"Study the Scriptures" (John 5:39).
"How do you read it?" (Luke 10:26).
Next to praying there is nothing so important in practical religion as Bible-reading.
God has mercifully given us a book which is "able to make [us] wise for salvation
through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). By reading that book we may learn
what to believe, what to be, and what to do; how to live with comfort, and how to die in
peace. Happy is that man who possesses a Bible! Happier still is he who reads it! Happiest
of all is he who not only reads it, but obeys it, and makes it the rule of his faith and
Nevertheless it is a sorrowful fact that man has a sad ability to abuse God’s
gifts. His privileges, and power, and abilities, are all ingeniously perverted to other
ends than those for which they were bestowed. His speech, his imagination, his intellect,
his strength, his time, his influence, his money—instead of being used as instruments
for glorifying his Maker—are generally wasted, or employed for his own selfish ends.
And just as man naturally makes a bad use of his other mercies from God, so he does of the
written Word. One sweeping charge may be brought against the whole of Christendom, and
that charge is neglect and abuse of the Bible.
To prove this charge we have no need to look elsewhere: the proof lies at our own
doors. I have no doubt that there are more Bibles in our country at this moment than there
ever were since the world began. There is more Bible buying—and Bible
selling—more Bible printing and Bible distributing—than ever was since we were a
nation. We see Bibles in every bookstore, Bibles of every size, price, and
style—large Bibles, and small Bibles—Bibles for the rich, and Bibles for the
poor. There are Bibles in almost every house in the land. But all this time I fear we are
in danger of forgetting, that to "have" the Bible is one thing and to
"read" it quite another.
This neglected Book is the subject about which I address the readers of this paper
today. Surely it is no small thing what you are doing with the Bible. Surely, when the
plague is spreading in other lands, you should search and see whether the plague-spot is
on you. Give me your attention while I supply you with a few plain reasons why every one
who cares for his soul ought to value the Bible highly, to study it regularly, and to make
himself thoroughly acquainted with its contents.
I. In the first place, "there is no book in existence written in such a manner as
The Bible is "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16). In this respect it is utterly
unlike all other writings. God taught the writers of it what to say. God put into their
minds thoughts and ideas. God guided their pens in writing down those thoughts and ideas.
When you read it, you are not reading the self-taught compositions of poor imperfect men
like yourself, but the words of the eternal God. When you hear it, you are not listening
to the erring opinions of short-lived mortals, but to the unchanging mind of the King of
kings. The men who were employed to write the Bible did not speak themselves. They
"spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21).
All other books in the world, however good and useful in their way, are more or less
defective. The more you look at them the more you see their defects and blemishes. The
Bible alone is absolutely perfect. From beginning to end it is "the Word of
I will not waste time by attempting any long and labored proof of this. I say boldly,
that the Book itself is the best witness of its own inspiration. It is the greatest
standing miracle in the world. He that dares to say the Bible is not inspired must give an
explanation why he believes this, if he can. Let him explain the peculiar nature and
character of the Book in a way that will satisfy any man of common sense. The burden of
proof seems to my mind to lie on him.
It proves nothing against inspiration, as some have asserted, that the writers of the
Bible have each different style. Isaiah does not write like Jeremiah, and Paul does not
write like John. This is perfectly true, and yet the works of these men are not a bit less
equally inspired. The waters of the sea have many different shades. In one place they look
blue, and in another green. And yet the difference is due to the depth or shallowness of
the part we see, or to the nature of the bottom. The water in every case is the same salt
sea. The breath of a man may produce different sounds according to the character of the
instrument on which he plays. The flute, the bagpipe, and the trumpet, have each their
peculiar note. And yet the breath that calls forth the notes is in each case one and the
same. The light of the planets we see in heaven is extremely various. Mars, and Saturn,
and Jupiter, each have a individual color. And yet we know that the light of the sun,
which each planet reflects, is in each case one and the same. Just in the same way the
books of the Old and New Testaments are all inspired truth, and yet the aspect of that
truth varies according to the mind through which the Holy Spirit makes it flow. The
handwriting and style of the writers differ enough to prove that each had a distinct
individual being; but the Divine Guide who dictates and directs the whole is always one.
All are inspired. Every chapter, and verse, and word, is from God.
Oh, that men who are troubled with doubts, and thoughts about inspiration, would calmly
examine the Bible for themselves! Oh, that they would take the advice which was the first
step to Augustine’s conversion, "Pick it up and read it! Pick it up and read
it!" How many difficulties and objections would vanish away at once like mist before
the rising sun! How many would soon confess, "The finger of God is here! God is in
this Book, and I did not know it."
This is the Book about which I address the readers of this paper. Surely it is no light
matter "what you are doing with this Book." It is no light thing that God should
have caused this Book to be "written to teach us," and that you should have
before you "the very words of God" (Romans 3:2; 15:4). I charge you, I summon
you to give an honest answer to my questions. What are you doing with the Bible? Do you
read it at all? How do you read it?
II. In the second place, "there is no knowledge absolutely needful to a man’s
salvation, except a knowledge of the things which are to be found in the Bible."
We live in days when the words of Daniel are fulfilled before our eyes: "Many will
go here and there to increase knowledge" (Daniel 12:4). Schools are multiplying every
where you look. New colleges are set up. Old Universities are reformed and improved. New
books are continually coming out. More is being taught—more is being
learned—more is being read than there ever was since the world began. It is all good.
I rejoice at it. An ignorant population is a perilous and expensive burden to any nation.
It is a ready prey to the first who may arise to entice it to do evil. But this I
say—we must never forget that all education a man’s head can receive will not
save his soul from hell, unless he knows the truths of the Bible.
A man "may have immense learning and yet never be saved." He may be master of
half the languages spoken around the globe. He may be acquainted with the highest and
deepest things in heaven and earth. He may have read books till he is like a walking
encyclopedia. He may be familiar with the stars of heaven—the birds of the
air—the beasts of the earth, and the fishes of the sea. He may be able, like Solomon,
to "describe plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of
walls, and also teach about animals and birds, reptiles and fish" (1 Kings 4:33). He
may be able to lecture on all the secrets of fire, air, earth, and water. And yet, if he
dies ignorant of Bible truths, he dies a destitute man! Chemistry never silenced a guilty
conscience. Mathematics never healed a broken heart. All the sciences in the world never
soothed a dying man. No earthly philosophy ever supplied hope in death. No natural
theology ever gave peace in the prospect of meeting a holy God. All these things are of
the earth and can never raise a man above the earth’s level. They may enable a man to
strut and fret his little time here on earth with a more dignified manner of walking than
his fellow-mortals, but they can never give him wings, and enable him to soar towards
heaven. He that has the largest share of them, will find in time that without Bible
knowledge he has no lasting possession. Death will make an end of all his attainments, and
after death they will do him no good at all.
A man "may be a very ignorant man, and yet be saved." He may be unable to
read a word, or write a letter. He may know nothing of geography beyond the bounds of his
own city or county, and be utterly unable to say which is nearest to England, Paris or New
York. He may know nothing of arithmetic, and not see any difference between a million and
a thousand. He may know nothing of history, not even of his own land, and be quite
ignorant whether his country is headed up by a Tribal Chief or by Queen Elizabeth. He may
know nothing of science and its discoveries—and whether Julius Caesar won his
victories with gunpowder, or the apostles had a printing press, or the sun orbits around
the earth—may be matters about which he has not an idea. And yet, if that very man
has heard Bible truth with his ears and believed it with his heart, he knows enough to
save his soul. He will be found in the end with Lazarus in heaven, while his scientific
fellow-creature, who has died unconverted, is lost forever.
There is much talk in these days about science and "useful knowledge." But a
knowledge of the Bible is the one knowledge that is needful and eternally useful. A man
may get to heaven without money, learning, health, or friends, but without Bible knowledge
he will never get there at all. A man may have the mightiest of minds, and a memory stored
with all that strong mind can grasp—and yet, if he does not know the things of the
Bible, his soul is damned forever. Woe! woe! woe to the man who dies in ignorance of the
This is the Book about which I am addressing the readers of these pages today. It is no
light matter "what you do with such a book." It concerns the life of your soul.
I summon you, I charge you to give an honest answer to my question. What are you doing
with the Bible? Do you read it? How do you read it?
III. In the third place, "no book in existence contains such important matter as
Time would fail me if I were to enter fully into all the great things which are to be
found in the Bible, and only in the Bible. It is not by any sketch or outline that the
treasures of the Bible can be displayed. It would be easy to fill a volume with a list of
the exceptional truths it reveals, and yet the half of its riches would be left untold.
How glorious and soul-satisfying is the description it gives us of God’s plan of
salvation, and the way by which our sins can be forgiven! The coming into the world of
Jesus Christ, the God-man, to save sinners—the redemption He has accomplished for man
by His suffering, in our place, the just for the unjust—the complete payment He has
made for our sins by His own blood—the justification of every sinner who simply
believes on Jesus—the readiness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to receive, pardon,
and save to the uttermost—how unspeakably grand and comforting are all these truths!
We would know nothing of them without the Bible.
How comforting is the account it gives us of the great Mediator of the New
Testament—the man Christ Jesus! Four times over His picture is graciously drawn
before our eyes. Four separate witnesses tell us of His miracles and His ministry—His
sayings and His actions—His life and His death—His power and His love—His
kindness and His patience—His ways, His words, His works, His thoughts, His heart.
Blessed be God, there is one thing in the Bible which the most prejudiced reader can
hardly fail to understand, and that is the character of Jesus Christ!
How encouraging are the examples the Bible gives us of good people! It tells us of many
who were of like passions with ourselves—men and women who had cares, crosses,
families, temptations, afflictions, diseases, like ourselves—and yet "through
faith and patience inherited what has been promised," and got safely home (Hebrews
6:12). It keeps back nothing in the history of these people. Their mistakes, their
weaknesses, their conflicts, their experience, their prayers, their praises, their useful
lives, their happy deaths—all are fully recorded. And it tells us the God and Savior
of these men and women is still the same today as yesterday, and still waits to be
How instructive are the examples the Bible gives us of bad people! It tells us of men
and women who had light and knowledge and opportunities like ourselves, and yet hardened
their hearts, loved the world, clung to their sins, would have their own way, despised
reproof, and ruined their own souls forever. And it warns us that the God who punished
Pharaoh, and Saul, and Ahab, and Jezebel, and Judas, is a God who never changes, and that
there is a real hell.
How precious are the promises which the Bible contains for the use of those who love
God! There is hardly any possible emergency or condition for which it does not have a word
of hope and encouragement. And it tells men that God loves to be put in remembrance of
these promises, and that if He has said He will do something, His promise will certainly
How blessed are the hopes which the Bible holds out to the believer in Christ Jesus!
Peace in the hour of death—rest and happiness on the other side of the grave—a
glorious body in the morning of the resurrection—a full and triumphant acquittal in
the day of judgment—an everlasting reward in the kingdom of Christ—a joyful
meeting with the Lord’s people in the day of gathering together—these, these are
the future prospects of every true Christian. They are all written in the book—in the
book which is all true.
How striking is the light which the Bible throws on the character of man! It teaches us
what men may be expected to be and do in every position and occupation of life. It gives
us the deepest insight into the secret springs and motives of human actions, and the
ordinary course of events under the control of human agents. It is the true "judge of
the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). How deep is the wisdom
contained in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastics! I can correctly understand an old
Christian saying, "Give me a candle and a Bible and shut me up in a dark dungeon, and
I will tell you everything that the whole world is doing."
All these are things which men could find nowhere except in the Bible. We probably do
not have the least idea how little we would know about these things if we did not have the
Bible. We hardly know the value of the air we breathe, and the sun which shines on us,
because we have never known what it is to be without them. We do not value the truths on
which I have been just now dwelling, because we do not realize the darkness of men to whom
these truths have not been revealed. Surely no tongue can fully tell the value of the
treasures this one volume contains. Well might old John Newton say that some books were
copper books in his estimation, some were silver, and a few were gold but the Bible alone
was like a book all made up of bank-notes.
This is the Book about which I address the reader of this paper this day. Surely it is
no light matter what you are doing with the Bible. It is no light matter in what way you
are using this treasure. I charge you, I summon you to give an honest answer to my
question—What are you doing with the
Bible? Do you read it? How do you read it?
IV. In the fourth place, "no book in existence has produced such wonderful effects
on mankind at large as the Bible."
(a) This is the Book whose doctrines turned the world upside down in the days of the
Many centuries have now passed away since God sent forth a few Jews from a remote
corner of the earth to do a work which according to man’s judgment, must have seemed
impossible. He sent them out at a time when the whole world was full of superstition,
cruelty, lust, and sin. He sent them out to proclaim that the established religions of the
earth were false and useless, and must be forsaken. He sent them out to persuade men to
give up old habits and customs, and to live different lives. He sent them out to do battle
with the most perverted idolatry, with the vilest and most disgusting immorality, with a
bigoted priesthood, with sneering philosophers, with an ignorant population, with
bloody-minded emperors, with the whole influence of Rome. Never was there an enterprise
for all appearances more unrealistic and less likely to succeed!
And how did He arm them for this battle? He gave them no worldly weapons. He gave them
no worldly power to compel agreement, and no worldly riches to bribe belief. He simply put
the Holy Spirit into their hearts, and the Scriptures into their hands. He simply
commanded them to expound and explain, to require compliance and to publish the doctrines
of the Bible. The preacher of Christianity in the first century was not a man with a sword
and an army to frighten people, or a man with a license to be sensual, to allure people,
like the priests of the shameful idols of the Hindus. No, he was nothing more than one
holy man with one holy book.
And how did these men of one book prosper? In a few generations they entirely changed
the face of society by the doctrines of the Bible. They emptied the temples of the heathen
gods. They starved out idolatry and left it high and dry like a stranded ship. They
brought into the world a higher condition of morality between man and man. They raised the
character and position of woman. They altered the standard of purity and decency. They put
an end to man’s cruel and bloody customs, such as the gladiatorial fights—there
was no stopping the change. Persecution and opposition were useless. One victory after
another was won. One bad thing after another melted away. Whether men liked it or not,
they were slowly affected by the movement of the new religion and drawn within the
whirlpool of its power.
The earth shook, and their rotten shelters fell to the ground. The flood rose, and they
found themselves obliged to rise with it. The tree of Christianity swelled and grew, and
the chains they had thrown around it to arrest its growth, snapped like string. And all
this was done by the doctrines of the Bible! Talk about great victories! What are the
victories of Alexander, and Caesar, and Napoleon, compared with those I have just
mentioned? For magnitude, for completeness, for results, for permanence, there are no
victories like the victories of the Bible.
(b) This is the Book which turned Europe upside down in the days of the glorious
No man can read the history of Christendom as it was five hundred years ago, and not
see that darkness covered the whole professing Church of Christ, even a darkness that
could be felt. So great was the change which had come over Christianity, that if an
apostle had risen from the dead he would not have recognized it, and would have thought
that heathenism had revived again. The doctrines of the Gospel lay buried under a dense
mass of human traditions. Penances, and pilgrimages, and indulgences, relic-worship, and
image-worship, and saint-worship, and worship of the Virgin Mary, formed the sum and
substance of most people’s religion. The Church was made an idol. The priests and
ministers of the Church usurped the place of Christ. And by what means was all this
miserable darkness cleared away? By simply bringing forth once more the Bible.
It was not merely the preaching of Luther and his friends, which established
Protestantism in Germany. The great weapon which overthrew the Roman Catholic
Church’s power in that country, was Luther’s translation of the Bible into the
German tongue. It was not merely the writings of English Reformers which threw down Roman
Catholicism in England. The seeds of the work carried forward were first sown by
Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible many years before. It was not merely the quarrel
of Henry VIII and the Pope of Rome, which loosened the Pope’s hold on English minds.
It was the royal permission to have the Bible translated and set up in churches, so that
every one who wanted might read it. Yes! it was the reading, and circulation of the
Scripture which mainly established the cause of Protestantism in England, in Germany, and
Switzerland. Without it the people would probably have returned to their former bondage
when the first reformers died. But by the reading of the Bible the public mind became
gradually leavened with the principles of true religion. Men’s eyes became thoroughly
open. Their spiritual understandings became thoroughly enlarged. The abominations of Roman
Catholicism became distinctly visible. The excellence of the pure Gospel became a rooted
idea in their hearts. It was then in vain for Popes to thunder forth excommunications. It
was useless for Kings and Queens to attempt to stop the course of Protestantism by fire
and sword. It was all too late. The people knew too much. They had seen the light. They
had heard the joyful sound. They had tasted the truth. The sun had risen on their minds.
The scales had fallen from their eyes. The Bible had done its appointed work within them,
and that work was not to be overthrown. The people would not return to Egypt. The clock
could not be pushed back again. A mental and moral revolution had been effected, and
mainly effected by God’s Word. Those are the true revolutions which the Bible
effects. What are all the revolutions which France and England have gone through, compared
to these? No revolutions are so bloodless, none so satisfactory, none so rich in lasting
results, as the revolutions accomplished by the Bible!
This is the book upon which the well-being of nations has always hinged, and with which
the best interests of everyone in Christendom at this moment are inseparably tied. By the
same proportion that the Bible is honored or not, light or darkness, morality or
immorality, true religion or superstition, liberty or tyranny, good laws or bad, will be
found in a nation. Come with me and open the pages of history, and you will read the
proofs in times past.
Read it in the history of Israel under the Kings. How great was the wickedness that
then prevailed! But who can wonder? The law of the Lord had been completely lost sight of,
and was found in the days of Josiah thrown aside in a corner of the temple. (2 Kings
22:8). Read it in the history of the Jews in our Lord Jesus Christ’s time. How awful
the picture of Scribes and Pharisees, and their religion! But who can wonder? The
Scripture was "nullified for the sake of man’s tradition" (Matthew 15:6).
Read it in the history of the Church of Christ in the middle ages. What can be worse than
the accounts we have of its ignorance and superstition? But who can wonder? The times were
very dark, when men did not have the light of the Bible.
This is the Book to which the civilized world is indebted for many of its best and most
praiseworthy institutions. Few probably are aware how many good things that men have
adopted for the public benefit, of which the origin may be clearly traced to the Bible. It
has left lasting marks wherever it has been received. From the Bible are drawn many of the
best laws by which society is kept in order. From the Bible has been obtained the standard
of morality about truth, honesty, and the relations of man and wife, which prevails among
Christian nations, and which—however feebly respected in many cases—makes so
great a difference between Christians and heathen. To the Bible we are indebted for that
most merciful provision for the poor working man, the Lord’s Day of rest—Sunday.
To the influence of the Bible we owe nearly every humane and charitable institution in
existence. The sick, the poor, the aged, the orphan, the insane, the retarded, the blind,
were seldom or never thought of before the Bible influenced the world. You may search in
vain for any record of institutions for their aid in the histories of Athens or of Rome.
Yes! there are many who sneer at the Bible, and say the world would get on well enough
without it, who don’t think how great are their own obligations to the Bible. Little
does the unbeliever think, as he lies sick in some of our great hospitals, that he owes
all his present comforts to the very book he despises. Had it not been for the Bible, he
might have died in misery, uncared for, unnoticed and alone. Truly the world we live in is
unconscious of its debts. The day of judgment, I believe, will reveal the full amount of
benefit conferred upon mankind by the Bible.
This wonderful book is the subject about which I address the reader of this paper this
day. Surely it is no light matter what you are doing with the Bible. The swords of
conquering Generals—the ship in which Nelson led the fleets of England to
victory—the hydraulic press which raised the tubular bridge at the Menai; each and
every of these are objects of interest as instruments of great power. The Book I speak of
this day is an instrument a thousand-fold mightier still. Surely it is no light matter
whether you are paying it the attention it deserves. I charge you, I summon you to give me
an honest answer this day—What are you doing with the Bible? Do you read it? How do
you read it?
V. In the fifth place, "no book in existence can do so much for every one who
reads it with an open heart, as the Bible."
The Bible does not profess to teach the wisdom of this world. It was not written to
explain geology or astronomy. It will neither instruct you in mathematics, nor in natural
philosophy. It will not make you a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer.
But there is another world to be thought of besides that world in which man now lives.
There are other ends for which man was created, besides making money and working. There
are other interests which he is meant to attend to, besides those of his body, and those
interests are the interests of his soul. It is the interests of the immortal soul which
the Bible is especially able to promote. If you want to know law, you may study Blackstone
or Sugden. If you would know astronomy or geology, you may study Herschel and Lyell. But
if you would know how to have your soul saved, you must study the written Word of God.
The Bible is "able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ
Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). It can show you the way which leads to heaven. It can teach
you everything you need to know, point out everything you need to believe, and explain
everything you need to do. It can show you what you are—a sinner. It can show you
what God is—perfectly holy. It can show you the great giver of pardon, peace, and
grace—Jesus Christ. I have read of an Englishman who visited Scotland in the days of
Blair, Rutherford, and Dickson, three famous preachers, and heard all three in succession.
He said that the first showed him the majesty of God—the second showed him the beauty
of Christ—and the third showed him everything in his heart. It is the glory and
beauty of the Bible that it is always teaching these three things more or less, from the
first chapter of it to the last.
The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, "is the grand instrument by
which souls are first converted to God." That mighty change is generally begun by
some text or doctrine of the Word, brought home to a man’s conscience. In this way
the Bible has worked moral miracles by the thousands. It has made drunkards become
sober—immoral people become pure—thieves become honest and violent-tempered
people become meek. It has wholly altered the course of men’s lives. It has caused
their old things to pass away, and made all their ways new. It has taught worldly people
to seek first the kingdom of God. It has taught lovers of pleasure to become lovers of
God. It has taught the stream of men’s affections to run upwards instead of running
downwards. It has made men think of heaven, instead of always thinking of earth, and live
by faith, instead of living by sight. It has done all this in every part of the world. It
is still all being accomplished. What are the Roman Catholic miracles which weak men
believe, compared to all this, even if they were true? Those are the truly great miracles
which are constantly being worked by the Word.
The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, is "the chief means by which
men are built up and strengthened in the faith," after their conversion. It is able
to make them pure, to sanctify them, to train them in righteousness, and to thoroughly
equip them for every good work. (Psalm 119:9; John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Spirit
ordinarily does these things by the written Word; sometimes by the Word read, and
sometimes by the Word preached, but seldom, if ever, without the Word. The Bible can show
a believer how to walk in this world so as to please God. It can teach him how to glorify
Christ in all the relationships of life, and can make him a good leader, employee,
subordinate, husband, father, or son. It can enable him to bear misfortunes and loss
without murmuring, and say, "It is well." It can enable him to look down into
the grave, and say, "I will fear no evil" (Psalm 23:4). It can enable him to
think about judgment and eternity, and not feel afraid. It can enable him to bear
persecution without flinching and to give up liberty and life rather than deny
Is he weary in soul? It can awaken him.
Is he mourning? It can comfort him.
Is he erring? It can restore him.
Is he weak? It can make him strong.
Is he in the company of the unbeliever? It can keep him from evil.
Is he alone? It can talk with him. (Psalm 6:22).
All this the Bible can do for all believers—for the least as well as the
greatest—for the richest as well as the poorest. It has done it for thousands
already, and is doing it for thousands every day.
The man who has the Bible, and the Holy Spirit in his heart, has everything which is
absolutely necessary to make him spiritually wise. He needs no priest to break the bread
of life for him. He needs no ancient traditions, no writings of the Fathers, no voice of
the Church, to guide him into all truth. He has the well of truth open before him, and
what more can he want? Yes! though he be shut up alone in a prison, or cast on a desert
island—though he never sees a church, or minister again—if he only has the
Bible, he has got the infallible guide, and needs no other. If he only has the will to
read that Bible properly, it will certainly teach him the road that leads to heaven. It is
here alone that infallibility resides. It is not in the Church. It is not in the Councils.
It is not in ministers. It is only in the written Word.
(a) I know well that many say they have found no saving power in the Bible.
They tell us they have tried to read it, and have learned nothing from it. They can see
in it nothing but burdensome and abstract things. They ask us what we mean by talking of
I answer, that the Bible no doubt contains some difficult things, or else it would not
be the book of God. It contains things hard to comprehend, but only hard because we do not
have the understanding of mind to comprehend them. It contains things above our reasoning
powers, but nothing that might not be explained if the eyes of our understanding were not
feeble and dim. But is not an acknowledgment of our own ignorance the very cornerstone and
foundation of all knowledge? Must not many things be taken for granted in the beginning of
every science, before we can proceed one step towards acquaintance with it? Do we not
require our children to learn many things of which they cannot see the meaning at first?
And ought we not then to expect to find "deep things" when we begin studying the
Word of God, and yet to believe that if we persevere in reading it the meaning of many of
them will one day be made clear? No doubt we ought so to expect, and so to believe. We
must read with humility. We must take much on trust. We must believe that what we
don’t know now, we will know later, some part in this world, and all in the world to
But I ask that man who has given up reading the Bible because it contains hard things,
whether he did not find many things in it easy and plain? I put it to his conscience
whether he did not see great landmarks and principles in it all the way through? I ask him
whether the things needful to salvation did not stand out boldly before his eyes, like
lighthouses. What should we think of the captain of a steamer who came, at night, into the
entrance of the Channel, and claimed that he did not know every parish, and village, and
creek, along the British coast? Should we not think him a lazy coward, when the lights on
the Lizard, and Eddystone, and the Start, and Portland, and St. Catherine’s, and
Beachy Head, and Dungeness, and the Forelands, were shining forth like so many lamps, to
guide him up to the river? Should we not say, Why did you not steer by the great leading
lights? And what should we to say to the man who gives up reading the Bible because it
contains hard things, when his own state, and the path to heaven, and the way to serve
God, are all written down clearly and unmistakably, as with a sunbeam? Surely we ought to
tell that man that his objections are no better than lazy excuses, and do not deserve to
(b) I know well that many raise the objection, that thousands read the Bible and are
not a bit the better for their reading.
And they ask us, when this is the case, what becomes of the Bible’s boasted power?
I answer, that the reason why so many read the Bible without any benefit is plain and
simple—they do not read it in the right way. There is generally a right way and a
wrong way of doing everything in the world; and just as it is with other things, so it is
in the matter of reading the Bible. The Bible is not so entirely different from all other
books as to make it of no importance in what spirit and manner you read it. It does not do
any good, as a matter of course, by merely running our eyes over the print, any more than
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper do any good by the mere virtue of our receiving them.
It does not ordinarily do any good, unless it is read with humility and earnest prayer.
The best engine that was ever built is useless if a man does not know how to operate it.
The best sundial that was ever constructed will not tell its owner the time of day if he
is so ignorant as to put it in the shade. Just as it is with that engine, and that
sundial, so it is with the Bible. When men read it without benefit, "the fault is not
in the Book, but in themselves."
I tell the man who doubts the power of the Bible, because many read it, and are no
better for the reading, that the abuse of a thing is no argument against the use of it. I
tell him boldly, that never did man or woman read that book in a childlike persevering
spirit—like the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Bereans (Acts 8:28; 17:11), and miss the
way to heaven. Yes, many will be exposed to shame in the day of judgment; but there will
not rise up one soul who will be able to say, that he went thirsting to the Bible, and
found in it no living water—he searched for truth in the Scriptures, and searching
did not find it. The words which are spoken of Wisdom in the Proverbs are strictly true of
the Bible: "If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you
look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will
understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:3-5).
This wonderful Book is the subject about which I address the readers of this paper this
day. Surely it is no light matter "what you are doing with the Bible." What
should you think of the man who in time of cholera despised a sure prescription for
preserving the health of his body? What must be thought of you if you despise the only
sure prescription for the everlasting health of your soul? I charge you, I entreat you, to
give an honest answer to my question. What do you do with the Bible? Do you read it? How
do you read it?
VI. In the sixth place, "the Bible is the only standard by which all questions of
doctrine or of duty can be tested."
The Lord God knows the weakness and infirmities of our poor fallen understandings. He
knows that, even after conversion, our perceptions of right and wrong are extremely vague.
He knows how artfully Satan can overlay error with an appearance of truth, and can dress
up wrong with plausible arguments, till it looks like right. Knowing all this, He has
mercifully provided us with an unerring standard of truth and error, right and wrong, and
has taken care to make that standard a written book—the Scripture.
No one can look around the world, and not see the wisdom of such a provision. No one
can live long, and not find out that he is constantly in need of a counselor and
adviser—of a rule of faith and practice, on which he can depend. Unless he lives like
a beast, without a soul and conscience, he will find himself constantly assailed by
difficult and puzzling questions. He will be often asking himself, What must I believe?
and what must I do?
(a) The world is full of difficulties about points of doctrine. The house of error lies
close alongside the house of truth. The door of one is so like the door of the other that
there is continual risk of mistakes.
Does a man read or travel much? He will soon find the most opposite opinions prevailing
among those who are called Christians. He will discover that different persons give the
most different answers to the important question, What must I do to be saved? The Roman
Catholic, the Protestant, and the Mormon each will assert that he alone has the truth.
Each will tell him that safety is only to be found in his party. Each says, "Come
with us." All this is puzzling. What will a man do?
Does he settle down quietly in some church here at home? He will soon find that even in
our own land the most conflicting views are held. He will soon discover that there are
serious differences among Christians as to the comparative importance of the various parts
and articles of the faith. One man thinks of nothing but Church government—another of
nothing but sacraments, services, and forms—a third of nothing but preaching the
Gospel. Does he apply to ministers for a solution? He will perhaps find one minister
teaching one doctrine, and another another. All this is puzzling. What will a man do?
There is only one answer to this question. A man must make the Bible alone his rule. He
must receive nothing and believe nothing which is not according to the Word. He must try
all religious teaching by one simple test—Does it square with the Bible? What does
the Scripture say?
I pray to God that the eyes of the Christians of this country were more open on this
subject. I pray to God that they would learn to weigh sermons, books, opinions, and
ministers, in the scales of the Bible, and to value all according to their conformity to
the Word. I pray to God that they would see that it matters little who says a thing. The
question is—Is the thing said Scriptural? If it is, it ought to be received and
believed. If it is not, it ought to be refused and cast aside. I fear the consequences of
that submissive acceptance of everything which "the preacher" says, which is so
common among many Christians. I fear lest they be led where they know not where, like the
blinded Syrians, and awake some day to find themselves in the power of Rome. (2 Kings
6:20). Oh, that men would only remember for what purpose the Bible was given to them!
I tell Christians that it is nonsense to say, as some do, that it is arrogant to judge
a minister’s teaching by the Word. When one doctrine is proclaimed in one church, and
another in another, people must read and judge for themselves. Both doctrines cannot be
right, and both ought to be tried by the Word. I charge them, above all things, never to
suppose that any true minister of the Gospel will dislike his people measuring all he
teaches by the Bible. On the contrary, the more they read the Bible, and prove all he says
by the Bible, the better he will be pleased. A false minister may say, "You have no
right to use your private judgment: leave the Bible to us who are ordained." A true
minister will say "Search the Scriptures, and if I do not teach you what is
Scriptural, do not believe me." A false minister may cry, "Listen to the
Church," and "Listen to me." A true minister will say, "Listen to the
Word of God."
(b) But the world is not only full of difficulties about points of doctrine, it is
equally full of difficulties about points of "practice."
Every processing Christian, who wishes to act conscientiously, must know that it is so.
The most puzzling questions are continually arising. He is tried on every side by doubts
as to the line of duty, and can often hardly see what is the right thing to do.
He is tried by questions connected with the management of his "worldly
calling," if he is in business or in trade. He sometimes sees things going on that
are of a very doubtful character—things that can hardly be called fair,
straightforward, truthful, and things that you would not want done to you. But then
everybody in business does these things. They have always been done in the most
respectable houses. There would be no carrying on of a profitable business if they were
not done. They are not things distinctly named and prohibited by God. All this is very
puzzling. What is a man to do?
He is tried by questions about worldly amusements. Horse Races, and balls, and operas,
and theaters, and card parties, are all very doubtful methods of spending time. But then
he sees numbers of great people taking part in them. Are all these people wrong? Can there
really be such mighty harm in these things? All this is very puzzling. What is a man to
He is tried by questions about the education of his children. He wishes to train them
up morally and religiously, and to remember their souls. But he is told by many sensible
people, that young persons will be young—that it is not right to check and restrain
them too much, and that he ought to attend shows, and children’s parties, and give
children’s balls himself. He is informed that this noble person, or that lady of
rank, always does so, and yet they are considered religious people. Surely it cannot be
wrong. All this is very puzzling. What is he to do?
There is only one answer to all these questions. A man must make the Bible his rule of
conduct. He must make its leading principles the compass by which he steers his course
through life. By the letter or spirit of the Bible he must test every difficult point and
question. "To the law and to the testimony! What does the Scripture say?" He
ought to care nothing for what other people may think right. He ought not to set his watch
by the clock of his neighbor, but by the watch of the Word.
I charge my readers solemnly to act on the maxim I have just laid down, and to adhere
to it rigidly all the days of their lives. You will never repent of it. Make it a leading
principle never to act contrary to the Word. Do not care for the charge of being overly
strict, and a person of needless precision. Remember you serve a strict and holy God. Do
not listen to the common objection that the rule you have laid down is impossible, and
cannot be observed in such a world as this. Let those who make such an objection speak out
plainly, and tell us for what purpose the Bible was given to man. Let them remember that
by the Bible we will all be judged at the last day, and let them learn to judge themselves
by it here, lest they be judged and condemned by it on Judgment Day.
This mighty rule of faith and practice is the book about which I am addressing the
readers of this paper this day. Surely it is no light matter "what you are doing with
the Bible." Surely when danger is near on the right hand and on the left, you should
consider what you are doing with the safeguard which God has provided. I charge you, I beg
you, to give an honest answer to my question. What are you doing with the Bible? Do you
read it? How do you read it?
VII. In the seventh place, "the Bible is the book which all true servants of God
have always lived by and loved."
Every living thing which God creates requires food. The life that God imparts needs
sustaining and nourishing. It is true with animal and vegetable life—with birds,
beasts, fishes, reptiles, insects, and plants. It is equally true with spiritual life.
When the Holy Spirit raises a man from the death of sin and makes him a new creature in
Christ Jesus, the new principle in that man’s heart requires food, and the only food
which will sustain it is the Word of God.
There never was a man or woman truly converted, from one end of the world to the other,
who did not love the revealed will of God. Just as a child born into the world naturally
desires the milk provided for its nourishment, so does a soul "born again"
desire the sincere milk of the Word. This is a common mark of all the children of
God—they "delight in the law of the LORD" (Psalm 1:2).
Show me a person who despises Bible reading, or thinks little of Bible preaching, and I
hold it to be a certain fact that he is not yet "born again." He may be zealous
about forms and ceremonies. He may be diligent in attending church and the taking of the
Lord’s Supper. But if these things are more precious to him than the Bible, I cannot
believe that he is a converted man. Tell me what the Bible is to a man and I will
generally tell you what he is. This is the pulse to try—this is the barometer to look
at—if we would know the state of the heart. I have no notion of the Spirit dwelling
in a man and not giving clear evidence of His presence. And I believe it to be clear
evidence of the Spirit’s presence when the Word is really precious to a man’s
Love of the Word is one of the characteristics we see in Job. Little as we know of this
Patriarch and his age this, at least, stands out clearly. He says, "I have treasured
the words of His mouth more than my daily bread" (Job 23:12).
Love of the Word is a shining feature in the character of David. Note how it appears
all through that wonderful part of Scripture, the 119th Psalm. He might well have said,
"Oh, how I love your law!" (Psalm 119:97).
Love of the Word is a striking point in the character of Paul. What were he and his
companions but men mighty in the Scriptures? What were his sermons but expositions and
applications of the Word?
Love of the Word appears preeminently in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He read it
publicly. He quoted it continually. He expounded it frequently. He advised the Jews to
"search" it. He used it as His weapon to resist the devil. He said repeatedly,
"The Scripture must be fulfilled." Almost the last thing He did was to
"open their minds [Disciples] so they could understand the Scriptures" (Luke
24:45). I am afraid that man cannot be a true servant of Christ, who has not something of
his Master’s mind and feeling towards the Bible.
Love of the Word has been a prominent feature in the history of all the saints, of whom
we know anything, since the days of the Apostles. This is the lamp which Athanasius and
Chrysostom and Augustine followed. This is the compass which kept the Vallenses and
Albigenses from making shipwreck of the faith. This is the well which was reopened by
Wycliffe and Luther, after it had been long stopped up. This is the sword with which
Latimer, and Jewell, and Knox won their victories. This is the manna which fed Baxter and
Owen, and the noble host of the Puritans, and made them strong in battle. This is the
armory from which Whitefield and Wesley drew their powerful weapons. This is the mine from
which Bickersteth and M’Cheyne brought forth rich gold.
Differing as these holy men did in some matters, on one point they were all
agreed—they all delighted in the Word.
Love of the Word is one of the first things that appears in the converted heathen, at
the various Missionary stations throughout the world. In hot climates and in
cold—among savage people and among civilized—in New Zealand, in the South Sea
Islands, in Africa, in Hindostan—it is always the same. They enjoy hearing it read.
They long to be able to read it themselves. They wonder why Christians did not send it to
them before. How striking is the picture which Moffat draws of Africaner, the fierce South
African chieftain, when first brought under the power of the Gospel! "Often have I
seen him," he says, under the shadow of a great rock nearly the whole day, eagerly
perusing the pages of the Bible." How touching is the expression of a poor converted
Black, speaking of the Bible! He said, "It is never old and never cold." How
affecting was the language of another old Black man, when some would have discourage him
from learning to read, because of his old age. "No!" he said, "I will never
give it up till I die. It is worth all the labor to be able to read that one verse,
"God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in
him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Love of the Bible is one of the grand points of agreement among all converted men and
women in our own land. People from many Evangelical denominations all unite in honoring
the Bible, as soon as they are real Christians. This is the manna which all the tribes of
our new Israel feed upon, and find satisfying food. This is the fountain around which all
the various portions of Christ’s flock meet together, and from which no sheep goes
Oh, that believers in this country would learn to cleave more closely to the written
Word! Oh, that they would see that the more the Bible, and the Bible only, is the
substance of men’s religion, the more they agree! It is probable there never was an
uninspired book more universally admired than
Bunyan’s "Pilgrim’s Progress." It is a book which all denominations
of Christians delight to honor. It has won praise from all parties. Now what a striking
fact it is, that the author was preeminently a man of one book! He had read hardly
anything but the Bible.
It is a blessed thought that there will be "many people" in heaven in the
end. Few as the Lord’s people undoubtedly are at any one given time or place, yet all
gathered together in the end, they will be "a great multitude that no one could
count" (Revelation 7:9; 19:1). They will be of one heart and mind. They will have
passed through the same experience. They will all have repented, believed, lived holy,
prayerful, and humble lives. They will all have washed their robes and made them white in
the blood of the Lamb. But one thing besides all this they will have in common: they will
all love the texts and doctrines of the Bible. The Bible will have been their food and
delight in the days of their pilgrimage on earth. And the Bible will be a common subject
of joyful meditation and retrospect, when they are gathered together in heaven.
This Book, which all true Christians live upon and love, is the subject about which I
am addressing the readers of this paper this day. Surely it is no light matter what you
are doing with the Bible. Surely it is matter for serious inquiry, whether you know
anything of this love of the Word, and have this mark of following "in the tracks of
the sheep" (Song of Solomon 1:8). I charge you, I entreat you to give me an honest
answer. What are you doing with the Bible? Do you read it? How do you read it?
VIII. In the last place, "the Bible is the only book which can comfort a man in
the last hours of his life."
Death is an event which in all probability is before us all. There is no avoiding it.
It is the river which each of us must cross. I who write, and you who read, have to die
one day. It is good to remember this. We are all sadly apt to put away the subject from
us. "Each man thinks each man mortal but himself." I want everyone to do his
duty in life, but I also want everyone to think of death. I want everyone to know how to
live but I also want everyone to know how to die.
Death is a solemn event to everyone. It is the winding up of all earthly plans and
expectations. It is a separation from all we have loved and live with. It is often
accompanied by much bodily pain and distress. It brings us to the grave, the maggot, and
corruption. It opens the door to judgment and eternity—to heaven or to hell. It is an
event after which there is no change, or space for repentance. Other mistakes may be
corrected or retrieved, but not a mistake on our death beds. As the tree falls, there it
must lie. No conversion in the coffin! No new birth after we have ceased to breathe! And
death is before us all. It may be close at hand. The time of our departure is quite
uncertain. But sooner or later we must each lie down alone and die. All these are serious
Death is a solemn event even to the believer in Christ. For him no doubt the
"sting of death" is taken away. (1 Corinthians 15:55). Death has become one of
his privileges, for he is Christ’s Living or dying, he is the Lord’s. If he
lives, Christ lives in him; and if he dies, he goes to live with Christ. To him, "to
live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Death frees him from many
trials—from a weak body, a corrupt heart, a tempting devil, and an ensnaring or
persecuting world. Death admits him to the enjoyment of many blessings. He rests from his
labors—the hope of a joyful resurrection is changed into a certainty: he has the
company of holy redeemed spirits—he is "with Christ." All this is true, and
yet, even to a believer, death is a solemn thing. Flesh and blood naturally shrink from
it. To part from all we love, is a strain and trial to the feelings. The world we go to is
a world unknown, even though it is our home. Friendly and harmless as death is to a
believer, it is not an event to be treated lightly. It must always be a very solemn thing.
It is good for every thoughtful and sensible man to consider calmly how he is going to
meet death. Be strong, like a man, and look the subject in the face. Listen to me while I
tell you a few things about the end to which we are coming to.
The good things of the world cannot comfort a man when he draws near death. All the
gold of California and Australia will not provide light for the dark valley of death.
Money can buy the best medical advice and attendance for a man’s body; but money
cannot buy peace for his conscience, heart, and soul.
Relatives, lovers, friends and coworkers cannot comfort a man when he draws near death.
They may minister affectionately to his bodily wants. They may watch by his bedside
tenderly, and anticipate his every wish. They may smooth down his dying pillow, and
support his sinking frame in their arms. But they cannot "minister to a mind
diseased." They cannot stop the achings of a troubled heart. They cannot screen an
uneasy conscience from the eye of God.
The pleasures of the world cannot comfort a man when he draws near death. The brilliant
ballroom—the merry dance—the midnight frolic-the party at the races—the
card table—the box at the opera—the voices of singing men and singing
women—all these are finally distasteful things. To hear of hunting and shooting
engagements gives him no pleasure. To be invited to feasts, and regattas, and fancy fairs,
gives him no ease. He cannot hide from himself that these are hollow, empty, powerless
things. They are noise to the ear of his conscience. They are out of harmony with his
condition. They cannot stop one gap in his heart, when the last enemy is coming in like a
flood. They cannot make him calm in the prospect of meeting a holy God.
Books and newspapers cannot comfort a man when he draws near death. The most brilliant
writings of Dickens will be gloom to his ear. The most able article in the Times will fail
to interest him. The Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews will give him no pleasure. The
Illustrated News, and the latest new novel, will lie unopened and unheeded. Their time
will be past. Their calling will be gone. Whatever they may be in health, they are useless
in the hour of death.
There is but one fountain of comfort for a man drawing near to his end, and that is the
Bible. Chapters out of the Bible—texts out of the Bible—statements of truth
taken out of the Bible—books containing matter drawn from the Bible—these are a
man’s only chance of comfort when he comes to die. I do not say that the Bible will
do good, as a matter of course, to a dying man, if he has not valued it before. I know,
unhappily, too much of death-beds to say that. I do not say whether it is probable that he
who has been unbelieving and neglectful of the Bible in life, will at once believe and get
comfort from it in death. But I do say positively, that no dying man will ever get real
comfort, except from the contents of the Word of God. All comfort from any other source is
a house built upon sand.
I lay this down as a rule of universal application. I make no exception in favor of any
class on earth. Kings and poor men, learned and unlearned—all are equal in this
matter. There is not a bit of real consolation for any dying man, unless he gets it from
the Bible. Chapters, passages, texts, promises, and doctrines of Scripture heard,
received, believed, and rested on—these are the only comforters I dare promise to any
one, when he leaves the world. Taking communion will do a man no more good than the Roman
Catholic sacrament of "extreme unction," so long as the Word is not received and
believed. The Roman Catholic Priest’s absolution will no more ease the conscience
than the incantations of a heathen magician, if the poor dying sinner does not receive and
believe Bible truth. I tell everyone who reads this paper, that although men may seem to
get on comfortably without the Bible while they live, they may be sure that without the
Bible they cannot comfortably die. It was a true confession of the learned Selden,
"There is no book upon which we can rest in a dying moment but the Bible."
I might easily confirm all I have just said, by examples and illustrations. I might
show you the deathbeds of men who have despised the Bible. I might tell you how Voltaire
and Paine, the famous atheists died in misery, bitterness, rage, fear, and despair. I
might show you the happy deathbeds of those who have loved the Bible and believed it, and
the blessed effect the sight of their deathbeds had on others. Cecil, a minister whose
praise ought to be in all churches, says, "I will never forget standing by the
bedside of my dying mother. ‘Are you afraid to die?’ I asked. ‘No!’
she replied. ‘But why does the uncertainty of another state give you no
concern?’ ‘Because God has said, When you pass through the waters, I will be
with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you’"
(Isaiah 43:2). I might easily multiply illustrations of this kind. But I think it better
to conclude this part of my subject by giving the result of my own observations as a
I have seen many dying persons in my time. I have seen great varieties of character and
behavior among them. I have seen some die bad-tempered, silent, and comfortless. I have
seen others die ignorant, unconcerned, and apparently without much fear. I have seen some
die so wearied out with a long illness that they were quite willing to depart, and yet
they did not seem to me at all in a fit state to go before God. I have seen others die
with professions of hope and trust in God, without leaving satisfactory evidences that
they were on the rock. I have seen others die who, I believe, were "in Christ,"
and safe, and yet they never seemed to enjoy much tangible comfort. I have a few dying in
the full assurance of hope, and like Bunyan’s "Standfast," giving glorious
testimony to Christ’s faithfulness, even in the river. But one thing I have never
seen. I never saw anyone enjoy what I would call real, solid, calm, reasonable peace on
his deathbed, who did not draw his peace from the Bible. And this I am bold to say, that
the man who thinks to go to his deathbed without having the Bible for his comforter, his
companion, and his friend, is one of the greatest madmen in the world. There are no
comforts for the soul but Bible comforts, and he who does not have a hold of these, does
not have a hold of anything at all, unless it be a broken reed.
The only comforter for a deathbed is the book about which I address the readers of this
paper this day. Surely it is no light matter whether you read that book or not. Surely a
dying man, in a dying world, should seriously consider whether he has got anything to
comfort him when his turn comes to die. I charge you, I entreat you, for the last time, to
give an honest answer to my question. What are you doing with the Bible? Do you read it?
How do you read it?
I have now given the reasons why I press on every reader the duty and importance of
reading the Bible. I have shown that no book is written in such a manner as the Bible,
—that knowledge of the Bible is absolutely necessary to salvation
—that no book contains such matter
—that no book has done so much for the world generally
—that no book can do so much for every one who reads it
—that this Book is the only rule of faith and practice
—that it is, and always has been, the food of all true servants of God
—and that it is the only Book which can comfort men when they die.
All these are ancient things. I do not pretend to tell anything new. I have only
gathered together old truths, and tried to mold them into a new shape. Let me finish
everything by addressing a few plain words to the conscience of every group of readers.
(1) This paper may fall into the hands of some who "can read, but never do read
the Bible at all."
Are you one of them? If you are, I have something to say to you. I cannot comfort you
in your present state of mind. It would be mockery and deceit to do so. I cannot speak to
you of peace and heaven, while you treat the Bible as you do. You are in danger of losing
You are in danger, because "your neglected Bible is plain evidence that you do not
love God." The health of a man’s body may generally be known by his appetite.
The health of a man’s soul may be known by his treatment of the Bible. Now you are
manifestly living with a serious disease. Will you not repent?
I know I cannot reach your heart. I cannot make you see and feel these things. I can
only enter my solemn protest against your present treatment of the Bible, and lay that
protest before your conscience. I do so with all my soul. Oh, beware lest you repent too
late! Beware lest you put off reading the Bible till you send for the doctor in your last
illness, and then find the Bible a sealed book, and dark, as the cloud between the hosts
of Israel and Egypt, to your anxious soul! Beware lest you go on saying all your life,
"Men get along very well without all this Bible-reading" and find in time, to
your cost, that men without the Bible do very poorly, and end up in hell! Beware lest the
day come when you will feel, "Had I but honored the Bible as much as I have honored
the newspaper, I should not have been left without comfort in my last hours! "Bible
neglecting reader, I give you a plain warning. Judgment is outside your door ready to come
in and destroy you. The Lord have mercy upon your soul!
(2) This paper may fall into the hands of someone who is "willing to begin reading
the Bible, but wants advice on how to begin."
Are you that man? Listen to me, and I will give a few short hints.
(a) For one thing, "begin reading your Bible this very day."
The way to do a thing is to do it, and the way to read the Bible is actually to read
it. It is not meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it, which
will not advance you one step. You must positively read. There is no royal road in this
matter, any more than in the matter of prayer. If you cannot read yourself, you must
persuade somebody else to read to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears, the
words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind.
(b) For another thing "read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand
Do not think for a moment that the great object is to turn over a certain quantity of
printed paper, and that it matters nothing whether you understand it or not. Some ignorant
people seem to fancy that all is done if they read so many chapters every day, though they
may not have an idea what they are all about, and only know that they have pushed on their
bookmark so many pages. This is turning Bible-reading into a mere form. It is almost as
bad as the Roman catholic habit of buying indulgences, by saying an almost incredible
number of "Hail Mary’s" and "Our Fathers." Settle it in your mind
as a general principle, that a Bible not understood is a Bible that does no good. Say to
yourself often as you read, "What is all this about?" Dig for the meaning like
an man digging for gold. Work hard, and do not give up the work in a hurry.
(c) For another thing, "read the Bible with childlike faith and humility."
Open your heart as you open your book, and say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is
listening." Resolve to believe implicitly whatever you find there, however much it
may run counter to your own prejudices. Resolve to receive heartily every statement of
truth, whether you like it or not.
Beware of that miserable habit of mind into which some readers of the Bible fall. They
receive some doctrines because they like them: they reject others because they are
condemning to themselves, or to some lover, or relation, or friend. At this rate the Bible
is useless. Are we to be judges of what ought to be in the Word? Do we know better than
God? Settle it in your mind that you will receive everything and believe everything, and
that what you cannot understand you will take on trust. Remember, when you pray, you are
speaking to God and God hears you. But, remember, when you read, God is speaking to you,
and you are not to "talk back" but to listen.
(d) For another thing, "read the Bible in a spirit of obedience and
Sit down to the study it with a daily determination that "you" will live by
it rules, rest on its statements, and act on its commands. Consider, as you travel through
every chapter, "How does this affect "my"- view and course of conduct? What
does this teach "me?" It is improper to read the Bible from mere curiosity, and
for speculative purposes, in order to fill your head and your mind with opinions, while
you do not allow the book to influence your heart and life. That Bible is read best which
is put into practice in our daily lives.
(e) For another thing, "read the Bible every day."
Make it a part of every day’s business to read and meditate on some portion of
God’s Word. Private means of grace are just as needful every day for our souls as
food and clothing are for our bodies. Yesterday’s meal will not feed the worker
today, and today’s meal will not feed the worker tomorrow. Do as the Israelites did
in the wilderness. Gather your manna fresh every morning. Choose your own periods and
hours. Do not hurry your reading. Give your Bible the best and not the worst part of your
time. But whatever plan you pursue, let it be a rule of your life to visit the throne of
grace and the Bible every day.
(f) For another thing, "read all the Bible, and read it in an orderly way."
I fear there are many parts of the Word which some people never read at all. This is a
very arrogant habit. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching"
(2 Timothy 3:16). To this habit may be traced that want of broad, well-proportioned views
of truth, which is so common in this day. Some people’s Bible-reading is a system of
perpetual dipping and picking. They do not seem to have an idea of regularly going through
the whole book. This is also a great mistake. No doubt in times of sickness and affliction
it is allowable to search out seasonable portions. But this exception, I believe it is by
far the best plan to begin the Old and New Testaments at the same time, to read each
straight through to the end, and then begin again. This is a matter in which everyone must
be persuaded in his own mind. I can only say it has been my own plan for nearly forty
years, and I have never seen cause to alter it.
(g) For another thing, "read the Bible fairly and honestly."
Determine to take everything in its plain, obvious meaning, and regard all forced
interpretations with great suspicion. As a general rule, whatever a verse of the Bible
seems to mean, it does mean. Cecil’s rule is a very valuable one, "The right way
of interpreting Scripture is to take it as we find it, without any attempt to force it
into any particular system." Well said Hooker, "I hold it for a most infallible
rule in the exposition of Scripture, that when the literal construction will stand, the
furthest from the literal is commonly the worst."
(h) In the last place, "read the Bible with Christ continually in view."
The primary object of all Scripture is to testify about Jesus:
Old Testament ceremonies are shadows of Christ.
Old Testament judges and deliverers are types of Christ.
Old Testament history shows the world’s need of Christ.
Old Testament prophecies are full of Christ’s sufferings.
Old Testament prophecies are full of Christ’s glory yet to come.
The first coming and the second.
The Lord’s humiliation.
The Lord’s kingdom.
The Lord’s cross and crown.
All these shine forth everywhere in the Bible. Remember this clue, if you would read
the Bible right.
I might easily add to these hints, if space permitted. Few and short as they are, you
will find them worth your attention. Act upon them, and I firmly believe you will never be
allowed to miss the way to heaven. Act upon them, and you will find light continually
increasing in your mind. No book of evidence can be compared with that internal evidence
which he obtains who daily uses the Word in the right way. Such a man does not need the
books of learned men—he has the witness in himself. The book satisfies and feeds his
soul. A poor Christian woman once said to an unbeliever, "I am no scholar. I cannot
argue like you. But I know that honey is honey, because it leaves a sweet taste in my
mouth. And I know the Bible to be God’s book, because of the taste it leaves in my
(3) This paper may fall into the hands of some one who "loves and believes the
Bible, and yet reads it only a little."
I fear there are many such people in this day. It is a day of hustle and hurry. It is a
day of talking, and committee meetings, and public work. These things are all very well in
their way, but I fear that they sometimes clip and cut short the private reading of the
Bible. Does your conscience tell you that you are one of the persons I speak of? Listen to
me, and I will say a few things which deserve your serious attention.
You are the man that is likely to "get little comfort from the Bible in time of
need." Trials come at various times. Affliction is a searching wind, which strips the
leaves off the trees, and exposes the birds’ nests. Now I fear that your stores of
Bible consolations may one day run very low. I fear lest you should find yourself at last
on very short allowance, and come into the harbor weak, worn and thin.
You are the man that is likely "never to be established in the truth." I will
not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance,
grace, faith, perseverance, and the like. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. Like the
Benjamites, he can "sling a stone at a hair and not miss" (Judges 20:16). He can
quote Scripture easily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with
your weapons to be able to fight a good fight with him. Your armor does not fit well. Your
sword sits loosely in your hand.
You are the man that is likely to "make mistakes in life." I will not wonder
if I am told that you have erred about your own marriage—erred about your
children’s education of spiritual things—erred about the conduct of your
household—erred about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of
rocks, and reefs, and sand bars. You are not sufficiently familiar either with the search
lights or your charts.
You are the man that is likely to "be carried away by some deceptive false teacher
for a time." It will not surprise me if those clever, eloquent men, who can
"make the lie appear to be the truth," is leading you into many foolish notions.
You are out of balance. No wonder if you are tossed to and from, like a cork on the waves.
All these are uncomfortable things. I want every reader of this paper to escape them
all. Take the advice I offer you this day. Do not merely read your Bible "a
little," but read it a great deal. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you
richly" (Colossians 3:16). Do not be a mere babe in spiritual knowledge. Seek to
become "well instructed in the kingdom of heaven," and to be continually adding
new things to old. A religion of feeling is an uncertain thing. It is like the tide,
sometimes high, and sometimes low. It is like the moon, sometimes bright, and sometimes
dim. A religion of deep Bible knowledge, is a firm and lasting possession. It enables a
man not merely to say, "I feel hope in Christ," but "I know whom I have
believed" (2 Timothy 1:12).
(4) This paper may fall into the hands of someone who "reads the Bible a lot, and
yet believes he is no better because of his reading."
This is a crafty temptation of the devil. At one stage he says, "do not read the
Bible at all." At another he says, "Your reading does you no good: give it
up." Are you that man? I feel for you from the bottom of my soul. Let me try to do
Do not think you are getting no good from the Bible, merely because you do not see that
good day by day. The greatest effects are often silent, quiet, and hard to detect at the
time they are being produced. Think of the influence of the moon upon the earth, and of
the air upon the human lungs.
Remember how silently the dew falls, and how unperceptively the grass grows. There may
be far more going on than you think in your soul by your Bible-reading.
The Word may be gradually producing deep "impressions" on your heart, of
which you are not presently aware. Often when the memory is retaining no facts, the
character of a man is receiving some everlasting impression. Is sin becoming every year
more hateful to you? Is Christ becoming every year more precious? Is holiness becoming
every year more lovely and desirable in your eyes? If these things are so, take courage.
The Bible is doing you good, though you may not be able to trace it out day by day.
The Bible may be restraining you from some sin or delusion into which you would
otherwise run. It may be daily keeping you back, and hedging you up, and preventing many a
false step. Yes, you might soon find this out to your hurt, if you were to cease reading
the Word! The very familiarity of blessings sometimes makes us insensible to their value.
Resist the devil. Settle it in your mind as an established rule, that, whether you feel it
at the moment or not, you are inhaling spiritual health by reading the Bible, and
unknowingly becoming more strong.
(5) This paper may fall into the hands of some who "really love the Bible, live
upon the Bible, and read it regularly."
Are you one of these? Give me your attention, and I will mention a few things which we
will do well to lay to heart for time to come.
Let us resolve to "read the Bible more and more" every year we live. Let us
try to get it rooted in our memories, an engraved into our hearts. Let us be thoroughly
well provisioned with it against the voyage of death. Who knows but we may have a very
stormy passage? Sight and hearing may fail us, and we may be in deep waters. Oh, to have
the Word "hid in our hearts" in such an hour as that! (Psalm 119:11).
Let us resolve to be "more watchful over our Bible-reading" every year that
we live. Let us be jealously careful about the time we give to it, and the manner that
time is spent. Let us beware of omitting our daily reading without sufficient cause. Let
us not be gaping, and yawning and dozing over our book, while we read. Let us read like a
London merchant studying the city article in the Times—or like a wife reading a
husband’s letter from a distant land. Let us be very careful that we never exalt any
minister, or sermon, or book, or tract, or friend above the Word. Cursed be that book, or
tract, or human counsel, which creeps in between us and the Bible, and hides the Bible
from our eyes! Once more I say, let us be very watchful. The moment we open the Bible the
devil sits down by our side. Oh, to read with a hungry spirit, and a simple desire for
Let us resolve to "honor the Bible more in our families." Let us read it
morning and evening to our children and spouses, and not be ashamed to let men see that we
do so. Let us not be discouraged by seeing no good arise from it. The Bible-reading in a
family has kept many a one from the jail and the prison, and from the eternal fires of
Let us resolve to "meditate more on the Bible." It is good to take with us
two or three texts when we go out into the world, and to turn them over and over in our
minds whenever we have a little leisure. It keeps out many vain thoughts. It tightens the
nail of daily reading. It preserves our souls from stagnating and breeding corrupt things.
It sanctifies and quickens our memories, and prevents them becoming like those ponds where
the frogs live but the fish die.
Let us resolve to "talk more to believers about the Bible" when we meet them.
Sorry to say, the conversation of Christians, when they do meet, is often sadly
unprofitable! How many frivolous, and trifling, and uncharitable things are said! Let us
bring out the Bible more, and it will help to drive the devil away, and keep our hearts in
tune. Oh, that we may all strive so to walk together in this evil world, that Jesus may
often draw near, and go with us, as He went with the two disciples journeying to Emmaus!
Last of all, lot us resolve "to live by the Bible more and more" every year
we live. Let us frequently take account of all our opinions and practices—of our
habits and tempers—of our behavior in public and in private—in the world, and in
our own homes. Let us measure everything by the Bible, and resolve, by God’s help, to
conform to it. Oh that we may learn increasingly to "keep our way pure? By living
according to the Word." (Psalm 119:9).
I commend all these thing to the serious and prayerful attention of every one into
whose hands this paper may fall. I want the ministers of my beloved country to be
Bible-reading ministers—the congregations, Bible-reading congregations—and the
nation, a Bible-reading nation. To bring about this desirable end I cast in my resources
into God’s treasury. The Lord grant that it may prove not to have been in vain!
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted
© 1998 by Tony
Capoccia. All rights reserved.