One of my goals this year is to read one book a month of things pertaining to the faith, in addition to regular Scripture reading and study. I admit, I have quite an array of books lined up from authors and pastors with differing hermeneutical frameworks on peripheral issues, but obviously remaining faithful concerning the gospel. I think it’s important to understand these distinctions as a way of arriving at and solidifying our own doctrinal convictions and also to keep us out of communion with ignorance leading to sensitive and gracious discourse when we’re gathered with other believers who may hold different views than our own.
Another reason that I read is to strengthen my intellect, understanding, vocabulary, logic, reasoning, and communicability. It also is a great weapon against over-consuming mind-numbing broadcast media. Much can be said about the benefits of guarding and strengthening our minds as acts of worship. (Ps. 1:2, 119:15, 78, 2 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 4:23, Phil. 4:7, Col. 3:2, Heb. 8:10, 1 Pet. 1:13)
Recently, I finished reading Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible. In short, it communicated the origin of Sola Scriptura during the Protestant Reformation and it also shed light on the ever growing stances against Sola Scriptura from the Roman Catholic Church. However, the assault is not limited to outside the church, but the assault also comes from within. Generally speaking, the 21st century church, enveloped in postmodernity, is more biblically illiterate and hostile to the authority of Scriptures than bygone eras. This book serves both as a lament and call to return to biblical fidelity.
While the majority of the book served as an apologetic, the last chapter, The Transforming Power of Scripture, by Joel R. Beeke & Ray B. Lanning, served me well. Their exhortation to be studiers of and doers of the Word is as follows:
“As Protestants and evangelicals, we must complement the defense of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy with a positive demonstration of the transforming power of God’s Word. The power must be manifested in our lives, our homes, our churches, and our communities. We need to show without pretense that though other books may inform us, or even reform us, only one Book can and does transform us, conforming us to the image of Christ.”
Following that exhortation, Beeke and Lanning encouraged the reader from Puritan Richard Greenham’s (1535-1594) work A Profitable Treatise, Containing a Direction for the Reading and Understanding of the Holy Scriptures concerning the need to read the Scriptures well. Beeke and Lanning say quoting Greenham,
“After establishing that the preaching and reading of God’s Word are inseparably joined together by God in the work of the believer’s salvation, Greenham focuses on our duty regularly and privately to read the Scriptures, gleaning support from Deuteronomy 6:6; 11:18; Nehemiah 8:8; Psalm 1:2; Acts 15:21; 2 Peter 1:19.
Waxing more practical, Greenham asserts that men sin not only when they neglect to read the Scriptures, but also “… in reading amisse: therefore the properties of reuerent and faithfull reading are to bee set downe, which are these that follow”: (1) Diligence, (2) Wisdom, (3) Preparation, (4) Meditation, (5) Conference, (6) Faith, (7) Practice, (8) Prayer.
Numbers one through three ought to precede reading; numbers four through seven ought to follow reading; number eight must precede, accompany, and follow reading. Here is the gist of Greenham’s advice.
(1) Diligence must be pursued in reading the Scriptures more than in doing anything secular. We ought to read our Bibles with more diligence than men dig for hidden treasure. Diligence makes rough places plain; makes the difficult easy; makes the unsavory tasty.
(2) Wisdom must be used in the choice of matter, order, and time. In terms of matter, the believer must not try to move from the revealed to that which is not revealed, nor spend the bulk of his time on the most difficult portions of Scripture. If the minister must accommodate his preaching of the Word to the level of his hearers, “then much more the hearers themselves must apply their owne reading to their owne capacities.”
In terms of order, the wise reader of Scripture will aim to be firmly grounded in all the “major points of doctrine.” Moreover, Scripture reading must follow some semblance of order rather than skipping around. Only a whole Bible will make a whole Christian.
Time must also be utilized wisely. The whole of the Sabbath should be devoted to such exercises as the reading of Scriptures, but as for other days, a portion of Scripture in the morning, at noon, and in the evening is a wise balance (Eccl. 3:11). In any event, no day should pass without some reading of the Scriptures.
(3) Proper preparation is critical. Without it, Scripture reading is seldom blessed. Such preparation is threefold: First, we must approach Scripture with a reverential fear of God and His majesty. We must approach the Word “swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19), determined like Mary to lay up God’s Word in our hearts. Reverential fear is almost always blessed, either by having our understanding enlightened, or by some other good affections put into us.
Second, we must approach Scripture with faith in Christ, looking on Him as the Messiah, who “is the lion of the tribe of Iuda, to whom it is giuen to open the booke of God.” If we come to Scripture with reverence for God and faith in Christ, will Christ Himself not open our hearts as He did the hearts of the disciples traveling to Emmaus?
Third, we must approach Scripture sincerely desirous to learn of God (Prov. 17:16). Those who bore fruit from thirty to a hundred fold were precisely those who received the word “with a good and honest heart” (Luke 8). We often do not profit from Bible reading because we come “without a heart” for divine teaching.
(4) Meditation after reading Scripture is as critical as preparation before reading Scripture. One can read diligently, but the reading will bear no fruit if meditation does not follow. Reading may give some breadth, but only meditation and study will give depth. The difference between reading and meditation is like the difference between drifting and rowing toward a destination in a boat. “Meditation without reading is erronious, and reading without meditation is barren…. Meditation makes that which wee haue read to bee our owne. He is blessed which meditates in the law day and night (Ps. 1).”
Meditation involves our mind and understanding as well as our heart and affections. To reach a sound and settled judgment on various truths, the mind must be brought to meditative understanding. Meditation, however, also “digests” this settled judgment, and makes it work upon our affections. If our affections do not become involved, our sound meditative understanding will whittle away. The Scriptures must be transfused through the entire texture of the soul.
(5) By conference Greenham means godly converse with ministers or other believers. “As iron sharpeneth iron: so one friend another” (Prov. 2:7). The godly must share together what they are gleaning from the Scriptures, not in a proud manner speaking beyond what they know, but with humility, trusting that where two or three are gathered together for spiritual conversation, God will be among them. Such fellowship should not be carried on in “too great a multitude,” nor with a shut-door policy to others.
(6) Our Scripture reading must be mixed with faith. Faith is the key to profitable reception of the Word (Heb. 4:2); without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). To read without faith is to read in vain. Actually, all eight of these guidelines for reading Scripture should be followed in the exercise of true faith.
Moreover, through reading the Word by faith, our faith will also be refined. Our Scripture reading ought often to try our faith, not only in the generalities of our lives, but also in our particulars-especially in our afflictions. As gold is tried in the fire, so faith will abide the fire of affliction.
(7) The fruit of faith must be practice. And practice will “bring foorth increase of faith and repentance.” Practice is the best way to learn; and the more we put the Word into practice in the daily obedience of faith, the more God will increase our gifts for His service and for additional practice. When the Spirit sheds light upon our conscience that we are “doing” the read Word, we also receive the great benefit of being assured that we possess faith.
(8) Prayer is indispensable throughout our reading of Scripture-preceding, accompanying, and following. In public reading of Scripture, it is not possible to pause and pray after each verse. In private reading, we would do well to salt Scripture constantly with short, pungent, applicable petitions suggested by the particular verses being considered.
If we pray for nourishment from our physical food for every meal, how much more ought we not pray for spiritual nourishment for every Bible reading? If we do not dare touch our food and drink before we pray, how do we dare touch God’s holy Book-our spiritual food and drink-without prayer?
Prayer also necessarily involves thanksgiving: “If we be bound to praise God when he hath fed our bodies, how much more when hee hath fed our soules?” Let us not be fervent in asking and then cold in giving thanks. Rather, let us pray to read with godly fear and humble thanksgiving, remembering that the believer who is perfunctory in Bible reading will be perfunctory in Christian living.
If the Bible is to get into us, we must get into it. To neglect the Word is to neglect the Lord, but those who read Scripture “as a love-letter sent to you from God,” shall experience its warming and transforming power.”
Will we “read” like this?