A Priest to the Temple — The Parson’s knowledg
CHAP. IIII. The Parsons Knowledg.
THe Countrey Parson is full of all knowledg. They say, it is an ill Mason that refuseth any stone: and there is no knowledg, but, in a skilfull hand, serves either positively as it is, or else to illustrate some other knowledge. He condescends even to the knowledge of tillage, and pastorage, and makes great use of them in teaching, because people by what they understand, are best led to what they understand not. But the chief and top of his knowledge consists in the book of books, the storehouse and magazene of life and comfort, the holy Scriptures. There he sucks, and lives. In the Scriptures hee findes four things; Precepts for life, Doctrines for knowledge, Examples for illustration, and Promises for comfort: These he hath digested severally. But for the understanding of these; the means he useth are first, a holy Life, remembring what his Master saith) that if any do Gods will, he shall know of the Doctrine, John 7[:17]. and assuring himself, that wicked men, however learned, do not know the Scriptures, because they feel them not, and because they are not understood but with the same Spirit that writ them.
The second means is prayer, which if it be necessary even in temporall things, how much more in things of another world, where the well is deep, and we have nothing of our selves to draw with? Wherefore he ever begins the reading of the Scripture with some short inward ejaculation, as, Lord open mine eyes, that I may see the wondrous things of thy Law. &c. The third means is a diligent Collation of Scripture with Scripture. For all Truth being consonant to it self, and all being penn’d by one and the self-same Spirit, it cannot be, but that an industrious, and judicious comparing of place with place must be a singular help for the right understanding of the Scriptures. To this may be added the consideration of any text with the coherence thereof, touching what goes before, and what follows after, as also the scope of the Holy Ghost. When the Apostles would have called down fire from Heaven, they were reproved, as ignorant of what spirit they were. For the Law required one thing, and the Gospel another: yet as diverse, not as repugnant: therefore the spirit of both is to be considered, and weighed. The fourth means are Commenters and Fathers, who have handled the places controverted, which the Parson by no means refuseth. As he doth not so study others, as to neglect the grace of God in himself, and what the Holy Spirit teacheth him; so doth he assure himself, that God in all ages hath had his servants, to whom he hath revealed his Truth, as well as to him; and that as one Countrey doth not bear all things, that there may be a Commerce; so neither hath God opened, or will open all to one, that there may be a traffick in knowledg between the servants of God, for the planting both of love, and humility. Wherfore he hath one Comment at least upon every book of Scripture, and ploughing with this, and his own meditations, he enters into the secrets of God treasured in the holy Scripture.
People answer the call to priestly ministry for lots of reasons. Mostly, I think, people feel called to be pastors, that is, to care for God’s people. While I am happy to offer whatever care I can, I answered the call as a kind of teacher. Early in my discernment, a wise priest — with a similar outlook — said to me that he wished we could call ourselves rabbis. Teachers. Not that we are called to fill people’s heads with facts, but that we are to offer teaching, in word and deed, about the Christian life.
So often we clergy get too busy to study. This is unfortunate. We need to have our intellectual horizons widened through the study of other thinkers, and especially in the study of God’s Word. I love Herbert’s suggestion that the priest ought to be one who “enters into the secrets of God treasured in the holy Scripture.”
I wonder how often we fail to do this. Perhaps we develop a notion of who God is and what the church is. Then we get ready to preach, turning to the Bible to support our cause. At the risk of sounding exegetically naive, what if we actually turned to the scriptures first, and searched for Wisdom and wisdom there?
In our church book group, we’re reading Brian McLaren’s provocative book, The Secret Message of Jesus. It’s simply McLaren’s effort to discover the Jesus of the scriptures, as opposed to the Jesus that we’ve been taught in church. Reading the book, I can tell you that McLaren finds a big difference between the two. What would it be like to turn to God’s Word for words of truth for our churches, our lives, and our faith in God. Sounds easy, but I fear we too often fail at this basic task.
Finally, there is another dimension of knowledge in Herbert’s exhortation. He urges practical knowledge for the parson. So we need to know something about the work and the lives of the people whom we serve. I should not presume that people will leap the chasm and love my teaching about arcane points of theology. Perhaps we need to leap the chasm and talk on “their” terms more often.
None of this is easy, but I think Herbert sets us on the right direction.