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TEXT: Revelation 1:3
SUBJECT: Watson on Reading and Hearing the Word #1
Tonight, with the Lord's assistance, we'll start a new Puritan study called Thomas Watson on Reading and Hearing the Word.
The Word of God is full of blessing. It "equips [the believer] for every good work"; for the unbeliever, it is "the power of God unto salvation". One cannot overestimate its value or praise God's Word too highly. It is a Word-beautiful, good, true, and powerful.
But it is not magical! A Bible collecting dust on your coffee table does you no good; a sermon slept through is worse than useless. Owning a Bible and attending church are not enough. We have to become good readers and good hearers of God's Word.
How do we do this? Part of the work is mental: the study of grammar, vocabulary, history, logic, and so on, can be very helpful in becoming better at reading and hearing the Word. But most of the work is spiritual. Some attitudes promote the reading and hearing of the Word; others hinder it. What are the qualities than make a good reader and hearer of the Word? How do we obtain them and grow in them?
These are the issues we'll explore in our study-the Lord willing. The book we're using is Thomas Watson's classic, The Ten Commandments. If you have it, read the chapter on The Word; it will do you good. Watson-unlike some other Puritans-is quite readable; the chapter is only six pages long, I think.
The goal of the study is not to make you feel guilty or nervous, but to make you happy! For what John says about his one book is true of the whole Bible:
"Happy is he who reads and happy are they
who hear the words of this prophecy."
For now, we'll look at reading the Word and next time, hearing it.
Before we get to the techniques of Bible reading, however, we have to remember what is at stake or how important it is that we read the Word and read it well. Watson says,
"[One way] to escape the wrath and curse of God, and obtain the benefit of redemption by Christ, is the diligent use of ordinances, in particular, the Word, sacraments, and prayer."
Bible reading is not just about learning things-it is about salvation-your salvation! The good reading of the Word will bring you closer to heaven. Not reading it, on the other hand (or reading it badly) will bring you closer to hell. You need to remember that the next time you crack open your Bible. Reading the Word of God is serious business-it's a savor of life to life or a savor of death to death. Depending on how you read it.
If heaven and hell are bound up in how we read the Word of God, we ought to read it--and read it well. Thomas Watson names several things that make us good readers of the Word. And not one of them is of a scholarly nature. He says nothing about learning Greek and Hebrew or about consulting learned books. This means that no one here is left out. Anyone who can read can read the Word and read it well. What, then, are the traits of a good reader?
The first is a reverent love. You know what love is, of course: to love something is to take pleasure in it. A reverent love is one that adds respect and honor. This is what we ought to have for the Word of God.
"Let us have a reverend esteem of every part of Scripture-'More to be desired are they than gold'. Value the book of God above all other books. It is a golden letter sent to us from heaven".
Do you love the Word of God? We all say we do, but do we-do we really? No one's love is perfect, of course, but an imperfect love is still love. Do you love the Word?Here's a test-it's an easy one to take, but not so easy to pass. Do you enjoy reading the Bible? I'm not asking how often you read it or how much or even how well you understand it. But-more basically-Do you enjoy it? Is Bible reading a joy or a bummer? Is it something you have to do or something you want to do?
As long as you feel it's a burden to read the Bible, you'll never read it well. Preachers-I fear-are partly to blame. Christians have never been busier and yet we want them to read their Bibles. The easiest way to do that is to make them feel guilty if they don't! To denounce and ridicule and threaten them into good devotional habits.
Watson knows better. He raises our love for the Bible by reminding us of what it is. He says
"The Scripture is a spiritual mirror to dress our souls by.It is a arsenal out of which we may fetch spiritual arms to fight against Satan.It is a soap which washes our spots away.The Scripture is a universal medicine for the soul".
The images are very apt. If the Bible is a mirror, it shows us what we are. Believe you me, ugly and sloppy people don't like looking in a mirror. But what believer is ugly or sloppy? We are clothed with Jesus Christ! The Word tells us that-and thus it leaves us-not feeling rotten and inferior, but content and thankful!
If a Bible is a soap, it washes away the stain of daily sin and leaves us clean and fresh.
If the Bible is an arsenal, it equips us to fight the powers of temptation that are pressing down on us every day-and not just fight them, but defeat them.
If the Bible is a medicine, it cures what ails us.
If you were beautiful, wouldn't it be a joy to look in a mirror? If you were dirty, wouldn't you love a bar of soap? If you were under attack, wouldn't it be great to have an Uzi or two? If you were sick, wouldn't you love the pill that would make you healthy? The Word of God is all of these things-and far more!
Remember what the Word of God is-and is to you-and you'll read it with reverent love. And thus, you'll read it well.
In the second place, Watson says we have to read the Bible carefully.
"If we would have the written Word effectual for our souls, let us study it with an intenseness of mind--`Search the Scriptures'. The word signifies to dig into it as a miner does for a silver vein. The Bereans searched the Scriptures daily. The word means to make a curious and critical search. Some gallop over a chapter and get no good by it. If we would have the Word do us good, we will have to mind and note every passage of Scripture, to be diligent in the study of Scripture."
I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but the words of the Bible do us very little good. The sounds and rhythms are charming, of course; for people who have always read the Bible, they bring back happy memories and act like a lullaby on our minds.
But it is the meaning of the Bible that does us good! Not the words, but the message; not the letters on the page, but what they say! Figuring out what they say takes a lot of hard work. To do the work, you don't need great scholarship, but you must have three things: (1) time, (2) quiet, and (3) attention.
These are not easily gotten-especially if you're a mother. But there is no substitute for them. You've got to make time to read the Bible-even if other things have to be put off. You've got to have some quiet to read the Bible. This will take some discipline-make your kids turn off the TV and leave you alone for a bit. Put the other things out of your mind for a while. Fathers can be a big help here-if we love our wives, we will be.
If you want to profit from reading the Bible, you've got to read it with careful attention. That's number two.
The third trait of good reading is faith.
"If we would have the Word effectual to our souls, we must bring faith to the reading of it; believe it to be the Word of the Eternal Jehovah. It comes with authority and shows its commission from heaven. It is of Divine inspiration and it to be surer to us than a voice from heaven. Unbelief cuts the nerve of Scripture reading and leaves it powerless. First men question the truth of Scripture, and then fall away from it".
The Bible is full of promises and warnings. All of them are true. But they do us no good unless we believe them. What comfort or hope or strength does a promise give if I doubt it? How can a warning help me if I don't take it seriously? This is all faith is-believing God or taking His Word seriously.
A promise read in unbelief will torture you; a warning read in unbelief will make you laugh; a Bible read in unbelief will do you far more harm than good.
The best way to increase your faith in the Bible is to read it. Though it is full of miracles and other unlikely events, the Bible doesn't come across as legendary or mythological at all. The stories are told as though they really happened. And, if you know God, His power, integrity, and grace, you know they could have happened-and did.
"Believe in the Lord your God and you shall be established; believe His prophets and you prosper".
"If we would have the Scripture effectual and saving, we must be sure, when we have read the Word, to hide it in our hearts. The Word, locked up in the heart, is a preservative against sin. Why did David hide the Word in his heart? `That I might not sin against You'. As one would carry an antidote with him if he should come to an infected place, so David carried the Word in his heart to preserve him from the infection of sin. When the seed is hidden in the ground, the corn springs up; so, when the Word is in the heart, it brings forth good fruit".
Hiding God's Word in your heart is another way of saying meditation. To meditate is not to empty your mind, but to fill it-to fill it up with the Word.
Meditation is to the Word what digestion is to food. If a man cannot digest his food, he can eat all day and starve! In the same way, if a Christian does not meditate on the Word, his daily reading will do him no good. It makes no difference how good the Word is or how much he enjoys reading it. If he does not retain it and mull it over, his spiritual life will flicker and go out.
Television and computers have greatly reduced our attention span. We're restless and easily bored; instead of reading books, we wait for the movie to come out! Our politicians speak in soundbites--not paragraphs. Sermons are getting shorter and shorter. Maybe the strangest book I've ever seen has this title:
"The One Minute Devotional Bible".
But good Bible reading requires time-not only time spent reading the Word, but more time spent mulling it over. You're busy-everyone is-but even busy people do many things that don't demand their full attention: driving, cooking, waiting on hold, walking, sitting in a doctor's office, and so on. These are good times for turning a passage over in your mind.
Think about what you read this morning. If you didn't read this morning-or can't remember what you read-then turn to some other passage: the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, John 3:16. Surely, you must know some verse by heart, don't you? Because every verse is God's Word, then any verse meditated on will do you good.
"I have more knowledge than my teachers
for Your testimonies are my meditation".
If you want to read the Word of God well, then read it with a mind to obey it. Watson says,
"If we would have the Word effectual, let us labor not only to have the light of it in our heads, but its power in our hearts".
This is the main cause of bad Bible reading. We read for information; we read to show off; we read to keep a good conscience. We ought to read with a mind to obey God!
When we do, things will open up to us. The Lord said, "If any man is willing to do His will, He will know the doctrine".
Here's a tip for being a better reader of God's Word. When you find a duty in the Bible-do it as soon as possible. If you read, "In everything give thanks", stop reading for a moment and give thanks. If it says, "he who confesses his sins shall prosper", put the Bible down and confess your sins. This may slow down your reading, but it will speed up your obedience.
The last trait Watson points out is also the most important: prayerfulness.
"When we read the Holy Scriptures, let us look to God for a blessing. Let us beg the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that He would enable us to understand it. Pray that God would make us find a relish and sweetness in His Word".
Everything depends on God's blessing-including your next breath. Well, Bible reading also depends on it. And so, you ought to ask the Lord to help you read His Word and read it well. This is a prayer He commands you to offer and one He will be very happy to answer.
If you can't think of one, use Psalm 119:18 until you do:
"Open Thou mine eyes
that I may behold
wondrous things out
of Thy Law".
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