The Study of the Bible
I take it for granted that we all believe the Bible to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. I take it for granted that we all read the Bible with regularity. What I am going to plead for, however, is concentrated, sustained, devoted study of the Bible, the kind of study that is not fulfilled by the perfunctory reading of some passages each day. The set periods of family worship are not, of course, by any means to be disparaged. This is a highly necessary and most fruitful exercise. The influence for good exerted by honouring God’s Word in this way is incalculable for all concerned. Indeed, the minimal use of the Bible in this way has often left an indelible impression for good. And furthermore, the set periods of family worship may become the occasions for very concentrated and systematic study of the Bible.
But what I stress here is the necessity for diligent and persevering searching of the Scriptures; study whereby we shall turn and turn again the pages of Scripture; the study of prolonged thought and meditation by which our hearts and minds may become soaked with the truth of the Bible and by which the deepest springs of thought, feeling, and action may be stirred and directed; the study by which the Word of God will grip us, bind us, hold us, pull us, drive us, raise us up from the dunghill, bring us down from our high conceits and make us its bondservants in all of thought, life, and conduct.
The Word of God is a great deep; the commandment is exceeding broad; and so we cannot by merely occasional, hurried, and perfunctory use of it understand its meaning and power.
Sustained and diligent study of the Bible is indispensable for several reasons. I am going to mention three of these.
1. The Bible is God’s Word, the revealed counsel of God. It is possible for us to develop a certain kind of familiarity with the Bible so that we fail to appreciate the marvel of God’s favour and mercy and wisdom in giving it to us. We need to stop and consider what hopeless darkness, misery, and confusion would be ours if we did not possess the Bible. We would be without God and without hope in the world, endlessly stumbling over our own vain imaginings with respect to God, with respect to his will for us and with respect to our own nature, origin, and destiny. The Bible is the infallible revelation to us of the truth regarding God himself, regarding the world in which we live, and regarding ourselves. It reveals God’s mind and will for us; it declares the way of salvation; it discloses the knowledge that is eternal life. The secrets of God’s mind and purpose, secrets which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, have been laid open to us, the things that concern God’s glory, and our highest interests against all the issues of life and death, of time and eternity…. If we truly appreciate the mystery of God’s grace and wisdom, we shall study the Bible as one who has found great spoil. The very nature and content of God’s Word will compel our most earnest application to it.
2. We must study the Bible with all diligence and persistence if we are really to know and understand its truth. It is perfectly true and an unspeakable mercy that a certain simplicity characterizes the Bible. We cannot read it with some measure of intelligent attention without getting its great central message. The things necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are clearly propounded in Scripture, and he that runs may read. But no Christian should be satisfied with the bare minimum of knowledge necessary for salvation. It is, indeed, to be lamented that the life of many earnest Christians is based upon a fragmentary, piecemeal knowledge of Scripture teaching…. We must understand that the whole Bible stands together and that the fibres of organic connection run through the whole Bible connecting one part with every other part and every one truth with every other truth.
3. Painstaking study of the Bible is indispensable to our own thought and practice. Life is very complex, and we are constantly beset with baffling questions. New situations daily confront us. If the situations are not entirely new, old situations take on new colour and new settings. We need to know anew what is the right thing to think and what is the right thing to do. If we are to meet these situations, we must be armed with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and we must be equipped with such knowledge of the Word that we shall derive from it the needed direction and strength.
Indolence is one of our greatest temptations. We are in constant danger of becoming static in our thinking. Perhaps we have a well-rounded and competent knowledge of the Christian faith… But if we rely on such a reservoir of knowledge, we are in a dangerous and slippery position. Thought and life are too complex to be adequately met by any such reservoir. The means God has provided for every exigency that may arise is the Word of God itself. The demand of the multiform situations in which we are placed in our thinking and in our life are met only by the multiform wisdom deposited in the holy Scriptures. However much assistance we may derive from formulations and expositions of Scripture truth—and it is not only impoverishing but God-dishonoring to disparage and neglect these—yet, after all, the Bible is the only sufficient rule of faith and life as well as the only infallible rule. We must betake ourselves anew, day by day, with humble and submissive minds to the law and to the testimony so that our minds may be illuminated, replenished, refreshed, renewed, and reinvigorated by the pure light that shines in the pages of God’s inerrant Word. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” …
In all our study and application of the Word of God, we must appreciate a divinely-fixed coordination. It is that of the Word of God and the Spirit of God. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” God has not left us to our own resources in the study of his Word. There is the never-failing promise and the ever-present ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is the author of the Word, and it is his peculiar prerogative to illumine the Scripture and to seal its truth upon our hearts. These are the two pillars of faith and life—the whole organism of Scripture revelation and the promise of the Spirit to guide us into all the truth. The Spirit honours and seals his own Word, and the Word assures us that “if ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
- John Murray
Collected Writings, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth, 1976)