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Reading and hearing the word of God are but the several circumstances of the same duty: instrumental especially to faith, but consequently to all other graces of the spirit. It is all one to us whether by the eye or by the ear the Spirit conveys his precepts to us. If we hear St. Paul saying to us, that ‘whore mongers and adulterers God will judge,’ or read it in one of his epistles, in either of them we are equally and sufficiently instructed.

The Scriptures read are the same thing to us which the same doctrine was when it was preached by the disciples of our blessed Lord, and we are to learn of either with the same dispositions. There are many that cannot read the word, and they must take it in by the ear, and they that can read find the same word of God by the eye. It is necessary that all men learn it in some way or other, and it is sufficient in order to their practice that they learn it any way. The word of God is all those commandments and revelations, those promises and threatenings, the stories and sermons recorded in the Bible; nothing else is the word of God that we know of by any certain instrument. The good books and spiritual discourses, the sermons or homilies written or spoken by men, are but the words of men, or rather explications of, and exhortations according to, the word of God; but of themselves they are not the word of God. In a sermon, the text only is, in a proper sense, to be called God’s word; and yet good sermons are of great use and convenience for the advantages of religion. He that preaches an hour together against drunkenness, with the tongue of men or angels, hath spoke no other word of God but this, ‘Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess;’ and he that writes that sermon in a book, and publishes that book, hath preached to all that read it a louder sermon than could be spoken in a church. This I say to this purpose, that we may separate truth from error, popular opinions from substantial truths. For God preaches to us in the Scripture, and by his secret assistances and spiritual thoughts and holy motions: good men preach to us when they, by popular arguments and human arts and compliances, expound and press any of those doctrines which God hath preached unto us in his holy word. But,

1. The Holy Ghost is certainly the best preacher in the world, and the words of Scripture the best sermons.

2. All the doctrine of salvation is plainly set down there, that the most unlearned person, by hearing it read, may understand all his duty. What can be plainer spoken than this, ‘Thou shalt not kill; Be not drunk with wine; Husbands, love your wives; Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them.’ The wit of man cannot more plainly tell us our duty, or more fully, than the Holy Ghost hath done already.

3. Good sermons and good books are of excellent use; but yet they can serve no other end but that we practice the plain doctrines of Scripture.

4. What Abraham, in the parable, said concerning the brethren of the rich man, is here very proper; ‘They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them; but if they refuse to hear these neither will they believe though one should arise from the dead to preach unto them.’216216Luke, xvi. 29, 31.

5. Reading the holy Scriptures is a duty expressly commanded us,217217Deut. xxxi. 13; Luke, xxiv. 45; Matt. xxii. 29; Acts. xv. 21; 2 Tim. iii. 16; Rev. i. 3. and is called in Scripture ‘preaching:’ all other preaching is the effect of human skill and industry; and although of great benefit, yet it is but an ecclesiastical ordinance; the law of God concerning preaching being expressed in the matter of reading the Scriptures, and hearing that word of God which is, and as it is, there described.

But this duty is reduced to practice in the following rules:


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