Matthew Hale (1609-1676): All my intellectual power was given me “to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”

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The following is from Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676), the great Puritan-minded English jurist, in his The Account of the Good Stewart, chapter XI, titled “The Account of my Learning of Natural Causes and Effects, and of Arts and Sciences.” While especially relevant to Christian students and academics, it is nevertheless applicable to any Christian, and I deem it worthy to be reproduced here in full:

I have not esteemed them [i.e. the learning of arts and sciences] the chiefest or best furniture of my mind: but have accounted them but dross in comparison of the knowledge of Thee [i.e. God], and thy Christ, and Him crucified. In the acquiring of them I have always observed this care: – 1. That I might not too prodigally bestow my time upon them, to the prejudice of that time and pains for the acquiring of more excellent knowledge, and the greater concernments of my everlasting happiness.

2. I carried along with me, in all my studies of this nature, this great design of improving them, and the knowledge acquired by them to the honour of thy name, and the greater discovery of thy wisdom, power, and truth; and so translated my secular learning into an improvement of divine knowledge. And had I not had, and practised that design in my acquests of human learning, I had concluded my time misspent; because I ever thought it unworthy of a man that had an everlasting soul, to furnish it only with such learning, as either would die with his body, and so become unuseful for his everlasting state, or that in the next moment after death, would be attained without labour or toil in this life. Yet this advantage I made and found in my application to secular studies: –

It enlarged and habituated my mind for more useful inquiries.

It carried me up, in a great measure, to the sound and grounded knowledge of Thee, the first cause of all things.

It kept me from idleness and rust.

It kept my thoughts, and life oftentimes, from temptations to worse employments.

My learning and knowledge did not heighten my opinion of myself, parts or abilities; but the more I knew, the more humble I was.

I found it was thy strength and blessing that enabled me to it; that gave me understanding and enlarged it. I did look upon it as a talent lent me, not truly acquired by me.

The more I knew, the more I knew my own ignorance. I found myself convinced that there was an ignorance in what I thought I knew; my knowledge was but imperfect, and defective; and I found an infinite latitude of things which I knew not: the farther I waded into knowledge, the deeper still I found it; and it was with me, just as it is with a child that thinks, that if he could but come to such a field, he should be able to touch the hemisphere of the heavens; but when he comes thither, he finds it as far off as it were before. Thus, while my mind pursued knowledge, I found the object still as far before me as it was, if not much farther; and could no more attain the full and exact knowledge of any one subject, than the hinder wheel of a chariot can overtake the former: though I knew much of what others were ignorant, yet still I found there was much more, whereof I was ignorant, than what I knew; even in the compass of a most confined and inconsiderable subject. And as my very knowledge taught me humility, in the sense of my own ignorance; so it taught me that my understanding was of finite and limited power, that takes in things little by little, and gradually; – That thy wisdom is unsearchable and past finding out; – That thy works, which are but finite in themselves, and necessarily short of that infinite wisdom by which they are contrived, are yet so wonderful, that as the wise man saith, “No man can find out the work that thou makest, from the beginning to the end” (Eccl. 3:11). If a man would spend his whole life in the study of a poor fly, there would be such a confluence of so many wonderful and difficult exhibits in it, that it would still leave much more undiscovered than the most singular wit ever yet attained.

It taught me also, with the wise man, to write vanity and vexation upon all my secular knowledge and learning (Eccl. 1:14). That little that I know, was not attained without much labour, nor yet free from much uncertainty; and the great residuum which I knew not, rendered that [which] I knew poor, and inconsiderable: and therefore: –

I did most evidently conclude, that the happiness and perfection of my intellectual power, was not to be found in this kind of knowledge; in a knowledge thus sensibly mingled with ignorance, in the things it seems to know; mingled with a dissatisfaction, in respect of the things I know not; mingled with a difficulty in attaining, and restlessness when attained. The more I knew, the more I knew that I knew not. My knowledge did rather enlarge my desire of knowing than satisfy it; and the most intemperate sensual appetite under heaven, was more capable of satisfaction by what it enjoyed, than my intellectual appetite or desire was, or could be satisfied with the things I knew: but the enlarging of my understanding with knowledge, did but enlarge and amplify the desire and appetite I had to know; so that what Job’s return was upon his inquisition after wisdom: “The depth saith, It is not in me; and the sea saith, It is not in me” (Job 28:14); the same account all my several boxes or kinds of knowledge gave me, when I inquired for satisfaction in them. My abstract and choice speculations in the Metaphysics were of that abstract and comprehensive nature, that when I had perused great volumes of it, and intended [i.e. applied] my mind close to it, yet it was so mercurial, that I could hardly hold it; and yet so extensive and endless, that the more I read or thought of it, the more I might. – Natural Philosophy (though it were more tractable, because holding a greater vicinity to sense and experiment, yet) I found full of uncertainty; much of it grounded upon imaginary suppositions, impossible to be experimented; the latter philosophers censuring the former, and departing from them, and the latest despising and rejecting both; the subject as vast as the visible or tangible universe, and yet every individual so complicated, that if all the rest were omitted, any one had more lines concentred in it, than were possible for any one age to sift to the bottom; yet any one lost, or not exactly scanned, leaves all the rest uncertain and conjectural: the very disquisition concerning any one part of the brain, the eye, the nerves, the blood, hath perplexed the most exact scrutators. – Those more dry, yet more demonstrable conclusions in the Mathematics, yet they are endless and perplexed. The proportion of lines to lines, of superficies to superficies, bodies to bodies, numbers to numbers, – nay, to leave the whole latitude of the subject, see what long, and intricate, and unsatisfactory pains men have taken about some one particular subject, the quadrature of the circle, conical, oval, and spiral lines; and yet if it could be attained in the perfection of it, these three unhappinesses attend it:

1. That it is but of little use: it is only known that it may be known. That which is of ordinary use either in Architecture, Measuring of bodies and superficies, Mechanics, Business of Accounts, and the like, is soon attained, and by ordinary capacities: the rest are but curious impertinents, in respect of use and application.

2. That they serve only for the meridian of this life, and of corporal converse. A separated soul, or a spiritualized body, will not be concerned in the use and employment of them.

3. But admit they should; yet, doubtless, a greater measure of suck knowledge will be attained in one hour after dissolution, than the toilsome expense of an age in this life would produce. And the like may be said for Astronomical disquisitions. What a deal to do there is, touching the motion or consistency of the sun or earth; the quality and habitableness of the moon; the matter, quantity, and distance of the stars; the several positions, continuity, contiguity, and motions of the heavens; the various influences of the heavenly bodies in their oppositions, conjunctions, aspects. When once the immortal soul hath flown through the stories of heaven, in one moment all these will be known distinctly, clearly, and evidently, which here are nothing but conjectures and opinions, gained by long reading or observation.

Upon all these considerations I concluded, that my intellectual power, and the exercise of it in this life, was given me for a more sure and certain, useful, advantageous, suitable and becoming object, even “To know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). – A knowledge that is useful for the acquiring of happiness here and hereafter; a knowledge of a subject, though infinitely comprehensive, yet but one; a knowledge, that though it still move farther, yet it satisfies in what is acquired, and doth not disquiet in attaining more; a knowledge that is of such use in the world that is to come, as it is here; a knowledge, that the more it is improved in this life, the more it is improved in that which is to come; every grain of it here is enlarged to a vast proportion hereafter; a knowledge that is acquired, even with a consent, a desire to know, because thy goodness pleaseth to fill such a desire, to instruct from thyself, and there is none [that] teacheth like thee.

Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686): Let not that be our joy which made Christ a man of sorrow

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“In the bloody sacrifice of Christ, see the horrid nature of sin: Sin (it is true) is odious as it banish’d Adam out of Paradise, and threw the Angels into Hell, but that which doth most of all make it appear horrid, is this, it made Christ veil his glory and lose his blood. We should look upon sin with indignation, and pursue it with an holy malice, and shed the blood of those sins [which] shed Christ’s blood. The sight of Caesar’s bloody robe incensed the Romans against them that slew him: The sight of Christ’s bleeding body should incense us against sin; let us not parley with it, let not that be our joy which made Christ a man of sorrow.”

– Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686), A Body of Practical Divinity, p. 101

John Owen (1616-1683): Distinguishing between the matter and manner of knowing

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“The difference between believers and unbelievers as to knowledge, is not so much in the matter of their knowledge, as in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers some of them may know more, and be able to say more of God, his perfections and his will, than many believers, but they know nothing as they ought: nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly; nothing with an holy, heavenly light. The excellency of a believer is not, that he hath a large apprehension of things, but that what he doth apprehend (which perhaps may be very little) he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving soul-transforming light: And this is that which gives us communion with God, and not prying thoughts, or curious raised notions.”

– John Owen (1616-1683), Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (3rd edition), p. 141-142

Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686): A labour full of ease

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As you rest from your labours and toils on this Lord’s Day, here is something to reflect on. This is from Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686), A Body of Practical Divinity, p. 471:

“In the Kingdom of Heaven we shall be freed from the toylsome Labours of this Life. God enacted a Law in Paradise, In the sweat of thy Brows thou shalt eat Bread, Gen. 3:9. There is the Labour of the Hand in Manufacture, and the Labour of the Mind in Study; Eccl. 1:8. All things are full of Labour; but in the Kingdom of Heaven we shall be freed from our Labours.

There needs no Labour, when a Man hath got to the Haven he hath no more need of sailing. In Heaven there needs no Labour, because the Saints shall have that Glory which they laboured for.

There shall be no Labour, Rev. 14:13. They rest from their Labours. As God when he had finished the Work of Creation rested from his Labours, Gen. 2:2. So when the Saints have finished the Work of Sanctification, they rest from their Labours. Where should there be rest but in the Heavenly Center? Not that this sweet rest in the Kingdom of Heaven excludes all Motion, for Spirits cannot be idle; but the Saints Glorified shall rest from all wearisome Imployment; it shall be a labour full of ease, a Motion full of Delight: The Saints in Heaven shall love God, and what labour is that? Is it any Labour to love Beauty? They shall praise God, and that sure is delightful: When the Bird sings, it is not so much a Labour as a pleasure.”

John Owen (1616-1683) on the promised seed of Genesis 3:15

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With Christmas edging closer and the shops decorated all over with the customary Christmas decorations, we do well to remind ourselves of the true message of Christmas: the glorious Incarnation of the Son of God in the Person of Jesus Christ, who came into the world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). In this line, here is John Owen (1616-1683) on the promised seed of Genesis 3:15:

“God having from the foundation of the world promised to bring forth the ‘Seed of the woman,’ to work out the redemption of his elect in the conquest of Satan, did, in the separation of Abraham from the rest of the world, begin to make provision of a peculiar stock, from whence the Seed of the woman should spring. That this was the cause and end of his call and separation is evident from hence, that immediately thereupon God assures him that ‘in his seed all the kindreds of the earth should be blessed,’ Gen. 12:1–3, 22:18; which is all one as if he had expressly said to him, ‘For this cause have I chosen and called thee, that in thee I might lay a foundation of bringing forth the promised Seed, by whom the curse is to be taken away, and the blessing of everlasting life procured,’ as Gal. 3:13, 14. For this cause was his posterity continued in a state of separation from the rest of the world, that He might seek a godly seed to himself, Num. 23:9; Mal. 2:15: for this cause did he raise them into a civil, regal, and church state, that he might in them typify and prefigure the offices and benefits of the promised Messiah, who was to gather to himself the nations that were to be blessed in the seed of Abraham, Gen. 49:10; Ps. 45; Hos. 3:5; Ezek. 34:23. And all their sacrifices did but shadow out that great expiation of sin which he was to make in his own person.”

– John Owen (1616-1683), An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol. 3, p. 22

Joseph Alleine (1634-1668): Revealed things belong to you; in these busy yourself

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In an earlier post, we looked at the question “How do I know I am of the elect?”, and Heinrich Bullinger’s reply to this question.

Here, Joseph Alleine (1634-1668) gives a similar answer to this question to Bullinger’s:

“You begin at the wrong end if you first dispute about your election. Prove your conversion, and then never doubt your election. If you cannot yet prove it, set upon a present time and thorough turning. Whatever God’s purposes are (which are secret), I am sure his promises are plain. How desperately do angels rebel! ‘If I am elected I shall be saved, do what I will. If not, I shall be damned, do what I can.’ Perverse sinner, will you begin where you should end? Is not the word before you? What says it? ‘Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’ (Acts 3:19). ‘If you mortify the deeds of the body you shall live’ (Romans 8:13). ‘Believe and be saved’ (Acts 16:31). What can be plainer? Do not stand still disputing about your election – but set to repenting and believing. Cry to God for converting grace. Revealed things belong to you; in these busy yourself.”

– Joseph Alleine (1634-1668), A Sure Guide to Heaven, p. 30

John Ball (1585-1640) on catechising and its benefits

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Q. What is Catechising?

A. Catechising is an introduction of people in the chief grounds of Christian Religion. 1 Cor. 2:4; 1 Cor. 3:1; 1 Pet. 3:15; Heb. 6:1, 2; Rom. 6:17.

Q. What are the properties of it?

A. It must be, 1. Pure, 2. Plain, 3. Brief, 4. And orderly.

Q. What is the end of Catechising?

A. 1. That the people may clearly and manifestly see the way unto salvation, 2. That they may know how to make use both of the Law and of the Gospel, for their humiliation and comfort, 3. And understand how one thing dependeth upon an other, goeth before, or followeth after.

Q. What are the special benefits of Catechising?

A. Hereby Christians are enabled (1) To refer that which they read to some [doctrinal] head, (2) Readily to apply what they hear to fit purpose, (3) To try [i.e. test] it, (4) To have it in readiness in the time of need, (5) To profit by the publique Ministery, Heb. 5:11, 12, (6) To know how to go forward in godliness, in an holy method, (7) It is profitable to inform the judgment, (8) To reform the affection, (9) And to quicken to the duties of a godly life.

– John Ball (1585-1640), A Short Treatise Containing All the Principal Grounds of Christian Religion, p. 149-150