Unto a Christian man, there can be nothing
either more necessary or profitable, than the knowledge of Holy Scripture;
forasmuch as in it is contained God's true word, setting forth his glory,
and also man's duty. And there is no truth nor doctrine, necessary for
our justification and everlasting salvation, but that is, or may be, drawn
out of that fountain and well of truth.
Therefore as many as be desirous to enter into the right and perfect
way unto God, must apply their minds to know Holy Scripture; without the
which, they can neither sufficiently know God and his will, neither their
office and duty. And as drink is pleasant to them that be dry, and meat
to them that be hungry; so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying
of Holy Scripture, to them that be desirous to know God, or themselves,
and to do his will. And their stomachs only do loathe and abhor the heavenly
knowledge and food of God's word, that be so drowned in worldly vanities,
that they neither savour God, nor any godliness: for that is the cause
why they desire such vanities, rather than the true knowledge of God.
As they that are sick of an ague, whatsoever they eat and drink, though
it be never so pleasant, yet it is as bitter to them as wormwood; not for
the bitterness of the meat, but for the corrupt and bitter humour that
is in their own tongue and mouth; even so is the sweetness of God's word
bitter, not of itself, but only unto them that have their minds corrupted
with long custom of sin and love of this world.
Therefore, forsaking the corrupt judgment of fleshly men, which care
not but for their carcase, let us reverently hear and read Holy Scripture,
which is the food of the soul. let us diligently search for the well of
life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking
puddles of men's traditions, devised by men's imagination, for our justification
and salvation. For in Holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to
do, and what to eschew, what to believe, what to love, and what to look
for at God's hands at length. In these books we shall find the Father from
whom, the Son by whom, and the Holy Ghost in whom, all things have their
being and keeping up; and these three Persons to be but one God, and one
In these books we may learn to know ourselves, how vile and miserable
we be; and also to know God, how good he is of himself, and how he maketh
us and all creatures partakers of his goodness. We may learn also in these
books to know God's will and pleasure, as much as, for this present time,
is convenient for us to know.
And, as the great Clerk and godly Preacher, Saint John Chrysostom, saith,
whatsoever is required to the salvation of man, is fully contained in the
Scripture of God. He that is ignorant, may there learn and have knowledge.
He that is hard-hearted, and an obstinate sinner, shall there find everlasting
torments, prepared of God's justice, to make him afraid, and to mollify,
or soften, him. He that is oppressed with misery in this world, shall there
find relief in the promises of everlasting life, to his great consolation
and comfort. He that is wounded by the Devil unto death, shall find there
medicine, whereby he may be restored again unto health.
If it shall require to teach any truth, or reprove false doctrine, to
rebuke any vice, to commend any virtue, to give good counsel, to comfort,
or to exhort, or to do any other thing requisite for our salvation; all
those things, saith Saint Chrysostom, we may learn plentifully of the Scripture.
There is, saith Fulgentius, abundantly enough, both for men to eat, and
children to suck. There is whatsoever is meet for all ages, and for all
degrees and sorts of men.
These books, therefore, ought to be much in our hands, in our eyes,
in our ears, in our mouths, but most of all in our hearts. For the Scripture
of God is the heavenly meat of our souls: the hearing and keeping of it
maketh us blessed, sanctifieth us, and maketh us holy; it turneth our souls;
it is a light lantern to our feet; it is a sure, steadfast, and everlasting
instrument of salvation; it giveth wisdom to the humble and lowly hearts;
it comforteth, maketh glad, cheereth, and cherisheth our conscience; it
is a more excellent jewel, or treasure, than any gold or precious stone;
it is more sweet than honey or honey-comb; it is called the best part,
which Mary did choose; for it hath in it everlasting comfort.
The words of Holy scripture be called words of everlasting life: for
they be God's instrument, ordained for the same purpose. They have power
to turn, through God's promise; and they be effectual through God's assistance;
and being received in a faithful heart, they have ever an heavenly spiritual
working in them. They are lively, quick, and mighty in operation, and sharper
than any two- edged sword, and enter through, even unto the dividing asunder
of the soul and the spirit, or the joints and the marrow.
Christ calleth him a wise builder, that buildeth upon his word, upon
his sure and substantial foundation. By this word of God we shall be judged:
for the word that I speak, saith Christ, is it that shall judge in the
last day. He that keepeth the word of Christ, is promised the love and
favour of God, and that he shall be the dwelling-place or temple of the
This word whosoever is diligent to read, and in his heart to print that
he readeth, the great affection to the transitory things of this world
shall be minished in him, and the great desire of heavenly things, that
be therein promised of God, shall increase in him. And there is nothing
that so much strengtheneth our faith and trust in God, that so much keepeth
up innocency and pureness of the heart, and also of outward godly life
and conversation, as continual reading and recording of God's word. For
that thing, which by continual reading of Holy Scripture, and diligent
searching of the same, is deeply printed and graven in the heart, at length
turneth almost into nature.
And, moreover, the effect and virtue of God's word, is to illuminate
the ignorant, and to give more light unto them that faithfully and diligently
read it; to conform their hearts, and to encourage them to perform that
which of God is commanded. It teacheth patience in all adversity, in prosperity
humbleness; what honour is due unto God, what mercy and charity to our
neighbour. It giveth good counsel in all doubtful things. It sheweth of
whom we shall look for aid and help in all perils; and that God is the
only giver of victory in all battles and temptations of our enemies, bodily
and ghostly. And in reading of God's word, he not always most profiteth,
that is most ready in turning of the book, or in saying of it without the
book; but he that is most turned into it; that is most inspired with the
Holy Ghost; most in his heart and life altered and changed into that thing
which he readeth; he that is daily less and less proud, less wrathful,
less covetous, and less desirous of worldly and vain pleasures; he that
daily, forsaking his old vicious life, increaseth in virtue more and more.
And, to be short, there is nothing that more maintaineth godliness of the
mind and driveth away ungodliness, than doth the continual reading or hearing
of God's word, if it be joined with a godly mind, and a good affection
to know and follow God's will.
For without a single eye, pure intent, and good mind, nothing is allowed
for good before God. And, on the other side, nothing more darkeneth Christ
and the glory of god, nor bringeth in more blindness and all kinds of vices,
than doth the ignorance of God's word.
THE SECOND PART OF THE SERMON
OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
In the first part of this Sermon, which exhorteth to the knowledge of
Holy Spirit, was declared. Wherefore the knowledge of the same is necessary
and profitable to all men; and that, by the true knowledge and understanding
of Scripture, the most necessary points of our duty towards God and our
neighbours are also known. Now as concerning the same matter you shall
hear what followeth.
If we profess Christ, why be we not ashamed to be ignorant in his doctrine,
seeing that every man is ashamed to be ignorant in that learning which
be professeth? That man is ashamed to be called a Philosopher which readeth
not the books of philosophy; and to be called a Lawyer, an Astronomer,
or a Physician, that is ignorant in the books of law, astronomy, and physic.
How can any man, then, say that he professeth Christ and his religion,
if he will not apply himself, as far forth as he can or may conveniently,
to read and hear, and so to know, the books of Christ's Gospel and doctrine?
Although other sciences be good, and to be learned, yet no man can deny
but this is the chief, and passeth all other incomparably.
What excuse shall we therefore make, at the last day, before Christ,
that delight to read or hear men's fantasies and inventions, more than
his most holy Gospel? And will find no time to do that, which chiefly,
above all things, we should do; and will rather read other things than
that, for the which we ought rather to leave reading of all other things?
Let us therefore apply ourselves, as far forth as we can have time and
leisure, to know God's word, by diligent hearing and reading thereof, as
many as profess God, and have faith and trust in him.
But they that have no good affection to God's word, to colour this their
fault, allege commonly two vain and feigned excuses. So go about to excuse
them by their own frailness and fearfulness, saying, that they dare not
read Holy Scripture, lest through their ignorance they should fall into
any error. Others pretend that the difficulty to understand it, and the
hardness thereof, is so great, that it is meet to be read only of Clerks
and learned men.
As touching the first: ignorance of God's word is the cause of all error;
as Christ himself affirmed to the Sadducees, saying, that they erred, because
they knew not the Scripture. How should they then eschew error, that will
be still ignorant? And how should they come out of ignorance, that will
not read nor hear that thing which should give them knowledge? He that
now hath most knowledge, was at the first ignorant: yet he forbare not
to read, for fear he should fall into error; but he diligently read, lest
he should remain in ignorance, and, through ignorance, in error.
And if you will not know the truth of God -- a thing most necessary
for you -- lest you fall into error, by the same reason you may then lie
still, and never go, lest, if you go, you fail into the mire; nor eat any
good meat, lest you take a surfeit; nor sow your corn, nor lahour in your
occupation, nor use your merchandise, for fear you lose your seed, your
labour, your stock: and so, by that reason, it should be the best for you
to live idly, and never to take in hand to do any manner of good thing,
lest peradventure some evil thing may chance thereof. And if you be afraid
to fall into error by reading of Holy Scripture, I shall shew you how you
may read it without danger of error.
Read it humbly, with a meek and lowly heart, to the intent you may glorify
God, and not yourself, with the knowledge of it: and read it not without
daily praying to God that he would direct your reading to good effect;
and take upon you to expound it no further than you can plainly understand
it: for, as Saint Augustin saith, the knowledge of Holy Scripture is a
great, large, and a high place: but the door is very low, so that the high
and arrogant man cannot run in; but he must stoop low, and humble himself,
that shall enter into it. Irresumption and arrogancy is the mother of all
error; and humility needeth to fear no error. For the humility will only
search to know the truth: it will not presumptuously and rashly define
any thing which it knoweth not.
Therefore the humble man may search any truth boldly in the Scripture,
without any danger of error. And if he be ignorant, he ought the more to
read and to search Holy Scripture to bring him out of ignorance. I say
not nay, but a man may profit with only hearing; but he may much more profit
with both hearing and reading.
This have I said, as touching the fear to read, through ignorance of
And concerning the hardness of Scripture; he that is so weak that he
is not able to brook strong meat, yet he may suck the sweet and tender
milk, and defer the rest until he wax stronger, and come to more knowledge:
for God receiveth the learned and unlearned, and casteth away none, but
is indifferent unto all. And the Scripture is full, as well of low valleys,
plain ways, and easy for every man to use and to walk in; as also of high
hills and mountains, which few men can climb unto. And whosoever giveth
his mind to Holy Scripture with diligent study and burning desire, it cannot
be, saith Saint John Chrysostom, that he should be left without help.
For either God Almighty will send him some godly Doctor to teach himó
as he did to instruct the Eunuch, a nobleman of Ethiopia, and treasurer
unto Queen Candace; who having a great affection to read the Scripture;
although he understood it not, yet, for the desire that he had unto God's
word, God sent his Apostle Philip to declare unto him the true sense of
the Scripture that he read - or else, if we lack a learned man to instruct
and teach us, yet God himself from above will give light unto our minds,
and teach us those things which are necessary for us, and wherein we be
And in another place Chrysostom saith, that man's human and worldly
wisdom, or science, is not needful to the understanding of Scripture; but
the revelation of the Holy Ghost, who inspireth the true meaning unto them
that with humility and diligence do search therefore. He that asketh shall
have, and he that seeketh shall find, and he that knocketh shall have the
door opened. If we read once, twice, or thrice, and understand not, let
us not cease so; but still continue reading, praying, asking of others:
and so, by still knocking, at last the door shall be opened, as Saint Augustin
saith. Although many things in the Scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries,
yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the
self-same thing in other places is spoken more familiarly and plainly,
to the capacity both of learned and unlearned.
And those things, in the Scripture, that be plain to understand, and
necessary for salvation, every man's duty is to learn them, to print them
in memory, and effectually to exercise them; and, as for the dark mysteries,
to be contented to be ignorant in them, until such time as it shall please
God to open those things unto him. In the mean season, if he lack either
aptness or opportunity, God will not impute it to his folly: but yet is
behoveth not, that such as be apt should set aside reading, because some
others be unapt to read: nevertheless, for the hardness of such places,
the reading of the whole ought not to be set apart. And briefly to conclude:
as Saint Augustin saith, By the Scripture all men be amended; weak men
be strengthened, and strong men be comforted. So that surely none be enemies
to the reading of God's word, but such as either be so ignorant, that they
know not how wholesome a thing it is; or else be so sick, that they hate
the most comfortable medicine, that should heal them; or so ungodly, that
they would wish the people still to continue in blindness and ignorance
Thus we have briefly touched some part of the commodities of God's holy
word, which is one of God's chief and principal benefits, given and declared
to mankind here on earth. Let us thank God heartily for this his great
and special gift, beneficial favour, and fatherly providence. Let us be
glad to receive this precious gift of our heavenly Father. Let us hear,
read, and know these holy rules,injunctions, and statutes of our Christian
religion, and upon that we have made profession to God at our baptism.
let us with fear and reverence lay up, in the chest of our hearts, these
necessary and fruitful lessons; let us night and day muse, and have meditation
and contemplation in them; let us ruminate, and, as it were, chew the cud,
that we may have the sweet juice, spiritual effect, marrow, honey, kernel,
taste, comport, and consolation of them. let us stay, quiet, and certtty
our consciences with the most infallible certainty, truth, and perpetual
assurance of them. let us pray to God, the only Author of these heavenly
studies, that we may speak, think, believe, live, and depart hence, according
to the wholesome doctrine and verities of them.
And, by that means, in this world we shall have God's defence, favour,
and grace, with the unspeakable solace of peace, and quietness of conscience;
and, after this miserable life, we shall enjoy the endless bliss and glory
of heaven: which he grant us all, that died for us all, Jesus Christ: to
whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, both
now and everlastingly. Amen.