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It is a remarkable truth that Christians confess that every word of Scripture was written by men, yet its primary author is God Himself. When we confess the Bible to be “the Word of God,” we are admitting that it is God’s discourse to His people—God’s addressing Himself to His people after the manner of men. As a whole, Scripture constitutes God’s unified discourse to us. Geerhardus Vos notes, “The various parts of this inspired Scripture have been so ordered and arranged that the whole, however manifold and diverse it may be, forms one discourse of God to us.” Because of this unity, Scripture is to be read like any other book, according to the ordinary rules and structures of language. However, the attitude and posture from which to read and receive this book are unique, for Scripture is God’s address to us. Westminster Larger Catechism 157 considers how the Scriptures are to be read, offering us an invaluable guide for how to appropriately approach and read the Word of God:

Q. 157. How is the Word of God to be read?

A. The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.

This posture should apply whether we are reading Scripture in private worship or hearing it read in public worship, for although the reading of Scripture in public worship is to be done only by those who have been properly and duly called and appointed, all people present in public worship are taking part by hearing and receiving the Word of God. Our approach to the God-breathed words is the same regardless of where we are, as James Bannerman states: “The reading of the Word is an ordinance meant for the closet as well as for the sanctuary.”

As the Larger Catechism states, both in private and public worship we are to read the Word of God with reverence, convinced that we are reading the very words of God Almighty. The Bible is unique because of its author, its content, and its end. God is the author, God is the content, and God’s glory and our salvation are the end. No other book can make that claim. This is why we customarily call this book the Holy Bible. Its holiness requires a reverent approach, as B.B. Warfield suggests: “We know how, as Christian men, we approach this Holy Book—how unquestionably we receive its statements of fact, bow before its enunciations of duty, tremble before its threatenings, and rest upon its promises.” Humility is also required, for only the Holy Spirit can illumine the Word for us to believe and understand. We must continually seek this illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit to understand the Scriptures. Historically, preachers have prized the prayer of illumination in the liturgy of the church, for the effect of the exposition of the Word of God depends on the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.

The effect of the exposition of the Word of God depends on the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of Scripture is no less than our salvation. Louis Berkhof notes that Scripture “serves the purpose of securing the end for which man was created in spite of the disturbance wrought by sin.” Therefore, we ought to approach the Bible with a desire to “know, believe, and obey the will of God.” Our primary desire shouldn’t be to study the Bible as literature or history or to collect knowledge but to know and obey God. We study the Bible first and foremost as God’s address to sinners concerning salvation.

Further, the Larger Catechism notes that the Word is to be read with great diligence. Luke commends the noble Bereans for their diligence in searching out the Scriptures. That attending the Word with great diligence is required is apparent by its medium. Surely if it has pleased God to disclose Himself to His people through the medium of the written word, He expects His people to read it—to search Him out with great fervor and attentiveness. When a deployed soldier receives a letter from his beloved wife, does he not read it over again, meditating on its meaning, savoring every word, searching its contents, paying attention to its matter and scope? Every Christian should strive to confess with Job, “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food” (Job 23:12).

In addition, the Word of God is to be read with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer. Certain cultural and lifestyle factors interfere with our best efforts in approaching God’s Word meditatively. Bibles are nearly ubiquitous. Our pockets beep or vibrate, immediately bringing to mind something other than the words of life that just had our attention. Modern life makes meditation complex. But certainly Joshua also encountered distractions, yet the Lord commanded him, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh. 1:8). Similarly, the busy new mother “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

As we read meditatively, we will see that God’s message to us is not merely theoretical but personal and practical. It applies to all of life. Sometimes its message might interfere with our own preferences and desires. But we are to accept not only the parts of Scripture that accord with our own preferences but even those that disrupt and bring discomfort. This requires self-denial, a surrender of our own desires and standards to God’s Word. Admittedly, this can be painful. But as A.A. Hodge reminds us, “When God speaks, and we understand his meaning, there is nothing left for us but to bow and adore.”

Last, we read with prayer. We must earnestly and continually beseech God to impress the truths we read and hear deep into our hearts.

Our holy God has written to us. Tolle lege—take up and read accordingly.

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From the April 2021 Issue
Apr 2021 Issue