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It should be read systematically, just as one attends to the common needs and obligations of life. This reading should be done at regular times. In the morning ? Surely; for then we pass, alone and otherwise blind, into the unknown country of another day. At night? Without fail; for then again we pass into an unknown country where we are wholly dependent upon the care of God.
It should be read also in some methodical way. A good plan is to read it seriatim; that is, through and through, from beginning to end.
It should be read, also, by books and, not infrequently, a book at a sitting. Does that look like a terrible task? Let us see. The longest book in the Old Testament is the Psalter, which occupies about sixty pages; not nearly so long as Spenser's “Faery Queen." The longest book in the New Testament is the Gospel of Luke, which is about the length of one of Shakespeare's plays. The story of Esther is seven pages long, and the sweet pastoral of Ruth is three pages, neither of them as long as a short magazine story. The difficulty, therefore, is an imaginary one. The habit of reading the Bible in brief and choppy portions only is not calculated to create a proper interest in it. We would not think, for a moment, of reading other books that way.
It should be read critically.-The Bible is not afraid of fire and acid. When Christ said, “Ye
search the Scriptures,” he used the word eraunate; a technical word used of a hound on the scent. It suggests a most severe scrutiny. And this Book is worthy of it, because the secret of eternal life is in it.
You ask, "What helps are needed to read and study the Scriptures in this way?" Get a Cruden's Concordance, a Bible Dictionary and a short Commentary, and you will need nothing else. But whatever helps you use, be sure you do not farm out your thinking to any other man. Be your own Biblical expert. Let no man take thy crown!
But, after all, the best help to the understanding of the Bible is the Bible itself. The way to interpret Scripture is to compare Scripture with Scripture. Use the marginal references for this purpose.
And form the habit of topical study. To illustrate: take the word “love” or “repentance" or “faith," and follow it up in your Concordance until you get the tout ensemble of the matter in hand. It was thus that Mr. Moody made himself the wonderful Biblical expert that he was. He came upon the word "grace" in a difficult passage of Scripture, and began to trace it through the Book in parallel passages.
The farther he went the more absorbed he became. In his Concordance he found two columns of references to the word; and when he got through with them he was so filled with the subject of grace that he stopped the first man whom he met on the street and mentioned it. "What do you mean by grace ?" asked the man. Mr. Moody replied, “I mean the grace of God which bringeth salvation and hath appeared to all men."
In this critical study of the Scriptures you will find difficulties, no doubt. You will come up against many problems which will baffle you. Is that to be wondered at? Daniel Webster wisely said, "If I could understand the Bible with my finite mind, I could not possibly believe that an infinite God made it." Do not expect to solve all difficulties. Let it suffice that they are not against reason. The fact that they are above reason is nothing against them. Lay them aside as you lay aside the bones at your Thanksgiving dinner, not expecting to masticate them. Leave the dark and difficult things to God. Be satisfied to eat what is edible, and to apprehend so much as is necessary to meet your present needs and solve the vital problem of the endless life.
It should be read practically.—What you need as a follower of Christ is an infallible rule of faith and practice; and here you have it.
That means, on the one hand, that you are to believe what it says. It solves every one of the great questions of the spiritual life, and it solves them with a “Thus saith the Lord.” You may not always be pleased with the doctrines which it presents or with its way of presenting them; but inasmuch as God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, our personal opinion must not prevent or abbreviate our loyalty to the Word of God.
And, on the other hand, as the Book is our rule of conduct we must read with the intention of following it. This is what is meant by the statement that “every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.”
If you take the Bible as it stands you will find yourself provided thus with a creed and a Moral Code; and these two are a sufficient equipment for our spiritual life.
It should be read prayerfully.-For, inasmuch as spiritual things are spiritually discerned, we are constantly dependent upon the Spirit of God. In our Saviour's final interview with the disciples in the upper room, he told them of the unspeakable gift of the Holy Spirit, who, he said, “shall guide you into all the truth."
The Spirit anoints our eyes with eyesalve that we may see. There is many a man who looks into Scripture and sees nothing but meaningless hieroglyphics. There is many another man who, reading the clearest statement of truth, is repelled by it. All this for want of the Spirit's eyesalve; for our natural eyes are blind to spiritual things. 1 Cor. 2:14.
And the Spirit also illuminates the pages of the Book, so that to the Spirit-led reader things appear there which are not visible to other eyes. And the one thing which the open eyes of the twice-born man can clearly see in Scripture is the Name which is “above every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” To him the face of Jesus looks out of the oracles; his voice speaks in every truth and precept; his hands beckon in the exceeding great and precious promises.” Thus reading with prayer, he holds the key to the inner place of truth.
"In nomine Jesu' was the legend that floated from the topmast of the Pinta when Columbus sailed through the Pillars of Hercules in quest of Eldorado. In the same Name we search the Scriptures, in the light of the Spirit, for the hid treasures that make us rich toward God.
Let me end where I began, with the word that led Augustine into the light: Tolle, lege. Take the Book and read it. Read it as a follower of Christ; lovingly, because he loved it; and believingly, because he believed it; and practically, because he lived by it.
The unfailing light.-A missionary on the frontier was called to a farmhouse, five miles across the trackless prairie, to minister at a death-bed. It was midnight when he set out to return, and the skies were black and lowering. The farmer gave him a pine torch, saying, “It will light you home.” The missionary said, “It is so little; do