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consequence hereof, is agreeable to their desire; for they appear to be grossly ignorant, and think themselves bound to believe whatever their leaders pretend to be true, without exercising a judgment of discretion, or endeavouring to know the mind of God relating thereunto.
That which they generally allege in opposing the common people's reading the Bible, is, that it contains some things in it that are hard to be understood; as the apostle Peter expresses it, in 2 Pet. iii. 16. which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own des
But to this it may be replied; that it must be allowed that some things contained in scripture, are hard to be understood; inasmuch as the gospel contains some mysteries which finite wisdom cannot comprehend; and the great doctrines of the gospel, are sometimes unintelligible by us, by reason of the ignorance and alienation of our minds from the life of God, as well as from the imperfections of this present state, in which we know but in part. Notwithstanding, they, who with diligence and humility, desire, and earnestly seek after the knowledge of those truths that are more immediately subservient to their salvation, shall find that their labour is not lost; but in following on to know the Lord, shall know as much of him as is necessary to their glorifying and enjoying him, as the prophet says, Then shall ye know if ye follow on to know the Lord, Hos.. vi. 3. It is to be owned, that there are some depths in scripture, that cannot be fathomed by a finite understanding; which should tend to raise our admiration, and put us upon adoring the unsearchable wisdom of God, as well as an humble confession that we are but of yesterday, and know, comparatively, nothing, Job viii. 9. Yet there are many doctrines that we may attain to a clear knowledge of, and improve, to the glory of God, in the conduct of our lives. Thus the prophet speaks of an high way, that is called the way of holiness; concerning which it is said, that way-faring men, who walk therein, though fools, that is, such as have the meanest capacity, as to other things, shall not err therein, Isa. xxxv. 8. that is, they who humbly desire the teaching of the Spirit, whereby they may be made acquainted with the mind and will of God, shall not be led out of the way by any thing that he has revealed to his people in his word. It is very injurious to the sacred oracles to infer, that because some things are hard to be understood, therefore all that read them, must necessarily wrest them to their own destruction. And besides, the apostle does not say, that all do so, but only those who are unlearned and unstable; unlearned, that is, altogether unacquainted with the doctrines of the gospel, as not making them
the matter of their study and enquiry; and unstable, that is, such as give way to scepticism, or they whose faith is not built on the right foundation, but are inclined to turn aside from the truth, with every wind of doctrine. This God's people may hope to be kept from, while they study the holy scriptures, and earnestly desire to be made wise thereby unto salvation.
As to what the Papists farther allege against the common people's being permitted to read the scriptures, because, as they pretend, this will make them proud, and induce them to enquire into those things that do not belong to them, whereby they will soon think themselves wiser than their teachers; and that it has been the occasion of all the heresies that are in the world.
To this it may be answered, that whatever ill consequences attend a person's reading of scripture, these are not to be ascribed to the use, but the abuse of it. Will any one say, that we ought to abstain from eating and drinking, because some are guilty of excess therein, by gluttony and drunkenness? No more ought we to abstain from reading the scriptures, because some make a wrong use of them. But, inasmuch as it is supposed that hereby some, through pride, will think themselves wiser than their teachers; this, we will allow, they may do, without passing a wrong judgment on themselves; and it is injurious treatment of mankind, to keep the world in ignorance, that they may not detect the fallacies, or expose the errors of those who pretend to be their guides in matters of faith.
As to what is farther alleged, that the reading of scripture has been the occasion of many heresies in the world, I am rather inclined to think, that this ought to be charged on the neglect thereof, or, at least, on their not studying them with diligence, and an humble dependence on God for his blessing to attend it.
It may be observed, that whatever reasons are assigned for their denying the people the liberty of reading the scriptures, these seem to carry in them a pretence of great kindness to them, that they may not, hereby, be led out of the way, and do themselves hurt by this means; as it is a dangerous thing to put a knife, or a sword, into a child's, or madman's hand; by which they suppose the common people to be ignorant, and would keep them so. But, whatever reasons they assign, the tive reason why they so much oppose the reading of scripture is this, because it detects and exposes the absurdity of many doctrines that are imbibed by them, which will not bear to be tried by it. If they can but persuade their votaries, that whatever is handed down by tradition, as a rule of faith, is to
be received, without the least hesitation, though contrary to the mind of God in scripture, they are not like to meet with any opposition from them, let them advance doctrines never so absurd, or contrary to reason.
If it be enquired, whether they universally prohibit the reading of scripture? It must be allowed, that the Vulgar Latin version thereof may be read by any one that understands it, without falling under their censure. But this they are sensible of, that the greatest part of the common people cannot understand it; and if they do, it is so corrupt a translation, that it seems plainly calculated to give countenance to the errors that they advance *. So that it appears from their whole management herein, that their design is to deprive mankind of the greatest blessings which God has granted to them; and to discourage persons from the performance of a duty, which is so absolutely necessary to promote the interest of God and religion in the world. Therefore we must conclude, that it is an invaluable privilege that we are not only permitted, but commanded to read the scriptures, as translated into that language that is generally understood by us.
And this leads us to consider the inference that is deduced from hence, contained in the latter part of the answer which we are explaining, viz. that the scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages. This is evident, inasmuch as reading signifies nothing, where the words are not understood; and every private Christian is not obliged to addict himself to the study of the languages in which the scriptures were written; and it is, indeed, a work of so much pains and difficulty, that few have opportunity, or inclination, to apply themselves, to any considerable purpose, to the study thereof. Therefore, the words of scripture must be rendered intelligible to all, and consequently, translated into a language they understand.
This may be argued from the care of providence, that the scriptures should be delivered, at first, to the Jews, in their own language; as the greatest part of the Old Testament was
Many instances of this might be produced, viz. Gen. iii. 15. instead of, it shall bruise thy head, they render it she; by which they understand the Virgin Mary, shall bruise thy head, that is, the serpent's. And, Gen. xlviii. 16. instead of, my name shall be named on them, which are the words of Jacob, concerning Joseph's sons; it is rendered, my name shall be invoked, or called upon by them; which favours the doctrine of invocation of saints. And, in Psal. xcix. 5. instead of, exalt the Lord thy God, and worship at his holy hill, they read, worship his footstool; which gives countenance to their error of paying divine adoration to places or things. And, in Heb. xi. 21. instead of, Jacob worshipped leaning on the top of his staff, they render it, he worshipped the top of his staff. And, in Heb. xiii. 16. instead of, with such sacrifices God is well pleased, they render it, with such sacrifices God is merited: which then make use of to establish the merit of good works.
written in Hebrew, and those few sections or chapters in Ezra and Daniel, that were written in the Chaldee language, were not inserted till they understood that language. And, when the world generally understood the Greek tongue, so that there was no necessity for the common people to learn it in schools, and the Hebrew was not understood by those nations, for whom the gospel was designed; it pleased God to deliver the New Testament in the Greek language. So that it is beyond dispute that he intended, that the scriptures should not only be read, but understood by the common people. And when the gospel was sent to various nations of different languages, the Spirit of God, by an extraordinary and miraculous dispensation, furnished the apostles to speak to every one in their own language, by bestowing on them the gift of tongues; which would have been needless, if it were not necessary for persons to read or hear the holy scriptures with understanding.
II. We are now to consider, how the word of God is to be read, that we may understand, and improve what is contained therein to our spiritual advantage; and in order thereunto, there are several directions given in the latter of the answers we are explaining."
1. We must read the scriptures with an high and reverent esteem of them, arising from a firm persuasion, that they are the word of God. That they are so, has been proved by seve ral arguments; therefore we will suppose them that read them, to be persuaded of the truth thereof; and this will beget an high and reverent esteem of them. The perfections of God, and particularly his wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness, shine forth with equal glory in his word, as they do in any of his works; and therefore it has a preference to all human composures; in that whatever is revealed therein, is to be admired and depended on for its unerring wisdom and infallible verity; so that it is impossible for them, who understand and improve it, to be turned aside thereby, from the way of truth. We are also to consider the use that God makes of it, to propagate his kingdom and interest in the world. It is by this means that he convinces men of sin, and discovers to them the way of obtaining forgiveness of it, and victory over it, and thoroughly furnishes them unto every good work, 2 Tim. iii. 16. For this reason the wisest and best of men have express
There is indeed, one verse in Jeremiah, chap. x. 11. that is written in Chaldee; which, it is probable, they did not, at that time, well understand; but the prophet, by this, intimates to them, that they should be carried into a country where that 'anguage should be used; and therefore the Holy Ghost furnishes them with a message, that they were to deliver to the Chaldeans, from the Lord, in their own language The gods, that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from these heavens.
† See Vol. I. Quest. iv. p. 69, & seq. VOL. IV.
ed the highest esteem and value for it. The Psalmist mentions the love he had to it, as a person that was in a rapture; O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day, Psal. cxix. 97. And elsewhere he speaks of it as more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honey comb, Psal. xix. 16. which argues the high veneration he had for it. This we all ought to have; otherwise we may sometimes be tempted to read it with prejudice, and thereby, through the corruption of our nature, be prone to cavil at it, as we sometimes do at those writings that are merely human, which savour of the weakness and imperfection of their authors, and consequently, it will be impossible for us to receive any saving advantage thereby.
2. We must, in reading the word of God, be sensible that he alone can enable us to understand it. To read the scriptures and not understand them, will be of no advantage to us ; therefore it is supposed, that we are endeavouring to have our minds rightly informed and furnished with the knowledge of divine truths: But by reason of the corruption, ignorance, and depravity of our natures, this cannot be attained without a peculiar blessing from God attending our endeavours; therefore we ought to glorify him, by dependence on him, for this privilege, (as being sensible that all spiritual wisdom is from him,) if we would see a beauty and glory in those things that are revealed therein, and be thoroughly established in the doctrines of the gospel, so as not to be in danger of being turned aside from them; or, especially, if we would improve them to our being made wise unto salvation, we must consider this as the gift of God. It is he alone who can enable us to understand his word aright; this is evident, inasmuch as it is necessary that there be an internal illumination, as well as an external revelation, which is the subject-matter of our studies and enquiries. Thus our Saviour not only repeated the words of those scriptures that concerned himself, to the two disciples going to Emmaus; but he opened their understandings, that they might understand them, Luke xxiv. 45. Without this, a person may have the brightest parts, and most penetrating judgment in other respects, and yet be unacquainted with the mind of God in his word, and inclined to embrace those doctrines that are contrary to it; and especially if God is not pleased to succeed our endeavours, we shall remain destitute of the experimental knowledge of divine truths, which is absolutely necessary to salvation.
3. We must read the word of God with a desire to know, believe, and obey his will, contained therein. If we do not desire to know, or understand the meaning of scripture, it will remain no better than a sealed book to us; and, instead of re