I want to expound today on not simply the act of reading God's Word, but how to do it with greater benefit. On this topic of profiting from the Word, I ran across a sermon by Thomas Watson. Spurgeon described Watson as one of the most readable of the puritans. This sermon is no exception, as Watson speaks with insight and clarity on how to read God's Word effectively. Watson gives 23 instructions for how to read God's Word more profitably. I was absolutely struck with how poignant many of Watson's points are during the message. I will focus on two of my favorites here.
DIRECTION I. If you would profit by reading, remove those things which will hinder your profiting. . . .
Take heed of the thorns which will choke the word read.—These thorns our Saviour expounds to be “the cares of this world.” (Matt. 13:22.) By “cares” is meant covetousness.‡ A covetous man is a pluralist; he hath such diversity of secular employments, that he can scarce find time to read; or if he doth, what solecisms doth he commit in reading! While his eye is upon the Bible, his heart is upon the world; it is not the writings of the apostles he is so much taken with, as the writings in his account-book. Is this man likely to profit? You may as soon extract oils and syrups out of a flint, as he any real benefit out of scripture.1
DIRECT. V. Get a right understanding of scripture.—“Give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.” (Psalm 119:73.) Though there are some δυσνοητα, knots in scripture, which are not easily untied; yet things essential to salvation the Holy Ghost hath plainly pointed out to us. The knowledge of the sense of scripture is the first step to profiting. In the law Aaron was first to light the lamps, and then to burn the incense: the lamp of the understanding must be first lighted, before the affections can be inflamed. Get what knowledge you can by comparing scriptures, by conferring with others, by using the best annotators. Without knowledge, the scripture is a sealed book; every line is too high for us; and if the word shoot above our head, it can never hit our heart.2
Imagine if I were to interrupt a heart surgery and tell the surgeon my opinion of the operation and what needed to be done. Will the doctor stop and say "You know, this man's interpretation of the situation is true as well, let's take it into account as we continue." That would be absurd. We so often take this approach in our Bible Studies, however! It ought not to be the case. We should take great pains and care to make sure that we are understanding the word correctly. Fortunately, in our day we have more tools and helps at our disposal than any previous generation. With a good Study Bible, Systematic Theology, basic instruction in Hermeneutics, and perhaps a commentary, every Christian in our society and age can easily become thoroughly equipped. Make sure that you do so that your reading may be profitable to you.
1 James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 59.
2 Ibid, 60-61.