The Bible and the Closet was a book written by Thomas Watson and includes “Secret Prayer Successfully Managed” by Rev. Samuel Lee. These were two ministers removed from the Church of England in 1662 because of the Act of Uniformity.
Table of Contents:
- Letter of Recommendation
- How we may Read the Scriptures with the most Spiritual Profit (Thomas Watson)
- Secret Prayer Successfully Managed (Rev. Samuel Lee)
- Brief & Spontaneous Prayer
It is a great shame that the people of the United States, who owe their origin, social habits, religious privileges, and national character to the Puritans and Non-conformists of England, show so little interest and curiosity in the names, persons, manners, sufferings, and writings of their ancestors. Those who are members of churches that adhere to the doctrines of the Non-conformists do not have the strong sense of gratitude and obligation to the struggles of the Puritans that they should, considering the invaluable blessings they have been given as a result of the cruel punishments, far exilements, and bloody deaths of the Puritans. The younger generations are almost completely unaware of the church history of the 16th and 17th centuries, and when they do hear of the Puritans, it is often from an unbelieving novelist or historian who portrays them as uncouth, sour, ignorant fanatics, or from the biased accounts of half-popish ecclesiastics who seem to view leaving the Roman Catholic Church as a great misfortune.
The ordinations of ministers in Congregational, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches often occur without any acknowledgement of the values and beliefs that our ancestors fought for and which are now being questioned and mocked by those who consider John Hampden a traitor, Archbishop Laud a saint, and Charles I a blessed martyr.
The result is that our young people think these things are unimportant; and when they hear them attacked by popular and fashionable preachers, and no one speaks up to defend them, they naturally worry that our cause is weak. It has become commonplace for certain sections of the press and pulpit to deny Non-conformists piety, sound theology and literature. It is essential that our churches become aware of the incredible works of these men, and they will be a clear demonstration of their value.
It is likely that no other age or country has seen a group of clergymen as virtuous, talented, and adept at teaching as those who were ejected from the Church of England by Charles’ Act of Uniformity in 1662. The world was witness to the power of religious conviction when more than two thousand ministers, described by John Locke as “worthy, learned, pious, and orthodox divines,” chose to give up everything rather than compromise their consciences and abandon the cause of civil and religious freedom.
Harvey, a celebrated figure, had this to say: “I have a great deal of respect for the Puritans. They were some of the most devoted Christians to ever come to our land, and they worked hard to ensure faith was based on the righteousness of Christ and that obedience was rooted in a love of God. They were skilled at searching the conscience and convincing the judgment, and they had a knack for waking up the lethargic and comforting the afflicted with a deep understanding of the divine word. These are truly admirable qualities, and if we look closely, we can see them in the writings of the Puritans.”
Whitefield attests to this: “The Puritans of the previous century were beacons of light, writing and preaching with authority even after they were expelled from the church. Their writings still have a special power to this day. Over the past thirty years, I have noticed that as genuine and vibrant religion has been revived both domestically and internationally, there has been an increased demand for the classic Puritan writings.”
Brown of Haddington, in his general history, has noted that “the Christian system was never perhaps better understood than by the British divines under Cromwell.” Robert Hall also commented that “the Puritans are unquestionably the safest of all uninspired guides.” He went on to say that “the masculine sense, the profound learning, the rich and unequalled unction of the fathers of the modern church, exert a powerful influence on the mind, and greatly contribute to form and mature the characters of men.”
Mr. Erskine makes a very astute observation: “This group of people is universally respected for their character and contributions. Through their hard work and sacrifices, they retrieved knowledge from the unworthy hands that had kept it locked away and misused it, and graciously left it as a valuable legacy for future generations. They speak with the solemnity of martyrs; a deep and serious attitude is the common trait among them all. They appear to have experienced a great deal; religion was not just a concept in their minds, but rather a source of sustenance and solace. As a result, their ideas are never presented as mere abstractions.
These esteemed figures not only provide us with ideas, but ideas that are heavily influenced by their strong emotions. This makes their writings particularly engaging. We are not just reading books, but engaging with real people. These were the great minds of England; they truly formed an impressive group.
It is proposed to publish, in a consistent style and in quick succession, a selection of the writings of the Puritans and Non-conformists who were removed from the Church of England in 1662. Let it be seen if they were not of the same spirit as those martyrs mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, of whom the Spirit of God testifies that they were men “not worthy of the world”. Each volume will be self-contained and it is intended to make the publication beneficial to the private Christian as a guide for their devotions, as well as useful to the clergy by introducing them to works which are very hard to find in England. Where possible, biographical information about the authors will be included with each reprint; to let the memory of such men fade away would be a disservice to future generations. The reader is strongly encouraged to look up the texts that are quoted; it will be a delightful task and, with God’s blessing, they will become “mighty in the Scriptures”.
— John Overton Choules, 1842
Letter of Recommendation
By Rev. E. N. Kirk
University Place, New York.
“My Dear Brother Choules,
I am delighted by your proposal to republish the “Morning Lectures” in smaller parts and at a more affordable price. This type of publication could fill a major gap in the religious literature of today. Our predecessors were good at thinking deeply about the Bible, but not so good at taking action. Our problem now is to find a balance between deep biblical thought and effective action.
It is true that we cannot think for others, but it is also true that others can provide us with the best material for thought, allowing us to pick up where they left off. There are many valuable sources of biblical knowledge and spiritual insight in the writings of the 16th and 17th centuries, and it is beneficial to the church of the 19th century to revisit these works. Our new believers need this, and our clergy may find examples that can be used to their advantage. The American pulpit is one of the most effective in the world when it comes to conversion. However, we are lacking in the areas where the Mantons, Howes, Owens, and Godwins excelled: in “building up the body of Christ”. May the Lord bless and approve of your efforts.”
— Edward N. Kirk
Biographical Sketch: Thomas Watson
Not much is known about Mr. Watson’s early life, but it is said that he was a hardworking student. Richard Baxter, in his own history edited by Sylvester, said that Mr. Watson was so well known for his intelligence and piety that he didn’t need to be described. There’s an interesting anecdote about his preaching. Once, at a public lecture in London, Bishop Richardson came to hear him and was very pleased with the sermon and the prayer after it. He went to Mr. Watson’s house to thank him and asked for a copy of the prayer. Mr. Watson replied that he couldn’t give him a copy because he didn’t write down his prayers, they were just spoken from the abundance of his heart and emotions. The Bishop was surprised that anyone could pray extemporaneously like that. After his ejectment, Mr. Watson continued to preach in London whenever God opened the door.
It is noteworthy that he was one of the people arrested by the Rump Parliament on the charge of treason for supporting the royal cause in Scotland. Mr. Christopher Love was executed on Tower Hill. Mr. Jenkin, the renowned commentator on Jude, passed away in prison. Charles did not treat Mr. Watson as he deserved.
This fact alone is proof that the overthrow of the monarchy was not the work of Puritan ministers alone – many of whom were loyal to the royal family and deeply mourned the death of Charles. In fact, sixty-nine leading ministers even wrote a remonstrance to Cromwell in an attempt to prevent the tragedy (see Bennett’s Memorial, p. 227). In the excellent collection of “Farewell Sermons,” there are three by Mr. Watson which demonstrate the spirit of the gospel in advocating love for enemies. In one of the sermons, he emphasizes the “ardent affections of a right gospel minister towards his people.”
Mr. Watson is currently most well-known for his large collection of 176 sermons on the Assembly’s Catechism, which were recommended by Dr. Bales, Mr. Howe, and others. His popularity as a preacher kept him constantly busy. Eventually, his health deteriorated and he moved to Essex, where he was found dead in his prayer closet.
How We May Read the Scriptures with the most Spiritual Profit (Thomas Watson)
“And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this Law and to do these Statutes.” — Deut. 17.19.
What Cicero said of Aristotle’s politics can be aptly applied to the book of Deuteronomy: it is full of powerful and persuasive language. In this chapter, God instructs the Jews on how to choose a king and outlines two important criteria: the selection process and the king’s religious beliefs.
- His election (Deut 17:15). “You shall appoint as your king whoever the Lord your God chooses.” It makes sense that God should have the right to choose their king, since “kings are established through him.” Prov. 8.15.
- His religion (Deut 17:18). “When he takes his seat on the throne of his kingdom, he must write a copy of this law in a book, taken from what is in the possession of the priest.” This was a great way to start a king’s reign; the first thing he did after he was crowned was to transcribe the word of God into a book.
And in the text, “It shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, so that he can learn to respect and obey the Lord his God, to follow all the words of this Law and to carry out these Statutes.” “It shall be with him.” The Book of the Law shall be his constant companion. Charles the Great used to place his crown on top of the Bible. Indeed, the Bible is the best foundation for a government. It is not beneath a prince to read the words of Heaven; they contain sacred wisdom, Proverbs 8:6: “I will speak of excellent things.” In the Septuagint it is “grave things,” in the Hebrew, “princely things,” which are suitable for a God to say and a king to read. Not only should the king read the Book of the Law when he is first crowned, but he “shall read it all the days of his life.” He must not stop reading until he stops ruling.
He must be familiar with the law of God for several reasons. Firstly, reading the word is the best way to instill a fear of the Lord. Secondly, it is important to understand the law in order to keep all of its words and do them. Lastly, it will help him to have a long and prosperous reign in his kingdom.
I will now focus on these words: “He shall read it all the days of his life,” referring to the Book of the Law.
The Holy Scripture is, as Austin said, a golden letter sent to us from God. We should read it carefully; not knowing the Scriptures is the source of error, not of devotion. Matthew 22:29 says, “You are mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures.” We are commanded to “study the Scriptures” (John 5:39). The Greek word for this means to search as if for a vein of silver. Just as a child reads their father’s will and testament and a citizen reads their charter, we should read God’s word, which is our ticket to Heaven. It is a blessing that the Bible is not forbidden. Trajan, the emperor, forbade the Jews to read the Book of the Law.
Let us consult this sacred source of knowledge. Apollos was “well-versed in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). Melancthon, when he was young, was nourished by the pure milk of the word. Alphonsus, King of Arragon, read the Bible fourteen times. According to Jerome, the Roman Lady Cecilia had, through much reading of the word, made her heart a library of Christ. If the Scriptures were only available in their original languages, many would have an excuse for not reading them; however, now that the sword of the Spirit has been unsheathed and the word has been made accessible to us through translation, what should stop us from diligently exploring these holy mysteries?
Adam was warned that he would be put to death if he ate from the tree of knowledge. Genesis 2:17 says, “On the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” But there is no risk in engaging with the tree of Scripture; if we don’t learn from it, we will surely die. What will become of those who are unfamiliar with the Scriptures? Hosea 8:12 says, “I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were regarded as something strange.” Many people ignore the Scriptures like outdated armor (Jeremiah 8:9). They are more familiar with romance novels than with Paul; they spend hours on their hair and makeup, but their eyes start to hurt when they look at a Bible.
Even the Turks, who revere the Books of Moses, will judge these Christians harshly. If they find even a single page of the Pentateuch, they will pick it up and kiss it. To reject or criticize the Scriptures is to reject and criticize God himself, whose stamp it bears. It’s like insulting the king by disregarding his edict. Proverbs 13:13 says, “Whoever despises the word will be destroyed.” Reading the word of God is not enough; we must also strive to gain spiritual benefit from it, so that our souls can be nourished by faith. 1 Timothy 4:6.
Why else was the Scripture written if not to benefit us? God didn’t give us His Word just to look at, but rather as a father gives his son money to make use of. It’s a shame not to take advantage of the Word, like a body in a state of decline that doesn’t get better. People would hate to trade and not make a profit.
So, the big question I’m going to address is this: How can we read the Scriptures for the greatest spiritual benefit? In answering this question, I’ll provide several rules or guidelines for reading Scripture
- If you want to benefit from reading, get rid of anything that could prevent you from doing so. To ensure your wellbeing, you must remove any obstacles. If you want to gain something from the Scriptures, there are three things that you must get rid of.
- Remove your love of all sin. Even if a doctor prescribes the best medicine, it won’t be effective if the patient is taking poison. The Bible provides excellent advice, but living in sin is like taking poison – it will prevent the soul from thriving. Just like a fever prevents the body from thriving, indulging in sin creates a feverish heat that will destroy the soul. Plato called the love of sin a “great devil”. Just like a rose is destroyed by the disease that grows within it, so too are people’s souls destroyed by the sins they commit.
- Pay attention to those thorns that will choke the words you read. Our Savior explains these thorns to be the worries of this world. Matthew 13:22. By “worries” we mean greed. A greedy person has so many worldly tasks that they can hardly find time to read, and if they do, what mistakes do they make? While their eyes are on the Bible, their heart is on the world; they are not so much focused on the writings of the Apostles as they are on the writing in their account books. Is this person likely to benefit? It’s as hard to get oil and syrup out of a flint as it is for them to get any real benefit out of Scripture.
- Beware of making light of Scripture; this is playing with fire. Some people can’t be happy unless they take liberties with God; when they are feeling down, they use Scripture as a way to try and cheer themselves up, like a drunkard who, after drinking all his alcohol, calls out to his friends, “Give us something else, our drinks are all gone.” Be careful of this. King Edward IV would not tolerate anyone joking about his crown, and would punish anyone who said they would make their son the heir to the Crown, meaning the sign of the Crown on their tavern. God will not allow us to joke about His word either. Eusebius tells a story about someone who used Scripture as a joke, and God struck them with fear. The Lord may justly give over such people to a depraved mind. Rom. 1.23.
- If you want to benefit from reading the word, you must prepare your hearts. The heart is like an instrument that needs to be tuned. 1 Samuel 7.3 says, “Dedicate your hearts to the Lord.” Plutarch observed that the heathens believed it was inappropriate to be too quick or careless when serving their gods. Preparation for reading involves two things:
- Let’s gather our thoughts and focus on the important task ahead. Our thoughts may be wandering, so let’s bring them back together.
- Before we can benefit from reading the Word of God, we must rid ourselves of any impure desires that may prevent us from doing so. Too often, people approach reading the Bible without any preparation and, as a result, they don’t gain anything from it. Let’s make sure we are ready to receive the life-giving water of the Word.
- Read the Scriptures with respect; contemplate each line you read; God is speaking to you. The ark in which the law was placed was covered with pure gold, and was carried on poles so that the Levites would not touch it (Exodus 25). Why was this done if not to instill a sense of reverence for the law? When Ehud told Eglon he had a message from God, Eglon rose from his throne (Judges 3:20). The written word is a message from Jehovah; we should receive it with that same reverence.
- Read the books of Scripture in sequence. Although life may sometimes get in the way, it is generally best to read them in order. Doing so can help us to remember what we have read. We wouldn’t start reading a letter from a friend in the middle, so why would we do that with the Bible?
- Gain a proper understanding of Scripture. Psalm 119:73 says, “Give me understanding, so that I may learn your commands.” Though there are some difficult passages in Scripture, the Holy Spirit has clearly shown us what is essential for salvation. Knowing the meaning of the Scriptures is the first step to gaining benefit. In the Law, Aaron was instructed to light the lamps before burning the incense; understanding must come first before our emotions can be stirred. Gather as much knowledge as you can by studying the scriptures, discussing them with others, and using the best commentaries. Without knowledge, the scriptures are incomprehensible; every line is too difficult for us; and if the word is beyond our understanding, it will never reach our hearts.
- Read the word with seriousness. Erasmus said that if one merely skims the Scripture, there is little to be gained from it; however, if one reads it seriously, it can be life-giving. We should take it seriously when we consider the significance of the truths contained in this holy book. Deuteronomy 32:47 states, “It is not a worthless thing for you; it is your life.” If someone were to open a letter that contained information about their entire estate, how seriously would they read it? The Scripture is about our salvation and speaks of the love of Christ, a solemn topic. Christ has loved humanity more than the angels that fell, as Hebrews 2:7 says. The magnet, not caring about gold or pearls, attracts iron to it; similarly, Christ passed by the angels, who were of a higher status, and drew humanity to himself. Christ loved us more than his own life; even though we were partly responsible for his death, he still didn’t exclude us from his will. This is a love that is beyond comprehension; who can read this without being moved?
The Bible speaks of the secret of faith, the everlasting rewards, and the small number of those who will be saved. Matthew 20:16 says, “Few will be chosen.” Someone said that all the great emperors of Rome could fit on a small ring, and there are only a few names in the Book of Life. The Bible talks about striving for heaven as if it’s a great struggle (Luke 13:24). It warns us not to miss out on the promised rest (Hebrews 4:1). It also describes the terrifying punishments of hell, the worm and the fire (Mark 9:44). Who can read this and not take it seriously? Some people have light-hearted spirits and they rush through the most important truths, like Israel who ate the Passover in a hurry, so they don’t benefit from the word. Read with a solemn and composed attitude. Seriousness is the Christian’s anchor, keeping them from being swept away by vanity.
- It is important to remember what you read. Satan will try to take the word away from us, not because he wants to use it himself, but to prevent us from using it. Our memory should be like the chest in the ark, where the ark was stored. Psalm 119:52 says, “I remembered your judgments of old.” Jerome tells us that a religious woman named Paula knew most of the Scriptures by heart. We are told to have “the word dwell in us” (Colossians 3:16). The word is a precious gem that adorns the inner person. So why wouldn’t we remember it? If the word doesn’t stay in our memory, it won’t be of any benefit. Some people can remember a piece of news better than a line of Scripture; their memories are like ponds where the frogs live, but the fish die.
- Meditate on what you read. Psalm 119:15 says, “I will contemplate your precepts.” The Hebrew word for meditate means to be deeply focused in the mind. When meditating, you must concentrate your thoughts on the subject. Luke 2:19 states, “Mary thought deeply about these things.” Meditation is the process of understanding Scripture; reading brings a truth into our minds, while meditation brings it into our hearts.
Reading and meditation must go hand in hand. Meditation without reading is misguided, and reading without meditation is fruitless. The bee collects nectar from the flower and brings it back to the hive to turn it into honey. Similarly, when we read, we take in the words and, through meditation, we process them in our minds and gain benefit from them. Meditation is like a fan that blows the flames of our emotions. As Psalm 39:3 says, “When I thought about it, my heart burned within me.” We don’t get much out of reading the word if we don’t take the time to reflect on it.
- Come to the reading of Scripture with humble hearts; recognize how undeserving you are that God would reveal himself in his word to you. God’s secrets are revealed to those who are humble. Pride is an obstacle to learning. It has been said that the ground on which the peacock sits is barren; the same can be said for a heart filled with pride. An arrogant person disdains the advice of the word and hates being corrected; how can they possibly benefit from it? James 4:6 states, “God gives grace to the humble.” Even the most esteemed saints have seen themselves as lowly; like the sun at its highest point, they showed the least of themselves. David had “more understanding than all his teachers” (Psalm 119:99), yet he was incredibly humble. As Psalm 22:6 says, “I am a worm and no man.”
10. Give weight to the written word; trust that it is from God; recognize the name of God in every line. The Romans, in order to gain credibility for their laws, claimed that they were inspired by the gods at Rome. Have faith that the Scriptures are divinely inspired. 2 Tim. 3.16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Who else but God could reveal the great doctrines of the Trinity, the atonement of Jesus Christ for sinners, and the resurrection? Where would the Scriptures come from, if not from God?
- Sinners could not be the authors of Scripture. Would they write such holy words, or criticize so harshly the sins they enjoy?
- Saints could not be the authors of Scripture; how could they justify claiming that God said something when it was actually their own creation?
- Angels could not be the authors of Scripture; who among them would have the audacity to claim to be God and say, “I am the Lord?”
Believe that the origin of Scripture is sacred, and that it comes from the Father of light. The age of Scripture speaks to its divinity. No existing human history goes back further than Noah’s flood; but the Scripture speaks of events before time. Additionally, the grandeur, depth, purity, and consistency of Scripture demonstrate that it could only have come from God himself.
Reading Scripture can have a powerful effect on people’s consciences. We can see this in the transformation of people like Augustine and Junius. It’s almost like a seal being pressed into marble, leaving an imprint. When the written word leaves an imprint of grace on the heart, it’s a sign of its divine authority. To benefit from the word, we must believe it comes from God.
Some people doubt the truth of Scripture. Even though they may have the doctrines of their faith written down, they don’t actually believe them. Disbelief weakens the power of the word and renders it ineffective. How can someone follow something they don’t believe in? Hebrews 4:2 says, “The word was of no effect to them, not being mixed with faith.”
11. Highly value the Scriptures. Psalm 119.72: “Your teachings are more valuable to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver.” Can someone truly master any art if they don’t appreciate it? Place this book of God above all other books. Gregory calls the Bible the heart and soul of God. The Rabbis say that every point and tittle of Scripture contains a wealth of meaning.
The law of the Lord is perfect. Scripture is the library of the Holy Spirit, a code of divine knowledge, and a precise model and foundation of faith. It contains what we must believe and what we must practice, and it can make us wise in the way of salvation. 2 Timothy 3:15. Scripture is the standard of truth, the judge of disputes, and the guiding star to lead us to heaven. It is the compass that steers the rudder of our will, the field in which the precious pearl of Christ is hidden, a diamond-studded rock, a spiritual eye salve that mends the eyes of those who look upon it, and a spiritual magnifying glass that reveals the glory of God. The leaves of Scripture are like the leaves of the tree of life, bringing healing to the nations (Revelation 22:2). Scripture is the source and sustenance of grace.
How is the convert born? Through the word of truth, according to James 1:18. How does he grow? Through the nourishing milk of the word, as Peter 2.2 says. The written word is the source of our evidence for heaven; it is the beacon that warns us of the dangers of sin; it is the antidote to error and apostasy; it is the two-edged sword that wounds the devil. It is our fortress against the onslaught of temptation, like the Capitol at Rome, which was a place of strength and protection.
The Scripture is the tower of David that holds up our faith. Luther said that without the word, we would be deprived of the sun. The written word is more reliable than an angelic message or a voice from heaven. 2 Peter 1:18 says, “We heard this voice from heaven, but we have an even more reliable word.” If Caesar valued his Commentaries so much that he lost his purple robe trying to protect them, how much more should we value the sacred words of God? Job 23.12 says, “I value the words of God more than my daily bread.”
On the day of his coronation, King Edward VI was presented with three swords to signify that he was monarch of three kingdoms. When asked why there was one sword missing, he replied, “The Holy Bible is the sword of the spirit and it should be valued above all other symbols of royalty.” Robert, King of Sicily, was so devoted to God’s word that he told his friend Petrarch, “I swear that the Scriptures are more important to me than my kingdom. If I had to choose between them, I would give up my crown before I gave up the Scriptures.”
12. Get passionate about the Word. Valuing something is a matter of opinion; love is a matter of the heart. Psalm 119:159 says, “Take note of how much I love your commands.” Someone who enjoys their work is likely to become wealthy; someone who loves learning will become educated. Austin said that before his conversion, he didn’t take any joy in the Scriptures, but afterwards they were his delight. David thought the Word was sweeter than honey dripping from the comb. Thomas `a Kempis used to say he found no contentment except when he was in a corner with the book of God in his hand. Did Alphonsus, King of Sicily, recover from an illness because of the pleasure he took in reading Quintus Curtius? Then we would take such immense pleasure in reading the book of life! It is sure to bring us joy and satisfaction; it is a demonstration of God’s love for us. The Spirit is God’s way of showing his love, and the word is like a love letter. How wonderful it is to read a letter from a friend! The written word is a divine treasure trove, and truth is scattered throughout it like pearls to beautify the inner person. The written word is a true blessing, offering a variety of sweet tastes. It is a powerful remedy; it can bring solace to those with heavy hearts.
I have heard of an old Rabbi who, in a large crowd, proclaimed he had a powerful remedy to sell. Many people went to him and asked to see it, and he opened the Bible and pointed them to passages of comfort. King David drank from this remedy; Psalm 119:50 says, “This is my comfort in my distress; your promise revives me.” Chrysostom compared the Scripture to a garden; each line is a fragrant flower that we should not just carry in our pocket, but keep in our hearts.
Enjoying the Word brings benefit: we should not only appreciate the pleasant aspects of the word, but also its reprimands. Myrrh may be unpleasant to taste, but it is beneficial for the body.
13. Come to the reading of the word with open minds. Christ speaks of the “honest heart” in Luke 8:15.
What does it mean to read the word with an honest heart?
- To come with an open mind and a willingness to learn all of God’s teachings. A sincere heart would not want any truth to be hidden, but instead would say, as Job did, “Show me what I do not understand.” When people pick and choose what they want to believe in religion, they will do some things that the Bible commands, but not others. This is an indication of an untrustworthy heart, and they will not benefit from the Bible. It’s like a patient who is prescribed a bitter pill and a mint julep; they will take the julep, but refuse the pill.
- Reading the word with an open and sincere heart allows us to be improved by it. The word is the means and way to become holy, and we come to it not only to gain knowledge but to be sanctified. John 17.17 states, “Sanctify them through your truth.” Some approach the Bible as if they were picking flowers in a garden, looking for interesting ideas. Austin admits that before his conversion he went to hear Ambrose, more for the eloquent speech and unique ideas than for the spiritual content. It’s like a woman who puts on makeup but doesn’t take care of her health. But this is what it means to have an honest heart: when we approach the Scriptures, just like Naaman went to the waters of the Jordan to be healed of his leprosy, we should pray that the sword of the Spirit will pierce our hearts like the water of jealousy did in Numbers 5:27, so that it can kill our sin and make us fruitful in grace.
14. Learn to apply Scripture to your life; take every word as if it were spoken directly to you. When the word speaks out against sin, think to yourself: God is talking about my sins; when it emphasizes any duty, God is speaking to me in this word. Many people push Scripture away from themselves, as if it only applies to those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you want to benefit from the word, then make it relevant to your life. A medicine won’t do any good unless it is used. The saints of old took the word as if it had been spoken to them personally. When King Josiah heard the warning written in the book of God, he took it to heart; he tore his clothes and humbled himself before the Lord (2 Kings 22:11).
15. Pay attention to both the commands and the promises. The commands come with obligations, like the veins that carry blood. The promises bring comfort, like the arteries that carry oxygen. Use the commands to guide you and the promises to give you hope.
Those who focus on the promise of Scripture while disregarding its commands are not truly edified; they are more interested in finding comfort than in fulfilling their obligations. They make the same mistake as Apollo, who chose the laurel tree instead of Daphne. A person can be filled with false comfort just as easily as with genuine comfort.
16. Focus your thoughts on the passages of Scripture that are most meaningful. Just like a bee seeks out the sweetest flowers, certain parts of Scripture may be more powerful and impactful than others. Even though the entirety of Scripture is valuable, some parts may stand out more than others. Reading the names of the tribes or the family histories of the patriarchs is not as important as having faith and being a new creation. Pay attention to the “great things of the law” (Hosea 8:12). Those who read just out of curiosity are wasting their time rather than benefiting from it. Focusing too much on Christ’s temporal reign can weaken his spiritual reign in some people’s hearts.