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 Issues | Doctrine | Homily 22 part 1

 

Information for those who take offence at certain places in Holy Scripture

(Of the reverend estimation of God’s Word)

PART 1

No one can sufficiently comprehend how great is the usefulness and benefit for Christian men and women in hearing and reading the Holy Scriptures. Because of this, our enemy Satan, seeing the Scriptures to be the very means by which people are brought to a true knowledge of God, and that Christian Religion is greatly advanced by diligently hearing and reading of Scripture, and also what a barrier this is to the advancement of his kingdom, does what he can to drive the reading of Scripture out of God's Church. To that end he has always stirred up, in one place or another, cruel tyrants, persecutors, and enemies to God, and His infallible truth, to violently pull Bibles out of people's hands, spitefully destroying and consuming the same by fire, under the false pretence that much hearing and reading of God's word tends to heresy, licentiousness and disarray.

If it is evil to know God rightly then we must admit that hearing and reading Scripture is a cause of these things. But the knowledge of God and of ourselves is really the only means to restrain licentiousness and the ordinary way to attain this knowledge, is to diligently hear and read the holy Scriptures, because, the whole Scriptures (says Saint Paul) are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3.16).

And shall we Christian men think to learn the knowledge of God and of ourselves, in any earthly mans work of writing, sooner or better then 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 Saint Peter witnesses) spoke as they were moved by the holy spirit of God (2 Peter 1.21). The holy ghost is the Schoolmaster of truth, which leads his Scholars (as our Saviour Christ says of him) into all truth (John 16.13). And whosoever is not led and taught by his Schoolmaster, cannot but fall into deep error, however godly his pretence is, whatever knowledge and learning he has of all other works and writings, or however fair a show or face of truth he has 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 you) any better or any such again, as Christ Jesus is, and his doctrine? whose virtuous conversation and godly life, the Scripture so lively paints and sets 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 (says Saint Paul) as I follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11.1). And Saint John in his Epistle says: Whoever abides in Christ, must walk even as he has walked before him (1 John 2.6). 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 other where then 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 you think to have eternal life (John 5.39). If the Scriptures contain in them everlasting life, it must needs follow, that they have also present remedy against all that is an hindrance and let unto eternal life. If we desire the knowledge of heavenly wisdom: why had we rather learn the same of man, then of God himself, who (as Saint James says) is the giver of wisdom (James 1.5)? Yea, why will we not learn it at Christ's own mouth, who promising to be present with his Church till the worlds end (Matthew 28.20) doeth perform his promise, in that he is not only with us by his grace and tender pity: but also in this, that he speaks 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 speaks now in the Scriptures more profitably to us, than he did by the word of mouth to the carnal Jews when he lived with them here upon earth. For they (I mean the Jews) could neither 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 show 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 images made in wood, stone, or metal, some men for the love they bear to Christ, doe 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 doe represent Christ unto us, more truly then can any image. The image can but express the form or shape of his body, if it can doe so much: But the Scriptures doeth in such sort set forth Christ, that we may see 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 childe, 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 Gods 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 benefits that you 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 clearer than the noonday, that to be ignorant of the Scriptures is the cause of error, as Christ says to the Sadducees, You err, not knowing the Scriptures (Matthew 22.29), and that error holds back, and plucks men away from the knowledge of God. And as St. Jerome says, 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 stumbling blocks to the unlearned. First, for that the phrase of the Scripture is sometime so simple, gross, and plain, that it of offends the fine and delicate wits of some courtiers. Furthermore, for that the Scripture also reports, even of them that have their commendation to be the children of God, that they did divers acts, where of 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 commonwealth, to give ear to the simple and plain rules and precepts of our Saviour Christ in his Gospel, as being offered 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 always an enemy to God, and not perceiving the things of God's spirit, doth abhor such precepts, which yet rightly understood, infringe 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 simplicities 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 simplicity & grossness of speech, and will show the meaning of them. In the book of Deuteronomy it is written, that almighty God made a law, if a man died with out issue, his brother or next kinsman should marry his widow, and the childe that was first borne between them, should be called his childe that was dead, that the dead mans name might 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 brothers 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 (says David) the horns of the ungodly, and the horns of the righteous shall be exalted (Psalms 75.10). By an horn, in the Scripture, is understood power, might, strength, and sometime rule and government. The Prophet then saying, I will break the horns of the ungodly, means, that all the power, strength, and might of God'S enemy, shall not only be weakened and made feeble, but shall at length also be clean broken & destroyed, though for a time for the better trial of his people, God permits the enemies to prevail and have the upper hand. In the Psalm, it is said, I will make David's horn to flourish (Psalms 132.17). Here David's horn signifies his kingdom. Almighty God therefore by this manner of speaking, promises to give David victory over all his enemies, and to establish him in his kingdom, despite of all his enemies. And in sixtieth Psalm it is written: Moab is my wash pot, and over Edom will I cast my shoe, &c (Psalms 60.8). In that place the Prophet shows 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 & Edomites, 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 wash pot, and over Edom will I cast out my shoe, is, as if he had said, The Moabites and the Edomites, 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 with such manner speeches, uttered in good grave signification by the holy Ghost. More reasonable it was for vain men to learn to reverence the form of God's words, then to sport at them to their 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 you may the better understand this to be true, you shall note that it was permitted to the fathers of the old Testament, to have at one time more wives then one, for what purpose you shall afterward hear. Of which wives some were free women born, some were bond-women & servants. She that was free born, had a prerogative above those that were servants & bond-women. The free-born woman was by marriage made the ruler of the house under her husband, & is called the mother of the household, the masters or the dame of the house, after our manner of speaking, & had by her marriage an interest, a right, and an ownership of 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 that day of their marriage, to be handmaidens unto them. After such a sort did Pharaoh King of Egypt give unto Sara Abrahams wife Agar the Egyptian to be her maid. So did Laban give unto his daughter Leah, at the day of her marriage, Zilpha, to be her handmaiden (Genesis 29.24). And to his other daughter Rachel, he gave another bondmaid, named Bilha. And the wives that were the owners of their handmaidens, gave them in marriage to their husbands, upon divers occasions. Sara gave her maid Agar in marriage to Abraham (Genesis 16.3). Leah gave in like manner her maid Zilpha to her husband Jacob (Genesis 30.9). So did Rachel 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 mine own. These hand-maidens or bondwomen, although by marriage they were made wives, yet they had not this prerogative to rule in the house, but were still underlings, and in such subjection to their masters, and were never called mothers of the household, mistresses, or dames of the house, but are called sometimes 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 oft times of God in their prayers, that that blessed seed, which God promised should come into the world to break the serpents head, might come and be borne of his stock and kindred.

Now of those which take occasion of carnality and evil life, by hearing and reading in God's book, what God had suffered, even in those men whose commendation is praised in the Scripture: As that Noah, whom Saint Peter called the great preacher of righteousnesse (2 Peter 2.5), was so drunk with wine, that in his sleep he uncovered his own privates (Genesis 9.21). The just man Lot was in like manner drunken, and in his drunkenness lay with his own daughters, contrary to the law of nature (Genesis 19.32). 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 (Genesis 17.4-5, Romans 4.17), 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 (Genesis 29.30). The Prophet David and king Solomon his son, had many wives and concubines &c. 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 doe 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 Noah 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 in 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 weaknesses, 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 doeth.

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 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, & the holy Ghost, be all honour & glory for evermore, Amen.

 

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