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CHAPTER III

Concerning the Second Proposition.

This word, “I have learned,” is a word that imports difficulty; it shows how hardly the apostle came by contentment of mind; it was not bred in nature. St Paul did not come naturally by it, but he had learned it. It cost him many a prayer and tear, it was taught him by the Spirit. Whence our second doctrine: good things are hard to come by. The business of religion is not so facile as most do imagine. “I have learned,” saith St Paul. Indeed you need not learn a man to sin; this is natural, (Ps. 58. 3) and therefore facile, it comes as water out of a spring, It is an easy thing to be wicked; hell will be taken without storm; but matters of religion must be learned. To cut the flesh is easy, but to prick a vein, and not to cut an artery is hard. The trade of sin needs not to be learned, but the art of divine contentment is not achieved without holy industry: “I have learned.”

There are two pregnant reasons, why there must be so much study and exercitation: 1. Because spiritual things are against nature. Everything in religion is antipodes to nature. There are in religion two things, and both are against nature. (1.) Matters of faith: as, for men to be justified by the righteousness of another, to become a fool that he may be wise, to save all by losing all; this is against nature. (2.) Matters of practice: as, Self-denial; for a man to deny his own wisdom, and see himself blind; his own will, and have it melted into the will of God; plucking out the right eye, beheading and crucifying that sin which is the favourite, and lies nearest to the heart; for a man to be dead to the world, and in the midst of want to abound; for him to take up the cross, and follow Christ, not only in golden, but in bloody paths, to embrace religion, when it is dressed in night-clothes, all the jewels of honour and preferment being pulled of; this is against nature, and therefore must be learned. Self-examination; for a man to take his heart, as a watch, all in pieces; to set up a spiritual inquisition, or court of conscience, and traverse things in his own soul; to take David’s candle and lantern, (Ps. 119. 105) and search for sin; nay, as judge, to pass the sentence upon himself. (2 Sa. 34. 17) this is against nature, and will not easily be attained to without learning. Self-reformation; to see a man, as Caleb, or another spirit, walking antipodes to himself, the current of his life altered, and running into the channel of religion: this is wholly against nature. When a stone ascends, it is not a natural motion, but a violent; the motion of the soul heaven-ward is a violent motion, it must be learned; flesh and blood is not skilled in these things; nature can no more cast out nature, than Satan can cast out Satan. 2. Because spiritual things are above nature. There are some things in nature that are hard to find out, as the cause of things, which are not learned without study. Aristotle, a great philosopher, whom some have called an eagle fallen from the clouds, yet could not find out the motion of the river Euripus, and therefore threw himself into it; what then are divine things, which are in sphere above nature, and beyond all human disquisition; as the Trinity, the hypostatical union, the mystery of faith to believe against hope? Only God’s Spirit can light our candle here. The apostle calls these “the deep things of God.” The gospel is full of jewels, but they are locked up from sense and reason. The angels in heaven are searching into these sacred depths. (1 Pe. 22)

USE. Let us beg the Spirit of God to teach us; we must be “divinely taught;” the eunuch could read, but he could not understand, till Philip joined himself to his chariot. (Ac. 8. 29) God’s Spirit must join himself to our chariot; he must teach, or we cannot learn: “all thy children shall be taught of the Lord”. (Is. 54. 13) A man may read the figure on the dial, but he cannot tell how the day goes, unless the sun shines upon the dial: we may read the Bible over, but we can not learn the purpose, till the Spirit of God shines into our hearts. (2 Cor. 4. 6) O implore this blessed Spirit! It is God’s prerogative-royal to teach: “I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit.” (Is. 48. 17) Ministers may tell us our lesson, God only can teach us; we have lost both our hearing and eye-sight, therefore are very unfit to learn. Ever since Eve listened to the serpent, we have been deaf; and since she looked on the tree of knowledge we have been blind; but when God comes to teach, he removes these impediments. (Is. 35. 5) We are naturally dead; (Ep. 2. 1) who will go about to teach a dead man? yet, behold, God undertakes to make dead men to understand mysteries! God is the grand teacher. This is the reason the word preached works so differently upon men; two in a pew, the one is wrought upon effectually, the other lies at the ordinances as a dead child at the breast, and gets no nourishment. What is the reason? Because the heavenly gale of the Spirit blows upon one, and not upon the other; one hath the anointing of God, which teacheth him all things,! (1 Jno. 2. 27) the other hath it not. God’s Spirit speaks sweetly, but irresistably. In that heavenly doxology, none could sing the new song, but those who were sealed in their foreheads, (Re. 14. 2) reprobates could not sing it. Those that are skilful in the mysteries of salvation, must have the seal of the Spirit upon them. Let us make this our prayer: Lord, breathe thy Spirit into thy word; and we have a promise, which may add wings to prayer; “if ye then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Lu. 11. 13) And thus much of the first part of the text, the scholar, which I intended only as a short gloss or paraphrase.

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