The first method of Bible study that we shall consider is the study of the Bible by individual books. This method of study is the most thorough, the most difficult, and the one that yields the largest and most permanent results. We take it up first because in the author’s opinion it should occupy the greater portion of our time.
I.—The first work to do, is to select the book to study. This is a very important matter. If one makes an unfortunate selection he may become discouraged and give up a method of study that might have been most fruitful.
A few points will be helpful to the beginner:
1. For your first book-study, choose a short book. The choice of a long book to begin with, will lead to discouragement in any one but a person of rare perseverance. It will be so long before the final results, which far more than pay for all the labor expended, are reached, that the ordinary student will give it up.
2. Choose a comparatively easy book. Some books of the Bible present grave difficulties not to be found in other books. One will wish to meet and overcome these later, but it is not the work for a beginner to set for himself. When his powers have become trained by reason of use, then he can do this successfully and satisfactorily, but, if he attempts it, as so many rashly do, at the outset, he will soon find himself floundering. The First Epistle of Peter is an exceedingly precious book, but a few of the most difficult passages in the Bible are in it. If it were not for these difficult passages, it would be a good book to recommend to the beginner, but in view of these difficulties it is not wise to undertake to make it a subject of exhaustive study until later.
3. Choose a book that is rich enough in its teaching to illustrate the advantages of this method of study and thus give a keen appetite for further studies of the same kind. When one has gone through one reasonably large and full book by the method of study about to be described, he will have an eagerness for it, that will make it sure that he will somehow find time for further studies of the same sort.
A book that meets all the conditions stated is the First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians. It is quite short, it has no great difficulties of interpretation, meaning or doctrine, and it is exceedingly rich in its teaching. It has the further advantage of being the first in point of time of the Pauline Epistles. The First Epistle of John is not in most respects a difficult book, and it is one of the richest books in the Bible.
II.—The second work to do, is to master the general contents of the book. The method of doing this is very simple. It consists in merely reading the book through without stopping and then reading it through again, and then again, say a dozen times in all, at a single sitting. To one who has never tried it, it does not seem as if that would amount to much, but any thoughtful man who has ever tried it will tell you quite differently. It is simply “wonderful how a book takes on new meaning and beauty upon this sort of an acquaintance. It begins to open up. New relations between different parts of the book begin to disclose themselves. Fascinating lines of thought running through the book appear. The book is grasped as a whole, and the relation of the various parts to one another apprehended, and a foundation laid for an intelligent study of those parts in detail. Rev. James M. Gray of Boston, a great lover of the Bible and prominent teacher of it, says that for many years of his ministry he had ” an inadequate and unsatisfactory knowledge of the English Bible.” “The first practical idea which he received in the study of the English Bible was from a layman. The brother possessed an unusual serenity and joy in his Christian experience, which he attributed to his reading of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Mr. Gray asked him how he had read it, and he said he had taken a pocket copy of the Epistle into the woods one Sunday afternoon, and read it through at a single sitting, repeating the process as many as a dozen times before stopping, and when he arose he had gotten possession of the Epistle, or rather its wondrous truths had gotten possession of him. This was the secret, simple as it was, for which Mr. Gray had been waiting and praying.” From this time on Mr. Gray studied his Bible through in this way, and it became to him a new book.
Originally published in How to Study the Bible for Greatest Profit, 1896, chapter II.