Upon the Benefits of a Sucking Bottle
The Word of God by which men are turned from darkness onto light sometimes compared to a seed (Mark 4:4) and sometimes onto milk (1 Peter 2:2); and the ministers of it, sometimes onto fathers (1 Thessalonians 2:11)and sometimes onto nurses (1 Thessalonians 2:7). This double relation points forth their double duty which is not only as spiritual fathers to beget men onto Christ, but as nursing mothers to give them the full breasts the sincere milk of the word that they may grow thereby and of newborn babes maybe come strong in the face, and filled with all knowledge and wisdom in the things of God.
But how was this done? It is by Reading only the Scriptures, without giving the sense (though it be a public ordinance of God [1 Timothy 4:13], and highly to be honored of all), or by the diligent and well digested preaching of the Scriptures, in which the truths delivered or sucked in as milk from the breast that partakes of the warmth and spirits of the nurse?
Some ministers have consulted more for their own ease than their people’s profit, and have endeavored to maintain reading to be preaching, as if that were a sufficient discharge of their duty.
But what then will become of the apostle’s question? Who is sufficient for these things? It should be rather who is not sufficient? Or of what use will be this counsel, to preach in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2) and to divide the word of God aright as a workman that needeth not be ashamed. (2 Timothy 2:15)
True it is, that if preaching be taken largely for any declaration or publishing of the Word of God, it cannot be denied to be preaching. But if it be taken strictly for preaching, by way of office, and for ministerial publishing of the gospel, then it is quite another thing.
Was there not a wide difference between the woman of Samaria making known of Christ (John 4:28-30), and the apostles preaching of him; or between Andrew calling his brother Peter (John 1:40-41) before he was put into his apostolical office and his preaching of Christ when commissioned by him?
And what less difference is there between a naked reading of the Scripture or some other set discourse and the powerful preaching of the Word? But if trial and experience could better evince than argument, those who justify the opinion by their practice, I could wish that such might bring forth children who lived wholly upon the singular means of reading and let their countenance be looked upon and the countenance of those who have had the Word duly preached onto them and then let others judge whether their countenance appear as fair and as fat as their brothers?
Oh how quickly would it be discerned which they are, which have received the nourishment from the breast and which from the bottle? It would soon be judged that the weak are the flocks of Laban and the strong the flock of Jacob (Genesis 30:41-42), which God has by far blessed far above the other.
Think upon it of O ye slothful ones, to whose care God has committed the welfare of many souls how you will answer your neglected to God! If the chief officer was afraid that his withholding the king’s appointed meat from Daniel and his companions might endanger his head to his lord should he see their faces worse than the children of their sort (Daniel 1:10) what cause will you have to fear the displeasure of Christ when he shall behold the wan and pale looks of those for whom he died by your detaining breast from them who should have been nourished up in the Word of faith and good doctrine?
Nor shall ye, O Christians who slight ordinances (Communion, baptism, and here most likely public worship) and turn your back upon the breast of consolation which are held forth onto you escape any better than the ministers who deny them to their people. If it be a sin to do the one, it is no less, if not greater in you, to do the other. They sin against the souls of others, and you sin against your own souls. And yet how great are the numbers upon whom the guilt of this crime may be charged?
Some think that they are past their childhood and therefore wean themselves. They know as much as their teachers can tell them, and to what end then should they still give them their attendance? To hanker after the breast is for babes, not for grown persons! But are not they who thus speak puffed up and know nothing as they ought? Is not this whole life a state of infancy in respect of perfection? Does not the apostle say, That we see but darkly and know but in part. Why then should the old be ashamed of these breasts more than the young Timothies? David professed himself a weaned child from the world but not from the Word.
Others please themselves, that though they go not to hear, yet they read good books and betters sermons at home than their ministers can make: and so take themselves not to be zealous, but only more discreet than their brothers who do not the like. And yet who can excuse such persons from the guilt both of folly and wickedness? Is it not folly to refuse the warm breast and suck the milk from the bottle when it is dispirited and has lost both its warm and lively state?
And what less difference is there between a sermon in the pulpit and in the press? Is it not also wickedness to offer sacrilege for sacrifice and to rob God of one duty to pay him another; to withhold the greater and to seem conscientious in the less? Are they not in thus thieves of their own souls, depriving themselves of the profit of both, while they are willful neglecters of each?
Be wise therefore, O Christians, in keeping up a high esteem of the Word preached, and be always babes for hunger and desire after it; though not for knowledge and understanding in it.
And remember that there is no way so dangerous to lessen your desires as to keep yourselves fasting from it. For the Word of God still creates new appetites, as it satisfies the old (it makes us more hungry at the same time that it satisfies our hunger for it); and enlarges the capacities of the soul as it fills it.
Use good books as apothecaries do their succedanea (drugs, medications), one simple to supply the want of another; when the preacher cannot be had to then make use of them [books and written sermons]; but let it rather be to stay the stomach in the absence of an ordinance than to satisfy it. And when you enjoy both, say as Aristotle sometimes did of the Rhodian and Lesbian Wines (wines of Rhodes and Lesbos), when had tasted both: the Rhodian was good, but the Lesbian was pleasanter. Holy Books are good, and relish well, but the Word Preached is more sweet. The one is as the wine the bridegroom provided at the marriage feast and the other as that which Christ made which was easily discerned by the governor (the chief of the feast) but know not whence it was, to be far better (John 2:10).