How to Read the Bible
In whatever other ways we may study the Bible, there is a personal use of it in closet devotions which no Christian should fail to make. It will help us greatly in our devotional study, to have a clear conception of the help the Bible is designed to bring to us.
The Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and conduct. It teaches us, according to an honored formula, "what we are to believe concerning God — and what duty God requires of man."
We are to study the Bible, therefore, to learn about God. It reveals to us the character of God. It tells us what his perfections and attributes are. The Old Testament contains many such revealings in what prophets taught and singers sang. Yet it is only in the New Testament that we have the full revelation of God, when "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory." Thus in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read that "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe!" Hebrews 1:1-2
If we would know God's character and how he regards us, we must study the Scriptures.
Then we are to look into the Scriptures also to learn what our duty is — how we ought to live. This is made very plain to us, not in any one chapter or section — but throughout the book.
However, the Bible does not merely give sets of rules to tell us what to do in such and such cases; it gives, rather, great principles which are to rule our life. For example, the sum of the commandments is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Always, love of God is to be first, and is to rule in every choice, in every decision. Then love to our neighbor is to control us in all our human relationships.
In all our devotional reading, we should keep ever in mind what the Bible is intended to be to us, and should read it to learn what God's will for us is. This will give definiteness of purpose to the study of the Scriptures. We shall not then open the book at random and go over a few verses merely as a matter of duty. This is the way some people always do with the Bible. They have been taught that they should read it every day, and they would not dare to omit the duty. But they have no conception of the reason why they do it. They do not know what they are expected to find in it.
Such use of the Bible will yield no blessing. It should be turned to with sincere reverence as containing the words of God for us. Then we should be intent to accept its teachings and take them into our life. If it reveals to us some fault in ourselves — we should be quick to get rid of the fault. If it shows us that something we are doing is sinful, displeasing God and hurting our own souls — we should at once put away the offensive thing. If as we read the sacred words, we become aware that we have been failing in some duty of love to another, leaving undone something we ought to do — then we should begin immediately to do the neglected duty.
If we have in our morning lesson a vision of some loveliness of character not yet attained, we should not be disobedient unto the heavenly vision — but should earnestly strive to attain the lofty experience thus shown as possible to us. We may be discouraged when we open the book, and in the passage we read there may be a word of hope, calling us to victorious living. For the Bible, from first to last, is a book of cheer. It never tells us that it is our duty to be disheartened or to despair. Always it calls us to rise out of our fear and failure and begin again. Always it assures us that there is no reason for despair, that we need never give up, that out of the greatest seeming failure we may become more than conquerors through Christ who loves us. When this is the lesson we find in our daily passage, we should at once lift up our heart and begin to rejoice.
Or we may be in sorrow, passing through a bereavement or enduring a great loss. Then the message the Scripture has for us is one of comfort. It is not enough to read the promises or assurances which we find, paying no heed to them, not permitting them to influence us. Rather we should take them as indeed God's words to us and should let the truths they tell us into our heart, to help us in our sorrow. For example, when we read the Master's "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you," we should instantly accept the gift he offers, allowing his peace to take possession of us and to fill our heart.
If we read the Bible in this way, in our devotional closet it will become the guide of our life, the lamp for our feet, the light for our path. A single verse in the morning, if there is time for no more than a verse, will make us stronger for all the day's duties and struggles!