Proper Bible reading begins before we open the book. It begins in our approach.
In a pair of sermons titled “On Searching the Scriptures” (John 5:39), hymn-writer John Newton explains how four elements inform our approach to the Bible—sincerity, diligence, humility and prayer.
As we might expect, Newton introduces his approach with the language of sincerity.
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 there. Without this, our reading and searching will only issue in our greater condemnation, and bring us under the heavy doom of the servant that knew his master’s will and did it not.
If we read the Bible for self-justification or to prove ourselves right, or if we have no intention of changing our lives based upon what we read, we’ve already failed in our approach. The Bible was given to teach us, reprove us and correct us (2 Tim. 3:16), and none of these transformations are possible unless we approach the Bible in submission to what will change us, teach us, reprove us and correct us.
The second element of our approach is diligence. Many readers of the Bible are simply ignorant of the precious value of the eternal wisdom they hold in their hands. They lack care, and they need to be urged to search this book of treasure with greater diligence (John 5:39).
The word which is rendered search, ἐρευνάω, is borrowed from the practice of miners: It implies two things, to dig and to examine. First, with much labor they pierce the earth to a considerable depth; and when they have thus found a vein of precious ore, they break and sift it, and suffer no part to escape their notice. Thus must we join frequent assiduous reading, with close and awakened meditation; comparing spiritual things with spiritual, carefully taking notice of the circumstances, occasion and application of what we read; being assured, that there is a treasure of truth and happiness under our hands, if we have but skill to discover and improve it.
By applying these first two approaches together—sincerity and diligence—we will avoid wasting our lives. “Let us not be like fools, with a prize, an inestimable prize, in our hands, but without heart or skill to use it.”