Knowledge and Practice Necessary in Religion
John 13:1-19
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world to the Father…

Two things make up religion, the knowledge and the practice of it; and the first is wholly in order to the second. God hath not revealed to us the knowledge of Himself and His will, merely for the improvement of our understanding, but for the bettering of our hearts and lives. Our Saviour, in the text, from a particular instance, settles this general conclusion.

I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S WILL AND OUR DUTY IS NECESSARY, IN ORDER TO THE PRACTICE OF IT. Rome teaches that "ignorance is the mother of devotion," and locks up from the people the great storehouse of Divine knowledge. In justification of this, it is pretended that knowledge is apt to puff men up, to make them disobedient, and heretical. For answer to this pretence, consider —

1. That, unless this be the necessary effect of knowledge in religion, and of the free use of the Holy Scriptures, there is no force in this reason, for that which is useful ought not to be taken away, because it is liable to be abused. If it ought, then all knowledge ought to be suppressed; light, and liberty, and reason, yea, life itself ought to be taken away. But if the knowledge of religion is of its own nature pernicious, then the blame of all this would fall upon our Saviour for revealing, and upon His apostles for publishing, it in a known tongue to all mankind.

2. But this is only accidental and through men's abuse of it, for which the thing itself ought not to be taken away. If any man abuse the Holy Scriptures he does it at his peril. We must not hinder men from being Christians, to preserve them from being heretics, and put out men's eyes, for fear they should dispute their way with their guides. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 8:1) takes notice of this accidental inconvenience, but the remedy which he prescribes (1 Corinthians 14) is that the service of God be so performed as may be for the edification of the people; and that charity shall govern knowledge and help to make right use of it (1 Corinthians 14:20). There is nothing in the Christian religion, but what is fit for every man to know, for it is all designed to promote holiness. Men, therefore, ought not to be debarred of it.

3. The proper effects of ignorance are equally pernicious, and much more certain than those which are accidentally occasioned by knowledge; for so far as a man is ignorant of his duty, it is impossible he should do it. He that hath the knowledge of religion may be a bad Christian; but he that is destitute of it can be none at all (Proverbs 19:2). Because nothing is religious that is not a reasonable service, and no service can be reasonable that is not directed by our understanding. The end of prayers, e.g., is to testify of our own wants, and of our dependence upon God for supply; it is impossible, therefore, that any man should be said to pray who does not understand what he asks; and the saying over so many pater nosters by one that does not understand them is no more a prayer than the repeating over so many verses in Virgil. And if men must not be permitted to know so much as they can in religion, for fear they should grow troublesome, then the best way to maintain peace would be to let the people know nothing in religion, and to keep the priests as ignorant as the people, but then the mischief would be, that, out of a fondness to maintain peace in the Church, there would be no Church, nor no Christianity; which would be the same wise contrivance, as if a prince should destroy his subjects to keep his kingdom quiet.

4. If this reason be good, it is much stronger for withholding the Scriptures from the priests and the learned than from the people, for most of the famous heresies have their names from some learned man. The ancient fathers frequently prescribe to the people the constant and careful reading of the Scriptures as the surest antidote against the poison of dangerous errors. And if the word of God be so improper a means to this end, one would think that the teachings of men should be much less effectual; so that men must either be left in their ignorance, or they must be permitted to learn from the word of truth.

5. This danger was as great in the age of the apostles as now; and yet they took a quite contrary course.

II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF OUR DUTY, AND THE PRACTICE OF IT, MAY, AND OFTEN ARE, SEPARATED. Our Saviour, elsewhere, supposes that many know their Master's will, who do not do it; and He compares those that hear His sayings, and do them not, to a foolish man that built his house upon the sand. And St. James speaks of some who are "hearers of the word only, but not doers of it;" and for that reason fall short of happiness. There are three sorts of persons in whom the knowledge of religion is more remarkably separated from the practice of it.

1. The speculative Christian, who makes religion only a science, and studies it as a piece of learning. He hath no design to practise it, but he is loth to be ignorant of it, because the knowledge of it is a good ornament of conversation, and will serve for discourse and entertainment. And because he does not intend to practise it, he passeth over those things which are easy to be understood, and applies himself chiefly to the consideration of those which will afford matter of controversy. Of the same rank usually are the leaders of factions in religion, who, by endless disputes about things, commonly of no great moment, hinder themselves and others from minding the practice of the great and substantial duties of a good life.

2. The formal Christian, who takes up religion for a fashion. Such think they are very good Christians if they can give an account of the articles of their faith, profess their belief in God and Christ, and declare that they hope to be saved by Him, though they take no care to keep His commandments. These are they of whom our Saviour speaks in Luke 6:46.

3. Hypocritical Christians, who make an interest of religion, and serve some worldly design by it (2 Timothy 3:21.)


1. The gospel makes the practice of religion a necessary condition of our happiness. Our Saviour, in His first sermon, where He repeats the promise of blessedness so often, makes no promise of it to the mere knowledge of religion, but to the habit and practice of Christian graces (Matthew 7:22-24; Romans 2:13; James 1:22-26; Hebrews 12:14).

2. As God hath made the practice of religion a necessary condition of our happiness, so the very nature and reason of the thing make it a necessary qualification for it. It is necessary that we become like to God, in order to the enjoyment of Him; and nothing makes us like to God but the practice of holiness and goodness (1 John 3:3). Conclusion:

1. The great end of all our knowledge in religion is to practice what we know (1 John 2:8, 4).

2. Practice is the best way to increase and perfect our knowledge (John 7:17).

3. Without the practice of religion our knowledge is vain.

(Abp. Tillotson.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

WEB: Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his time had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

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