By John Jewel
Among all his creatures in heaven or earth, God hath not made any like unto the sun in the firmament, the beams whereof are beautiful and pleasant, and do give comfort in all places to all things. It rejoiceth the whole, and relieveth the sick; it causeth birds to sing, fishes to play, cattle to stir, worms to creep, grass to grow, and trees to bring fruit; it reneweth the face of the whole earth.
Yet a blind man hath no pleasure in the beauty thereof, because he is blind, and cannot see it; yet a dead man hath no warmth by the heat thereof, because he is dead, and feeleth it not.
Adam was placed in Paradise in perfect estate, and in the company of God's angels; God walked and did talk with him. He heard the voice, and beheld the presence of God. The rivers yielded waters abundantly, the trees brought him food of life. He had plenty without travail; he had pleasures, joy, and his heart's desire.
But Adam was unthankful; he knew not God, the worker of his happiness; he knew not the place in which he was; he knew not his own estate and blessedness; therefore the wrath of the Lord grew against him; he fell into the snares of the devil, he became mortal, and returned to dust.
What nation in all the world so happy as Israel? they were delivered by a mighty hand out of Egypt, from the tyranny of Pharaoh, from service and villainy. Their children were no more slain before their faces. They passed through the bottom of the sea, as upon dry land. When they were hungry, there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought them quails from the sea, and manna was given them from heaven to eat; when they thirsted, the rocks opened and poured out water, that they and their beasts might drink.
In battle they were mighty and strong, no power was able to stand against them. The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light. When they called upon the Lord, he heard them. When they trusted in him, they were not confounded.
But they grew unmindful of all these mercies, and murmured against the Lord, and against his servants; therefore God raught forth his hand against them. He sware in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest. He sent his angel, and destroyed them in the wilderness.
Even so fareth it with all such which regard not the word of their salvation; because they have ears and hear not, nor will understand with their hearts, the fury of the Lord shall be kindled against them. The Prophet saith in the name of God to Israel (Jer. 7:25), "I have sent unto them all my servants the Prophets, yet would they not hear me, nor incline their ear."
And (II Esd. 9:31), "Behold, I sow in my law in you, that it may bring forth fruit in you. But our fathers which received the law kept it not; neither observed thine ordinances, neither did the fruit of thy law appear. For they that received it perished, because they kept not the thing that was sown in them." Samuel telleth Saul (I Sam. 15:26), "Thou hast cast away the word of the Lord, and the Lord hash cast away thee."
Again, Jeremiah saith (6:10), "How do ye say we are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? They have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is in them?" Again, "Unto whom shall I speak, and admonish, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken; behold, the word of the Lord is unto them as a reproach, they have no delight in it; I will cause a plague to come upon this people, even the fruit of their own imaginations; because they have not taken heed unto my words, nor to my law, but cast it off."
After this sort doth God shew the cause why his word taketh not place in us, because we are wilful, and will not hear it, nor receive it, nor take delight in it, nor let the fruit thereof appear, but reject it, and make it a reproach, and cast it away from us; and therefore is it that the Lord doth cast us away; that we are unwise; that we please ourselves with our own devices, and follow our own imaginations, and perish, because we have not understanding to hear the instruction of the Lord's word, but like ignorant men disallow it, and cast it behind the back.
The consideration hereof moveth me to say somewhat of the Holy Scriptures, which are the bright sun of God; which bring light unto our ways, and comfort to all parts of our life, and salvation to our souls; in which is made known unto us our estate, and the mercy of God in Christ our Saviour witnessed.
That we may the better see the path which we have to walk in; my meaning is, truly, and plainly, and shortly, to shew you what authority and majesty the word of God beareth; then, what profit we may reap by it; also, how needful it is, that we be well instructed in the Holy Scriptures; and what pleasure and delectation a Christian conscience may find in them; and lastly, whether they be dark and doubtful, or plain and easy for your understanding: that when we know the majesty and authority of the word, and what comfort and profit God giveth us by it, we deprive not ourselves thereof by our unthankfulness, nor close up our eyes that we see it not; but hear it in reverence and in fear, that it may be fruitful in us, and we receive it not in vain.
God's Word Is Authoritative
The Scriptures are the word of God. What title can there be of greater value? What may be said of them to make them of greater authority, than to say, "The Lord hath spoken by them? that they came not by the will of men, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost?" (II Peter 1:21) At the word of proclamation of an earthly prince we stand up and vail our bonnets, and give good heed to it; we are bound so to do, it is our duty: such honour belongeth to the powers that are placed to rule over us; for they are ordained of God. And whosoever resisteth them, resisteth the ordinance of God.
If we should have a revelation, and hear an angel speak unto us, how careful would we be to mark, and remember, and be able to declare the words of the angel! yet is an angel but a glorious creature, and not God. And what is a king? great and mighty, yet mortal and subject to death: his breath departeth, and his name shall perish. Both he and his word, his power and his puissance, shall have an end.
But the word of the Gospel is not as the word of an earthly prince. It is of more majesty than the word of an angel. The Apostle saith (Heb. 2:2), "If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation which at the first began to be preached by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?"
God saith, by the prophet Isaiah (55:11), "My word shall accomplish that which I will, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." And the same Prophet saith (11:8), "The word of God shall stand for ever." And "It is more easy that heaven and earth pass away, than that one tittle of the law should fail," saith our Saviour (Luke 16:17). For it is the word of the living and almighty God, of the God of Hosts, which hath done whatsoever pleased him both in heaven and in earth.
By this word he maketh his will known. "I have not spoken of myself (saith Christ, John 12:49); but the Father which sent me gave me a commandment what I should say, and what I should speak." And again (John 15:22), "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they should not have had sin, but now have they no cloak for their sin." No man hath seen God at any time. He is invisible, no eye can reach unto him. The only begotten Son which is in the bosom of his Father, he hath declared him; he hath shewed us the throne of grace, that we may seek for mercy, and find grace in time of need; he hath disclosed unto us the will of his Father; he hath left unto us, and ordained that we should hear his holy word.
This word the angels and blessed spirits used when they came down from heaven to speak unto the people; when they came to the blessed Virgin, and to Joseph, and to others, they spake as it was written in the Prophets, and in the Scriptures of God; they thought not their own authority sufficient, but they took credit to their saying, and authority to their message out of the word of God.
This word the Prophets vouched and alleged to the people. Albeit they were sanctified in their mothers' womb; albeit God had endued them with his heavenly Spirit; although a seraphim came unto one of them and touched his mouth with a hot coal; albeit he saw the Lord sitting upon an high throne; yet they would not speak as of themselves, but only in the name of the Lord; for thus they use to say, The Lord hath spoken. This is the word of the Lord. Hear what the Lord saith. Saint Paul, albeit he was taken up into the third heaven, and into paradise, and heard words that are not lawful for man to utter, yet he wrote not his own words to the churches of Rome, of Corinth, and Thessalonica, and of other places, but delivered them which he had received, and taught them according to the Scriptures.
This word is the true manna; it is the bread which came down from heaven; it is the key of the kingdom of heaven; it is the savour of life unto life; it is the power of God unto salvation. In it God sheweth unto us his might, his wisdom, and his glory. By it he will be known of us. By it he will be honoured of his creatures. Whatsoever truth is brought unto us contrary to the word of God, it is not truth, but falsehood and error; whatsoever honour done unto God, disagreeth from the honour required by his word, it is not honour unto God, but blasphemy.
As Christ saith (Matt. 15:9), "In vain they worship me, teaching for doctrines men's precepts." By Isaiah God saith, 'Who required this at your hands?" And by Jeremiah (7:22), "I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the ways which I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you."
Again (Jer. 23:28), "What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. What are your dreams to be weighed with the truth of God? Search the Scriptures. In them ye shall learn to know me, and how you should worship me; in them ye shall find everlasting life. The words of the Lord are pure words, as the silver tried in the furnace; there is no filth nor dross remaining in them; they are the storehouse of wisdom, and of the knowledge of God; in respect whereof, all the wisdom of this world is but vain and foolish.
Numa Pompilius, king of the Romans, Lycurgus, king of Lacedemon, and Minos, king of Creta, were wise men, and of great government; they devised laws to rule the people, and bare them in hand, that they were taught by revelation, that so their ordinances might win the more credit, and be established for ever. But where are they now? Where is Numa, Mines, or Lycurgus? Where be their books? What is become of their laws?
They were unwise, and had no knowledge nor understanding of God; they and their laws are dead, and their names forgotten. But the law of God came from heaven indeed. God wrote it with his finger, it is the fountain of all wisdom, and therefore shall it continue for ever, and never have an end.
Here let us behold the great power and work of God. When Moses received the law, God himself came down in person, with thousand thousands of angels; the air was darkened at his presence, the Mount stood all covered with fire, the earth shook, the heavens thundered, the people stood afar off, and fled for fear, and said unto Moses, "Talk thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God talk with us, lest we die." This was the first proclaiming and publishing of the law; such force and credit God gave to his word, and warranted himself to be the Lord.
Since that time, so many thousand years are already passed. In the mean time, the people of Israel were oppressed by tyrants, were spoiled and chased out of their country; first, by Nebuchadnezzar into Babylon; after that, by Antiochus into Syria; and lastly, were as vagabonds driven from country to country.
Their city Jerusalem was sacked, their houses overthrown, their temple razed, and not a stone left upon a stone; their library destroyed, their books burnt, the tabernacle lost, the covenant broken. No vision, no revelation, no comfort for the people left; nor prophet, nor priest, nor any to speak in the name of the Lord.
In all those times of decays, of sackings, of darkness, and of misery, what was done with the word of God? It was wickedly burnt by Jehoiakim, king of Judah; and Antiochus burnt the books of the law, and cut them in pieces. No man durst be known to have them, and avouch the having; so thought they utterly to deface the glory of God, and abolish all remembrance of his laws.
Then came the Pharisees; they drowned the word of God with their traditions; they took away the key of knowledge, and entered not in themselves, but forbad them that came in. After them came heretics; they denied some one part, and some another part of Scripture. They razed, blotted, corrupted, and altered the word of God; of the word of God they made it their own word, or, which is worse, they made it the word of the devil.
By the space of so many thousand years, the word of God passed by so many dangers of tyrants, of Pharisees, of heretics, of fire, and of sword, and yet continueth and standeth until this day, without altering or changing one letter. This was a wonderful work of God, that having so many and so great enemies, and passing through so many and so great dangers, it yet continueth still, without adding or altering of any one sentence, or word, or letter. No creature was able to do this, it was God's work.
He preserved it, that no tyrant should consume it; no tradition choke it; no heretic maliciously should corrupt it. For his name's sake, and for the elect's sake, he would not suffer it to perish; for in it God hash ordained a blessing for his people, and by it he maketh covenant with them for life everlasting. Tyrants, and Pharisees, and heretics, and the enemies of the cross of Christ, have an end, but the word of God hath no end.
No force shall be able to decay it. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Cities shall fall; kingdoms shall come to nothing; empires shall fade away as the smoke; but the truth of the Lord shall continue for ever. Burn it, it will rise again; kill it, it will live again; cut it down by the root, it will spring again. "There is no wisdom, neither understanding nor counsel against the Lord." (Prov. 21:30)
God's Word Is Profitable
Let us behold the nations and kingdoms which sometimes professed Christ, and are now heathenish; Illyricum, Epirus, Peloponnesus, Macedonia, and others. Again, let us behold such kingdoms and countries, which were in times past heathenish, and knew not God; as England, Ireland, Rome, Scotland, and divers other.
They were all without the Gospel, without Christ, without God, and without hope of life. They worshipped idols, even the work of their own hands. To them they appointed priests for their service, days and places for the people to resort together to worship them.
Here in England, Paul's church in London was the temple of Diana; Peter's church in Westminster was the temple of Apollo. In Rome, they had the temple of the great god Jupiter, and in Florence the temple of Mars; and in other places they had temples dedicated to other idols.
Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, and Diana were unclean spirits and filthy devils; yet gave they thanks to them for their peace and prosperity, prayed to them in war and in misery, and commended unto them their wives, their children, themselves, the safe keeping and custody of their souls. They built gorgeous churches and chapels; set up images of silver and gold to them; prayed, lifted up their hands, did sacrifice, and offered up their children to them.
A horrible thing to say, yet true it is, the darkness of those times were such, that men slew their own children, and offered them up to idols. They said, Great is Jupiter, great is Apollo, and great is Diana of the Ephesians. These are the gods of our fathers; our fathers trusted in them; they made us, and have defended us, and have given us victory against our enemies. Whosoever denied them were thought worthy to die.
Thus were the kings, and the princes, and the people persuaded, and so continued they by the space of some thousand years, without controlment or contradiction. They had great props of antiquity, universality, and consent--antiquity of all times; universality of all places; consent of all the people. So strongly and so mightily were they founded, who would think such a religion, so ancient, and so universal, and so defended by common consent, should ever possibly be removed?
But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth his word, and all was changed. Errors fell down, and truth stood up; men forsook their idols, and went to God. The kings, and priests, and people were changed; the temples, and sacrifices, and prayers were changed; men's eyes and hearts were changed. They forsook their gods, their kings, their priests; they forsook their antiquity, customs, consent, their fathers, and themselves.
What power was able to work these things? What emperor by force ever prevailed so much? What strength could ever shake down so mighty idols from their seat? What hand of man could subdue and conquer the whole world, and make such mighty nations confess they had done amiss? This did the Lord bring to pass by the power of his word and the breath of his mouth.
This was it that led captivity captive, and threw down every high thing that lifted itself up against the Lord, and brought all powers under subjection unto the Lord. It is the image, the power, the arm, the sword, and the glory of God. It is mighty, of great force and virtue, of authority and majesty, because it is the word of God; therefore the glory thereof is great.
Knowledge of God's Word Is Necessary
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." (Deut. 8:3)
Behold, saith God (Amos 8:11), "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. (Isa. 59:10) "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-day, 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?" (Rom. 10:14) 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 (Prov. 24:18), "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 (Matt. 22:29), "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 will not excuse us. Chrysostom saith, "Thou wilt say, I have not heard 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, "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 torment, 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 knowledge 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 understanding 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 fantasies and vanities of our 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, Isa. 1:13, 12) 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 (Matt. 15:7): "O hypocrites, Isaiah 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 towards 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.
God's Word Blesses Us
Now it remaineth we speak of the delectation and pleasure which the word of God giveth. The word of God is full of sad and grave counsel, full of the knowledge 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 honeycomb." 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 live 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 views 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 moon, the sea and floods, the fishes in the water, the fowls in the air, and the beasts in the field. Upon this hill you may stand and see his angels, and his archangels, 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 Amorites 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 one hundred and eighty-five 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 Pharaoh in the Red Sea, and his horses, and men, and chariots, all together. Here may you see Nebuchadnezzar, 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 Gomorrah for their sins; how he made the earth open, and swallow up Dathan and Abiram; how king Uzziah 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 footstool; 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 Joshua the sun stood still, and went not on his course. Hezekiah 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 you may 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, "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, II Cor. 12:9), "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 Isaiah 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 (Matt. 17:5), "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." (Phil. 2:7) 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." (Luke 23:34)
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" (Rev. 14:8): 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? . . .
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.
God's Word Is Understandable
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 understand them. One taketh them in this sense, another in a sense clean contrary. The best learned cannot agree about them; they are the 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?" (Rev. 5:2) No man can open it, no man can read it. St. Peter saith (II Peter 3:16), "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 (I Tim. 6:16), "God dwelleth in the light that none can attain unto," whom man never 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.
God saith (Deut. 30:11), "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 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 (Ps. 19:8), 'The commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes." And (Ps. 119:105), "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 often-times run amuck; they lose 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 proportion 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 astonisheth 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 (Titus 2:12), 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, "Therefore hath the grace of the Holy Spirit disposed and tempered them so, that publicans, and fishers, and tentmakers, 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." . . .
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 (I Cor. 1:19), "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. 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 you in faith, or keep you company. God hash 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 (Mart. 18:3), "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." . . .
Therefore Christ said (Matt. 11:25), "I give thee thanks, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and men of understanding, 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 understanding. It is thy mercy. Flesh and blood cannot reach the knowledge of thy will. The Spirit of the Father hath revealed it.
Christ saith (John 10:3, 5), "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, "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.
God's Word Is to Be Revered
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." (Exod. 3:2) 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 today and tomorrow, 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." (Exod. 19:10)
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.
This 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 ourselves, or to make show of our cunning.
The word of God teacheth lowliness of mind; it teacheth us to know ourselves. 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 eyesight.
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 Scriptures 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 delusions, 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" (Lev. 11: 3-8), and not fit for the 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.