Enjoying God's Word!
"Your words were found, and I ate them,
And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart;
For I am called by Your name,
O Lord God of hosts" (Jer.15:16 NAS).
Years ago a friend asked, "How many times have you read the Bible through from Genesis to Revelation?" I was astounded and somewhat insulted by the confrontation. That would surely be a beneficial exercise, but was it necessary? "God gave us only one Book and we are accountable for all of it," she said. I have never forgotten that statement.
The earliest memory of hearing the Scripture read was at home with my family. Dad and Mom congregated all of us together for Bible reading and prayer before bedtime. It was when Dad related scriptural accounts to me as a child, that I found the Scriptures delightful and inviting. The most vivid memory I have of his teaching was the account of Samuel being sent to Jesse's house to anoint a king. Samuel did not know that God had chosen young David, Jesse's eighth son, who was out in the fields taking care of his father's sheep. Through the shaving cream on Dad's face and the tears in his piercing blue eyes, he shared more than just the account of 1 Samuel 16; he shared the beauty and enjoyment of God's applicable truth.
God's word is powerfully vibrant. The voice of His excellency (Job 37:4) is nourishing and sufficient for everything. "For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth" (Ps. 33: 4 KJ). "The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Ps. 12:6 KJ). Only God's words are health and strength. "Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him" (Prov. 30:5 NIV). Scripture is more than informative reading; it is the power of God, the essence of life and health (Prov. 4:22). "Thus the Bible, as the infallibly inspired revelation of God to sinful man, stands before us as that light in terms of which all the facts of the created universe must be interpreted"1
"Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, For blessed are they who keep my ways.
Heed instruction and be wise, And do not neglect it. Blessed is the man that listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at my doorposts.
For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord" (Prov. 8:32-35 NKJ).
If we do not, by faith, latch onto the hope spoken of in the Scriptures, we will not enjoy God's word. Faith is the handle by which we take hold of everything in the Christian life. This faith is not a wishing, good-feeling faith or even a mysticalfaith that trusts in revelation beyond Scripture, i.e., subjective experiences, visions, dreams, miracles, prophetic words, etc. Our knowledge and understanding of God should not be rooted in subjectivism, but in the objective truth of the character of God, as He is revealed in the Word of God. Without Biblical faith — faith in the truth of what God has said in His word, there is no faith and no firmly rooted hope or enjoyment.
The Christian who does not enjoy God's word searches for something else to enjoy. This world offers a multiplicity of things aimed at that very end. We are bombarded with promises that products, movies, automobiles, food, sports, vacations, even the right job, the right marriage, children, yes, even the right church, will bring us true and lasting satisfaction. The cycle is always the same. We look to many things to meet our cravings, then come full circle to see that our needs are only in our Savior. Do not misunderstand, we are to enjoy the fruit of our labors and the gifts of His hand; however, every emotion of our heart is to be founded in Christ the Giver. He is to be our first love and total enjoyment. Everything else flows outwardly from our dependency on His all-sufficiency.
Job 11:18 says we are secure because there is hope. This seems backwards to us. We are accustomed to hope that is based upon tangible securities — possessions, bank accounts, education, ability to work, the affluence of family, marriage, etc. This kind of hope is subjectively based, increasing our need for security. The hope spoken of in the Scripture focuses and rests upon the Creator of the universe, our Savior and High Priest. The more we feast upon His truths the stronger our faith and the more our hope is solidified. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4 KJV). Our need for patience and comfort presupposes the anxieties and pain of the night season, but oh the joy when morning comes and the believer's troubles are swallowed up in the security of hope.
God has given specific directives. They are not optional take-it or leave-it suggestions. "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 success" (Joshua 1:8 NAS). "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord" (I Peter 2:2 NAS).
"The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart," to quote Dr. Henry Krabbandam, retired Covenant College professor and missionary to Africa. "Sin will keep you from the Scriptures or the Scriptures will keep you from sin," my Dad used to say. How can we say Christ is the Shepherd of our souls yet have little interest in taking time, making time, to regularly feast on His word? How shall we employ great vigilance against the devil's deceitful work if we are not continually in God's word? Do we think that preservation from evil, along the righteous pathway, will casually come about and we will be steadfast by nature? How do we reckon we shall enjoy the presence of God for an eternity if we so seldom feast upon the riches of His word on earth?
What despicable sin when we read God's word, secretly thinking we have profited Him and that we should be compensated for our sacrificial act of religion. God owes us nothing and He is surely not in need of our services or sacrifices. "Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself?" (Job 22:2 KJV). The blessings God gives us are not debts owed us, but undeserved mercies from His loving hand.
God's word brings correction. "Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves. So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty"(Job 5:17 NAS). Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves" (Job 11:6 NKJ). Our faithfulness or unfaithfulness does not change God. "If we are faithless, He remains faithful: He cannot deny Himself"(2 Tim. 2:13 NKJ). A woman asked the late Dr. Manford George Gutzke, a gifted preacher and teacher, how her Christian child could ever have the proper understanding of God's correction, since he was not accustomed to reading the Scriptures. Dr. Gutzke replied: "Madam, do not worry, God has ways." God brings us back again and again to the covenantal relationship with Him. He is our God and we are His people. We either experience covenant blessings for obedience or covenant curses for disobedience.
Pain is often the Christian's pathway to truth. God uses affliction to get our attention that we might learn His statutes (Ps. 119:71). "We ought as much to bless the Lord for the judgment with which he chastens our sin, as for the mercy with which he forgives it; there is as much love in the blows of his hand as in the kisses of his mouth. …The saints scarcely know which to be most grateful for — the comforts which have cheered them, or the afflictions which have purged them."2
The more we enjoy God's word, the sweeter the honeycomb to our taste. We can never exhaust God's unfathomable truth. As surely as we reckon we have attained a moderate amount of Scriptural understanding, we catch a glimpse of vastness not yet apprehended. Charles H. Spurgeon said his greatest blessing was found in reading God's word, and the second greatest blessing was the misery when he was without it. "O taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!" (Ps. 34:8 NKJ). We are forever finding gems that have escaped our notice, only to be drawn later into their satisfying intimacies. God's word is delightful and unique. One example, throughout the Scripture that I constantly enjoy, is how God describes a situation then contrasts the circumstances with the word "but", i.e.,
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Ps. 34:19 NAS)
"The Lord has disciplined me severely,
But He has not given me over to death" (Ps. 118:18 NAS)
The three-letter word — but is a pivotal point of faith. The conditions of the day are thus and so — but God is set over against them. His righteous will is the foundation of our joy and hope for none of His promises will fail, because they are not based upon our choices but upon His steadfastness.
As we learn to lay our souls upon God's word, others will be drawn to us because of our hope. "Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, Because I have hoped in Your word" (Ps. 119:74 NKJ). We are strengthened and encouraged by fellowship with others, as well as with those saints who have entrusted to us a wealth of fellowship in their God-honored writings. They have answered their call. Their life, works and persecutions are affirmation of their obedience. We are to receive those blessings with humble watchfulness, ever keeping a discerning eye toward the infallible Scriptures, lest those treasures in human vessels depart by the slightest degree from the truth and purity of Holy Writ.
I would like to recommend a few great works that have helped me in understanding and enjoying God's word. Someone said, "Buy books and if there is anything left over buy food." Charles H. Spurgeon recommended the commentators as "a glorious army…whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit." In response to those whose opinion it is that we should only read the Bible and not commentaries, he had this to say. "Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what He has revealed to others. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences."3
- Westminster Confession of Faith - In 1643, an assembly of over a hundred Puritan divines began meeting, as directed by British Parliament, for the purpose of formulating statements of faith. These historical works, written over a five-year period, provide one of the soundest statements of faith in history. They belong to us today. The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms are the most concise genius, expressed in creedal form, second only to the Scriptures. Their beauty and value are mere reflections of the true beauty and value of the Word of God. It is a helpful tool in understanding the God-breathed Scripture — line upon line and precept upon precept. The word catechism means questions and answers. The Larger and Shorter Catechisms are concise doctrines collected from the whole of Scripture, set in question and answer form. Cornelius Van Til said in The Defense Of The Faith, "The Confessions of the Reformed Churches have sought to reproduce the content of Christ's teachings as found in his Word in order to make it effective for purposes of teaching and defense"4
- Matthew Henry's Commentary. Spurgeon said of Matthew Henry,"You will find him to be glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing with illustrations, superabundant in reflections…and gives the result of an accurate critical knowledge of the original fully up to the best critics of his time"5
- The Treasury of David, is a beautiful commentary on the Psalms, by Charles H. Spurgeon. If our house were on fire those volumes would be among the items to be salvaged. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, sermons from the 1800's, are a blessing to the soul. Each sermon is about 7 pages long, just the right amount for daily reading.
- By This Standard, by the late Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, is basic and invaluable. This book will open your eyes and encourage your heart. It is gentle and easy to read. Once the whole counsel of God is accepted, the manifestation of hope in one's mind and heart is astounding. Theonomy in Christian Ethics and Victory in Jesus, edited by Robert R. Booth are among Dr. Bahnsen's excellent works. See http://www.cmfnow.com for other books and tapes.
- A Commentary on Proverbs, by Charles Bridges was first published in 1846. "Surely if the book conducted to no other end, it tends to humble even the most consistent servant of God, in the consciousness of countless failures."6
- 6. Calvin's Commentaries published by Eerdman are a must to read, so are Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin was only 26 years of age when he wrote the first edition of his Institutes.
- The Geneva Series Commentaries, published by Banner of Truth are outstanding.
- JONAH, by Hugh Martin, in the Geneva Series, is a hallmark work. If ever there was a lesson in not trusting the circumstances this is it! Ships did not come into Joppa every day or every week or perhaps not every month. Here was a ship that "just happened" to be going to Tarshish, the place Jonah wanted to go. It was of course not going in the direction of Nineveh, where God had specifically directed Jonah (Jonah 1:1). Had Jonah been an evangelical pietiest, seeing the ship going in the opposite direction to Nineveh, he might have reasoned, "I have a good feeling about going to Tarshish, after all God has brought about the circumstances for me to go in that direction." We are not told of Jonah's thought processes, but we do know what he did. He deliberately disobeyed, got on the ship and sailed for Tarshish. …"If in rebellion and revolt against the clearly revealed will of God, you continue in the way of transgressors, you shall find the means and incentives and facilities for sin surrounding you on all sides, and multiplying as you go along; you shall find this as one of those continual facts and features which go to make the road 'the broad road,' even as the gate of it is the wide gate, whereat alas, the many enter in."7 What a wake-up call! It is frightening to think that once our hearts are thoroughly determined to disobey, it is as if all of Heaven turns out to help us on our willful path of disobedience.
- The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink, is the work of all works on that subject. "There are two practical matters which it is always well to remember in connection with the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Firstly, while this is a truth, which every minister of the gospel is called to proclaim, it is not a subject that should be made a matter of argument amongst Christians. Indeed, the Christian who professes to believe this truth and yet talks as if others can be persuaded to accept it by the power of words and discussion is, in reality, denying his very profession. The one who truly believes that grace and light and spiritual understanding are gifts of God will not attempt to argue about such matters. Rather he will seek to adorn the doctrine by a quiet and patient spirit and to 'put on…as the elect of God…kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye' (Col. 3:12,13)."8
- An Exposition of Leviticus, by A.A. Bonar, brings the sacrificial system to our heart's door.
- The Body of Divinity, by Thomas Watson, is a commentary on the catechism. "Thomas Watson's Body of Practical Divinity is one of the most precious of the peerless works of the Puritans; and those most acquainted with it prize it most."9
- Institutes of Biblical Law, (three volumes) are without doubt the best reference material in our library. Law and Society; Systematic Theology (two volumes); Law and Liberty; Salvation and Godly Rule; Christianity and the State; Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel & Revelation; Hebrews, James & Jude; Romans & Galatians; Genesis are a few of the great works of the late R. J. Rushdoony. He was president of the educational institution named for the ecclesiastical council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451). The insights God gave R. J. Rushdoony are ageless. We owe a great debt to this brilliant leader who has reshaped the thinking of our Christian culture. "Chalcedon Foundation offers distinctly Christian and explicitly Biblical solutions to the prevalent evils of the modern world. Their mission is to expose the forces of humanism and secularism that have been eroding the theological fortifications of Christian civilization over the past three centuries."10 See their web site at http://www.chalcedon.edu.
- An Exposition of Romans by Robert Haldane is rich reading.
- The many Puritan Paperbacks, published by The Banner of Truth Trust, are precious works, pocket size, easy to carry. Thomas Watson's The Doctrine of Repentance, one of his many books, states "A true penitent confesses that he mingles sin with all he does, and therefore has nothing to boast of".11 "Is not he a fool who labours more for the bread that perishes than for the bread of life? Is not he a fool who, to safeguard his body will injure his soul? Is not he a fool who minds his recreation more than his salvation?"12 "The burden of sin is always worse when it is least felt"13 "It is no wonder that he who is not resolved to be an enemy of sin is conquered by it."14
- Among other great Puritan Paperbacks is The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel; The Christian's Great Interest by William Guthrie; The Sinfulness of Sin by Ralph Venning; and Thomas Brooks Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. God's word records the sins of great men and women, not that we may justify our own scandalous behavior but that "their falls may be as landmarks to warn others that stand, to take heed lest they fall. It never entered into the heart of God to record His children's sins, that others might be encouraged to sin, but that others might look to their standings, and hang the faster upon the skirts of Christ …"15
- He Shall Have Dominion by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., expounds the Scriptural teaching that Christ's kingdom will triumph, not only at the end of the world, but here in calendar time, here in history. Our responsibility is to help extend Christ's kingdom of reconciling all things back unto Him instead of fleeing this world, declaring it to be evil. For the most part, the Church and Christian's hate this message. Many have already determined that the Church is doomed for failure and that God's word should have little influence upon daily life. They would rather believe that the application of Scripture is limited to the understanding of the regenerate and that Christian's should have no responsibility to transform society.
- Studies In Theology by Loraine Boettner. "This book was designed to cover five of the doctrines which are the most basic, or among the most basic in the Christian system. If one gets these doctrines well in hand he probably will not have much trouble with any of the other doctrines of Scripture."16Roman Catholicism, by Boettner is an excellent work on that subject.
- Systematic Theology by R. L. Dabney, first published in 1871, is one among many of his great works. Dabney was acclaimed by A.A. Hodge as "the best teacher of theology in the United States, if not in the world"17
- Sermons, tapes and writings by Dr. Joseph C. Morecraft, III, available at http://www.chalcedon.org
"The word of God is our only standard, and the Holy Spirit our only teacher,"18 said George Muller. He found blessing in habitually reading the Bible on his knees, spending hours in meditation and prayer over a single passage of Scripture. For every uninspired page he read in religious literature, he read twice the number of pages in Scripture. What an excellent example! "No reader of God's word can thus bow before God and His open book, without a feeling of new reverence for the Scriptures, and dependence on their Author for insight into their mysteries."19
Where do we start? We start with repentance that we so often love other things more than the Word of God. "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, For I do not forget Your commandments"(Prov. 119:176 NAS). Did we turn the boat around and head down stream, saying we wanted nothing to do with God's word? No, of course not; but, because we did not actively progress forward, we drifted backward in the wrong direction. Before we knew it we were in a strange and barren land, hungry and thirsty. The Christian cries out to the Good Shepherd, "Seek Your servant." He must seek us for we are unable to get back to the sheepfold on our own. And why should our Shepherd seek us? The argument is a powerful one! "For I do not forget Your commandments." Our hearts are not long satisfied in the squalor of sin and it is not enough to recall His commands from downstream. We are acquainted with His words of nourishment and we must own them again, not from afar, but in His presence where we are restored from wandering. "O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles (Ps. 43:3 NAS).
It is God who endears our hearts to Him. This endearing does not originate with us (Jer. 24:7), and does not continue apart from God's word. Loving and enjoying God cannot be separated from who He is and what He does. It is more than an intellectual knowledge. Remember the Devil possesses intellectual knowledge about God and he is still the Devil. What Satan has never and can never possess is God's regenerative work. God never knew Satan before the foundation of the world in a covenantal relationship of elected intimacy. This special relationship is ours. We are His children and He is our God. If we have been nourished with the enjoyment of Scriptural delicacies in this life, we shall more easily recognize their fullness in heaven, for we will already have had a foretaste of glory divine.
1. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of The Faith, 107.
2. C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol.2, 239.
3. C.H. Spurgeon, Commenting & Commentaries, 1.
4. Van Til, op.cit., 7.
5. Spurgeon, op.cit., 2.
6. Charles Bridges, A Commentary on Proverbs, xii.
7. Hugh Martin, Jonah, 62.
8. A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Publishers Preface,3.
9. Thomas Watson, The Body of Divinity, "Brief Memoir of Thomas Watson," compiled by C.H. Spurgeon, iii.
10. Chalcedon Report, No,.407, June 1999, inside front cover.
11. Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, 34.
12. Ibid., 42.
13. Ibid., 109.
14. Ibid., 120.
15. Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, 49.
16. Loraine Boettner, personal letter to Ina Painter, November 21, 1978.
17. R.L Dabney, Systematic Theology, jacket cover.
18. Arthur T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol, 462.
19. Ibid., 139.
Topics: Old Testament History, Theology