« הקודםהמשך »
effect by their traditions. They did in effect assume to themselves infallibility; and all that opposed and contradicted them, they branded with the odious name of bereticks. Against these our Saviour denounceth this wo here in the text, Wo unto you, fcribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye shut up the kingd m of heaven against
All the difficulty in the words is, what is here meant by shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men. St. Luke expresseth it more plainly, Ye have taken away the key of knowle ige; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in, ye hindered. By putting these two expresfions together, we shall the more casily come at the meaning of the text, re have taken away the key of knowledge, and have fhut up the kingdom of heaven againit men. This metaphor of the key of knowledge, is undoubtedly an allulion to that known custom among the Jews in the admission of their doctors : for to whomsoever they gave authority to interpret the law and the prophets, they were folemnly admitted into that office, by delivering to them a key and a table-book. So that by the key of knowledge, is here meant the interpretation and understanding of the scriptures; and by taking away the key of knowledge, not only that they arrogated to themselves alone the understanding of the scriptures, but likewise that they had conveyed away this key of knowledge, and, as it were, hid it out of the way, neither using it themfelves as they ought, nor suffering others to inake use of it.
And thus they shut the kingdom of heaven against men ; which is very fitly said of those who have locked the door against them that were going in, and have taken away the key. By all which it appears, that the plain meaning of our Saviour in these metaphorical expressions is, that the scribes, and teachers of the law, under a pretence of interpreting the scriptures, had perverted them, and kept the true knowledge of them from the people ; especially those prophecies of the Old Testament which concerned the Messias. And by this means the kingdom of heaven was shut against inen: and they not only rejected the truth themselves, but, by keeping men in ignorance of the true meaning of the scriptures, they VOL.II.
hindered many from embracing our Saviour's doctrine, and entering into the kingdom of heaven, who were otherwise well enough disposed for it.
Having thus explained the words, I shall, from the main scope and design of them, observe to you these two things.
1. The necessity of the knowledge of the holy fcriptures, in order to our eternal salvation. It is called by our Saviour the key of knowledge, that which lets men into the kingdom of heaven.
2. The great and inexcufable fault of those who de. prive the people of the knowledge of the holy scriptures.
They shut the kingdom of heaven against men, and do what in them lies to hinder their eternal falvation; and therefore our Saviour denounceth fo heavy a wo against them.
I shall speak briefly to these two observations; and then apply them to those who are principally concerned in them.
First, I observe hence the necessity of the knowledge of the holy scriptures, in order to our eternal salvation. This is by our Saviour called the key of knowledge, that which lets men into the kingdom of heaven.
Knowledge is necessary to religion : it is necessary to the being of it; and necessary to the life and practice of it. Without faith (says the Apostle) it is impossible to please God; because faith is an act of the understanding, and does necessarily suppose some knowledge and apprehension of what we believe. To all acts of religion there is necessarily required fome act of the understanding ; so that, without knowledge, there can be no devotion in the service of God, no obedience to his laws. Religion begins in the understanding, and from thence descends upon the heart and life: If ye know these things, (fays our Saviour), happy are ye if ye do them. We must first know God, before we can worship him; and understand what is his will, before we can do it.
This is so very evident, that one would think there ne d d no discourse about it. And yet there are some in the world that cry up ignorance as the mother of devotion. And to thew that we do not wrong them in this matter, Mr. Ruhworth, in his Dialogues, (a book in great vogue among the Papists here in England), does expressly reckon up ignorance among the parents of re. ligion. And can any thing be said more abfürdly, and more to the disparagement of religion, than to derive the pedigree of the most excellent thing in the world, from fo obscure and ignoble an original ; and to make that which the scripture calls the beginning of wisdom, and the excellency of knowledge, to be the offspring of ignorance, and a child of darkness? Ignorance indeed may be the cause of wonder and admiration, and the mother of folly and superstition : but surely religion is of a nobler extraction, and is the issue and result of the best wisdom and knowledge; and descends from above, from the giver of every good and perfect gift, even the Father of lights.
And as knowledge in general is necessary to religion, fo more particularly the knowledge of the holy fcriptures is necessary to our eternal salvation : because these are the great and standing revelation of God to mankind; wherein the nature of God, and his will concerning our duty, and the terms and conditions of our eternal happiness in another world, are fully and plainly declared to us.
The scriptures are the word of God; and from whence can we learn the will of God so well as from his own mouth? They are the great instrument of our salvation; and should not every man be acquainted with that which alone can perfectly instruct him what he must believe, and what he must do, that he may be saved ? This is the testimony which the scripture gives of itself, that it is able to make men wife unto Salvation : and is it not very fit that every man should have this wisdom, and, in order thereunto, the free use of that book from whence this wisdom is to be learned ?
Secondly, I observe the great and inexcusable fault of those who keep men in ignorance of religion, and take away from them so excellent and necessary a means of divine knowledge as the holy scriptures are. This our Saviour calls taking away the key of knowledge, and shutting the kingdom of heaven againsi men; that is, doing what in them lies to render it impossible for men to be saved. For this he denounceth a terrible wo against the teachers of the Jewish church; though they did not proQ 2
ceed so far as to deprive men of the use of the holy fcriptures, but only of the right knowledge and understanding of them. This alone is a horrible impiety, to lead men into a false sense and interpretation of fcripture; but much greater to forbid them the reading of it. This is to ftop knowledge at the very fountain-head; and not only to lead men into error, but to take away from them all possibility of rectifying their mistakes. And can there be a greater sacrilege, than to rob men of the word of God, the best means in the world of acquainting them with the will of God and their duty, and the way to eternal happiness? To keep the people in ignorance of that which is necessary to save them, is to judge them unworthy of eternal life, and to declare it does not belong to them, and maliciously to contrive the eternal ruin and destruction of their souls.
To lock up the scriptures and the service of God from the people in an unknown tongue, what is this, but in effect' to forbid men to know God and to serve him ; to render them incapable of knowing what is the good and acceptable will of God; of joining in his worThip, or performing any part of it, or receiving any benefit or edification from it? And what is, if this be not, to shut the kingdom of heaven against men ? This is so outrageous a cruelty to the souls of men, that it is not to be excused upon any pretence whatsoever : this is to take the furest and most effectual way in the world to destroy those for whom Christ died; and directly to thwart the great design of God our Saviour, who would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Men may miscarry with their knowledge ; but they are sure to perish for want of it.
The best things in the world have their inconveniencies attending them, and are liable to be abused; but furely men are not to be ruined and damned for fear of abusing their knowledge, or for the prevention of any other inconvenience whatsoever. Besides, this is to cross the very end of the scriptures, and the design of God in inspiring men to write them. Can any man think that God should send this great light of his word into the world, for the priests to hide it under a bushel; and not rather that it should be set up to the greatest advantage
for the enlightening of the world?
St Paul tells us, Rom. xv. 4. that whatsoever things were written, were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the scriptures, might have hope ; and 2 Tim. üi. 16. that all scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. And if the scriptures were written for these ends, can any man have the face to pretend that they do not concern the people as well as their teachers ? Nay, St. Paul expressly tells the church of Rome, that they were written for their learning, how-ever it happens that they are not now permitted to make use of them. Are the scriptures so useful and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness ? and why may they not be used by the people for those ends for which they were given ? It is true indeed, they are fit for the most knowing and learned, and fufficient to make the man of God perfect, and thoroughly furnished to every good work, as the Apo-stle there tells us. But does this exclude their being, profitable also to the people, who may reasonably be presumed to stand much more in need of all means and helps of instruction than their teachers ? And though there be many difficulties and obscurities in the scriptures, enough to exercise the skill and wit of the learn.ed; yet are they not therefore either useless or dangere ous to the people. The ancient fathers of the church were of another mind. St. Chrysostom tells us, that “ whatever things are necessary, are manifest in the
scriptures :” and St. Austin, “ that all things are 5 plain in the scripture, which concern faith and a good « life; and that those things which are necessary to the « falvation of men, are not so hard to be come at; but “ that as to those things which the scripture plainly “ contains, it speaks without disguise, like a familiar
friend, to the heart of the learned and unlearned.” And upon these and such like considerations, the fathers did every where, in their orations and homilies, charge and exhort the people to be conversant in the holy fcriptures, to read them daily, and diligently, and attentively. And challenge our adversaries to shew me: where any of the ancient fathers do discourage the peo