1. THE SCRIPTURES AND
There is grave reason to believe that much Bible reading and Bible study of
the last few years has been of no spiritual profit to those who engaged in
it. Yes, we go further; we greatly fear that in many instances it has proved
a curse rather than a blessing. This is strong language, we are well aware,
yet no stronger than the case calls for. Divine gifts may be misused, and
Divine mercies abused. That this has been so in the present instance is
evident by the fruits produced. Even the natural man may (and often does)
take up the study of the Scriptures with the same enthusiasm and pleasure as
he might of the sciences. Where this is the case, his store of knowledge is
increased, and so also is his pride. Like a chemist engaged in making
interesting experiments, the intellectual searcher of the Word is quite
elated when he makes some discovery in it; but the joy of the latter is no
more spiritual than would be that of the former. Again, just as the
successes of the chemist generally increase his sense of self-importance and
cause him to look with disdain upon others more ignorant than himself, so
alas, is it often the case with those who have investigated Bible numerics,
typology, prophecy and other such subjects.
The Word of God may be taken up from various motives. Some read it to
satisfy their literary pride. In certain circles it has become both the
respectable and popular thing to obtain a general acquaintance with the
contents of the Bible simply because it is regarded as an educational defect
to be ignorant of them. Some read it to satisfy their sense of curiosity, as
they might any other book of note. Others read it to satisfy their sectarian
pride. They consider it a duty to be well versed in the particular tenets of
their own denomination and so search eagerly for proof-texts in support of
"our doctrines." Yet others read it for the purpose of being able to argue
successfully with those who differ from them. But in all this there is no
thought of God, no yearning for spiritual edification, and therefore no real
benefit to the soul.
Of what, then, does a true profiting from the Word consist? Does not 2
Timothy 3:16,17 furnish a clear answer to our question? There we read, "All
scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,
for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man
of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Observe
what is here omitted: the Holy Scriptures are given us not for intellectual
gratification and carnal speculation, but to furnish unto "all good works,"
and that by teaching, reproving, correcting us. Let us endeavor to amplify
this by the help of other passages.
1. An individual is spiritually profited when the Word convicts him of sin.
This is its first office: to reveal our depravity, to expose our vileness,
to make known our wickedness. A manís moral life may be irreproachable, his
dealings with his fellows faultless; but when the Holy Spirit applies the
Word to his heart and conscience, opening his sin-blinded eyes to see his
relation and attitude to God, he cries, "Woe is me, for I am undone." It is
in this way that each truly saved soul is brought to realize his need of
Christ. "Those who are whole need not a physician, but those who are sick"
(Luke 5:31). Yet it is not until the Spirit applies the Word in Divine power
that any individual is made to feel that he is sick, sick unto death.
Such conviction that brings home to the heart the awful ravages which sin
has wrought in the human constitution is not to be restricted to the initial
experience which immediately precedes conversion. Each time that God blesses
His Word to my heart, I am made to feel how far, far short I come of the
standard which He has set before me, namely, "Be you holy in all manner of
conversation" (1 Pet. 1:15). Here, then, is the first test to apply: as I
read of the sad failures of different ones in Scripture, does it make me
realize how sadly like unto them I am? As I read of the blessed and perfect
life of Christ, does it make me recognize how terribly unlike Him I am?
2. An individual is spiritually profited when the Word makes him sorrow over
sin. Of the stony-ground hearer it is said that he "hears the word, and anon
with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself" (Matt. 13:20,21); but
of those who were convicted under the preaching of Peter it is recorded that
they were pricked in their heart (Acts 2:37). The same contrast exists
today. Many will listen to a flowery sermon, or an address on
"dispensational truth" that displays oratorical powers or exhibits the
intellectual skill of the speaker, but which, usually, contains no searching
application to the conscience. It is received with approbation, but no one
is humbled before God or brought into a closer walk with Him through it. But
let a faithful servant of the Lord (who by grace is not seeking to acquire a
reputation for his "brilliance") bring the teaching of Scripture to bear
upon character and conduct, exposing the sad failures of even the best of
Godís people, and, though the crowd will despise the messenger, the truly
regenerate will be thankful for the message which causes them to mourn
before God and cry, "Oh, wretched man that I am." So it is in the private
reading of the Word. It is when the Holy Spirit applies it in such a way
that I am made to see and feel my inward corruptionís that I am really
What a word is that in Jeremiah 31:19: "After that I was instructed, I smote
upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yes, even confounded." Do you, my reader, know
anything of such an experience? Does your study of the Word produce a broken
heart and lead to a humbling of yourself before God? Does it convict you of
your sins in such a way that you are brought to daily repentance before Him?
The paschal lamb had to be eaten with "bitter herbs" (Ex. 12:8); so as we
really feed on the Word, the Holy Spirit makes it "bitter" to us before it
becomes sweet to our taste. Note the order in Revelation 10:9, "And I went
unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto
me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make your belly bitter, but it
shall be in your mouth sweet as honey." This is ever the experimental order:
there must be mourning before comfort (Matt. 5:4); humbling before exalting
(1 Pet. 5:6).
3. An individual is spiritually profited when the Word leads to confession
of sin. The Scriptures are profitable for "reproof" (2 Tim. 3:16), and an
honest soul will acknowledge its faults. Of the carnal it is said, "For
every one that loves evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest
his deeds should be reproved" (John 3:20). "God be merciful to me a sinner"
is the cry of a renewed heart, and every time we are quickened by the Word
(Ps. 119) there is a fresh revealing to us and a fresh owning by us of our
transgressions before God. "He that covers his sins shall not prosper: but
whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13). There
can be no spiritual prosperity or fruitfulness (Ps. 1:3) while we conceal
within our breasts our guilty secrets; only as they are freely owned before
God, and that in detail, shall we enjoy His mercy.
There is no real peace for the conscience and no rest for the heart while we
bury the burden of unconfessed sin. Relief comes when it is fully unbosomed
to God. Mark well the experience of David, "When I kept silence, my bones
waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night your hand
was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer" (Ps.
33:3,4). Is this figurative but forcible language unintelligible unto you?
Or does your own spiritual history explain it? There is many a verse of
Scripture which no commentary save that of personal experience can
satisfactorily interpret. Blessed indeed is the immediate sequel here: "I
acknowledged my sin unto you, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I
will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and you forgave the iniquity
of my sin" (Ps. 32:5).
4. An individual is spiritually profited when the Word produces in him a
deeper hatred of sin. "You that love the Lord, hate evil" (Ps. 97: 10). "We
cannot love God without hating that which He hates. We are not only to avoid
evil, and refuse to continue in it, but we must be up in arms against it,
and bear towards it a hearty indignation" (Christian. H. Spurgeon). One of
the surest tests to apply to the professed conversion is the heartís
attitude towards sin. Where the principle of holiness has been planted,
there will necessarily be a loathing of all that is unholy. If our hatred of
evil be genuine, we are thankful when the Word reproves even the evil which
we suspected not.
This was the experience of David: "Through your precepts I get
understanding: therefore I hate every false way" (Ps. 119:128). Observe
well, it is not merely "I abstain from," but "I hate"; not only "some" or
"many," but "every false way"; and not only "every evil," but "every false
way." "Therefore I esteem all your precepts concerning all things to be
right, and I hate every false way" (Ps. 119:128). But it is the very
opposite with the wicked: "Seeing you hate instruction, and cast my words
behind you" (Ps. 50:17). In Proverbs 8:13, we read, "The fear of the Lord is
to hate evil," and this godly fear comes through reading the Word: see
Deuteronomy 17:18, 19. Rightly has it been said, "Until sin be hated, it
cannot be mortified; you will never cry against it, as the Jews did against
Christ, Crucify it, Crucify it, until sin be really abhorred as He was"
(Edward Reyner, 1635).
5. An individual is spiritually profited when the Word causes a forsaking of
sin. "Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2
Tim. 2: 19). The more the Word is read with the definite object of
discovering what is pleasing and what is displeasing to the Lord, the more
will His will become known; and if our hearts are right with Him the more
will our ways be conformed thereto. There will be a "walking in the truth"
(3 John 4). At the close of 2 Corinthians 6 some precious promises are given
to those who separate themselves from unbelievers. Observe, there, the
application which the Holy Spirit makes of them. He does not say, "Having
therefore these promises, be comforted and become complacent thereby," but
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves
from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (2 Cor. 7:1).
"Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John
15:3). Here is another important rule by which we should frequently test
ourselves: Is the reading and studying of Godís Word producing a purging of
my ways? Of old the question was asked, "Wherewithal shall a young man
cleanse his way?" and the Divine answer is "by taking heed thereto according
to your word." Yes, not simply by reading, believing, or memorizing it, but
by the personal application of the Word to our "way." It is by taking heed
to such exhortations as "Flee fornication" (1 Cor. 6:18), "Flee from
idolatry" (1 Cor. 10:14). "Flee these things"óa covetous love for money (1
Tim. 6:11), "Flee also youthful lusts" (2 Tim. 2:22), that the Christian is
brought into practical separation from evil; for sin has not only to be
confessed but "forsaken" (Prov. 28: 13).
6. An individual is spiritually profited when the Word fortifies against
sin. The Holy Scriptures are given to us not only for the purpose of
revealing our innate sinfulness, and the many, many ways in which we "come
short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23), but also to teach us how to obtain
deliverance from sin, how to be kept from displeasing God. "Your word have I
hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against you" (Ps. 119:11). This is
what each of us is required to do: "Receive, I pray you, the law from his
mouth, and lay up his words in your heart" (Job 22:22). It is particularly
the commandments, the warnings, the exhortations, we need to make our own
and to treasure; to memorize them, meditate upon them, pray over them, and
put them into practice. The only effective way of keeping a plot of ground
from being overgrown by weeds is to sow good seed therein: "Overcome evil
with good" (Rom 12:21). So the more Christís Word dwells in us "richly"
(Col. 3: 16), the less room will there be for the exercise of sin in our
hearts and lives.
It is not sufficient merely to assent to the veracity of the Scriptures,
they require to be received into the affections. It is unspeakably solemn to
note that the Holy Spirit specifies as the ground of apostasy, "because the
love of the truth they received not" (2 Thess. 2:10, Greek). "If it lie only
in the tongue or in the mind, only to make it a matter of talk and
speculation, it will soon be gone. The seed which lies on the surface, the
fowls in the air will pick up. Therefore hide it deeply; let it get from the
ear into the mind, from the mind into the heart; let it soak in further and
further. It is only when it has a prevailing sovereignty in the heart that
we receive it in the love of itówhen it is dearer than our dearest lust,
then it will stick to us" (Thomas Manton).
Nothing else will preserve from the infections of this world, deliver from
the temptations of Satan, and be so effective a preservative against sin, as
the Word of God received into the affections, "The law of his God is in his
heart; none of his steps shall slide" (Ps. 37:31). As long as the truth is
active within us, stirring the conscience, and is really loved by us, we
shall be kept from falling. When Joseph was tempted by Potipharís wife, he
said, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Gen.
39:9). The Word was in his heart, and therefore had prevailing power over
his lusts. The ineffable holiness, the mighty power of God, who is able both
to save and to destroy. None of us knows when he may be tempted: therefore
it is necessary to be prepared against it. "Who among you will give ear . .
. and hear for the time to come?" Isa. 42:23). Yes, we are to anticipate the
future and be fortified against it, by storing up the Word in our hearts for
7. An individual is spiritually profited when the Word causes him to
practice the opposite of sin. "Sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John
3:4). God says "You shall," sin says "I will not"; God says "You shall not,"
sin says "I will." Thus, sin is rebellion against God, the determination to
have my own way (Isa. 53:6). Therefore sin is a species of anarchy in the
spiritual realm, and may be likened unto the waving of the red flag in the
face of God. Now the opposite of sinning against God is submission to Him,
as the opposite of lawlessness is subjection to the law. Thus, to practice
the opposition of sin is to walk in the path of obedience. This is another
chief reason why the Scriptures were given: to make known the path which is
pleasing to God for us. They are profitable not only for reproof and
correction, but also for "instruction in righteousness."
Here, then, is another important rule by which we should frequently test
ourselves. Are my thoughts being formed, my heart controlled, and my ways
and works regulated by Godís Word? This is what the Lord requires: "Be you
doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (Jas.
1:22). This is how gratitude to and affection for Christ are to be
expressed: "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). For this,
Divine assistance is needed. David prayed, "Make me to go in the path of
your commandments" (Ps. 119:35). "We need not only light to know our way,
but a heart to walk in it. Direction is necessary because of the blindness
of our minds; and the effectual impulsions of grace are necessary because of
the weakness of our hearts. It will not answer our duty to have a naked
notion of truths, unless we embrace and pursue them" (Manton). Note it is
"the path of your commandments": not a self-chosen course, but a definitely
marked one; not a public "road," but a private "path."
Let both writer and reader honestly and diligently measure himself, as in
the presence of God, by the seven things here enumerated. Has your study of
the Bible made you more humble, or more proudóproud of the knowledge you
have acquired? Has it raised you in the esteem of your fellow men, or has it
led you to take a lower place before God? Has it produced in you a deeper
abhorrence and loathing of self, or has it made you more complacent? Has it
caused those you mingle with, or perhaps teach, to say, I wish I had your
knowledge of the Bible; or does it cause you to pray, Lord give me the
faith, the grace, the holiness You have granted my friend, or teacher?
ĎMeditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them; that your
profiting may appear unto allí (1 Tim. 6:15).