Dane K. Jöhannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Reformed Baptist Church
The Holy Scriptures, being what they are (namely, “a message from Jehovah”, “a golden epistle sent to us from God”, “our Magna Charta for heaven” and the stamp of God Himself), we should therefore see that it is our greatest “care to get some spiritual remuneration and profit” from our reading of it. (pg.117; 114; 115) These are the words of the eminent puritan Thomas Watson in a sermon titled, “How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit.” Watson was a master of practical, experiential religion. For him, the Christian faith was not simply theoretical, but thoroughly practical.
As Christians we must see what a blessing it is to have the Scriptures. So many millions of Christians throughout history were without access to the Scriptures and remain so in our own day. We do not have this problem. We have the Scriptures even on our cell phones, which will even read them to us. We have a much different problem, a problem that has always existed among Bible readers (but I argue is in greater measure today), namely, a lack of skill in profiting from the Scriptures.
Even those of us who attempt to make it our daily habit to read God’s Word are often hampered by our lack of facility in profiting from it. What does it mean to “profit” from the Scriptures? It means to improve them, to apply them to ourselves, to not merely read their words on the page, but to take them unto our souls for life, to live them out, to experience their practical power in our daily lives. It means to get a return on the investment of time spent reading them.
The Words of God in the Scriptures are “life unto those that find them, And health to all their flesh.” (Pr. 4:22) Jesus prays the Father that we might be sanctified in the truth, adding “thy word is truth.” (John 17:17) The Psalmist declared “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103) Furthermore, Jesus commands us to “Search the scriptures” (John 5:39), for in them we have life. We are commanded to have our minds transformed that they might be conformed to the image of Christ and not of the world (Rom. 12:2). This is done by giving ourselves to the reading and improving of God’s Word.
In Watson’s day, Christians also struggled to spiritually profit from the Scriptures. They might read the Scriptures, but they came away from their reading no different than when they came to it. In this sermon he offered some remedies. Watson proves himself to be a trustworthy guide. Let us go through his list of directions for profiting in Scripture, and make some brief comments.
Thomas Watson’s directions for improving our reading of Scripture:
1. “If you would profit by reading, remove those things that will hinder your profiting.” (pg.115)
Such as “the love of every sin”, which acts as poison to our souls and nutralizes the medicine of the Word we take by reading (pg.115). Watson urges us to remove “those thorns which will choke the Word read”, such as, the cares of this world (covetousness), which can cause us to be so taken up in our minds with secular employments that we “can scarce find time to read”, and even when we do, our eyes will be “upon the Bible” but our hearts “upon the world.” (pg.116)
2. “If you would profit, prepare your hearts before the reading of the Word.” (pg.116)
Watson adds that “the heart is an instrument which needs to be put in tune.” To do so we must summon “our thoughts together to attend to the solemn work we are going about.” We are not reading the morning paper, or our friend’s Twitter feed, but God’s holy and infallible Word, given for our eternal benefit.
3. “Read the Scriptures with reverence; think about every line you read; God is speaking to you.” (pg. 116)
When a person of great importance speaks with us we give them our full and undivided attention. How much more when the Lord of Glory is speaking to us about matters of our salvation!
4. “Read the books of Scripture in order.” (pg.117)
Watson adds, “Order is a help to memory. We do not begin a friend’s letter in the middle.” Whatever reading plan you employ, starting in Genesis and reading through Revelation in order is always an easy one to follow.
5. “Get a right understanding of Scripture” (pg.117)
The psalmist prayed, “Give me understanding, that I may learn Thy commandments.” (Ps. 119:73) Understanding the words on the page as English is not enough, we must understand their meaning. We must not only read what God says, but comprehend it. “The knowledge of the sense of the Scriptures”, writes Watson, “is the first step to profit. In the law, Aaron was first to light the lamps and then to burn the incense; the lamp of the understanding must be first lighted before the affections can be inflamed … Without knowledge the Scripture is a sealed book.” We obtain understanding of Scripture’s meaning by “comparing Scriptures [with other Scriptures], by conferring with others, [and] by using the best commentaries.”
6. “Read the Word with seriousness.” (pg.117)
We cannot expect to profit from the Word if we casually and cursorily read it, as one might meander through the articles in a magazine at a doctor’s office. We must read them with seriousness, acknowledging the importance of what we are reading. The Word is not an invitation to a third grader’s birthday party, but an invitation to eternal life. “Some of have light, feathery spirits”, says Watson, “they run over the most weighty truths [in Scripture] with haste.” (pg.118) Many people attempt to see how much they can read or how quickly they can read it rather than to see how much they can comprehend or how quickly they can apply it. Watson tells us that the remedy is to read “with a solemn, composed spirit.” (pg.118)
7. “Labor to remember what you read.” (pg.118)
Satan labors to take the Word from our mind the moment it enters. We must labor to retain it. Watson rights, “If the Word stays not in the memory, it cannot profit.” Watson’s next comment could not be more relevant, “Some can better remember a piece of news than a line of Scripture.” Be as the Psalmist, “I remembered Thy judgments of old.” (Ps. 119:52)
8. “Meditate upon what you read.” (pg.118)
Again, the Psalmist serves as an example, “I will meditate in Thy precepts.” (Ps. 119:15) “In meditation there must be a fixing of the thoughts upon the object” writes Watson. We must fix our minds upon what the Scriptures say and then turn them over in our heart until they meld with our spirit. “Reading brings a truth into our heart, meditation brings it into our heart.” Watson concludes this section with these words, “Meditation is the bellows of the affection. ‘While I was musing the fire burned.’ (Ps. 39:3) The reason we come away so cold from reading the Word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.” Do not simply take the Scriptures into your mind by reading, but into your heart by meditation and into your hands by practice.
9. “Come to the reading of the Scripture with humble hearts.” (pg. 119)
Watson says that we must “acknowledge how unworthy [we] are that God should reveal Himself in His Word to [us].” Humility is the key to exaltation. Those who are taken highest in Spiritual attainments are those who realize how low they are. David had, “more understanding than all my teachers” (Ps. 119:99); but he was humble, “I am a worm, and no man.” (Ps. 22:6)
10. “Give credence to the Word written.” (pg. 119)
In other words, believe it. Do not stand skeptically over it, but believingly under it. “Believe it to be of God,” says Watson, “see the name of God in every line.” He exhorts us to, “believe the Scriptures to be divinely inspired (2Tim. 3:16). Who but God could reveal the great doctrines of the Trinity, the atonement of Jesus Christ for sinners, the resurrection? Whence should the Scriptures come if not from God?” Unbelief destroys the effectuality of the Word read and causes us to profit nothing from it. “If you will profit by the Word, you must believe it to be of God. Some skeptics question the verity of Scripture; they have the articles of religion in their creed, but not in their belief.” (pg. 120) Remember, that the Israelites in the wilderness perished because they did not believe, “The Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith.” (Heb. 4:2)
11. “Highly prize the Scriptures.” (pg. 120)
David declared, “The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” (Ps. 119:72) What greater possession have we as Christians than God’s Word? It is better to lose a kingdom than the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the breeder and feeder of our graces, the hope and strength of our faith. What else do we have but Christ, and where else do we meet Christ but in the pages of Scripture?
12. “Get an ardent love to the Word.” (pg. 121)
“Consider how I love Thy precepts.” (Ps. 119:159) He who loves his business shall have great success in it. He who loves his study will master his subject. Watson writes, “The Spirit is God’s love token; the Word, His love letter; how doth one rejoice to read over his friend’s letter! The Word written is a divine treasury or storehouse; in it is truth scattered as pearls to adorn the inner man of the heart. The Word written is the true manna which has all sorts of sweet taste in it; it is a sovereign elixir; it gives wine to them of a heavy heart.” The Bible is our only comfort, our best guide. David said, “This is my comfort in my affliction: for Thy Word hath quickened me.” (Ps. 119:50)
13. “Come to the reading of the Word with honest hearts.” (pg. 122)
Namely, to come to the Word with a heart “willing to know the whole counsel of God. A good heart would not have any truth concealed.” We must be willing to take God at His Word, and His Word in its entirety. We cannot pick and choose what we wish to receive, but must rather receive it in whole. We must read the Word with a heart that is honest, a heart which reads that it might be made better by the reading. “The Word is a medium and method of sanctification,” says Watson, “and we come to it not only to illuminate but to consecrate us.”
14. “Learn to apply Scripture; take every word as if spoke to yourselves.” (pg. 122)
Do not read the Scriptures with someone else in mind, thinking, “So and so would really benefit from this passage.” Rather, Watson tells us, “When the Word thunders against sin, think thus: God means my sins; when it presseth any duty, God intends me in this. Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it concerned only those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the Word, bring it home to yourselves. A medicine will do no good unless it be applied.” (pg. 123)
15. “Observe the preceptive part of the Word, as well as the promissory.” (pg. 123)
We must not only give attention to those portions of the Bible which give sweet promises to us, but also those parts that tell us our duty. “The precepts carry duty in them, like the veins which carry the blood; the promises carry comfort, like the arteries which carry the spirit. Make use of the precepts to direct you, the promises to comfort you.”
16. “Let your thoughts dwell upon the most material passages of Scripture.” (pg. 123)
Although all Scripture is profitable for us, “yet some parts of it may have a greater emphasis, and be more lively and pungent.” The book of Second Chronicles, though being divinely inspired and profitable to our soul, is not equal in liveliness and application to the book of Romans. “Reading the names of the tribes or the genealogies of the patriarchs, is not of the same importance as faith and the new creature. Mind the great things of the law (Hos. 8:12). They who read only to satisfy their curiosity, do rather busy than profit themselves.”
17. “Compare yourselves with the Word.” (pg. 123)
Let us see “how the Scripture and [our] hearts agree … Are [our] hearts, as it were, a transcript and counterpart of Scripture? Is the Word copied out into our hearts? The Word calls for humility; are you not only humbled, but humble? The Word calls for regeneration (John 3:7); have you a change of heart – not only a moral and partial change, but a spiritual?” Etc.
18. “Take special notice of those Scriptures which speak to your particular case.” (pg. 124)
Do you feel heavy with lust? Cling to those passages which deal with lust, its sinfulness, its punishment and its remedy. Do you lack assurance? Bring those passages into your heart which deal with God’s promises of love and preservation over His saints. “In reading, observe those Scriptures which do touch upon your particular case. Although all the Bible must be read, yet those texts which point most directly to your condition, be sure to put a special star upon.” (pg.125)
19. “Take special notice of the examples in Scripture; make the examples of others [to be] living sermons to you.” (pg. 125)
Observe the examples in Scripture of God’s judgments upon sinners, His mercy upon His saints, His dealings with man, and man’s responses to God. Learn how those before us triumphed and failed, and apply it to yourself.
20. “Leave not off reading in the Bible till you find your hearts warmed.” (pg. 125)
Watson writes, “Read the Word not only as a history, but strive to be affected with it. Let it not only inform you, but inflame you … Go not from the Word till you can say as those disciples, ‘Did not our heart burn within us.’ (Luke 24:23)” Do not read the Word as a mere religious discipline, rather read the Word expecting to meet with God and be taught of Christ.
21. “Set upon the practice of what you read.” (pg. 125)
“I have followed Thy commandments.” (Ps. 119:66) Do not leave the Word where you read it, but take it up into your heart and walk it out in practice. “Christians should be walking Bibles” says Watson. For David the Word was “a lamp unto his feet.” (Ps. 119:105) “It was not only a light to his eyes to see by, but to his feet to walk by … Reading without practice will be but a torch to light men to hell.” (pg. 126)
22. “Make use of Christ’s prophetical office.” (pg. 126)
Christ is Prophet, Priest and King. He is Prophet to teach us God’s will, Priest to reconcile us to God and King to rule over us. In His prophetic office He teaches us what we are to believe about God and how we are to live for Him. “Such as would be proficient in Scripture must [have] Christ to be their teacher.” It was Christ who opened the minds of the disciples to “understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) Those who desire to profit in the Word must still come to Christ for understanding.
23. “Tread often upon the threshold of the sanctuary.” (pg. 126)
By this Watson means that we must often attend the means of grace in preaching. We must sit under the sound preaching of our pastors if we are to profit in what we read. What we read in the Word will be explained and applied in the pulpit. Ministers, says Watson, are earthen pitchers, “but these pitchers have lamps within them, to light souls in the dark.”
24. “Pray that God will make you profit.” (pg. 126)
David prayed, “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.” (Ps. 119:18) “Pray to God,” writes Watson, “to take off the veil from the Scriptures, that you may understand them; and the veil of your heart, that you may believe them.” (pg. 127) We must come to the Lord in our Scripture reading as the father in the gospels came to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) If we are to have any hope of profiting in the Scriptures, even after observing all of Watson’s previous directions, we must anchor the whole endeavor in prayer. Without God’s aid we shall never understand, and His aid is obtained only by fervent prayer.
Dear believers, if we are to profit in our Scripture reading, we would do well to heed Watson’s directions. The reading of Scripture must never become a common thing, but must remain a sanctified action. There is nothing more profitable to our souls than the reading of God’s Word, let us seek to make it worthwhile.
All Scripture References are taken from the King James Version of the Bible
WATSON, THOMAS. HEAVEN TAKEN BY STORM. SOLI DEO GLORIA PUBLICATIONS, 2019.
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