Often accused of supporting fanatical spiritual experiences that promoted anti-intellectualism, this sermon demonstrates otherwise. Jonathan Edwards possessed a deeply entrenched belief in the vital importance of knowledge, not mere feeling, for every Christian. Preached in 1739, the message was subtitled The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.
It is important to note that Edwards preached this message prior to George Whitefield’s tour of New England (1740), which was one of the primary sparks of the Second Great Awakening, a revival often marked by ecstatic experiences. So Edwards believed before the start of the revival, and he persisted in this belief after it had subsided, that true experience of God must begin with accurate knowledge of divinity. He defined divinity as the science that analyzes and seeks to comprehend all the truths and rules contained beneath the great heading of religious faith. In other words, the mind informs the heart, not the other way around.
The message is quite lengthy, but not beyond the bounds of a typical Edwards sermon. Likely, it took him less than an hour to preach. One of his major emphases in the message is that detailed study of Scripture is not merely for professional theologians and ministers, but for every believer.
Perhaps most intriguing for modern readers is Edwards’ insistence that the study of divinity will help prohibit people from wasting their after-work hours by bouncing from house to house engaging in empty and trite conversations. Though the cultural circumstances have changed dramatically, this sermon is incredibly relevant.
My modern paraphrase of this sermon is also published in the book Many Mansions, Glorious Grace, and Christian Knowledge. Edwards’ original can be found here.
Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.
In this verse the apostle issued a complaint. His audience of Hebrew Christians were lacking in proficiency as far as their doctrinal knowledge was concerned. Their ability to think deeply about the mysteries of the faith was scant and minimal. Although they were expected to grow in these areas, they were showing no signs of progress. They had been Christians for some time and should have had much greater familiarity with the things taught in God’s Word.
The apostle responded to their stagnant condition with words of correction and reproof. He identified their great deficiency in spiritual knowledge, lamenting that their experiences of the things of God were so few and shallow. They lacked in even the most basic principles of Christian doctrine and theology.
He introduced his complaint with a discussion of Melchizedek. It irritated him that his readers were not able to understand the deep things of this important biblical figure, and he rebuked them for their inexcusable deficiency.
In the preceding text (and the one that comes after), the apostle refers to Christ as “being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:10). Melchizedek stands out in the Old Testament (which he called “the oracles of God” in 5:12) as an eminent type of Christ. The accounts that speak of him contain many profound gospel mysteries.
The apostle desired to demonstrate the significance of these mysteries to his readers, but he knew they could not comprehend his point. They were too weak in their basic knowledge to understand the deeper truths. So he briefly mentioned Melchizedek, but quickly broke off his thought in order to address the problem:
Hebrews 5:11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
The mysteries surrounding Melchizedek would only puzzle and confound his readers. They were far too dull to get it. They were backwards in their understanding and so would not benefit from such a profound teaching that connects Melchizedek to Christ. Essentially he was saying, “This is too hard for you. You are unable to chew this meat. You are not capable of swallowing it, and so you also miss out on enjoying it.”
Then he states the words of our text for this message:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.”
His words drip with disappointment. It was expected of them to grow in their knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, but they had not. They should have been able to digest such mysteries as contained in the teaching about Melchizedek, but they could not.
He rebuked them sternly when he said, “By this time you ought to be teachers.” This was an indictment of their sloth, as they weren’t even close to the level of proficiency he had expected of them.
Consider what teachers have that pupils don’t have. Teachers are able to teach because they have achieved certain levels of practical, experiential, and doctrinal knowledge. They labor diligently to be proficient in their subject. We expect them to know a great deal, even about the deeper truths and mysteries of the faith.
The apostle wanted all Christians to have this kind of knowledge—the kind that would enable them to understand the deeper and more difficult aspects of doctrine and theology. He wanted them to be able to enjoy the truths that take great skill to understand. He expressed this more fully in the next couple of verses:
Hebrews 5:13-14 For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Christians need the kind of knowledge that carries them beyond the most basic teachings of the faith. The apostle meant this when he said, “You need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.” Then, at the beginning of the next chapter, he explicitly encouraged them to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.”
From the point his readers converted to Christ, there had been ample time for them to develop beyond the basics. They had even had time to reach the level of teachers. It was their business as Christians to learn and gain knowledge about the faith.
As students in the school of Christ, the apostle expected them to progress and grow, but they were stagnant and refused to move up the levels. They remained pupils in the lower-level elementary grades rather than maturing and becoming higher-level instructors.
Growth in knowledge is a basic expectation in all vocations. Apart from education people cannot do their jobs properly. Within a certain period of time, they are expected to grow to proficiency.
So it is with those who follow Christ. Christians should never remain mere babes in the faith, but should leave behind the milk of infants and learn to digest the stronger meat.
From the various passages I have quoted from Hebrews, we can formulate this point of doctrine:
Every Christian should make it his business to grow and develop in his knowledge of divine things.
Theologians and ministers, of course, consider this their business or trade. It is commonly assumed that deep study is the particular vocational work of the experts, so other Christians need not worry much about it. Many seem to believe that only the professionals should spend their time gaining knowledge through the study of Scripture and other books of instruction.
But this is not what the apostle thought. If he had entertained that notion, he wouldn’t have blamed his readers for neglecting to acquire enough knowledge to be teachers. He did not say that gaining knowledge was something the average Christian could simply put off and do later, perhaps when time would allow. He did not say that the average Christian should use the majority of his time focused on other matters. Had he said these things, he would not have criticized them so strongly for their deficiency.
Every Christian, therefore, should make it his or her business to grow and develop in his knowledge of divine things.
Now, as we begin the main body of the message, I want to handle this subject in six sections:
- The main focus of Christian knowledge
- Two types of divine knowledge
- Diving knowledge is both necessary and useful
- Why every Christian should grow in divine knowledge
- An exhortation for all Christians to grow in their theological knowledge
- Practical directions for those who would grow in their knowledge
In what follows, we will discuss each of these sections with the hope that every Christian will make it his business to grow in understanding all that pertains to God. In Section 1, I want to explain what exactly is meant by the phrase Christian knowledge and identify the main focus of it.
Section 1: The main focus of Christian knowledge
Knowledge as a whole is divided up into various areas and specialities. The area that is concerned with the things of God is often called divinity or theology. This is the area in particular that Christians must study. When the apostle rebukes the Hebrew Christians, it is for their lack of knowledge in this sphere.
For those who have labored extensively in the study of divinity, many definitions have been offered of it. I’ll not spend time trying to determine who has designed the most artistic or accurate definition. Rather, I will define and describe it in the way I think tends to convey what it is really all about:
The study of divinity is the science that analyzes and seeks to comprehend all the truths and rules contained beneath the great heading of religious faith.
You are familiar with all the various kinds of arts and sciences that are taught and learned in schools. Those who study in these fields focus their attention on the objects peculiar to each respective domain.
For example, philosophy is focused on how things in nature work generally, while astronomy analyzes the visible heavens. Navigation studies the sea, and geography studies the earth. Physical bodies are examined at length in anatomy, while the natural powers and qualities of the human soul are the focus of logic and pneumatology. Human government is closely examined in politics and jurisprudence.
But of all the various areas of study and bodies of knowledge, divinity is above the rest. It is the one that treats the great business of religion, the science that has God as its chief object of study.
Unlike the other sciences, divinity is not learned by merely improving a person’s ability to reason naturally. Rather, God himself is the teacher of this great subject. He has provided a book full of instructions for us to use in our study. It serves as our guide and rule, given to the world so that we will search it for knowledge of things divine. Within this book we find a summary of everything we need to know, so far as theology is concerned.
Because of these unique features, the study of divinity is properly considered a doctrine, or a teaching, to be received, as opposed to a mere art or science.
To be sure, much can be learned about God and our duty to him by simply observing nature, a field of knowledge called natural religion. There is some light there, which can reveal many things about religion. But properly speaking, divine knowledge cannot be discerned merely by the light of nature. In order to obtain the deep truths of divine knowledge, we must depend upon the revelation which God has given to us in his Word.
This is especially true because of the current circumstances of humanity. Our sinful condition creates major problems for us when it comes to correctly acquiring knowledge. As fallen creatures the mere light of nature gives us nothing we need when it comes to understanding the things of God. Our sin darkens our understanding, leaving us in need of much more than what natural religion can offer.
We primarily need the gospel. Without it no amount of knowledge within the realm of divinity will help us. In fact, our knowledge will be completely useless to us unless we know Christ, the saving Mediator.
This is precisely the problem with natural religion. Nature by itself doesn’t teach us anything about the gospel or about the Mediator. Therefore, if our study of God is restricted merely to what nature reveals about him, then we will not truly know any part of Christian divinity. We must go to the Word of God, to the Old and New Testaments. Only there will we find the gospel, which alone can enable us to acquire true knowledge of the things of God.
In the pages of Scripture, we discover everything we need to know about God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Bible contains everything there is to know about divine things, including our duty to God and the happiness we can obtain from him.
Often, people define divinity as the doctrine of living for God. Some are more accurate with their definition, saying that it is the doctrine of living for God through Christ. The study of divinity, then, includes all the Christian doctrines as they are understood in Jesus. And it includes all the rules of Christian living which direct us to live for God through Christ.
We must understand both what is taught in the Bible and how it connects inevitably to our lives. Every doctrine, promise, and rule we read about relates somehow or the other to our actual lives. They enable us to live the Christian life—the divine life. They promote our living for God here in this world, leading us to a life of faith and holiness. And they also move us to a life of perfected holiness and happiness, leading to the full enjoyment of God forever in the hereafter.
Now that we have understood the definition of divinity and how it is the chief object of Christian knowledge, we are ready to move to the next section.
Section 2: Two types of divine knowledge
According to our text, we can obtain two distinct kinds of knowledge when it comes to divine truth. These may be called the speculative and the practical, or the natural and the spiritual.
Speculative knowledge might be called head knowledge, because it is only concerned with understanding in the mind. Basically, it is interested in putting together a rational account of the things of religion using the natural reasoning processes. And this alone is its goal. It is not interested in receiving illuminating help from the Spirit of God.
Practical knowledge is different. It doesn’t merely situate itself in the head or on speculative ideas. Rather, it is mostly concerned with the heart of the learner, asking: “How does divine knowledge affect the deeper person?” This is why it can also be called spiritual knowledge.
Like speculative knowledge, practical knowledge is also focused on the intellect, but it isn’t primarily stationed there. It takes into account the will, or the inclinations of the heart, along with the mind. It is more than just seeing, but also feeling and tasting.
This means there is a difference between having the right head knowledge of the doctrines taught in the Word of God and having a real sense of them in the heart. In the former, there is natural knowledge within the mind, but in the latter there is spiritual and practical knowledge of them within the heart.
In our text in Hebrews, it seems clear that the author desires his readers to have both. Christians shouldn’t possess only one type of knowledge to the exclusion of the other. Rather, the author intends that we should seek the natural knowledge in order to bring about the spiritual knowledge. The pursuit of the first is the way to obtain the second.
Of the two, spiritual knowledge is the more important. Why? Because mere natural knowledge offers nothing good unless it leads to spiritual knowledge. In fact, bare natural knowledge alone actually increases our condemnation before the Lord. Yet, we do need to acquire natural knowledge, and it is infinitely important that we do so, because without it we can’t get the spiritual knowledge either.
The apostle, then, is speaking not only of spiritual knowledge, but also of the kind of head knowledge that can be communicated from one person to another. He wants his Christians readers to have both. Better yet, he wants them to seek the natural knowledge so that it will lead to obtaining the spiritual knowledge.
When considered like this, it seems clear that his most pressing desire is for Christians to work hard to acquire the natural knowledge. They should read and engage in other activities which build a solid and rational foundation of divine things in their minds. But he also indirectly intends for his readers to seek spiritual knowledge, since it is sought by first seeking the other.
Section 3: Diving knowledge is both necessary and useful
God has provided for us a set of wonderful and powerful means of grace—the instruments through which he causes our growth in the faith. But without knowledge every means of grace he has given to us is rendered useless.
For example, teaching is a means of grace, but it is altogether unprofitable unless it results in learning, which means growth in knowledge. Likewise, preaching the gospel has no purpose if it doesn’t convey truth to the minds of those who listen.
Christ has appointed various people as teachers for the church. Their purpose is to move knowledge into the minds of those they teach. But what good are teachers if people are not actually gaining knowledge from their teaching? If listeners are not receiving anything good for their minds (which also benefits their hearts), then preaching and teaching are no longer a means of grace. Knowledge has to be imparted and received or the whole process is in vain.
Think of it like this: If knowledge is not being successfully conveyed, the preacher may just as well preach in some unknown tongue. After all, the only difference between preaching in a known tongue and an unknown tongue is the conveyance of knowledge.
When someone hears information in a language he can understand, he can grow as he takes in the knowledge being taught. But if he’s not actually taking in knowledge, then he may as well be listening to someone speak in a language he has never heard. Without knowledge transfer, there will be no benefit or edification for those listening to the instruction.
Again, genuine knowledge must be conveyed and received or teaching and preaching are utterly useless exercises and can no longer be considered means of grace.
This is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 14:2-6. If anyone speaks at all without conveying knowledge, then his speech is lost. There might as well be nobody there to listen. The speaker’s words are simply blown into the air (14:6; 10).
God deals with people as rational creatures, and when a rational creature places his faith in something, he should know what it is and why he believes it. That is, he should have solid knowledge about the thing he believes. This is why hearing is absolutely necessary to faith—because hearing is also necessary to understanding. Paul addresses this issue directly in Romans 10:14, where he asks, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”
The same principle applies to love, since there can be no true love without knowledge. The human soul simply doesn’t work like that. It can’t really love anything without fully knowing it (the same is true of loving a person). The heart will not set itself on any object if it has no understanding about that object. If you are to really love, then it must start in the mind, where the reasons for loving something must first be understood. The reasons formed in the understanding will then influence the heart.
All of these points prove that we will never trust or love God until we obtain knowledge of the doctrines about him.
God has given us the Bible, a book of instructions, but we will gain nothing from it unless it actually conveys knowledge to our minds. It may as well have been written in the tribal language of an unknown people in a distant land. If it doesn’t move at least some knowledge into our minds, then it is unprofitable to us.
The same can be said of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). These are visible signs and symbols that represent the gospel. When we practice them, the saving message of Christ is demonstrated to us. But what purpose do the sacraments have unless we know what they mean? They are essentially meaningless until we know what they represent. In fact, the very purpose of the sacraments is to convey knowledge to our minds about what they signify.
I am simply describing how human beings were designed to function. Nothing will ever captivate the heart without first passing through the door of the understanding. So there can be no spiritual knowledge without first obtaining rational knowledge.
Put another way, no biblical doctrine will seem excellent and true to a person unless he first knows what the doctrine is in his mind. For example, he will not be able to see the love of Christ as expressed through his works unless his understanding is informed about those works. Without knowledge the true wonder and excellencies of Christ’s love will be lost to us. People can taste the excellent flavor and sweetness of divine truth, but not until they first have a rational notion that divine truth exists.
Think of what people are like who do not acquire any knowledge of divine truth. They are all essentially all the same—barbarous and ignorant heathen. The reason heathens remain in thick darkness is because they have not been instructed and have received no knowledge of divine truth. That is the only difference between the believer and the heathen.
Consider this from another angle. Why did God give people the faculty of reasoning to begin with? What is its purpose? The simple answer is so that people would use it to obtain actual knowledge and understanding. But if they do not use it for that end, then the faculty itself was given entirely in vain. If a man doesn’t receive actual knowledge, his capacity to obtain knowledge is rendered useless.
Let’s take this idea a step further. What would be the point of a man using his superior reasoning faculties to acquire merely the same amount of knowledge that the beasts can get? He is a man, not a beast, and mankind was designed to obtain far more knowledge than beasts. So if he only reasons to the level of a beast, well, he might as well have just been a beast!
In particular, humans were designed for the goal of receiving special and unique knowledge about God and divine things. His capability to understanding God far surpasses what mere animals can accomplish. God made us for this. It is the sole reason he gave us our high ability to think, reason, and understand things. When a person neglects his pursuit of divine knowledge, then he is no better off than the animals. I will expand on this idea more below.
Suffice it to say, the ability to obtain divine truth is the good purpose of our reasoning faculties, and unless we set ourselves to understand divine truth, our reasoning faculties serve no good purpose at all.
Therefore, the study of divinity is absolutely necessary. Sure, other kinds of knowledge are helpful and can be useful, including astronomy, philosophy, geography, and the other natural sciences. These bodies of knowledge are excellent in their own right and offer much to our understanding. But without knowledge of the divine science, all of these others are ultimately useless. To acquire knowledge of the divine is infinitely more useful and important than all these others.
Section 4: Why every Christian should grow in divine knowledge
We will spend more time on Section 4 than any other section, since it directly addresses the majority of you (all who are not ministers or professional theologians), and since it is of critical importance for us all.
Nobody who follows Christ should ever be satisfied with the amount of knowledge he or she has already obtained.
Christians should not be content with understanding only enough for salvation. As important as it is to arrive at that level of knowledge, we must move beyond it. There are so many wondrous things to learn about God and his works and ways! All of us should strive to know more about every divine truth.
Progress should be our greatest daily business. We must give it our utmost attention, not relegating it to a minor part of our days. This is not something we do only if we can find a little time here or there! Rather, we must see it as a major part of our high calling. Following is a list of nine specific reasons why this is true.
1. God created us to seek divine knowledge.
There is no doubt this is true. As stated previously, this is what separates us from the animals. We have superior faculties which are meant to be employed for greater uses. Otherwise, we are just like the brutes and beasts.
We were designed by God for purposes that are higher and more remarkable than what he intended for animals. Naturally, he gave us the equipment that will allow us to fulfill our calling, providing us with the aptitude we need to carry out these higher activities. It should, therefore, be our business to advance in the use of these capabilities.
But of all the faculties we have that surpass those given to mere beasts, it is our ability to reason and understand that is most important. This is mainly what makes us different from animals. So it is most important that we progress in its use.
Learning cannot be thought of as some trite activity we engage in every now and then. If that’s the way we think about it, then we are basically saying this faculty is not all that important. But it is the most important faculty we have!
Yes, but we can never improve our intellectual faculty unless we obtain actual knowledge with it. You can’t grow it in any other way.
People who seldom focus on growing their intellect are more devoted to their inferior powers, like pleasing their senses and gratifying their animal appetites. But this is not how a Christian should behave. In fact, this is not how any human being should behave. People who act this way seem to have forgotten they are men and that God has placed them above the animals by giving them a higher ability to understand things.
Of course, God did create people to have some things in common with animals. Among other things, both humans and animals have outward sense perception, bodily appetites, and the ability to experience physical pleasure and pain. But in other areas, God has obviously made humans to be superior. Again, the most significant area is in our capability to understand and reason.
God did not give people this higher capacity so that they would ignore it or relegate it below their other faculties. Why would we count the faculties we have in common with animals as more important than the ones in which we are superior to them? When we fall into this error, great confusion follows. Essentially, men become the servants of the beasts.
So what should we do with our inferior powers, that is, the ones we have in common with the animals? Actually, God gave us those so that they might be employed in the service of the more significant capabilities, like our ability to reason. Our inferior powers are meant to serve and strengthen our superior powers, not the other way around.
It only makes sense, therefore, that all men and women should make it their business to improve their abilities in reasoning and understanding through the acquiring of knowledge.
If that point is true, then it follows logically that the main type of knowledge we should be learning is the knowledge of God and his ways. We should commit ourselves most fully to the study of divinity, for this is the end purpose God had in mind when he gave us our reasoning faculties. Knowing God and understanding the things related to him (doctrine and theology) are the very reasons we exist at all.
Interestingly, among the heathen people, the wisest of them were sensible enough to know that the main business of a man is to improve and exercise his understanding. However, they were in error about which body of knowledge is the highest and most important. Many of them thought of philosophy as the highest science, and the one they should mainly employ the understanding to study. So they made learning philosophy their main business.
But we who enjoy the light of the gospel are not left in the dark on this issue. We understand that philosophy is not the highest science and that we should devote the majority of our time studying that which is significantly more important. And we are all the more happy because we are not confused over this.
God has shown us what should be the main focus of our growth in knowledge. He guides us with the Bible, leading us to discover in its pages the most important things we should be learning. In the process of building knowledge and understanding, all rational creatures should put their full attention on the glorious objects revealed in Scripture. In his wisdom, God designed the Bible in such a way that his divine instructions can be accommodated for all people, regardless of their various capacities and conditions. It is not only for people who enjoy studying, but for everyone. People of every character, whether educated or uneducated, whether young or old, whether man or woman, should study the truths contained in this book.
Thus, if you possess a copy of the Holy Scriptures, and so have the opportunity to enjoy them, then you should make it your main business to study them and acquire knowledge from them.
2. Divine truth is a high and valuable treasure.
As I’ve already indicated, the truths we are able to learn about God and the things of God are the highest types of truth. Divine truths are much higher than the truths that can be learned from all other academic disciplines—higher, in fact, than heaven is above the earth.
The science of divinity is mainly focused on God himself, the Trinity, the eternal Three-in-one. Next, it aims to understand the person of Jesus Christ. His divine nature (as God) is contemplated, as well as his human nature (as man and Mediator). It then seeks to understand Christ’s glorious work of redemption, the most glorious work ever accomplished.
After this, the science of divinity investigates all the great things of the heavenly world, such as the eternal inheritance purchased by Christ and promised in the gospel, the way the Holy Spirit of God works on the hearts of people, the duty of mankind to God, and the way humans can become “like the angels” (Mt 22:30) and even like God himself (insofar as it is possible for mere human beings). All of these amazing things comprise the highest types of truths that people are capable of learning. And all of them are the objects of study in the field of divinity.
These particular areas of study were the main focus for the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, and the most excellent people who ever lived. These are even the main topics of study for the angels in heaven, as we are told in 1 Peter 1:10-12.
Each of these topics is so excellent and worthy that the person who studies them and acquires knowledge about them will be richly rewarded. Of course, the study itself can be difficult and even painful. There is much labor involved in earnestly seeking this knowledge. But the payoff is well worth the time and effort.
Imagine that a great treasure of gold and pearls had been accidentally found and uncovered and that this treasure was so abundant that anybody in the world was permitted to come and take all they wanted while the supply lasted. Wouldn’t everyone think it worth their while to journey to this treasure and gather what they could? Wouldn’t the valuable reward of the treasure itself be worth the difficulties of the journey and the gathering process?
The wealth and riches of divine knowledge contained in Scripture is vastly more valuable than any treasure of gold and pearls! And God provides it in such a way that every person is invited to come and take all they want.
All over the world, various people are busy attempting to gather monetary riches in all sorts of ways. Why do so many neglect the greater treasure of divine knowledge provided in Scripture? Why do people so diligently and laboriously pursue the lesser treasures, yet spend so little time obtaining the greater treasure that is freely available to all?
3. Seeking divine truth is not only for ministers, but for every Christian.
In the other sciences, some people are specialists and so are extremely interested in learning detailed information about narrow topics. Philosophy is one field where experts specialize in this way. But most other people have no need to study philosophy in such a specialized and extensive way. Why? Because the information learned there usually has very little to do with the normal course of human life. The study of philosophy, and many of the other sciences, is mostly concerned with speculative points. For the average person it doesn’t matter whether he knows them or not. His temporal and spiritual life is seldom impacted either way.
The philosophers engage in debate among themselves about the finer points of their discipline. Sometimes they get into heated arguments, expressing and defending one opinion over another. But non-philosophers typically leave these specialists to their debate, not troubled much about any of it. After all, life itself would change little, if at all, regardless of which philosopher had the correct argument.
However, the study of divinity is vastly different. The doctrines taught in Scripture concern every person. The truths of God affect every life in dramatic ways, including whether or not a person will enjoy eternal salvation and happiness.
People, then, cannot say anything like this: “We are merely common people. Let us leave all the Bible study to the ministers and theologians. They are the specialists, so they can debate and argue about all these things that do not concern me.” Nobody should say this! Obtaining divine knowledge is of infinite importance to every person!
For example, Scripture provides us with vast amounts of data about the nature of God’s being, information that is vitally important for everyone to understand. Knowing details about the essence, attributes, and intricacies of God’s being is crucial for all people, not just ministers. Why? Because God is the being who has made us all: “In him we live and move and have our being.” He is the Lord of all, and all are accountable to him. He is the main purpose of our existence and the only fountain of our happiness. These things are true for everybody, not just ministers or professional theologians. Don’t leave the active study of God’s being to a certain group of specialists! This task is for everyone!
Likewise, the doctrines taught in Scripture about Jesus Christ are also vastly important to every person. Everyone needs to understand the mediating work of Christ, the truths of his incarnation, and the significance of his life, death, and resurrection. Furthermore, every effort should be made to grasp the meaning and importance of his ascension into heaven, how he sits at the right hand of the Father, how his sacrifice satisfied the just wrath of God, and how he intercedes for his people.
Even the most common of people, who will most likely never study much of anything in detail, should make diligent effort to know about these things. They are of infinite concern and just as important for regular people as they are for vocational ministers and theologians. After all, every person stands in need of the Savior. Every person should be highly interested in the person of Christ, the offices he fulfills, and the things he has suffered and accomplished.
The same is true when it comes to understanding the doctrine of justification by faith. Every person needs this information because every person is a sinner in need of salvation. How does the death and resurrection of Christ save a person’s soul? How does God work within a person to raise his interest in the mediating work of Christ? Finding the answers to these questions is absolutely necessary and should be a top priority for everyone, since all stand in equal need of justification before God.
The same is true when it comes to the doctrine of eternal condemnation. Every person is equally in danger of being cast into hell—such a dreadful place! Which means we should all seek the truth about it and how to avoid it. Everyone needs this eternally valuable knowledge, not just a few specialists.
The same is true of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. How does he work on a person’s heart? How does he apply redemption and call a person effectually to salvation? How does he bring about the work of sanctification? Every single person needs this knowledge, because it concerns us all in major ways.
The same is true across the board. No divine doctrine should ever be ignored by anyone, especially Christians. Each of them has an eternal impact on every life.
So don’t be content to leave the serious study of Scripture to ministers and theologians. You must dig into the treasure of Scripture for yourself, even if you don’t fancy yourself as a person of diligent study. These matters are far too important for you to ignore.
4. In the Scriptures, we have a sure guide to help our understanding.
The Bible has a way of leading various types of Christians to the same positions and beliefs, since we are all studying from the same source. This means we don’t have to fall into constant dispute and disagreement, but can be certain in our knowledge.
It doesn’t work the same way in the other sciences, where God has left us to ourselves. We study in those fields only by the light of our own reason. But since the field of divine study is of such greater importance to us (infinitely greater), God has made certain to guide our understanding in this area. He has revealed the truth to us, conveying and confirming it with many great wonders and miracles.
God raised up the prophets for just this purpose. Throughout the ages the Holy Spirit inspired them, and God confirmed the doctrine they taught by allowing them to perform many miracles. Often they were able to accomplish wonderful works that went beyond the established course of nature. One after the other, God raised these prophets up to reveal his truth to us.
God also raised up an entire nation to be a conduit through which his truth would come to us. He separated the people of Israel from the surrounding nations for this purpose (among other purposes). The way God brought about the separation was truly remarkable, and so was the way he kept them separate. Why did he do this? He did it that he might commit to them the “oracles of God” and that they might communicate his words to the rest of the world.
Often, God sent angels to deliver divine instructions to people. He has even appeared himself to various people in miraculous symbols or representations of his presence. Furthermore, in these last days, he has sent his own Son into the world. Jesus is the great prophet and teacher of divine truth (Heb 1:1-ff).
Finally, God has given us the Bible, the book of divine instructions. It contains within its pages all the information God desires for us to know about him and his great work.
God did not give all of these amazing revelations only for the benefit of ministers and intellectuals! He has provided these for the good of all people. There are all sorts of people in the world (men, women, children, educated, uneducated, and so on), and God intended his revelations to instruct them all. The Bible in particular is designed to communicate God’s thoughts and purposes to everyone.
Certainly, if God has done such wonderful things in order to teach us, then we should exert great effort to learn from him. When he gave us his words, he did not give them in a haphazard or flippant way. He devoted himself to it fully, putting his entire heart into it. Focused and deeply engaged, he made sure his divine lessons came to us successfully and in great and wonderful ways.
For example, we read of God rising up early in order to teach us through his prophets and teachers:
Jeremiah 7:25 Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them. (NASB)
Verse 13 adds, “I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking.” This is figurative language, but the meaning is very clear—God has made it his business to teach people divine truth.
When a person has something to do that is tremendously important, he will rise up early to get it done. He will work in earnest to make sure the task is completed. So when we read of God rising up early to communicate his words, we see how important this task is to him and how his heart is fully engage in accomplishing it.
Again, if God has been so tremendously diligent in teaching us, then certainly we should not neglect our part, which is learning. Growing in the knowledge of God and his work should, therefore, make up a large part of how we spend our lives.
5. The sheer volume of God’s book of instructions tells us God’s intention.
Here is another reason every Christian should make growth in knowledge the main business of his or her life. The Bible is a large book, containing a great variety and abundance of instructions. All of it is meant to teach us the truth of divine things.
Consider the Old Testament. In it the voluminous teaching of Moses was recorded, and this teaching has been transmitted down to us. Afterwards, other books were periodically added. David and Solomon contributed their part, and the prophets provided many excellent lessons as well.
But God did not think this was enough information for us. So he sent Christ and his apostles, and through them the great and excellent treasure of the New Testament came into being. With this addition we have the completed holy book, and it is this book that is to master us as we study it.
We are directed to search the Scriptures. John 5:39 says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” Isaiah 34:16 says, “Seek and read from the book of the Lord.” We are to explore the great heights and depths of God’s Word.
Additionally, God pronounces a blessing on people who read the Word and understand it. Revelation 1:3 states, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear” (to hear means to understand). If this blessing is given to the one who studies the book of Revelation, then it is given even more abundantly to the one who explores and comprehends the whole Bible.
To state this point succinctly, God would not have given such an abundant book of instructions if he only intended for us to read it occasionally. We are not to approach the many volumes of his words lightly, but rather work hard to grasp them. Otherwise, the instructions he gave are not functioning as instructions.
God did not give us information about everything. The things he has withheld from us are what he did not intend as lessons for our lives. But whatever knowledge he has given, these are the instructions he wants us to study, comprehend, and obey. Our attention should be focused on these things.
Sadly, for many people God’s instructions are given in vain, because they refuse to seek a true understanding of them. Unless we are endeavoring to grow in our knowledge of divinity, the lessons God provided are worthless to us. We only receive benefit from the Scriptures when we encounter and comprehend them. The amount of benefit you receive from God’s Word will be exactly proportional to how much of it you understand. Apart from grasping what they mean, God’s instructions are empty as far as we are concerned.
Praise God for providing such a plentiful treasure of instruction! Praise God for all the varied ways he has delivered his Word to us! Let us continually praise him for it! But if we are content in our practice of learning only a tiny fraction of his instructions, then our praises are hypocritical.
God has opened before us a giant treasure that is capable of supplying all of our needs and wants. And we thank him for giving so much. But at the same time, if we are too lazy to gather the treasure, then we prove our insincerity. We are not really thankful to God for it, even if we say we are. How can we be truly thankful for the treasure of God’s Word if we remain destitute of the greatest part of it?
In our day, when it comes to study, we have many advantages that people who lived long ago didn’t have. We have greater opportunities to mine the truths of Scripture and acquire knowledge of divine things than they had, simply because we have more of it. How can we neglect this advantage? If we do, we may never be any better off than they were. We may remain with as little knowledge as they had.
Again, the sheer size of God’s Word is a powerful indication that he desires us to study it in all its depth and breadth.
6. There is always room for growth.
No person should ever think he has arrived and needs to study no more. Even those who apply themselves diligently to the study of God’s Word can always progress. None of us will ever get to the point when we can say, “I have had enough.” There are always new things to learn!
Some might even use this as an excuse to neglect the study of God’s Word altogether. But we should never think or say, “I know it all,” setting God’s book of instructions aside. How can anyone honestly excuse their lack of study because they feel they have mastered enough knowledge or because there is nothing left to learn?
The Bible is full of instructions, enough to employ us forever, especially if we set ourselves to learn the truth thoroughly. Remember, this is a divine science, and the eternal God is the focus of divine science. We can never say, then, that we have attained all the knowledge there is of him and his ways. Additionally, there are endless possibilities when it comes to applying God’s Word to our lives.
Think of the people who study the most, who diligently explore the depths of God’s Word. They are most acutely aware that their journey has only begun! They honestly realize that they’re just getting started. Though they know more about God and his ways than other people, they have acquired but only a little of the available knowledge, since the subject is inexhaustible. There is no end to the glory or perfections of an infinite God. In fact, we can never fully know everything there is to know about him or his works.
For example, God’s work of redemption is particularly full of unsearchable wonders! This subject is the major focus of the science of divinity, and it is full of never-ending truth. Never will we be able to say of God’s work of redemption, “I fully understand that and no longer need to study it.”
But besides redemption, all of God’s Word is full of divine instructions. We have more than plenty to occupy our minds for the duration of our lives. And when our lives are finished, we will leave the next generations with an overwhelming abundance for them to study. Even the most able theologians throughout all generations will never get to the end of it all, even when each generation passes its knowledge down to the next. This will be true even until the end of the world.
The psalmist saw an end to everything that is merely human, but he could not find an end to what is contained in God’s Word:
Psalm 119:96 I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
We cannot excuse ourselves from study because we think we’ve learned it all. There is enough information within the divine science to employ the minds of both saints and angels forever.
7. It is the profession and highest calling of every Christian.
It makes sense that people should excel in their profession, or the main calling of their lives. They should seek knowledge and wisdom most earnestly in their area of speciality. But what is the highest calling and profession of every Christian?
We are summoned and instructed to live our lives to God. This is the high calling placed on every believer’s life (see Phil 3:14). To continue the metaphor, this is the trade of the Christian. It is our business, if you will. It is our work, and ultimately, it is our only work. In fact, no other business a Christian engages in should be done without some way or the other being a part of this greater work.
So every Christian should endeavor to be well-acquainted with the knowledge and wisdom that pertains to this central work. How else we he be able fulfill it?
The man called to be a soldier will learn the art of war, and the one called to be a sailor will learn the art of navigation, and the one called to be a physician is educated in the science of anatomy. Each of these three professions require the practitioners to acquire knowledge and wisdom in their respective fields. Every Christian, then, ought to devote himself to the practice of Christianity and excel in the knowledge of divinity.
8. God has appointed certain people to help in the process.
This is a major argument in favor of every Christian devoting their lives to the study of Scripture. God has graciously given us help, so that we are not left to learn alone. God has given us teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28), and he has placed them in the church. The first order of teachers are the apostles, and then the prophets, and then other teachers.
Ephesians 4:11-12 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
God placed these people into the church to teach, and it is their business to impart knowledge to Christians. But what kind of knowledge should they impart? They are not called to impart the knowledge of philosophy, or of human laws, or of how machines are built. No, their business is to impart the knowledge of divine things, of theology.
Think of it like this. If God calls some to be teachers, then he also calls others to be learners. Teachers and learners naturally correlate in this way. They must go together. Just as teachers have the duty of teaching, learners have the duty to learn. It doesn’t make sense for God to require hard work and preparation on the part of teachers, but not require the listeners to learn. The learners are called to labor in their learning just as teachers are called to labor in their teaching. God has not commanded ministers to give themselves away in teaching only to impart knowledge to those under no obligation to receive it.
In the New Testament, Christians are often called disciples, which essentially means scholars and learners. This indicates that each Christian is a pupil in the school of Christ, making it their business to learn and receive knowledge from the Master and Teacher of us all. They should also willingly learn from those inferior teachers that Christ appoints to instruct others in his name.
9. The Bible tells us to grow in knowledge.
The previous points demonstrate that believers should give the better part of themselves to the study of God’s Word. Each point is powerful, but this final one puts the fact beyond all doubt.
In the Bible God commands us to grow in our knowledge of him and his ways. It is our duty to acquire and obey the instructions he has given. He tells us in no uncertain terms to excel in these things. Furthermore, it is his will that our lives be enriched with great knowledge of all his Word, not just a little knowledge of parts of it:
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.
The apostle earnestly prayed for the Philippian Christians in the same way. His asked God to help them not only abound in love, but also in Christian knowledge:
Philippians 1:9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.
Peter advises Christians along the same lines when he wrote, “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5). The main text for our message makes a similar point:
Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.
In Hebrews 6 and following, the apostle then counsels the Hebrew Christians to leave behind the first principles of the doctrines of Christ and move on to perfection. He would never advise them to just learn the basic fundamentals of repentance, faith, the resurrection from the dead, and the eternal judgment, and then stop there! He was not content for them to remain at the level of instruction they had received at their baptism, when they were first initiated into the Christian faith. No, he wanted them to grow in knowledge and move beyond the basics.
This concludes Section 4 and the list of nine reasons why every Christian should make it their business to grow in their knowledge of divinity. In the next section, I will provide an exhortation that I hope moves all of us to take action.
Here, my aim is to accomplish two purposes. First, under Section 5, I want to motivate you into a serious and continual study of God’s Word. We have seen all the reasons why you should study, and now I will encourage you to actually do it.
Secondly, under Section 6, we will get very practical. I want to offer tools of the trade, if you will, for those of you who are convinced that you should study more diligently.
Section 5: An exhortation for all Christians to grow in their theological knowledge
We must all think of ourselves as scholars and disciples attending the school of Christ. As his students we should be diligent in pursuing proficiency in Christian knowledge. Don’t be content with having learned your catechism during your childhood years. Don’t be content that you have learned the necessary doctrines required for your salvation. If you are content with these then you are guilty of what the apostle warns us about, namely, going no further than laying the foundation of repentance from dead works, and so on.
Each of you are called to be Christians. This is your profession—the business of your life. So endeavor with all your heart to acquire the knowledge of things that pertain to your profession.
Don’t give your teachers reason to complain about you with words like this: “I have spent myself preparing a lesson so I can impart knowledge to you, but you have not labored much at all to learn.” On the contrary, when you set yourself to learn, your teacher is greatly encouraged! When he sees the minds of his students bending towards the truth, it makes his teaching a pleasure. Otherwise, if his students never respond or grow, teaching is a heavy and burdensome task.
Those of you who now have a Bible in your hands, you are holding a large treasure trove of divine knowledge! Thus, never be content learning only a little of that treasure. God has spoken a great deal to you in those pages, so labor to understand as much of it as you can.
Remember, each of you has been created by God as a sensible and intelligent creature. He has given you the noble faculty of reasoning and the wonderful ability to understand amazing things. Don’t neglect to use your faculty and your ability. Don’t let these things lie dormant and inactive.
Furthermore, don’t be content with bits and pieces of knowledge that are thrown your way. This is far too passive. What ashamed if the only knowledge you acquire comes to you unavoidably because you are obligated to hear the preaching of God’s Word, or because you gain small portions while in conversation with others. No, don’t be passive! Rather, search the Word of God for yourself. Be as diligent in your labor as a miner digging for gold or silver.
Young people, I want to encourage you most of all. The time of youth is the time to learn. Don’t misunderstand me, for people are never too old to learn, but youth are still in that special time for learning, the time that is peculiarly proper for storing up knowledge.
Let me encourage you to consider the following six points. I hope these will stir up everyone, young and old, to seek after divine knowledge.
1. It will give you something to do.
This is a most obvious, but very important point. Each day, after you finish your normal daily work, if you diligently set yourself to pursuing divine knowledge, you will make very profitable use of your leisure time. Indeed, you will never be without something significant to do.
Far too many people, after their day of work, spend their extra time bouncing from house to house, engaging in idle conversations. In doing so they waste away all their hours engaging in activities which are essentially unprofitable. At best those conversations provide nothing but a bit of amusement for you, something to kill time. But I fear that many of these evening visits are not merely for shallow entertainment, but are actually meant for more sinister purposes.
Solomon warns us, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Prov 10:19). Aren’t these words verified in the lives of those who have nothing better to do than roam about to one another’s houses? These are the ones who spend all their hours talking about nothing except whatever somebody brings up or feels like talking about.
Of course, some diversion from ordinary life is lawfully permitted. I am not critiquing the idea that we should have regular times for fellowship, rest, and recreation. But Christians who spend so many long evenings in no other conversation except that which diverts and amuses—well, these are sinfully wasting their precious time. They are bringing poverty to their own souls, and quite possibly they are bringing about their own outward poverty as well: “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty” (Prov 14:23).
Besides all this, those who spend all their time engaged in nothing but sitting, talking, and chatting are in great danger of falling into grievous sin. After all, worthless chats can quickly degenerate into sinful exchanges. Given the opportunity, people will often vent their anger and corruption. A chat about nothing can lead to sinful tirade against others. With nothing better to do, many will happily express their jealous feelings and evil thoughts about others. They have not considered what Christ taught us:
Matthew 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.
If you apply what you have learned today, you would find something much better to do with your time. You wouldn’t spend your hours in gossip, shallow chats, or contentious discussions.
Young people, spend your time mining the depths of God’s Word. This will provide you with activities far superior to merely hanging around others who are living empty lives. You will accomplish something worthwhile that will profit you and bring good things into your life. Focus yourself and study Scripture. It will bring you divine blessing, and it will keep you away from the path of temptation and on the path of your divinely appointed duty.
Those of you who are older, it is the same for you. You need something valuable and important to do in order to occupy your time. You are at a stage of life when perhaps your body doesn’t work as well, and you are unable to exert the necessary energy for physical labor. But don’t use that as an excuse to waste your remaining time away! So many people of age have heavy hearts because they allow the passing time to weigh heavy on them. Instead, you should use every remaining moment you have gaining both the profit and the pleasure of searching Scripture. Oh, what a wonderful use of time! Take your Bible up and compare this verse with that verse and meditate on what you study. What a delightful duty God calls you to enjoy!
2. It will provide you with a more noble way of spending your time.
Do you remember what the Holy Spirit said of the Bereans in the book of Acts?
Acts 17:11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
The Berean believers “were more noble” because of their willingness to daily search the Scriptures.
The heavenly angels are currently engaged in the same noble occupation. The inhabitants of the world of glory spend much of their time searching into the great things of God. Even now, they study the great themes of divinity, acquiring more knowledge of God’s wonderful truth. The apostle Peter refers to the glories of salvation as “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).
One day you want to make heaven your home. You doubtless want to live where the angels live! You must understand that the great goal of everyone there is growth in knowledge. The very place you want to spend eternity is a place of great learning. Therefore, your hope should be to join the angels of light one day in their noble pursuit of a better understanding of divinity. Begin that eternal process now by engaging in the noble study of the things of God.
Solomon wrote, “The glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2). And certainly above all other things, it is their glory to search out divine matters. If this is the honor of kings, isn’t it your honor even more? How noble to spend your time acquiring truth about our great God and all his works and wonders.
3. It will be a very pleasant way to spend your time.
Intelligent creatures are delighted when they are able to obtain knowledge, especially when it is the highest kind of knowledge. There is great pleasure to be found in searching out divine things. When we look into divine things carefully, we will find the most excellent truths. We will observe the best and most beautiful objects we are capable of seeing.
Learning and seeing these things is worth all the effort you put into it. Regardless of how tedious a serious study of Scripture can be, there are rich rewards that come from it. Once you acquire the knowledge, you will see that your labor was a small price to pay for the immense treasure you gain: “For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” (Proverbs 2:10).
4. It will help you tremendously in your Christian walk.
People who have achieved greater amounts of knowledge have greater advantages in their lives. The more truth a person comprehends about the things of God, the more he is able to grow in his salvation and Christian walk, because the means of grace that God provides for us are only effective when knowledge is imparted through them.
So, for example, suppose the Holy Spirit breathes on your heart. Your experience of the Spirit’s presence and work will be lesser or greater depending on the amount of rational knowledge you have obtained. The more knowledge you have, the greater your experience will be of the Spirit’s work. You will have a better opportunity to see the excellency of his work, and you will better taste the sweetness of his ways.
Unbelievers, on the other hand, have no rational knowledge of the gospel or of things related to it. As a result, they have no opportunity to see the wonder and power of what God is doing.
Thus, we should build up our supply of knowledge. Then we will have the great advantage of seeing and experiencing the excellency and glory of God and what he is doing in the world.
Likewise, the more you build your supply of divine knowledge, the more you will understand your duty. What would God have you do in this or that situation? When particular cases arise, it will be your knowledge that leads you to better see how to act in each case.
You knowledge of divinity will also be very effective against the temptations of the devil. The devil preys on people who are ignorant of Scripture. He is often successful against them with temptations that would have no effect on someone with greater knowledge.
Furthermore, your knowledge will empower and enable you to conduct yourself with prudence and discretion as you live your Christian life. This, of course, means that you will live more for the honor of God and more consistently with the Christian faith. Many people lack basic prudence and as a result, injury the cause of Christ by the way they live. This can happen even when a Christian means well and has a good spirit about him. It isn’t enough to have mere zeal for God. Our zeal must be in accordance with knowledge or else it will do more harm than good (see Romans 10:2). Often good people behave very poorly not because they lack grace, but because they lack knowledge.
Besides all these things, when you increase your knowledge of divinity, you find help from others because of the types of conversations you are able to have with them. The truths you learn become a supply of wonderful topics for discussion. So when you do visit with your friends and neighbors, you will be speaking of higher and greater things. This, of course, means you will have far less time to discuss things that might harm yourself and others, and you will be far less tempted to do so.
5. It will keep you from neglecting your advantages.
As I have already indicated, we today have far greater advantages when it comes to gaining knowledge than people of older times had.
For example, consider the people of God in the Old Testament era. Since their time, the canon of Scripture has grown much larger. We have far more information than they did, and with the addition of the New Testament, the truths of the gospel are now revealed more plainly.
In many ways, the most common people today can know much more than the greatest Old Testament prophets could in their day. What Christ said, then, applies directly to us:
Luke 10:23-24 “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Furthermore, we have advantages not only over the Old Testament saints, but also over New Testament Christians of earlier eras. This is especially true because of the advent of the art of printing. What a benefit God has given us in this! Bibles and other books of theology and divinity are now multiplied in abundance. These are easier to use than they’ve ever been before, and they are much less expensive than they’ve ever been before. You have tremendous resources at your fingertips! Those of bygone generations did not have such wonderful tools to aid their study.
Do not neglect these wonderful advantages that you have been given! What a shame if you let them all go to waste!
6. It helps us face opposition.
This is the final exhortation in the list. Keep in mind that many people stand against what we believe. You know know this, of course. A multitude of adversaries strongly oppose the gospel and the truths and principles that flow from it. If you embrace those truths, you must expect to be attacked. But unless we are well-informed about the things of God, how can we defend ourselves? We are instructed by the apostle:
1 Peter 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (NIV)
But we will never be able to do this without considerable knowledge of divinity. Take the time to obtain a solid foundation of truth, and you will have the resources to answer those who challenge your faith.
Section 6: Practical directions for those who would grow in their knowledge
Having provided you with exhortations and challenges to grow, I now want to give you some practical and helpful ways to make it happen. This will be the final section of the message.
1. Be diligent in reading the Holy Scriptures.
I realize this is an obvious thing to say, given everything already said, but I want this point to be abundantly clear. You must set yourself to read the Bible. After all, it is the fountain from which all knowledge of God comes. So don’t set this treasure aside. Don’t neglect it. Every man, even the most common man, as long as he can read, has the ability to become well-acquainted with the Scriptures. If he wants this knowledge, it is available to him—he can get it. What an excellent achievement, indeed, if he does get it!
2. Don’t be content with a cursory reading.
When you read, be careful and pay attention. If you don’t, you may miss the meaning of the text.
Many people are not accustomed to reading for understanding, but have made a practice of simply skimming over the details. Mere skimming is a very poor way of reading, which can lead to misunderstanding.
When you read, take great care to observe what you are reading. Consider the sequence of events as they come in the text, and take notice of the direction the passage is moving. Compare one scripture with another, since every part of Scripture harmonizes with every other part. One verse may shed great light on another, but you must take the time to carefully make the comparisons in order to get this light.
None of this can be done if you merely skim the text. Christ specifically directed us to search the Scriptures. Evidently, he wants us doing more than lightly glancing at his Word.
Use whatever means you have to help you understand the meaning of various passages. For example, when you hear someone preaching, pay close attention to how they explain a particular text. Whenever the meaning of a Scripture becomes clear to your satisfaction, write it down and keep it safe. If possible, memorize the explanation.
Many other practical ways of deeper study might be offered here. But suffice it to say, we should never be content with mere cursory readings.
3. Obtain and use other helpful books.
Be diligent about this. Christian books (at least those that are well written) can help you grow tremendously in knowledge. There are many such books available, and God can use them to propel you forward in growth.
These same books can also provide you with hours of pleasant entertainment in your leisure time. What a wonderful way to make your extra time profitable instead of wasteful!
Don’t make the same terrible mistake many others make. Because of their cost, many refuse to purchase books, no matter how excellent or helpful they are. Sure, on occasion they might buy one. Perhaps, they have a few books which they open periodically, maybe reading a bit on Sabbath days. But they refuse to acquire any more beyond these few. As a result, they read the same books over and over again. They have had them so long and return to them so often that they grow weary of them. How dull! This removes the joy from reading and turns it into a thoughtless task.
Don’t let this be true of you. Regularly purchase excellent books, realizing that it is worth the little expense. Obtain as many as you can, and use them as often as you can.
4. Converse with others about what you are learning.
This is a key point, and an area where we can work and improve. When people converse with one another, they have a tremendous opportunity to improve one another’s knowledge of divine things. But in order for this happen, we must improve our ability to converse about what we are learning.
In particular, when you are ignorant of a particular point of divinity, don’t be ashamed to show your ignorance. Admit your deficiency in that area and be willing to learn from others. Those who do have knowledge of the point should be willing to communicate it without pride or flashiness.
Christians should be more inclined to enter these types of conversations. When we do, we will edify and instruct one another in amazing ways.
5. Help others with your knowledge.
Never seek knowledge for the sake of applause. Never seek knowledge for the sake of winning disputes.
If it is applause and victory in argument that you want, beware. It may not be knowledge that you get at all. Instead, you might be on the path of error to perdition, as is so often the case with the prideful and arrogant who love to show off their knowledge. They travel a dangerous road, and their punishment is deserved. When the prideful and arrogant acquire rational facts, it helps them very little, if at all. Paul teaches that this so-called knowledge does nothing but “puff” them up (1 Corinthians 8:1).
To avoid their error, always remember that the knowledge you obtain is meant for the good of others. Use your knowledge of God and his ways to edify, uplift, encourage, and inspire those around you.
6. Seek God’s direction and blessing.
Whenever you dig into the depths of God’s Word, make sure you pray. Ask God to guide your study and bless you through it. James gives the following instructions to us:
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Let us seek after God as we study, since God himself is the fountain of all divine knowledge:
Proverbs 2:6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Be sensible to your own blindness and ignorance. You need God’s help! If you are depending only on yourself, you will follow a pathway into error instead of true knowledge.
1 Corinthians 3:18 If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.
7. Apply what knowledge you have.
This is one of the most important ways to grow as a Christian. Live by what you learn.
The more you experience divine truth in your daily life and practices, the more apt you will be to pursue greater heights of knowledge. The psalmist recommends this method when he says, “I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.” That is, his knowledge of God’s precepts blossomed as a result of keeping God’s precepts. He lived according to what he knew, so he grew to know more. This lesson is seen clearly here:
John 7:17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
With this point, I will bring the message to a conclusion. I have explained to you the great importance of obtaining Christian knowledge and growing in it. I have shown you the necessity of this, not just for ministers or professional theologians, but for every Christian. You have seen how useful this practice can be to your life as a follower of Christ. You have been exhorted to take this call seriously, and I have given you a number of practical ways to proceed.
Will you heed the call? Will you set yourself to mine the depths of God’s Word? May God be honored as each of us take our calling to study seriously. Amen.