Lee Gatiss presents a modernised text of Homily 1, “A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture” (Part 1).
For a Christian there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable than the knowledge of Holy Scripture, since in it is contained God’s true word, setting forth his glory, and also our duty. And there is no truth or doctrine necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation but that is, or may be, drawn out of that fountain and well of truth.
Therefore, those who desire to enter into the right and perfect way with God, must apply their minds to know Holy Scripture, without which they can neither sufficiently know God and his will, nor their office and duty. And as drink is pleasant to those who are dry, and meat to those who are hungry, so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture, to those who desire to know God, or themselves, and to do his will. It is only those who are so drowned in worldly vanities that they neither savour God nor any godliness, whose stomachs loathe and abhor the heavenly knowledge and food of God’s word. Indeed, that is why they desire such vanities, rather than the true knowledge of God.
When someone is sick of a fever, whatever they eat and drink, however pleasant it is, is as bitter to them as wormwood — not for the bitterness of the meat, but for the corruption and bitterness that is in their own tongue and mouth. In the same way, the sweetness of God’s word is bitter, not of itself, but only to those who have their minds corrupted by a long custom of sin and love of this world.
Therefore, forsaking the corrupt judgment of the fleshly, who care only for the wellbeing of their physical carcass, let us reverently hear and read Holy Scripture, which is the food of the soul (Matthew 4:4). Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of people’s traditions, devised by human imagination, for our justification and salvation.
The usefulness of Scripture
For in Holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do, and what to avoid, what to believe, what to love, and what to look for from God’s hands. In these books we shall find the Father from whom, the Son by whom, and the Holy Spirit in whom, all things have their being and conservation; and these three Persons are but one God, and one substance.
In these books we may learn to know ourselves, how vile and miserable we are; and also to know God, how good he is of himself, and how he makes us and all creatures partakers of his goodness. We may learn also in these books to know God’s will and pleasure, as much as, for this present time, is convenient for us to know. And, as the great minister and godly preacher, St. John Chrysostom, says, whatever is required for our salvation is fully contained in the Scripture of God.
Those who are ignorant, may there learn and have knowledge. Those who are hard-hearted, and obstinate sinners, shall there find everlasting torments, prepared by God’s justice to make them afraid, and to mollify or soften them. The one who is oppressed with misery in this world, shall there find relief in the promises of everlasting life, to their great consolation and comfort. The one who is wounded (by the devil) unto death, shall find there medicine, by which they may be restored again to health.
If it is necessary to teach any truth, or reprove any false doctrine, to rebuke any vice, to commend any virtue, to give good counsel, to comfort, or to exhort, or to do any other thing necessary for our salvation — all those things (says St. Chrysostom) we may learn plentifully from the Scripture. There is, says Fulgentius, abundantly enough, both for men to eat, and children to suck — whatever is appropriate for all ages, and for all classes and sorts of people.
These books, therefore, ought to be much in our hands, in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, but most of all in our hearts. For the Scripture of God is heavenly meat for our souls (Matthew 4:4): the hearing and keeping of it makes us blessed (Luke 11:28), sanctifies us (John 17:17), and makes us holy; it converts our souls (Psalm 19:7); it is a light lantern to our feet (Psalm 119:105, 130); it is a sure, steadfast, and everlasting instrument of salvation; it gives wisdom to the humble and lowly hearts (Luke 10:39 42); it comforts, makes glad, cheers, and cherishes our conscience; it is a more excellent jewel, or treasure, than any gold or precious stone (Psalm 19:10); it is more sweet than honey or honeycomb (Psalm 119:103); it is called the best part, which Mary chose (Luke 10:42); for it has in it everlasting comfort.
The power of Scripture
The words of Holy Scripture are called words of everlasting life (John 6:68), for they are God’s instrument, ordained for that purpose. They have power to convert, through God’s promise and they are effectual through God’s assistance. Being received in a faithful heart, they always have a heavenly spiritual working in them (Colossians 1:5-6, 25-28). They are lively, active, and mighty in operation, and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Hebrews 4:12).
Christ calls them wise builders, who build upon his word, upon his sure and substantial foundation (Matthew 7:24). By this word of God we shall be judged: for the word that I speak, says Christ, shall judge on the last day (John 12:48). The one who keeps the word of Christ is promised the love and favour of God, and that they shall be the dwelling-place or temple of the blessed Trinity. Great affection for the temporary things of this world shall be diminished in whoever is diligent to read this word, and in their heart to print what they read. And great desire for heavenly things that are promised by God in it, shall increase in them.
There is nothing that so much strengthens our faith and trust in God, that so much keeps up innocence and purity of heart, and also of outward godly life and conversation, as continual reading and meditation on God’s word. For that thing which (by perpetual reading of Holy Scripture, and diligent searching of the same) is deeply imprinted and engraved on the heart, at length turns almost into nature. And, moreover, the effect and virtue of God’s word is to illuminate the ignorant, and to give more light to those who faithfully and diligently read it; to comfort their hearts, and to encourage them to perform that which is commanded by God. It teaches them patience in all adversity, and in prosperity it teaches humility. It teaches what honour is due to God, and what mercy and charity is due to our neighbour. It gives good counsel in all doubtful things. It shows to whom we shall look for aid and help in all perils; and that God is the only giver of victory in all battles and temptations, bodily and spiritual (1 Samuel 14:6-23; 2 Chronicles 20:1-30; 1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 John 5:4).
In reading of God’s word, it is not the one who is most eager to turn the pages or who recites it from memory who profits the most, but the one that is most turned into it, that is most inspired with the Holy Spirit, most in their heart and life altered and changed into that thing which they read — the one that is daily less and less proud, less wrathful, less covetous, and less desirous of worldly and vain pleasures — who daily forsaking their old life of vice, increase in virtue more and more.
In short, there is nothing that more maintains godliness of the mind, and drives away ungodliness, than continual reading or hearing of God’s word, if it is joined with a godly mind, and a good affection to know and follow God’s will. For without a single eye, pure intent, and good mind, nothing is counted as good before God. And, on the other side, nothing more darkens Christ and the glory of God, nor brings in more blindness and all kinds of vices, than does ignorance of God’s word (Isaiah 5:13, 24; Matthew 22:29; 1 Corinthians 14).