Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Puritan support for classical education

Here Richard Baxter (1615-1691) addresses the usefulness of liberal education:

Question 158. Should not christians [sic] take up with Scripture wisdom only, without studying philosophy and other heathens' human learning?

Answer. I have already proved the usefulness of common knowledge in my book called The Unreasonableness of Infidelity, part 2, section 23, page 163, to which I refer the reader; and only say now,

1. Grace presupposeth nature; we are men in order of nature at least before we are saints, and reason is before supernatural revelation.

2. Common knowledge therefore is subservient unto faith: we must know the Creator and his works; and the Redeemer restoreth us to the due knowledge of the Creator: human learning in the sense in question is also divine, God is the author of the light of nature, as well as of grace. We have more than heathens, but must not therefore have less, and cast away the good that is common to them and us; else we much not have souls, bodies, reason, health, time, meat, drink, clothes, etc., because heathens have them. God's works are honourable, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein; and physical philosophy is nothing but the knowledge of God's works.

3. And the knowledge of languages is necessary both for human converse, and for understanding the Scriptures themselves. The Scriptures contain not a Greek and Hebrew grammar to understand the languages in which they are written, but suppose us otherwise taught those tongues that we may interpret them.

4. The use of the gospel is not to teach us all things needful to be known; but to teach us, on supposition of our common knowledge, how to advance higher to supernatural saving knowledge, faith, love, and practice. Scripture telleth us not how to build a house, to plough, sow, weave, or make our works of art. Every one that learneth his country tongue of his parents hath human learning of the same sort with the learning of Greek and Hebrew; he that learneth not to read, cannot read the Bible. And he that understandeth it not in the original tongues, must trust other men's words that have human learning, or else remain a stranger to it.

(f.n. Pr 2-6; Ps 92:5-6; Ps 104:24-25; Ps 113:5-6; Ps 107:8, 15, 21; Ps 66:3-4; Ps 111:2-6; Ps 145:7-11, 17-19; Acts 2:6-9; Acts 21:40; Acts 24:2; 1 Cor 14:2, 4, 9, 13, 14, 19, 26, 27; Rev 9:11; Rev 14:16; Rev 5:9; Ps 19:1-3; Ps 94:10; Ps 139:6; Pr 2:1-4, 8-10,12; 1 Cor 15:34; Pr 19:2; Job 32:8; Job 38:36. Yet I refer the reader to my "Treatise of Knowledge", which showeth the vanity of pretended learning.)

But though none but proud fools will deny the need of that human learning which improveth nature, and is subservient to our knowledge of supernatural revelations, yet well doth Paul admonish us, to take heed that none deceive us by vain philosophy; and saith that the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God, and that the knowledge of Christ crucified is the true christian philosophy of wisdom. For indeed the dark philosophers groping after the knowledge of God, did frequently stumble, and did introduce abundance of logical and physical vanities, uncertainties, and falsities, under the name of philosophy, by mere niceties and high pretendings, seeking for the glory of wisdom to themselves; whenas it is one thing to know God's works and God in them, and another thing to compose a system of physics and metaphysics containing abundance of errors and confusion, and jumbling a few certainties with a great many uncertainties and untruths, and every sect pulling down what others asserted, and all of them disproving the methods and assertions of others, and one proving their own. And the truth is, after all latter discoveries, there is yet so much error, darkness, uncertainty, and confusion in the philosophy of every pretending sect, (the Peripatetics, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans and Platonists, much more the Epicureans, the Lullianists, and Cartesians, Telesius, Campanella, Patricius, Gassendus, etc.) that it is a wonder that any that ever thoroughly tried them, can be so weak as to glory much of the certainties and methods of any, which hitherto are so palpably uncertain, and full of certain errors.

We may therefore make use of all true human learning, real and organical, (and he is the happy scholar who fasteneth upon the certain and the useful parts well distinguished from the rest, and truly useth them to their great and proper ends): but niceties and fooleries which some spend their lives in for mere ostentation, and also uncertain presumptions, should be much neglected; and the great, certain, necessary, saving verities of morality and the gospel must be dearly loved, and thankfully embraced, and studiously learned, and faithfully practised, by all that would prove wise men at last.

(f.n. Col 2:8,9,23; 1 Cor 2:1,4-6,13; 1 Cor 3:19; 2 Cor 1:12; Job 28:28; Prov 1:7; Prov 9:10; John 18:3; Gal 4:9; Eph 3:10; 1 John 2:13,14; Col 1:9,27,28; Eph 6:19; 1 Cor 2:11; Col 3:16; Acts 17:18,19; Eph 4:18,19; Hos 4:8; Hos 6:6; Ps 119:99; 2 Pet 3:18; 2 Pet 1:3,5,8; Col 2:3; Col 3:10; Phil 3:8; Eph 3:19; Eph 1:17; Rom 1:20-22; Eccl 1:16-18; 1 Cor 8:1, 11; 1 Cor 13:2,3,8,9; Rom 2:20; James 3:13,14,17; Jer 4:22; 1 Cor 8:2)

Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, "Christian Ecclesiastics", pp721-722 (Soli Deo Gloria reprint of the 1846 edition; some formatting changed for readability here)

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