John Edwards (1637-1716) on the wrong and right ends of studying divinity


“…when we apply our selves to the study of divinity, if we do not propound to our selves pure and upright ends, we shall miscarry in our enquiry into those divine truths. Want of true intention in these sacred studies doth oftentimes blast them. Some are busy in their searches after divine knowledge, but it is to satisfy their curious and inquisitive humors. Or they intend to make their reading and studying subservient to nice quarrels and controversies. They read many authors, and devour many books, that they may talk and dispute, and nourish and maintain that principle of opposition which is in them. Or, they desire to know more than others out of a principle of pride and ostentation: they know, to be known, and to conciliate applause. Or, they make the study of divinity serviceable only to their preferment, which is no uncommon thing with this rank of men. Or there are some other sinister designs which they are governed by.

But the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world are different, as on several other accounts, so in regard of the end. It is no wonder then that those who in their search after religion and truth are led only by by-ends (such as curiosity, affectation of disputes, pride, ambition, or covetousness) never attain to a spiritual discerning of the most important doctrines of Christianity, and the saving truths of the Gospel, and to any relish of the goodness and excellency which are in them: it is no wonder that these are hid and sealed up from them.

But the right and true ends whereby men should be acted in their pursuit after divine knowledge are of another nature. They should make God’s glory the first and chief end of all: and next to that they should desire to know the truth, that they may acquaint themselves with their particular duties, and that they may live and practice according to their knowledge: also that they may be beneficial to those who are of weak understandings and mean capacities: that they may edify the Church of Christ, and set forward the conversion and salvation of mankind. These are godly intentions which should be prosecuted in the discharge of the pastoral office: the want of which it is to be feared is one root of that defection and degeneracy in the doctrines of Christianity which I’m complaining of. For an upright and well-designing mind is the best refiner of our thoughts and notions in religion: and a man of simplicity of heart will understand more than an Angelick or Seraphick Doctor. But on the other side, the truth is hidden from those men’s eyes whose aims are corrupt and unwarrantable, selfish and worldly; as we may remember that one of the reasons assign’d by our Saviour why the persons he spoke to did not understand his doctrine, was because they sought their own glory, John 7:18.”

– John Edwards (1637-1716), The Preacher, Vol. 2, p. 78-80