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THE FUNDAMENTAL CONDITIONS OF THE MOST PROFITABLE BIBLE STUDY
There is something, however, in Bible study more important than the best methods, that is, The Fundamental Conditions of Profitable Study. The one who meets these conditions will get more out of the Bible, while pursuing the poorest method, than the one who does not meet them will, while pursuing the best method. Many a one who is eagerly asking, “What method shall I pursue in my Bible study?” needs something that goes far deeper than a new and better method. We begin with the first fundamental condition, understanding a misapplied Bible verse.
1 Corinthians 2:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
The Role of the Spirit in the
The second condition of the most profitable study is a love for the Bible. A man who eats with an appetite will get far better out of his meal than a man who eats from a sense of duty. It is well when a student of the Bible can say with Job, “I have treasured up the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job, 23:12) or with Jeremiah, “Your words were found and I did eat them; and your words were to me a joy and the rejoicing of mine heart; for I am called by your name, O, Jehovah of armies.” (Jer., 15:16) Many come to the table. God has spread in His word with no appetite for spiritual food and go mincing here and there and grumbling about everything. Spiritual indigestion lies at the bottom of much modern criticism of the Bible. But how can one get a love for the Bible? First of all, by being born again. Where there is life there is likely to be appetite. A dead man never hungers. This brings us back to the first condition. But going beyond this, the more there is of vitality the more there is of hunger. Abounding life means abounding hunger for the Word. Study of the Word stimulates love for the Word. The author can well remember the time when he had more appetite for books about the Bible than he had for the Bible itself, but with increasing study, there has come increasing love for the Book. Bearing in mind who the author of the Book is, what its purpose is, what its power is, what the riches of its contents are, will go far toward stimulating a love and appetite for the Book.
The third condition is a willingness to do hard work. Solomon has given a graphic picture of the Bible student who gets the most profit out of his study,
Proverbs 2:1-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV) [Commentary]
The Value of Wisdom
2 My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, 2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to discernment; 3 For if you cry for discernment and raise your voice for understanding,
Seek Wisdom As for Hidden Treasures
4 if you keep seeking her like silver and searching for her as for hidden treasures, 5 then you will understand the fear of Jehovah and find the knowledge of God. 6 For Jehovah gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8 guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his holy ones. 9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good course; 10 for wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Now, seeking for silver and searching for hidden treasures, means hard work, and the one who wishes to get not only the silver but the gold as well out of the Bible and find its “hid treasures,” must make up his mind to dig. It is not glancing at the word or reading the word, but studying the Word, meditating upon the word, pondering the word, that brings the richest yields. Many get so little out of their Bible reading simply because they are not willing to think. Intellectual laziness lies at the bottom of a large percent of fruitless Bible reading. People are constantly crying for new methods of Bible study, but what many of them wish is simply some method of Bible study by which they can get all the good out of the Bible without work. If someone could tell lazy Christians some method of Bible study whereby they could put the sleepiest ten minutes of the day, just before they go to bed, into Bible study, and get the profit out of it that God intends His children shall get out of the study of His Word, that would be just what they desire. But it can’t be done. Men must be willing to work and work hard if they wish to dig out the treasures of infinite wisdom and knowledge and blessing which He has stored up in His Word. A business friend once asked me in a hurried call to tell him “ in a word ” how to study his Bible. I replied, “Think.” The Psalmist pronounces that man “blessed” who “meditates in the law of Jehovah, day and night.” (Ps. 1:2.) The Lord commanded Joshua to “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Josh. 1:8) Of Mary, the mother of Jesus, we read, “Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) In this way alone, can one study the Bible to the greatest profit. One pound of beef well chewed and digested and assimilated will give more strength than tons of beef merely glanced at; and one verse of scripture chewed and digested and assimilated will give more strength than whole chapters simply skimmed. Weigh every word you read in the Bible. Look at it. Turn it over and over. The most familiar passages get a new meaning in this way. Spend fifteen minutes on each word in Ps. 23:1, or Phil. 4:19, and see if it is not so.
The fourth condition is a will wholly surrendered to God. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to do his will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John. 7:17) A surrendered will gives that clearness of spiritual vision, which is necessary to understand God’s book. Many of the difficulties and obscurities of the Bible rise wholly from the fact that the will of the student is not surrendered to the will of the author of the book. It is remarkable how clear and simple and beautiful passages that once puzzled us become when we are brought to that place where we say to God, “I surrender my will unconditionally to Thine. I have no will but Thine. Teach me Thy will.” A surrendered will will do more to make the Bible an open book than a university education. It is simply impossible to get the largest profit out of your Bible study until you do surrender your will to God. You must be very definite about this. There are many who say, “Oh, yes, my will, I think, is surrendered to God,” and yet it is not. They have never gone alone with God and said intelligently and definitely to him, “O God, I here and now give myself up to Thee, for Thee to command me, and lead me, and shape me, and send me, and do with me, absolutely as Thou wilt.” Such an act is a wonderful key to unlock the treasure house of God’s Word. The Bible becomes a new book when a man does that. Doing that wrought a complete transformation in the author’s theology and life and ministry.
The fifth condition is very closely related to the fourth. The Bible student who would get the greatest profit out of his studies must be obedient to its teachings as soon as he sees them. It was good advice James gave to early Christians and to us, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” There are a good many, who consider themselves Bible students, who are deceiving themselves in this way today. They see what the Bible teaches, but they do not do it, and they soon lose their power to see it. Truth obeyed leads to more truth. Truth disobeyed destroys the capacity for discovering truth. There must be a general surrender of the will, but specific practical obedience to each new word of God was discovered. There is no place where the law, “to everyone that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has,” is more joyously certain on the one hand and more sternly inevitable on the other, than in the matter of using or refusing the truth revealed in the Bible. Use, and you get more; refuse, and you lose all. Do not study the Bible for the mere gratification of intellectual curiosity, but to find out how to live and to please God. Whatever duty you find commanded in the Bible, do it at once. Whatever good you see in any Bible character, imitate it immediately. Whatever mistake you note in Bible men and women’s actions, scrutinize your own life to see if you are making the same mistake, and if you find you are, correct it forthwith. James compares the Bible to a looking glass. (James. 1:23-24). The chief good of a looking glass is to show you if there is anything out of fix about you, and, if you find there is, you can set it right. Use the Bible in that way. Obeying the truth, you already see, will solve the enigmas in the verses you do not as yet understand. Disobeying the truth, you see, darkens the whole world of truth. This is the secret of much of the skepticism and error of the day. Men saw the truth, but did not do it; now it is gone. I knew a bright and promising young minister. He made rapid advancements in the truth. He took very advanced ground upon one point especially, and the storm came. One day he said to his wife, “It is very nice to believe this, but we need not speak so much about it.” They began, or he, at least, to hide their testimony. The wife died, and he drifted. The Bible became to him a sealed book. Faith reeled. He publicly renounced his faith in some of the fundamental truths of the Bible. What was the cause of it all? Truth not lived and stood for, flees. That man is much admired and applauded by some today, but daylight has given place to darkness in his soul.
The sixth condition is a child-like mind. God reveals His deepest truths to babes. No age needs more than our own to lay to heart the words of Jesus, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” (Matt. 11:25.) Wherein must we be babes if God is to reveal His truth unto us, and we are to understand His Word? A child is not full of its own wisdom. It recognizes its ignorance and is ready to be taught. It does not oppose its own notions and ideas to those of its teachers. It is in that spirit we should come to the Bible if we are to get the most profit out of our study. Do not come to the Bible full of your own ideas and seeking from it a confirmation of them. Come rather to find out what are God’s ideas as He has revealed them there. Come not to find a confirmation of your own opinion, but to be taught what God may be pleased to teach. If a man comes to the Bible just to find his notions taught there, he will find them; but if he comes, recognizing his own ignorance, just as a little child, to be taught, he will find something infinitely better than his own notions, even the mind of God. We see why many persons cannot see things that are plainly taught in the Bible. The doctrine taught is not their notion, of which they are so full that there is no room left for that which the Bible actually teaches. We have an illustration of this in the apostles themselves at one stage in their training. In Mark 9:31, we read, “he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.” Now, that is as plain and definite as language can make it, but it was utterly contrary to the notions of the apostles as to what was to happen to the Christ. So we read in the next verse, “they understood not that saying.” Is not that wonderful? But is it any more wonderful than our own inability to comprehend plain statements in the Bible when they run counter to our preconceived notions? What trouble many Christians find with portions of the Sermon on the Mount, that would be plain enough, if we just came to Christ-like a child to be taught what to believe and do, rather than coming as full-grown men, who already know it all, and who must find some interpretations of Christ’s words that will fit into our mature and infallible philosophy. Many a man is so full of an unbiblical theology he has been taught, that it takes him a lifetime to get rid of it and understand the clear teaching of the Bible. “Oh, what can this verse mean?” many a bewildered man cries. Why, it means what it plainly says; but what you are after is not the meaning God has manifestly put into it, but the meaning you can by some ingenious trick of exegesis twist out of it and make it fit into your scheme. Don’t come to the Bible to find out what you can make it mean, but to find out what God intended it to mean. Men often miss the real truth of a verse by saying, “But that can be interpreted this way.” Oh, yes, so it can, but is that the way God intended it to be interpreted? We all need to pray often if we would get the most profit out of our Bible study, “Oh, God, make me a little child. Empty me of my own notions. Teach me your own mind. Make me ready like a little child to receive all that you have to say, no matter how contrary it is to what I have thought hitherto.” How the Bible opens up to one who approaches it in that way! How it closes up to the wise fool, who thinks he knows everything and imagines he can give points to Peter and Paul, and even to Jesus Christ and to God Himself! Someone has well said the best method of Bible study is “the baby method.” I was once talking with a ministerial friend about what seemed to be the clear teaching of a certain passage. “Yes,” he replied, “but that doesn’t agree with my philosophy.” Alas! But this man was sincere, yet he did not have the child-like spirit, which is an essential condition of the most profitable Bible study. But many approach the Bible in the same way. It is a great point gained in Bible study when we are brought to realize that an infinite God knows more than we, that indeed our highest wisdom is less than the knowledge of the most ignorant babe compared with His, and when we come to Him as babes, just to be taught by Him, and not to argue with Him. But we so easily and so constantly forget this that every time we open our Bibles we would do well to get down humbly before God and say, “Father, I am but a child, teach me.” This leads to the seventh condition.
The seventh condition of studying the Bible to the greatest profit is that we study it as the word of God. The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Church of the Thessalonians, thanked God without ceasing that when they received the word of God they “accepted it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God.” (1 Thess. 2:13) Well, might he thank God for that, and well may we thank God when we get to the place where we receive the word of God as the word of God. Not that the one who does not believe the Bible is the word of God should be discouraged from studying it. Indeed, one of the best things that one who does not believe that the Bible is the word of God can do, if he is honest, is to study it. The author of this book once doubted utterly that the Bible was the word of God, and the firm confidence that he has to-day that the Bible is the Word of God has come more from the study of the book itself than from anything else. Those who doubt it are more usually those who study about the book than those who dig into the book’s actual teachings. But while the best book of Christian evidence is the Bible, and while the most utter skeptic should be encouraged to study it, we will not get the largest measure of profit out of that study until we reach the point where we become convinced that the Bible is God’s Word, and when we study it as such. There is a great difference between believing theoretically that the Bible is God’s Word and studying it as God’s Word. Thousands would tell you that they believed the Bible is God’s Word, who do not study it as God’s Word. Studying the Bible as the Word of God involves four things. (1) First, it involves the unquestioning acceptance of its teachings when definitely ascertained, even when they may appear unreasonable or impossible. Reason demands that we submit our judgment and reasonings to the statements of infinite wisdom. There is nothing more irrational than rationalism, which makes the finite wisdom the test of infinite wisdom and submits the teachings of God’s omniscience to the approval of man’s judgment. It is the sublimest and absurdest conceit that says, “This cannot be true, though God says it, for it does not approve itself to my reason.” “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Rom. 9:20.) Real human wisdom, when it finds infinite wisdom, bows before it and says, “Speak what you will and I will believe.” When we have once became convinced that the Bible is God’s Word, its teachings must be the end of all controversy and discussion. A “thus saith the Lord” will settle every question. Yet many profess to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and if you show them what the Bible clearly teaches on some disputed point, they will shake their heads and say, “Yes, but I think so and so,” or “Doctor ——, or Prof. this, or our church don’t teach that way.” There is little profit in that sort of Bible study. (2) Studying the Bible as the word of God involves, in the second place, absolute reliance upon all its promises in all their length and breadth. The man who studies the Bible as the word of God, will not discount any one of its promises one iota. The one who studies the Bible as the word of God will say, “God who cannot lie has promised,” and will not try to make God a liar by trying to make one of his promises mean less than it says. The one who studies the Bible as the word of God, will be on the lookout for promises, and as soon as he finds one he will seek to ascertain just what it means, and, as soon as he discovers, he will step right out upon that promise, and risk everything upon its full import. That is one of the secrets of profitable Bible study. Be hunting for promises and appropriate them as fast as you find them—this is done by meeting the conditions and risking all upon them. That is the way to make your own all the fulness of blessing God has for you. This is the key to all the treasures of God’s grace. Happy is the man who has so learned to study the Bible as God’s word that he is ready to claim for himself every new promise as it appears and to risk everything upon it. (3) Studying the Bible as the Word of God involves, in the third place, obedience—prompt, exact obedience, without asking any questions—to its every precept. Obedience may seem hard, it may seem impossible, but God has bidden it, and I have nothing to do but to obey and leave the results with God. If you would get the very most profit out of your Bible study resolve that from this time you will claim every clear promise and obey every plain command, and that as to the promises and commands whose import is not yet clear you will try to get their meaning made clear. (4) Studying the Bible as the word of God involves, in the fourth place, studying it as in God’s presence. When you read a verse of scripture hear the voice of the living God speaking directly to you in these written words. There is new power and attractiveness in the Bible when you have learned to hear a living, present person, God, our Father, Himself talking directly to you in these words. One of the most fascinating and inspiring statements in the Bible is “Enoch walked with God.” (Gen. 5:24.) We can have God’s glorious companionship any moment we please by simply opening His Word and letting the living and ever-present God speak to us through it. With what holy awe and strange and unutterable joy one studies the Bible if he studies it in this way! It is heaven; come down to earth.
The eighth and last condition of the most profitable Bible study is Prayerfulness. The Psalmist prayed, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” (Ps. 119:18.) Everyone who desires to get the greatest profit out of his Bible study needs to offer that or a similar prayer every time he undertakes the study of the word. Few keys open so many caskets that contain hidden treasure as prayer. Few clues unravel so many difficulties. Few microscopes will disclose so many beauties hidden from the eye of the ordinary observer. What new light often shines from an old familiar text as you bend over it in prayer! I believe in studying the Bible a good deal on your knees. When one reads an entire book through upon his knees—and this is easily done—that book has a new meaning and becomes a new book. One ought never to open the Bible to read it without at least lifting the heart to God in silent prayer that He will interpret it, illumine its pages by the light of His Spirit. It is a rare privilege to study any book under the immediate guidance and instruction of its author, and this is the privilege of us all in studying the Bible. When one comes to a passage that is difficult to understand or difficult to interpret, instead of giving it up or rushing to some learned friend, or to some commentary, he should lay that passage before God, and ask Him to explain it to him, pleading God’s promise, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproaching, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (Jas. 1:5-6) It is simply wonderful how the seemingly most difficult passages become plain by this treatment. Harry Morehouse, one of the most remarkable Bible scholars among unlearned men, used to say that whenever he came to a passage in the Bible which he could not understand, he would search through the Bible for some other passage that threw light upon it, and lay it before God in prayer, and that he had never found a passage that did not yield to this treatment. The author of this book has had a quite similar experience. Some years ago I was making with a friend a tour afoot of the Franconian Switzerland, and visiting some of the more famous zoolitic caves. One day the country letter-carrier stopped us and asked if we would not like to see a cave of rare beauty and interest, away from the beaten tracks of travel. Of course, we said, yes. He led us through the woods and underbrush to the mouth of the cave, and we entered. All was dark and uncanny. He expatiated greatly on the beauty of the cave, telling us of altars and fantastic formations, but we could see absolutely nothing. Now and then, he uttered a note to warn us to have a care, as near our feet lay a gulf the bottom of which had never been discovered. We began to have a fear that we might be the first discoverers of the bottom. There was nothing pleasant about the whole affair. But as soon as a magnesian taper was lighted, all became different. There were the stalagmites rising from the floor to meet the stalactites as they came down from the ceiling. There was the great altar of nature, that peasant fancy ascribed to the skill of ancient worshipers, there were the beautiful and fantastic formations on every hand, and all glistening in fairy-like beauty in the brilliant light. So I have often thought it was with many a passage of Scripture. Others tell you of its beauty, but you cannot see it. It looks dark and intricate and forbidding and dangerous, but when God’s own light is kindled there by prayer, how different all becomes in an instant. You see a beauty that language cannot express, and that those alone can appreciate who have stood there in the same light. He who would understand and love his Bible must be much in prayer. Prayer will do more than a college education to make the Bible an open and a glorious book. Perhaps the best lesson I learned in a German university, where I had the privilege of receiving the instruction of one of the most noted and most gifted Bible teachers of any age, was that which came through the statement of the famulus of this professor, that Professor Delitzsch worked out much of his teaching upon his knees.
Study the Bible daily. Regularity counts for more in Bible study than most people fancy. The spasmodic student, who at certain seasons gives a great deal of time to the study of the Word, and at other seasons quite neglects it, even for days at a time, does not achieve the results that he does who plods on regularly day by day. The Bereans were wise as well as “noble” in that they “searched the scriptures daily.” (Acts, 17:11) A man who is well known among the Christian college students of America once remarked at a student convention that he had been at many conventions and had received great blessings from them, but the greatest blessing he had ever received was from a convention where there were only four persons gathered together. The blessing had come to him in this way. These four had covenanted together to spend a certain portion of every day in Bible study. Since that day much of his time had been spent on the cars or in hotels and at conventions, but he had tried to keep that covenant, and the greatest blessing that had come to him in his Christian life had come through this daily study of the Word. No one who has not tried it realizes how much can be accomplished by setting apart a fixed portion of each day, (it may not be more than fifteen or thirty minutes, but it surely should be an hour) for Bible study and keeping it sacredly for that purpose under all circumstances. Many will say I cannot spare the time. It will be time saved. Lord Cairnes, one of the busiest as well as most eminent men of his day, before his death testified, that the first two hours of every day were given to the study of the Bible and prayer, and he attributed the great achievements of his life to that fact. It will not do to study the Bible only when we feel like it. It will not do to study the Bible only when we have leisure. We must have fixed principles and habits in this matter if we are to study the Bible to the greatest profit. Nothing that we do will be more important than our Bible study, and it cannot give way to other less important things. What regularity in eating is to physical life; regularity in Bible study is to spiritual life. Fix upon some time, even if it is no more than fifteen minutes to start with, and hold to it until you are ready to set a longer period.
Select for your Bible study the best portion of the day that you can give to it. Do not put your Bible study off until near bedtime, when the mind is drowsy. It is well to take a parting verse for the day when one retires for the night, but this is not the time for study. No study demands all that there is in a man as Bible study does. Do not take the time immediately after a heavy meal. The mind is more or less torpid after a heavy meal, and it is unwise to put it on the stretch then. It is almost the unanimous opinion of those who have given this subject careful attention that the early hours of the day are the best for Bible study if they can be secured free from interruption. It is well, wherever possible, to lock yourself in and lock the world out when you are about to give yourself up to the study of the Bible.
In all your Bible study, look for Christ in the passage under examination. We read of Jesus that “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning HIMSELF.” (Luke 24:27.) Jesus Christ is the subject of the whole Bible and the subject pervades the book. Some of the seemingly driest portions of the Bible became instinct with a new life when we learn to see Christ in them. I remember in my early reading of the Bible what a stupid book Leviticus seemed, but it all became different when I learned to see Jesus in the various offerings and sacrifices, in the high-priest and his garments, in the tabernacle and its furniture, indeed everywhere. Look for Christ in every verse you study, and even the genealogies and catalogs of the names of towns will begin to have beauty and power.
Memorize Scripture. The Psalmist said, “Your word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11) There is nothing better to keep one from sinning than this. By the word of God laid up in His heart Jesus overcame the tempter. (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10.) But the word of God laid up in the heart is good for other purposes than victory over sin. It is good to meet and expose error; it is good to enable one “to speak a word in season to him that is weary,” (Is. 1:4.) It is good for manifold uses, even “that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:17, R. V.) Memorize scripture by chapter and verse. It is quite as easy as merely memorizing the words, and it is immeasurably more useful for practical purposes. Memorize the scripture in systematic form. Do not have a chaotic heap of texts in the mind but pigeon-hole under appropriate titles the scripture you store in memory. Then you can bring it out when you need it, without racking your brains. Many men can stand up without a moment’s warning and talk coherently and cogently and scripturally on any vital theme; because they have a vast fund of wisdom in the form of scripture texts stored away in their mind in systematic form.
Finally, utilize spare moments in the study of the Bible. In most men’s lives, there is a vast amount of wasted time. Time spent in traveling on the streetcars and railroads; time spent waiting for persons with whom they have engagements; time spent in waiting for meals, etc. Most of this can be utilized in Bible study if one carries with him a pocket Bible or pocket Testament. Or one can utilize it in meditation upon texts stored away in memory. Many of the author’s sermons and addresses are worked out in that way. It is said that Henry Ward Beecher read one of England’s larger histories through while waiting day after day for his meals to be brought on to the table. How many books of the Bible could be studied in the same time? A friend once told me that the man who had, in some respects, the most extraordinary knowledge of the Bible of any man he knew was a junk dealer in a Canadian city. This man had a Bible open on his shelves, and in intervals of business, he was pondering the Book of God. The book became very black by handling in such surroundings, but I have little doubt his soul became correspondingly white. There is no economy that pays as does economy of time, but there is no way of economizing time so thriftily as putting the moments that are going to waste into the study of or meditation upon the word of God.
by R. A. Torrey and Edward D. Andrews
 Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 65–71.