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.

John Wallis (1616-1703): The habits of grace, by infusion, may be in the children of believers from an early age

 

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John Wallis (1616-1703) was an English mathematician and divine, who served as the Savilian Professor of Geometry at the University of Oxford for 54 years from 1649 until his death. Wallis, the most important English mathematician prior to Isaac Newton, is most well-known for his contributions to the development of calculus, geometry, and trigonometry, as well as for serving as the chief cryptographer of the Parliamentarian party. A Puritan at heart and of Presbyterian conviction, Wallis served as a non-voting scribe at the Westminster Assembly and published quite a few theological works, his sermons being noteworthy among these.

On 25 February 1696, Wallis received a letter from an unknown “Anti-Paedo-Baptist”, signed merely with the initials “C.C.”, to which he replied three days later with his A Defence of Infant-Baptism. His response is very edifying and full of “notable quotables”, but here I merely quote a few passages from early on in his discussion (p. 12-16) to serve as an appetizer (some spelling modernized):

“…the children of Christians now, have as well a right to be reputed members of the Christian Church, as the children of the Jews of the Jewish Church; and consequently to be solemnly received into it: that is, into God’s visible Church, both of them; and both a like obligation to be offered and dedicated to the service of the True God.

And it is not reasonably to be supposed, that God would so often, and so emphatically make promises to the righteous, and their seed, if there was not somewhat of peculiar preference intended them, beyond those of the wicked, or those that are out of God’s visible Church. […] Otherwise, Christ’s coming would render the condition of children worse than before … [which is] contrary to what Christ seems to intimate, in that of, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Which intimates a capacity in children of an interest in heaven hereafter, and in the visible Church here (especially if by Kingdom of Heaven be here meant, the Gospel Church).

As likewise to that of, Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy. Which implies a certain holiness, as to the children of one, though not of both believing parents; which they would not have, if neither of the parents were believers. Which seems to me so clear an evidence of some relative holiness, or interest in the visible Church, or dedication to the service of God, as is not easy to be avoided.”

Wallis goes on:

“The right of believers’ children to be within the Church is not a new institution (as if we should now look for a distinct institution of infant-baptism, beside that of baptism), but as old as Adam, for ought I know; but the solemn rite of admission into this Church (to which the child hath a right to be admitted) is a new institution; then by circumcision, appointed to Abraham; and now by baptism, upon a new institution appointed by Christ.

By being believers’ children, they have jus ad rem [a right to the matter/thing]; and by being baptized, they have jus in re [a right in the matter/thing], whatever be the pale and promise of the visible Church. And so long as, by our fault, we debar them from baptism, we do, so much as in us lyeth, debar them of that advantage, whatever it be.

Nor is it only a privilege of the children (to be thus early admitted into the visible Church, with the benefits thereto appertaining, and thus dedicated to the service and worship of God), but a duty of parents, and other superiors, thus to dedicate them, and (so far as in them lyeth) give them up to God. And we need not doubt, but that the parent hath a natural right over the child of so doing.

And we do not know how soon the effect of such dedication (upon God’s acceptance) may operate. Samson, before he was born, was devoted by Manoah to be a Nazirite. And Samuel was, by his mother, vowed before he was born, and after presented while an infant to the special service of God. Jeremy [i.e. Jeremiah] is said to be sanctified from his mother’s womb; and Paul likewise; and John the Baptist, while yet unborn; and Timothy, from a child.

And we have no reason to doubt, but many children very early, and even before their birth, may have the habits of grace infused into them, by which they are saved, though dying before the years of discretion. My meaning is, that God may, by his grace, so predispose the soul to an aptness for good, as (by our natural corruption) we are supposed to be habitually inclined to evil, though not yet in a capacity to act either.

For as the habits of corruption, which we call original sin, by propagation; so may the habits of grace, by infusion, be inherent in the soul, long before (for want of the use of reason) we are in capacity to act either; as is also the rational faculty, before we are in a capacity to act reason.

And we may have encouragement to expect, or hope for, such work from God on the heart of a child, from our early devoting him to God’s service. And the proper way, by Christ appointed, for thus devoting or offering up persons to God, is baptism into the Name, and to the service of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

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