Searching the Scriptures / Franklin Kirksey

by Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor
FBC, Spanish Fort, Ala.

Dr. J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) writes, “I am one of those old-fashioned ministers who believe the whole Bible—and everything that it contains. I can find no Scriptural foundation for that smooth-spoken theology, which pleases so many in these days, and according to which everybody will get to heaven at last. I believe that there is a real devil. I believe that there is a real hell. I believe that it is not love to keep back from men that they may be lost. Love!—shall I call it? If you saw a brother drinking poison, would you be quiet? Love!—shall I call it? If you saw a blind man tottering towards a precipice, would you not cry out ‘Stop!’ Away with such false notions of love! Let us not slander that blessed grace, by using its name in a false sense. It is the highest love to bring the whole truth before men. It is real charity to warn them plainly when they are in danger. It is love to impress upon them, that they may lose their own souls forever in hell.”[1]Allow me to point out several things related to searching the Scriptures. 

I. The Duty of Searching the Scriptures.
Rev. George Whitefield (1714-1740) once preached a sermon at St. Michael, Cornhill, titled, “The Duty of Searching the Scriptures.”  Jesus said in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”  Dr. Merrill C. Tenney (1904-1985), former dean of the Graduate School, Wheaton College, writes, “Jesus used the expression to refer to the Old Testament as He knew it, particularly the writings of Moses.  The verb ‘search’ is an indicative, not an imperative.  It is not a command to search the Scriptures, but a statement of fact.  Zealous application to the law was a duty for the Jew, and in this occupation he felt that he would achieve eternal life.  Jesus was attempting to point out the inconsistency of professing to study the law and of rejecting Him, since the law spoke of Him.  He made a definite claim to be the object of prophecy in the Old Testament.”[2]

Luke 6:1-5 reads, “Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands.  And some of the Pharisees said to them, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?’  But Jesus answering them said, ‘Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?’ And He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’”  Those who should know better did not know better.  In addition, note in Matthew 21:42 to the Pharisees, “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.  This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”  In Matthew 22:29 to the Sadducees, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.’”

Think about the Magi also known as “wise men,” coming from a great distance to worship Jesus Christ, the new born King.  Dr. Henry M. Morris (1918-2006) points out what might have been the scriptural basis of their discovery, namely two Old Testament prophecies.  Numbers 24:17-19 reads, “‘I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult.  ‘And Edom shall be a possession; Seir also, his enemies, shall be a possession, While Israel does valiantly.  Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, And destroy the remains of the city.”  Daniel 9:24-25 reads, “Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy.  ‘Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall,Even in troublesome times.”   After citing these passages, Dr. Morris concludes, “It would easily be possible for the Persian Magi, as the promised date came near, to put these prophecies of Balaam and Daniel together, and thus be watching for ‘His star’ to appear.”[3] 

Matthew 2:1-12 reads, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’  Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’  When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.”

Isn’t it amazing that two men can read the same Scriptures and arrive at such different conclusions?  After reading the Scriptures, one will rebel against Jesus and reproach Him, while another will repent toward Jesus and reverence Him.

II. The Danger in Searching the Scriptures.
Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) preached a sermon on January 17, 1858, titled, “Search the Scripture,” based on Isaiah 8:20 which reads, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”  Rev. Spurgeon writes about “searching the Scriptures with holy curiosity,” in a message titled, “A Caution to the Presumptuous”.  The Pharisees and Sadducees searched the Scriptures in vain.  2 Corinthians 4:1-6 reads, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.  But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.  But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.  For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 3:14-16 reads:

“Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;  and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you,  as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”

If you can search the Scriptures with holy curiosity, it is possible to search the Scriptures with unholy curiosity.  If Scripture can be used rightly, it can be used wrongly.  Dr. A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) writes, “The devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.” In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul the apostle writes, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”   

Dr. Glen Spencer, Jr. writes, “Our purpose in searching the Scriptures is not negative but positive. Your purpose is not to find the preacher wrong, but to prove him right. Too many people waste their lives trying to be contentious. If a sermon is Scripturally sound, the hearer is duty bound to believe it and hold to it.”[4]

III. The Discipline for Searching the Scriptures.
Acts 17:11 reads, “These [Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”  In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul the apostle writes, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  A careful study of the Scripture requires discipline.

On searching the scriptures, Dr. W. F. (Walter Frederic) Adeney (1849-1920), former professor New College, London, writes, “The Bible is to be used. It is not to be treated as many men treat the classics, ‘without which no gentleman’s library can be complete,’ but as a text book, a book of daily reference. It must also be inquired into. There are mines of spiritual wealth to dig, things new as well as things old that a well-furnished scribe can bring out of it. There is in it ‘milk for babes, and meat for strong men,’ and the latter needs to be ‘read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested,’ if we would profit by it.”[5]

Rev. Thomas Boston (1676-1732) shares the following “Useful Directions for Reading and Searching the Scriptures”:

1. Follow a regular plan in reading of them, that you may be acquainted with the whole; and make this reading a part of your private devotions. Not that you should confine yourselves only to a set plan, so as never to read by choice, but ordinarily this tends most to edification. Some parts of the Bible are more difficult, some may seem very barren for an ordinary reader; but if you would look on it all as God’s word, not to be scorned, and read it with faith and reverence, no doubt you would find advantage.

2. Set a special mark, however you find convenient, on those passages you read, which you find most suitable to your case, condition, or temptations; or such as you have found to move your hearts more than other passages. And it will be profitable often to review these.

3. Compare one Scripture with another, the more obscure with that which is more plain, 2 Pet. 1:20. This is an excellent means to find out the sense of the Scriptures; and to this good use serve the marginal notes on Bibles. And keep Christ in your eye, for to him the scriptures of the Old Testament look (in its genealogies, types, and sacrifices), as well as those of the New.

4. Read with a holy attention, arising from the consideration of the majesty of God, and the reverence due to him. This must be done with attention, first, to the words; second, to the sense; and, third, to the divine authority of the Scripture, and the obligation it lays on the conscience for obedience, 1 Thess. 2:13, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

5. Let your main purpose in reading the Scriptures be practice, and not bare knowledge, James 1:22, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Read that you may learn and do, and that without any limitation or distinction, but that whatever you see God requires, you may study to practice.

6. Beg of God and look to him for his Spirit. For it is the Spirit that inspired it, that it must be savingly understood by, 1 Cor 2:11, “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” And therefore before you read, it is highly reasonable you beg a blessing on what you are to read.

7. Beware of a worldly, fleshly mind: for fleshly sins blind the mind from the things of God; and the worldly heart cannot favour them. In an eclipse of the moon, the earth comes between the sun and the moon, and so keeps the light of the sun from it. So the world, in the heart, coming between you and the light of the word, keeps its divine light from you.

8. Labour to be disciplined toward godliness, and to observe your spiritual circumstances. For a disciplined attitude helps mightily to understand the scriptures. Such a Christian will find his circumstances in the word, and the word will give light to his circumstances, and his circumstances light into the word.

9. Whatever you learn from the word, labour to put it into practice. For to him that has, shall be given. No wonder those people get little insight into the Bible, who make no effort to practice what they know. But while the stream runs into a holy life, the fountain will be the freer.”[6]

Paul the apostle writes to Timothy, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance,  persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.  Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,  and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

IV. The Delight from Searching the Scriptures.
Dr. Luke writes in Acts 17:10-12, “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.  These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.  Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.”  Dr. Stephen F. Olford (1918-2004) explains, “What supremely distinguished these Bereans was that they searched the Scriptures discerningly. This is why they were described as being ‘… more noble … ‘(Proverbs 17:11). The noble hearer is the person who appeals to the Scriptures themselves to find out if these things are true. Unfortunately, there are unbelievably gullible people who swallow everything they hear without any reference to the Word of God.

These Bereans also searched the Scriptures daily. Here were men and women who would not be distracted by lesser things. With consistency and determination they searched the Scriptures daily.

But more than this, they searched the Scriptures decisively. As a result of their research ‘… many of them believed; … ‘(Proverbs 17:12). This is always the proof of true biblical research, for ‘… faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17).”[7]

Dr. Amos R. Wells (1862-1933) writes, “The Bible yields its gold only to the pick and shovel of earnest thought.”[8]

Dr. A.T. Pierson (1837-1911) writes, “All who, for themselves, will prayerfully search … will find the reward of the explorer who, from new paths of investigation and discovery, brings new trophies; or of the miner who digs up new nuggets of gold or gems. Here are to be found ever new truths, precious stones of beauty and radiance surpassing the gold of Ophir, the precious onyx and the sapphire.”[9]

Dr. William Basil Jones (1822-1897) explains, “By searching the Scriptures carefully, by comparing parallel texts, and similar facts, a person can hardly fail of becoming deeply interested in the contents of the sacred volume. We shall sympathize with David, who said, ‘How sweet are thy words unto my taste, yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.’ 

By studying the Bible, rather than reading it, the mind is stored with ideas, the conscience is enlightened, and each single thought is kept before the mind long enough to produce an impression. . . . If the Bible was studied, instead of being rapidly read, I have no doubt it would be, much oftener than it is, like the fire and the hammer which breaketh the rock in pieces.”[10]  

 

V. The Doorway to Searching the Scriptures.
If you have not begun the discipline of searching the Scriptures, obviously, you have not experienced the delight of searching the Scriptures.  You stand at the doorway.  Let me encourage you to begin this wonderful practice that will change your life.  Psalm 119:18 reads, “Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.”  In How to Search the Scriptures, Drs. Lloyd M. Perry (1916-1998) and Robert D. Culver (1916- ) write, “The Christian who feels no urgency to study his Bible needs his appetite whetted. He could do nothing better than to thumb through the Bible, pausing along the way to meditate on the many statements it makes concerning itself. He should thereby come to a new appreciation of the Word of God and a new hunger to know its contents.”[11]

Former United States President, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), wrote, “I speak as a man of the world to men of the world; and I say to you, Search the Scriptures! The Bible is the book of all others, to be read at all ages, and in all conditions of human life; not to be read once or twice or thrice through, and then laid aside, but to be read in small portions of one or two chapters every day, and never to be intermitted, unless by some overruling necessity. 

In what light soever we regard the Bible, whether with reference to revelation, to history, or to morality, it is an invaluable and inexhaustible mine of knowledge and virtue. 

It is no slight testimonial, both to the merit and worth of Christianity, that in all ages since its promulgation the great mass of those who have risen to eminence by their profound wisdom and integrity have recognized and reverenced Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of the living God.”[12]

Conclusion
Dr. Jerry Bridges writes, “As we search the Scriptures, we must allow them to search us, to sit in judgment upon our character and conduct.”[13]  As David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”  Dr. J. Edwin Orr (1912-1987) wrote the lyrics of the song “Cleanse Me,” in 1936, based upon Psalm 139:23-24 and Psalm 51:2.  He set it to a Maori folk tune; while at a revival meeting in New Zealand.  Someone said, “I have read many books, but the Bible reads me.”  Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” 

Jesus said in John 5:31-47, “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.  There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.  Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.  He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.  But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.  And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.  But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.  You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.  ‘I do not receive honor from men.  But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.  I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.  How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?  Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?’”

Dr. Vance Havner (1901-1986) writes, “Thank God for The Christ of the Scriptures. How He warmed the hearts of the Emmaus disciples as He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself! But He said, ‘Ye search the Scriptures…. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.’ One may come as close as the Scriptures and miss Him! The Scriptures indeed present Him, and faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. But Christ is also the key to the Scriptures. Studying the Bible without personal love for Him may be as dry as dust.”[14]

Whether you are yet to become a believer or have been a believer for some time, keep searching the Scriptures!


[1]J. C. Ryle, “Our Souls,” Sermon Notes, (Mark 8:36), accessed: 03/18/14,  http://www.gracegems.org/20/Ryle_our_souls.htm .
[2]Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief: An Analytic Study of the Text, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948, 1980), 110.
[3]Henry M. Morris, “When They Saw the Star,” Accessed: 03/18/14, http://www.icr.org/home/resources/resources_tracts_whentheysawthestar/
[4]Glen Spencer, Jr., The Expository Pulpit Series First Thessalonians The Hope of the Church, 2008, Database © 2013 WORDsearch.
[5]The Pulpit Commentary, eds. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, Jeremiah, Volume II, (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1885), 4.
[6]Thomas Boston, “Useful Directions for Reading and Searching the Scriptures,” accessed: 03/18/14,   http://www.puritansermons.com/boston/bost3.htm .
[7]Stephen F. Olford, Expository Preaching Outlines – Volume 3, “The Law of Learning,” Sermon Notes, Proverbs 23:23, Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.
[8]Amos R. Wells, Think on These Things, (Boston, MA: W. A. Wilde, 1928), 117.  
[9]A. T. Pierson, Knowing the Scriptures (Los Angeles, CA: Biola Book Room, 1910), 12-13. 
[10]William Basil Jones, New Testament Illustrations, (Hartford, CT: The J. B. Burr Publishing Co., 1875), 294, Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.
[11]Lloyd M. Perry & Robert D. Culver, How To Search the Scriptures (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1967), 22.   [12]William J. Federer, America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, (St. Louis, MO: Amerisearch, Inc., 2000), 19
[13]John Blanchard, The Complete Gathered Gold, (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2006), 55, Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.
[14]Vance Havner, Hearts Afire: Light on Successful Soul Winning, (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1952), 39. Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.
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© March  23, 2014 All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Kirksey is author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice, available on Amazon.com and WORDsearchbible.com.