This Day in Presbyterian History:
Handling the Word of God Aright
Finding historical sites on American Presbyterianism scarce, we turn to the Catechisms of the Westminster Standards, and for a change, to the Larger Catechism. Question No. 157 asks “How is the word of God to be read? and gives this answer, “The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverence 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.”
We are assuming, dear reader, that you are a reader of Holy Scripture, indeed, that you have made it a habit to read the daily portions of Scripture noted each day in our blog, which will take you through the Bible in one year. But it is not enough to simply read, but we must read God’s Word, as the Catechism says, “with an high and reverent esteem of it.” The Bible is God’s Word to us and to our generation, to say nothing of the last or the future generations. We must be firmly persuaded that it is the very word of God. Yes, human authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but what they wrote and indeed the very words they wrote were by God. Our Reformed and Presbyterian churches believe in plenary and verbal inspiration.
As a result of the Bible being the Holy Word of God, only the Lord can enable us to fully understand it. This being the case, we should always approach the Word with prayer, asking the Author of it to illuminate our hearts to read and understand it.
Now, what is the motive in reading the Word of God? In one phrase, it is to “know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed” in it. Every once in a while, there is a newspaper article about the average American’s knowledge of the Bible. It is appalling to realize the ignorance of the Bible, even among church folks. This is why this one year reading schedule and doing it chronologically is so important. Many Christians have never read the Bible through once in their spiritual lives.
Then our motive in reading it is to believe and obey the will of God revealed in it. It is God’s Word and will for our lives yesterday, today, and always. Paul spoke of it in 2 Timothy 3:16 as being for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” (NAS) We need the solid doctrine of theology as our teaching. The reproof in the Bible tells us the wrong paths we have strayed in faith and life. The correction tells us the right path of life and doctrine. And the training in righteousness is a gradual process of holiness which all believers need until we get to heaven.
The manner of reading the Bible is summed up in a series of descriptive words, like “diligence, meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.” Diligence is needed, dear Christian. We must not be content to be spiritual babes forever, but mature thinking Christians. Meditation, or thinking carefully and seriously, is needed when we read the Bible. In other words, take time to read the Word. Too many believers spend more time reading the newspaper than they do reading the Word of God. Application is most needed. What does the Word I have read today mean, and most important, mean to me, to where I am in my walk with Christ. Self-denial and prayer tells us to humble ourselves under the Word of God and depend upon Him to reveal what our souls need this day from God.
Words to live by: It is estimated that countless Christians have more than one Bible in their homes today. Sometimes they represent various stages of their spiritual life, like a new Christian, a growing Christian, or a mature Christian. Sometimes they are various versions and translations, bought according to the recommendation of the church or this Bible teacher. But this writer is not so much interested in how many Bibles you own, but rather in whether you read daily from one of them. The Through the Bible section of this guide is designed to help you do that at least once a year, and hopefully every year for all of your lives. Handling the Word of God correctly is a habit which you want to keep in your lives.
Through the Scriptures: Haggai 1, 2; Zechariah 1, 2
Through the Standards: The duties of Christians to the government
“It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, does not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less has the Pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretence whatsoever.”