How to Read the Bible: Charles Spurgeon (Transcript)

Full text of English Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s sermon titled ‘How to Read the Bible’ which was delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington on Thursday Evening June 21, 1866.


Charles Haddon Spurgeon – English Baptist preacher

‘Haven’t you read? Haven’t you read?… If you had known what these words mean….’ (Matthew 12:3&7)

Now, the Scribes and Pharisees were great at reading the Law. They studied the sacred books continually, poring over each word and letter. They made many insignificant notes, but still very curious observations, such as:

Which was the middle verse of the entire Old Testament? Which verse was halfway through the middle? How many times such a word occurred, and even how many times a letter occurred in its particular position?

They have left us a mass of wonderful notes on the simple words of Holy Scripture. They might have done the same thing on any other book for that matter, and the information would have been just about as important as the facts which they have so diligently collected concerning the words of the Old Testament.

They were, however, intense readers of the Law. One day they picked an argument with the Savior on a matter concerning the Law, for they carried the Law at their fingertips, and were ready to use it like a bird of prey does with its claws to rip into tear.

Our Lord’s disciples had picked some heads of grain and rubbed them in their hands and ate the kernels. According to the interpretation of the Pharisees, to rub heads of grain is very much like threshing, and it is very wrong to thresh on the Jewish Sabbath day. Therefore it must be very wrong to rub out a grain or two of wheat when you are hungry on the Sabbath morning.

That was their argument, and they came to the Savior with it. And with their version of the Sabbath Law, the Savior usually carried the war into the enemy’s camp, and he did so on this occasion. He met them on their own ground, and he said to them: Haven’t you read? A cutting question to the Scribes and Pharisees.

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Though there is nothing apparently sharp about it, it was a very fair and proper question to put to them: Haven’t you read? Read. They could have said, Why? We have read the book through many, many times. We are always reading it. No passage escapes our critical eyes.

Yet our Lord proceeds to ask the question a second time: Haven’t you read? As if they had never really read at all, though they were the greatest readers of the Law that were alive at that time, He insinuates that they have not read at all. And then He gives them, incidentally, the reason why He asked them whether they had read.

He says, ‘if you had known what these words mean?’, which was the same as saying, you haven’t read because you haven’t understood. Your eyes have gone over the words, and you have counted the letters, and you have marked the position of each verse and word, and you have said scholarly things about all the books, and yet you are not even readers of the Sacred Volume, for you have not acquired the true art of reading. You do not understand, and therefore you do not truly read it.

You merely skim and glance at the Word. You have not read it because you do not understand it. That is the subject of our message, or at least the first point of it, that in order to truly read the Scriptures, there must be an understanding of them.

I scarcely need to preface these remarks by saying that we must read the Scriptures. You know how necessary it is that we should feed upon the truth of the Holy Scripture. Need I suggest the question as to whether you actually read your Bibles or not? I’m afraid that this is a magazine reading age, a newspaper reading age, a periodical reading age, but not so much a Bible reading age as it ought to be.

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In the days of the Puritans, men used to have a limited supply of other literature, but they found a whole library in one book: the Bible, and how they read the Bible, how little of Scripture there is in modern sermons compared with the sermons of those masters of theology, the Puritan theologians.

Almost every sentence of theirs seems to cast some light upon a text of Scripture. Not only the one that they are preaching about, but many others as well, are set in a new light as the discourse proceeds. They introduce blended thoughts from other passages which are parallel or semiparallel to their texts, and thus they educate their readers to compare spiritual things with spiritual.

Oh, I pray to God that we ministers would use the Grand Old Book much more than we do. We would be instructive preachers if we did so. Even if we were ignorant of modern thought and were not always abreast of the times, I assure you we would be way ahead of our time if we kept closely to the Word of God.

As for you, my brothers and sisters, who are not called to preach, the best food for you is the Word of God itself. Sermons and books are good enough, but streams that run for a long distance above ground gradually gather up some of the soil through which they flow, and they lose the cool freshness which they had when they started from the head of the spring.

Truth is sweetest where it breaks from the rock that was struck, for its first gush has lost none of its heavenliness and vitality. It is always best to drink at the well and not from the tank.

You shall find that reading the Word of God for yourselves, reading it rather than notes about it, is the surest way of growing in grace. Drink the unadulterated milk of the Word of God, and not the skimmed milk, nor the milk and water of man’s word.

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But now, beloved, our point is that much of the obvious Bible reading that is taking place is not Bible reading at all. The verses pass under the eye, and the sentences glide over the mind, but there is no true reading.

An old preacher used to say, the word has mighty free course among many nowadays, for it goes in one ear and out the other. So it seems to be with some readers. They can read a great amount because they do not read anything. The eye glances, but the mind never rests.

The soul does not light upon the truth and stay there. It flips over the landscape, as a bird might do, but it builds no nest there and finds no rest for the soul of its foot. Such reading is not reading.


In prayer there is such a thing as praying in prayer, a praying that is in the heart of the prayer. So also in praise. There is praising in song, an inward fire of intense devotion, which is the life of the Hallelujah.

It is the same in fasting. There is a fasting which is not fasting, and there is an inward fasting, a fasting of the soul, which is the soul of fasting.

It is even true with reading the Scriptures. There is an inner reading, a heart reading, a true and living reading of the word. This is the soul of reading, and if it is not there, the reading is a mechanical exercise and profits nothing.

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