From William Spurstowe, The Spiritual Chymist, 1666.
(A detail from the Gutenberg Bible)
Upon the Bible
Quintillian [a Roman rhetorician who lived 1 century AD] who makes it a question why unlearned men in discourse seem oft times more free and copious than learned gives as the answer, That the one without either care or choice express whatsoever their present thoughts suggest to them. When the other are both careful what to say, and to dispose also their conceptions in due manner and order.
If anything make this subject difficult to my meditation, it is not want but plenty which is so great; as that I must, like Bezaleel and Aholiab [the master craftsmen for the Tabernacle, who told Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” Exodus 36:5 (ESV)] be forced to lay aside much of that costly stuff which present itself to me.
And what to refuse or what to take in is no easy matter to resolve. It will, I am sensible, require and deserve also more exactness in choosing what to say, and what not to say, concerning its worth and excellency, and how to digest what is spoken that what is meet [fitting] for any to assume unto himself.
I shall therefore account that I have attained my end, if I can but so employ my thoughts as to increase my veneration of this Book of God, which none can ever too much study or too highly prize; and with which to be well acquainted is not only the chief of duties but the best of delights and pleasures. What would be our condition in this world if we had not this blessed Book among us, would it not be like Adam’s which driven out of the Paradise and debarred from the Tree of Life?
Would it not be darker than Earth without the Sun? If the world were fuller of books than the heaven is of stars, and this only wanting [if there books and no Bible], there would no certain way and rule to Salvation. But if this alone were extant, it would enlighten the eyes and make wise the simple and guide their feet in paths of life.
True it is that for many years God made known himself by visions, dreams, oracles to persons of noted holiness that they might teach and instruct others. But it was while the church of God was of small growth and extent and the persons to whom God’s messages were concredited of unquestioned authority with the present age.
But afterward the Lord spake to his church both by word and writing , the useful for revealing divine truths; and the other for recording of them, that when the canon was once completed all might appeal until ti, and none take liberty in going divine oracles to himself or of obtruding [forcing] his fancies upon others.
And were there no other use of this Book of God than this, that it should be the standard for trial of all doctrines, it were to be highly prized for its worth; without which [without the Bible] the minds of men would be in a continual distraction through the multitude of enthusiasts that would be pretending commissions from heaven; none knowing what to believe in point of faith or what to do in point of obedience or whereby to difference the good and evil spirit from each other. [1 John 4:1]
But this single benefit (though it can never enough be thankfully acknowledged to Go by us) is but as a clutter to the vintage, or as an ear of corn to the harvest, in respect of those things many blessings may be reaped from it.
Does not Paul ascribe unto it a universal influence into the welfare of believers, when he enumerates so many noble ends for which all Scriptures is profitable? What is it that makes man wise to salvation? Is it not the Scripture? What is that instructs any in righteousness and makes him perfect and thoroughly furnished unto all good works? Is it not the Scripture?
Is not this the only book by which God we come to understand the heart of God to us, and learn also the knowledge of our own hearts? Both which as they are the breasts of mysteries; so they are of all knowledge the best and fill the soul with more satisfaction than the most exact discovery of all created beings whatsoever.
What if a man could, like Solomon, speak of trees from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the Hyssop that grows in the wall; and of beasts, fowls, and fishes; and yet were wholly ignorant of his own heart, would not the light that is inhume be darkness?
Or what if a man could resolve all those posing questions in which the Schoolman [university philosophers] have busied themselves concerning angels, and yet know nothing of the God of Angels; would he not become as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal? [1 Cor. 13:1]
Is the knowledge of these things the great end for which our understanding was given us? Or is it any further desirable or profitable than as it conduces to the knowledge of God? Does the rectitude of our actions, and the holiness of them, flow from the knowledge we have of any creature or from the knowledge of God? Is not his will the rule, and his glory the end of all that we do? And should we ever come to know what the good and acceptable will of God is but by his revealing it unto us? Which he has done most clearly in this blessed Book of his, the Scripture of Truth.
That which commends this Book and rendered it worthy of all acceptation is the rich discoveries it makes to us concerning so excellent a being as God, whom it acquaints us with in his nature, perfections, counsels and designs, in relation to the Eternal Salvation of man. It contains not anything that is mean or trivial; the matters in it are all of no less glory for any to behold than of weighty importance for all to know.
Do we not read in it with what majesty God gave forth his Sacred Law, when thunders, lightnings, dark clouds and burnings were used as heralds in the promulgation of it? And yet may we not again see the hidings of his power in the wonderful condescension of his goodness? How he does entreat, woo, and importune those whom he could with a frown or breath easily destroy; and pursue with the bowels [inner most being] of mercy, such whom eh might in justice leave and cast off forever?
Are there in it precepts of exact purity that are as diamonds without flaws, and as fine gold without dross?
In all other books, they are as the most current coins, that must have their alloys of baser metals. But in this [Book, the Bible] they [the things stated therein] resemble the author who is light in which there is no darkness [1 John 1:5]; and a sun in which there are no spots.
Are there not in it promises of infinite value as well as goodness in which rewards are given not of debt, but of grace; and so such who have cause to be ashamed of their duties as well as their sins? Are there not in premonitions [here, foreshadows] of great faithfulness in which God fully declares to men what the issues of sin will be?
And proclaims a Judgment to come in which the Judge will be impartial and the sentence most severe against the least offenses, as well as against the greatest. What is it that may teach us to serve God with cheerfulness; to trust him with confidence; to adhere to him with resolution in difficulties; to submit to his will with patience in the greatest extremities; that we may not be abundantly furnished with from this book.
It alone is a perfect library, in which are presented those deep mysteries of the Gospel that Angels study and look into both with delight and wonder, being more desirous to pry into them then of perfect ability to understand them. They are such, that had they not been revealed could not have been known; and being revealed, can yet never be fully comprehended by any.
Was it ever hear, that he was the Maker of all thing was made of a woman? That the Ancient of Days was not an hour old? That Eternal Life being to live? That he, to whose nature incomprehensibility does belong, should be enclosed in the narrow limits of the womb? Where can we read but in this Book that he who perfectly hates sin should condescend to take upon the similitude of sinful flesh? That he, who was the person injured by sin, should willingly be the sacrifice to expiate the guilt of it; and to die instead of sinners?
Are not these such mysteries as are utter impossibility to reason?
And at which, like Sarah, it laughs; rather than, with Abraham, entertain them with an holy reverence and joy when made known? Reason is busy in looking after demonstrations, and enquires how this can be and then scorns what it cannot fathom:
But faith rests itself in the Revelations of God, and adores as a mystery what he discovers. Yea, it makes these mysteries, not only objects of its highest adoration, but the grounds of its sure comfort and confidence. From whence is it, that faith searches its security against sin, Satan, Death and Hell?
That he who is their sacrifice through the Eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God to purge their conscience from dead works to serve the Living God? [Heb. 9:14] That he who is their Advocate did raise himself form the dead and ascended into the highest heavens to make everlasting intercessions for them?
Can then any depreciate this Book, or abate the least iota of that awful esteem which upon all accounts is due unto it and guiltless? Or can any neglect this Book as unworthy of their reading which God has thought worthy of his writings, without putting an affront upon God himself, whose image it bears as well as declares his commands?
And yet I tremble to think how many anti-Scripturists there be, who have let fall both from their lips and pens such bold scorns as if Satan flood at their right hand to inspire them. It was open blasphemy and worthy that anti-Christian crew of Trent, to affirm That though the Scripture were not, yet a body of saving Divinity might be made out of the Divinity of the School.
The profaneness of politician shall make his name to rot in perpetual stench, who never read the Bible but once, and said, it was the time he ever spent. And yet what are the fruits of his studies, but such as Gullies styles Scholica Nugalia, a few trifling commentaries and criticisms.
More I could readily name of the same stamp that have presumed impiously to scoff at the revelations of God, as others at his providence, but who can take pleasure to rake in a dunghill that may enjoy the fragrance of Paradise. I shall therefore turn my thoughts from them, and, as having nothing to cast over their wickedness shall call my blood into my face and spread it as a vail in blushing for them, that should have blushed and been ashamed for themselves.
But though the Word of God ceases not to be a reproach to them, yet I shall bind it as a crown unto me.
Though they reject the counsel of God against themselves, yet I shall make its testimonies my delight, and the men of my counsel, and shall make the prayers of the Psalmist to be my daily prayer, that God would open my eyes, that I may behold wonders that are contained in his law. [Psalm 119:18]