The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth
Adapted from a Sermon by Jonathan Edwards
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food." Heb 5:12
These words are a complaint, which the apostle makes of a certain defect in the Christian Hebrews, to whom he wrote.
At the outset we can observe two things with respect to this verse:
1. What defect the Apostle is complaining of
2. How this defect shows itself.
1. What is the defect the Apostle is complaining of?
The apostle complains of them, that they had not progressed in their learning of the things of divinity or things taught in the Word of God, which they ought to have made. And he means to reprove them, not merely for their deficiency in spiritual and experimental knowledge of divine things, but for their deficiency in their knowledge of the teaching of Scripture, and the truths of the Christian religion as is evident by the context.
2. Secondly, we can observe how this defect shows itself.
It reveals itself by how little they had grown with respect to the time that had passed since their conversion. For given the time they had been exposed to the truth, they ought to have been teachers. As they were Christians, their business was to learn and gain Christian knowledge. They were students in the school of Christ; and if they had made good use of their time in learning, as they ought to have done, they might, by the time when the apostle wrote, have been fit to be teachers in this school.
Now to whatever business any one is devoted, it may be expected that his skill in it will be related to the amount of time he has had to learn and perfect himself- - Christians should not always remain infants, but should grow in Christian knowledge; and, leaving the food of infants, which is milk, should learn to digest solid food.
And we can lay down the doctrine taught in this verse in these words:
Every Christian should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge in divinity.
The goal this morning is to firmly establish this principle in our minds that every Christian should make a business of endeavoring to grow in knowledge in divinity.
Now this is indeed considered to be the business of pastors and ministers: it is commonly thought to be their work, by the study of the Scriptures, and other helpful books, to gain knowledge; and most people seem to think that it can be left to them, and that others need not concern themselves with this;
But if the apostle had thought this was the case, he would never have blamed the Christian Hebrews for not having learned enough to be teachers: or if he had thought, that this concerned Christians only in a general kind of way, only as a secondary thing, and that their time should not, in a considerable measure, be taken up with this business; he never would have blamed them so directly, for not having grown as they ought to have given their time.
In handling this subject, that every Christian should make a business of endeavoring to grow in knowledge in divinity, we will advance by four steps showing:
1. First, what do we mean by divinity.
2. Then, what kind of knowledge in divinity is intended.
3. Thirdly, why knowledge in divinity is necessary.
4. And in the fourth place, why all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in this knowledge.
1. First, we should be clear as to what in intended by the word divinity.
By divinity is simply meant all that is taught in the Scriptures, and so all that we need know, or is to be known, concerning God and Jesus Christ, concerning our duty to God, and our happiness in God.
Divinity can be thought of as the teaching of living to God by Christ. It includes all Christian teachings as they are in Jesus, and all Christian rules directing us in living to God by Christ.
There is nothing in divinity, no one doctrine, no promise, no rule, but what in some way or another relates to the Christian and his living to God by Christ. They all relate to this, in two respects, first, as they tend to promote our living to God here in this world, in a life of faith and holiness, and secondly as they also tend to bring us to a life of perfect holiness and happiness, in the full enjoyment of God hereafter--But I moving on to the second main heading, that is,
2. To show what kind of knowledge in divinity is intended in the doctrine.
Here we should observe:
1. First that there are really two kinds of knowledge of the things of God,
On the one hand there is theoretical knowledge, knowledge of things and facts, natural knowledge; and on the other there is such a thing as practical knowledge, knowledge that has become part of us, spiritual knowledge.
The first remains only in the head. No other faculty but the understanding is concerned in it. It consists in having a natural or rational knowledge of the things of religion, or such a knowledge as is to be obtained by the natural exercise of our own reason, without any special enlightening of the Spirit of God.
The second one does not rest entirely in the head; but the heart is concerned in it: it principally consists in the sense of the heart. The mere intellect, without the heart, the will, is not where it lives. And it may not only be called seeing, but feeling or tasting.
And so there is a difference between having a right theoretical notion of the doctrines contained in the word of God, and having a due sense of them in the heart. In the first things consists theoretical or natural knowledge of the things of divinity; in the second consists the spiritual or practical knowledge of them.
2. Now the second thing we can observe is that neither of these rules the other one out:
but rather it is intended that we should seek the first one in order to obtain the second one. The second, that is a spiritual and practical knowledge of divinity, is of the greatest importance; for a theoretical knowledge of it, without a spiritual knowledge, is in useless and will only serve to make our condemnation greater. Yet a theoretical knowledge is also of infinite importance in this respect, since without it we can have no spiritual or practical knowledge.
Now the apostle, in this verse, speaks not only of a spiritual knowledge, but primarily of theoretical knowledge, such knowledge as can be acquired, and communicated from one to another. Yet we should not think that he means only this. But he would have the Christian Hebrews seek the one, in order to obtain the other.
Therefore theoretical knowledge is most directly intended in this verse; it is intended that Christians should, by reading and other proper means, seek a good rational knowledge of the things of divinity. Spiritual knowledge is more indirectly intended, since it is to be sought by the other, as its end.
But we move the to the third thing proposed, and that is, to
3. show the usefulness and necessity of knowledge in divinity.
To this end we will consider two arguments.
1. The first is that there is no other way by which any means of grace whatsoever can be of any benefit, but by knowledge.
All teaching is useless, without learning. Therefore, the preaching of the gospel would be completely useless, if it imparted no knowledge to the mind. There is an order of men whom Christ has appointed on purpose to be teachers in his church. They are to teach the things of divinity. But they teach in vain, if no knowledge in these things is gained by their teaching.
It is impossible that their teaching and preaching should be a means of grace, or of any good in the hearts of their hearers, in any other way than by knowledge imparted to the understanding.
Otherwise it would do as much good to his hearers, if the minister should preach in some unknown language. All the difference is, that preaching in a known language conveys something to the understanding, which preaching in an unknown language does not. And so because of this, such preaching would necessarily be unprofitable. Men in such things receive nothing, when they understand nothing; and are not at all edified, unless some knowledge is conveyed as the Apostle Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 14 when he talks about the need for someone to interpret when someone speaks in tongues. (1 Cor. 14:2-6)
No mere words can be any means of grace, but by imparting of knowledge. Otherwise the speech is as much lost as if there had been no one there to hear it, and the one who spoke, had spoken only into the air; as it follows in the passage just quoted. (v. 6-10)
He who does not understand, can receive no faith, nor any other grace; for God deals with man as with a rational creature; and when faith is at work, it is not about something he does not know. Therefore hearing is absolutely necessary to faith; because hearing is necessary to understanding. As the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans "how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?" (Rom 10:14)
In the same way there can be no love without knowledge. It is not according to the nature of the human soul, to love an object which is entirely unknown. The heart cannot be set upon an object of which there is no idea in the understanding. The reasons which induce the soul to love, must first be understood, before they can have a reasonable influence on the heart.
God has given us the Bible, which is a book of instructions. But this book cannot profit us in any other way than by its conveying some knowledge to the mind: it can profit us no more than if it were written in some language of which we know not one word.
So the sacraments of the gospel can have a proper effect no other way, than by conveying some knowledge. They represent certain things by visible signs, and what is the purpose of signs, but to convey some knowledge of the things it pictures?
Such is the nature of man, that nothing can come at the heart, but through the door of the understanding: and there can be no spiritual knowledge of that of which there is not first a rational knowledge. It is impossible that any one should see the truth or excellency of any doctrine of the gospel, who has no idea what that doctrine is.
A man cannot see the wonderful excellency and love of Christ in doing such and such things for sinners, unless his understanding is first informed how those things were done. He cannot have a taste of the sweetness and divine excellency of such and such things contained in divinity, unless he first has a notion that there are such and such things.
2. The second argument is this, that if a man has no knowledge of these things, the faculty of reason in him will be totally wasted.
The faculty of reason and understanding was given for actual understanding and knowledge. If a man has no actual knowledge, the faculty or capacity of knowing is of no use to him. And if he has actual knowledge, yet if he does not have the knowledge of those things which are the ultimate purpose of his being, and for the sake of the knowledge of which he has more understanding given to him than the brute animals; then still his faculty of reason is to no purpose; he might as well have been a beast, as a man with this knowledge.
But the things of divinity are the things to know for which we have been given the faculty of reason. They are the things which have to do with the purpose of our being, and to the great business for which we are made. Therefore the ultimate purpose of our faculty of understanding has to do with the knowledge of the things of divinity. So that this kind of knowledge is absolutely necessary.
Other kinds of knowledge may be very useful. Some other sciences, such as astronomy, and mathematics, and geography, may be very excellent in their place. But the knowledge of this divine science is infinitely more useful and important than of all other sciences whatever they may be.
Which brings us to the fourth, and principal thing proposed under the doctrine, and that is,
4. to give the reasons why all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of divinity.
This implies two things.
1. First, that Christians ought not to content themselves with what they already know of religion.
It should not satisfy them that they know as much as is absolutely necessary to salvation, but should endeavor to make progress.
2. And in the second place, that this endeavoring to make progress in such knowledge ought not to be looked upon as a secondary thing, but all Christians should make a primary business of it: they should look upon it as a part of their daily business, and no small part of it either. They should apply themselves to it as a considerable part of the work of their high calling.
Let me give you a number of reasons in support of these two implications:
(1.) First, surely our business should mainly consist in using those faculties, which we have above brute animals, in the pursuit of those things which are the main purpose of those faculties.
In other words, our ability to reason should really be focussed primarily on the things of God.
The reason why we are given abilities superior to those of animals, is, that we are indeed designed for superior things. That which the Creator intended should be our main business, is something above what he intended the beasts for, and therefore he has given us superior powers. Therefore, without a doubt, it should be a considerable part of our business to improve those superior faculties. But the faculty by which we are mainly different from the animals, is the faculty of understanding.
It follows then, that we should make it our chief business to improve this faculty, and should by no means treat it as a secondary matter. For us to make the improvement of this faculty a secondary thing, is in effect for us to make the faculty of understanding itself a secondary things, a faculty less important than others; whereas in reality it is the highest faculty we have.
But we cannot make a business of the improvement of our intellectual faculty, in any other way than by making a business of improving ourselves in actual understanding and knowledge. So that those who do not make this their central business, but, instead of improving their understanding to acquire knowledge, are chiefly devoted to their inferior powers, to provide the means to please their senses, and gratify their animal appetites, and so rather make their understanding a servant to their inferior powers, than their inferior powers servants to their understanding; such people not only behave themselves in a manner not becoming Christians, but also act as if they had forgotten that they are men, and that God has set them above the animals, by giving them understanding.
God has given to man some things in common with animals, as in his outward senses, his bodily appetites, a capacity for bodily pleasure and pain, and other animal faculties: and he has given him some things that are superior to the animals, the main one being a faculty of understanding and reason.
Now God never gave man those faculties whereby he is above the animals, to be subject to those which he has in common with the animals. This would be a very strange thing, and would be like making man to be a servant to the beasts. On the contrary, he has given those inferior powers to be used in the service of man's understanding; and therefore it must be a great part of man's main business, to improve his understanding by acquiring knowledge. If so, then it will follow, that it should be a main part of his business to improve his understanding in acquiring divine knowledge, or the knowledge of the things of divinity; for the knowledge of these things is the main purpose of this faculty. God gave man the faculty of understanding, primarily, that he might understand divine things.
The wiser men among the heathens were aware that the main business of man was the improvement and exercise of his understanding. But they were in the dark, since they did not know the main thing their understanding should have been focussed on. That science which many of them thought should chiefly employ the understanding, was philosophy; and accordingly they made it their chief business to study it.
But we who enjoy the light of the gospel are more blessed. We are not left in the dark, as to this particular thing. God has told us about what things we should mainly use our understanding, having given us a book full of divine instructions, holding forth many glorious objects about which all rational creatures should mainly apply their understanding. These instructions are suited to persons of all capacities and conditions, and proper to be studied, not only by men of learning, but by all types of people, learned and unlearned, young and old, men and women. Therefore the acquisition of knowledge in these things should be a main business of all those who have the advantage of enjoying the Holy Scriptures.
Why should all Christians make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of divinity? Here is a second consideration:
(2.) The things of divinity are things of supreme excellency, and are worthy that everyone should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of them.
There are no things so worthy to be known as these things. They are as much above those things which are treated of in other sciences, as heaven is above the earth. God himself, the eternal Three in one, is the chief object of this science: in the next place, Jesus Christ, as God-man and Mediator, and the glorious work of redemption, the most glorious work that ever was accomplished: then the great things of the heavenly world, the glorious and eternal inheritance purchased by Christ, and promised in the gospel; the work of the Holy Spirit of God on the hearts of men; our duty to God, and the way in which we ourselves may become like angels, and like God himself in our measure: all these are objects of this science.
Such things as these have been the main subject of the study of the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, and the most excellent men that ever were in the world, and are also the subject of the study of the angels in heaven. (1 Pet. 1:10,11,12)
These things are so excellent and worthy to be known, that the knowledge of them will richly pay for all the pains and efforts of an earnest seeking of them. If there were a great treasure of gold and pearls hidden in the earth, but should accidentally be found, and should be opened among us with such circumstances that all might have as much as they could gather of it; would not every one think it worth his while to make a business of gathering it while it should last? But that treasure of divine knowledge, which is contained in the Scriptures, and is provided for every one to gather to himself as much of it as he can, is a far more rich treasure than any one of gold and pearls. How busy are all sorts of men, all over the world, in getting riches! But this knowledge is a far better kind of riches, than that after which they so diligently and painstakingly pursue.
Here is another consideration why all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of divinity.
(3.) The things of divinity not only concern ministers and pastors, but are of infinite importance to all Christians.
The doctrines, the teachings of divinity are not like the doctrines of philosophy and other sciences. These last are mostly academic matters, which are of little concern in everyday life; and it does not change our temporal or spiritual case much whether we know them or not. Academics may argue about them, some being of one opinion, and others of another. And while they are engaged in lively disputes about them, others may well leave them to dispute among themselves, without troubling their heads much about them; more often it being of little concern to them, whether the one or the other is finally in the right.
But this is not the case in matters of divinity. These doctrines directly concern every one. They are about those things which relate to every man's eternal salvation and happiness. The common people cannot say, “Let us leave these matters to ministers and theologians; let them dispute them out among themselves as they can; they do not concern us,” because they are of infinite importance to every man. Those doctrines of divinity which relate to the essence, attributes, and being of God, concern everyone; as it is of infinite importance to common people, as well as to ministers, to know what kind of being God is. For he is the Being who has made us all; he is the Lord of all in whom "we live and move and have our being;" (Acts 17:28); the Being to whom we are all accountable and the only source of our happiness.
The doctrines also which relate to Jesus Christ and his mediation, his incarnation, his life and death, his resurrection and ascension, his sitting at the right hand of the Father, his atonement and intercession, infinitely concern common people as well as ministers. They stand in as much need of this Saviour, and of an interest in his person and offices, and the things which he has done and suffered, as pastors, ministers and theologians.
The same may be said of the doctrines which relate to the way in which a sinner is justified, or the way in which he becomes involved in the mediation of Christ. They concern all equally; for all stand in the same need of justification before God. That eternal condemnation, to which we are all naturally exposed, is equally dreadful. So with respect to those doctrines of divinity, which relate to the work of the Spirit of God on the heart, in the application of redemption in our effectual calling and sanctification, all are equally concerned in them. There is no doctrine of divinity whatsoever, which does not in some way or another concern the eternal interest of every Christian. None of the things which God has taught us in his word are needless speculations, or trivial matters; all of them are indeed important points.
(4.) A fourth aspect to consider is that we may argue from the great things which God has done in order to give us instruction in these things.
As to other sciences, he has left us to ourselves, to the light of our own reason. But the things of divinity being of infinitely greater importance to us, he has not left us to an uncertain guide; but has himself given us a revelation of the truth in these matters, and has done very great things to give us and confirm to us this revelation; raising up many prophets in different ages, directly inspiring them with his Holy Spirit, and confirming their doctrine with innumerable miracles or wonderful works of providence. He raised up a succession of prophets, which was continued for several ages.
It was very much for this purpose that God separated the people of Israel, in so wonderful a way, from all other people, and kept them separate; It was so that to them he might commit the oracles of God, and that from them they might be communicated to the world. He has also often sent angels to bring divine instructions to men; and has often himself appeared to men in miraculous symbols or manifestations of his presence; and now in these last days has sent his own Son into the world, to be his great prophet, to teach us divinity; (Heb. 1)
By all these means God has given us a book of divine instructions, which contains the sum of divinity. Now, God has not only done these things for the instruction of ministers and men of learning; but for the instruction of all men, of all sorts, learned and unlearned, men, women, and children. And certainly if God does such great things to teach us, should we be doing little to learn?
Consider this. God has not made giving instructions to men in things of divinity a secondary business; but a business which he has undertaken and brought about in a course of great and wonderful dispensations, as an affair in which his heart has been greatly engaged; which is sometimes in Scripture pictured to us by the expression of God's rising early to teach us, and to send prophets and teachers to us.
Listen to these touching words of Jeremiah. "From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day." (Jer 7:25) And also "I spoke to you persistently." (v.13) This is a figurative way of saying that God has not done this as a secondary business, but as a business of great importance, in which he took great care, and in which his heart was engaged; because people are inclined to get up early in the morning to carry out the business that they are earnestly engaged in.-- If God has been so engaged in teaching, certainly we should not be negligent in learning; nor should we make growing in knowledge a secondary business, but a great part of the business of our lives.
In the fifth place, that all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of divinity may be argued from:
(5.) The abundance of the instructions which God has given us, from the largeness of that book which God has given to teach us divinity, and from the great variety that it contains.
Much was taught by Moses, which we have transmitted down to us; after that, other books were from time to time added; much is taught us by David and Solomon; and many and excellent are the instructions communicated by the prophets: yet God did not consider all this enough, but after this sent Christ and his apostles, by whom there is added a great and excellent treasure to that holy book, which is to be our rule in the study of divinity.
This book was written so that it may be read and understood by all; all are directed to search the Scriptures. Jesus declares in John, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me;" (John 5:39) and Isaiah writes, "Seek and read from the book of the LORD." (Is 34:16) Those who read and understand are pronounced blessed in Revelation, "Blessed is the one who reads... and who keep what is written." (Rev 1:3) If this is true of that particular book of Revelation, much more is it true of the Bible in general. And is it reasonable to think that God would have given instructions in such abundance, if he had intended that receiving instruction should only be a secondary concern with us?
Consider this. All those abundant instructions which are contained in the Scriptures were written for that purpose, that they might be understood; otherwise they cannot be called instructions. That which is not given that the learner may understand it, is not given for the learner's instruction; and unless we endeavor to grow in the knowledge of divinity, a very great part of those instructions will be of no use to us; for we benefit by no more of the Scriptures than we understand, no more than if they were locked up in an unknown language. We have reason to bless God that he has given us such various and plentiful instruction in his word; but this will all be hypocrisy if, after all, we content ourselves with little of this instruction.
When God has opened a very large treasure before us, to supply all our needs, and we thank him that he has given us so much; if at the same time we are willing to ignore the greatest part of it, because we are too lazy to gather it, this will be evidence of the insincerity of our thankfulness.
Another reason why all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of divinity is, in the sixth place, that:
(6.) However diligently we apply ourselves, there will always be room to increase our knowledge in divinity, without ever coming to an end.
No one can say that they have no need of diligently applying themselves to gain knowledge in divinity because they know it all already.
No one can excuse themselves because they have run out of material so to speak. There is room enough to busy ourselves forever in this divine science, with the greatest efforts. Those who have applied themselves most earnestly, who have studied the longest, and have made the greatest progress in this knowledge, know but little of what is to be known.
The subject is happily inexhaustible. That divine Being, who is the main subject of this science, is infinite, and there is no end to the glory of his perfections. His works at the same time are wonderful, and cannot be completely found out; especially, the work of redemption, which is that work of God about which the science of divinity mainly speaks, is full of unsearchable wonders.
The word of God, which is given for our instruction in divinity, contains enough in it to keep us busy to the end of our lives, and then we will leave enough uninvestigated to busy the heads of the most able theologians to the end of the world. The Psalmist found an end to the things that are human; but he could never find an end to what is contained in the word of God; He writes in that wonderful Psalm 119, “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.” (Ps 119:96) There is enough in this divine science to busy the understandings of saints and angels to all eternity.
(7.) A seventh consideration is that it doubtless concerns every one to endeavor to excel in the knowledge of things which have to do with his profession or principal calling.
If it concerns men to excel in anything or in any wisdom or knowledge at all, it certainly concerns them to excel in the affairs of their main profession and work. But the calling and work of every Christian is to live to God. This is said to be his high calling. (Phil.3:14) This is the business, and, if I may so speak, the trade of a Christian, his main work, and indeed should be his only work. No business should be done by a Christian, but as it is some way or other a part of this. Therefore certainly the Christian should endeavor to be well acquainted with those things which belong to this work, that he may fulfill it, and be thoroughly equipped to do it.
It becomes one who is called to be a soldier, and to go to war, to endeavor to excel in the art of war. It becomes one who is called to be a sailor, and to spend his life in sailing the ocean, to endeavor to excel in the art of navigation. It becomes one who professes to be a physician, and devotes himself to that work, to endeavor to excel in the knowledge of those things which have to do with the art of healing. So it becomes all such as profess to be Christians, and to devote themselves to the practice of Christianity, to endeavor to excel in the knowledge of divinity.
(8.) Yet another argument, the eighth, which shows that all Christians should make a business of endeavoring to grow in the knowledge of divinity is this: that God has explicitly appointed an order of men for this very purpose, to assist people in gaining knowledge in these things.
He has appointed them to be teachers, as Paul instructs the Corinthians that “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers." (1 Cor 12:28) and the Ephesians that, "he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Eph 4:11,12) If God has set them to be teachers, making that their business, then he has made it their business to impart knowledge. But what kind of knowledge? Not the knowledge of philosophy, or of human laws, or of engineering, but of divinity.
If God has made it the business of some to be teachers, it will follow, that he has made it the business of others to be learners; for teachers and learners go together, one of which was never intended to be without the other. God has never made it the duty of some to take pains to teach those who are not under an obligation to take pains to learn. He has not commanded ministers to spend themselves, in order to impart knowledge to those who are not under obligation to apply themselves to receive it.
The name by which Christians are commonly called in the New Testament is disciples, the meaning of word being scholars or learners. All Christians are put into the school of Christ, where their business is to learn, or receive knowledge from Christ, their common master and teacher, and from those inferior teachers appointed by him to instruct in his name.
(9.) The ninth and last argument is that God has in the Scriptures plainly revealed it to be his will, that all Christians should diligently endeavor to excel in the knowledge of divine things.
It is the revealed will of God, that Christians should not only have some knowledge of things of this nature, but that they should be enriched with all knowledge: So Paul writes to the Corinthians, "I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge." (1 Cor.1:4-5)
So the apostle earnestly prayed, that the Philippian Christians might abound more and more, not only in love, but in Christian knowledge: "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment." (Phil 1:9)
So the Apostle Peter advises to "make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge," (2 Pet. 1:5) And the writer of Hebrews, in the next chapter to that of our verse, counsels the Christian Hebrews, leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, to go on to perfection. He would by no means have them always rest only in those fundamental doctrines of repentance, and faith, and the resurrection from the dead, and the eternal judgment, in which they were taught when they were first baptized, and had the apostle's hands laid on them, at their first initiation in Christianity.
And now by way of Application,
The use that we should make of this doctrine is to be strongly encouraged to endeavor to gain this kind of knowledge.
Consider yourselves as scholars or disciples, put into the school of Christ, and therefore be diligent to become proficient in Christian knowledge. Do not content yourselves that you have been taught your catechism in your childhood, and that you know as much of the principles of religion as is necessary to salvation. In doing this you will be guilty of what the apostle warns against, that is of going no further than the very beginnings of religion.
You are all called to be Christians, and this is your profession. Endeavor, therefore, to acquire knowledge in things which have to do with your profession.—Do not give your teachers reason to complain, that while they spend and are spent, to impart knowledge to you, you make little effort to learn. It is a great encouragement to an instructor, to have such to teach as make a business of learning, bending their minds to it. This makes teaching a pleasure, when otherwise it will be a very heavy and burdensome task.
You all have by you a large treasure of divine knowledge, in that you have the Bible in your hands; therefore do not be content in possessing but little of this treasure. God has spoken much to you in the Scripture; labor to understand as much of what he says as you can. God has made you all reasonable creatures; therefore do not let the noble faculty of reason or understanding go to waste. Do not content not yourselves with having so much knowledge as is thrown in your way, and as you receive in some sense unavoidably by the frequent pressing of divine truth in the preaching of the word, of which you are forced to be hearers, or as you accidentally gain in conversation; but let it be very much your business to search for it, and that with the same diligence and labor with which men are liable to dig in mines of silver and gold.
Especially the young are encouraged to busy themselves in this way. Men are never too old to learn; but the time of youth is especially the time for learning; it is especially proper for gaining and storing up knowledge. Further, to stir up all, both old and young, to this duty, Jonathan Edwards gives us these useful encouragements to consider,
1. first, If you apply yourselves diligently to this work, you will never be without something useful to do, when your day to day work is done.
In this way, you may find something in which you may profitably occupy yourselves when circumstances free up your time. You will find something else to do, to keep you from falling into the traps of the devil, the temptations of the world, unprofitable conversation, or, at best, to focus on no other purpose but to amuse yourselves, to fill up and wear away your time.
Young people might find something else to do, besides spending their time in vain company; something that would be much more profitable to themselves, as it would really turn to some good account; something, which as they do it, they would both take them more out of the devil's way, the way of temptation, and bring them more in the way of duty, and of a divine blessing.
And even aged people would have something to occupy themselves in after they have lost the ability to do physical work. Their time, as is now often the case, would not be a burden to them, as they would, with both profit and pleasure, be engaged in searching the Scriptures, and in comparing and meditating on the various truths which they should find there.
2. In the second place, this would be a noble way of spending your time.
The Holy Spirit calls the Bereans noble, because they diligently applied themselves to this business: We read in Acts how "these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11) This is very much the activity of heaven. The inhabitants of that world spend much of their time in searching into the great things of divinity, and endeavoring to acquire knowledge in them, as the Apostle Peter tells of the angels in his first letter when he speaks of, "things into which angels long to look." (1 Pet. 1:12)
This will be very compatible with what you hope will be your business to all eternity, as you doubtless hope to join in the same activities with the angels of light. Solomon says in the book of Proverbs, "the glory of kings is to search things out;" (Prov. 25:2) and certainly, above all others, to search out divine matters. Now if this is the glory even of kings, is it not equally, if not much more, your glory?
3. In the third place, this is a pleasant way of making good use of your time.
Knowledge is pleasant and delightful to intelligent creatures, and above all the knowledge of divine things; for in them are the most excellent truths, and the most beautiful and desirable objects which we can behold. However difficult the work related to this business may be, yet once such knowledge is obtained it will richly make up for the pains taken to obtain it. "For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul." (Prov 2:10)
4. Next, this knowledge is exceeding useful in Christian practice.
Those who have much knowledge in divinity have great means and advantages for spiritual and saving knowledge; for no means of grace, as was said before, have their effect on the heart, otherwise than by the knowledge they impart. The more you have of a rational knowledge of the things of the gospel, the more opportunity there will be, when the Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of these things, and to taste the goodness of them.
Heathens, who have no rational knowledge of the things of the gospel, have no opportunity to see the excellency of them; and therefore the more rational knowledge of these things you have, the more opportunity and advantage you have to see the divine excellency and glory of them.
Again, The more knowledge you have of divine things, the better will you know your duty; your knowledge will be of great use to direct you as to your duty in particular cases. You will also be the better equipped against the temptations of the devil. For the devil often takes advantage of peoples’ ignorance to assault them with temptations which otherwise would have no hold on them.
By having much knowledge, you will be at a an advantages to conduct yourselves with prudence and discretion in your Christian life, and so to live much more to the honor of God and religion. Many who mean well, and are full of a good spirit, yet, because they lack prudence, conduct themselves so as to harm religion. Many have a zeal of God, which does more harm than good, because it is not according to knowledge. (Rom. 10:2) The reason why many good men behave no better in many instances, is not so much that they lack grace, as that they lack knowledge.
Besides, an increase of knowledge would be a great help to profitable conversation. It would equip you with matter for conversation when you come together, or when you visit your friends: and so you would have less temptation to spend the time in such conversation as tends to your own and others' hurt.
5. In the fifth place, consider the advantages you are under to grow in the knowledge of divinity.
We are under far greater advantages to gain much knowledge in divinity now, than God's people under the Old Testament, both because the canon of Scripture has grown so much since that time, and also because evangelical truths are now so much more plainly revealed. So that common men are now in some respects better placed to know more of divinity, than the greatest prophets were then.
Thus that saying of Christ is in a sense applicable to us, Luke 10:23,24, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."
And we are in some respects under far greater advantages for gaining knowledge, now in these last days of the church, than Christians were formerly; especially by reason of publishing and the internet, of which God has given us the benefit, whereby Bibles and other profitable books are so easily accessed, and anyone who will seek them can find helps for the obtaining of Christian knowledge.
6. And in the sixth and last place, we know not what opposition we may meet with in the principles which we hold in divinity.
We know that there are many adversaries to the gospel and its truths. If therefore we embrace those truths, we must expect to be attacked by the these adversaries; and unless we are well informed concerning divine things, how will we be able to defend ourselves? Besides, the Apostle Peter enjoins it upon us, always to be ready to give an answer to every man who asks us a reason of the hope that is in us. But this we cannot expect to do without a considerable knowledge in divine things.
And now as we come to a close, here are some directions for how to acquire this knowledge.
1. First, be diligent in reading the holy Scriptures.
This is the source from where all knowledge in divinity must be derived. Therefore do not let this treasure lie by your side neglected. Every common man who can read, may, if he wants, become well acquainted with the Scriptures. And what an excellent thing this would be!
2. Secondly, do not content yourselves with only a superficial reading, without paying attention to the sense.
This is a bad way of reading, to which, however, many accustom themselves all their days. When you read, observe what you read. Observe how things come in. Take notice of the sense of the discourse, and compare one Scripture with another. For the Scripture, by how it is in harmony in all its different parts, casts great light upon itself.
We are expressly directed by Christ to search the Scriptures, which evidently intends something more than a mere superficial reading.
And use means to find out the meaning of the Scripture. When you have it explained in the preaching of the word, take notice of it; and if at any time a Scripture that you did not understand is cleared up in your mind, mark it, take not of it, and if possible remember it.
3. Next, seek out, and diligently use other books which may help you to grow in this knowledge.
There are many excellent books some in print and many freely available online, which might be a great help to you in this knowledge, and supply you with very profitable and pleasant entertainment in your leisure hours. Many of the works of Calvin, and so many of the profitable writings of the puritans are all readily available in our day and age.
4. In the fourth place, nurture conversation with others to this end.
How much might persons promote each other's knowledge in divine things, if they would nurture conversation as they might; if men that are ignorant were not ashamed to show their ignorance, and were willing to learn of others; if those that have knowledge would communicate it, without pride and pretension; and if all were more disposed to enter on such conversation as would be for their mutual edification and instruction.
5. Next, do not seek to grow in knowledge for the sake of applause, and to enable you to argue with others;
Rather seek it for the benefit of your souls, and in order to practice it. If the applause of others is your goal, you will not be so likely to be led to the knowledge of the truth, but may justly, as often is the case of those who are proud of their knowledge, be led into error to your own destruction. If this is your goal, if you should obtain much rational knowledge, it would not be likely to be of any benefit to you, but would puff you up with pride. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, this type of "knowledge puffs up." (1 Cor. 8:1)
6. In the sixth place, pray to God, that he would direct you, and bless you, in this pursuit after knowledge.
This is the apostle's direction: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach." (James 1:5) God is the fountain of all divine knowledge. In the words of Solomon "the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding." (Prov 2:6) Endeavor to be aware of your own blindness and ignorance, and your need of the help of God, for fear that you be led into error, instead of true knowledge. As the Apostle Paul can say "if anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise." (1 Cor 3:18)
7. Lastly, put into practice what you have learned.
This will be the way to know more. The Psalmist warmly recommends this way of seeking knowledge in divinity, from his own experience: "I understand more than the aged,” he says, “for I keep your precepts." (Psalm 119:100) And in John’s Gospel, Christ also recommends the same: "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority" (John 7:17)
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles. ... But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”