How to Master the English Bible

by James Gray

a Short Review

by Liam Walsh

This very short 100 year old book was great! I had heard this recommended a few times and was intrigued by the (near audacious) title and finally decided to explore this one. 

Honestly, there is not a lot that’s profound about this book, but it does hone in on the obvious in a marvelously striking way. The author’s primary task is to show how to read Scripture with the most profit for knowing it well. The plan is actually very simple. He recommends that the reader start with Genesis, read it, and re-read it until the reader can generally outline it, and judge they have an excellent grasp on it. 

From there, the task is to simply move through each book of Scripture in order – ignoring the artificial chapter and verse breaks. Gray urges that the reader read each book in a single sitting if possible. As the reader gets through this – they should also attempt to make a rough outline of each book – further revising it with each read. 

I had heard much of this practice before – but Gray’s argument for going in canonical order I had not heard before – and it was actually pretty convincing. I’ve experimented with the re-read process a bit and have found it remarkable for what it allows me to see and understand that I had not before. It also works to give the reader a macro-view of each Bible book – if you will. After this read, I’ll be adopting this process more regularly from now on. 

The second half of the book is an exhortation for preachers to preach and teach expository sermons through each book of the Bible. The plea is a good one. 
Gray argues 1) that contemporary society (over 100 years ago) didn’t read their Bibles – and were so busy that they usually wouldn’t learn them on their own, 2) that the Bible was no longer taught in schools – so wouldn’t be learned there, 3) that the Bible typically wasn’t taught from the pulpit – it was more or less moralistic life lessons or interesting oratory – but not expository teaching through the Bible (sound familiar?..), and 4) that the Bible wasn’t even taught in Sunday school classes – but those were mostly just games or fun things to keep children occupied or maybe even topical lessons for adults (sound familiar?..). His plea, is that if the Bible isn’t taught and exposited through in the pulpit then where would it be? Where was anyone to go to learn it?
His question is a good one. And I find myself baffled just the same at the general lack of expository preaching in most churches.

Gray ends by warning his readers that if Christianity didn’t change this process, authentic biblical Christianity would be near unrecognizable in the coming generations. I dare say his words may have been a bit prophetic. This part struck particularly close to home for me after having recently left a church for a turning away from expository preaching (among other things), and now having a near hour drive in order to be part of a church that does preach through scripture (driving past dozens that do not on the way). 

I’d highly encourage pastors read this, especially if they don’t preach expository sermons through whole books as their regular bread and butter in the pulpit. If nothing else, simply to see the issue from a different perspective. 

Excellent book! And I’m excited to start the journey and tackle the book of Genesis (a whole bunch of times).

Fear and Trembling

[Originally Published in 2017]

by Liam Walsh

This is an updated version of my last post, Beholding the Glory of the Gospel. Essentially this is a step by step guide for what to do when reading your Bible. I have updated this post to better reflect what most helps me get into the presence of God and to experience him. This is something to go through once you have your Bible in front of you and have a Bible reading plan to start. If you’re more of a neat-nic like me, you might find this helpful (if not, you may just be overwhelmed). I find that if I don’t have a plan for how to read, I simply read my Bible and just go on my way without it having any affect on me.

This plan is something I’ve gathered together from a few different sources over a few years. It really helps my Bible reading affect my soul, and work change in me, rather than just being something I glance over. Before starting you may want to grab a coffee, get out a journal, maybe light a candle, or turn on some quiet music that helps you get into God’s presence. To go through everything here will probably take a few sittings, so some people may find it better to pick and choose some things that are most helpful for them. My hope is that this will help you to more deeply enjoy, know, and be swallowed up in the glorious majesty of Jesus our king!

Luke 8:18

Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

2 Corinthians 2:16

to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

APPROACHING GOD

  1. Remove other cares from my thoughts. If necessary list them out for dealing with later.
  2. Get my heart impressed with an awful sense of the majesty and holiness of God into who’s presence I am going, and who’s word I am about to hear. See Psa. 89:5-14; Isa. 6:1-5; Psa. 46:1-11.
  3. Apply Christ’s suffering, death, and his imputed righteous life in my place, to myself and my sin and even my self made righteousness that stands between my soul and God.
  4. Examine myself and stir up in my heart great spiritual desires for my own soul’s needs and deficiencies.
  5. Pray that God would give me assistance in seeing, feeling, and hearing what he has for me in his word. Pray that he would direct the word to me as I need it, and that he would press it home on my heart with his blessing in order that I may be enlightened, sanctified, strengthened, humbled, or raised up by it, as my case requires according to Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
  6. Ask that God would pour out his Spirit on me through the reading of his word, knowing that none of these actions procure God’s action toward me, but that he acts according to his own will, and pours out his Spirit on whom he wills. Ask this according to the promise in Proverbs 1:23: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”

HEARING GOD

LISTENING
  1. Treat the reading with great respect and read without many distractions or breaks which show contempt for God who is speaking to me by his word.
  2. Read each verse as if it is to me. See Thomas Watson here: “Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.” (See Watson’s great little book on spiritual disciplines, Heaven Taken by Storm.) Donald Whitney says of this quote: “Watson was right when he said, “Take every word as spoken to yourselves.” But we cannot do that until we understand how it was intended for those who heard it first. If you take every word of God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12:1-7 as spoken to yourself, you’ll soon be moving to Israel. But if you understand that particular call as unique to Abram, you can still discover the timeless truths within it and apply every word to yourself. Have you followed the call of God to come to Christ? Are you willing to obey the voice of God wherever He might call you—to a new job, a new location, the mission field, etc.?” (See Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life).
  3. Consider each section of Scripture prayerfully, diligently, and slowly, not carelessly passing by anything so as to miss anything God would have for me.
  4. Prayerfully consider how each verse makes me feel, and also how the author (both the Biblical, and ultimate author, God the Holy Spirit) feels in this writing. Think on the emotion that rises and send it up to prayer to God for every sentence or so. This is the gateway to real interaction with God.
  5. Do this until a word from God stands out in my heart by the Power of the Holy Spirit. This can be a word specifically to my spiritual need, situation, fear; or a word that frightens me or gives me deep concern.
TILLING THE SOIL

If nothing in God’s word seems to be jumping out and speaking to me directly:

  1. Then make a list of everything it says about God (Father, Son, and Spirit).
  2. List anything that it tells you about yourself.
  3. List any examples to be followed (or things that need to be avoided).
  4. List any commands to be obeyed.
  5. Finally, list any promises to claim.
  6. When this is all done, choose the verse and truth that is most striking and helpful to you (sometimes nothing in particular will really stand out, if this happens just choose the one that most strikes you, even if it doesn’t seem that great – often God will surprise you with these).
  7. Paraphrase the thought or verse in your own words.

MEDITATION

Write down answers to the following questions:

  1. What does this text show me about God for which I should praise or thank him? Adore, praise, and thank him for this.
  2. What does the text show me about my sin that I should confess and repent of? What false attitudes, behavior, emotions, or idols come alive in me whenever I forget this truth? Confess and repent of this in prayer to God.
  3. What does the text show me about a need that I have? What do I need to do or become in light of this? How shall I petition God for it? Petition and plead with God for this in prayer.
  4. How is Jesus Christ or the grace that I have in him crucial to helping me overcome the sin I have confessed or to answering the need I have? Pour out your thanks to God for Jesus and his salvation.
  5. How would this change my life if I took it seriously— if this truth were fully alive and effective in my inward being? Also, why might God be showing this to me now? What is going on in my life that he would be bringing this to my attention today? How must I apply this to my life. Are there things I can implement in life to make trusting Jesus in this area a reality?
  6. Pray for all of your needs and pressing concerns.
  7. Pray for others on the truth that God has revealed to you. If you have a prayer list, use it here.
  8. Take a final moment just to enjoy God and his presence. Do this however you would like. I personally prefer enjoying God’s presence as I read a devotion on the Bible text I just read. Good devotions I’ve found that follow a Bible reading plan are:

Older Devotions (Dead Guys)

Philip Doddridge’s Family Expositor (Usually 2-6 volumes depending on the edition; contains a devotion for every section in the New Testament (about every 4-10 verses), and by far, my very favorite) Paperback V1 V2 | Hardcover V1 V2

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (very devotional throughout, goes through the entire Bible by sections (usually 2-5 pages for every 10-15 verses give or take) Single Volume | Six Volume Edition

Joseph Hall’s Contemplations (contains a 2 or 3 page devotion for every narrative section (typically a chapter) of the Bible) Kindle Edition V1 V2 V3 | Hardcover

Robert Hawker’s Poor Man Commentaries (contains a devotion (about a page long) for every chapter of the Bible) Kindle Edition | New Testament Hardcover | Old Testament Hardcover | Abridged New Testament & Psalms Hardcover

Isaac Watts’ Psalms & Hymns (the Psalms; typically one to three hymns for each Psalm) Paperback | Hardcover

Thomas Chalmers’ Sabbath Scripture Readings Volumes I & II (I haven’t spent much time in these, but they contain devotions for every chapter of the New Testament in volume I and Gen. 1 – 2 Kings 11 in volume II) Paperback V1 V2

Modern Devotions

D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Volumes I & II (this follows the McCheyne Bible reading plan and pretty much covers the whole Bible, (although there are some chapters that don’t get a devotion); the devotions typically correspond to a single Bible chapter) Paperback V1 V2 | Hardcover V1 V2

Joel Beeke’s Family Worship Guide (entire Bible) (I haven’t looked at this yet, but it is likely very good) Hardcover | Leather

ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible (entire Bible) (I haven’t seen much of this one either, but it’s supposed to be great) Many Editions

There are many other good devotionals that I didn’t list because they aren’t really arranged chronologically in order to be a companion to reading through the Bible, but rather as something to be read on their own. I’m also sure that there are other devotions that are arranged to be read chronologically with Bible reading that I haven’t heard of yet. If you know of any, feel free to post them in the comments!

I’ve gleaned these directions from several authors. The Approaching God and Hearing Godsections are mostly adaptations from a sermon (which I can no longer find) of the puritan Thomas Boston. Some of the content in the Hearing God section is from Donald Whitney’s excellent Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The Tilling the Soil and Meditation sections are taken directly from Tim Keller’s great book Prayer. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.

May God provoke you to more awe, delight, and satisfaction in him through his word in the coming year!

Saving the Bible from Ourselves

by Glenn Paauw

a Short Review

by Liam Walsh

I loved Glenn Paauw’s main argument in this book, which is that our Bibles are long overdo for a makeover so that we can actually enjoy reading them like we can do with any other book. I did have some misgivings about the book when the author started getting into theology, however this book was still absolutely great.

Paauw points out that the cheap way most Bible’s are mass produced, the overwhelming presence of tiny numbers and cross references, tiny print, thin pages, and the over-all poor appearance contribute to the general abandonment of Bible reading in our culture.

Paauw makes his point with elegant, winsome, and sometimes hilarious writing. He even puts his book together to image in a way what a beautifully crafted Bible might look like (with colorful headings, quotes or poetry set apart and formatted correctly). He also builds the structure of the book in a Hebrew chaism. The book was a pleasure to read because of these as well as his gifted writing ability. There was also some fascinating history that Paauw gave, like the fact that the New Testament was originally set in 3 parts in order to match the “First” Testement’s 3 parts: 1: Gospels & Acts, 2: Pauline Epistles, 3: Catholic Epistles & Revelation in the NT, to match 1: The Law, 2: the Prophets, and 3: the Writings in the OT respectively.

However I also did have some reservations about the book. At times the author presents his theological views as simply correct without much engagement of the Bible on them. For example, he seems critical of justification by faith alone, and supports the new perspective on Paul in a way that doesn’t really engage Scripture, or those on the other side. It also appears that he posits the monistic soul sleep after death position as opposed to a belief in heaven after death. He presents the view of heaven as more or less rediculous and only from Greek philosophy as opposed to the Bible. He quotes Alistair Begg here as an example of wrong thinking. He doesn’t in all this speak of the alternative, and more biblical position of heaven as an intermediate state, which is after death, but before the creation/restoration of a new earth and the future resurrection. He also in places seems to undermine preaching itself and as far as I can tell, instead endorses only public Bible reading in it’s place. He seems to denigrate study of detailed specifics in Scripture in favor of reading whole books in one sitting and looking only at the themes. All this being said, this is the flavor of the book while reading. However I don’t want to emphasize these points too strongly, because Paauw is always a little cryptic about his own beliefs. I couldn’t in the end get a sense of what theological tradition Paauw himself was from, or whether he was or was not evangelical, or orthodox in his Christian views. Not that any of these things matter as far as his main argument is concerned. But when he starts getting into theology it seems to me he could present his position with more clarity and evidence and with more fairness to the other positions.

However, as long as the reader knows their convictions on these theological issues this book is a marvelous read. Paauw’s observations on the Bible and the publishing industry – and the history of these is fascinating. Paauw’s considerations and suggestions were, I think, one of the driving forces behind publishers adopting the modern reader’s Bibles – for which I am very thankful to him.

Over all, this really was a great and engaging read, and Paauw had some excellent wisdom on how we can be better at crafting the good book. I changed my Bible reading habits as a result of this book (more reading of whole books!). A worthy read for anyone interested in the Bible, our intake of it, and it’s physical form.