The Authority of the Fathers
But what say we of the fathers, Augustine, Ambrose, Hierome, Cyprian, &c.? What shall we think of them, or what account may we make of them? They be interpreters of the word of God. They were learned men, and learned fathers; the instruments of the mercy of God, and vessels full of grace. We despise them not, we read them, we reverence them, and give thanks unto God for them. They were witnesses unto the truth, they were worthy pillars and ornaments in the church of God. Yet may they not be compared with the word of God. We may not build upon them : we may not make them the foundation and warrant of our conscience : we may not put our trust in them. Our trust is in the name of the Lord.
And thus are we taught to esteem of the learned fathers of the church by their own judgment ; by that which they have written, either for the credit of their own doings, or of the authority which they have thought due to the writings of others. St Augustine said of the doctors and fathers in his time : Neque . . . quorumlibet disputationes, quamvis catholicorutn et laudatorum hominum, velut scripturas canonical habere debemus; ut nobis non lieeat, salva honorificentia qiue illis debetur, . . . aliquid in eorum scriptis improbare aut respuere ; si forte invenerimus, quod aliter senserint quam veritas habet. . . . Talis sum ego in scriptis aliorum, tales esse volo intellectores meorum: “Neither weigh we the writings of all men, be they never so worthy and catholic, as we weigh the canonical scriptures ; but that, saving the reverence that is due unto them, we may mislike and refuse somewhat in their writings, if we find that they have thought otherwise than the truth may bear. Such am I in the writings of others, and such would I wish others to be in mine.” Some things I believe, and some things which they write I cannot believe. I weigh them not as the holy and canonical scriptures. Cyprian was a doctor of the church, yet he was deceived : Hierome was a doctor of the church, yet he was deceived : Augustine was a doctor of the church, yet he wrote a book of Retractations ; he acknowledged that he was deceived. God did therefore give to his church many doctors, and many learned men, which all should search the truth, and one reform another, wherein they thought him deceived. St Augustine saith : Auferantur de medio charta nostra : procedat in medium codex Dei : audi Christum dicentem, audi veritatem loquentem: “Take away from amongst us any our own books : let the book of God come amongst us : hear what Christ saith : hearken what the truth speaketh.” He is the wisdom of his Father, he cannot deceive us. Again he saith : Audi, Dicit Dominus; non, Dicit Donatus, aut Rogatus, aut Vincentius, aut Hilarius, aut Ambrosius, aut Augustinus: ” Hear this, The Lord saith : hear not this, Donatus saith, or Rogatus, or Vincentius, or Hilarius, or Ambrose, or Augustine saith.” All these were learned : most of them were holy ; yet saith Augustine, we may not yield to that which is said by learned men ; but we must yield our full consent and belief to the word of God. Origen saith: Necesse nobis est in testimonium vocare sanctas scripturas. Sensus quippe &c: “We must needs call to witness the holy scriptures; for our judgments and expositions, without those witnesses, carry no credit.” Mark well : our words and expositions and constructions, unless they be warranted by the scriptures, are not enough, they carry not credit. Augustine saith : Nos . . . nullam Cypriano facimus injuriam, cum ejus quaslibet literas, &c: ” We offer no wrong to St Cyprian, when we sever any his letters or writings from the canonical authority of the holy scriptures.” Thus speaketh Augustine, a doctor of the church, of Cyprian, another doctor also of the church. Cyprian was a bishop, a learned father, a holy man, and a martyr of Christ ; yet saith Augustine, his word is not the gospel : his word is not the word of God : there is no wrong done to him, though his writings carry not like credit as the holy scripture.
I could shew many the like speeches of the ancient fathers, wherein they reverence the holy scriptures; as to which only they give consent without gain saying ; which can neither deceive nor be deceived. In this sort did Origen, and Augustine, and other doctors of the church, speak of themselves and of theirs, and the writings of others, that we should so read them, and credit them, as they agreed with the word of God. Hoc genus literarum non cum credendi necessitate, sed cum judicandi libertate, legendum est: “This kind of writings is to be read, not with a necessity of believing them, but with a liberty to judge of them.” St Paul saith : ” Though that we, or an angel from heaven, preach unto you other wise than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Out of which place St Augustine speaketh thus : Sive de Christo, sive de ejus ecclesia, sive de re quacunque alia, qua pertinet ad fidem vitamque nostram, non dicam, …si nos, sed … si angelus de calo nobis annuntiaverit prarterquam quod in scripturu legalibus et evangelicis accepistis, anathema sit: “Whether it be of Christ, or of his church, or of anything else whatsoever, pertaining either to our life, or to our faith ; I will not say, if I myself, but if an angel from heaven shall teach us other wise than ye have received in the books of the law and in the gospels, hold him accursed.”
Now to conclude this matter, the same father saith : Ecclesiastici . . .judices, ut homines, plerunque falluntur: ” The judges or doctors of the church, as men, are often deceived.” They are learned : they have preeminence in the church : they are judges : they have the gifts of wisdom and understanding ; yet they are often deceived. They are our fathers, but not fathers unto God ; they are stars, fair, and beautiful, and bright ; yet they are not the sun : they bear witness of the light, they are not the light. Christ is the Sun of righteousness, Christ is the Light which lighteneth every man that cometh into this world. His word is the word of truth. He is the day-spring which hath visited us from an high : he came down from the bosom of his Father: he shall guide our feet into the way of peace. Of him God the Father spake : ” This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased : hear him.” He is the Lamb without spot : out of his mouth goeth a twoedged sword. This is he in whom all the ends of the world shall be blessed : hear him, give heed to his saying, embrace his gospel, believe his word. Thus much touching the credit and authority which is to be given to the writings of ancient fathers.
St Paul, speaking of the word of God, saith : ” The whole scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable to teach, to improve, to correct, and to instruct in righteousness :” to teach the truth, to improve falsehood, to correct all vice, to instruct in all virtue. Again : ” I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” St Basil saith : ” The scripture of God is like an apothecary’s shop, full of medicines of sundry sorts, that every man may there choose a convenient medicine for his disease.” There are salves and ointments to cure all maladies. Whosoever cannot be cured by the word of God, his disease is grown desperate, and past cure.
Many think the apostle’s speech is hardly true of the whole scripture, that all and every part of the scripture is profitable. Much is spoken of genealogies, and pedigrees, of lepers, of sacrificing goats and oxen, &c. : these seem to have little profit in them, but to be vain and idle. If they shew vain in thine eyes, yet hath not the Lord set them down in vain. ” The words of the Lord are pure words, as the silver tried in a furnace of earth refined seven times.” There is no sentence, no clause, no word, no syllable, no letter, but it is written for thy instruction : there is not one jot but it is sealed and signed with the blood of the Lamb. Our imaginations are idle, our thoughts are vain : there is no idleness, no vanity in the word of God. Those oxen and goats which were sacrificed teach thee to kill and sacrifice the uncleanness and filthiness of thy heart : they teach thee that thou art guilty of death, when thy life must be redeemed by the death of some beast : they lead thee to believe the forgiveness of sins by a more perfect sacrifice ; because it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. That leprosy teacheth thee to know the uncleanness and leprosy of thy soul. Those genealogies and pedigrees lead us to the birth of our Saviour Christ. So that the whole word of God is pure and holy : no word, no letter, no syllable, no point or prick thereof, but is written and preserved for thy sake.
Art thou a king ? Read the scriptures ; thou shalt find who hath stablished thine estate, and what duty thou owest to God. God there telleth thee : ” By me kings rule, and princes decree justice.” I have given thee authority : thou earnest my sword : I have put a crown upon thy head : thou art my servant : walk before me, let thy heart be perfect in my sight.
Art thou a subject ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee to know thy duty. There Paul biddeth thee, ” Give tribute to whom tribute, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour is due.” ” Ye must be subject, not because of wrath only, but for conscience’ sake.” ” For he beareth not the sword for nought : for he is the minister of God to take vengeance on him that doth evil.”
Art thou a minister ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee thy duty. The prophet saith to thee : ” Cry aloud, spare not : lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgressions.” The apostle saith unto thee: ” Preach the word, be instant in season and out of season.” ” Watch in all things, do the work of an evangelist, make thy ministry fully known.” Thou shalt give an account for the souls of the people : their blood shall be required at thy hands.
Art thou a father ? Hast thou children ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee, ” If thou hast sons, instruct them.” Again : ” He that teacheth his son grieveth the enemy, and before his friends he shall rejoice of him.” ” Give him no liberty in his youth, and wink not at his folly.” ” Chastise thy child, and be diligent therein, lest his shame grieve thee.” Eli the” prophet, by sparing his wanton children, cast away himself and his children. They were slain : the ark of God was taken ; and old Eli fell down and brake his neck.
Art thou a child ? Hast thou a father ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee, ” Children, obey your parents in the Lord ; for this is right. Honour thy father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on earth.” And again: “Children, obey your parents in all things; for it is well-pleasing unto the Lord.” The wise man warneth thee : ” The eye that mocketh his father, and despiseth the instruction of his mother, let the ravens of the valley pluck it out, and the young eagles eat it.”
Hath God blessed thee in wealth? Art thou rich? Read the scriptures; they will teach thee, ” Be not high-minded, and trust not in uncertain riches, but in the living God, which giveth us abundantly all things to enjoy.” Again : ” Trust not in oppression and robbery : be not vain : if riches increase, set not your heart thereon.” Thou shalt depart, and leave them behind thee: they shall forsake thee. Thou shalt die, thou knowest not how soon. Salomon sheweth thee, “Riches avail not in the day of wrath; hut righteousness delivereth from death.”
Art thou poor, and sufferest scarcity in this world? Read the scriptures; they will teach thee. Say with Job : ” Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return again.” Learn of Salomon : ” Better is little with righteousness, than great revenues without equity.” And again : ” Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that perverteth his ways, though he be rich.” St Paul saith : ” Godliness is great gain, if a man be content with that he hath ; for we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain that we carry nothing out.” And again : ” Let him that is poor labour, and work with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
Art thou a merchant? Usest thou to buy and sell? Read the scriptures; they will teach thee, ” This is the will of God, . . . that no man oppress or defraud his brother in any matter.” Thou shalt learn that “divers weights and divers measures are abomination unto the Lord ; and deceitful balances are not good.”
Art thou an usurer ? Thy case is hard : yet hear the scriptures ; they will teach thee. God commandeth thee thus : ” If thou lend money to my people, to the poor with thee, thou shalt not be as an usurer unto him : ye shall not oppress him with usury.” Again : ” If thy brother be impoverished, and fallen in decay with thee, thou shalt relieve him : . . . thou shalt take no usury of him, nor vantage : thou shalt not lend him thy victuals for increase ; but thou shalt fear thy God, that thy brother may live with thee.” And, ” Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye to them.” And, “He that giveth his money unto usury shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Art thou a fornicator and livest in adultery ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee : ” He that committeth fornication,” saith St Paul, “sinneth against his own body. Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?” ” Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.” ” As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation,” saith St Peter. The reason is set down by St Paul : ” For this is the will of God, even your holiness, and that you should abstain from fornication,” that you may ” be holy both in body and in spirit.” And, ” Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” They ” shall have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
Art thou a servant ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee, ” Servants, be obedient unto them that are your masters according to the flesh in all things, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And, whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.” Again : ” Please your masters, not answering again : be no pickers, but shew all good faithfulness, that ye may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”
Art thou proud ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee, ” Be not highminded, but fear.” ” What hast thou that thou hast not received ? If thou hast received it, why rejoicest thou as though thou hadst not received it?” And, ” Learn of me that I am meek and humble in heart.” And, ” God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”
Art thou in adversity ? Read the scriptures : ” Great are the troubles of the righteous ; but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.” And, ” He shall call upon me; and I will hear him: I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him, and glorify him.” And St Peter telleth thee : ” The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers.” ” God is faithful, which will not suffer you to be tempted above that you be able, but will give the issue with the temptation, that ye may be able to bear it.” ” The Lord is near unto all them that call upon him, yea, to all that call upon him in truth.”
Art thou a sinner ? Hast thou offended God ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee, ” Hate the evil, and love the good.” And again : ” Fly from evil, and do good, and dwell for ever.” Rise up and go to thy Father, and say unto him, ” Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
Dost thou despair of the mercy of God ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee. Christ telleth thee : ” I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Again : ” Come unto me, all ye that are weary and laden; and I will ease you.” ” At what hour soever a sinner doth repent him of his sin from the bottom of his heart, I will put all his wickedness out of my remembrance, saith the Lord.” Again : ” I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.” And, “The Lord is good to all; and his mercies are over all his works.”
Art thou going out of this life ? Read the scriptures ; they will teach thee. Christ saith unto thee: ” I am the resurrection and the life : he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live ; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Say with St Paul : ” Christ is to me both in life and in death advantage. … I desire to be loosed, and to be with Christ.”
What should I say more of the scriptures, how profitable and comfortable they be in all cases and parts of our life ? in adversity, in prosperity, in life, and in death, they are our especial comfort. If we must fight, they are a sword ; if we hunger, they are meat ; if we thirst, they are drink ; if we have no dwelling place, they are a house ; if we be naked, they are a garment ; if we be in darkness, they be light unto our going.
They are comfortable to kings, to subjects, to old men, to young men, to man and to wife, to father and to child, to master and to servant, to captain and soldier, to preacher and people, to the learned, to the unlearned, to the wise, and to the simple.
They are comfortable in peace, in war, in heaviness, in joy, in health, and sickness, in abundance, in poverty, in the day-time, in the night-season, in the town, in the wilderness, in company, and when thou art alone. For they teach faith, hope, patience, charity, sobriety, humility, righteousness, and all godliness. They teach us to live, and they teach us to die.
Therefore hath Paul said well : ” The whole scripture is profitable.” It is full of great comfort. It maketh the man of God absolute, and perfect unto all good works ; perfect in faith, perfect in hope, perfect in the love of God and of his neighbour, perfect in his life, and perfect in his death. So great, so large and ample, and heavenly, is the profit which we do reap by the word of God.
Now it followeth that we consider how necessary and needful it is for us to be guided by the word of God in the whole trade of our life. The word of God is that unto our souls which our soul is unto our body. As the body dieth when the soul departeth, so the soul of man dieth when it hath not the knowledge of God. ” Man liveth not by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” ” Behold,” saith God, ” I will send a famine in the land ; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord.” Their tongue shall wither, their heart shall starve, they shall die for hunger : ” they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north unto the east shall they run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” “They shall stumble at noon-days, as at the twilight: they shall grope for the wall like the blind ; and truth shall fall in their streets.” For how shall they be saved unless they call on the name of the Lord ? ” How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed ? How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent?” Chrysostom therefore saith : ” Neither can it be, I say, it cannot be, that any man shall attain to salvation, except he be always occupied in spiritual reading.” The wise man saith : ” Where there is no prophecy, the people decay.” When the scriptures are not opened, when there is none that can edify, and exhort, and comfort the people by the word of God, they must needs perish : for they know not the way in which they should walk ; they know not whom to honour, nor upon whose name they should call ; they know neither what to believe, nor what to do. Hell hath enlarged itself, and hath opened his mouth without measure ; and they that are wilful and ignorant, and the children of darkness, go down into it. They become thrall, and captives unto Satan. Their heart is bound up, they understand nothing; their eyes are shut up, they can see nothing ; their ears are stopped up, they can hear nothing. They are carried away as a prey into hell, because they have not the knowledge of God.
So doth Christ tell the Sadducees : ” Ye are deceived, because you know not the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Thus he teacheth, that error is the child of ignorance. The cause why you are so deceived is because you know not the scriptures : you have hated the light, and loved darkness : you have neither known the Father nor me. He, that knoweth not the truth of God, knoweth not God. Herein, in this case, there is no plea of ignorance : ignorance shall not excuse us. Chrysostom saith : Dices, Non legi: non est haec excusatio, sed crimen : “Thou wilt say, I have not read the scriptures : this is no excuse, but a sin.” Again he saith : ” This is the working of the devil’s inspiration : he would not suffer us to see the treasure, lest we should get the riches. Therefore he counselleth us, that it utterly availeth us nothing to hear the laws of God ; lest that upon the hearing he may see our doing follow.” Gregory saith: Qui ea Quae sunt Domini nesciunt, a Domino nesciuntur: “Whoso know not the things that pertain unto the Lord be not known of the Lord.” Origen also giveth reason of this practice of Satan : ” Unto the devils it is a torment above all kinds of torments, and a pain above all pains, if they see any man reading the word of God, and with fervent study searching the knowledge of God’s law, and the mysteries and secrets of the scriptures. Herein standeth all the flame of the devils : in this fire they are tormented ; for they are seized and possessed of all them that remain in ignorance.”
Carneades, a philosopher, was wont to say of his master and reader Chrysippus, ” If it had not been for Chrysippus, I never had been any body. He was my master and teacher : he made me learned : whatsoever I have, I have it of him.” How much better may we use the like words of the scripture, and say, Unless it were for the word of God, our wisdom were nothing, and our knowledge were nothing ! Whatsoever we have, we have it by the word. Without it, our prayer were no prayer : without it, our sacraments were no sacraments, our faith were no faith, our conscience were no conscience, our church were no church. Take away the light of the sun ; and what remaineth but darkness ? Heaven and earth are darkened : no man can see his way, or discern the things about him. Even so, if the word of God be taken away, what remaineth but miserable confusion and deadly ignorance ?
When the Philistines had shorn the hairs of Samson, they fell upon him, took him, bound him, and plucked out his eyes : they danced about him, and made scorn and games of him. We are Samson ; the strength of our hairs is the know ledge of the will of God : it is laid up in our heads, in the highest and principal part of us : if that be shorn off, if we be kept from hearing, reading, and under standing of the word of God, then will error, superstition, and all wickedness, get the upper hand, and fall upon us, and bind us, and pluck out our eyes, and make scorn of us, and utterly destroy us.
When the people of Jerusalem were besieged and wanted food to eat, they fed on rats and mice, and many unwholesome and filthy things. A woman was driven, for want of meat, to do a cruel part upon her own child : she took her own babe, which was the fruit of her own body, killed it, cut it in pieces, dressed it, and fed upon it—a loathsome meat, especially for a mother to eat her own child. But she was driven to it by extremity and hunger : it was so cruel a thing to lack wherewith life might be preserved.
Even so fared it with us, and our fathers, after it pleased God to take away his gospel, and to send a famine of hearing the word of the Lord. We were driven to eat those things which were loathsome and horrible to behold ; we were driven to feed upon our own children, even the phantasies and vanities of our own heart : there was no substance in them, they could not feed us.
In this case were the children of Israel, when they grew weary of the word of God, and left the ordinances set down unto them. God had no pleasure in them ; their prayers and sacrifice were not accepted. ” I cannot suffer, saith the Lord, your new moons, nor sabbaths, nor solemn days. . . . Who hath required this of your hands?”
In such case were the scribes and Pharisees, when they forsook to be guided by the word of God, and took away the key of knowledge ; they fed upon their own devices, they neglected the commandments and will of God, and followed their own traditions. Therefore Christ reproved them: “O hypocrites, Esaias prophesied well of you, saying, This people draweth near unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips ; but their heart is far off from me. But in vain they worship me, teaching for doctrines men’s precepts.”
Therefore, if we seek to know the sacraments of the church, what they are ; if we would be instructed in the sacrament of baptism, or in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ ; if we would learn to know our Creator, and to put the difference between the Creator and a creature ; if we desire to know what this present life is, and what is that life which is to come ; if we would believe in God, and call upon the name of God, and do worship unto God ; if we would be settled in perfect zeal and true knowledge ; if we would have an upright conscience to wards God ; if we would know which is the true church of God ; it is very needful that we hear the word of God. There is no other word that teacheth us unto salvation.
Joy and Pleasure by Reading the Scriptures
Now it remaineth we speak of the delectation and pleasure which the word of Joy and God giveth. The word of God is full of sad and grave counsel, full of the know- reading the ledge of God, of examples of virtues, and of correction of vices, of the end of this life, and of the life to come. These are the contents of the word of God. These things (say you) are great and weighty of themselves : there is no vanity or pleasure in them.
They are great and weighty, I grant ; and, because they are so weighty, they be the more worthy that we hear them. But we must take a delight and settle our fancy, that it may like of the weight and greatness. They were unto the prophet David “more sweet than honey and the honey-comb.” If we taste them with such an affection as he did, we shall feel and see the great and weighty and heavenly pleasure which is in them.
Many are delighted in the stories of Julius Caesar, of Alexander the great, of mighty and victorious princes. They have pleasure to read of their wars, of their victories, and of their triumphs. And many take their pleasure in travel to far countries, to see the divers fashions and behaviour of men.
If it were possible we might stand upon such a hill from which we might at once see all parts of the world, the cities and towns, and mountains, and forests, and castles, and gorgeous buildings, and all the kings and princes of the world in their princely estate ; if we might see the variety of the whole world, how some five quietly in peace, others are turmoiled in war; some live in wealth, others in poverty and misery ; some rise, others fall—to see and behold so great variety of things, it cannot be but it would delight us.
Such a hill, from whence we may take view of so great variety, such a story, in which we may read of noble princes, of their wars and victories, is the word of God. Upon this hill you may at once behold all the works of his hands, how he made heaven and earth, the sun and the moon1, the sea and floods2, the fishes in the water, the fowls in the air, and the beasts in3 the field. Upon this hill you may stand and see his angels, and his archangels4, and blessed spirits, how some of them fell, and some continued in glory ; how God hath sent them in message ; how they have come down from heaven to serve the sons of men.
Here you may read of the wars of the God of Hosts, how he hath pitched his tents in the midst of his people, and hath gone before them, and fought for them; how the Amorrheans and Canaanites were rooted out; how the Amalekites were overthrown by the lifting up of Moses’ hands in prayer ; how the wall of Jericho fell down flat at the sound of a trumpet, and the shouting of the people; and how 185 thousand Assyrians were slain in one night by the hand of one angel, when God raught out his hand from heaven to give victory to his people.
Here may you see how God plagued and overcame his enemies ; how he drowned Pharao in the Red sea, and his horses, and men, and chariots, all together. Here may you see Nabuchodonosor, a mighty prince, so bereft of his wits, that he forsook his palaces, and the company and order of men, and lived in the fields after the manner of beasts. Here may you see how God struck’ king Antiochus and king Herod with filthy diseases, and caused lice to eat their flesh ; how he sent down fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed Sodom and Gomorra for their sins ; how he made the earth open and swallow up Dathan and Abiram ; how king Ozias was stricken with leprosy, and carried from the temple, and cut off from his kingdom. What stories of any princes or people in any age can report unto us so strange battles, so mighty conquests, so wonderful deliverance in extremities, so dreadful subduing of the enemies, as the hand of God hath wrought, and the story of the scriptures declareth unto us ?
This word also sheweth the goodness and mercy of God towards the people which put their trust in him ; how he made them terrible to their enemies ; how he made their enemies their foot-stool ; how he led them safe through the Red sea ; how he sent his angel to go before them, and guide them ; how he gave them water out of a rock, and rained down bread from heaven ; how he brought them into a land that flowed with milk and honey, and sware unto them that he would be their God, and they should be his people.
In this word are to be seen wonderful and strange works of God, such as are beyond the course of nature, and pass the reason of man : that the sea parted, and stood on both sides as a high wall; that at the word of Josua the sun stood still, and went not on his course ; Ezechias spake the word and required it, and the sun went back ten degrees. At the word of Elias fire came down from heaven to consume his sacrifice.
Here may you see an ass open his mouth and speak, and reprove his master ; three servants of God walk in a hot burning furnace without hurt ; Daniel in the den among lions, and not devoured ; Peter in the raging sea, and not drowned ; lepers cleansed ; the lame to go ; the dumb to speak ; the deaf to hear ; the blind to see ; the dead to rise out of their graves and live ; simple and unlearned men to speak in strange tongues ; the devil to go out of the possessed, and to say, ” I know thou art Christ, the Son of God.” Here may you see twelve poor silly men, without spear, or sword, or force, make conquest and win the whole world. No power could repress them, no might could withstand them. It is reckoned a great matter for a king or a nation to yield submission unto another king or nation. It must therefore be a matter of great wonder to see all kings throw down their maces, and all people to yield before so few, so simple, so unarmed; and to acknowledge they embraced lies, and lived in ignorance, and that these twelve are the servants of the Highest; and to see how “God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to overthrow the wise, and the weak things of this world to confound the mighty things.” Such force did God give to their words. He made them the sons of thunder : they shook the foundations of the world : they threw down whatsoever stood against them.
Here may you see the fight of God’s elect children ; how they patiently suffered afflictions in their bodies, rather than they would deny the truth of God : they gave their backs to the scourge, their necks to the sword, their bodies to the fire. No tyrant, no menacings, no rack, no torment, no sword, no death, could remove them from the love of the gospel which they had received. The more of them were cut down, the more did spring up : the more were killed, the more were left alive. Augustine saith: Ligabantur, includebantur, . ..torquebantur, urebantur, . . . et multiplicabantur: “They were bound, and shut up, and racked, and burnt, and yet were increased.” This is the victory that hath overcome the world. For the Lord answered St Paul : ” My power is made perfect through weakness.” It liveth in death, it is made whole and sound by wounds and stripes : it is increased by those means whereby men destroy it. Jacob saw a ladder stand upon the earth, and the top of it reach up into heaven, and the angels of God go up and down by it. This was but a dream and vision in his sleep ; yet when he awoke, he took pleasure and comfort of this vision.
We have not only the delight of this with Jacob, but we have other far greater visions. We see Esay beholding the Lord as he sat upon an high throne: we see Paul taken up into the third heavens : we see the glory of God appear, and hear the voice which came out of the cloud, saying, ” This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased: hear him.” We see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of a virgin, and how ” he made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made like unto man, and was found in shape as a man ; that he humbled himself, and became obedient unto the death, even the death of the cross.” We hear him cry with a loud voice, ” My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We hear him say, “Father, forgive them ; for they know not what they do;” and, “Father, into thine hands I commend my spirit.”
Here we may see the sun to be darkened, that the moon giveth no light ; the earth to shake, the rocks to cleave asunder, the vail to rent, the graves to open, and Christ rise from the dead, and go up into heaven, and sit at the right hand of his Father.
Here may we see the overthrow of Babylon, ” which made all nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication ;” how she is destroyed with the breath of God’s mouth. Here we behold the resurrection of the dead ; and four and twenty elders sit before God on their seats, and the Ancient of days sit upon his throne, and the judgment-seat, and the books opened, and all flesh appear before him, and how some are taken into everlasting life, and some are sent into everlasting death.
What tongue is able to express these pleasures and delights which are laid open to us in the word of God ? We buy images, and pictures, and maps, of men, and of divers things and countries : but what map or picture can shew us the like variety and change of things ?
We purchase lands, and have a liking so to do. Here we are taught how we may come to that land which shall stand with us, and in which we shall continue for ever.
To see any one of these it were great pleasure, either the creation of heaven and earth, or the angels and archangels, and blessed spirits ; or the battles of the God of Sabaoth ; or Amalek dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel ; or the walls of Jericho blown down with the sound of a trumpet ; or Pharao drowned in the sea; or Nabuchodonosor eating grass among the beasts; or Antiochus smitten from heaven ; or Sodom and Gomorra burnt with fire and brimstone ; or the earth to open and swallow up the wicked ; or the sea to stand like a wall ; or water to come out of a stone ; or bread to come from heaven ; or the sun to stand still, or to change his course ; or an ass to speak and teach his master ; or fire to be extreme hot, yet not burning; or lions hungry, yet not eating their meat ; or the sea tempestuous, yet not drowning ; or blind to see, deaf to hear, dumb to speak, dead to rise ; or ignorant men to speak in languages they never learned ; or the devil to roar, and confess Christ ; or God sitting in his majesty, and Christ at his right hand ; or Babylon thrown down, and become a tabernacle of foul spirits, and a den for the devil ; or Christ to sit in judgment, and give sentence upon the quick and the dead—to see any one of all these wondrous works of God, it were great pleasure.
How can it be then but that we rejoice and take delight to see so many, so great, so marvellous, so heavenly, and so glorious wonders in one heap altogether? How far would we ride, or go, to see the triumph of a mortal king ! Here is to be seen the triumph of God, the Lord of lords, and the King of kings ; how he hath made the name of his Son triumph over principalities and powers, and over the whole world. Here is a paradise full of delights : no tongue is able to speak them, they are so many ; no heart is able to conceive them, they be so great.
Here is a shop, wherein is set out the wisdom, and knowledge, the power, the judgments, and mercies of God. Which way soever we look, we see the works of his hands; his works of creation, and preservation of all things; his works of severe justice upon the wicked, and of gracious redemption to the be liever. If we desire pleasant music, or excellent harmony, it speaketh unto us the words of the Father, and the consent of the Son ; the excellent reports of the prophets, apostles, angels, and saints of God, who have been all taught by the Holy Ghost. If we would learn, it is a school ; it giveth understanding to the simple. In it there is that may content the heart, the ear, the eye, the taste, and the smelling. ” It is a savour of life unto life.” ” O taste ye and see how gracious the Lord is,” saith the prophet David. So manifold and marvellous are the pleasures which are given us in the word of God. God hath made them, and wrought them all for the sons of men.
Thus have I performed promise, and simply and homely opened those four things which I took in hand. I have declared what weight and majesty the word beareth ; what huge harvest of profit we may reap by it ; how needful it is for us travelling through the wilderness of this life ; and what repast and pleasure we may find in it.
But, all this notwithstanding, some take exception, and say the scriptures are dark and doubtful, the matters are deep, the words are hard, few can under stand them. One taketh them in this sense ; another in a sense clean contrary. The best-learned cannot agree about them: they are occasion of many great quarrels : John seeth this book sealed with seven seals, and an angel preaching with a loud voice, ” Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” No man can open it, no man can read it. St Peter saith : “Among the epistles of Paul some things are hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable pervert, as they do all other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” And St Paul saith : ” God dwelleth in the light that none can attain unto ; whom never man saw, neither can see.”
Therefore, although the majesty be never so weighty, the profit, the necessity, and the pleasure never so great, yet it is not good for the people to read them. Pearls must not be cast before swine, nor the bread of the children unto dogs. Thus they say. Indeed the word of God is pearls ; but the people are not swine. They may not read them, say some ; they are not able to wield them ; the scriptures are not for the people. Hereof I will say something, and a word or two of the reverence and fear with which we ought to come to the hearing of them.
They say, the scriptures are hard, and above the reach of the people. So said the Pelagian heretic Julian, whom St Augustine therefore reproveth : Exaggeras quam sit difficilis paucisque conveniens eruditis sanctorum cognitio literarum.: ” Ye enlarge and lay out with many words how hard a matter the know ledge of the scripture is, and meet only for a few learned men.” You say the scriptures are hard, who may open them ? There is no evidence or trial to be taken by them : they are fit only for a few learned men, they are in no wise fit for the people. Thus said Julian, an heretic.
But God himself, and the ancient fathers of the church, said otherwise. God saith in Deuteronomy : ” This commandment, which I command thee this day, is not hid from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it us, and cause us to hear it, that we may do it ? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it us, and cause us to hear it, that we may do it ? But the word is very near unto thee ; even in thy mouth, and in thy heart, for to do it.” Thou needest not run hither and thither, nor wander over the sea, nor beat thy brains in searching what thou shouldest do, or by what means thou mayest live uprightly : the word and commandment of God will teach thee sufficiently. The prophet David saith : ” The commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes.” And, ” Thy word is a lantern unto my feet, and a light unto my paths.” Thy word is not dark ; it is a light unto my path, it giveth light unto the eyes. What is clear if the light be dark ? Or what can he see which cannot see the light ?
Human knowledge is dark and uncertain. Philosophy is dark : astrology is dark ; and geometry is dark. The professors thereof oftentimes run a masket : they leese themselves, and wander they know not whither. They seek the depth and bottom of natural causes ; the change of the elements ; the impressions in the air; the causes of the rainbow, of blazing stars, of thunder and lightning, of the trembling and shaking of the earth; the motions of the planets ; the proportions and the influence of the celestial bodies. They measure the compass of heaven, and count the number of the stars : they go down and search the mines in the bowels of the earth : they rip up the secrets of the sea. The knowledge of these things is hard, it is uncertain : few are able to reach it : it is not fit for every man to understand it.
But the Holy Spirit of God, like a good teacher, applieth himself to the dulness of our wits. He leadeth not us by the unknown places of the earth, nor by the air, nor by the clouds : he astonieth not our spirits with natural vanities. He writeth his law in our hearts : he teacheth us to know him, and his Christ : he teacheth us that we should ” deny ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and that ” we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world :” he teacheth us to look for ” the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the mighty God, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” This matter is good, and it is plain : the words are plain, and the utterance is plain. Chrysostom saith : Propterea Spiritus gratia dispensavit illa temperavitque, quo publicani, piscatores, &c: ” Therefore hath the grace of the Holy Spirit disposed and tempered them so, that publicans, and fishers, and tent-makers, shepherds, and the apostles, and simple men, and unlearned, might be saved by these books ; that none of the simpler sort might make excuse by the hardness of them ; and that such things as are spoken might be easy for all men to look on ; that the labouring man, and the servant, the widow woman, and whosoever is most unlearned, may take some good, when they are read. For they, whom God ever from the beginning endued with the grace of his Spirit, have not gathered all these things for vain-glory, as the heathen writers use, but for the salvation of the hearers.”
Some things in the scriptures are hard, I deny it not. It is very expedient that somewhat should be covered, to make us more diligent in reading, more desirous to understand, more fervent in prayer, more willing to ask the judgment of others, and to presume the less of our own judgment. Gregory saith : Magna . . . utilitatis est ipsa obscuritas eloquiorum Dei. Facit enim, &c.: ” The hardness which is in the word of God is very profitable ; for it causeth a man to take that profit by pains, which he could not take with negligence. If the understanding were open and manifest, it would be little set by.” Cyrillus saith : Omnia plana et recta sunt illis, qui cognitionem invenerunt ; fatuis vero etiam facillima obscura videntur: ” All things are plain and straight to them that have found knowledge; but to such as are fools the most easy places seem hard.” And again : Ea, qua perspicua sunt, difficilia sunt haereticis. Quomodo enim in malevolam animam intrabit sapientia? “Those things which are plain are hard unto heretics. For how can wisdom enter into a wicked heart ?” It is true which St Peter hath said, “some things are hard to be understood.” But it is also true, that they which pervert them unto their own destruction are unlearned and unstable ; that is, they to whom they are hard, have not their eyes opened, that they may see the light of the word ; or they be wicked, and turn the truth of God into lies, and abuse the scriptures to their own damnation. The howlet seeth not by the brightness of the sun, not because the sun-beams are dark, but for that his eyes are weak, and cannot abide so clear light. It is therefore but a pretence and colour for their ignorance, and a means to deceive the people more boldly with their errors, when they charge the word of God with darkness and hardness.
For how many hundred places are there which be as clear as noon-day ! God saith : ” I am the Lord thy God, . . . Thou shalt have none other gods before me. Thou shalt make thee no graven image, neither any similitude of things that are in heaven above, neither that are in the earth beneath, nor that are in the waters under the earth ; thou shalt neither bow down to them, neither serve them.” Again he saith : ” That is cursed that is made with hands, both it, and he that made it : he, because he made it ; and it, because it was called God, being a corruptible thing.” And again : ” Cursed be all they that worship carved images, and delight in vain gods” This is the word of God. What darkness is in any of these sayings ?
God saith : ” If thou lend money to my people, to the poor with thee, thou shalt not be as an usurer unto him : ye shall not oppress him with usury.” Again : ” If a man hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, &c., he shall surely live ; . . . but he that hath given forth upon usury, or hath taken increase, shall he live ? He shall not live.” And, ” The wages of sin is death.” And, ” The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” And again : ” This ye know, that no whoremongers, neither unclean person, nor covetous’ person, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words ; for for such things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” These are the words of God; and what darkness is in them ?
St Paul saith : ” If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, have peace with all men Abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good : . . . avenge not yourselves, but give place unto wrath.” Again : ” Let every soul be subject to the higher powers : there is no power but of God. . . . He is the minister of God for thy wealth : but, if thou do evil, fear ; for he beareth not the sword for nought.” These be the words of God : what darkness is in them ? St John saith : ” Christ is the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” And, ” The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sins.” St Peter saith : ” His own self bare our sins in his body on the tree, that we, being delivered from sin, should live in righteousness.” Christ saith : ” Ask, and it shall be given you : seek, and ye shall find : knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And again : ” Come unto me, all ye that are weary and laden; and I will ease you.” The prophet saith : “Whosoever call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” These be the words of God. What darkness is in them? What eye so simple but he may see them?
The ways of the Lord are straight, and his words plain, even unto the simple. Chrysostom saith : Omnia clara et plana sunt in scripturis divinis : quaecunque in necessaria sunt manifesto sunt: “All things are clear and plain in the holy scriptures: whatsoever things there are necessary for us are also manifest.” Some things are covered ; as men cover precious stones and precious garments. They are covered ; and yet we see them. We see them ; and yet they are covered. Yet all things that are necessary are plain and open. Clemens saith : Nullis celatum est verbum: lux est communis, omnibus illucescit hominibus, nullus est in verbo Cymmerius: ” The word of God is hid from no man : it is a light common unto all men : there is no darkness in God’s word.” Mark, it is a common light, and shineth to all men. It is as bright and beautiful as the sun ; there is no dungeon or darkness in it. So saith Irenseus: Scripturae … in aperto [sunt], et sine ambiguitate ; et similiter ab omnibus audiri possunt: ” The scriptures are plain, and without doubtfulness, and may be heard indifferently of all men.” All men may hear them, even all sorts of men without exception.
Where be they then which say it is not lawful for the people to have the word of God, and that the scriptures are not meet for their reading ? They are bread ; they are drink ; they nourish unto everlasting life ; great cruelty it is to starve God’s people to death. Are they unfit to have the scriptures, because they be poor ? Christ saith : ” The poor receive the glad tidings of the gospel.” And, ” Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They want riches, and worldly glory; but God giveth his fear and grace to them, as well as to the rich. Are they unfit to read the scriptures, because they are not bred up in other learning ? St Paul saith : ” I esteemed not to know anything among you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The prophet David saith : ” Blessed is the man, O Lord, whom thou teachest in thy law.” And Christ saith : ” Thou hast hid these things from the wise and men of understanding, and hast opened them unto babes.” The apostles were sent into all the world to preach the gospel unto every creature, to learned and unlearned, to poor and rich. There is no man too poor, none too rich, none too young, none too old. Whosoever hath ears to hear, he hath learning enough to be a hearer.
As for the wisest and learned men in matters of this world, they have not always proved the readiest and most willing to set forth the glory of God. They have not been the meetest scholars for this school. Who were they that resisted Moses and Aaron, the servants of God ? Not the people ; but the wisest and best learned in Egypt. Who were they that stood against Elias ? Not the people ; but the learned and wise men, and the prophets and priests of Baal. Who were they that stoned and killed the prophets ? Not the people ; but the chiefest and wisest in Israel. Who were they that resisted Christ, and his gospel, and sought to deface the glory of God ? Not the people ; but the scribes, and Pharisees, and high priests, and all the troop of their clergy. They called Christ ” a deceiver,” and ” Beelzebub,” “a companion of publicans and harlots.” They laid in wait every where to entrap him : they sued him to death.
St Paul saith for conclusion in this matter : ” It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will cast away the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise ? Where is the scribe ? Where is the disputer of this world ? Hath not God made the wisdom of this world foolishness ? For, seeing the world by wisdom knew not God, in the wisdom of God it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believed ls.” ” Brethren, you see your calling, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise ; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the mighty things, and vile things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen.” Mark, saith he, how mercifully God hath dealt with you. Few of the learned sort, few such as are counted wise, embrace the gospel with you, or join with yon in faith, or keep you company. God hath let them be deceived in their wisdom. They take themselves to be wise, and yet are become fools. And, contrary to worldly judgment, God hath made you, which were weak and simple, and of no reputation, wise, and righteous, and sanctified, and redeemed in Christ Jesus. And Christ saith : ” Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Therefore the godly father Chrysostom calleth upon the people to read and hear the scriptures. Audite, seculares omnes : comparate vobis biblia, animae pharmaca. Si nihil aliud vultis, vel novum testamentum acquirite, apostolum, evangelia, acta, continuos et sedulos doctores : “Hear me, ye men of the world: get ye the bible, that most wholesome remedy for the soul ; if ye will nothing else, yet at the least get the new testament, St Paul’s Epistles, the Gospels, and the Acts, that they may be your continual and earnest teachers.” And again : Neque in hoc tantum consessu, sed domi quoque, vir cum uxore, pater cum filio, invicem de his frequenter loquantur, et ultro citroque suam et ferant et inquirant sententiam, velintque hanc probatissimam inducere consuetudinem: “Hearken not hereto only here in the church, but also at home; let the husband with the wife, let the father with the child, talk together of these matters, and both to and fro let them both inquire and give their judgments ; and would God they would begin this good custom.”
In like sort saith Origen : ” Utinam . . . omnes faceremus illud quod scriptum, est Scrutamini scripturas: “Would God we would all do accordingly as it is written, Search the scriptures.” It were a token that we do love Christ. Then would the Father love us ; and Christ would love us, and shew himself unto us ; and he and his Father would come unto us, and dwell in us. Chrysostom saith: Hoc omnium malorum causa est, quod scripturae ignorantur: ” This is the cause of all ill, that the scriptures are not known.” ” To know nothing of God’s laws,” saith he in another place, ” is the loss of salvation : ignorance hath brought in heresies and vicious life : ignorance hath turned all things upside down.” St Hierome, expounding those words of the apostle, ” Let the word of Christ dwell in you plenteously,” saith : Hic ostenditur verbum Christi non sufficienter sed abundanter etiam laicos habere debere, et docere se invicem, vel monere: ” Here we are taught that the lay people ought to have the word of God, not only sufficiently, but also with abundance, and to teach and counsel one another.”
And now to conclude what the learned fathers and ancient doctors have said in this matter. Theodoretus saith : Passim videas hac nostratia dogmata non ab iis solum teneri, qui sunt ecclesiae magistri populorumque praceptores, sed ab ipsis quoque sutoribus, fabrisque ferrariis, lanificibus, &c.: “Ye may commonly see that our doctrine is known, not only of them that are the doctors of the church, and the masters of the people ; but also even of the tailors, and smiths, and weavers, and of all artificers ; yea, and further also of women ; and that not only of them that be learned, but also of labouring women, and sewsters, and servants, and handmaids ; neither only the citizens, but also the country folks do very well understand the same. Ye may find, yea, even the very ditchers and delvers, and cowherds, and gardeners, disputing of the holy Trinity and of the creation of all things.” Thus we see there was a time, before ignorance crept into the church, and got the upper hand, when the word of God was not counted hard, and dark, and doubtful ; when children, and women, and servants, and men of the country, had the knowledge of God, and were able to reason of the works of God. Then went it well with them: they could not easily be deceived, because they had that word which bewrayeth the thief : they carried with them, like good exchangers, the weights and touch-stone, and were able to try coins, whether they were true or false. Such were the people, such was the state of God’s church in those days.
Gold, and silver, and lands, and possessions, are the portions but of few: they are not common to all alike. The wise man saith : ” House and riches by inheritance of the fathers.” But the word of God, the law, and the prophets, the apostles, the evangelists, the gift of the Spirit, and the knowledge of God, are given unto all men : they are made common for all men. If the word were ordained but for a few, then Christ was given into the world but for a few ; the heaven was made but for a few ; the mercy and love of God was but for a few. But the mercy of God is over all, and upon all, and for all. All have right to hear the word of God, all have need to know the word of God. “All have sinned, and are deprived of the glory of God.” Therefore Christ calleth all, Venite adme, otnnes, &c. : ” Come unto me, all ye that be weary and laden.” Young men and old men, men and women, rich and poor, come to me. ” God is no accepter of persons.” ” It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven,” saith Christ, ” that one of these little ones should perish.” ” Who will that all men shall be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” “God will look to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at his words.” God will regard such a one, and make him a fit vessel to receive his truth. Upon him that is such a one shall the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of God, rest : not only upon the rich, the wise, and the learned ; but upon him that is poor, and of a contrite heart, and trembleth at his words ; upon him that humbleth himself under the mighty hand of God. He is the temple and the tabernacle of the Holy Ghost. He that is humble in heart shall be saved. ” God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the lowly.”
Therefore Christ said : ” I give thee thanks, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth; because thou hast hid these things from the wise and men of under standing, and hast opened them unto babes ; ” even to such as have no learning, which rejoice in nothing but in thee. The wise and learned of the world cannot hear them, cannot see them ; but they to whom it pleased thee to give under standing. It is thy mercy. Flesh and blood cannot reach the knowledge of thy will : the Spirit of the Father hath revealed it. Christ saith : ” My sheep hear my voice; and I know them; and they follow me.” “They will not follow a stranger.” My people are simple as sheep : they are rude, and know not what they do: yet they know my voice, and follow me; they know their shepherd from a thief ; they follow not the call and voice of a stranger. So we see that God chaseth no man away from hearing his word: he loatheth not the poor because of his poverty, he refuseth him not ; for he is the God of the poor : they be his creatures. St Augustine saith : Deus in scripturis quasi amicus familiaris August loquitur ad cor doctorum et indoctorum: “Almighty God in the scriptures speaketh as a familiar friend without dissimulation unto the hearts both of the learned and of the unlearned.” He abaseth himself, and speaketh to their capacity ; for his will is, that all should come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved. Now let us consider with what fear and reverence we ought to come to the hearing or reading of the word of God : ” The angel of the Lord appeared unto Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” When Moses turned aside to see, God said unto him, ” Come not hither : put thy shoes off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” Again, when God had appointed to speak unto the people from mount Sinai, he said to Moses: “Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day, and to-morrow, and let them wash their clothes, and let them be ready on the third day ; for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.”
The word of the Lord is the bush, out of which issueth a flame of fire. The scriptures of God are the mount, from which the Lord of Hosts doth shew himself. In them God speaketh to us : in them we hear the words of everlasting life. We must be sanctified, and wash our garments, and be ready to hear the Lord. We must strip off all our affections : we must fall down before him with fear : we must know who it is that speaketh, even God, the Maker of heaven and earth ; God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ; God, which shall judge the quick and the dead, before whom all flesh shall appear.
His word is holy : let us take heed into what hearts we bestow it. Whosoever abuseth it shall be found guilty of high trespass against the Lord. We may not receive it, to blow up our hearts, and wax proud with our knowledge : we may not use it to maintain debate and contention: we may not use it to vaunt our selves, or to make shew of our cunning.
The word of God teacheth lowliness of mind: it teacheth us to know our selves. If we learn not humility, we learn nothing. Although we seem to know somewhat, yet know we not in such sort as we ought to know. The scriptures are the mysteries of God : let us not be curious ; let us not seek to know more than God hath revealed by them. They are the sea of God : let us take heed we be not drowned in them. They are the fire of God : let us take comfort by their heat, and warily take heed they burn us not. They that gaze over hardly upon the sun take blemish in their eye-sight.
When the people of Israel saw the manna in the desert, they said, Man Hu? ” What is this ?” So they reasoned of it, when they took it up in their hands, and beheld it : they asked one another, what good it would do. The scriptures are manna, given to us from heaven, to feed us in the desert of this world. Let us take them and behold them, and reason of them, and learn one of another what profit may come to us by them : let us know that they are written for our sake, and for our learning, that through patience and comfort of the scripture we may have hope. They are given us to instruct us in faith, to strengthen us in hope, to open our eyes, and to direct our going.
If we withhold the truth in unrighteousness, if we know our Master’s will, and do it not, if the name of God be ill spoken of through us, the word of God shall be taken away from us, and given to a nation which shall bring forth the fruits thereof : God shall send us strong delusion, that we shall believe lies : our own heart shall condemn us ; and we shall be beaten with many stripes.
Therefore we ought diligently to give heed to those things which we hear: we must consider of them, we must chew the cud. ” Every beast that cheweth not the cud is unclean,” and not fit for sacrifice. Let us be poor in spirit, and meek in heart : let us be gentle, as becometh the lambs of Christ ; and, as his sheep, let us hear his voice, and follow him. Let us be of a contrite spirit, and tremble at the words of God : let us, when we know God, glorify him as God. So shall God look upon us ; so shall the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, and of counsel, and of knowledge, and of the fear of God, rest upon us ; so shall we be made perfect to all good works ; so shall we rejoice in his salvation, and with one mouth glorify God even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.