed with milk and honey; and this is why the Israelites travelled through the desert to possess it. The word is a land flowing with better milk and honey, and we should count no pain or toil too great a cost to attain it. God has given it many notable names in order to draw our affections more towards it. In Psalm 119:105 it is called a lamp to guide our feet, and lighten our path. Also, it is called a guide, to lead us; a medicine, to heal us; a bridle, to curb or restrain us; a sword, to defend us; water to wash us; a fire, to warm us; salt, to season and purify us; milk, to nurture us; wine, to rejoice us; a treasure, to enrich us; and a key, to unlock heaven's gates unto us. Thus the word is called by every name, that we may desire it instead of everything else. Therefore the word should not be of small repute among us, because we do not know how many blessings it can convey to us. It is the word of Salvation, and it saves many a soul from perishing. As Elisha said of Jordan to Naaman, 'Wash and be clean;' so we can say of the word to every hearer, 'Apply it, and be saved.' It is called 'the word of life,' because it revives the spirit. It is called 'the word of the covenant,' because it is the golden chain that binds God and man together. It is called 'a jewel of inestimable price;' therefore as David longed for the well of Bethlehem, so we must long for the milk of the word.
Question. Why is it called milk?
Answer. Because it is the only food of the faithful, and because it is sweet and comfortable to the soul, like milk to babes. This is the virtue of the word of God. Woe! Woe! to think of how many Michals there are mocking David for dancing before the ark! There are many, alas, in our land, who call us madmen because we press to hear the word. But as Christ said,'Father, forgive them,' so God forgive them, for they know not what they do. If they felt the calm of conscience, the joy of heart, the consolation of spirit, and everlasting comfort in God, which the faithful possess and enjoy through the preaching of the word, they would not account us fools; no, no, on the contrary, no pleasure, or profit, or earthly danger, would keep them from being fellow hearers with us. So much for our food.
IV. [lit. 4.] Now we come to the kind of milk we ought to desire. It is described in the text as sincere milk. Milk, in its taste and effect, because in nourishing and feeding the body naturally, the blood cannot be good unless the food is wholesome. So in feeding our souls spiritually, neither our hearts, nor affections, nor our words nor our works, can be good, unless the milk of the word, as the food of the soul, with which we are nourished, is wholesome and sincere. Therefore as our Saviour warns us to take heed how we hear (Mark 4:24),so the apostle, to the same end, exhorts us to take heed upon what we feed. For there is pure doctrine (Proverbs 30:5), and there is doctrine full of leaven (Matthew 16:6). There is a new wine of the gospel (Matthew 9:17), and there is also a mixed wine in the cup of the harlot, full of filth (Revelation 17:2). There is wholesome doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6), and there is also corrupt and unwholesome doctrine (Ephesians 4:29). There is the doctrine of God (John 7:16), and there are also the doctrines of devils (1 Timothy 4:1). There is a word that edifies (Ephesians 4:12), and there is also a word that pollutes and eats as doth a canker (2 Timothy 2:17). As the prophet's children cried out that there was death in the pot, so some may say that there is death in their food; and therefore it is that we are so often forewarned in the Scripture to beware of false prophets, who come to us in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves (Matthew 7:15); and to beware that no one spoil us through philosophy and vain deceit (Colossians 2:8); and not to believe every spirit, but to try them, whether they are of God (1 John 4:1); as we must taste our food before we digest it, and try our gold before we treasure it. Our Saviour tasted the vinegar, and after doing so would not drink; likewise we should reject all false doctrine, after we have tested it. There are many, alas! who feed on dragon's milk, and who take pains to learn the language of Egypt, and not of Canaan. They hear, but to no purpose: in the church in the morning, in the tavern in the afternoon, or among their cattle, or under the hedgerows, talking vanity and folly. O what graceless conduct is this! The Lord look forgivingly upon them. God would have us know that he does not wish the same land to receive two kinds of grain, nor the same heart to receive two kinds of doctrine. Dagon could not stand with the ark; no more can Christ's truth hold fellowship with lies or heresy. Therefore, as the ministers must beware that they do not make merchandise of the word of God, so must the people beware that they do not drink any milk but sincere milk. Therefore, beloved people, you ought to be careful how you behave yourselves, much more as you see how eager Satan is to assault you, and, under the cloak of reformation, to bring into the temple profane worship. Here, brethren, I forewarn you, as I have done before, that you go to hear the word where it is not mixed with heresy, and do not believe those who would pervert the gospel (Galatians 1:8,9). This much for the fourth point
V. The end and purpose for which we should desire the sincere milk of the word, that we may grow thereby. That is the end of our hearing, that we may grow in grace, faith, and righteousness. For the faithful are called the 'trees of righteousness,' to show that they are to grow. (2.) They are called 'living stones' (1 Peter 2:5), because they must grow in the building of the spiritual house. (3.) They are called 'good servants,' who trade with the Lord's talents, that they may receive their own with interest (Matthew 25:16). (4.) As 'living branches,' which must be purged and pruned by the hand of the heavenly husbandman; all showing that we ought to grow. We must not always be children, but we must grow now. As the star did not cease till it came over the door where Christ was, so we should not rest walking till we come to God. We must grow from grace to grace (1 Thessalonians 3:12). What kind of men are we, seeing, and hearing, and yet no better. We are like the lean kine that Pharaoh saw in his dream, eating the fat and well favoured kine, and yet were not any the fatter (Genesis 41:4). Likewise there are many of us, wretched and lean of God, as if we had never sucked of the milk of the word. Almost no one among us is more zealous, more faithful, more energetic for the truth, not one more holy, nor more fervent in religion, there is hardly one less ungodly than he was a hundred sermons ago, as if we were night-black ravens, without ever a thought of returning to Noah in the ark. Though we have heard often, and are still inclined to hear, we do not grow by our hearing; we are but babes in Christ, scarce able to walk; little in faith, little in love, patience, humility, and zeal; like Zaccheus, so little that we cannot see Christ. This is certain testimony, that we have hearts of stone, and not hearts of flesh, within us; they will not be watered with the showers of the gospel. For everywhere among us there is as much covetousness, bribery, fraud, deceit, wantonness, and envy, as there was before the gospel shone on us. Many are as dishonest in their dealings, as negligent in the service of God, as proud in their attire, as hypocritical in church, as sinful at home, as they were before. O! how many houses there are among us without prayer! though it has often been shown that the devil is over the prayer less home, and that they were godless. And what is the reason for all this, but that we come to hear rather than to be bettered? Whilst hearing, one sort (like Eutychus) sleep during the preaching of the word (Acts 20:9); another sort forgets all, as Nebuchadnezzar forgot his dream; another sort remember, but never make use of it. But know and be assured, that it is better for you not to have heard, than not to use what you have heard, because our Lord said, 'If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin' (John 15:22). Oh, alas, if the servant who hid his talent in a napkin in the earth received so harsh a judgment, what punishment will those have who have wasted their talents? Therefore every man must take heed how he hears, and not receive the grace of God in vain, but desire the milk of the word, to be bettered and grow. Now, whosoever you are, O man! that hears this, search your conscience, who is the better for the last sermon? Consider what sin you had last Sabbath, which you have not this Sabbath. If you can find no change, then realize that you are not increased by the food which you received. Alas! Alas! nothing breaks my heart more than to think how attentive many of you are today in giving ear to my words; but as Jonah's gourd withered in the morning, so by tomorrow morning a greedy worm of covetousness, or lust, will have eaten up the shoots, and uprooted the seed sown today on the rock of your hearts.
Here are some directions to those who desire a blessing from the word of God, and to grow thereby:-
1. Be sure in the morning to send a private and serious prayer to the Lord, for your preservation in the spiritual battle in which you are going to engage.
2. Separate yourselves from the company of the profane along the way. If you do converse, remember to do so graciously, as the two disciples going to Emmaus--therefore you may hope to have Christ to walk together with you. It is grievous to see some men going to God's house, with their memory and hearts burdened with vain talk; and when they come to hear the word of God, they cannot receive anything, for no vessel can contain more than what will fill it.
3. When you assemble together, be sure to remember the example of Zaccheus (Luke 19:2-4) who came to the way by which Christ was to pass, in order to see him. But the crowd being large, and he so small, and so unable to see, and not being content to return home without seeing him, and not content with just seeing the crowd, endeavoured to climb to the top of a sycamore tree. Alas! Alas! many men in our land now, imagine themselves in a sufficiently good state that it is enough just to go to church, without ever having a sight of Christ when they have been there; and sleep, if possible, or spend most of the time in scorn and foolish jest. They go home as happy as those whose purpose has been realized, that is to have a sight of Christ. Consider this, 'When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting' (Isaiah 1:12,13).
4. And lastly, having received the good seed from the mouth of ministers, avoid the children of Satan, lest they sow tares among the wheat, by their vain talking. And when you go to your houses, call your family together, and plead God's blessing on what you have heard. It is usual to inquire of your family, when they come home from a fair or market, what news they have heard. Turn this custom to a better use, by asking your family about what they have just heard and done. Be a terror to those who are careless and sluggish concerning them, and gentle to those who are good and mindful. This, together with the blessing of the Almighty, is able to make you wise unto salvation.
And God, of his mercy, multiply your graces, through Jesus Christ our Lord,