1. On Reading the Scriptures
My dear young friends,
It is not sufficient for you to read about the Scriptures, you must read the Scriptures for yourself. A Christian ignorant of his Bible is practically defenseless against the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. He is a spiritual dwarf, for he cannot grow without the sincere milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2). He is overcome by the wicked one, for he is unable to wield the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). He stumbles into snares and pitfalls and wanders into byways, for he is without that lamp for the feet and that light for the way which the word of God supplies to all who consult it (Psalm 119:105).
You will find it of immense help to you to form the regular habit of reading the word of God every day. We see that the Bereans were specially commended in that they searched the Scriptures “daily” (Acts 17:11). You will have to overcome many difficulties in order strictly to observe this rule. But nothing that is really worth doing at all is done properly without taking pains and exercising self-denial. And most probably, if you do not mean to lose your daily portion, you will have to rise earlier, or to deny yourself some form of recreation. But whatever you may give up in this way, you will certainly be no loser.
You will observe that the Bereans searched the Scriptures. This implies an eager, earnest endeavor to understand what is read. It is the willing heart that is taught of God. The listless reader will gain neither pleasure nor profit.
Do not forget that Christ is the key of the Scriptures. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah was an enigma to the Ethiopian eunuch, for he knew not Christ. But directly Philip “preached to him Jesus,” his soul was filled with divine light. It is the Lord’s own word concerning the Scriptures that “they testify of me” (John 5:39). The Jews believed not Christ, and therefore understood neither the law, the prophets, nor the psalms.
Read your Bibles with implicit faith. Receive every word as from God Himself. Do not create difficulties by setting one passage against another; but believe both to be true. For it is “through faith we understand” (Hebrews 11:3). In the writings of men, it is well to seek to understand before believing. But the Bible comes to us with the authority of God, and the first thing required of us is to accept it with all the unquestioning faith of little children.
But do lay to heart the necessity of being regular in reading your Bibles. It will assist you to have a definite plan to follow as far as possible. Some find one method suitable, some another.
We should be glad if some of our readers would write and tell us what plan they find best, how much they read daily, and what portions of the Word they read. If their plans were made known through the medium of these papers, they might be of service to others.
We trust that this invitation will be responded to because we believe that a good many may be thereby helped in what constitutes a very practical difficulty to them. We refer to the difficulty some find in reading regularly at a particular time.
Some have to leave their homes at a very early hour. Some have little or no spare time throughout the day. Others return to their homes late at night and excessively wearied in body. Some again seem to be unable to find a quiet time to read the Bible in private. These circumstances are magnified at the suggestion of the Evil One into insuperable obstacles, and are made into excuses for serious neglect of the Scriptures.
We hope therefore some of our correspondents may be able to give useful hints that may assist others in overcoming these small hindrances and in forming the habit of reading the Word of God daily.
But whatever plan is adopted, helpful as it may prove, the main point will be missed unless the Scriptures are read in the proper frame of mind and attitude of soul. Handle the Sacred Volume with reverence. Turn its pages with pious fear. Receive its words with lowliness and readiness of mind. Treasure its teachings in the heart. Come to it with eagerness and leave it with regret. Carefully ponder over every verse. Meditate long, but pray without ceasing.
Remember above all things that the word of God is designed to form the affections of the heart as well as to develop spiritual intelligence. It is not sufficient for you to know the various ways in which the love of God has been manifested, that knowledge must move the very inmost depths of your being. It must quicken the energies of your soul into ardent love to God as well as to those that are His, indeed to all men. It is well to have clear views of scriptural truth. This should be our hearty desire. But oh! how necessary to sit in quiet meditation at the Master’s feet and allow His blessed words to distil into the soul and animate and inflame the affections towards Himself. Beware therefore lest the head grows at the expense of the heart.
This may be prevented by being careful to put into practice whatever He shows us is His will. It is the heart desirous to do His will that is taught of Him (John 7:17). This again brings us back to the necessity of reading the Bible daily. For God shows us His word “here a little, and there a little,” as we require it. And, so to speak, God will set us our daily tasks if we only humbly, reverently approach His word and attentively listen to what He has to say.
2. Reverent and Habitual Prayer
A little while ago I wrote to you on the necessity of systematically reading the word of God: I now desire to make a few practical remarks on the subject of prayer. And, in the first place, I feel impelled to say that it is extremely necessary for you to remember that in prayer you address God. The Psalmist said, “Unto Thee will I pray. My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer to Thee, and will look up” (Psalm 5:2–3). Prayer is the exercise of heart Godward in earnest petitions for needed blessing.
Though persuaded you know this elementary truth as well as I do, yet I believe I am not mistaken in supposing you are in great danger of forgetting the high and holy character of the One to Whom you pray. I am not now overlooking the fact that God is our Father, and that our relationship to Him is very near and dear. But, at the same time, He is God as well as Father; and therefore a spirit of reverence becomes us, and is indeed inseparable from every true prayer. We ought not to forget that the privileges of grace never remove or obliterate the responsibilities of the creature.
On this account seek to feel in Whose sacred presence you are. Bow down your heart before Him. Have it impressed on your very soul that He is omniscient as well as omnipotent—that He reads your inmost thoughts more easily than we can a book.
You will admit, I am sure, the tendency of your heart, even on the solemn occasion of addressing the Lord, whether silently or audibly, to wander to other and improper themes. In the language of Scripture, your lips draw near, but your heart is far off. This arises from a lack of apprehension, or from the fault of forgetting the real nature of this sacred occupation and the inexpressibly holy presence into which you come.
You find, I dare say, that you fall into this snare more commonly during your habitual prayers, in the mornings and evenings, for example. You suddenly become aware that you are quite mechanically presenting the ordinary round of petitions, and at the same time your thoughts are travelling in all directions. This fault, if unchecked, will cause your prayers to become “vain repetitions,” hateful to God, and injurious instead of beneficial to yourself.
The only safeguard against this error is to take care before ever you commence to pray to have it well on your mind that you are about to address GOD, with Whom you dare not trifle. The soul of the believer will then instinctively assume the proper attitude of “reverence and godly fear.”
But I referred just now to the practice of habitual prayer. This is an important point and demands a word or two. I hope it is true of every one of you, for prayer is, undoubtedly, the secret source of spiritual power. And just as the natural body requires regular supplies of air and food, so does the soul ever need regular supplies of heavenly grace to meet the constant vicissitudes of daily life. You should therefore make it a very rigid rule to spend an allotted time in earnest prayer at least twice a day.
You must arrange these seasons according to your own particular circumstances; but morning and evening are certainly the best times. In saying “twice a day,” however, I only mention the minimum allowance. You will doubtless recollect there is scripture for praying always as well as everywhere. So whatever opportunities you may have in this respect, you are at liberty to take the fullest advantage of them.
Some are afraid of making a “rule,” but I think they have more reason to be afraid of breaking it when it is made. I hope none of you would seek to excuse yourselves for passing a whole day without prayer by the plea of not wishing to be in bondage to a rule. For myself, I must risk the charge of being somewhat commonplace by saying that I think good habits are very good things to possess, and bad habits are very bad things to get hold of and worse things to get rid of; while the best way to avoid bad habits altogether is to acquire good ones. Be persuaded, therefore, to put yourself, if necessary, to a great deal of pains to become an orderly Christian. And remember there can be no spiritual order in the soul unless it be in the right frame Godward. Open your Bible and let God speak to you; fall on your knees and breathe out your requests to God.
The Christian is like a diver at the bottom of the sea, whose very life depends upon the maintenance of a connection with the surface. There is nothing around him to sustain life, but the reverse. A slender tube supplies him with air to breathe, and in his hand he holds the means of summoning help from above in the moment of danger. But this connection must be maintained constantly. Even so must the believer be in continuous, not spasmodic, communication with the power on high. This must be done by regular habits of prayer.
If you start the day with prayer you are not so likely to forget to pray before you give a passionate reply to the person who insults you to your face. “Pray without ceasing.”
Hoping, if the Lord permit, to return to this subject.
- From Letters to Young Believers