The First Branch of the Text, the Scholar, with the First Proposition.
I begin with the first: The scholar, and his proficiency; “I have learned.” Out of which I shall by the bye, observe two things by way of paraphrase. 1. The apostle doth noth say, I have heard, that in every estate I should be content: but, I have learned. Whence our first doctrine, that it is not enough for Christians to hear their duty, but they must learn their duty. It is one thing to hear and another thing to learn; as it is one thing to eat and another thing to concoct. St Paul was a practitioner. Christians hear much, but it is to be feared, learn little. There were four sorts of grounds in the parable, (Luke. 8. 5) and but one good ground: an emblem of this truth, many hearers, but few learners.
There are two things which keep us from learning. 1. Slighting what we hear. Christ is the pearl of price; when we disesteem this pearl, we shall never learn either its value, or its virtue. The gospel is a rare mystery; in one place, (Ac. 20. 24) it is called “the gospel of grace;” in another, (1 Cor. 4. 4) “the gospel of glory;” because in it, as in a transparent glass, the glory of God is resplendent. But he that hath learned to contemn this mystery, will hardly ever learn to obey it; he that looks upon the things of heaven as things by the bye, and perhaps the driving of a trade, or carrying on some politic design to be of greater importance, this man is in the high road to damnation, and will hardly ever learn the things of his peace. Who will learn that which he thinks is scarce worth learning? 2. Forgetting what we hear. If a scholar have his rules laid before him, and he forgets them as fast as he reads them, he will never learn. (Ja. 1. 25).. We have great memories in other things, we remember that which is vain. Cyrus could remember the name of every soldier in his huge army. We remember injuries: this is to fill a precious cabinet with dung; but as Hierom saith, how soon do we forget the sacred truths of God? We are apt to forget three things: our faults, our friends, our instructions. Many Christians are like sieves; put a sieve into the water, and it is full; but take it forth of the water, and all runs out: so, while they are hearing a sermon, they remember something: but like the sieve out of the water, as soon as they are gone out of the church, all is forgotten. “Let these sayings, (saith Christ) sink down into your ears;” (Lu. 9. 44) in the original it is, “put these sayings into your ears,” as a man that would hide the jewel from being stolen, locks it up safe in his chest. Let them sink: the word must not fall only as dew that wets the leaf, but as rain which soaks to the root of the tree, and makes it fructify. O, how often doth Satan, that fowl of the air, pick up the good seed that is sown!
USE. Let me put you upon a serious trial. Some of you have heard much, ― you have lived forty, fifty, sixty years under the blessed trumpet of the gospel, ― what have you learned? You may have a thousand sermons, and yet not learned one. Search your consciences.
1. You have heard much against sin: are you hearers; or are you scholars? How many sermons have you heard against covetousness, that it is the root, on which pride, idolatry, treason do grow? One calls it a metropolitan sin; it is a complex evil, it doth twist a great many sins in with it. There is hardly any sin, but covetousness is a main ingredient of it; and yet are you like the two daughters of the horse-leech, that cry, “give! give!” How much have you heard against rash anger, that is a short frenzy, a dry drunkenness; that it rests in the bosom of fools; and upon the least occasion do your spirits begin to take fire? How much have you heard against swearing: It is Christ’s express mandate, “swear not at all.” (Mat. 5. 34) This sin of all others may be termed the unfruitful work of darkness. It is neither sweetened with pleasure, nor enriched with profit, the usual vermillio wherewith Satan doth paint sin. Swearing is forbidden with a subpaena. While the swearer shoots his oaths, like flying arrows at God to pierce his glory, God shoots “a flying roll” of curses against him. And do you make your tongue a racket by which you toss oaths as tennisballs? do you sport yourselves with oaths, as the Philistines did with Samson, which will at last pull the house about your ears? Alas! how have they learned what sin is, that have not learned to leave sin! Doth he know what a viper is, that will play with it?
2. You have heard much of Christ: have you learned Christ? The Jews, as Jerom saith, carried Christ in their Bibles, but not in their heart; their sound “went into all the earth; (Ro. 10. 18) the prophets and apostles were as trumpets, whose sound went abroad into the world: yet many thousands who heard the noise of these trumpets, had not learned Christ, “they have not all obeyed.” (Ro. 10.16) (1.) A man may know much of Christ, and yet not learn Christ: the devils knew Christ. (Mat.1. 24) (2.) A man may preach Christ, and yet not learn Christ, as Judas and the pseudo-apostles. (Ph. 5. 15) (3.) A man may profess Christ, and yet not learn Christ: there are many professors in the world that Christ will profess against. (Mat. 7. 22, 23)
Q. What it is then to learn Christ?
1. To learn Christ is to be made like Christ, to have the divine characters of his holiness engraven upon our hearts: “we all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image.” (2 Cor. 3. 18) There is a metamorphosis made; a sinner, viewing Christ’s image in the glass of the gospel, is transformed into that image. Never did any man look upon Christ with a spiritual eye, but he went away quite changed. A true saint is a divine landscape picture, where all the rare beauties of Christ are lively portrayed and drawn forth; he hath the same spirit, the same judgment, the same will, with Jesus Christ.
2. To learn Christ, is to believe in him; “my Lord, and my God,” (Jno. 20. 28) when we do not only believe God, but in God, which is the actual application of Christ to ourselves, and as it were the spreading of the sacred medicine of his blood upon our souls. You have heard much of Christ, and yet cannot with an humble adherence say, “my Jesus;” be not offended if I tell you, the devil can say his creed as well as you.
3. To learn Christ, is to love Christ. When we have Bible-conversations, our lives like rich diamonds cast a sparkling lustre in the church of God, and are, in some sense, parallel with the life of Christ, as the transcript with the original. So much for the first notion of the word.