A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.Proverbs 1:5
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.Proverbs 9:9
There was a time when God’s Word was not in abundance as it is today. These were called the Dark Ages, which the world may title for their own reasons, but Christians should remember these days similar to the days of Samuel the Prophet, where the people saw the word of God as a precious thing in its sparsity. The Dark Ages, lasting from approximately 300 to 1100 AD, was rife with a lack of care for learning, and any Christian that looks into the history of these years would easily find that the majority of false teachings and heresies came forth from these times.
Yet, Christians can learn about God’s Word with ease today. Therefore, Christians should be learning more than the Christians of times past did, for we have been given more. Consider Psalm 119:130, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple.” The Bible gives the light of understanding to any that would look into the contents, searching and asking for the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.
It was no mistake that the first book that Johannes Gutenberg printed was the Bible, for the world is in darkness, and God gave us his word for light. Gutenberg printed his Bible in 1456 with a printing press, but before him only a few devoted Christians hand-copied the Bible in order to give to the people.
John Wycliffe was a man of Oxford who preached against the wicked Catholics of his day. He rebuked them for hoarding the Scriptures and not providing copies for the common people. The only Bibles they had were in Latin, and they refused to translate it into English. For his preaching, Wycliffe was banished from Oxford, but he devoted the remainder of his life to ensuring that the common people had an English Bible to read, which he accomplished in 1381. His followers helped to copy out hundreds of Bibles by hand, and for the glory of Christ they hazarded their lives to do so.
These times were dark, certainly, but not as dark as the times of the Dark Ages. In Wycliffe’s day the king was a weak pawn of the Roman Catholics, and so Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards, were persecuted. But for a season the persecution was merely political. It did grow more dangerous after Wycliffe passed away. The proceeding times exemplified that a weak king would not stand against wickedness, for the succeeding kings of England did nothing to protect the Catholic execution of many Lollards, and the burning of their hand-copied Bibles.
However, imagine that the king has not a moment’s respite from the horrors of war, from the brutality of savages, and a lifelong crippling illness. This was the stresses of King Alfred the Great in the late 9th century. He ruled the Anglo-Saxons from 871-899, and the entirety of the almost 30 years of his reign consisted of the constant unending barrage of destruction, plunder, murder, rape, and pillaging of the wicked Danes, venerated today as “Vikings”. Yet, King Alfred understood the importance of the increase of learning by God’s Word, but how could he spread it through the kingdom? The problems of learning were always a great sadness for him, and there cannot be a doubt that if he had moveable type in his day he would not have used it to his great advantage.
Here is what Christ said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). King Alfred’s biographer, Asser, recalled an important moment concerning the King:
On a certain day we were sitting in the king’s chamber, talking on all kinds of subjects, as usual, and it happened that I read to him a quotation out of a certain book. He heard it attentively with both his ears, and addressed me with a thoughtful mind, showing me at the same moment a book which he carried in his bosom, wherein the daily courses and psalms, and prayers which he had read in his youth, were written, and he commanded me to write the same quotation in that book. But I could not find any empty space in that book wherein to write the quotation, for it was already full of various matters; wherefore…I said to him, ”Are you willing that I should write that quotation on some leaf apart? For it is not certain whether we shall not find one or more other such extracts which will please you; and if that should so happen, we shall be glad that we have kept them apart.” ”Your plan is good,” said he, and I gladly made haste to get ready a sheet, in the beginning of which I wrote what he bade me; and on that same day, I wrote therein, as I had anticipated, no less than three other quotations which pleased him; and from that time we daily talked together, and found out other quotations which pleased him, so that the sheet became full, and deservedly so; according as it is written, ”The just man builds upon a moderate foundation, and by degrees passes to greater things.” Thus, like a most productive bee, he flew here and there, asking questions, as he went, until he had eagerly and unceasingly collected many various flowers of divine scriptures, with which he thickly stored the cells of his mind. Now when that first quotation was copied, he was eager at once to read, and to interpret in Saxon, and then to teach others… (Asser).
What we can see from this excerpt from Asser is that a just man wanted to learn of Christ, as the Lord said in Matthew 11:29, and then teach others. What a blessing it was to have a just man as the King, who hungered for the Scriptures! What Alfred did next is nothing short of amazing for a King in the Dark Ages. He translated portions of God’s Word and other godly books into the language of the common people, had multiple hand-copies produced, and had them sent in bound volumes to churches throughout his kingdom for the common people and the bishops to read, to increase in the learning of the Lord. This was while the endless attacks from the Vikings still continued, up until the day he passed on.
Alfred hungered to know more about Jesus, and he continued to write what he learned in a little book he kept on himself. At some point that book was filled, but no matter, there was more paper for him to write what the Lord had taught him. What little Alfred was given he made much of. What much will we make abundance of, with the much that God has given to us?
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