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Can we read the Bible through?

J. T. Mawson

Table Talk

Q.—We were advised in Mr.——’s address to read the Bible through; he said it could be done in sixty-hours. What do you think of this advice?

The advice is good, undoubtedly, for reading the Bible through is the surest way of becoming acquainted with its entire contents, and yet in another sense you can never get through it. Nor can you ever be fully acquainted with its contents; there will always be something fresh in it to become acquainted with.

Remarked—The ignorance of the contents of the Bible is astonishing. The majority of Christians have never read it through; they seem to have their favourite chapters or texts, and beyond these they are quite ignorant of what the Bible contains. I was sitting with a company of Christians once, and the words were quoted, “Be sure your sin will find you out”, and there was not one of them who knew to what part of the Bible to turn for them.

Yes, it is strange and sad that the Bible should be so little known by those who profess to know the One whose Word it is; and the more so since it was by the Word that the Lord overcame Satan in the wilderness, and only by the Word that we can overcome Satan; it means that if we do not know the Word we cannot overcome him. It is by the sincere milk of the Word that we grow up from spiritual babyhood to spiritual young manhood (1 Pet. 2), and it is by that Word that we are made strong to triumph over the wicked one (1 John 2). But we cannot know the Word if we do not read it, and the advice to read it through is good, whether you do it in sixty hours or not, for we need it all, and should read it all, or God would not have given it to us. A faithful old servant of God said in his last illness, “I needed the whole Bible for life, but now that I am dying one text is enough”—“The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.” By all means read the Bible through, but remember at the same time that you can never be through with the Bible.

Q.—What do you mean by that?

Well a wise man has said “You cannot read the Bible through because it has no ‘through’: you may read every chapter, verse, sentence, word, and syllable in it, but when you have done that you are not through, you are being constantly turned back by it to something that has gone before, and you make progress in it by going back and back”. These words set me thinking and I said, Yes, that is true, the learned doctor who made the remark never uttered truer words, “The Bible has no through”. And yet in another sense it has a most blessed and wonderful ‘through’; but let us first consider it as having no ‘through’.

I have thought of the Bible as a great circle, the golden, glowing centre of which is Christ. Within it there are many roads all fragrant with His grace and love, and along these we are led constantly back, if we read the Bible rightly, to the golden Centre.

Suppose now, we began to read the New Testament through, we begin at the first verse of Matthew’s Gospel and at once we find ourselves in the company of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. The book is about Him, but why is He introduced to us in this way? The question carries us back to the Old Testament. We are compelled to go back if we are to understand. We learn that Jesus Christ being the Son of these men of ancient days, is the Heir to all the promises that God made to them, and two promises in particular press themselves upon our notice the greatest of all promises made to ABRAHAM was “In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). And Paul tells us that this seed is Christ (Gal. 3:16). And to DAVID, “Once have I sworn in My holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah” (Ps. 89). It changes the character of our reading when we see the greatness of the glory of Him of whom we read. When we see this we shall not take up the reading as a task to be accomplished, or as some study to be mastered we shall feel that this Book is not as other books, but that in it we are in the company of a glorious Person; that we are to walk with Him, and if He is introduced to us as the One in whom all the nations of the earth are to be blessed, He has surely blessing for us, and if His Throne is to be established, universally and for ever, we must surely begin by acknowledging Him as our Lord now.

But it is not difficult to see that it will take us a long time to get through even the first verse of the New Testament: we feel as though we wanted to linger here and become better acquainted with the glories and the future of the One to whom we are here introduced, and we gain this knowledge by turning back to the promises made to these favoured men whose names appear first in this genealogy of our Lord. That is the way to read the Bible.

If we pass hurriedly through the names in the genealogies, which we have no need to do, for they form a chain full of instruction, and it will well pay us to turn back again and again to the Old Testament to see what is said about them—we come to the first definite fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy, “Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet”. “Behold a virgin shall he with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us”. We are compelled to turn back here to Isaiah 7, for we feel that we cannot progress unless we understand what this means. Emmanuel is God’s intervention on man’s behalf and His own; when all hope of blessing seemed lost—man’s extremity was God’s opportunity. In Emmanuel’s presence here and in His refusing the evil and choosing the good, as this prophecy declared He would, we have not the glories that He will inherit as the son of David and Abraham, but what He is personally and in character—He is God with us. God manifest in the flesh, a man amongst men. Unlike every name in the genealogy, His abides untarnished by any evil thing. He chose the good and refused the evil, He loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, as Hebrews 1 puts it, and consequently called forth the full and delighted approbation of God. And as we see what He is, and who He is about whom the Bible speaks, we read with greater attention, deeper adoration and fuller blessing; and if our progress through it is slower our knowledge of Him will be richer, and all true advancement in Divine knowledge lies in the knowledge of Him.

Now we may go through to the 6th verse of chapter 2, where another prophecy is fulfilled, “For thus it was written by the prophet, “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the Princes of Judah, for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel”. We turn back to Micah 5. And there we learn the sort of treatment that He was to receive at the hands of men, so that our faith is not shaken when we find Him rejected and maltreated, but we also learn that “it have been from old from everlasting”. He is the eternal One, and all He does must abide for ever. What confidence this gives us as we read His words and trace His ways. They are all abidingly eternal. If we learn of Him, we shall not have to unlearn what we learnt!, no changing time or circumstance can change the truth that comes forth from the lips of the eternal One.

Thus far in our reading we have learnt that—

  1. All earthly glory belongs to Him.

  2. All nations are to be blessed through Him.

  3. He brings God into the midst of men.

  4. Treads a path of absolute rectitude.

  5. His words and ways are eternal. In laying hold upon them we possess ourselves of treasure that neither time nor rust can corrupt.

This is what I mean when I say that in reading the Bible we are constantly turned back upon roads, beautiful with unexpected glories and graces, back to Him who is the theme of all Scripture.

Take one more example—you come at length to the last verse of the Bible—“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen”. Are you through the Bible now? No, for that beautiful expression, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”, has a very familiar sound, and we are carried back along a fragrant road to 2 Corinthians 8:9. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” Here we are again at the golden centre, and the cross is there, where He—whose riches the opening chapters of the New Testament show to us—became unspeakably poor for us, and we know the grace that made Him do it. Know it, not as a matter of doctrine, but as a great reality, and this grace is to be with us until the glory dawns.

It is as we read the Bible in faith that we enjoy these things, for as we do so we are led through to Christ by the Holy Spirit, and all our joy and blessings are found in Him. A verse of a hymn puts it sweetly.

“Still the Spirit is revealing

    Heights of glory Thou hast given,

And our eyes by faith are seeing

    Christ at Thy right hand in heaven.

As on earth His path was trodden,

    Ever subject to Thy will,

As the Man of all Thy counsels,

    Who the universe will fill.”

Q.—Now what about the “wonderful and blessed through” that you said the Bible has?

I was thinking of the way it carries us onward. It is not only like a great circle with countless roads running from and to the centre, but it opens up to us many roads, which like the pathway of the just shine more and more unto perfect day. All these roads converge on the glorious future. Hence we read most beautiful words in Romans 15:4, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope”. That is, as the Spirit unfolds the Scriptures to us, we are carried through to the hour when the Saviour will—

“Bid the whole creation smile,

    And hush its groan.”

If you begin to read the New Testament with this thought in your mind, you will see how the first verse of it will carry you onward. On through the road of suffering that the Lord had to tread until we reach the glories that are to follow, when as the root and offspring of David He will appear to fulfil all the words of blessing that have comforted the saints of God as they have travelled along the road of testing and sorrow, through to the consummation of their hopes. If we formed the habit of reading the Scriptures from this point of view, we should find great comfort from them in this valley of the shadow of death, and the result would certainly be to purify us from the world and its ways, for our hope would become continually brighter and more real. While we read the Bible through, let us be carried through by it in faith and hope to the fulfilment of every word of it, and yet always remember that it has no “through” in another sense, for Christ is its theme.