THE great utility and profit that Christian men and women may take, if they will, by hearing and reading the holy Scriptures, dearly beloved, no heart can sufficiently conceive, much less is any tongue able with words to express. Wherefore Satan, our old enemy, seeing the Scriptures to be the very mean and right way to bring the people to the true knowledge of God, and that Christian religion is greatly furthered by diligent hearing and reading of them, he also perceiving what an hindrance and let they be to him and his kingdom, doeth what he can to drive the reading of them out of God’s Church. And for that end he hath always stirred up, in one place or other, cruel tyrants, sharp persecutors, and extreme enemies unto God and his infallible truth, to pull with violence the holy Bibles out of the people’s hands, and have most spitefully destroyed and consumed the same to ashes in the fire, pretending most untruly, that the much hearing and reading of God’s word is an occasion of heresy, carnal liberty, and the overthrow of all good order in all well ordered commonweals.
If to know God aright be an occasion of evil, then must we needs grant, that the hearing and reading of the holy Scriptures is the cause of heresy, carnal liberty, and the subversion of all good orders. But the knowledge of God and of ourselves is so far off from being an occasion of evil, that it is the readiest, yea, the only mean to bridle carnal liberty, and to kill all our fleshly affections. And the ordinary way to attain this knowledge is with diligence to hear and read the holy Scriptures. For The whole scriptures, saith St. Paul, were given by the inspiration of God: and shall we Christian men think to learn the knowledge of God and of ourselves in any earthly man’s work or writing sooner or better than in the holy Scriptures written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost ? The Scriptures were not brought unto us by the will of man; but holy men of God, as witnesseth St. Peter, spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit of God.  The Holy Ghost is the Schoolmaster of truth, which leadeth his scholars, as our Saviour Christ saith of him, into all truth. And whoso is not led and taught by this Schoolmaster cannot but fall into deep error, how goodly soever his pretence is, what knowledge and learning soever he hath of all other works and writings, or how fair soever a shew or face of truth he hath in the estimation and judgment of the world.
If some man will say, I would have a true pattern and a perfect description of an upright life approved in the sight of God, can we find, think ye, any better, or any such again, as Christ Jesus is, and his doctrine? whose virtuous conversation and godly life the Scripture so lively painteth and setteth forth before our eyes, that we, beholding that pattern, might shape and frame our lives, as nigh as may be, agreeable to the perfection of the same. Follow you me, saith St. Paul, as I follow Christ. And St. John in his Epistle saith, Whoso abideth in Christ must walk even so as he walked before him. And where shall we learn the order of Christ’s life but in the Scripture?
Another would have a medicine to heal all diseases and maladies of the mind. Can this be found or gotten otherwhere than out of God’s own book, his sacred Scriptures? Christ taught so much, when he said to the obstinate Jews, Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think to have eternal life. If the Scriptures contain in them everlasting life, it must needs follow, that they have also present remedy against all that is an hinderance and let unto eternal life.
If we desire the knowledge of heavenly wisdom, why had we rather learn the same of man than of God himself, who, as St. James saith, is the Giver of wisdom? Yea, why will we not learn it at Christ’s own mouth, who, promising to be present with his Church till the world’s end, doth perform his promise, in that he is not only with us by his grace and tender pity, but also in this, that he speaketh presently unto us in the holy Scriptures, to the great and endless comfort of all them that have any feeling of God at all in them ? Yea, he speakcth now in the Scriptures more profitably to us, than he did by word of mouth to the carnal Jews, when he lived with them here upon earth. For they, I mean the Jews, could nother hear nor see those things which we may now both hear and see, if we will bring with us those ears and eyes that Christ is heard and seen with, that is, diligence to hear and read his holy Scriptures, and true faith to believe his most comfortable promises.
If one could shew but the print of Christ’s foot, a great number, I think, would fall down and worship it: but to the holy Scriptures, where we may see daily, if we will, I will not say the print of his feet only, but the whole shape and lively image of him, alas, we give little reverence, or none at all. If any could let us see Christ’s coat, a sort of us would make hard shift, except we might come nigh to gaze upon it, yea, and kiss it too: and yet all the clothes that ever he did wear can nothing so truly nor so lively express him unto us, as do the Scriptures. Christ’s image, made in wood, stone, or metal, some men, for the love they bear to Christ, do garnish and beautify the same with pearl, gold, and precious stone: and should we not, good brethren, much rather embrace and reverence God’s holy books, the sacred Bible, which do represent Christ unto us more truly than can any image? The image can but express the form or shape of his body, if it can do so much: but the Scripture doth in such sort set forth Christ, that we may see him both God and man; we may see him, I say, speaking unto us, healing our infirmities, dying for our sins, rising from death for our justification. And, to be short, we may in the Scriptures so perfectly see whole Christ with the eye of faith, as we, lacking faith, could not with these bodily eyes see him, though he stood now present here before us.
Let every man, woman, and child therefore with all their heart thirst and desire God’s holy Scriptures, love them, embrace them, have their delight and pleasure in hearing and reading them; so as at length we may be transformed and changed into them. For the Holy Scriptures are God’s treasure house, wherein are found all things needful for us to see, to hear, to learn, and to believe, necessary for the attaining of eternal life.
Thus much is spoken, only to give you a taste of some of the commodities which ye may take by hearing and reading the holy Scriptures; for, as I said in the beginning, no tongue is able to declare and utter all. And, although it is more clear than the noon day that to be ignorant of the Scriptures is the cause of error, as Christ saith to the Sadducees, Ye err, not knowing the Scriptures; and that error doth hold back and pluck men away from the knowledge of God; and, as St. Hierome saith, “not to know the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ;” yet, this notwithstanding, some there be that think it not meet for all sorts of men to read the Scriptures, because they are, as they think, in sundry places stumblingblocks to the unlearned; first, for that the phrase of the Scripture is sometime so homely gross, and plain, that it offendeth the fine and delicate wits of some courtiers; furthermore, for that the Scripture also reporteth, even of them that have their commendation to be the children of God, that they did divers acts, whereof some are contrary to the law of nature, some repugnant to the law written, and other some seem to fight manifestly against public honesty; all which things, say they, are unto the simple an occasion of great offence, and cause many to think evil of the Scriptures, and to discredit their authority. Some are offended at the hearing and reading of the diversity of the rites and ceremonies of the sacrifices and oblations of the Law. And some worldly witted men think it a great decay to the quiet and prudent governing of their commonwealths to give ear to the simple and plain rules and precepts of our Saviour Christ in his Gospel; as being offended that a man should be ready to turn his right ear to him that strake him on the left, and to him which would take away his coat, to offer him also his cloak, with such other sayings of perfection in Christ’s meaning: for carnal reason, being alway an enemy to God, and not perceiving the things of God’s Spirit, doth abhor such precepts; which yet, rightly understanded , infringeth no judicial policies nor Christian men’s governments. And some there be which, hearing the Scriptures to bid us to live without carefulness, without study or forecasting, do deride the simplicity of them. Therefore, to remove and put away occasions of offence so much as may be, I will answer orderly to these objections.
First, I shall rehearse some of those places that men are offended at for the homeliness and grossness of speech, and will shew the meaning of them.
In the book of Deuteronomy it is written, that Almighty God made a law, if a man died without issue, his brother or next kinsman should marry his widow, and the child that were first born between them should be called his child that was dead, that the dead man’s name mought not be put out in Israel; and, if the brother or next kinsman would not marry the widow, then she before the magistrates of the city should pull off his shoe and spit in his face, saying, So be it done to that man that will not build his brother’s house. Here, dearly beloved, the pulling off his shoe and spitting in his face were ceremonies, to signify unto all the people of that city, that the woman was not now in fault that God’s law in that point was broken, but the whole shame and blame thereof did now redound to that man which openly before the magistrates refused to marry her: and it was not a reproach to him alone, but to all his posterity also; for they were called ever after, The house of him whose shoe is pulled off.
Another place out of the Psalms. I will break, saith David, the horns of the ungodly, and the horns of the righteous shall be exalted. By an horn in the Scripture is understand power, might, strength, and sometime rule and government. The Prophet then saying, I will break the horns of the ungodly, mean, that all the power, strength, and might of God’s enemies shall not only be weakened and made feeble, but shall at length also be clean broken and destroyed; though for a time, for the better trial of his people, God suffereth the enemies to prevail and have the upper hand. In the hundred and thirty second Psalm it is said I will make David’s horn to flourish. Here David’s horn signifieth his kingdom. Almighty God therefore by this manner of speaking promiseth to give David victory over all his enemies, and to stablish him in his kingdom spite of all his enemies.
And in the threescore Psalm it is written, Moab is my washpot and over Edom will I cast out my shoe &c. In that place the Prophet sheweth how graciously God hath dealt with his people, the children of Israel, giving them great victories upon their enemies on every side. For, the Moabites and Idumeans being two great nations, proud people, stout and mighty, God brought them under and made them servants to the Israelites; servants, I say, to stoop down to pull off their shoes and wash their feet. Then, Moab is my washpot, and over Edom will I cast out my shoe, is as if he had said, The Moabites and the Idumeans, for all their stoutness against us in the wilderness, are now made our subjects, our servants, yea, underlings to pull off our shoes and wash our feet. Now, I pray you, what uncomely manner of speech is this, so used in common phrase among the Hebrews? It is a shame that Christian men should be so light headed, to toy as ruffians do of such manner speeches, uttered in good grave signification by the Holy Ghost. More reasonable it were for vain man to learn and reverence the form of God’s words, than to gaud at them to his damnation.
Some again are offended to hear that the godly fathers had many wives and concubines, although after the phrase of the Scripture a concubine is an honest name; for every concubine is a lawful wife, but every wife is not a concubine. And, that ye may the better understand this to be true, ye shall note that it was permitted to the fathers of the Old Testament to have at one time mo wives than one: for what purpose ye shall afterward hear. Of which wives, some were free women born, some were bond women and servants. She that was free born had a prerogative above those that were servants and bond women. The free born woman was by marriage made the ruler of the house under her husband, and is called the mother of the household, the mistress or the dame of the house after our manner of speaking, and had by her marriage an interest, a right, and an ownership in his goods unto whom she was married. Other servants and bond women were given by the owners of them, as the manner was then, I will not say always, but for the most part, unto their daughters at the day of their marriage, to be handmaidens unto them. After such a sort did Pharao king of Egypt give unto Sara, Abraham’s wife, Agar the Egyptian to be her maid. So did Laban give unto his daughter Lia, at the day of her marriage, Zilpha to be her handmaid; and to his other daughter Rahel he gave another bondmaid, named Bilha. And the wives, that were the owners of their handmaids, gave them in marriage to their husbands upon divers occasions. Sara gave her maid Agar in marriage to Abraham. Lia gave in like manner her maid Zilpha to her husband Jacob. So did Rahel, his other wife, give him Bilha her maid, saying unto him, Go in unto her, and she shall bear upon my knees, which is as if she had said, Take her to wife, and the children that she shall bear will I take upon my lap and make of them as if they were my own. These handmaidens or bond women, although by marriage they were made wives, yet they had not this prerogative, to rule in the house, but were still underlings, and in subjection to their mistress and were never called mothers of the household, mistresses or dames of the house, but are called sometime wives sometime concubines. The plurality of wives was by a special prerogative suffered to the fathers of the Old Testament, not for satisfying their carnal and fleshly lusts, but to have many children; because every one of them hoped, and begged ofttimes of God in their prayers, that that blessed seed which God promised should come into the world to break the serpent’s head mought come and be born of his stock and kinred.
Now of those which take occasion of carnality and evil life by hearing and reading in God’s book what God hath suffered even in those men whose commendation is praised in the Scripture. As that Noe, whom St. Peter calleth the eighth preacher of righteousness was so drunk with wine that in his sleep he uncovered his own privities. The just man Lot was in like manner drunken, and in his drunkenness lay with his own daughters, contrary to the law of nature. Abraham, whose faith was so great, that for the same he deserved to be called of God’s own mouth a father of many nations the father of all believers, besides with Sara his wife, had also carnal company with Agar Sara’s handmaid. The Patriarch Jacob had to his wives two sisters at one time. The Prophet David and King Salomon his son, had many wives and concubines, Which things we see plainly to be forbidden us by the law of God, and are now repugnant to all public honesty. These and such like in God’s book, good people, are not written that we should or may do the like, following their examples, or that we ought to think that God did allow every of these things in those men: but we ought rather to believe and to judge, that Noe in his drunkenness offended God highly, Lot lying with his daughters committed horrible incest. We ought then to learn by them this profitable lesson, that, if so godly men as they were, which otherwise felt inwardly God’s Holy Spirit inflaming their hearts with the fear and love of God, could not by their own strength keep themselves from committing horrible sin, but did so grievously fall that without God’s great mercy they had perished everlastingly, how much more ought we then, miserable wretches, which have no feeling of God within us at all, continually to fear, not only that we may fall as they did, but also be overcome and drowned in sin, which they were not; and so, by considering their fall, take the better occasion to acknowledge our own infirmity and weakness, and therefore more earnestly to call unto Almighty God with hearty prayer incessantly for his grace, to strengthen us, and to defend us from all evil. And, though through infirmity we chance at any time to fall, yet we may, by hearty repentance and true faith, speedily rise again, and not sleep and continue in sin, as the wicked doth.
Thus, good people, should we understand such matters expressed in the divine Scriptures, that this holy table of God’s word be not turned to us to be a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-stone, to take hurt by the abuse of our understanding: but let us esteem them in such a reverent humility, that we may find our necessary food therein, to strengthen us, to comfort us, to instruct us, as God of his great mercy hath appointed them, in all necessary works ; so that we may be perfect before him in the whole course of our life. Which he grant us who hath redeemed us, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory for evermore. Amen.
- 2 Tim III, 16 ↑
- 2 Pet 1, 32 ↑
- John xvi, 13 ↑
- 1 Cor xi, 1 ↑
- 1 John ii, 6 ↑
- John V, 39 ↑
- James I, 5; Matt xxxvii, 20 ↑
- Matt xxii, 29 ↑
- Deut xxv, 5-10 ↑
- Ps lxxv, 10 ↑
- Ps cxxxll, 17 ↑
- Ps lx, 8 ↑
- Gen xxix, 34, 29 ↑
- Gen xvi, 3 ↑
- Gen xxx, 9;3,4 ↑
- 2 Pet II, 5 ↑
- Gen xix, 30-36 ↑
- Gen xvi, 4 ↑
- Gen xxix, 23-30 ↑
- 2 Sam III, 2-5 ↑
- 1 Kings xi, 1-3 ↑
- Ps lxix, 22 ↑