There is another strength in weakness which it is well for us to have. I believe that, when we preach in conscious weakness, it adds a wonderful force to the words we utter. When Mr. Knill went out to distribute tracts among the soldiers, he tells us that there was one wicked man who said to his comrades, “I will cure him of coming to us with his tracts;” so, when a ring was made around the minister and the blasphemer, he cursed Mr. Knill with awful oaths. Hearing those profane words, Mr. Knill burst into tears, and said how he longed for the man’s salvation. Years after, he met that soldier again, when the man said to him, “I never took notice of your tracts, or of anything that you said; but when I saw you cry like a child, I could not stand it, but gave my heart to God.” When we tell our people how we are hampered, but how much we long for their souls’ salvation; when we ask them to excuse our broken language, for it is the utterance of our hearts, they believe in our sincerity, for they see how our hearts are breaking, and they are moved by what we say. The man who grinds out theology at so much a yard has no power over men; the people need men who can feel,—men of heart, weak and feeble men, who can sympathize with the timid and sorrowful. It is a blessed thing if a minister can weep his way into men’s souls, or even stammer a path into their hearts. So, brethren, do not be afraid of being weak, but rejoice to be able to say, with the apostle, “When I am weak, then am I strong.”
An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 220–221.
But although the Lord represents both himself and his everlasting Kingdom in the mirror of his works with very great clarity, such is our stupidity that we grow increasingly dull toward so manifest testimonies, and they flow away without profiting us. For with regard to the most beautiful structure and order of the universe, how many of us are there who, when we lift up our eyes to heaven or cast them about through the various regions of earth, recall our minds to a remembrance of the Creator, and do not rather, disregarding their Author, sit idly in contemplation of his works? In fact, with regard to those events which daily take place outside the ordinary course of nature, how many of us do not reckon that men are whirled and twisted about by blindly indiscriminate fortune, rather than governed by God’s providence? Sometimes we are driven by the leading and direction of these things to contemplate God; this of necessity happens to all men. Yet after we rashly grasp a conception of some sort of divinity, straightway we fall back into the ravings or evil imaginings of our flesh, and corrupt by our vanity the pure truth of God. In one respect we are indeed unalike, because each one of us privately forges his own particular error; yet we are very much alike in that, one and all, we forsake the one true God for prodigious trifles. Not only the common folk and dull-witted men, but also the most excellent and those otherwise endowed with keen discernment, are infected with this disease.
Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volumes 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) Vol. 1.5.10. p. 63-64.
I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing; looking for heaven that way. And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above their ears; or that wore great ruffs, andgorgets, or fashions, and follies. But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint … Doctor Sibbs. by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world. . . . My heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.
~One of Richard Sibbes’ Parishoners~
The Devoted Life: An Introduction to the Puritan Classics (Downers Grove; Intervarsity Press; 2004) p. 80.
To come yet nearer unto our principal design, I say it is the Holy Ghost who is the immediate peculiar sanctifier of all believers, and the author of all holiness in them.
The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3: Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 385.
Now, after the youthful mind, which is to be established in virtue, has been rightly molded through faith, the youth should, in consequence of this, order well and adorn beautifully his own heart. Then, after he is rightly and well ordered within himself, he can also advise and assist other persons.
He cannot order his mind and prepare his heart better, however, than by engaging in the study of the Word of God, day and night. This he can do more skillfully and advantageously, when he thoroughly understands Hebrew and Greek; for he will succeed very poorly in gaining a clear and exact knowledge of the Old Testament, without the aid of the former, and of the New Testament, without the aid of the latter.
While we are instructing those who are well grounded in the elements of knowledge, I do not deem it proper to omit the study of the Latin language altogether, as this language is now being so generally used. Although it is less helpful to a clear understanding of the Holy Scriptures than the Greek or the Hebrew language, it is none the less useful for other purposes in active life. It often happens, too, that we come in contact with Latin scholars, in carrying on the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Far be it from a Christian, however, to use the languages for mere pecuniary gain or pleasure; for they are a gift of the Holy Ghost.
The next language after the Latin, which we should endeavor to study, is the Greek. We should study it, as already stated, for reading the New Testament in the original; for I take the liberty to say that, as I understand the matter, it seems to me that the doctrines of Christ were not treated so carefully nor taught so purely from the beginning, by the Latin scholars, as they were, by the Greek scholars. For this reason, let the youth be led to the original Gospel language.
The student of the Latin and Greek languages must see to it that he keep his heart in faith and innocence; for there are many things in these languages that have been studied to the detriment of the student, among which are wantonness, craftiness, a domineering and warlike spirit, useless and vain philosophy, and the like. If the mind be warned in due time, it can, like Ulysses, pass by these evils, untouched and unharmed. This will be the case, if the student, at the first warning of his conscience, says to himself: This you hear in order that you should take warning and flee from it, and not that you should accept it.
The Hebrew language I place last, because the use of the Latin is so general and the Greek naturally follows the Latin; otherwise I should have given the Hebrew the first place, and justly, too, because any one who does not know the properties and the peculiarities of this language will find it a difficult task, in many passages, even among Greek scholars, to discover the real sense and natural meaning of the Scriptures. The object I have in view, however, is not to speak at great length of the languages.
With such preparation must he be equipped who would arrive at the inner meaning of this heavenly wisdom, to which no other can be compared, much less made equal. Let him, however, approach it in a humble spirit and thirsting after righteousness.
The Christian Education of Youth, trans. Alcide Reichenbach (Collegeville, PA: Thompson Brothers, 1899), 69–72.
Since it becomes Christians then to make good use of the Holy Scriptures as their one and only book and it is a sin and a shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God, it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor—yes, almost without any labor at all—can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame! Yes, how sternly God will judge our lethargy and ingratitude!
And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit [Eph. 6:17] is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out [Matt. 14:20], they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments. If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall not only lose the gospel, but the time will come when we shall be unable either to speak or write a correct Latin or German. As proof and warning of this, let us take the deplorable and dreadful example of the universities and monasteries, in which men have not only unlearned the gospel, but have in addition so corrupted the Latin and German languages that the miserable folk have been fairly turned into beasts, unable to speak or write a correct German or Latin, and have wellnigh lost their natural reason to boot.
For this reason even the apostles themselves considered it necessary to set down the New Testament and hold it fast in the Greek language, doubtless in order to preserve it for us there safe and sound as in a sacred ark. For they foresaw all that was to come, and now has come to pass; they knew that if it was left exclusively to men’s memory, wild and fearful disorder and confusion and a host of varied interpretations, fancies, and doctrines would arise in the Christian church, and that this could not be prevented and the simple folk protected unless the New Testament were set down with certainty in written language. Hence, it is inevitable that unless the languages remain, the gospel must finally perish.
Experience too has proved this and still gives evidence of it. For as soon as the languages declined to the vanishing point, after the apostolic age, the gospel and faith and Christianity itself declined more and more until under the pope they disappeared entirely. After the decline of the languages Christianity witnessed little that was worth anything; instead, a great many dreadful abominations arose because of ignorance of the languages. On the other hand, now that the languages have been revived, they are bringing with them so bright a light and accomplishing such great things that the whole world stands amazed and has to acknowledge that we have the gospel just as pure and undefiled as the apostles had it, that it has been wholly restored to its original purity, far beyond what it was in the days of St. Jerome and St. Augustine. In short, the Holy Spirit is no fool. He does not busy himself with inconsequential or useless matters. He regarded the languages as so useful and necessary to Christianity that he ofttimes brought them down with him from heaven. This alone should be a sufficient motive for us to pursue them with diligence and reverence and not to despise them, for he himself has now revived them again upon the earth.
I conclude this preface, in the words of two eminent professors of theology, deserving our serious regard:—
“I dread mightily that a rational sort of religion is coming in among us; I mean by it, a religion that consists in a bare attendance on outward duties and ordinances, without the power of godliness; and thence people shall fall into a way of serving God, which is mere deism, having no relation to Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.”—Memoirs of Mr. Halyburton’s life, p. 199.
“I warn each one of you, and especially such as are to be directors of the conscience, that you exercise yourselves in study, reading, meditation and prayer, so as you may be able to instruct and comfort both your own and others consciences in the time of temptation, and to bring them back from the law to grace, from the active (or working) righteousness, to the passive (or received) righteousness; in a word, from Moses to Christ.” — Martin Luther’s comment in epist. ad Gal. p. 27.
The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 7 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 149. From his preface to Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity