Preface to the Bible

FOR two sundry sorts of people, it seems very necessary that something be said in the entry of this book, by the way of preface or prologue; whereby hereafter it may be both the better accepted of those who hitherto could not well bear it, and also the better used of those who heretofore have misused it. For truly some there are that are too slow, and need the spur; some others seem too quick and need more of the bridle; some lose their game by short shooting, some by over shooting; some walk too much on the left hand, some too much on the right.

In the former sort are all they that refuse to read, or to hear read, the Scripture in the vulgar tongue; much worse they that hinder or discourage the others from the reading or hearing thereof. In the latter sort are those who, by their inordinate reading, indiscreet speaking, contentious disputing, or otherwise by their licentious living, slander and hinder the word of God most of all others, whereof they would seem to be greatest furtherers.

These two sorts, albeit they are the most unlike the one to the other, yet they both deserve in effect the like reproach: neither can I well tell which of them I may judge the more an offender — him that doth obstinately refuse so godly and goodly knowledge: or him that so ungodly and ungoodly doth abuse the same. And, as touching the former, I would marvel much that any man should be so mad, as to refuse in darkness, light; in hunger, food; in cold, fire. For the word of God is light; Thy word is a lantern unto my feet. It is food; Man shall not live by bread only, but by every word of God. It is fire; I am come to send fire on the earth, and what is my desire, but that it be kindled?

I would marvel, I say, at this, save that I consider how much custom and usage may do. So that if there were a people, as some write of the Cimmerians, who never saw the sun, by reason that they are situated far toward the north pole, and are enclosed and overshadowed by high mountains: it is credible and like enough, that if by the power and will of God, the mountains should sink down and give place, that the light of the sun might have entrance to them, at the first, some of them would be offended therewith.

And the old proverb affirms, that after tillage of corn was first found, many delighted more to feed on mast and acorns wherewith they had been accustomed, than to eat bread made of good corn. Such is the nature of custom, that it causes us to bear all things well and easily, wherewith we have been accustomed, and to be offended with all things thereunto contrary.

And therefore I can well think them worthy of pardon, who at the coming abroad of Scripture doubted and drew back. But such as persist still in their willfulness, I must needs judge not only foolish, froward, and obstinate; but also peevish, perverse, and hardened.

And yet, if the matter should be tried by custom, we might also allege custom for the reading of the Scripture in the vulgar tongue, and prescribe the more ancient custom. For it is not much above one hundred years ago, since Scripture hath not been accustomed to be read in the vulgar tongue within this realm: and many hundred years before that, it was translated and read in the Saxon tongue, which at that time was our mother tongue, whereof there remain yet divers copies, found lately, in old abbeys, of such antique manner of writing and speaking, that few men now are able to read and understand them. And when this language waxed old and out of common usage, because folk should not lack the fruit of reading, it was again translated into the newer language, whereof yet also many copies remain, and are daily found.

But now, to let pass custom, and to weigh, as wise men ever should, the thing in its own nature; let us here discuss what it avails that Scripture be had and read of the lay and vulgar people. And to this question I intend here to say nothing, but that was spoken and written by the noble doctor and most moral divine, John Chrysostom, in his third sermon de Lazaro. Albeit I will be something shorter, and gather the matter into fewer words and less room than he there does, because I would not be tedious.

He there exhorts his audience, that every man should read by himself at home in the mean days and time, between sermon and sermon, to the intent they might both more profoundly fix in their minds and memories that which he had said before upon such texts, whereupon he had already preached. And also that they might have their minds the more ready and better prepared to receive and perceive that which he should say from thenceforth in his sermons, upon such texts, as he had not yet declared and preached upon.

He saith, “Therefore my common usage is to give you warning before what matter I intend after to treat upon, that you yourselves in the mean days, may take the book in hand, read, weigh, and perceive the sum and effect of the matter, and mark what has been declared, and what remains yet to be declared; so that thereby your mind may be the more furnished to hear the rest that shall be said. And that which I exhort you I ever have and will exhort you, that you not only here in the church give ear to that which is said by the preacher; but that also when ye be at home in your houses, ye apply yourselves from time to time to the reading of holy Scriptures; which also I never cease to beat into the ears of them that are my familiars, and with whom I have private acquaintance and conversation.”

“Let no man make excuse and say, ‘I am busied about matters of the commonwealth, I bear this office or that; I am a craftsman, I must apply to mine occupation; I have a wife, my children must be fed, my household must I provide for;’ briefly, ‘I am a man of the world, it is not for me to read the Scriptures, that belongs to those who have bidden the world farewell, who live in solitariness, and contemplation, and have been brought up and continually nourished in learning and religion.’ To this answering, ‘What sayest thou man, is it not for thee to study and to read the Scripture, because thou art encumbered and distracted with cares and business? So much the more it behoves thee to have defence of Scriptures, how much thou art the more distressed in worldly dangers.’ ”

“They that are free and far from trouble and intermeddling of worldly things, live in safeguard and tranquillity, and in the calm, or within a sure haven. Thou art in the midst of the sea of worldly wickedness, and therefore thou needest the more of spiritual succour and comfort. They sit far from the strokes of battle, and far out of gunshot, and therefore they are but seldom wounded. Thou that standest in the fore front of the host, and nighest to thine enemies, must needs take now and then many strokes, and be grievously wounded, and therefore thou hast most need to have thy remedies and medicines at hand. Thy wife provokes thee to anger, thy child gives thee occasion to take sorrow and pensiveness, thine enemies lie in wait for thee, thy friend, as thou takest him to be, sometimes envies thee, thy neighbour misreports thee, or picks quarrels against thee, thy mate or partner undermines thee, thy lord, judge, or justice, threatens thee, poverty is painful unto thee, the loss of thy dear and well-beloved causes thee to mourn, prosperity exalts thee, adversity brings thee low. Briefly, so divers and so manifold occasions of cares, tribulations, and temptations, beset thee and besiege thee round about. Where canst thou have armour or fortress against thine assaults? Where canst thou have salve for thy sores, but of holy Scripture?

“Thy flesh must needs be prone and subject to fleshly lusts, who daily walkest and art conversant among women, who seest their beauties set forth to the eye, hearest their nice and wanton words, smellest their balm, civet, and musk, with many other like provocations and stirrings; except thou hast in readiness wherewith to suppress and avoid them, which cannot elsewhere be had, but only out of the holy Scriptures. Let us read and seek all remedies that we can, and all shall be little enough. How shall we then do, if we suffer and take daily wounds, and when we have done, will sit still and search for no medicines? Dost thou not mark and consider how the smith, mason, or carpenter, or any other handy-craftsman, what need soever he be in, what other shift soever he make, he will not sell nor lay to pledge the tools of his occupation; for then how should he work his trade, or get his living thereby?”

“Of like mind and affection ought we to be towards holy Scripture. For as mallets, hammers, saws, chisels, axes, and hatchets, are the tools of their occupation: so the books of the prophets and apostles, and all holy writ, inspired by the Holy Ghost, are the instruments of our salvation. Wherefore let us not stick to buy and provide us the Bible, that is to say, the books of holy Scripture, and let us think that to be a better jewel in our house than either gold or silver. For like as thieves are loth to assault an house where they know to be good armour and artillery; so wheresoever these holy and spiritual books are occupied, there neither the devil nor any of his angels dare come near. And they that occupy them are in much safeguard, and have great consolation, and are the readier unto all goodness, the slower unto all evil; and if they have done any thing amiss, anon, even by the sight of the books, their consciences are admonished, and they wax sorry and ashamed of the fact.”

“Peradventure they will say unto me, ‘How and if we understand not that we read which is contained in the books?’ What then? Suppose thou understand not the deep and profound mysteries of Scripture, yet can it not be but that much fruit and holiness must come and grow unto thee by the reading; for it cannot be that thou shouldest be ignorant in all things alike. For the Holy Ghost hath so ordered and tempered the Scriptures, that in them as well publicans, fishers, and shepherds, may find their edification, as great doctors their erudition. For those books were not made for vain glory, as were the writings of the gentile philosophers and rhetoricians; to the intent the makers should be had in admiration for their high style and obscure manner and writing, whereof nothing can be understood without a master or an expositor; but the apostles and prophets wrote their books so that their special intent and purpose might be understood and perceived of every reader, which was nothing but the edification or amendment of the life of them that read or hear it. Who is it that reading, or hearing read, in the gospel, ‘Blessed are they that be meek; blessed are they that be merciful; blessed are they that be of clean heart;’ and such other like places, can perceive nothing, except he have a master to teach him what it means? Likewise the signs and miracles, with all other histories of the doings of Christ or his apostles, who is there of so simple wit and capacity, but he may be able to perceive and understand them? These are but excuses and cloaks for the rain, and coverings of their own slothfulness.

But still ye will say, “I cannot understand it.”—What marvel? How shouldst thou understand, if thou wilt not read, nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that which thou understandest keep it well in memory; that which thou understandest not, read it again and again. If thou canst neither way so come by it, counsel with some other that is better learned, go to thy curate and preacher, show thyself to be desirous to know and learn; and I doubt not but God seeing thy diligence and readiness, if no man else teach thee, will himself vouchsafe with his Holy Spirit to illuminate thee, and to open unto thee that which was locked from thee.

“Remember the eunuch of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, who albeit he was of a wild and barbarous country, and one occupied with worldly cures and business, yet, riding in his chariot, he was reading the Scripture. Now consider, if this man, passing in his journey, was so diligent as to read the Scripture; what thinkest thou, is it likely he was wont to do so, sitting at home? Again, he that read albeit he did not understand; what did he then, thinkest thou, after that, when he had learned and gotten understanding? For, that thou mayest well know that he understood not what he read, hearken what Philip saith there unto     him; “Understandest thou what       thou readest?” And he, nothing ashamed to confess his ignorance, answered: “How should I understand, having nobody to show me the way?” Lo, when he lacked one to show him the way, and to expound to him the Scriptures, yet did he read: and therefore God the rather provided for him a guide of the way, that taught him to understand it. God perceived his willing and toward mind, and therefore he speedily sent him a teacher. Therefore let no man be negligent about his own health and salvation. Though thou have not Philip always, when thou wouldest; the Holy Ghost, who then moved and stirred up Philip, will be ready and not fail thee, if thou do thy diligence accordingly.”

“All these things are written for us, for our edification and amendment, who are born towards the latter end of the world. The reading of the Scriptures is a great and strong bulwark or fortress against sin: the ignorance of the same, is the greater ruin and destruction of them that will not know it. That is what brings in heresy; that it is which causes all corrupt and perverse living: that it is which brings all things out of good order.”

Hitherto all that I have said, I have taken and gathered out of the aforesaid sermon of this holy doctor, John Chrysostom. Now if I should in like manner bring forth what the selfsame doctor speaks in other places, and what other doctors and writers say concerning the same purpose, I might seem to you to write another Bible, rather than to make a preface to the Bible. Wherefore in few words to comprehend the largeness and utility of the Scripture, how it contains fruitful instruction and erudition for every man, if any thing be necessary to be learned of the Holy Scripture, we may learn it. If falsehood shall be reproved, thereof we may gather wherewithal. If any thing be to be corrected and amended, if there need any exhortation or consolation, of the Scripture we may well learn.

In the Scriptures are the fat pastures of the soul, therein is no venomous food, no unwholesome thing; they are the very dainty and pure feeding. He that is ignorant shall find there what he should learn. He that is a perverse sinner shall there find his damnation to make him to tremble for fear. He that laboureth to serve God, shall find there his glory, and the promises of eternal life, exhorting him more diligently to labour. Herein may princes learn how to govern their subjects; subjects obedience, love, and dread, to their princes. Husbands how they should behave unto their wives, how to educate their children and servants; and the wives, children, and servants, may know their duty to their husbands, parents and masters. Here may all manner of persons, men, women, young, old, learned, unlearned, rich, poor, priests, laymen, lords, ladies, officers, tenants, and mean men; unmarried women, wives, widows, lawyers, merchants, artificers, husbandmen, and all manner of persons, of what estate or condition soever they be, may in this book learn all things, what they ought to believe, what they ought to do, and what they should not do, as well concerning Almighty God, as also concerning themselves and all others.

Briefly, to the reading of the Scripture none can be enemy, but either they are so sick, that they love not to hear of any medicine; or else so ignorant that they know not Scripture to be the most healthful medicine. Therefore as touching this former part, I will here conclude, and take it for a conclusion, sufficiently determined and approved; that it is convenient and good, the Scriptures be read of all sorts and kinds of people, and in the vulgar tongue, without further allegations or probations for the same; which shall not be needed, since this one place of John Chrysostom is enough and sufficient to persuade all them that are not frowardly and perversely set in their own willful opinion. Specially now, that the king’s highness, being supreme head, next under Christ, of this church of England, hath approved with his royal assent the setting forth hereof, which only to all true and obedient subjects ought to be a sufficient reason for the allowance of the same, without further delay, reclamation, or resistance, although there were no preface, or other reason herein expressed.

Therefore now to come to the second and latter part of my purpose; there is nothing so good in this world, but it may be abused, and turned from fruitful and wholesome, to hurtful and noisome. What is there above, better than the sun, the moon, and the stars? Yet there were those that took occasion by the great beauty and virtue of them, to dishonour God, and to defile themselves with idolatry, giving the honour of the living God and Creator of all things, to such things as he had created. What is there here beneath, better than fire, water, meats, drinks, metals of gold, silver, iron, and steel? Yet we see daily great harm and much mischief done by every one of these, as well for lack of wisdom and providence of them that suffer evil, as by the malice of them that work the evil. Thus to them that are evil of themselves, every thing sets forward and increases their evil, be it of its own nature a thing ever so good. Like, as contrarily, to them that study and endeavour themselves to goodness, every thing avails them, and profits unto good, be it of its own nature a thing ever so bad. As saint Paul saith, “All things do work together for good to such as do love God.” Even as out of most venomous worms is made treacle, the most sovereign medicine for the preservation of man’s health in time of danger.

Therefore I would advise you all that come to the reading or hearing of this book, which is the word of God, the most precious jewel and most holy relic that remains upon earth, that you bring with you the fear of God, and that you do it with all due reverence, and use your knowledge thereof, not to vain glory and frivolous disputation, but to the honour of God, increase of virtue, and edification both of yourselves and others.

And to the intent that my words may be the more regarded, I will use in this part the authority of Gregory Nazianzen, as in the other I did of John Chrysostom. It appears, that in his time there were some, as I fear me there be also now at these days a great number, who were idle babblers, and talkers of the Scripture, out of season and all good order, and without any increase of virtue, or example of good living; to them he writes all his first book De Theologia. Wherefore I shall briefly gather the whole effect, and recite it here unto you.

“There are some,” saith he, “whose ears and tongues not only, but also their fists are whetted and ready bent all to contention and unprofitable disputation. Whom I would wish, as they are vehement and earnest to reason the matter with tongue, so they were all ready and active to do good deeds. But forasmuch as they, subverting the order of all godliness, have respect only to this thing, how they may bind and loose subtle questions; so that now every marketplace, every alehouse and tavern, every feast-house; briefly, every company of men, every assembly of women, is filled with such talk. Since the matter is so, and that our faith and holy religion of Christ begins to wax nothing else, but as it were a sophistry or a talking craft, I can do no less, but say something thereunto. “It is not fit,” saith he, “for every man to dispute the high questions of divinity, neither is it to be done at all times, neither in every audience must we discuss every doubt; but we must know when, to whom, and how far we ought to enter into such matters.”

“First, It is not for every man; but it is for such as are of exact and exquisite judgments, and such as have spent their time before in study and contemplation; and such as before have cleansed themselves, as well in soul as body, or at the least endeavoured themselves to be made clean. For it is dangerous for the unclean to touch that which is most clean, like as the sore eye takes harm by looking upon the sun.”

“Secondly, not at all times: but when we are reposed, and at rest from all outward dregs and trouble, and when our heads are not encumbered with other worldly and wandering imaginations; as if a man should mingle balm and dirt together. For he that shall judge and determine such matters and doubts of Scriptures, must take his time when he may apply his understanding thereunto, that he may thereby the better see and discern what is truth.”

“Thirdly, Where, and in what audience. There and among those that are studious to learn: and not among such as have pleasure to trifle with such matters, as with other things of pastime; which repute for their chief delicates, the disputation of high questions, to show their wits, learning, and eloquence in reasoning of high matters.”

“Fourthly, It is to be considered how far to wade in such matters of difficulty. No farther than every man’s own capacity will serve him; and again, no farther than the weakness or intelligence of the other audience may bear. For as too great noise hurts the ear; too much meat hurts the man’s body; too heavy burdens hurt the bearers of them; too much rain does more hurt than good to the ground; briefly, in all things too much is hurtful; even so, weak wits and weak consciences may soon be oppressed with over-hard questions. I say not this to dissuade men from the knowledge of God, and reading or studying of the Scripture: for, I say, that it is as necessary for the life of man’s soul, as for the body to breathe. And if it were possible so to live, I would think it good for a man to spend all his life in that, and to do no other thing. I commend the law which bids to meditate and study the Scriptures always, both night and day; and sermons and preachings to be made both morning, noon, and eventide; and God to be lauded and blessed in all times, to bedward, from bed, in our journeys, and all our other works.”

“I forbid not to read, but I forbid to reason. Neither forbid to reason, so far as is good and godly: but I allow not that which is done out of season and out of measure and good order. A man may eat too much of honey be it ever so sweet; and there is a time for every thing, and that which is good, is not good, if it be ungoodly done. Even as a flower in winter is out of season, and as a woman’s apparel becomes not a man, neither contrarily, the man’s the woman, neither is weeping convenient at a bridal, neither laughing at a burial. Now if we can observe and keep that which is comely and timely in all other things, shall not we then rather do the same in the Holy Scriptures? Let us not run forth, as it were wild horses, that can suffer neither bridle in their mouths, nor sitter on their backs. Let us keep in our bounds, and neither let us go too far on the one side, lest we return into Egypt; neither too far over the other, lest we be carried away to Babylon. Let us not sing the song of our Lord in a strange land; that is to say, let us not dispute the word of God at all adventures, as well where it is not to be reasoned, as where it is: and as well in the ears of them that be not fit therefor, as of them that be. If we can in no wise forbear, but that we must needs dispute, let us forbear thus much at the least, to do it out of time and place convenient. And let us treat of those things which are holy, holily; and upon those things that are mystical, mystically; and not to utter the divine mysteries in ears unworthy to hear them. But let us know what is comely, as well in our silence and talking, as in our garment-wearing, in our feeding, in our gesture, in our goings, in all our other behaviour.”

“This contention and debate about Scriptures and doubts thereof, especially when such as do pretend to be the favourers and students thereof cannot agree within themselves, does most hurt to ourselves, and to the furthering of the cause and quarrels that we would have furthered above all other things. And we in this are not unlike to them, that, being mad, set their own houses on fire, and that slay their own children, or beat their own parents. I marvel much to recount whereof comes all this desire of vain glory; whereof comes all this tongue-itch, that we have so much delight to talk and clatter?”

“And wherein is our communication? Not in the commendation of virtuous and good deeds; of hospitality; of love between Christian brother and brother; of love between man and wife; of chastity, and of alms towards the poor; not in psalms and godly songs; not in lamenting for our sins; not in the repressing the affections of the body; not in prayers to God. We talk of Scripture, but in the mean time we subdue not our flesh by fasting, watching, and weeping; we make not this life a meditation of death; we do not strive to be lords of our appetites and affections; we go not about to pull down our proud and high minds; to abate our fumish and rancorous stomachs, to restrain our lusts and bodily delectations; our indiscreet sorrows; our lascivious mirth; our inordinate looking; our insatiable hearing of vanities; our speaking without measure; our inconvenient thoughts, and briefly to reform our life and manners; but all our holiness consists in talking. And we pardon each other from all good living, so that we may stick fast together in argumentation, as though there were no more ways to heaven but this alone, the way of speculation and knowledge, as they take it; but in very deed it is rather the way of superfluous contention and sophistication.”

Hitherto have I recited the mind of Gregory Nazianzen, in that book which I spake of before. The same author saith also in another place, that “The learning of a Christian man ought to begin of the fear of God, and to end in matters of high speculation; and not contrarily to begin with speculation and to end in fear. For speculation, either high cunning or knowledge, if it be not stayed with the bridle of fear to offend God, is dangerous, and enough to tumble a man headlong down the hill. Therefore, saith he, the fear of God must be the first beginning, and as it were an A B C, or an introduction to all them that shall enter into the very true and most fruitful knowledge of Holy Scriptures. Where the fear of God is, there is the keeping of the commandments; and where the keeping of the commandments is, there is the cleansing of the flesh; which flesh is a cloud before the soul’s eye, and suffers it not purely to see the beam of the heavenly light. Where the cleansing of the flesh is, there is the illumination of the Holy Ghost, the end of all    our desires, and the very light, whereby the verity of Scriptures is seen and perceived.”

This is the mind, and almost the words of Gregory Nazianzen, doctor of the Greek church, of whom Jerome saith, that unto his time the Latin church had no writer able to be compared, and to make an even match with him.

Therefore to conclude this latter part, every man that comes to the reading of this holy book ought to bring with him first and foremost this fear of Almighty God; and then next, a firm and stable purpose to reform his ownself according thereunto; and so to continue, proceed, and prosper from time to time, showing himself to be a sober and a fruitful hearer and learner. Which if he do, he shall prove at length well able to teach, though not with his mouth, yet with his living and good example, which surely is the most lively and effectual form and manner of teaching.

He that otherwise intermeddles with this book, let him be assured that he shall make account therefore when he shall have said to him as is written in the prophet David, Unto the ungodly, said God, Why dost thou preach my laws, and takest my testament in thy mouth? Whereas thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee. When thou sawest a thief thou consentedst unto him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou hast let thy mouth speak wickedness, and with thy tongue thou hast set forth deceit. Thou sattest and spakest against thy brother, and hast slandered thine own mother’s son. These things hast thou done, and I held my tongue, and thou thoughtest wickedly that I am even such a one as thyself. But I will reprove thee, and set before thee the things that thou hast done. O consider this ye that forget God, lest I pluck you away, and there be none to deliver you. Whoso offereth me thanks and praise, he honoureth me; and to him that ordereth his conversation right will I show the salvation of God.  Praise be to God.

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