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How the rude in sacred learning, and those who are learned but not humble, are to be admonished.
(Admonition 25.) Differently to be admonished are those who do not understand aright the words of the sacred Law, and those who understand them indeed aright, but speak them not humbly. For those who understand not aright the words of sacred Law are to be admonished to consider that they turn for themselves a most wholesome drought of wine into a cup of poison, and with a medicinal knife inflict on themselves a mortal wound, when they destroy in themselves what was sound by that whereby they ought, to their health, to have cut away what was diseased. They are to be admonished to consider that Holy Scripture is set as a kind of lantern for us in the night of the present life, the words whereof when they understand not aright, from light they get darkness. But in truth a perverse bent of mind would not hurry them to understand it wrong, did not pride first puff them up. For, while they think themselves wise beyond all others, they scorn to follow others to things better understood: and, in order to extort for themselves from the unskilful multitude a name for knowledge, they strive mightily both to upset the right views of others and to confirm their own perverse views. Hence it is well said by the prophet, They have ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that they might enlarge their border (Amos i. 13). For Gilead is by interpretation a heap of witness (Gen. xxxi. 47, 48). And, since the whole congregation of the Church together serves by its confession for a witness to the truth, not unfitly by Gilead is expressed the Church, which witnesses by the mouth of all the faithful whatever is true concerning God. Moreover, souls are called with child, when of divine love they conceive an understanding of the Word, so that, if they come to their full time, they may bring forth their conceived intelligence in the shewing forth of work. Further, to enlarge their border is to extend abroad the fame of their reputation. They have therefore ripped up the women with child of Gilead that they might enlarge their border, because heretics assuredly slay by their perverse preaching the souls of the faithful who had already conceived something of the understanding of the truth, and extend for themselves a name for knowledge. The hearts of little ones, already big with conception of the word, they cleave with the sword of error, and, as it were, make for themselves a reputation as teachers. When, therefore, we endeavour to instruct these not to think perversely, it is necessary that we first admonish them to shun vain glory. For, if the root of elation is cut off, the branches of wrong assertion are consequently dried up. They are also to be admonished to take heed, lest, by gendering errors and discords, they turn into a sacrifice to Satan the very same law of God which has been given for hindering sacrifices to Satan. Whence the Lord complains through the prophet, saying, I gave them corn, wine, and oil, and I multiplied to them silver and gold, which they sacrificed to Baal (Hos. ii. 8). For indeed we receive corn from the Lord, when, in the more obscure sayings, the husk of the letter being drawn off, we perceive in the marrow of the Spirit the inward meaning of the Law. The Lord proffers us His wine, when He inebriates us with the lofty preaching of His Scripture. His oil also He gives us, when, by plainer precepts, He orders our life gently and smoothly. He multiplies silver, when He supplies to us eloquent utterances, full of the light of truth. With gold also He enriches us, when He irradiates our heart with an understanding of the supreme splendour. All which things heretics offer to Baal, because they pervert them in the hearts of their hearers by a corrupt understanding of them all. And of the corn of God, of His wine and oil, and likewise of His silver and gold, they offer a sacrifice to Satan, because they turn aside the words of peace to promote the error of discord. Wherefore they are to be admonished to consider that, when of their perverse mind they make discord out of the precepts of peace, they themselves, in the just judgment of God, die from the words of life.
But, on the other hand, those who understand indeed aright the words of the Law, but speak them not humbly, are to be admonished that, in divine discourses, before they put them forth to others, they should examine themselves; lest, in following up the deeds of others, they leave themselves behind; and lest, while thinking rightly of all the rest of Holy Scripture, this only thing they attend not to, what is said in it against the proud. For he is indeed a poor and unskilful physician, who would fain heal another’s disease while ignorant of that from which he himself is suffering. Those, then, who speak not the words of God humbly should certainly be admonished, that, when they apply medicines to the sick, they see to the poison of their own infection, lest in healing others they die themselves. They ought to be admonished to take heed, lest their manner of saying things be at variance with the excellence of what is said, and lest they preach one thing in their speaking and another in their outward bearing. Let them hear, therefore, what is written, If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God (1 Pet. iv. 11). If then the words they utter are not of the things that are their own, why are they puffed up on account of them as though they were their own? Let them hear what is written, As of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ (2 Cor. ii. 17). For he speaks of God in the sight of God, who both understands that he has received the word of preaching from God, and also seeks through it to please God, not men. Let them hear what is written, Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord (Prov. xvi. 5). For, surely, when in the Word of God he seeks his own glory, he invades the right of the giver; and he fears not at all to postpone to his own praise Him from whom he has received the very thing that is praised. Let them hear what is said to the preacher through Solomon, Drink water out of thine own cistern, and running waters of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and divide thy waters in the streets. Have them to thyself alone, and let not strangers be partakers with thee (Prov. v. 15–17). For indeed the preacher drinks out of his own cistern, when, returning to his own heart, he first listens himself to what he has to say. He drinks the running waters of his own well, if he is watered by his own word. And in the same place it is well added, Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and divide thy waters in the streets. For indeed it is right that he should himself drink first, and then flow upon others in preaching. For to disperse fountains abroad is to pour outwardly on others the power of preaching. Moreover, to divide waters in the streets is to dispense divine utterances among a great multitude of hearers according to the quality of each. And, because for the most part the desire of vain glory creeps in when the Word of God has free course unto the knowledge of many, after it has been said, Divide thy waters in the streets, it is rightly added, Have them to thyself alone, and let not strangers be partakers with thee. He here calls malignant spirits strangers, concerning whom it is said through the prophet in the words of one that is tempted, Strangers are risen up against me, and strong ones have sought after my soul (Ps. liii. 512821282 In English Bible, liv. 3.). He says therefore, Both divide thy waters in the streets, and yet have them to thyself alone; as if he had said more plainly, It is necessary for thee so to serve outwardly in preaching as not to join thyself through elation to unclean spirits, lest in the ministry of the divine word thou admit thine enemies to be partakers with thee. Thus we divide our waters in the streets, and yet alone possess them, when we both pour out preaching outwardly far and wide, and yet in no wise court human praises through it.
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