At our Sunday morning worship services we are in a four-week series about hearing from God and speaking to God from the letter to the Hebrews. Last week we considered what God has spoken according to Hebrews 1:1-3 (here the classic children’s answer to every Sunday school question—“Jesus”—is the correct one), and this week we are looking at the idea that God still speaks to us, from Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, in penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

With this focus in mind, I thought I would take a break from the series of posts I’ve been sharing about significant books and learning in my past experience, and instead share something I’ve recently read about reading the Bible. It’s not something new, though. The author of the advice I want to share, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), was a 19th century evangelical Anglican bishop, whose name I know because of how much he meant to J.I. Packer, who saw him as a wise guide to Christian living. Packer wrote that “as a pastor, he taught Christian conduct, devotion, and character transformed by the Holy Spirit in the way that the great seventeenth-century Puritans had done before him.”

As a 19th century British writer, there are some social assumptions in Ryle’s writing with which we could take issue (in these passages the most obvious is the use of male language for people in general). However, here I hope you’ll find some encouragement: to receive the Bible as the gift God intends it to be and to read it and live by it better and better throughout our lives.

Excerpts from J.C. Ryle, “Bible-Reading,” in Practical Religion (Originally published in 1878; Reprint ed. London: Clarke, 1959)

“Next to praying there is nothing so important in practical religion as Bible-reading.” (70)

Words for those who are willing to being reading the Bible, but want advice (94-96):

  1. Begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing is to do it, and the way to read the Bible is actually to read it.
  2. Read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it.

“Settle down in your mind as a general principle, that a Bible not understood is a Bible that does no good. Say to yourself often as you read, ‘What is all this about?’ Dig for the meaning like a man digging for Australian gold. Work hard, and do not give up the work in a hurry.” (94-95)

  1. Read the Bible with childlike faith and humility. Open your heart as you open your book, and say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Resolve to believe implicitly whatever you find there, however much it may run counter to your own prejudices.
  2. Read the Bible in a spirit of obedience and self-application. Sit down to the study of it with a daily determination that you will live by its rules, rest on its statements, and act on its commands.
  3. Read the Bible daily. Make it a part of every day’s business to read and meditate on some portion of God’s Word.
  4. Read all the Bible, and read it in an orderly way.

“I believe it is by far the best plan to begin the Old and New Testaments at the same time,–to read each straight through to the end, and then begin again. This is a matter in which every one must be persuaded in his own mind. I can only say it has been my own plan for nearly forty years, and I have never seen cause to alter it.”

  1. Read the Bible fairly and honestly. (Ryle means here to take the Bible at its plain meaning first of all, and not “to force it into any particular system.”)
  2. Read the Bible with Christ continually in view.


Advice for those who read the Bible much, and yet fancy they are no better for their reading.

“Do not think you are getting no good from the Bible, merely because you do not see that good day by day. The greatest effects are by no means those which make the most noise, and are most easily observed. The greatest effects are often silent, quiet, and hard to detest at the time they are being produced. Think of the influence of the moon upon the earth, and of the air upon human lungs. Remember how silently the dew falls, and how imperceptibly the grass grows. There may be far more doing that you think in your soul by your Bible-reading.” (98)

Advice for those who really love the Bible, live upon the Bible, and read it much. (98-100)

Let us resolve:

  • to read the Bible more and more every year we live.
  • to be more watchful over our Bible-reading every year that we live. Let us be jealously careful about the time we give to it, and the manner that time is spent.
  • to honour the Bible more in our families.
  • to meditate more on the Bible. It is good to take with us two or three texts when we go out into the world, and to turn them over and over in our minds whenever we have a little leisure. It keeps out many vain thoughts. It clenches the nail of daily reading. It preserves our souls from stagnating and breeding corrupt things. It sanctifies and quickens our memories, and prevents them becoming like those ponds where the frogs live but the fish die.
  • to talk more to believers about the Bible when we meet them.
  • to live by the Bible more and more every year we live.