That man is ashamed to be called a Philosopher which readeth not the books of philosophy; and to be called a Lawyer, an Astronomer, or a Physician, that is ignorant in the books of law, astronomy and physic. How can any man, then, say that he professeth Christ and his religion, if he will not apply himself, as far forth as he can or may conveniently to read and hear, and so to know, the books of Christ’s Gospel and doctrine? Although other sciences be good, and to be learned, yet no man can deny but this is the chief, and passeth all other incomparably. What excuse shall we therefore make, at the last day, before Christ, that delight to read or hear men’s fantasies and inventions, more than his most holy Gospel?
Stirring words from the first sermon in the Anglican Book of Homilies, from 1547.
Two excuses, Cranmer goes on, are often made by those who will not read the bible. Some say that they dare not read God’s holy word, lest through their ignorance they fall into error. Ridiculous, says Cranmer. Ignorance of the bible is the chief cause of error. So they must hear and read. And the person who reads with a humble heart has nothing to fear:
…if you be afraid to fall into error by reading of Holy Scripture, I shall shew you how you may read it without danger of error. Read it humbly, with meek and lowly heart, to the intent that you may glorify God, and not yourself, with the knowledge of it: and read it not without daily praying to God, that he would direct your reading to good effect; and take upon you to expound it no further than you can plainly understand it … Presumption and arrogancy is the mother of all error; and humility needeth to fear no error. For humility will only search to know the truth: it will search and will bring together one place with another; and where it cannot find out the meaning, it will pray, it will ask of others that know, and will not presumptuously and rashly define any thing which it knoweth not.
The other common excuse is that the bible is too hard to understand: only the learned can really fathom it. To these, Cranmer says:
God receiveth the learned and un-learned, and casteth away none, but is indifferent unto all. And the Scripture is full, as well of low valleys, plain ways, and easy for every man to use and to walk in, as also of high hills and mountain, which few men can climb unto. And whosoever giveth his mind to Holy Scriptures with diligent study and burning desire, it cannot be, saith St. John Chrsysostom, that he should be left without help. For either God Almighty will send him some godly Doctor to teach him – as he did to instruct the Eunuch, a nobleman of Ethiopia, and treasurer unto Queen Candace … or else, if we lack a learned man to instruct and teach us, yet God himself from above will give light unto our minds, and teach us those things which are necessary for us, and wherein we be ignorant.
Hallelujah! And so:
Let us hear, read, and know these holy rules, injunctions, and statutes of our Christian religion … let us night and day muse, and have meditation and contemplation in them; let us ruminate, and, as it were, chew the cud, that we may have the sweet juice, spiritual effect, marrow, honey, kernel, taste, comfort and consolation of them. Let us stay, quiet, and certify our consciences with the most infallible certainty, truth, and perpetual assurance of them. Let us pray to God, the only Author of these heavenly studies, that we may speak, think, believe, live, and depart hence, according to the wholesome doctrine and verities of them. And, by that means, in this world we shall have God’s defence, favour, and grace, with the unspeakable solace of peace, and quietness of conscience; and, after this miserable life, we shall enjoy the endless bliss and glory of heaven: which he grant us all, that died for us all, Jesus Christ: to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, both now and everlastingly. Amen.