Ministers are liable to get into the habit of studying the word of God simply that they may be the better prepared to teach others. It is all important, however, that they should do more than this. They should not read the Bible merely for others, nor simply as a book of science, or history, or geography, or profound wisdom only, but that they may also bring it home and apply it to themselves. The faintest impression that it is not intended for their own personal benefit should never be admitted. Their hearts should be so applied to it that they may themselves be brought nearer to God. They should listen to it that they may hear God’s voice addressed to their own souls, and that for themselves they may see his glory beaming upon every page. For their own personal benefit, as if there were no others in the world who needed it, for their spiritual strength and instruction and comfort, they should meditate upon it profoundly every day.
This is a very important duty for every Christian. The word is the great instrument by which the Spirit increases holiness in the hearts of believers. It is by faith in that word that men are ordained to be sanctified. Christ teaches the necessity of the truth when, in his great intercessory prayer, he made sure of its efficacy by the petition, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” The Spirit will honor his own truth, and will make it effectual. It is by Christ, the Bread of life, that the soul is to be nourished; and Christ is to be found chiefly in the Scriptures. From the Scriptures come light, and heat, and strength, and impulse, all of which are important elements of true godliness in the soul. Not only to the young man, but to all who ask a similar question, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” comes the inspired answer, “By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” Oh how the devout study and personal application of the Scriptures enrich the soul! A simple passage devoutly meditated upon makes the heart better. Then the growth in piety which is produced in this way is not ephemeral or spurious in any sense; it is healthy, and will be permanent in its results. All the books on personal piety that were ever written are not to be compared in wisdom, in authority, or in efficacy with the Bible.
Now, there is special need for the devotional study of the Bible by the pastor. His piety should be of the most elevated type. His own spiritual wants, as well as those of the people to whom he ministers, demand that it should also be progressive ever rising and expanding as his work becomes more solemn, and nothing will meet these requirements but a piety that is truly scriptural. No type of piety but that which is wrought out from the word of God will do for him whose example is largely to give form and character to the religion of hundreds. Then the more thoroughly the minister studies the Bible for his own edification, the better will he understand how to bring it home to others. And no spirituality but that which the Holy Ghost teaches in his word will rightly equip or steady pastors in their great work for God, for souls and for eternity.
For the minister especially it is very important that his soul be put in direct contact with the word of the Lord. He should get just as near as it is possible to the mind of the Spirit. The very thoughts of that Spirit he should endeavor to think over in his own heart. The soul will generally become assimilated to Him whose inspired utterances are kept constantly and impressively before it. We shall grow holy by the adoring contemplation of Him who is holiness itself. “But we all, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The word is pure, and its effect is always to purify. We do not sufficiently appreciate the supernatural influence of the Scriptures in sanctifying those who are kept under their influence. Wisdom worthy of profound reflection is contained in the remarks of Dr. Archibald Alexander on this point: “There is something wonderful in the power which the word of God possesses over the consciences of men. To those who never read or heard it this fact must be unknown, but it is manifest to those who are conversant with the sacred volume or who are in the habit of hearing it expounded. Why should this book above all others have the power of penetrating, and, as it were, searching the inmost recesses of the soul, and showing to a man the multitude and enormity of the evils of his heart and life? This may by some be attributed to early education, but I believe that if the experiment could be fairly tried, it would be found that men who have never been brought up with any sentiment of reverence for the Bible would experience its power over the conscience. The entrance of thy words giveth light.
To every pastor, then, would we say, study the Bible with constant and close self-application. Make its chapters and verses familiar, not merely by the effort to gain an intellectual understanding of them, but by the blessed comfort you have found from them in your own souls. Adopt some rule of systematic devotional reading, and let it not be intermitted for any trivial consideration. Let your study of the word be profound, so as to get down to its very marrow and sweetness. Let your meditations be constant, so that all the day long you may have some Scripture before the mind. Let it be with you as his biographer says of McCheyne, that “he fed on the word, not in order to prepare himself for his people, but for personal edification. To do so was a fundamental rule with him.” And let all this devotional study of the word be mingled with prayer, that the same Spirit who inspired it would give it life and power in its effects upon your own soul.