Jonathan Edwards on Personal Bible Study

Far too few of us are willing to pick up the pickaxe of sound exegesis to labor and uncover the treasure trove of truth in the Scriptures. As Christians, we are people of the book, birthed and formed by the word of truth (John 1:18). Though we live in one of the most literate countries in the history of the world with easy access to God’s word, far too few give the Bible a cursory reading let alone search the Scriptures with the sort of intensity God desires for us. We tend to reduce Bible reading to just another task on a to-do list. This “get-it-done” mentality appeals to our pragmatism and mirrors the shallowness that typifies our culture, but a superficial reading of the Bible robs us of the slow and meditative reflection through which the Spirit forms us by his word.

Jonathan Edwards: Bible Teacher

As we seek to deepen our current practice of Scripture reading, the old divines throughout church history can instruct us in our Bible reading. Many remember Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) for his intellectual brilliance, but Edwards saw his life’s work as a pastor— a faithful Bible teacher and shepherd of souls. Yes, Edwards was an insightful philosopher, a hobbyist scientist, a brilliant ethicist, and a cunning apologist, but Edwards first and foremost saw himself as a teacher of the Bible. He spent his days reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible. Through his preaching, he implored his congregation to do the same. Bible reading was a means of grace through which the saint beheld with increasing clarity the glory of God. By looking through the window of Scripture, one could see the Lord and experience the ecstatic joys of the beatific vision.

In November of 1749, Edwards preached to his congregation in Northampton a message titled “The Importance and Advantage of Divine Truth.” His text was Hebrews 5:12: “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again, which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”

Typical of Puritan preachers, Edwards summed up his sermon in a doctrinal statement— “Every Christian should make a business of endeavoring to grow in knowledge of divinity.” Edwards believed that Christians should not settle with a basic knowledge of the faith, only possessing what is necessary for salvation. Instead, every Christian ought to employ their God-given mental faculties to discover with increasing depth, the riches of God’s glory. God has given us the ability to reason and think for this purpose. Yes, professors, pastors, and other “men of learning” study the Bible, but the deep searching of the Scriptures was the duty of every believer in Jesus Christ. Edwards preached, “Therefore the acquisition of knowledge in these things should be a main business of all those who have the advantage of enjoying the holy Scriptures.” A Christian ought to orient his or her life to discovering more of their God through the study of Scripture. Growing biblically and theologically is no hobby, but should be the main business of the believer. If we as Christians possesses the “large treasure of divine knowledge,” we must not be content in owning only a little of its riches.

Edwards’s Seven Practices for Bible Study

Edwards’s sermon casts a glorious vision to motivate his church to Bible study, but at the end of the message, he provided seven principles for his congregation to practice, if they wished to seize the advantage of divine truth. These seven principles can also help us in our practice of scripture intake.

1. Read with diligence. Read the Bible consistently and regularly. If the Bible is a well of divine truth, we must draw from it daily to drink. Prioritize consistent and daily Scripture reading.

2. Avoid shallow Bible reading. Reject superficial readings, and insist on intently observing connections between passages. Look for harmony and meaning between passages. Engage in the type of reading that requires underlining, note-taking, and marking up the text.

3. Read books that help you grow in your knowledge of the Bible. Find an excellent commentary to aid you in your understanding of the Scripture. Read works of theology filled with biblical exegesis and sound doctrine that will assist you in your handling of the word.

4. Converse about the Bible with others. Through discussion, you can glean from the insights and wisdom of other believers. Bring community into your Bible reading to help you discover further riches.

5. Watch out for pride. Don’t let your serious study of the Bible puff up your ego. Winning debates and earning applause must never be the motive of your Bible reading.

6. Rely on God. Bible reading is a means of grace, but you will not gain wisdom unless God, in his sovereignty, gives you knowledge. As you read the Bible, humble yourself in prayer as you seek the Lord.

7. Practice what God teaches you. Often our understanding is shackled by our disobedience. If we long to see more of God’s glory through the Scriptures, we must act upon the knowledge he has given us.

Treasure Awaits Us

Growing in our understanding of the Scriptures is hard work, like digging into the depths of a mine. But, riches await those who labor. Edwards admonished,

These things are so excellent and worthy to be known, that the knowledge of them will richly pay for all the pains and labors of an earnest seeking of it...Contained in the Scriptures…is a far more rich treasure than any one of gold of pearls. How busy are all sorts of men, all over the world in getting riches? But this knowledge is a far better kind of riches, than that after which they so diligently and laboriously pursue.” The riches of the glory of divine truth awaits us in God’s breathed-out word. Heed the counsel of Jonathan Edwards on its importance and its advantage. Take-up your pickaxe and start digging.

The riches of the glory of divine truth awaits us in God’s breathed-out word. Heed the counsel of Jonathan Edwards on its importance and its advantage. Take-up your pickaxe and start digging.