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prayer for the divine illumination and the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit.
To read the Word of God with saving benefit, the heart must be prepared with suitable dispositions.
1. The Bible must be read with reverence. It is to be remembered, that it is the inspired revelation of the Lord God Almighty. This appears to be lamentably forgotten, even by many pious persons. We are so much accustomed to the sight of a Bible, that we are in danger of looking upon it merely as a common book: but every time we cast our eyes upon the sacred volume, our minds should be impressed with its character, as a standing miracle of sovereign and divine mercy. “ My heart standeth in awe of thy Word," said the royal Psalmist, Psalm cxix. 161. This wonderful book bears upon its communications, the evident impress of God: it carries with it divine authority: it is the only rule of our duty in this life, and the law by which we shall all be judged at the last day! “Thus saith the Lord, To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my Word,” Isa. lxvi. 2. Nothing, surely, can be more unbecoming, than to read the Word of Almighty God with an irreverent, careless, trifling mind: and can there be any thing more dangerous ?
2. Docility or teachableness is indispensable to a profitable reading of the Scriptures. They are the “ Oracles of God;" and he who would read them to edification and salvation, must humbly receive their infallible instructions as the dictates of infinite wisdom. “The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant-(so the marginal reading,) to make them to know it,” Ps. xxv. 9 and 14. Prejudices, preconceived notions, and favourite opinions must be laid aside; and the mind must yield to the truth of God as wax to the seal. Every beloved lust must be denied, and every darling sin must be sacrificed. The apostle James gives this inspired direction—" Lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save the soul.” James i. 21. The manner in which the early Christians regarded the Scriptures, at once evinces both reverence and humility. “When ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh in you that believe," 1 Thess. ii. 13.
3. Devout reliance or the influences of the Holy Spirit, is necessary to a beneficial reading of the Bible. “ The natural man,” however he may be polished in his manners, and possess a mind furnished with various stores of knowledge, living without prayer, “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned," 1 Cor. ii. 14. To prepare our dark minds savingly to study the inspired Scriptures, God, our heavenly Father, has graciously promised his Holy Spirit to those who pray for his illuminating and sanctifying influences; “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him," James i. 5. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him!" Luke xi. 13.
“ Many of the things of God in the Scriptures are very deep, so that they cannot be discovered but by the help of the Spirit of God. This is the great and principal rule, which is to be given to those who would find out the mind of God in the Scripture. Let them be earnest, diligent, constant, fervent in their supplications and prayers, that God, according to his promise, would graciously send his Holy Spirit, to guide, lead, instruct, and teach them; to open their understandings, that they may understand the Scriptures, as our Lord did for his disciples. Unless we have his guidance, we shall labour to little purpose in this matter. Yea, wo be to him who leans to his own understanding herein.”—Dr. Owen.
4. The Bible must be read with ardent desire to enjoy its consolations and to obey its precepts. If the Bible has been given to us by divine inspiration, and if it is designed to make sinners wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus; if it is able to build us up in faith and holiness, to qualify us for communion with God on earth, and to give us an inheritance among all them that are sanctified through faith in Christ Jesus, it must be read and studied, with a humble, believing, prayerful mind; so that its soul-renewing doctrines may be understood and loved, and its holy precepts cordially and universally obeyed. In this manner, as a recorded example to us, did the devout Psalmist study the Word of God, and realize its divine blessings. Psalms xix. and cxix. are most beautifully edifying specimens of a profitable manner of studying the Bible. May every reader of these pages, possessing the spirit, be led to adopt the language of the Psalmist—Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver. Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed. Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart,” Psalm cxix. 18. 72. 80. 111. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God,” John vii. 17. “The whole Scripture is divinely inspired and profitable ; being written by the Holy Ghost for this purpose, that in it, as a common healing office for souls, all men may choose the medicine suited to cure their own distempers. It searches their hearts, discovers their thoughts, fixes principles in their consciences, judges their acts, supports their spirits, comforts their souls, enlightens their minds, guides them in their hope, confidence, and love to God, directs them in all their communion with him, and obedience unto him, and leads them to an enjoyment of him. And this work of the Holy Ghost in it, and by it, seals its divine authority unto them, so that they find rest, spiritual satisfaction, and great assurance therein. When once they have obtained this experience of its divine power, it is in vain for men or devils to oppose canonical authority, with their frivolous cavils and objections.”—Dr. Owen.
CHAPTER IX.-RULES FOR THE PROFITABLE READING
OF THE BIBLE.
BESIDES the state of mind in which the word of God may be read profitably, there are many rules, of more or less importance, to be observed, in order to derive the full amount of benefit in this employment. The following have been eminently useful.
1. Read the Bible daily. An equal portion cannot be read every day by all persons. Mr. Thomas Gouge, an eminent minist read fifteen chapters daily. Chrysostom, a bishop of the fourth century, besides other portions, read through the epistle to the Romans twice every week; but such a measure is not practicable by every one; nor is it to be recommended. Probably, however, there are few or none who could not read a chapter in the morning, and another in the evening. But even if it were only a verse at each time, with larger portions on the Lord's-day, very great profit would arise to the meditative, devout believer. “His delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night,” Ps. i. 2. 6 Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors,” Prov. viii. 34.
2. Read through each book of the Bible. It indicates a trifling mind, to read any important book only in parts, and those irregularly: but this is a common evil. How much more unwise and criminal must such a proceeding be in relation to the word of God! Merely " to dip into a book," especially the volume of inspiration, is not the way to understand the full meaning of its author. Many of the books of Scripture are, in a great measure independent of the others. Thus Genesis, the four Gospels, the Acts, Romans, and Hebrews, cannot be clearly understood by parts only being read. Each book should be read throughout in course before another is begun, that the full sense and scope of the writer may be perceived.
Though all are necessary, and designed for our instruction, yet all the books of the Bible are not of equal interest, especially to the plain Christian; and, therefore, they do not claim so much of his attention. The Psalms, each of which is an independent writing, the Gospels, and the Epistles, generally engage the minds of believers in the greatest degree; as they seem peculiarly adapted to edify, sanctify, and console them in their pilgrimage: but the scope, and force, and design and benefit of them can be fully realized, only in perusing each as a whole.
3. Regard the design of each book. Detached passages of Scripture are often misunderstood and misapplied, even by good men, through inattention to the design of the inspiring Spirit. Ungodly men often pervert the word of God, as Satan did when he tempted our Saviour, Matt. iv. 6. Peter, admonishing his brethren against such an evil, especially in relation to difficult passages in Paul's epistles, observes, “ Which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction,” 2 Pet. iii. 16. To illustrate this rule we may refer to the epistles of Paul to the Romans and to the Hebrews. They both contain the same divine doctrines of salvation, but his manner of setting them forth is strikingly different. The epistle to the Romans was written for the instruction of believers generally, while that to the Hebrews was addressed to the Jewish people specially, and de