It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Word of God in the life of the believer, whether old or young.
It is Important Because
It is the Food of the Soul. There can be no normal growth of progress apart from it (I Pet. 2:2), and the neglect of it can only result in a stunted, backward condition (Heb. 5:11-12). It must be allowed to enter into the very warp and woof of the Christian’s life, as food enters into the structure of the body.
It is the Channel by which God communicates strength, comfort, and sustenance. Trials and temptations are sure to cross the path, and it will be well if one is able to meet each onslaught with an “It is written.” It was thus that the Lord Jesus Christ resisted the tempter. If you will look up the passages of Scripture (in Deuteronomy) which He quoted on that occasion, you will find that they are quite close together. Were they, as someone has suggested, part of the Lord’s morning reading that day? It seems not unlikely that they were. At any rate, we know that the Word of God had a very large place in His life.
It is the Believer’s Equipment for service: only by means of it can he be “throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17). If you are looking forward, as you should be and as I trust you are, to a life of useful service for God, you will find a practical knowledge of the Word of God indispensable.
Let me lovingly and urgently plead with you, therefore, to give it the supreme place in your life. Allow nothing to hinder your frequent reading of it. “Read it copiously, continuously, consecutively, repeatedly, independently, and prayerfully” (Anstey). Let your soul be steeped in it; not in certain favorite parts of it, but in the Whole. Make it your practice to:
“Search” (John 5:39). The truths of the Bible are not spread upon the surface where the careless reader will find them. It is a mine that will reward careful exploration.
“Meditate” (Ps. 104:34). Dwell prayerfully upon its precepts. Make a personal application of what you read. Endeavour to discover the leading ideas, as well as the “drift.” Ponder over striking words and phrases.
“Compare” (1 Cor. 2:13). By taking one passage in connection with others you will see truth in its proper relations.
Several Things are Indispensable
for progress in true acquaintance with the Word of God.
The New Birth. The Bible is a sealed book to all by nature (Isa. 29:10-13). No amount of natural ability will enable one to understand it (1 Cor. 2:14).
A True Estimate of its Character. Never give place for a moment to any doubt or question regarding the fact that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). In it God — the Living God — speaks to you — to you directly — to You personally. Earnestly ponder this fact, and let it appear from your life that you really believe it.
A Real Love for the Word of God. “Desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby,” writes the Apostle Peter (1 Pet. 2:2). The word he uses is a very strong one, and is translated elsewhere “to earnestly desire,” “to long after greatly.” God’s word is “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold” (Psalm 19:10).
Reverence and Submission. Shun all habits of joking and jesting upon it. Read to obey. The real value of the Book can only be known by a practical acquaintance with it. “Only to think well, and not to do well, amounts to no more than to dream well.” Obedience has been called an “organ of knowledge”: the more readily the Word is submitted to, the greater will be the progress in the knowledge of it. Not scholarship, but surrender, is the primary qualification it demands of its readers.
Prayerfulness. We are dependent entirely upon the Holy Spirit of God to teach and direct us. The realization of this should cause us to adopt a prayerful attitude in approaching the Book. It is well to dwell prayerfully on what we read, endeavouring to find an application to our own ways and needs. And having seen this application, one will be well advised to look to God for grace to reproduce in the life what has been read.
Regularity and Perseverance. Haphazard, aimless work will not produce results in Bible study any more than they do in other lines of effort. Do not be discouraged because, perhaps, you find yourself to be a poor scholar. “Much food is in the tillage of the poor” (Prov. 13:23), and prayerful perseverance will be rewarded. Do not allow difficulties to slacken your interest. You will meet them in such a Book! — indeed it would be strange if, in a Book which is “God-breathed,” there were no difficulties. Be patient, humble, and teachable, and you will surely, even if slowly, attain to higher degrees of useful knowledge. Concentrate upon the portion before you. “The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers upon a single object, can accomplish something; the strongest, by dispersing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything.” (Compare 1 Tim. 4:15).
How to Proceed
There is no known method that meets the need of all, but most can profit by the use of some method. A study which is not systematic is likely to result in a fragmentary knowledge of the Word — as some of us have discovered to our sorrow. The method adopted, however, need not be cumbersome — indeed the simpler it is, the better. Several methods may be mentioned: The Topical Method — or study by topics, The Synthetic Method — or study by books, The Typical Method — or the study of the types, The “Microscopic” Method — or the study of words, etc., The “Telescopic” Method — or the study of the periods or dispensations of Scripture. All these have their value and place, as have others which we have not mentioned. For a beginner, however, the Topical Method will perhaps prove the best. A great deal of truth will be found to centre about certain words, such as the following:
God, Christ, The Holy Spirit, Man, Sin, Salvation, Forgiveness, Regeneration, Redemption, Eternal Life, Justification, Sanctification, Faith, Worship, Prayer, Separation, etc.
These will, therefore, prove a profitable study, but one must guard against making a hobby of a few subjects. Many helps are available, and these should not be despised. Some supplementary reading is helpful. It is important, however, that it should be recognized as supplementary — ever and always. It tends to encroach upon the reading and study, first of all and above all, of the Bible, and it is nothing short of a calamity when a believer’s appetite is so perverted that he must have his commentary or exposition, while he finds less and less time for the direct study of the Word of God itself.
In the study of any topic or portion of Scripture, therefore, it cannot be too strongly urged that you aim to get your first and principal impressions directly from God’s Book. Do your own searching, with the help of a good concordance. Having done that, you are in a position to appreciate and profit by what some gifted expositor has to say about it — in fact it will more than double the value of the exposition to you to have first made an original study of your own. Expositions, however, while useful at times, are never indispensable. The Word of God is indipensable.
Do a liberal amount of memory work. Nothing can take the place of this. At least the outstanding verses of Scripture should be committed to memory as far as possible. Thus will the Word of Christ dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16). It is a good practice to copy in writing portions of one’s Bible. This is a very useful aid to memory.
As to equipment for study little need be said. Have a good Bible, with type of such size that you can read it comfortably. “Helps” in a Bible frequently tend only to make a book cumbersome in size, but a concordance takes very little room and is useful to have in the same binding as one’s Bible. Such a concordance, however, should not be relied upon for serious study. For this it is too much abridged.
Cruden’s Clear Type Concordance is a useful work, and for ordinary purposes sufficient. If, however, you can afford something more expensive, you will find Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance a very satisfactory one-volume work. Many consider it the best — personally I like it well. Young’s Concordance is also very useful.
Another useful book is the New Topical Text Book. It will be found helpful for Topical study, but one should guard against the slavish use of it, as of any other human production. All books, other than the Bible, should be kept, as one has expressed it “Only in their place and for their purpose. Put first, they become crutches that prevent vigorous exercise, and lead to spiritual senility.” If you have any, let them be the best. Give no time to authors who are not definitely loyal to the Word of God, and test every man’s words by what you find in your Bible.