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by works; whereas if we look diligently into the coherence and the scope thereof, we shall find that the apostle speaks of the work of faith in opposition to the profession of faith, for says he, verse 14, “ What will it profit, my brethren, if a man say he have faith, and have not works, will it save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and in want (verse 15), and one of you say, Depart in peace, and be warmed and filled ; if you give him not what is good for the body, what doth it profit? Even so faith if it have not works is dead.” A man may say he hath faith; but the devils say and believe there is one God. Was not Abraham justified by works when he offered Isaac ? That faith that justified Abraham was not a bare profession of faith, but it was a working faith; the profession of faith alone doth not justify, but it is a faith which consists in a work, it is a working faith: this is the scope of the place then, as appears by the coherence. If a scripture, therefore, do lie under controversy, take you the Bible, and look well unto the scope and the coherence of the text controverted.
If you would understand the Scripture rightly, then compare one Scripture with another ; for, says the apostle, “No Scripture is of private interpretation; or rather thus, no Scripture is of our own exposition, την ιδιας επιλυσεως και holy men of God wrote it as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost.” Is the Scripture therefore doubtful in one place ? then compare it with another ; stand not upon your own apprehension, for it is not of our own exposition. It came not by the will of man, but divers holy men wrote it as they were inspired with the Holy Ghost; and therefore if one place be doubtful, it is to be compared with another.
And be sure that you swerve not from the proportion of faith ; for says the apostle, Rom. xii, “ Or if any man prophesy, let it be according to the proportion or analogy of faith.” And what is that, but the sum and grounds of religion, or the body of divinity, which is delivered to us in the form of sound words, whereunto we are delivered. Thus in case the Scripture lie under any controversy, it will be good for you to observe these rules.
II. But secondly, and more pratically: if you would so understand the Scripture, that you may take heed thereunto, as to a light shining in your dark state, then
You must go to God for the Spirit; for without it, ye cannot understand the mind of God in the Scripture : no man knows the mind of Paul, but by the Spirit of Paul ; nor the mind of Peter, but by the Spirit of Peter; no knows the mind of Christ, but by the Spirit of Christ: stand therefore under gospel dispensations, where the Spirit breathes. So says the apostle, “ Received ye the Spirit by the law, or by the hearing of faith?” And seeing God hath promised to give this Spirit unto them that ask it, go unto God for the same.*
Take heed of a worldly, fleshly mind; fleshly sins do exceedingly blind the mind from the things of God; and a worldly mind cannot savour them. Ye see how it is in the eclipse of the moon, when the earth comes between the sun and the moon, then the moon is eclipsed, because the earth keeps the light of the sun from it. So if the earth and the world, come between you and the truth, there will be an eclipse, and darkness upon all your soul : “ Then shall ye know (saith our Saviour) of my doctrine, whether it be of God, if ye do what I command you.” Those that will not do what they know, shall not know what to do.t
Study your condition by the Scripture, and the Scripture by your condition; condition gives understanding. I In case you be under a temptation, study those scriptures that do concern such temptation; if you be in an affliction, study those scriptures that do concern such afflictions; if you be in a desertion, study those scriptures which do concern such desertions: and whatever your condition be, study those scriptures which do concern your condition, and this will help you to understand the scriptures.
Yet take heed that you be not too indulgent to your own * Quo spiritu Scripturæ factæ sunt eo spiritu legendæ, nunquam ingredieris in sensum Pauli, nisi spiritum Pauli imbiberis.
Omnia dona a Deo Patre luminum.
Christi munus est aperire Scripturas, Luc. 24. Spiritus sanctus author simul et Explicator Scripturæ. John xvi.
+ Perfectio intellectualis operationis in homine consistit in quadam abstractione a sensibilium phantasmatibus et ideo quando intellectus hominis, magis fuerit liber ab eujusmodi phantasmat. tanto potius considerare intelligibilia poterit.- Ergo.
Hebitudo sensus circa intelligentiam oritur ex gula cæcitas mentis ex luxuria. Aquin. 22. Q. 15. A. 3.
Cum non faciunt quæ intelligunt non intelligent quæ faciant. # Conditio dat Intellectum.
condition, disposition, or opinion. It is a good speech of Hilary;* he is the best interpreter of scripture, that doth rather bring his sense from the scripture, than carry his sense to the scripture. We are very apt to interpret scripture according to our own opinion or disposition. Interpretation ordinarily follows disposition, or opinion : as when there was a great controversy in the Popish church, betwixt the two liturgies of Ambrose and Gregory; by common consent of both parties, it was agreed, that both the mass books should be laid on the altar, expecting the decision of the matter by revelation : and the doors being opened the next morning, Gregory's mass book was rent and torn in many pieces, and scattered abroad in the place; but Ambrose's lay whole, and open upon the altar, which some thought signified thus much; that Gregory's mass-book should be cancelled; others, as the Pope himself, said, Nay, but this renting and scattering of the leaves, signified the dispersing of it over all the Christian world. Thus men interpret things, according to their own dispositions and opinions, even when they come to Scripture also. Would you therefore see clearly into the mind of God in the scripture? then, as when you come to Christ for righteousness, ye come with naked shoulders ; so when
you come to the truth of Christ, take heed heed of your own disposition and opinion: you must come to Christ as a prophet, as well as to Christ as a priest, with naked shoulders.
If you do desire so to understand the scripture, as it may be a light to all your paths; then be sure that you put nothing else in commission with it for your rule. It is with the scripture in this respect, as with God, Christ, and the Spirit; if you come to God for help, yet if you join another god in commission with him, he will not give down his help: so if you join any thing with Christ in the matter of mediation, though you come to him, he will not give in the comfort of his mediation to you: so for the Spirit, though you come unto him for comfort, being the Comforter; yet if you join any thing else in commission with the Spirit, it will not give down his comfort. And so here : though you come, and tend, and wait upon God in the Scripture; yet if there be any thing else which you do make your joint rule with the
* Optimus Scripturæ interpres hic est, qui sensum e Scriptura potius retulerit, quam attulerit.-Hilar.
scripture, any light within you, or precept of man without you, it will not give down its light to you, but you will be left in the dark. Do you desire therefore, to understand and know the true sense and meaning of the scripture ? then take heed that you join no other thing in commission with it, as to the matter of your rule. And thus I have done with the first thing that we must do in taking heed to the scripture; we must take heed to know and understand the same.
If you would so take heed unto the scripture, as it may be indeed a light unto you in a dark place, then you must keep it; for though the meat be never so good, yet if the stomach throw it up presently, and do not keep it, it doth the man no good. So in regard of the scripture: therefore saith the apostle, Heb. ii. 1., “We ought to take the more earnest heed unto the things that we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip, or run out:" we must keep what we have, we must keep what we know, else we do not take heed word.
Now that may keep, and not forsake the word,
1. Observe what those things are, whereby men have been led off, and carried away from the Scripture, and above all things take heed of them. Now those are three especially.
Sometimes this evil doth arise from the corruptions of a man's nature, boiled up to a secret unperceived malice against the word and Scripture. As in case two professors be at variance, and a third person stand by and saith, Do you see these professors, what proud, wrangling people these are, they are all such ; doth not this argue, that this third man hath an aching tooth at profession? So when men shall observe some variations in Scripture, and they shall say, do ye see what contradictions there are? they are all so. What doth this argue, but that these men have an aching tooth, and secret malice at the good word of God, or the Scripture. You know how it was with Moses, when he saw two men fighting, one an Egyptian, and another an Israelite, he killed the Egyptian; but when he saw two Hebrews fighting, now, saith he, will I go and reconcile them, for they are brethren; why so, but because he was a good man, and gracious ? So also it is with a gracious heart; when he sees the Scripture fighting with an Egyptian, an heathen author, or apocryphal, he comes and kills the heathen, he kills the Egyptian, or the
apocrypha: but when he sees two Scriptures at variance (in view, though in truth not) Oh, saith he, these are brethren, and they may be reconciled, I will labour all I can to reconcile them; but when a man shall take every advantage of seeming difference in Scripture, to say, Do ye see what contradictions there are in this book, and not labour to reconcile them; what doth this argue, but that the corruption of a man's nature, is boiled up to an unknown malice against the word of the Lord: take heed therefore of that.
Sometimes this evil of denying, and forsaking the Scripture, doth arise from corrupt principles, which have been bred
in the minds of men, as sometimes men think that the light and law within them, is their rule; and therefore what need the Scripture as my rule any longer? Sometimes men think that all Scripture is to be expounded mystically, and so, first they make a nose of wax of it, and then they cast it away. Sometimes men think that they are to judge of doctrines by impressions, visions, voices, and dreams, and so they cast away the Scripture. Would ye therefore take heed unto the word, so as to keep the same; take heed of this ill principle.*
Sometimes this evil doth arise from dalliance, and playing about the borders and confines of this sin: it is in this sin, as with other sins; though a man hate and abhor swearing, drunkenness, and adultery; yet if he lie playing and dallying upon the borders thereof he will surely fall into them. So, though I say, God forbid that ever I should deny the Scripture, yet if I lay playing upon the confines of this sin, I shall certainly fall into it. It is an excellent speech that Luther hath, Will any man play ? let him play with his wife, play with his children, play with his money; but let him take heed how he plays with the Scripture, by turning all
* Donatistæ jactantes veram Ecclesiam penes se solos esse qui habitabant regionem meridionalem ad id confirmandum adducebant illud Canticorum, 1. v. 6. Judica mihi (quem diligit anima mea) ubi pascas, ubi cubes in meridie ne vagari incipiam post greges sodalium tuorem ; si ita (inquit Aug. Epist. 43.) exponendam putatis sacram Scripturam Aquilonares profecto Ecclesiæ dicent se solas esse veras, adducent enim per se illud Pf. 47. 3. Exulta mons Sion lætera Aquilonis civitas Regis magni, Deus in domibus ejus cognoscitur cum suscipiet eam, ergo in expositione Sacrarum Scripturarum ante omnia inveniendus est sensus literalis eo namque constituto facilis ad mysticos sensus patebit aditus clypeus Concionat. Verbi Dei per Ferdinand de Escalante Lib. i. cap. 17.