Reading the Bible
In an article in the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, one author described “the collapse of the liberal church” in Canada and its equivalent in America. The author spoke of the synod of the United Church of Canada, at which one of its main agenda items was a resolution calling for the boycott of products from Israeli settlements. She spoke of the recent Synod of The Episcopal Church, at which one of its main agenda items was allowing the transgendered to become priests. Her conclusion was that “people’s overall belief in God hasn’t declined. What’s declined is people’s participation in religion. With so little spiritual nourishment to offer, it’s no wonder the liberal churches have collapsed.”1
If we want to remain relevant as churches, the key is to continue reading, preaching, and believing the Word of God. The Word of God contains that nourishment which our souls need. As the ancient preacher, John Chrysostom, once said in a sermon, “If we must fight, they are a sword; if we hunger, they are meat; if we thirst, they are drink; if we have no dwelling-place, they are a house; if we be naked, they are a garment; if we be in darkness, they be light unto our going.”2
I want to conclude our series on what we believe about Scripture with a practical article on reading the Bible. In Deuteronomy 18 there is a law about the king of Israel. One requirement for a godly king was that he had and utilized the law of God. He was to obtain a copy of the law from the priests and then copy out by hand his own copy of the law. We read later in 2 Kings 11 that the seven-year-old king of Judah, Joash, was crowned by the high priest Jehoida, who “gave him the testimony” (2 Kings 11:12). Then he was to read the law even after he entered the busyness of his office. He was not to be hindered. He was not to come up with excuses. He was also to meditate upon it, learning the fear of God his whole life. Finally, he was to practice what he read. In the words of James, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
What does this story of the king have to do with us? It should strike us as how wonderful it is that in Christ we, too, are prophets, priests, and kings. We, too, are to read the Word of God to learn the wisdom of God.
A High Privilege
The first thing I want you to notice is that reading the Bible is a high privilege. As far as I know, besides the Levitical priests, we read of no other individual in all of the Old Testament being required to obtain a copy of the laws of God and to privately read them as Deuteronomy 18:18 describes. What a privilege the king had to obtain a copy of the law. And notice the privilege of copying out the law in his own handwriting. How his hand must have trembled in awe! How he must have been amazed to read God’s very word for himself! Gregory the Great, one of the great fathers of the church, once wrote a letter in which he said to his correspondent: “Learn the heart of God in the words of God.”3 In reading the words of God, we get a glimpse into God’s very heart for us his people. Not everyone had this high privilege then; but we do now.
When children start learning to read, they listen to their parents reading to them for several years; then they start sounding the letters themselves. Then they start to learn to sound out two- and three-letter words. Then they learn to read those words in a short sentence. And then after a while of doing that, they learn to understand what they are reading. What’s really amazing is that we get to do this with the Bible, God’s own Word. We all need to learn how to read our Bibles. Step by step like little children, we all need to come to the Lord in his Word and begin the process from learning letter sounds to understanding what we are reading.
A Habitual Practice
The second point to be learned here is that reading the Bible is to be a habitual practice. Notice what Deuteronomy 18:19 says: “And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life.” The king was to be the blessed man of Psalm 1, who shunned the ways of sinners for the ways of the Lord by meditating on the law of God day and night.
Reading the Bible needs to be a daily habit. As we engage in it, over the course of our lives as children of God, we more and more become a walking and talking Bible. In the words of Paul, we are to be like a living epistle.4 John Chrysostom said this in a sermon: “Hearken not hereto only here in the church, but also at home; let the husband with the wife, let the father with the child, talk together of these matters, and both to and fro let them both inquire and give their judgments; and with God they would begin this good custom.”5 When we read the Word all the days of our lives, we receive the blessing of God, as Revelation 1:3 describes: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud . . . blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written.”
How are we to read the Word? What should be going through our minds when we do so? The Westminster Larger Catechism gives us several ways in which we are to read the Word:
The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer. (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 157)
Reverence. Thomas Watson said, “Think every line you read God is speaking to you.”6 And this thought should humble us to the core and cause us to be in awe at the fact that of the billions of people in the world, you—I—have been given the Word!
Persuasiveness that only God can make his own words known to us. In the Psalms we read again and again lines like this: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18).
Earnestness. It’s so easy for us Reformed believers to read the Word looking for doctrine. But don’t forget that it is the Word of God. The Word is the means that God has chosen to reveal himself to us. When you sit down to read it, then, you are coming not to an it but to a him.
Diligence. Children, think about those people you see on the beach with headphones on and who are waving on the ground back and forth a metal detector. When they first started every little sound made them think they found money, and they would bend down and dig it up. But over time they learned the distinct sounds of different kinds of trash, but also coins. Children, we need to learn how to read because then we can learn what it means.7
Personalness. It is not some abstract thing “out there.” We need to intently and intensely think about the Word more than we meditate on our fantasy football stats, the latest political polls, or our Christmas shopping list.
A Holy Purpose
Finally, reading the Word is a holy purpose. At the end of Deuteronomy 18:19 we learn the purpose of the king’s reading the Word: “that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up” (vv. 19–20). As we read the Word and meditate upon it, we experience the sanctifying power of the Word, which washes over us like water (Eph. 5:26).
Conclusion: Reading the Word as Spiritual Warfare
Let me conclude on that note and say that we are to read the Word as an act of spiritual warfare. It takes discipline and training. It takes honing our skills to use the Word. The greatest Reformed theologian who defended the Word of God against the claims of the Roman Church was an Englishman, William Whitaker. He describes the spiritual warfare we enter when we take up the Word in these words:
Our arms shall be the sacred scriptures, that sword and shield of the word, that tower of David, upon which a thousand bucklers hang, and all the armour of the mighty, the sling and the pebbles of the brook wherewith David stretched upon the ground that gigantic and haughty Philistine.8
I want you to be confident that you hold the very Word of God in your hands. And no church, pope, scholar, group of people, or the devil himself can change that fact.
1. Margaret Wente, “The Collapse of the Liberal Church,” The Globe and Mail (July 28, 2012), http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/the-collapse-of-the-liberal-church/article4443228/.
2. Cited in John Jewel, “A Treatise of the Holy Scriptures,” Works, 4:1177.
3. “Letter to Theodorus,” 4:31.
4. Watson, Puritan Sermons, 2:68.
5. John homily 3.
6. Watson, Puritan Sermons, 2:60. Watson also said that the Word is the Holy Spirit’s “love letter.” Puritan Sermons, 2:64.
7. As Watson again said, “If one go over the scripture cursorily there is little good to be got by it; but if he be serious in reading of it, it is the ‘savour of life.’” Puritan Sermons, 2:61.
8. Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, trans. and ed. William Fitzgerald (1849; repr., Orlando, FL: Soli Deo Gloria, 2005), 19.
Rev. Daniel Hyde is the pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad, CA.