Directions for Reading the Word of God (Ridgley)

A Body of Divinity (2 vols.)Thomas Ridgley (d. 1734) was a Puritan who labored in London for nearly 40 years.  One of his most memorable works is a detailed commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism, called A Body of Divinity.  It’s similar to Thomas Watson’s book with the same title.  In the section on the Scriptures, specifically the reading of the Word, Ridgley gave some Christian instruction on how to read the Bible in a biblical, Christian way.  Here are his directions for reading the Word (edited/summarized):

  1. We must read the Scriptures with a high and reverent esteem of them, arising from a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God (which has been proven above).  The perfections of God, and particularly his wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness, shine forth with as much glory in his word, as they do in any of his works. It hence has a preference to all human compositions. Whatever is revealed in it is to be admired and depended on for its unerring wisdom and infallible truth, so that it is impossible for those who understand and obey it to be turned aside by it from the way of truth. We are also to consider the use which God makes of it, to propagate his kingdom and interest in the world. It is by means of it that he convinces men of sin, and discovers to them the way of obtaining forgiveness of it, and victory over it; and thoroughly furnishes them unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16).
  2. We must, in reading the word of God, be sensible that he alone can enable us to understand it. To read the scriptures and not understand them, will be of no advantage to us. …It is God alone who can enable us to understand his word aright; for it is not less necessary that there should be an internal illumination of our minds, than that there should be an external revelation as the matter of our studies and inquiries. Thus our Savior not only repeated the words of those scriptures which concerned himself, to the two disciples going to Emmaus; but ‘he opened their understandings, that they might understand them’ (Lk 24:45).
  3. We must read the word of God with a desire to know, believe, and obey his will, revealed in it.  …We must also read the word of God with a desire to have our faith established by it, that our feet may be set upon a rock, and we may be delivered from all manner of doubts and hesitations, with respect to those important truths which are revealed in it. And we ought to desire, not only to believe, but to yield a constant and cheerful obedience to every thing which God therein requires of us.
  4. Our reading the word of God ought to be accompanied with meditation, and the exercise of self-denial.  …As to the exercise of self-denial, all those perverse reasonings which our carnal minds are prone to suggest against the matter of divine revelation, are to be laid aside.  …We ought to consider that the gospel contains unsearchable mysteries, which surpass finite wisdom; so that we must be content to acknowledge that we know but in part. …We must adore the divine perfections which are displayed in scripture, whilst we retain a humble sense of the imperfection of our own knowledge. Our reason is not to be considered as useless; but we must desire that it may be sanctified, and inclined to receive whatever God is pleased to impart. We are to exercise the grace of self-denial also with respect to that obstinacy of our wills whereby they are naturally disinclined to acquiesce in, approve of, and yield obedience to, the will of God; so that we may be entirely satisfied that every thing which he commands in his word, is holy, just, and good.
  5. The word of God is to be read with fervent prayer. ‘If any man lack wisdom,’ says the apostle, ‘let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him’ (James 1:5).  There are many things in his word which are hard to be understood; so that we ought to say, whenever we take the scriptures into our hands, as the psalmist does, ‘Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law’ (Ps. 119:18). We may also plead that his design in giving us his word, was that it might be a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths; so that we dread the thoughts of walking in darkness….
  6. The word of God is to be read with diligence, and with attention to its matter and scope. We have hitherto been directed, in this answer, to apply ourselves to the reading of scripture, with that frame of spirit which is fitting for Christians who desire to know the mind and will of God; that we ought to have our minds disengaged from those prejudices which would hinder our receiving any advantage from it, and to exercise those graces which the nature and importance of the duty require.  And that we ought to depend upon God, and address ourselves to him by faith and prayer for the knowledge of those divine, saving truths which are contained in scripture.

Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 452ff

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI