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“Reading and studying the Bible” by John Newton

“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 up, 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 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, The Works of John Newton, Vol. 6, Ed. Richard Cecil (vol. 6; London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 418–419.

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“I am not an elephant” by D.A. Carson

“For the last eight years I have spent more time studying the Gospel of John than any other part of the Scripture. This has proved to be a lesson in humility.

John is simple enough for a child to read and complex enough to tax the mental powers of the greatest minds. As one commentator has put it, this book is like a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant may swim.

I am not an elephant; but I have become aware of the many places where I am beyond my depth.”

–D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 9.

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“Beholding glory begs for lingering” by John Piper

“Beholding glory begs for lingering.

The modern, fast-paced world will tempt you to rush and skim. This kind of life will make you shallow. The world does not need more widely read, shallow people. It needs deep people.

I don’t mean complex. I don’t mean highly educated. I don’t mean you know big words. I don’t mean you know historical background.

I mean you have seen glory— the glory of God in his Word. You have pondered it and felt its relation to all the parts of your life. You have been steadied and satisfied by it.

You have come home. You are not frantic anymore. You are at peace in the presence of God. This is what I mean by deep. This is what the world needs.”

–John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 1991/2012), xviii.

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“By indefatigable labor” by Francis Turretin

“We unhesitatingly confess that the Scriptures have their heights and depths which we cannot enter or sound and which God so ordered on purpose to excite the study of believers and increase their diligence, to humble the pride of man and to remove from them the contempt which might arise from too great plainness…

For as in nature so also in the Scriptures, it pleased God to present everywhere and make easy of comprehension all necessary things.

But those less necessary are so closely concealed as to require great exertion to extricate them. Thus besides bread and sustenance, she has her luxuries, gems and gold deep under the surface and obtainable only by indefatigable labor.

And as heaven is sprinkled with greater and lesser stars, so the Scriptures are not everywhere equally resplendent, but are distinguished by clearer and obscurer places, as by stars of a greater or lesser magnitude.”

–Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (2.17.4). Ed. James Dennison (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1692/1996), 1:143-144.

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“There is another kind of reading” by John Piper

“The Bible is a book. Jesus came in the flesh and was called the Word of God. He taught many things, and He did many things. He died for sins, and He rose again. He founded the church and poured out the Holy Spirit.

All that foundational speaking and doing is preserved in a book. My ninth point is this: reading a substantial book well is hard mental work.

You learned your native language when you were very young– before you were five years old. You didn’t know you were working when you did it. And so most of us assume that reading just comes naturally.

But there is more than one kind of reading. One kind of reading is passive and involves very little aggressive effort to understand. We just take what comes and let it happen to us.

But there is another kind of reading that is very active, and digs down into the author’s mind, and wants to understand everything it sees. It may sound strange to say it, but one of the most scholarly things I ever learned was that many parts of the Bible (like Paul’s letters and Jesus’s sermons) are less like a string of pearls and more like chains of steel.

That is, the authors don’t just give a sequence of spiritual gems; they forge a chain of logical argumentation. Their statements hang together. They are linked. One connects to another, and those two connect to another, and those three to another, and so on as the unbreakable argument of glorious truth extends through a passage.

And, when the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds, this chain of argumentation is on fire.

Rigorous reading– scholarly reading– traces these kinds of argumentation. Each proposition begins with a logical connector (‘for,’ ‘that is,’ ‘as,’ ‘because,’ ‘ever since,’ ‘and,’ ‘therefore,’ etc.). These small words are among the most important in the Bible. They tell us how the statements are related to each other…

On and on the chain of argumentation grows. Words become statements, and statements are linked to form larger units. And these larger units are linked to build whole books.

The point here is simply: since much of the Bible is written this way, pastors are called to trace these arguments with active, careful, rigorous reading, and explain statements and the connections and the larger units to their people, and then apply them to their lives. This kind of reading is exceedingly demanding.

All this is involved in the fact that God revealed Himself to the church through the centuries in a book. He did not have to give the church a book. He could have done it in another way. He could have just given daily dreams to His people. He could have caused dramatizations to appear in the sky.

He could have communicated to a select few with secret knowledge and made them memorize everything and pass it on to another select few in each generation. He could have communicated to us any way He wanted to. And He did it in a book.

This is one reason that everywhere the Christian church has spread, there have been not only churches and hospitals, but also schools– places of rudimentary and then advanced scholarship. It’s because we’re dependent on a book. Since our faith is rooted in the understanding of a book, we want people to learn to read, and then to have the Bible in their language, and to learn how to think carefully and doctrinally about the book.

So the very existence of the Bible as a book signals that the pastor is called to read carefully and accurately and thoroughly and honestly.”

–John Piper and D.A. Carson, The Pastor As Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 64-66.

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“Calvin in his commentaries” by Marilynne Robinson

“I have a collection of Calvin’s writings, nowhere near complete but daunting all the same, dozens of volumes of disciplined and elegant explication from the hand of a man whose health was never good, who shouldered for decades the practical and diplomatic problems of Geneva, a city under siege, and whose writings inspired and also endangered the individuals and populations across Europe who read them, whether or not they were persuaded by them. To say these things are humbling would be to understate the matter wildly.

I do happen to know what goes into the writing of a book– granted, not a book that requires a mastery of ancient languages, or that addresses the endless difficulties of translation– nor one that sets out to make literary use of a disparaged language or that attempts to render or to interpret a sacred text. I have no idea what it would be like to write in prison or in hiding or in a city full of refugees. I have no idea what it would be like to live with the threat of death while trying to write something good enough to justify the mortal peril others accepted in simply reading it.

I have just enough relevant experience to inform my awe. I find these achievements unimaginable. When I see Calvin in his commentaries pausing once again over the nuances and ambiguities of a Hebrew word as if his time and his patience and his strength were all inexhaustible, I am touched by how respectful he is, phrase by phrase and verse and by verse, of the text of Scripture, and therefore how respectful he is of any pastor and of all those to whom that pastor will preach.”

–Marilynne Robinson, “Reformation,” in The Givenness of Things (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2015), 25-26.

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“The proper study of the Christian” by Charles Spurgeon

“It has been said by some one that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God.

The proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.

There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.

Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, ‘Behold I am wise.’

But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with the solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.’

No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God. But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe.

He may be a naturalist, boasting of his ability to dissect a beetle, anatomize a fly, or arrange insects and animals in classes with well nigh unutterable names; he may be a geologist, able to discourse of the megatherium and the plesiosaurus, and all kinds of extinct animals; he may imagine that his science, whatever it is, ennobles and enlarges his mind.

I dare say it does, but after all, the most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity.

Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatary.

Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore.

Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated.

I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.

It is to that subject that I invite you this morning.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Immutability of God,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, Volume 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 1. Preached this sermon from Malachi 3:6 on January 7, 1855. He was just 20 years old.

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