HOMILY ON THE READING OF SCRIPTURE
the reading and knowledge of holy
The prayse of holy Scripture. TO a Christian man there can bee nothing either more necessarie or profitable, then the knowledge of holy Scripture, forasmuch as in it is conteyned GODS true word, setting foorth his glory, and also mans duety.
The Perfection of Holy Scripture: And there is no trueth nor doctrine necessarie for our iustification and euerlasting saluation, but that is (or may bee) drawne out of that fountaine and Well of trueth.
The knowledge of holy Scripture is necessary. Therefore as many as bee desirous to enter into the right and perfect way vnto GOD, must applie their mindes to know holy Scripture, without the which, they can neither sufficiently know GOD and his will, neither their office and duty.
To whom the knowledge of holy Scripture is sweet and pleasant. Who be enemies to holy Scripture. And as drinke is pleasant to them that bee drie, and meate to them that be hungrie: so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of holy Scripture, to them that bee desirous to know GOD or themselues, and to doe his will. And their stomackes onely doe loathe and abhorre the heauenly knowledge and food of GODS word, that be so drowned in worldly vanities, that they neither fauour GOD, nor any godlinesse: for that is the cause why they desire such vanities, rather then the true knowledge of GOD.
An apt similitude, declaring of whom the Scripture is abhorred. As they that are sicke of an ague, whatsoeuer they eate and drinke (though it bee never so pleasant) yet it is as bitter to them as wormewood, not for the bitternesse of the meate, but for the corrupt and bitter humour that is in their own tongue and mouth: euen so is the sweetnesse of GODS word bitter, not of it selfe, but onely vnto them that haue their mindes corrupted with long custome of sinne and loue of this world.
THE I. PART OF THE EXHORTATION
An exhortation vnto the diligent reading and searching of the holy Scripture. Therefore forsaking the corrupt iudgement of fleshly men, which care not but for their carkasse: let vs reuerently heare and read holy Scriptures, which is the foode of the soule (Matthew 4.4). Let vs diligently search for the Well of Life in the bookes of the New and Old Testament, and not runne to the stinking puddles of mens traditions (deuised by mens imagination) for our iustification and saluation.
The holy Scripture is a sufficient doctrine for our saluation.What things we may learne in the holy Scripture. For in holy Scripture is fully contayned what we ought to doe, and what to eschew; what to beleeue, what to loue, and what to looke for at GODS hands at length. In these Books we shall finde the father from whom, the sonne by whom, and the holy Ghost, in whom all things haue their being and keeping vp, and these three persons to be but one GOD, and one substance. In these books we may learne to know our selues, how vile and miserable we be, and and also to know GOD, how good he is of himselfe, and how hee maketh vs and all creatures partakers of his goodnesse. We may learne also in these Bookes to know GODS will and pleasure, as much as (for this present time) is conuenient for vs to know. And (as the great Clerke and godly Preacher Saint Iohn Chrysostome sayth) whatsoeuer is required to saluation of man, is fully contayned in the Scripture of GOD. He that is ignorant, may there learne and haue knowledge. He that is hard hearted, and an obstinate sinner, shall there finde euerlasting torments (prepared of GODS iustice) to make him afrayd, and to mollifie or soften him. He that is oppressed with misery in this world, shall there finde releefe in the promises of euerlasting life, to his great consolation and comfort. He that is wounded by the Diuell onto death, shall finde there medicine whereby he may bee restored againe vnto health.
Holy Scripture ministreth sufficient doctrinev for all degrees and ages. What commodities and profits, the knowledge of holy Scripture bringeth. If it shall require to teach any trueth, or reprooue false doctrine, to rebuke any vice, to commend any vertue, to giue good counsell, to comfort or to exhort, or to doe any other thing requisite for our saluation, all those things (sayth Saint Chrysostome ) we may learne plentifully of the Scripture. There is (sayth Fulgentius) abundantly enough, both for men to eat, and children to sucke. There is, whatsoeuer is meet for all ages, and for all degrees and sorts of men. These Bookes therefore ought to bee much in our hands, in our eyes, in our eares, in our mouthes, but most of all in our hearts. For the Scripture of GOD is the heauenly meat of our soules (Matthew 4.4), the hearing and keeping of it maketh vs blessed (Luke 11.28), sanctifieth vs (John 17.17), and maketh vs holy, it turneth our soules (Psalms 19.7-10), it is a light lanterne to our feet (Psalms 119.105), it is a sure, stedfast, and euerlasting instrument of saluation, it giueth wisedome to the humble and lowly hearts, it comforteth, maketh glad, cheereth, and cherisheth our conscience: it is a more excellent iewell or treasure, then any gold or precious stone, it is more sweet then hony, or hony combe, it is called the best part, which Mary did choose, for it hath in it euerlasting comfort (Luke 10.42). The wordes of holy Scripture be called words of euerlasting life (John 6.68): for they bee GODS instrument, ordayned for the same purpose. They haue power to turne through GODS promise, and they be effectuall through GODS assistance, and (being receiued in a faithfull heart) they haue euer an heauenly spirituall working in them: they are liuely, quicke, and mighty in operation, and sharper then any two edged sword, and entreth thorow, euen vnto the diuiding asunder of the soule and the spirit, of the ioynts and the marrow (Hebrews 4.12). Christ calleth him a wise builder, that buildeth vpon his word, vpon his sure and substantiall foundation (Matthew 7.24). By this word of GOD, wee shall bee iudged: for the word that I speake (sayth Christ) is it, that shall iudge in the last day (John 12.48). Hee that keepeth the word of Christ, is promised the loue and fauour of GOD, and that hee shall bee the dwelling place or temple of the blessed Trinity (John 14.23). This word, whosoeuer is diligent to read, and in his heart to print that he readeth, the great affection to the transitory things of this world, shall be minished in him, and the great desire of heauenly things (that be therein promised of GOD) shall increase in him. And there is nothing that so much strengtheneth our faith and trust in GOD, that so much keepeth vp innocency and purenesse of the heart, and also of outward godly life and conuersation, as continuall reading and recording of GODS word. For that thing, which (by continuall vse of reading of holy Scripture, and diligent searching of the same) is deepely printed and grauen in the heart, at length turneth almost into nature. And moreouer, the effect and vertue of GODS word is, to illuminate the ignorant, and to giue more light vnto them, that faithfully and diligently read it, to comfort their hearts, and to encourage them to performe that, which of GOD is commanded. It teacheth patience in all aduersity, in prosperity, humblenesse: what honour is due vnto GOD, what, mercy and charity to our neighbor. It giueth good counsell in all doubtfull things. It sheweth of whom wee shall looke for ayde and helpe in all perils, and that GOD is the onely giuer of victory, in all battels 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 profit most in reading GODS word. And in reading of GODS word, hee most profiteth not alwayes, that is most ready in turning of the booke, or in saying of it without the booke, but hee 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 hee readeth: he that is dayly lesse and lesse proud, lesse wrathfull, lesse couetous, and lesse desirous of worldly and vaine pleasures: he that dayly (forsaking his old vicious life) increaseth in vertue more and more. And to bee short, there is nothing that more maintayneth godlinesse of the minde, and driueth away vngodlinesse, then doeth the continuall reading or hearing of GODS word, if it be ioyned with a godly minde, and a good affection, to know and follow GODS will.
What discommodities the ignorante of GODS word bringeth. For without a single eye, pure intent, and good minde, nothing is allowed for good before GOD. And on the other side, nothing more darkeneth Christ, and the glory of GOD, nor bringeth in more blindnesse, and all kindes of vices, then doeth 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 exhorteth 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 vnderstanding of Scripture, the most necessary points of our duty towards GOD and our neighbours are also knowne. Now as concerning the same matter, you shall heare what followeth. If we professe Christ, why be we not ashamed to be ignorant in his doctrine? Seeing that euery man is ashamed to bee ignorant in that learning which he professeth.
GODS word excelleth all sciences. That man is ashamed to bee called a Philosopher, which readeth not the bookes of Philosophie, and to be called a Lawyer, and Astronomer, or Physition, that is ignorant in the bookes of Law, Astronomie, and Physicke. Now can any man then say that he professeth Christ and his religion, if hee will not applie himselfe (as far foorth as he can or may conueniently) to read and heare, and so to know the bookes of Christes Gospell and doctrine? Although other sciences be good, and to be learned, yet no man can denie, but this is the chiefe, and passeth all other incomparably. What excuse shall wee therefore make (at the last day before Christ) that delight to read or heare mens fantasies and inuentions, more then his most holy Gospell? And will finde no time to doe that which chiefly (aboue all things) wee should doe, and will rather read other things then that, for the which we ought rather to leaue reading of all other things. Let vs therefore applie ourselues, as far forth as we can haue time and leasure, to know GODS word, by diligent hearing and reading thereof, as many as professe GOD, and haue faith and trust in him.
Vaine excuses disswading from the knowledge of Christes word. The first. The second. But they that haue no good affection to GODS word (to colour this their fault) alledge commonly two vaine and feyned excuses. Some goe about to excuse them by their owne frailenesse and fearefulnesse, saying that they dare not reade holy Scripture, least through their ignorance, they should fall into any errour. Other pretend that the difficulty to vnderstand it, and the hardnesse thereof is so great, that it is meet to be read only of Clarkes and learned men.
As touching the first: Ignorance of GODS word, is the cause of all errour, as Christ himselfe affirmed to the Saduces, saying that they erred, because they knew not the Scripture (Matthew 22.29). How should they then eschew errour, that will be still ignorant ? And how should they come out of ignorance, that will not reade nor heare that thing which should giue them knowledge? He that now hath most knowledge, was at the first ignorant, yet he forbare not to reade, for feare hee should fall into errour: but he diligently read, lest he should remaine 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 errour, by the same reason you may then lie still, and neuer goe, lest (if you goe) you fall in the mire: nor eat any good meat, lest you take a surfet, nor sow your corne, nor labour in your occupation, nor vse your merchandise, for feare you lose your seed, your labour, your stocke, and so by that reason, it should be best for you to liue idly, and neuer to take in hand to doe any manner of good thing, lest peraduenture some euill thing may chance thereof. And if you be afrayd to fall into errour, by reading of holy Scripture: I shall shew you how you may read it without danger of error.
How most commodiouslie and without all perill the holy Scripture is to bee read. Read it humbly with a meeke and lowly heart, to the intent you may glorifie GOD, and not your selfe, with the knowledge of it: and read it not without dayly praying to GOD, that he would direct your reading to good effect: and take vpon you to expound it no further, then you can plainely vnderstand it. For (as Saint Augustine sayth) the knowledge of holy Scripture, is a great, large, and a high place, but the doore is very low, so that the high & arrogant man cannot run in: but he must stoope low, and humble himselfe, that shall enter into it. Presumption and arrogancy is the mother of all error: and humility nedeth to feare 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 finde out the meaning, it will pray, it will aske of other that know, and will not presumptuously and rashly define any thing, which it knoweth not. Therefore the humble man may search any trueth boldly in the Scripture, without any danger of errour. 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 onely hearing, but hee may much more prosper, with both hearing and reading.
Scripture in some places is easie, and in some places hard to bee vnderstood. This haue I sayd, as touching the feare to reade, thorow ignorance of the person. And concerning the hardnesse of Scripture, he that is so weake that he is not able to brooke strong meat, yet he may sucke the sweet and tender milke, and deferre the rest, vntill he wax stronger, and come to more knowledge. For GOD receiueth the learned and vnlearned, and casteth away none, but is indifferent vnto all. And the Scripture is full, as well of low valleyes, plaine wayes, and easie for euery man to vse, and to walke in: as also of high hilles & mountaynes, which few men can climbe vnto.
GOD leaueth no man vntaught, that hath good will to know his word. And whosoeuer giueth his minde to holy Scriptures, with diligent study and burning desire, it can not bee (saith Saint Chrysostome) that hee should bee left without helpe. For either GOD Almighty will send him some godly doctour, to teach him, as hee did to instruct Eunuchus, a noble man of Aethiope, and Treasurer vnto Queene Candace, who hauing affection to reade the Scripture (although hee vnderstoode it not) yet for the desire that hee had vnto GODS word, GOD sent his Apostle Philip to declare vnto him the true sense of the Scripture that he read: or else, if we lacke a learned man to instruct and teach vs, yet GOD himselfe from aboue, will giue light vnto our mindes, and teach vs those things which are necessary for vs, & wherin we be ignorant.
How the knowledge of the Scripture may be attayned vnto. And in another place Chrysostome sayth, that mans humane and worldly wisedome or science, needeth not to the vnderstanding of Scripture, but the reuelation of the holy Ghost, who inspireth the true meaning vnto them, that with humility and diligence doe search therefore. He that asketh, shall haue, and he that seeketh shall finde, and he that knocketh, shall haue the doore open (Matthew 7.7-8).
A good rule for the vnderstanding of Scripture. If wee reade once, twice, or thrice, and vnderstand not, let vs not cease so, but still continue reading, praying, asking of other, and so by still knocking (at the last) the doore shall be opened (as Saint Augustine sayth.) Although many things in the Scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken vnder darke mysteries in one place, but the selfe same thing in other places, is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and vnlearned.
No man is excepted from the knowledge of Christes will. And those things in the Scripture that be plaine to vnderstand, and necessary for saluation, euery mans duty is to learne them, to print them in memory, and effectually to exercise them. And as for the darke mysteries, to bee contented to bee ignorant in them, vntill such time as it shall please GOD to open those things vnto him. In the meane season, if he lacke either aptnesse or opportunity, GOD will not impute it to his folly: but yet it behoueth not, that such as bee apt, should set aside reading, because some other be vnapt to read: neuerthelesse, for the hardnesse of such places, the reading of the whole ought not to be set apart.
What persons would haue ignorance to continue. And briefly to conclude, (as Saint Augustine sayth) by the Scripture, all men be amended, weake men bee strengthened, and strong men be comforted. So that surely, none bee enemies to the reading of GODS word, but such as either bee so ignorant, that they know not how wholesome a thing it is: or else be so sicke, that they hate the most comfortable medicine that should heale them: or so vngodly, that they would wish the people still to continue in blindnesse and ignorance of GOD.
The holy Scripture is one of GODS chiefe benefits. Thus wee haue briefly touched some part of the commodities of GODS holy word, which is one of GODS chiefe and principall benefits, giuen and declared to mankinde heere in earth. Let vs thanke GOD heartily, for this his great and speciall gift, beneficiall fauor, and fatherly prouidence.
The right reading, vse, and fruitfull studying in holy Scripture. Let vs bee glad to reuiue this precious gift of our heauenly Father. Let vs heare, reade, and know these holy rules, iniunctions, and statutes of our Christian religion, and vpon that we haue made profession to GOD at our baptisme. Let vs with feare and reuerence lay vp (in the chest of our hearts) these necessary and fruitfull lessons. Let vs night and day muse, and haue meditation and contemplation in them. Let vs ruminate, and (as it were) chew the cudde, that we may haue the sweet iuice, spirituall effect, marrow, hony, kirnell, taste, comfort and consolation of them (Psalms 56.4). Let vs stay, quiet, and certifie our consciences, with the most infallible certainty, trueth, and perpetuall assurance of them. Let vs pray to GOD (the onely authour of these heauenly studies) that wee may speake, thinke, beleeue, liue and depart hence, according to the wholesome doctrine, and verities of them.
And by that meanes, in this world we shall haue GODS defence, fauour, and grace, with the vnspeakeable solace of peace, and quietnesse of conscience, and after this miserable life, we shall enioy the endlesse blisse and glory of heauen: which he grant vs all that died for vs all, Iesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the holy Ghost, bee all honour and glory, both now and euerlastingly.
The Anglican Library, This HTML edition copyright 1999.