Adapted from Knox's "Letter of Wholesome Counsel," addressed to his brethren in Scotland in 1556.
A most wholesome counsel how to behave ourselves in the midst of this wicked generation, touching the daily exercise of God's most holy and sacred word, without which neither shall knowledge increase, godliness appear, nor fervency continue amongst you.
As the word of God is the beginning of spiritual life, so it is also the only instrument which God uses to strengthen the weak, to comfort the afflicted, to reduce to mercy by repentance such as have slidden, and, finally, to preserve and keep the very life of the soul in all assaults and temptations. Without it, all flesh is dead in God's presence. It is the lantern to our feet; without the brightness whereof all the children of Adam walk in darkness. It is the foundation of faith, without which no man understands the good will of God. Therefore, if you desire your knowledge to be increased, your faith to be confirmed, your conscience to be quieted and comforted, and your soul to be preserved in life, then let your exercise be frequent in the law of your Lord God.
Do not despise that precept which Moses (who by experience learned what comfort lies hidden within the word of God) gave to the Israelites, in these words:
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart; and thou shalt exercise thy children in them. Thou shalt talk of them when thou art at home in thy house, and as thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up; and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be papers of remembrance between thine eyes; and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.
And Moses, in another place, commands them to remember the law of the Lord God, to do it, that it may be well with them, and with their children in the land which the Lord their God should give them (Deuteronomy 4:40; 12:28)—meaning that, as frequent memory and repetition of God's precepts is the means whereby the fear of God (which is the beginning of all wisdom and felicity) is kept ever fresh upon the mind, so negligence and forgetfulness of God's benefits received are the first degree of apostasy from God.
Now, if the law (which by reason of our weakness can work nothing but wrath and anger) was so effectual that, being remembered and rehearsed with the resolve to practice it, it brought to the people a corporeal blessing, what shall we say that the glorious gospel of Christ Jesus does work, so that with reverence it be entreated? St. Paul calls it the sweet aroma of life to those that shall receive life, borrowing his similitude of aromatic herbs or precious ointments, whose nature is such that the more they are touched or moved, the more their pleasant and enjoyable odors are released. Even such, dear brethren, is the blessed evangel of our Lord Jesus; for the more it is entreated, the more pleasant and effectual it is to such as do hear, read, and exercise the same.
Beware of Despising God's Holy Word
I am not ignorant that as the Israelites loathed the manna (because that every day they saw and ate but one thing), so there are some nowadays (who will not be held of the worst sort) who, after once reading some parcels of the Scripture, do go on to commit themselves altogether to profane authors and human lectures, because the variety of matters therein contained does bring with it a daily amusement, whereas within the simple Scriptures of God, the perpetual repetition of a thing is tedious and wearisome. This temptation, I confess, may enter into God's very elect for a time; but it is impossible that they continue therein to the end; for God's election, besides other evident signs, has this ever joined with it, that God's elect are called from ignorance (I speak of those that are come to the years of knowledge), to some taste and feeling of God's mercy, of the which they are never satisfied in this life, but from time to time they hunger to eat the bread that descended from heaven, and they thirst to drink the water that springs to life everlasting, which they cannot do but by the means of faith. Faith looks ever to the will of God revealed by His word, so that faith has both her beginning and continuance by the word of God. And so I say that it is impossible that God's chosen children can despise or reject the word of their salvation of any long continuance, neither yet loathe it to the end.
Often it is that God's elect are held in such bondage and thralldom that they cannot have the bread of life broken unto them, neither yet free liberty to exercise themselves in God's holy word; but even then God's dear children do not loathe but most greedily do they covet the food of their souls. Then do they accuse their former negligence, then they lament the miserable affliction of their brethren, and then they cry and call in their hearts (and openly where they dare) for free passage to the gospel. This hunger and thirst does prove the life of their souls. But if such men, as having liberty to read and exercise themselves in God's Holy Scriptures, and yet begin to weary, because from time to time they read but one thing, I ask: Why weary they not also every day to eat bread? Every day to drink wine? Every day to behold the brightness of the sun? And to use the rest of God's creatures, which every day do keep their own substance, course, and nature? They shall answer, I trust, because such creatures have a strength, as often as they are used, to expel hunger and quench thirst, restore strength, and preserve life. O miserable creatures! who dare attribute more power and strength to the corruptible creatures, in nourishing and preserving the mortal carcass, than to the eternal word of God in nourishment of the soul, which is immortal! To reason with their damnable unthankfulness at this present time is not my purpose. But to you, dear brethren, I write my knowledge, and do speak my conscience, that so necessary as the use of meat and drink are to the preservation of corporeal life, and so necessary as the heat and brightness of the sun are to the quickening of the herbs, and to expel darkness; so necessary also to the life everlasting, and to the illumination and light of the soul, are the perpetual meditation, exercise, and use of God's holy word.
Heads of Households Must Diligently Maintain Family Devotions
And therefore, dear brethren, if you look for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8), it is necessary that you exercise yourselves in the book of the Lord your God. Let no day slip or lack some comfort received from the mouth of God. Open your ears, and He will speak even pleasant things to your heart. Close not your eyes, but diligently let them behold what portion of substance is left to you within your Father's testament. Let your tongues learn to praise the gracious goodness of Him whose mercy has called you from darkness to light and from death to life. Neither yet may you do this so quietly that you will admit no witness. No, brethren, you are ordained of God to rule your own houses in His true fear and according to His word. Within your houses, in some cases, you are bishops and kings; your wife, children, servants, and family are your bishopric and charge. Of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently you have always instructed them in God's true knowledge, how you have studied to plant virtue in them and repress vice. And therefore I say, you must make them partakers in reading, exhorting, and in making common prayers, which I would in every house were used once a day at least. But above all things, dear brethren, study to practice in life that which the Lord commands, and then be you assured that you shall never hear nor read the same without fruit. And this much for the exercises within your houses.