I will give you a little piece of history, which your friend Academicus, has given of himself: “When I had,” says he, “taken my degrees in the university, I consulted several great divines to put me in a method of studying divinity. It would take up near half a day to tell you the work which my learned friends cut out for me. One told me that Hebrew words are all, that they must be read without points, and then the Old Testament is an opened book. He recommended to me a cart-load of lexicons, critics, and commentators upon the Hebrew Bible. Another tells me the Greek Bible is the best, that it corrects the Hebrew in many places, and refers me to a large number of books learnedly written in defence of it. Another tells me that Church history is the main matter, that I must begin with the first Fathers and follow them through every age not forgetting to take the Lives of the Roman Emperors along with me, as striking great light into the state of the Church in their times. Then I must have recourse to all the councils held and the canons made in every age: which would enable me to see with my own eyes the great corruptions of the Council of Trent. Another, who is not very fond of ancient matters, but wholly bent upon rational Christianity, tells me I need go no higher than the Reformation; that Calvin and Cranmer were very great men; that Chillingworth and Locke ought always to lie upon my table; that I must get an entire set of those learned volumes written against Popery in King James’s reign; and also be well versed in all the discourses which Mr. Boyle’s and Lady Moyer’s lectures have produced; and then, says he, you will be a match for our greatest enemies, which are popish priests and modern deists. My tutor is very liturgical; he desired me, of all things, to get all the collections that I can of the ancient liturgies and all the authors that treat of such matters, who, says he, are very learned and very numerous. He has been many years making observations upon them, and is now clear as to the time when certain little particles got entrance into the liturgies, and others were by degrees dropped. He has a friend abroad in search of ancient MSS. liturgies; for, by the by, said he at parting, I have some suspicion that our Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is essentially defective for want of having a little water mixed with the wine. Another learned friend told me that the Clementine Constitution is the Book of books; and that all that lies loose and scattered in the New Testament stands there in its true order and form. And though he will not say that Dr. Clarke and Mr. Whiston are in the right, yet it might be useful to me to read all the Arian and Socinian writers, provided I stood upon my guard and did it with caution. The last person I consulted advised me to get all the histories of the rise and progress of heresies, and of the lives and characters of heretics. These histories, he said, contract the matter, bring truth and error close in view;
and I should find all that collected in a few pages, which would have cost me some years to get together. He also desired me to be well versed in all the casuistical writers and chief schoolmen, for they debate matters to the bottom, dissect every virtue and every vice, and show how near they may come together without touching. And this knowledge, he said, might be very useful when I came to be a parish priest.
Following the advice of all these counsellors as well as I could, I lighted my candle early in the morning and put it out late at night. In this labour I had been sweating for some years, till Rusticus, at my first acquaintance with him, seeing my way of life, said to me, had you lived about seventeen hundred years ago you had stood just in the same place as I stand now. I cannot read, and therefore, says he all these hundreds of thousands of doctrine and disputing books, which these seventeen hundred years have produced, stand not in my way; they are the same thing to me as if they had never been. And had you lived at the time mentioned, you had just escaped them all, as I do now, because, though you are a very good reader, there were then none of them to be read. Could you therefore be content to be one of the primitive Christians, who were as good as any that have been since, you may spare all this labour. It is not easy for me,” says Academicus, “to tell you how much good I received from this simple instruction of honest Master Rusticus. What project was it to be grasping after the knowledge of all the opinions, doctrines, disputes, heresies, schisms, etc., which seventeen hundred years had brought forth through all the extent of the Christian world! What project this, in order to be a divine, that is, in order to bear true witness to the power of Christ as a deliverer from the evil of earthly flesh and blood, and death and hell, and a raiser of a new birth and life from above! For as this is the divine work of Christ, so he only is a true and able divine that can bear a faithful testimony to this divine work of Christ. How easy was it for me to have seen that all this labyrinth of learned enquiry into such a dark, thorny wilderness of notions, facts, and opinions could signify no more to me now, to my own salvation, to my interest in Christ, and obtaining the holy Spirit of God, than if I had lived before it had any beginning. But the blind appetite of learning gave me no leisure to apprehend so plain a truth. Books of divinity, indeed, I have not done with, but will esteem none to be such but those that make known to my heart the inward power and redemption of Jesus Christ. Nor
will I seek for anything even from such books but that which I ask of God in prayer, viz.. How better to know, more to abhor, and resist the evil, that is in my own nature, and how to obtain a supernatural birth of the divine life brought forth within me. All besides this is pushpin.