Five Principles to Search The Scriptures Profitably
Jesus began this final portion of His defense before the Jewish leaders with the words that commend themselves to all of us in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures.” The wrong attitude of the scribes and the Pharisee should not keep us from searching the Scriptures, but should teach us to study them rightly so as to possess Christ by faith. Let’s now look at some application about how we may profitably search the Scriptures.
John Newton, the pastor and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” offers four principles for rightly approaching God’s Word. First is that we must study Scripture with sincerity. Newton explains, “I mean a real desire to be instructed by the Scripture, and to submit both our sentiments and our practices to be controlled and directed by what we read therein.”[i] We must come to the Scriptures with a teachable spirit, Charles Simeon says, “desiring to learn from them the will and mind of God and determining through grace to obey them in every way so that we receive implicitly what they declare, obeying without reservation what they command.”[ii]
Second, we must study the Scriptures with diligence. Newton urges that we should come to the Scriptures like miners, who seek their treasures by digging and examining. Simeon argues that “a casual and cursory stroll through the Scriptures is of little use. Even a formal habit of reading such as the Psalms and lessons for the day will not do.”[iii] He does not mean to discourage daily Bible reading. But he means that the way to have little faith is to exert little effort in the Scriptures. The Christians whose lives are strongly influenced by God’s Word are those who hunger for knowledge of divine truth and study Scripture with a passion that befits its dignity and worth. This is a far cry from the detached analysis of the Bible’s critics, but rather a believing study to mine God’s Word for all it is worth. Such diligent believers approach the bible saying with David in Psalm 25:4-5, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”
Third, we must approach the Scriptures with humility. The right way to approach the Bible is as one who is aware of his/her many sins that need correcting, his/her weakness that needs strength, his/her folly that craves wisdom, and his/her tendency to error that needs instruction in the truth. Newton advises, “Let us aim to a humble spirit: let us reflect much on the majesty and grandeur of the God we serve: let us adore his condescension in favouring us with revelation of his will. In a word, let us study to know ourselves, our sinfulness and ignorance; then we shall no longer read the Scriptures with indifference or prepossession, but with the greatest reverence and attention, and with the most enlarged expectation.”[iv]
Fourth, we must open God’s Word with prayer. David prayed in Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Martin Luther urged that when studying Scripture, “your first duty is to begin to pray, and to pray to this effect that if it please God to accomplish something for His glory- not for yours or any other person—He may very graciously grant you a true understanding of His Words. For no master of the divine words exist except the Author of these words, as He says, “They shall be taught of God (John 6:45).”[v]
To these four principles let me add just one more: we must study the Scriptures with the aim and purpose for which they were given by God: to know Christ. Not just to gain knowledge; not to be puffed up before men; and not just to gain tips for earthly happiness- let us come to the Bible to know Christ. John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Charles Simeon said, “It is the knowledge of Christ, and that alone, that conveys to our souls, the blessings of salvation.” (Simeon, Evangelical Preaching, 199). Therefore, Paul cried in out in Philippians 3:1, “I want to know Christ.” Jesus warned the scribes and the Pharisees in John 5:39-40, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Let us, then, above all else, ensure that through the witness of Scripture we see Christ and know Christ, and that by coming to Christ we gain eternal life.
[i] John Newton, The Works of John Newton, 6 vols. (1820; repr. Edinburg: Banner of Truth, 1985, 2:322-23.
[ii] Simeon, Evangelical Preaching, 198.
[iv] Newton, Works, 2:327-28.
[v] Martin Luther, What Luther says, comp. Ewald M. Plass, 3 vols. (St. Louis, Concordia, 1959), 1:77.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021) and The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.