A MOST WHOLESOME COUNSEL
HOW TO BEHAVE OURSELVES IN THE MIDST OF THIS
THE comfort of the Holy Ghost for salutation. -
Not so much to instruct you, as to leave with you, dearly beloved brethren, some testimony of my love, I have thought good to communicate with you in these few lines my weak counsel, how I would ye should behave yourselves in the midst of this wicked generation touching the exercise of God's most holy and sacred word, without the which, neither shall knowledge increase, godliness appear, nor fervency continue among you. For as the word of God is the beginning of life spiritual, without which all flesh is dead in God's presence; and the lanthorn [lantern] to our feet, without the brightness whereof, all the posterity of Adam doth walk in darkness - and as it is the foundation of faith, without the which, no man understandeth the good will of God - so is it also the only organ and instrument which God useth to strengthen the weak, to comfort the afflicted, to reduce to mercy by repentance such as have slidden; and finally, to preserve and keep the very life of the soul, in all assaults and temptations.
And therefore, if that ye desire your knowledge to be increased, your faith to be confirmed, your consciences to be quieted and comforted, or finally, your souls to be preserved in life, let your exercise be frequent in the law of your Lord God. Despise not that precept which Moses (who by his own experience had learned what comfort lieth hid within the word of God,) gave to the Israelites, in these words, "These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart; and thou shalt exercise thy children in them; thou shalt talk of them, when thou art at home in thy house, and as thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up; and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be papers of remembrance between thy eyes; and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates." (Deut. 6.) And Moses in another place commands them, to remember the law of the Lord God to do it, that it may be well unto them, and with their children, in the land which the Lord shall give them: meaning, that like as frequent memory and repetition of God's precepts is the means whereby the fear of God, which is the beginning of all wisdom and felicity, is kept recent in mind, so is negligence and oblivion of God's benefits received, the first step of defection from God. Now, if the law, which by reason of our weakness can work nothing but wrath and anger, was so effectual, that remembered and rehearsed of purpose to do it, it brought to the people a corporal benediction, what shall we say that the glorious gospel of Christ Jesus doth work, so that it be with reverence entreated? Paul calleth it the sweet odour of life unto those that should receive life; borrowing his similitude from odoriferous herbs or precious unguents, whose nature is, the more they be touched or moved, to send forth their odour more pleasing and delectable. Even such, dear brethren, is the blessed evangel of our Lord Jesus; for the more that it be entreated, the more comfortable and more pleasant is it, to such as do hear, read, and exercise the same.
I am not ignorant, that as the Israelites loathed manna, because that every day they saw and ate but one thing, so some there be now-a-days, (who will not be holden of the worst sort,) that after once reading some parcels of the Scriptures, do convert themselves altogether to profane authors and human learning, because that the variety of matters therein contained doth bring with it a daily delectation; where contrariwise, within the simple Scriptures of God, the perpetual repetition of a thing is harassing and wearisome. This temptation, I confess, may enter into God's very elect, for a time: but impossible it is, that therein they continue to the end; for God's election, besides other evident signs, hath this ever joined with it, that God's elect are called from ignorance (I speak of those that are come to the years of knowledge,) to some taste and feeling of God's mercy, of which, they are never satisfied in this life, but from time to time they hunger and they thirst to eat the bread that descended from heaven, and to drink the water that springeth unto life everlasting; which they cannot do, but by means of faith; and faith looketh ever to the will of God revealed by his word; so that Faith hath both her beginning and continuance by the word of God. And so, I say, that impossible it is that God's chosen children can despise or reject the word of their salvation, by any long continuance, neither yet loathe it to the end. Often it is, that God's elect are holden in such bondage and thralldom, that they cannot have the bread of life broken unto them, neither yet liberty to exercise themselves in God's holy word; but then do not God's dear children loathe, but most greedily do they covet the food of their souls. Then do they accuse their former negligence, then lament and bewail they the miserable affliction of their brethren; and then cry and call they in their hearts, (and openly where they dare,) for free passage to the gospel. This hunger and thirst doth argue and prove the life of their souls. But if such men as having liberty to read and exercise themselves on God's holy Scripture, and yet do begin to weary, because from time to time they read but one thing; I ask, why weary they not also every day to drink wine, to eat bread every day, to behold the brightness of the sun, and so to use the rest of God's creatures which every day do keep their own substance, course, and nature? They shall answer, I trust, Because such creatures have a strength, as oft as they are used, to expel hunger, to quench thirst, to restore strength, and to preserve the life. O miserable wretches! who dare attribute more power and strength to the corruptible creatures in nourishing and preserving the mortal carcass, than to the eternal word of God in nourishment of the soul, which is immortal.
To reason with their abominable unthankfulness at this present, is not my purpose. But to you, dear brethren, I write my knowledge, and do speak my conscience, that so necessary as meat and drink are to the preservation of life corporal, and so necessary as the heat and brightness of the sun are to the quickening of the herbs and to expel darkness, so necessary is also to life everlasting, and to the illumination and light of the soul, the perpetual meditation, exercise, and use of God's holy word.
And therefore, dear brethren, if that ye look for a life to come, of necessity it is that ye exercise yourselves in the book of the Lord your God. Let no day slip over without some comfort received from the mouth of God. Open your ears, and He will speak, even pleasing things to your heart. Close not your eyes, but diligently let them behold what portion of substance is left to you within your Father's testament. Let your tongue learn to praise the gracious goodness of Him who of his mere mercy hath called you from darkness to light, and from death to life. Neither yet may you do this so quietly, that ye will admit no witnesses. Nay, brethren, ye are ordained of God to rule and govern your own houses in God's true fear, and according to his holy word - within your own houses, I say, in some cases ye are bishops and kings; your wives, children, and family are your bishopric and charge; of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently ye have instructed them in God's true knowledge; how ye have studied, in them to plant virtue, and to repress vice. And therefore I say, ye must make them partakers in reading, exhortation, and in making common prayers; which I would, in every house were used once a day at least. But above all things, dear brethren, study to practice in life that which the Lord commands, and then be ye assured, that ye shall never hear nor read the same without fruit. And this much for the exercises within your houses.
Considering that Paul calls the congregation, the body of Christ, whereof every one of us is a member; teaching us thereby, that no member is of sufficiency to sustain and feed itself, without the help and support of any other, I think it necessary, that for the conference of Scriptures, assemblies of brethren be had. The order therein to be observed, is expressed by Paul, and therefore I need not to use many words in that behalf: only willing, that when ye convene, (which I would were once a week,) that your beginning should be from confessing of your offences, and invocation of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus to assist you in all your godly enterprises; and then, let some place of Scripture be plainly and distinctly read, so much as shall be thought sufficient for a day or time: - which ended, if any brother have exhortation, interpretation, or doubt, let him not fear to speak and move the same, so that he do it with moderation, either to edify, or be edified. And hereof, I doubt not, but great profit shall shortly ensue: for first, by hearing, reading, and comparing the Scriptures, in the assembly, the whole body of the Scriptures of God shall become familiar; the judgments and spirits of men shall be tried; their patience and modesty shall be known, and finally their gifts and utterance shall appear. Multiplication of words, perplexed interpretation, and willfulness in reasoning, is to be avoided at all times, and in all places, but chiefly in the congregation, where nothing ought to be respected, except the glory of God, and comfort and edification of our brethren. If any thing occur within the text, or yet arise in reasoning, which your judgments cannot resolve, or capacities apprehend, let the same be noted and put in writing, before ye depart the congregation, that when God shall offer unto you any interpreter, your doubts being noted and known, may have the more expeded resolution; or else, that when ye shall have occasion to write to such as with whom ye would communicate your judgments, your letters may signify and declare your unfeigned desire that ye have of God and of his true knowledge, and they, I doubt not, according to their talents, will endeavour, and bestow their faithful labours, to satisfy your godly petitions. Of myself, I will speak as I think; I will more gladly spend fifteen hours in communicating my judgment with you, in explaining, as God pleases to open to me, any place of Scripture, than half an hour in any other matter beside.
Further, in reading the Scriptures, I would ye should join some books of the Old, and some of the New Testament together; as Genesis and one of the Evangelists, Exodus with another, and so forth, ever ending such books as ye begin (as the time will suffer:) for it shall greatly comfort you, to hear that harmony and well-tuned song of the Holy Spirit speaking in our fathers from the beginning. It shall confirm you in these dangerous and perilous days, to behold the face of Christ Jesus' loving Spouse and Kirk, from Abel to himself, and from himself to this day, in all ages to be one. Be frequent in the Prophets, and in the Epistles of Paul; for the multitude of matters most comfortable therein contained, requireth exercise and good memory. Like as your assembly ought to begin with confession and invocation of God's Holy Spirit, so would I that they were never finished without thanksgiving, and common prayers for princes, rulers, and magistrates; for the liberty and free passage of Christ's evangel; for the comfort and deliverance of our afflicted brethren in all places, now persecuted, but most cruelly now, within the realms of France and England; and for such other things, as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus shall teach unto you to be profitable either to yourselves, or yet to your brethren, wheresoever they be. If thus or better, dear brethren, I shall hear that you exercise yourselves, then will I praise God for your great obedience, as for them that not only have received the word of grace with gladness, but that also, with care do keep the same, as a treasure and jewel most precious. And because that I cannot suspect, that ye will do the contrary at this present, I will use no threatenings; for my good hope is, that ye shall walk as the sons of light, in the midst of this wicked generation; that ye shall be as stars in the night season, who yet are not changed into darkness: that ye shall be as wheat amongst the cockle, and yet, that ye shall not change your nature which ye have received by grace, through the fellowship and participation which we have with the Lord Jesus, in his body and blood. And finally, that ye shall be of the number of the prudent virgins, daily renewing your lamps with oil, as they that patiently abide the glorious appearance and coming of the Lord Jesus: whose omnipotent Spirit rule and instruct, illuminate and comfort your hearts and minds in all assaults, now and ever. Amen.
The grace of the Lord Jesus rest with you. Remember my weakness in your daily prayers.
Your brother unfeigned,
THE 7TH OF JULY, 1556.