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Reading Your Bible Like a Puritan
Eight Ways to Read the Word
The Puritans are often thought of as “The frozen chosen . . . Haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy . . . Baptized in vinegar and weaned on a pickle."1 But they were in actuality happy people who enjoyed life. The beating heart of that happy enjoyment was a love of God as revealed in His Word, the Bible. The word “Puritan” came from their enemies, who thought them too “holier than thou,” but the reality is that their deep devotion to the Word did not lead to a dour, drab existence. It was alive with color, pleasure and joy - they were simply happy people, in Christ. God’s Word, they rediscovered, is not bondage, but life and freedom.
In his book on the Puritans, “Following God Fully,” Joel Beeke records Richard Greenham’s eight ways that the Puritans read their Bibles. For our own joy, we do well to follow in their happy footsteps. Read your Bible with:
Blessing comes on the other side of effort expended. Farmers only harvest after hard work. Athletes only gain medals after the competition. The Bible is the “library of the Holy Spirit”; it deserves our diligence.
The Bible is written by many authors. Yet it is written through them by one Author. That Author wove a Wisdom throughout His Book and into its center - His Son, Jesus the Christ. Read your Bible with that wisdom in mind. And then apply that wisdom, with your whole life in mind. Because of Christ’s ascension from the dead, there is therefore now no part of your existence over which he does not say, “Mine.” Applying all that He is to all of your life will yield the wisest life possible, for He is the wisdom of the ages.
Because the Bible is like no other book, we should prepare ourselves to read it. First, we should place ourselves in a stance of humility. Secondly, we should pray for illumination. And thirdly, we should keep ourselves from taking in much alternative media from the world. It dulls our minds from understanding the Word. That TV you watch may not contain abject filth, but it is still not neutral. It is training you either towards or away from Christ.
Scripture is meant to be marinated on; it’s meant to percolate within us. It has a deep work to do, which is rarely a quick or superficial thing. Let it get into the cracks of your thinking and your soul. Let it chip up the old, hard ways, and let it cut new grooves, cross-ways to the old ones drilled by sin.
This is the only word in this list that we don’t use in this way any more. To the Puritans, “conference” meant to “confer” with someone else about something, anything, that was important. This could look as simple as two people reading Scripture together and discussing what they read, and then praying about it. God means for us to learn the Bible more deeply through each other. He’s made us dependent on each other that way. If you only read the Bible in your own individual silo, your learning growth will always be stunted. Learn with others.
It is not enough to simply learn more knowledge about God from the Bible. The demons do that. No, to read the Bible as a Christian means to receive it with faith. Faith is not a high-in-the-air thing; it says, “How will I live today differently, if what I just read is true? I will do x and y and z today, as if it is.” Though our feelings may take longer to follow, faith takes concrete steps now, today, “as if” what we just read is actually true.
As with so many things in life, we learn them as we do them. As we do the Word, we enter into a virtuous cycle: we are cleansed, and we are able to understand it even more. After all, the “weak women” of 2 Timothy 3:7 are never able to “arrive at a knowledge of the truth” because they are led by “various passions” (3:6). In the same way, the Egyptian magicians could not know God, though Moses did signs before them, because they were “corrupted in mind” (3:9). We practice what we do know, so that we may learn more.
This is perhaps the most important item on this list, and all the others summed up. In the Bible we learn what God finds to be most important. Therefore in prayer we learn to align ourselves with the priorities of God. And prayer is faith with shoe leather. Prayer is the first concrete expression of faith. Prayer is never meant to be disconnected from the Word. Prayer is the believer asking God to align his desires, thoughts and actions to God’s. Prayer is calling God to apply the Spirit to our lives, on the grounds of what Christ did on the cross and the resurrection. Prayer completes the Trinity’s circuit of power within our lives. Pray from the Bible. Pray especially along the lines of Paul’s prayers. In them we find God’s priorities for our lives.
The Bible is the “library of the Holy Spirit,” whereby our Father applies to us all that He is for us in Christ, through the Spirit. We neglect it to our own parallel, and we digest it to own own flourishing. Treat it superficially, and find your wounds healed superficially. Apply it deeply, and find deep and continuing new life welling up within you:
Psalm 119:89–93 (ESV): Forever, O Lord, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
91 By your appointment they stand this day,
for all things are your servants.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.
Beeke, Joel. “Following God Fully.” Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 1.