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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

On Reading the Scriptures

Jabez Burns

From The Pulpit Cyclopedia, 1851

"How readest thou?"—Luke 10:26

Happy is that people who possess in their own tongue the oracles of eternal truth. This has been our eminent privilege for ages past, but to avail ourselves of the advantages this privilege holds out, we must possess the ability of reading.

In past times, education, even of an inferior order, was limited to the few. Now, through the diffusion of knowledge and progress of truth, the first elements of instruction are open to the many, but we may have the book, and the ability to read it, and yet the manner may be so defective and ill-adapted, that little benefit may be derived.  Let us then contemplate the proper method of reading the Holy Scriptures, and enforce that method by several considerations.


We should read the Scriptures:

1. With profound veneration for their divine Author. This is the book of God; the only book he has written, full of his own mind and will, sent in infinite condescension to our ignorance, weakness, and misery.

A book that pleasures in the divine character, and works, and glory. How, then, ought it to be treated? Lightly, flippantly, merely as a human composition? Surely not! The Jews in this may be held up as truly worthy of our imitation. We say nothing as to slowness of manner, or posture of body, but at all events, there should be true reverence and veneration of mind.

2. With a deep consciousness of our own unworthiness. A self-righteous person cannot be instructed, delighted, or benefited by the perusal of God's word. The whole volume treats of human depravity and worthlessness. It is designed to empty the mind of self, in all its variety of modifications. In this spirit only shall we value its humiliating truths, and gratefully receive its tidings of mercy and grace. We should read the Scriptures.

3. With exemplary diligence and constancy. Much truth lies on the surface of the sacred page, but infinitely more in the deep mine of its profound resources. It cannot be accurately understood without mental labor—without study and reflection—without holy meditation. In this work especially, the diligent only can be enriched. With this diligence there should be united untiring constancy. The psalmist meditated therein, day and night. This must be our closet book, the family daily portion. It is profitable to have periods and seasons for the exercise of this delightful duty.

4. With an earnest desire to learn by what we read. Many read the word merely to be amused; others as a matter of course or of mere duty; some, again, read to establish more deeply their own theological opinions, or consult the Bible as a work of reference. The Christian reader should peruse its pages to know and learn what God has spoken—what the Spirit has revealed—what are the truths therein taught. Thus we cannot fail to grow and improve by our reading. Thus God's word is honored, and our own profit inevitably secured.

5. With a holy purpose to exemplify our reading in our life and conversation. Narratives of Scripture will furnish both models for imitation, and beacons for warning. The doctrines of revelation will be believed—the precepts obeyed—the promises embraced—the privileges realized. Thus the word of God would be incorporated with our souls, as food is with our bodies, living, speaking, and acting in us, and by us. By this mode of reading the mind will be enlightened, the heart changed, and the life regulated.

6.  With fervent prayer for the Spirit to sanctify the Word to our profit. The Spirit must be sought to inspire with love to the Word—to give us clearness and quickness of moral perception—to enable us to treasure it up in our hearts—to fill us with the spirit of humble faith in its blessed truths.


1. By the evils arising from a careless reading of the Scriptures. These are numerous; God is dishonored—the mind is uninstructed, or more probably initiated in error. Thus one of God's especial blessings is abused and perverted, and our guilt greatly enhanced and aggravated.

2. By the blessings we shall derive from such a perusal. Increasing knowledge and understanding; a clear and harmonious apprehension of the divine mind; a certain and confidential acquaintance with the truth as it is in Jesus; an abiding sense of the divine approbation; a holy growth in the work of heart sanctification- John 17:17; an avoidance of the snares and fascinations of the present evil world; a holy meekness for the inheritance of eternal life.

Thus only can we render a satisfactory account for the possession of the Scriptures at the last day. Of this book we are stewards, and as such, everyone must give an account to God.