The praise of holy Scripture. To a Christian there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable, then the knowledge of holy Scripture, since as in it is contained GODS true word, setting forth his glory, and also mans duty.
The Perfection of Holy Scripture: is the truth and doctrine necessary for our everlasting salvation, that is drawn out of that fountain and Well of truth.
The knowledge of holy Scripture is necessary to enter the right and perfect way of GOD, we must apply our minds to know holy Scripture, without which, we can not sufficiently know GOD, his will, or our role and duty.
The knowledge of holy Scripture is sweet and pleasant. And as drink is pleasant to the thirsty, and food to the hungry: so is reading, hearing, searching, and studying of holy Scripture, to those that desire to know GOD or themselves, and to do his will. When drowned in worldly vanities our stomachs loathe and abhor the heavenly knowledge of GODS word. >
An apt simile, declaring of whom the Scripture is abhorred. As they that are sick of a fever, whatever they eat and drink (though it be never so pleasant) yet it is as bitter to them as wormwood, not for the bitterness of the meat, but for the corrupt and bitter humour that is in their own tongue and mouth: even so is the sweetness of GODS word bitter, not of it self, but only unto them that have their minds corrupted with long custom of sin and love of this world.
THE I. PART OF THE EXHORTATION
An exhortation unto the diligent reading and searching of the holy Scripture. Therefore forsaking the corrupt judgement of fleshly men, which care not but for their carcass: let us reverently hear and read holy Scriptures, which is the food of the soul (Matthew 4.4). Let us diligently search for the Well of Life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions (devised by men’s imagination) for our justification and salvation.
The holy Scripture is a sufficient doctrine for our salvation. What things we may learn in the holy Scripture. For in holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do, and what to eschew; what to believe, what to love, and what to look for at GODS hands at length. In these Books we shall find the father from whom, the son by whom, and the holy Ghost, in whom all things have their being and keeping up, and these three persons to be but one GOD, and one substance. In these books we may learn to know ourselves, how vile and miserable we be, and also to know GOD, how good he is of himself, and how he makes us and all creatures partakers of his goodness. We may learn also in these books to know GODS will and pleisure, as much as (for this present time) is convenient for us to know. And (as the great clerk and godly Preacher Saint John Chrysostom says) whatever is required to salvation of man, is fully contained in the Scripture of GOD. He that is ignorant, may there learn and have knowledge. He that is hard hearted, and an obstinate sinner, shall there find everlasting torments (prepared of GODS justice) to make him afraid, and to mollify or soften him. He that is oppressed with misery in this world, shall there find relief in the promises of everlasting life, to his great consolation and comfort. He that is wounded by the Devil onto death, shall find there medicine whereby he may be restored again unto health.
Holy Scripture ministers sufficient doctrines for all degrees and ages. What commodities and profits, the knowledge of holy Scripture brings. If it shall require to teach any truth, or reproof false doctrine, to rebuke any vice, to commend any virtue, to give good counsel, to comfort or to exhort, or to do any other thing requisite for our salvation, all those things (says Saint Chrysostom ) we may learn plentifully of the Scripture. There is (says Fulgentius of Ruspe) abundantly enough, both for men to eat, and children to suck. There is, whatever is meet for all ages, and for all degrees and sorts of men. These books therefore ought to be much in our hands, in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, but most of all in our hearts. For the Scripture of GOD is the heavenly meat of our souls (Matthew 4.4), the hearing and keeping of it makes us blessd (Luke 11.28), sanctifies us (John 17.17), and makes us holy, it turns our souls (Psalms 19.7-10), it is a light lantern to our feet (Psalms 119.105), it is a sure, steadfast, and everlasting instrument of salvation, it gives wisdom to the humble and lowly hearts, it comforts, makes glad, cheers, and cherishes our conscience: it is a more excellent jewel or treasure, then any gold or precious stone, it is more sweet then honey, or honey comb, it is called the best part, which Mary did choose, for it hath in it everlasting comfort (Luke 10.42). The words of holy Scripture be called words of everlasting life (John 6.68): for they be GODS instrument, ordained for the same purpose. They have power to turn through GODS promise, and they be effective through GODS assistance, and (being received in a faithful heart) they have ever an heavenly spiritual working in them: they are lively, quick, and mighty in operation, and sharper then any two edged sword, and enters through, even unto the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit, of the joints and the marrow (Hebrews 4.12). Christ calls him a wise builder, that builds upon his word, upon his sure and substantial foundation (Matthew 7.24). By this word of GOD, we shall be judged: for the word that I speak (says Christ) is it, that shall judge in the last day (John 12.48). he that keeps the word of Christ, is promised the love and favour of GOD, and that he shall be the dwelling place or temple of the blessd Trinity (John 14.23). This word, whosoever is diligent to read, and in his heart to print that he reads, the great affection to the transitory things of this world, shall be diminished in him, and the great desire of heavenly things (that be therein promised of GOD) shall increase in him. And there is nothing that so much strengthens our faith and trust in GOD, that so much keeps up innocence and pureness of the heart, and also of outward godly life and conversation, as continual reading and recording of GODS word. For that thing, which (by continual use of reading of holy Scripture, and diligent searching of the same) is deeply printed and engraved in the heart, at length turns almost into nature. And moreover, the effect and virtue of GODS word is, to illuminate the ignorant, and to give more light unto them, that faithfully and diligently read it, to comfort their hearts, and to encourage them to perform that, which of GOD is commanded. It teaches patience in all adversity, in prosperity, humbleness: what honour is due unto GOD, what, mercy and charity to our neighbour. It gives good counsel in all doubtful things. It shows of whom we shall look for aid and help in all perils, and that GOD is the only giver of victory, in all battles and temptations of our enemies, bodily and ghostly (1 Sam 14.4-23, 2 Chronicles 20.7, 17, 29, 1 Corinthians 15.57, 1 John 5.4).
Who profits most in reading GODS word. And in reading of GODS word, he most profits not always, that is most ready in turning of the book, or in saying of it without the book, but he that is most turned into it, that is most inspired with the holy Ghost, most in his heart and life altered and changed into that thing which he reads: he that is daily less and less proud, less wrathful, less cautious, and less desirous of worldly and vain pleisures: he that daily (forsaking his old vicious life) increases in virtue more and more. And to be short, there is nothing that more maintains godliness of the mind, and drives away ungodliness, then does the continual reading or hearing of GODS word, if it be joined with a godly mind, and a good affection, to know and follow GODS will.
What troubles the ignorance of GODS word brings. For without a single eye, pure intent, and good mind, nothing is allowed for good before GOD. And on the other side, nothing more darkns Christ, and the glory of GOD, nor brings in more blindness, and all kinds of vices, then does the ignorance of GODS word (Isaiah 5.13, 24, Matthew 22.29, 1 Corinthians 14.20, 37-38).
THE SECOND PART OF THE SERMON OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOLY SCRIPTURE.
The first part of this Sermon, which exhorts to the knowledge of holy Scripture, was declared wherefore the knowledge of the same is necessary and profitable to all men, and that by the true knowledge and understanding of Scripture, the most necessary points of our duty towards GOD and our neighbours are also known. Now as concerning the same matter, you shall hear what follows. If we profess Christ, why be we not ashamed to be ignorant in his doctrine? Seeing that every man is ashamed to be ignorant in that learning which he professes.
GODS word excels all sciences. That man is ashamed to be called a Philosopher, which reads not the books of Philosophy, and to be called a Lawyer, and Astronomer, or Physician, that is ignorant in the books of Law, Astronomy, and Physics. Now can any man then say that he professes Christ and his religion, if he will not apply himself (as far forth as he can or may conveniently) to read and hear, and so to know the books of Christ’s Gospel and doctrine? Although other sciences be good, and to be learned, yet no man can deny, but this is the chief, and passes all other incomparably. What excuse shall we therefore make (at the last day before Christ) that delight to read or hear men’s fantasies and inventions, more then his most holy Gospel? And will find no time to do that which chiefly (above all things) we should do, and will rather read other things then that, for the which we ought rather to leave reading of all other things. Let us therefore apply ourselves, as far forth as we can have time and leisure, to know GODS word, by diligent hearing and reading thereof, as many as profess GOD, and have faith and trust in him.
vain excuses dissuade from the knowledge of Christ’s word. The first. The second. But they that have no good affection to GODS word (to colour this their fault) allege commonly two vain and feign excuses. Some go about to excuse them by their own frailness and fearfulness, saying that they dare not read holy Scripture, least through their ignorance, they should fall into any error. Others pretend that the difficulty to understand it, and the hardness thereof is so great, that it is meant to be read only of Clarks and learned men.
As touching the first: Ignorance of GODS word, is the cause of all error, as Christ himself affirmed to the Sadducees, saying that they erred, because they knew not the Scripture (Matthew 22.29). How should they then eschew error, that will be still ignorant ? And how should they come out of ignorance, that will not read nor hear that thing which should give them knowledge? He that now hath most knowledge, was at the first ignorant, yet he suffered not to read, for fear he should fall into error: but he diligently read, lest he should remain in ignorance, and through ignorance in error. And if you will not know the truth of GOD (a thing most necessary for you) lest you fall into error, by the same reason you may then lie still, and never go, lest (if you go) you fall in the mire: nor eat any good meat, lest you take an excess, nor sow your grain, nor labour in your occupation, nor use your merchandise, for fear you lose your seed, your labour, your stock, and so by that reason, it should be best for you to live inactively, and never to take in hand to do any manner of good thing, lest perhaps some evil thing may chance thereof. And if you be afraid to fall into error, by reading of holy Scripture: I shall shew you how you may read it without danger of error.
How most agreeable and without all peril the holy Scripture is to be read. Read it humbly with a meek and lowly heart, to the intent you may glorify GOD, and not your self, with the knowledge of it: and read it not without daily praying to GOD, that he would direct your reading to good effect: and take upon you to expound it no further, then you can plainly understand it. For (as Saint Augustine says) the knowledge of holy Scripture, is a great, large, and a high place, but the door is very low, so that the high & arrogant man cannot run in: but he must stoop low, and humble himself, that shall enter into it. Presumption and arrogance is the mother of all error: and humility needs to fear no error. For humility will only search to know the truth, it will search, and will bring together one place with another, and where it cannot find out the meaning, it will pray, it will of other that know, and will not presumptuously and rashly define any thing, which it knows not. Therefore the humble man may search any truth boldly in the Scripture, without any danger of error. And if he be ignorant, he ought the more to read and to search holy Scripture, to bring him out of ignorance. I say not nay, but a man may prosper with only hearing, but he may much more prosper, with both hearing and reading.
Scripture in some places is easy, and in some places hard to be understood. This have I said, as touching the fear to read, through ignorance of the person. And concerning the hardness of Scripture, he that is so weak that he is not able to tolerate strong meat, yet he may suck the sweet and tender milk, and defer the rest, until he wax stronger, and come to more knowledge. For GOD receives the learned and unlearned, and casts away none, but is indifferent unto all. And the Scripture is full, as well of low valleys, plain ways, and easy for every man to use, and to walk in: as also of high hills & mountains, which few men can climb unto.
GOD leaves no man untaught, that hath good will to know his word. And whosoever gives his mind to holy Scriptures, with diligent study and burning desire, it can not be (saith Saint Chrysostom) that he should be left without help. For either GOD Almighty will send him some godly doctor, to teach him, as he did to instruct Eunuchus, a noble man of Aethiope, and Treasurer unto Queen Candace, who having affection to read the Scripture (although he understood it not) yet for the desire that he had unto GODS word, GOD sent his Apostle Philip to declare unto him the true sense of the Scripture that he read: or else, if we lack a learned man to instruct and teach us, yet GOD himself from above, will give light unto our minds, and teach us those things which are necessary for us, & where we be ignorant.
How the knowledge of the Scripture may be attained unto. And in another place Chrysostom says, that mans humane and worldly wisdom or science, needs not to the understanding of Scripture, but the revelation of the holy Ghost, who inspires the true meaning unto them, that with humility and diligence do search therefore. He that asks, shall have, and he that seeks shall find, and he that knocks, shall have the door open (Matthew 7.7-8).
A good rule for the understanding of Scripture. If we read once, twice, or thrice, and understand not, let us not cease so, but still continue reading, praying, asking of others, and so by still knocking (at the last) the door shall be opened (as Saint Augustine says.) Although many things in the Scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the self same thing in other places, is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and unlearned.
No man is excepted from the knowledge of Christ’s will. And those things in the Scripture that be plain to understand, and necessary for salvation, every mans duty is to learn them, to print them in memory, and effectively to exercise them. And as for the dark mysteries, to be contented to be ignorant in them, until such time as it shall please GOD to open those things unto him. In the mean season, if he lack either aptness or opportunity, GOD will not impute it to his folly: but yet it behoves not, that such as be apt, should set aside reading, because some other be unapt to read: nevertheless, for the hardness of such places, the reading of the whole ought not to be set apart.
What persons would have ignorance to continue. And briefly to conclude, (as Saint Augustine says) by the Scripture, all men be amended, weak men be strengthened, and strong men be comforted. So that surely, none be enemies to the reading of GODS word, but such as either be so ignorant, that they know not how wholesome a thing it is: or else be so sick, that they hate the most comfortable medicine that should heal them: or so ungodly, that they would wish the people still to continue in blindness and ignorance of GOD.
The holy Scripture is one of GODS chief benefits. Thus we have briefly touched some part of the commodities of GODS holy word, which is one of GODS chief and principal benefits, given and declared to mankind here in earth. Let us thank GOD heartily, for this his great and special gift, beneficial favour, and fatherly providence.
The right reading, use, and fruitful studying in holy Scripture. Let us be glad to revive this precious gift of our heavenly Father. Let us hear, read, and know these holy rules, injunctions, and statutes of our Christian religion, and upon that we have made profession to GOD at our baptism. Let us with fear and reverence lay up (in the chest of our hearts) these necessary and fruitful lessons. Let us night and day muse, and have meditation and contemplation in them. Let us ruminate, and (as it were) chew the cud, that we may have the sweet juice, spiritual effect, marrow, honey, kernel, taste, comfort and consolation of them (Psalms 56.4). Let us stay, quiet, and certify our consciences, with the most infallible certainty, truth, and perpetual assurance of them. Let us pray to GOD (the only author of these heavenly studies) that we may speak, think, believe, live and depart hence, according to the wholesome doctrine, and verities of them.
And by that means, in this world we shall have GODS defence, favour, and grace, with the unspeakable solace of peace, and quietness of conscience, and after this miserable life, we shall enjoy the endless bliss and glory of heaven: which he grant us all that died for us all, Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, both now and everlastingly.