Do you read your Bible? Likely you wonder whether I am addressing this question to you. Maybe you even wonder why this question should be put to any reader of the Standard Bearer. Is it not a presupposition that any one who reads this paper also reads his Bible? Yet now that you are confronted personally with this question do not brush it aside; still more, do not be too ready to answer in the affirmative. Even though without exception we all read the Bible in our family devotions, in the church on Sunday, and in our society meetings or catechism classes, the question is very pertinent to each of us: Do I actually read my Bible?
What this question implies is this: Do I hear God speak to me from His Word, so that I am instructed, admonished, comforted, strengthened by that Word of God from day to day? Is it actually for me a lamp before my feet, always directing me in all that I do, in all that I say, in all that I think, and in all that I desire? Do I seek its guidance, so that I dare not venture out without asking for direction from that Word? Still more, when I am reading that Word do I experience the bond of fellowship that unites me to God in Christ, even as I do when I read a letter from a member of my family or from a dear friend? Is the Bible God’s voice speaking to me?
I am assuming that we have not been swept along with the tide of modern criticism that denies verbal inspiration and the infallible Bible. We believe in the inspired Word of God, as Paul wrote to Timothy: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, . . . .” Pausing there a moment, the comment should be made that Paul speaks of ALL Scripture, as one complete whole and including every part to the tittle and the iota. I also like the idea of “God-breathed” as the word for “inspired of God” means. And then to go on: “and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (If you underscore passages in your Bible, this is a good one to underscore.) “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” As I said, we believe that, yet when have you (and I include myself) last gone to Scripture to listen to God’s instruction in doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness?
We also believe the word of the apostle Peter in II Peter 1:19, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” Picture yourself with flashlight in hand, the flashlight of Scripture, searching out all the dark nooks and hidden crannies of this present evil world. Let the flashlight shine on all the happenings of our day, wars, rumors of wars, riots, demonstrations, revolts against authorities with their accompanying bloodshed, brazen wickedness, defiance of all decency, apostasy in the church, and so much more. Yes, turn the flashlight about and let it shine in your own mind, revealing the darkness and sins that still lurk there, and then let it shine on your daily walk and conversation in the midst of your family and in the world. Let that light be absorbed by the new man in Christ, so that the glow remains even after the light has been turned away, that is, experience that the day-star arises within your heart ever leading you onward toward the perfect day, as the Spirit says through Peter.
Turn now to Nehemiah 8:8. There we read of Ezra with the help of others reading the law to the returned captives from Babylon, who are now in and about Jerusalem. Men and women and all those who could understand had come together, “and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.” Verse 4. “So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” Practically every word should be underscored in that last verse. They read distinctly. They gave the sense. They caused them tounderstand the reading. Now is not that the only way to read the Scriptures?
No matter how young or how old we are, there are some important pointers here to teach us to read the Bible.
First, we should set aside a definite time, preferably the same time every day. Now we should not raise the objection that we are too busy. Was it Luther that said that he was so busy that he was compelled to spend more time than usual reading his Bible? Besides, what does it profit a man if he succeeds in gaining the whole world at the expense of his soul?
Second, we should be alone in a quiet atmosphere, where we can be apart to rest a while in quiet meditation and prayer with God.
Third, we should begin with a prayer, not only to put us in a proper attitude of heart and mind, but also to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who alone is able to lead us into all truth.
Fourth, we should pick out a portion of Scripture that appeals to us. This may be a Psalm or some other familiar passage of Scripture, or some passage that you are studying in church or in society. It does not matter how familiar that passage may be; sometimes, at least at the outset, the more familiar it is the better. Some years ago I was preaching a series of sermons on the epistle to the Ephesians. One member of the congregation spent some time every Sunday afternoon to read the entire epistle, seeking to grasp the central thought and main message of the entire epistle. By the time I had finished the series she had committed most of it to memory, and she assured me that her private devotions had been of great benefit to her.
Fifth, there are times when it is advisable to read only a small portion, maybe just a few verses. In that case, it is well to pause at the end of each verse and ask ourselves, what is the main thought of this verse? How is this verse related to those that precede and follow it. There was an elder in one of our western churches,—this was many years ago when education was at a minimum,—who listened eagerly for the minister to read his text on Sunday. Preferably he would like to know in advance what the sermon was to be about. As soon as the text was announced, and while the elder was listening with one ear to the introduction of the sermon, he was formulating in his own mind the theme for that text. He was eager to know whether his theme would compare to that of the minister’s. And I must admit, he was not bad. I wonder how many of our listeners on Sunday concentrate their attention on the theme and division of the sermon, in order to learn to analyze a text by themselves as well as to follow the trend of the sermon?
Sixth, a Bible with marginal references is a big help. It is always a good rule to let Scripture speak for itself by comparing Scripture with Scripture. It is also good to have a good concordance to look up various references where the same word is used. Learning to use a concordance adds much pleasure to the study of God’s Word.
Last, but by no means least, learn to listen. One thing we must do, and this is, that we learn to listen to what the Spirit saith to the churches and to us. When we entered the seminary the late Prof. H. Hoeksema immediately stressed that we could never become preachers unless we learned to listen. He stressed, read your text, read the context, read it again and again, even before consulting any commentary. And while you read listen. Let the text speak to you. If it does not speak to you it will never speak to the congregation on Sunday. I also recall that one student very seriously made the remark, “Domine, I listen and listen, but I hear nothing.” With a reassuring smile the professor answered, “That’s all right, just keep on listening.” We must prayerfully ask: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”