A Guide To Bible Study
By Harvey Newcomb (1803 – 1863)
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
To a true child of God, nothing is so precious as the volume of inspiration. It is like a mine of all sorts of metals and precious stones, overlaid with gold and silver. That which is most necessary for the common purposes of life lies on the surface. These are the simple truths of the Gospel, which are essential to salvation. But below these are the iron, the tin, the copper – the strong truths, the doctrines, the practical principles, which tax the powers of the mind to develop, but which give strength and consistency to the Christian character. Yet beyond these is an inexhaustible treasure of precious stones, every examination of which discovers new gems of surpassing luster and surprising beauty.
The Bible is the charter of the Christian’s hopes, the deed of his inheritance. Is he a wayfaring man in a strange land? This Book contains a description of the country to which he is bound, with a map of the way, on which all the crossways and by-paths are designated. Is he a mariner on the stormy ocean of life? This is both his chart and compass. Here he finds all the shoals and reefs distinctly marked, and monuments placed upon many dangerous places, where others have made shipwreck.
Seeing, then, we have such a treasure put into our hands, it cannot be a matter of surprise that we should be directed to search after the precious things it contains, nor that Christians should love to ponder its sacred pages. “Thy Word,” says the psalmist, “is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psa. 119:105). It is like a lantern, which sheds light on our path, amid the darkness of the night, to direct the steps of our feet. The sincere Christian will therefore search the Word of God, for a knowledge of His will, with more eagerness than he would search for hidden treasures of gold and silver. In obedience to the command of God, he will set his heart to the work. After the giving of the Law, Moses says, “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day” (Deut. 32:46). To set our hearts upon any object implies such a love for it and desire after it, as leads to a strong determination to make every possible effort to obtain it; and this ought to be the settled and permanent feeling of our hearts in regard to a knowledge of the will of God, as revealed in His Word.
And, as we obtain this knowledge, we should imitate the psalmist, who said, “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psa. 119:11). His object in hiding the Word in his heart was to know how to regulate his conduct so as not to sin against God. So must we hide the Word of God in our hearts, and for the same reason. We must study it as the directory of life. Whenever we open this blessed Book, this should be the sincere inquiry of our heart: “Lord, what will You have me to do?” Let us come to it with this childlike spirit of obedience, and we shall not fail to learn His will.
But when we have learned our duty in God’s Word, the next thing is, to do it without delay. First, there must be an earnest desire to know present duty, and then a steadfast and settled determination to do it as soon as it is known.
With these remarks, I submit a few practical directions for the profitable reading and study of the Holy Scriptures.
Read in a Quiet Place
Read the Bible in your closet or under circumstances which will secure you from interruption, either by the conversation of others, or the attraction of other objects. Reading the Scriptures is conversing with God, who speaks to us when we read His holy Word. His all-seeing eye rests upon our hearts; and He knows whether we are engaged in solemn trifling. If we read His Word so carelessly as not to understand its meaning and drink in its spirit, we treat Him as we would disdain to be treated by an earthly friend. Let us, then, never approach the Word of God but with feelings of reverence and godly fear.
Prepare Your Heart and Mind
Go to the Word of God with a preparation of heart. If we were going to visit some person of great importance, whose favor and esteem we wished to secure, we would take care to have everything about our persons adjusted in the most fitting manner. So let it be with our minds when we come to converse with God. Let us shut out all worldly thoughts and strive to secure a tranquil, holy, and tender frame, so that the truths we contemplate may make their proper impression upon our hearts.
Seek the Aid of the Holy Spirit
Christ promised His disciples that, when the Holy Spirit would come, He would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Without His enlightening influences, we cannot understand the Word of God. And without His gracious influences, we shall not be disposed to obey it. But we have the most abundant encouragement to seek the aid of this divine Instructor. Christ assures us that God is more willing to give His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him, than earthly parents are to give good gifts to their children (Matt. 7:11). Before opening God’s Word, therefore, we should pray that He would show us the truth, the rule of our duty, and incline our hearts to obey it; and, as we proceed, keep our hearts silently lifted up to God for the same object.
Read with Self-Application
Whenever you have discovered any truth, ask what bearing it has upon present duty. If it relates to spiritual affections, compare with it the state of your own heart. If it relates to the spirit and temper of Christians, in their fellowship with one another, or with the world, compare it with your own conduct. It if relates to some positive duty, inquire whether you have done it. And, wherever you find yourself deficient, endeavor to exercise repentance, and seek for pardon through the blood of Christ with grace to enable you to correct what is wrong.
Read the Scriptures Regularly
A daily supply of refreshment is no less necessary for the soul than for the body. The Word of God is the bread of eternal life, “the food of the soul.” Take, then, your regular supplies that your soul may not famish. Choose for this purpose those seasons when you are least liable to interruption – when you can retire and shut out the world, when you can best command the energies of your mind. There is no time more fit and suitable for this than the morning. Then the mind is clear, vigorous, unencumbered, and prepared to receive impressions. There is also a propriety in consulting God’s Word at the close of the day. But by no means confine yourself to these stated seasons. Whenever the nature of your pursuits will admit of your seclusion for a sufficient length of time to fix your mind upon the truth, you may freely drink from this never-failing fountain the water of life.
Study the Scripture Systematically
If you read at random, here a little and there a little, your views of divine truth will be partial and limited. This method may indeed be pursued in regard to reading strictly devotionally, but only when other time is taken for obtaining a connected view and a critical understanding of the whole Bible.
In the systematic and thorough study of the Bible, the following hints may be of use:
Do not hurry. Do not task yourself with a certain quantity of reading at the regular seasons devoted to the study of the Bible. This may lead you to hurry over it, without ascertaining its meaning or drinking into its spirit. You had better study one verse thoroughly, than to read half a dozen chapters carelessly. The nourishment received from food depends less on the quantity, than on its being perfectly digested. So with the mind: one clear idea is better than a dozen confused ones. And the mind, as well as the stomach, may be overloaded with undigested food. Ponder upon every portion you read until you get a full and clear view of the truth that it teaches. Fix your mind and heart upon it, as the bee lights upon the flower, and do not leave it until you have extracted the honey it contains.
Inquire on certain subjects. In reading the Scriptures, there are some subjects of inquiry, which you should carry along with you constantly.
• What do I find here which points to Christ? Unless you keep this before your mind, you will lose half the interest of many parts of the Old Testament, and much of it will appear to be almost without meaning. It is full of types and prophecies relating to Christ, which when understood are most beautiful and full of instruction.
• Inquire what doctrinal truth is taught, illustrated, or enforced in the passage you are reading and what principle is recognized. Great and important principles of the divine government and of practical duty are often implied in a passage of history, which relates to a comparatively unimportant event. Let it be your business to draw out these principles and apply them to practice.
• Note every promise and every prediction. Observe God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise and fulfilling His prophecies. This will tend to strengthen your faith. You will find it profitable, as you proceed, to take notes of these several matters particularly. At the close of every book, review your notes and sum them up under different heads.
Read the Gospels with great care for the purpose of studying the character of the blessed Jesus. Dwell upon every action of His life and inquire after His motives. By this course, you will be surprised to find the Godhead shining through the manhood in little incidents, which you have often read without interest. Look upon Him at all times in His true character, as Mediator between God and man. Observe His several offices of Prophet, Priest, and King.
A Whole Book
You will find it an interesting and profitable employment, occasionally to read a given book through for the purpose of seeing what light it throws upon some particular point of Christian doctrine, duty, practice, or character. For example, go through with Acts with your eye upon the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. Then go through with it a second time to see what light it throws on the subject of Revivals of Religion. Pursue the same course with other books and in respect to other subjects. In this way, you will sometimes be surprised to find how much you have overlooked in your previous reading.
– Adapted. Harvey Newcomb was an American clergyman and writer.