Understanding the Scriptures

August Hermann Francke

Meditation is of admirable use, being tinged, as it were, with prayer, and exercised by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. By degrees you will learn, howsoever difficult it may seem at first.

An Approach to Bible Study

1. To attend to the genuine scope of an entire text.

2. To weigh rightly the antecedents and the consequents.

3. To consider distinctly the circumstances, viz. Who? What? Where? By what assistance? Why? How? When?

4. To compare one sentence with another, the Old, with the New Testament, Moses with the prophets and the Psalms, &c. to explain some things by others, the difficult texts by the more easy ones.

5. To receive the words of the men of God, in a divine sense, with which they were imbued, (which they have declared more clearly and fully in some places than in others) not according to their external sound, nor in a carnal sense, as the world is accustomed to do.

6. To collect one truth out of another.

7. To contemplate with pleasure, the sweet harmony and connection of divine truths ; as there is a handle given in what follows to such salutary Meditations.

Nor ought you to be too anxious when you begin your meditations on the Holy Scriptures; for if you join ardent prayers and a holy desire of knowing Christ, to your reading of them, the matter will thereupon grow better, you will unawares be conducted by God himself into the most pleasant and sweet meditation of his eternal truth, and he will, by little and little, discover to you the unexhausted profundities and treasures of wisdom and knowledge, that are hid in Christ Jesus. (Col. ii. 3.)

The Truth Will Become Clear

Nor are you to wonder, if at first, in reading the Holy Scriptures, many things seem to you obscure, and less intelligible, and that it is necessary for you to read the same chapters again and again, before you find any thing that can, in your own opinion, assist you in the knowledge of Christ. Labour not anxiously to understand things that are too difficult for you, but willingly let them pass, until you have your senses more exercised in the divine mysteries. In the meantime you will always discover something that may lead you forwards to the knowledge of Christ. The few things which you find to be easy, you may prudently turn to your own benefit, and may use them to the establishing and strengthening yourself in the love of Christ: thus difficult places will, by degrees, become obvious to you. If any fruit, (as says the Rev. Dr. Spener on this subject, in his book of the Doctrine of Faith, p. 495,) hang higher than you can reach, you must be content to feed on that which is lower. Perhaps God also keeps secret in your heart, this or that passage which at present you do not perceive or understand, but will afterwards be made intelligible to you, if, like Mary, (John 13:7,) you diligently ponder it in your heart; while you faithfully obey all the profitable counsel that is given you, the divine light will quickly shine forth unto you, and Christ, as the sum of the Holy Scripture, will disperse the thick cloud that is on your mind, and will illustrate all its chapters, verses, and words, that you may discover that in them, which you could not before by any means be persuaded of.

Look For Christ In All You Read

But that you may have the safest and surest instruction, how you are to proceed by degrees, and so the fittest and best help may be administered to your weakness, and to your senses, as yet but little exercised in the word of God; it is meet, if you desire to seek rightly, and to find Christ in the Holy Scriptures, that you begin with such things as are most clear and easy on this point. Now the New Testament, in what it teaches concerning Christ the Saviour of the world, is much more explicit than the Old, nay, without controversy, it is the true key of the Old Testament: while,

1. He is therein made present to us, who is promised in the Old Testament; and there prefigured by types and shadows; and

2. Whilst the evangelists and apostles do hardly any thing else, but (as Luther speaks) compel and send us to the Old Testament in search of Christ.

Here then it is supposed that the whole Bible, or all the writings of the Old and New Testament, have been once at least read over, and the course of things, described in both testaments, summarily understood by this perusal; but afterwards, when the more solid and more proper knowledge of divine truth comes to be discussed by a nicer and fuller inquiry, from the foundation now laid, the most convenient method for understanding the doctrine, is chiefly, and in the first place, to begin with the writings of the New Testament, to meditate upon them with the greatest industry, and to render them familiar to you.

In the reading of the New Covenant, this ought to be always the chief, nay the only desire of your soul, that you may come to the saving and lively knowledge of Jesus Christ. But that you may arrive at this, it is not only necessary, that you have your mind and heart piously and devoutly fixed on the person, words, and works, as also on the passion of Christ, but that you diligently examine also the words alleged in the New Testament out of the Old, as testimonies concerning Christ; that you turn to them in the book of the Old Testament; frequently read over the antecedent and following texts in Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, where the cited testimonies are adduced, and most humbly pray to God, and earnestly beseech him, that he would open your understanding to perceive and know, how Christ and his apostles did interpret the Old Testament. Which pains if you shall not grudge to take, (since to a mind desirous of the true knowledge of Christ, it is rather true pleasure and joy, than labour) you will unawares tread in the safest and most certain way of coming to true wisdom. For you will procure Christ himself and his apostles, to be your teachers and instructors, and by them you will, like a child, be brought into discipline; you will be instructed; you will be, as it were, led by the hand to know rightly, how you ought to seek and find Christ, as the sum and substance of all the scriptures, for the quieting and saving of your soul.

When you have, for some time, frequented this school of Christ and of his apostles, and being introduced by these masters into the Old Testament, that is, Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, and shall have well learnt, like a diligent and attentive scholar, what places are chiefly alleged by them, for the instruction and conviction of men, concerning the person of the Messiah, his office and benefits, that Jesus is he of whom Moses and the Prophets have written, to wit, the Son of God, and the true Saviour of the world; then you ought to mark those places for fundamentals, or in them to lay a foundation of a sure and saving knowledge of Christ. Which foundation being rightly laid in the school of Christ and his apostles, you will, in a short time, better apprehend all their discourses. For you will perceive in their very words, and usual ways of speaking, that they everywhere have respect to the Old Testament, and do, as it were, search into its inmost vitals, through the conduct of the spirit of wisdom, so that even one little word (as Luther speaks) shall look through all the Old Testament.

Wherefore it is not only most necessary to lay very carefully the above-mentioned foundation, from the places quoted out of the Old Testament, by Christ and his apostles, but you must accustom yourself to attend to, and consider every word which they have spoken, and examine diligently whence it is taken, and what particular emphasis it hath; nay, you must continually accustom yourself, by the help of the scriptures of the New Testament, to converse with Christ and his apostles, as your best friends, and by meditating on their words and discourses, to enter upon, every day, as it were, a familiar conference with them.

After this manner David hath treated the words of the law, as is to be seen in Psalm cxix. Hence he could say, (Psalm 119:148.) 'Mine eyes prevent the night-watches, that I might meditate on thy word.' How much more does it behoove us carefully to ponder the words of the New Covenant, which declare unto us so great salvation? And if God so blessed the meditation of David, can we think he will deny us his grace? Oh, that the things we have spoken of, were performed with a mind humble, docile, and desirous of divine grace, with the blessing of God always earnestly implored! We should then be good proficients; digging thus, we should penetrate deep, lay a firm foundation, and acquire true wisdom.

'For he that watcheth for wisdom, whom the study of Wisdom hardly suffers to sleep, but takes away his rest, shall quickly be without care.' (Wisdom 6:6.) But he that is contumacious and refractory, and behaves not himself in this school, with lowliness and humility, but quickly loathes the heavenly manna of the words of Christ, the apostles, and evangelists; that refuses to examine all things with a calm spirit, nor cares to proceed gradually, but presently assumes a haughty spirit, as those learned men, who are wise according to the flesh, are wont to do, such a one will never arrive to any firmness and certainty, nor be made a partaker of Christ, the very substance of the Holy Scriptures, to the delight of his soul.

It behooves you therefore to observe well the counsel that has been given you, if indeed you seriously desire to seek and so to find Christ in the scriptures, that not by unprofitable science, but by the lively efficacy of a full and fruitful knowledge, you may experience him as a true Preserver and Saviour of your soul.

‘The Old Testament has no true relish, if Christ be not understood in it.’ On the contrary, you will be sensible there is much joy, comfort, and delight to be found in the writings of the Old Testament, (especially in reading those places which were before wearisome, and almost irksome to you) when you perceive Christ so sweetly pictured there.

The more you are exercised in meditating on the New, so much the easier and quicker will be your progress in the Old Testament. And as before you were introduced into the sense of the Old Testament, by means of the New, so now Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, will, in their turn, assist you in acquiring so much a more solid and accurate understanding of the New Testament. The perpetual harmony and agreement also between the New and the Old Testament, will cause in you a great fullness of faith, or will certainly very much confirm and increase the faith you have. Guericke, pp. 235-241.