People who have an excellent understanding of the Scriptures really impress me. If there’s one thing I detest, besides Manchester United, it’s Bible studies or theological discussions where the Scriptures function like the crumbs in a bag of chips: you get to them only if you’re desperate.
As someone who has had the pleasure and displeasure of examining candidates for the ministry, I can tell you that many candidates suffer from a lack of basic bible knowledge. They (kind of) know their five points of Calvinism – I wish they knew the other twenty – but they have no idea what the five Levitical offerings are. They know two Latin words (duplex gratia), which they say ad infinitum, ad nauseam, but they don’t even know whether the cupbearer, the baker or the candlestick-maker forgot Joseph in prison.
In the church today, man’s words are quickly eclipsing God’s words. This is true particularly in our hymns (i.e., we don’t sing Psalms anymore) and preaching, but also especially in the pastoral prayer. If we (ministers) could just remove “just” from our pastoral prayers and instead have Scripture-saturated prayers we might actually get God to do something and inspire a sense of reverence and awe in our worship.
Of course, memorizing or quoting the Bible without learning how to use the Bible can be a dangerous thing. The Socinian polemicist, John Biddle, supposedly had almost the entire New Testament memorized in English and in Greek. The wrong hermeneutic can cripple even the smartest of men.
But we still need to know the word of God (see Matt. 22:29; Josh. 1:8; Deut. 17:18; Ezra 7:10; Job 23:12; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 17:11).
John Owen makes a searching comment in connection with this point:
“And truly I must needs see that I know not a more deplorable mistake in the studies of the divines, both preachers and others, than their diversion from an immediate, direct study of the Scriptures themselves unto the studying of commentators, critics, scholiasts, annotators, and the like helps…Not that I condemn the use and study of them, which I wish men were more diligent in, but desire pardon if I mistake, and so only surmise, by the experience of my own folly for many years, that many which seriously study the things of God do yet rather make it their business to inquire after the sense of other men from the Scriptures than to search studiously into them themselves.” (Works, 4:213)
These sentiments hit me hard when I first read them, and they still do today. How many ministers are really comfortable in God’s word, even in the English translation?
According to Thomas Goodwin’s son, the authors that Goodwin most valued and studied were: “Augustin, Calvin, Musculus, Zanchius, Paraeus, Waleus, Gomarus, Altingius, and Amesius; among the Schoolmen Suarez and Estius.”
However, his son adds,
“the Scriptures were what he most studied; and as he had furnished his Library with a very good Collection of Commentators, he made good use of them. And as the Scriptures are an inexhaustible Treasure of Divine Knowledge, so by an eager search into them, and comparing one with another, he discovered those truths which are not to be found in other Authors.”