Today I’m introducing the first edition of something that I plan to make a regular feature. Each Sunday I’ll post a short classic piece from famous Christians signally used by God down through the history of the church. There are some good men around today (I mentioned a few recently), but our heritage is so rich, we are fools to neglect the great body of truth left us by Christians of previous eras.
I have been so blessed over the years by the writings of Reformers and Puritans, Revivalists and Missionaries. I’ll just share some gleanings each week – read carefully and I can promise you’ll be enriched.
Today we start with John Newton …
READING THE BIBLE
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16
Books and letters written in a proper spirit, may, if the Lord is pleased to smile upon them, have their use; but an awakened mind that thirsts after the Saviour, and seeks wisdom by reading and praying over the scripture, has little occasion for a library of human writings. The Bible is the fountain from whence every stream that deserves our notice is drawn; and, though we may occasionally pay some attention to the streams – we have personally an equal right with others to apply immediately to the fountain-head, and draw the water of life for ourselves. The purest streams are not wholly freed from the gout de terroir – a twang of the soil through which they run; a mixture of human infirmity is inseparable from the best human composition; but in the fountain the truth is unmixed.
Again, men teach us by many words; and if they would give us their full views of the subject, require us to read a whole volume, the life and substance of which is perhaps expressed with greater force and greater advantage in the scripture by a single sentence, which is rather diluted than explained by our feeble expositions. A volume may be easily written upon the grace of humility, and to show the evil and folly of a self-seeking spirit. But if the author should introduce this subject with our Savior’s words, ‘ Even the Son of Man came not into the world to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many;’ whoever was duly impressed with that short introduction, would have no great occasion to read the rest of the book.
The preaching of the gospel being an instituted means of grace, ought to be thankfully and frequently improved. And books that have a savour and unction may likewise be helpful, provided we read them with caution, compare them with the scripture, and do not give ourselves implicitly to the rules or decisions of any man or set of men, but remember that one is our Master and infallible Teacher, even Christ. But the chief and grand means of edification, without which all other helps will disappoint us, and prove like clouds without water, are the Bible and prayer, the word of grace and the throne of grace. A frequent perusal of the Bible will give us an enlarged and comprehensive view of the whole of religion, its origin, nature, genius, and tendency, aud preserve us from an over-attachment to any system of man’s compilation.
The fault of the several systems, under which, as under so many banners, the different denominations of Christians are ranged, is, that there is usually something left out which ought to have been taken in, and something admitted, of supposed advantage, not authorized by the scriptural standard. A Bible Christian, therefore, will see much to approve in a variety of forms and parties; the providence of God may lead or fix him in a more immediate connexion with some one of them, but his spirit and affection will not be confined within these narrow enclosures. He insensibly borrows aud unites that which is excellent in each, perhaps without knowing how far he agrees with them, because he finds all in the written word.
I know not a better rule of reading the Scripture, than to read it through from beginning to end and, when we have finished it once, to begin it again. We shall meet with many passages which we can make little improvement of, but not so many in the second reading as in the first, and fewer in the third than in the second : provided we pray to him who has the keys to open our understandings, and to anoint our eyes with his spiritual ointment. The course of reading today will prepare some lights for what we shall read tomorrow, and throw a farther light upon what we read yesterday. Experience only can prove the advantage of this method, if steadily persevered in. To make a few efforts and then give over, is like making a few steps and then standing still, which would do little towards completing a long journey. But, though a person walked slowly, and but a little way in a day, if he walked every day, and with his face always in the same direction, year after year, he might in time encompass the globe. By thus travelling patiently and steadily through the Scripture, and repeating our progress, we should increase in knowledge to the end of life.
The Old and New Testament, the doctrines, precepts, and promises, the history, the examples, admonitions, and warnings, etc. would mutually illustrate and strengthen each other, and nothing that is written for our instruction would be overlooked. Happy should I be, could I fully follow the advice I am now offering to you. I wish you may profit by my experience. Alas, how much time have I lost and wasted, which, had I been wise, I should have devoted to reading and studying the Bible! But my evil heart obstructs the dictates of my judgment, I often feel a reluctance to read this book of books, and a disposition to hew out broken cisterns which afford me no water, while the fountain of living waters are close within my reach.
John Newton (1725-1807). A former slave trader turned Anglican clergyman, he is perhaps best known as the writer of what is arguably the most famous and beloved hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace”. Newton’s tombstone reads, “Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”