Directions for Profitable Reading the Holy Scriptures
from Richard Baxter's "Christian Directory" 1673
Seeing the diversity of men's tempers and understandings is so exceedingly great, that it is impossible that anything should be pleasing and suitable to some, which shall not be disliked and quarreled with by others; and seeing in the Scriptures, that there are many things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction, 2 Peter 3:16; and the Word is to some the savor of death unto death, 2 Corinthians 2:16 — you have therefore need to be careful in reading it. And as Christ says, " Take heed how you hear," Luke 8:18; so I say, Take heed how you read!
Direction 1.Bring not an evil heart of unbelief to Scripture. Open the Bible with holy reverence as the book of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Remember that the doctrine of the New Testament was revealed by the Son of God, who was purposely sent from Heaven to be the light of the world, and to make known to men the will of God, and the matters of their salvation. Ponder carefully, if God should but send a book or letter to you by an angel — how reverently you would receive it! How carefully you would peruse it — and regard it above all the books in the world! And how much rather should you do so, by that book which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and records the doctrine of Christ himself, whose authority is greater than all the angels! Read it not therefore as a common book, with a common and unreverent heart — but in the dread and love of God the author.
Direction 2.Remember that Scripture is the very Word of God which you must live by, and be judged by at last. And therefore read with a full resolution to obey whatever it commands, though flesh, and men, and devils contradict it. Let there be no secret exceptions in your heart, to balk at any of its precepts, and rationalize that part of obedience which the flesh accounts difficult or dear.
Direction 3.Remember that Scripture is the will and testament of your Lord, and the covenant of most full and gracious promises; which all your comforts, and all your hopes of pardon and everlasting life, are built upon. Read it therefore with love and great delight. Value it a thousandfold more than you would do the letters of your dearest friend, or the deeds by which you hold your lands, or anything else of low concernment. If the law was sweeter to David than honey, and better than thousands of gold and silver, and was his delight and meditation all the day — then oh, what should the sweet and precious gospel be to us!
Direction 4.Remember that Scripture is a doctrine of unseen things, and of the greatest mysteries; and therefore come not to it with arrogance as a judge, but with humility as a learner or disciple. And if anything seems difficult or improbable to you, suspect your own limited understanding — and not the sacred Word of God. If a learner in any art or science, will suspect his teacher and his books, whenever he is confused, or meets with that which seems unlikely to him — his pride would keep possession for his ignorance, and his folly were likely to be incurable.
Direction 5.Remember that Scripture is a universal standard and doctrine, written for the most ignorant, as well as for the curious; and therefore must be suited in plainness, to the capacity of the simple — and yet have matter to exercise the most subtle wits; and that God would have the style to savor more of the innocent weakness of the instruments, than the matter. Therefore be not troubled when the style does seem less polite than you might think befit the Holy Spirit; nor at the plainness of some parts, or the mysteriousness of others; but adore the wisdom and tender condescension of God to his poor creatures.
Direction 6.Bring not a carnal mind, which savors only fleshly things, and is enslaved to those sins which the Scripture condemns: "For the carnal mind is enmity against God, and neither is nor can be subject to his law," Romans 8:7,8. "The things of God are not discerned by the mere natural man, for they are foolishness to him, and they must be spiritually discerned," 2 Corinthians 2:14 — and enmity is an ill expositor.
The carnal mind will be quarreling with all, and making faults in the Word, which finds so many faults in you. It will hate that Word which comes to deprive you of your most sweet and dearly beloved sin. Or, if you have such a carnal mind and enmity, believe it not, any more than a partial and wicked enemy should be believed against God himself; who better understands what he has written, than any of his foolish enemies.
Direction 7.Compare one place of Scripture with another, and expound the darkest place — by the light of the plainest, and the fewer expressions — by the more frequent and ordinary, and the more doubtful points — by those which are most certain; and not on the contrary.
Direction 8.Presume not on the strength of your own understanding, but humbly pray to God for light; and before and after you read the Scripture, pray earnestly that the Spirit which inspired it — may expound it to you, and keep you from unbelief and error, and lead you into the truth.
Direction 9.Read some of the best commentators or expositors; who being better acquainted with the phrase of the Scripture than yourselves, may help to clear your understanding. When Philip asked the eunuch who read Isaiah 53 "Do you understand what you read? he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?" Acts 8:30, 31. Make faithful commentators your guides, if you would not err.
Direction 10.When you are stalled by any difficulty which over-matches you, note it down, and ask your pastor for his help; or (if the minister of that place is ignorant and unable) go to someone who God has furnished for such work. And if, after all, some things remain still dark and difficult, remember your own ignorace, and wait on God for further light, and thankfully make use of all the rest of the Scripture which is plain. And do not think as the papists, that men must refrain from reading Scripture for fear of erring — any more than that men must forbear eating for fear of poison — or than subjects must be kept ignorant of the laws of the king, for fear of misunderstanding or abusing them.