We may know the Scripture to be the Word of God by its miraculous preservation in all ages. The holy Scriptures are the richest jewel that Christ has left us; and the church of God has so kept these public records of heaven, that they have not been lost…The letter of Scripture has been preserved without any corruption, in the original tongue. The Scriptures were not corrupted before Christ’s time, for then Christ would not have sent the Jews to them. He said, ‘Search the Scriptures.’ He knew these sacred springs were not muddied with human fancies.A Body of Divinity, 27
It would be disgraceful to borrow second-hand criticisms, and turn the Bible away unheard. It ought not to be read hurriedly, for that is not fair to any author who is dealing seriously with weighty subjects. A Book which master-minds have reverenced can only be despised by fools.
To read the Bible is to feel that it is full of power: a man must be willfully wicked who should refuse this verdict, even if he hated that power.
It has more thought in it than its opponents could have displayed. Their counter-thought is only Bible-truth turned upside down, and therefore it owes its origin to the Book it assails. A singular fact may here be mentioned; it is certain that those who love this Book best are those who have read it most, and, as a general rule, those who rail at it have not attained to more than a scanty knowledge of it.
—Charles H. Spurgeon
The Clue of the Maze (Passmore & Alabaster, 1892).
I recently came across a statement in a book that I am reading by J. C. Ryle that gripped my heart. Ryle noted–mind you, years before the turn of the 19th century–that he lived “in an age of reading.”
What most forcefully commanded my attention was the cry of his heart for Christian’s to have a living resolve for the written Word of God. That we would not only profess commitment to the Scriptures, but that we would labor in prayer and practice to acquire a taste for that which is divinely sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10).
But this was not what was distinctive about his admonition. A high view of Scripture is most foundational, but we must not leave it at that. We must not simply echo its superlative importance; we must apprehend our responsibility to value and discern all other reading through the reading of this sacred book.
We should be readers; avid readers. We should be good “nutritionists of the mind” and moderate both the quantity and quality of our entertainment (for ours is perhaps more “an age of entertainment” than of reading). We should read good Christ-exalting material; the most nourishing food for the mind is that which most glorifies God.
If Ryle expressed concern over the discernment of Christians in their reading in his day, calling it “an age of reading,” how much more in our day? Ours is the age of the information-superhighway, digital self-expression, social media, and the largest reaching, cheapest, non-peer-reviewed, means of publication known to date: blogging.
My heart was burdened over the thought of how many unprofitable bits of information are imbibed by Christians everyday. Please read this excerpt from Ryle and pray about how you might apply it in deciding which roads to take with your eyes on the information-superhighway, which books and blogs you read, and what entertainment you expose your redeemed mind to.
A quick glance at the Bible now and then does little good. At that rate you will never become familiar with its treasures, or feel the sword of the Spirit fitted to your hand in the hour of conflict. But fill your mind with Scripture by diligent reading, and you will soon discover its value and power. Texts will rise up in your hearts in the moment of temptation. Commands will suggest themselves in times of doubt. Promises will come across your thoughts in the time of discouragement. And thus you will experience the truth of David’s words, “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Ps 119:11); and of Solomon’s words, “When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you” (Pr 6:22).
I dwell on these things more because this is an age of reading. There seems no end to the producing of many books, though few of them are really profitable. There seems a rage for cheap printing and publishing. Newspapers of every sort abound, and the tone of some, which have the widest circulation, speaks badly for the taste of the age. Amid the flood of dangerous reading, I plead for my Master’s book, I call upon you not to forget the book of the soul. Do not let newspapers, novels, and romances be read, while the prophets and Apostles be despised. Do not let the exciting and sensual swallow up your attention, while the edifying and the sanctifying can find no place in your mind.
With Ryle, I cry out: “Amid the flood of dangerous reading, I plead for my Master’s book.”
[I want to encourage everyone who is reading through the Bible with us this year. For those who are not aware, our reading plan is posted on our website at http://www.trinitybiblechurch.org/resources/bible-reading-plan. Each day it dynamically identifies the reading for that day and even furnishes a link to read the day’s reading online.]
As we travel on a course through the mountain peaks and valleys of holy writ, all of which is sacred ground, my prayer is that each of you would read with faithful eyes.
By ‘faithful’ I mean both loyal and faith-filled.
I pray that you would continue unbegrudgingly day by day, steadfast and with the goal in mind. The goal is not to read through the Bible in a year, the goal is to grow in our understanding and love to God through exposure to His inspired, inerrant, and infallible divine revelation. It is that through a faithful reading of the Scriptures, we may “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Pet 3:18). May we remember that unlike what we have become accustomed to in our entertainment saturated culture, in the end hard work is the most fulfilling. The payoff of godly discipline is far greater than the fleeting pleasures of entertainment. The Apostle reminds us that “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8). Persevere with an aim for Christ.
But even more to the point, I pray that you would read with faith-filled eyes—with clear and uncluttered windows to your soul backed by a humble, believing mind.
Our tendency to underappreciate the Bible, and especially as we read through it, betrays how ‘spoiled’ we are as a people. We take God’s inspired Word for granted in our world. This reminds me of something that Vishal Mangalwadi, an incredibly well-versed and insightful Christian from India, said concerning his experience:
Although I found the early chapters of Genesis exciting, it did not take long to get into the boring and repulsive parts of the Bible. By the time I got to the books of Kings and Chronicles, I had had enough. I was ready to give up. Why was I reading Jewish history? I hardly knew anything of Indian history. Why should I read stories of Jewish kings long dead and gone?
He then explains why he did not stop reading:
Something intrigued me. Our folk history told us of great and glorious rulers. This Jewish book, in contrast, told me about the wickedness of Jewish rulers. Why? The priests must have written the Bible, I thought. It is typical for priests (we call them Brahmins in India) to hate rulers (the Kshatriyas). But no. The Bible said that the priests—in fact, the entire religious establishment of the Jews—became so corrupt that God destroyed his own temple and sent his priests into slavery.
Well then, the Bible must be “subaltern” history, written by ordinary people, oppressed both by priests and kings. But no, this Jewish book seemed more anti-Semitic than almost anything Hitler had penned. These Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament) condemned the Jews’ as corrupt, covetous, crooked, stupid, stiff-necked, and rebellious.
In that case, I thought, the Bible had to be the work of prophets. They love condemning everybody. Another look at those boring books of Kings and Chronicles, however, showed that most of the prophets were false prophets and the good ones lost out. They could not save themselves, let alone accomplish their mission of saving their nation. Their nation disintegrated before their very eyes.
The Bible was a very selective narration and interpretation of Jewish history. It claimed to be God’s explanation of why the entire nation was destroyed and when, why, and how it would be rebuilt. Although I studied political science (besides philosophy), none of my professors told us that these “boring” books of the Bible were the very source of modern democracy—including in India. They thought that our democracy had come from Athens. … reading those “boring” books helped me understand one basic difference between literature and revelation.
Literature is something we interpret. Revelation also interprets and evaluates us. It stands above us, judges us, and calls us back to sanity. Repeatedly through Bible history, the Jews degenerated into wickedness. The revelation, however, remained a transcendent standard that promoted self-criticism and reform. It even deconstructed false ideologies that people built around the revelation. That prophetic tradition of self-criticism made the Jews a blessing to the world. Revelation was the source by which humanity could know God’s love and judgment simultaneously. This helped me understand why the Bible made it possible for the West to reform itself repeatedly, in spite of many periods of moral and intellectual degeneration. God declared through the prophet Isaiah, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” Only the person humbled by a higher authority could experience true reform.
My prayer is that we would be renewed in the spirit of our minds to read God’s holy Word with faithful eyes.