August 16, 2017

Rising Above Familiarity with the Sublime (2)

Mark Minnick

(This is Part Two – Part One is Here)

Part One introduced the subject of over-familiarity with the Bible as a hindrance to profitable Bible reading in personal devotions. Dr. Minnick offers notes on a sermon preached by Thomas Watson as a guide to keeping our devotions fresh and our heart warm in our walk with the Lord.

The Matter of Mood

(7) Read with seriousness. If one go over the Scripture cursorily, said Erasmus, there is little good to be obtained by it; but if he be serious in reading it, it is the savor of life (Deut. 32:47). Some have light, feathery spirits; they read over the most weighty truths in haste. Read with a solemn, composed spirit. Seriousness is the Christian’s ballast which keeps him from being overturned with vanity.

It would simply be impossible to underscore this point sufficiently. There is something impressive and commanding about the preacher who is deeply earnest. He brings a hush to the restless stirring of the usual congregation. They instinctively sense that his seriousness is real, not assumed for the moment. Such genuine earnestness comes only out of a spirit nurtured in the secret place of the most High.

(8) Give credence to the words. Believe it to be of God. See the name of God in every line. Unbelief enervates the virtue of the Word and makes it abortive. Who will obey truths he does not believe? “The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith” (Heb. 4:2).

It is one level of response to believe the words we read, but a higher plane to treasure them. The higher is reached by intensifying the lower. The more any particular statement of Scripture is depended upon the greater it will be valued. Thus Watson’s next point.

(9) Highly prize what you read. The Psalmist could testify, “the law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver” (Ps. 119:72). Prize this book of God above all other books. Gregory calls the Bible the heart and soul of God.

(10) Love what you read. Here Watson draws a distinction between the “prizing” he just encouraged and the “loving” which he now adds. Prizing relates to the judgment; love, to the affections. In other words, “prizing” is a matter of estimation. It is the product of sober calculation. Love, however, has advanced to engaging emotion. All the disciples prized the Lord. They left all to follow Him. But when the unnamed woman kissed and wept over His feet, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with costly ointment, the disciples’ devotion was surpassed (Luke 7:36–47).

There is likewise a loving of the Word much because it gives us much. Our estimation of how much (prizing) is revealed by our affection (love). O to be like David, whose conscience did not protest when he called upon God to “consider how I love thy precepts” (Ps. 119:159).

Understandest Thou What Thou Readest?

(11) Labor to get right understanding of what you read. The knowledge of the Scripture’s sense is the first step to profit. Get what knowledge you can by comparing Scriptures, by conferring with others, by using the best commentaries. Without knowledge, the Scripture is a sealed book; every line is too high for us, and if the Word shoot above our head it can never hit our heart.

Early in his ministerial life, George Whitefield made it his daily practice to read through a portion of Scripture in his English Bible, to follow this by comparing its wording with a Greek Testament, and then to finish by reading Matthew Henry’s comments. (He had paid the equivalent of four weeks’ wages to own this coveted set!) Henry’s example is not only inspirational, but instructional, when one takes seriously Paul’s emphatic statements that no one is edified by what he does not understand (1 Cor. 14:6–19).

(12) Let your thoughts dwell on the most material passages of Scripture. By “material” Watson means the most “substantive.” Sometimes we fail to be nourished by the Word because we are confining our reading to its less substantive passages. Reading the names of the tribes or the genealogies of the patriarchs is necessary, Watson said, but is not of the same importance as other portions dealing with faith and our being a new creature in Christ. Though the whole texture of Scripture is excellent, yet some parts of it may have a greater emphasis and be more lively and pungent. The bee fastens on those flowers where she may suck most sweetness.

(13) Take special note of the examples of Scripture; make them living sermons to yourself. Observe the examples of God’s judgments upon sinners. They have been hanged up in chains, as a terror. How severely has God punished proud men! Nebuchadnezzar was turned to eat grass; Herod eaten up with vermin. How has God plagued idolaters (Num. 25:3, 4, 9; 1 Kings 14:9–10)! What a swift witness has He been against liars (Acts 5:5, 10)! These examples are set up as seamarks to avoid (1 Cor. 10:11; Jude 7).

Observe the examples of God’s mercy to saints. Jeremiah preserved in the dungeon; the three children in the furnace; Daniel in the lions’ den. These examples are props to faith, spurs to holiness.

(14) Observe the preceptive part of the Word as well as the promissory. Such as cast their eye on the promise, with a neglect of the command, are not edified by Scripture, as they look more for comfort than for duty.

(15) Compare yourself with what you read. See how the Scripture and your heart agree. See how your dial goes with this sun. Is the Word copied out in your heart?

(16) Learn to apply the Scripture. Take every word as if spoken to you. When the Word thunders gainst sin, think thus, “God means my sins.” When the Word presses home a duty, think, “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 yourself. The saints of old took the Scripture as if it had been spoken to them by name. When King Josiah heard the threatening written in the book of God, he applied it to himself: “he rent his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11) and humbled his soul before the Lord.

(17) Take special notice of those Scriptures which speak to your particular case. Watson illustrates this principle in three special cases:
(1) Affliction: Has God made your chain heavy?
(2) Desertion: Are your spiritual comforts eclipsed?
(3) Sin: Are you drawn away with lust? Are you under the power of unbelief?
Thus, 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.

This approach is vital. Frequently I discover that it has not occurred to troubled believers to seek out passages written explicitly to counsel their case. Just recently a young man in great despair testified to feeling that God was always angry with him—always condemning him. No assurances I could offer brought any comfort whatsoever. Finally I inquired about his daily Bible reading. “Well,” he said, “I’ve been reading the Minor Prophets.” When I asked for how long, he replied that as they were hard to understand he had been forced to slow his regular pace of reading and had, in fact, been laboring through them for several months. My counsel was a healthy dose of Psalms and the Gospels!

(18) Tread often upon the threshold of the sanctuary. Wait diligently upon a rightly constituted ministry. Ministers are God’s interpreters; it is their work to open and expound dark places of Scripture. Ministers are earthen pitchers (2 Cor. 4:7). But these pitchers have lamps within them, to light souls in the dark.

Watson’s advice here is directed to lay people, but has its application to preachers too. Brothers, we need one another’s preaching. Our sermons are the iron against which our people put a fresh edge on their lives every returning Lord’s Day. But what will sharpen the iron? Iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17). So preachers show other preachers what to find in the Bible and how to understand it aright. I personally listen to taped messages of a wide variety of preachers constantly while driving. If I’m driving, someone is preaching. It would be impossible for me to exaggerate the benefit of this practice to both my heart and my head.

After Reading

(19) Labor to remember what you read. Satan would steal the Word out of your mind. The memory should be like the ark where the law was put. If the Word stays not in the memory it cannot profit. Some can better remember a piece of news than a line of Scripture; their memories are like those ponds where the frogs live, but the fish die.

(20) Meditate upon what you read. Reading brings the truth into our head, meditation brings it into our heart. The bee sucks the flower and then works it into the hive, and so turns it into honey; by reading we suck the flower of the Word, by meditation we work into the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit. Meditation is the bellows of 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.

(21) Set upon the practice of what you read. “I have followed thy commandments” (Ps. 119:66). The lifeblood of religion lies in the practical part. David calls God’s word a “lamp to his feet” (Ps. 119:105). It was not only a light to his eyes to see by, but to his feet to walk by; by practice we trade the talent of knowledge and turn it to profit.

Watson drew his sermon to its conclusion with several encouragements. One is an especially fitting closing for preachers.

If you have profited by reading the Holy Scriptures, adore God’s distinguishing grace. Bless God that He has not only brought the light to you, but opened your eyes to see it; that He has unlocked His hid treasure and enriched you . . . that the Scripture, like the pillar of cloud, should have a dark side to others, but a light side to you; that to others it should be a dead letter, but to you the savor of life. . . . How should you be in a holy ecstasy of wonder, and wish that you had hearts of seraphims burning in love to God, and the voices of angels to make heaven ring with God’s praises!


Dr. Mark Minnick pastors Mount Calvary Baptist Churchin Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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