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From Charles Spurgeon’s 1867 sermon “A Song at the Well-head”:

You are retired for your private devotions; you have opened the Bible, and you begin to read.

Now, do not be satisfied with merely reading through a chapter. Some people thoughtlessly read through two or three chapters—stupid people for doing such a thing!

It is always better to read a little and digest it, than it is to read much and then think you have done a good thing by merely reading the letter of the word.

For you might as well read the alphabet backwards and forwards, as read a chapter of Scripture, unless you meditate upon it, and seek to comprehend its meaning.

Merely to read words is nothing: the letter kills.

The business of the believer with his Bible open is to pray, “Lord, give me the meaning and spirit of your word, while it lies open before me; apply your word with power to my soul, threatening or promise, doctrine or precept, whatever it may be; lead me into the soul and marrow of your word.”

Also, it is not the form of prayer, but the spirit of prayer that shall truly benefit your souls.

That prayer has not benefited you, which is not the prayer of the soul.

You have need to say, “Lord, give me the spirit of prayer; now help me to feel my need deeply, to perceive your promises clearly, and to exercise faith upon them.”

In your private devotions, strive after vital godliness, real soul-work, the life-giving operation of the Spirit of God in your hearts.


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10 thoughts on “Spurgeon on a Stupid Way to Read the Scriptures”

  1. Joe Rigney says:

    Since it’s never good to disagree with Spurgeon outright, I’ll just offer a qualification:

    While we should never “thoughtlessly” read the Bible, or attend “merely” to the letter of the word, I don’t think it’s true that reading a short passage of Scripture is always superior to reading large swaths of Scripture (I think this quotation might be mis-read this way). Devotional meditation has its place, but I think there is also value in reading multiple chapters and books in a sitting (even reading them quickly), simply in order to build familiarity with the text. Such quick readings (which Spurgeon might regard as stupid?) can enhance our meditations and devotional readings.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      That’s a good word, Joe. I do think his main point is in merely seeing the words and reading them “thoughtlessly.”

    2. Bob says:

      Joe you are absolutely right, and this is the only time I can recall being in somewhat disagreement with Spurgeon. I think it is just as important to first know what the “Big Picture” aspect of the bible, the books say, and then get into meaning and application at subsequent times. Purely devotional reading without a good grasp of the overall context of chapter and book could lead one to erroneous applicatons or conclusions. In the end, I guess, we have to rely totally on the Holy Spirit to illuminate and teach us as we open our Bibles.

  2. The heart of Spurgeon’s point seems to be that the goal of reading is not mere reading, starting off the day with “spiritual duty” checked off on our checklist. It’s letting what we read, whether little or much, feed our souls in a way that manifests itself in more Christ-like thoughts, words and deeds.

    I talk with so many women who see God’s Word as simply a book of “dead” letters written to people long ago, instead of food and life for them personally.

  3. Brittani says:

    It’s about how we read, not how much we read. I don’t think Spurgeon meant that it’s always better to read a little than to read much – although I recognize the validity of clarifying that. His point seemed to be more along the lines of “It’s not safe to ASSUME that more is better. Less may also be better.”

  4. Taylor says:

    I’ve come to a point where I’m hesitant to agree with that. God produces fruit though faithfulness may take different forms.

  5. Don Sartain says:

    Love it! Sometimes I barely get a few verses in before I just get pounded with something and have to wrestle with the meaning of the text, the application in my life, or being grateful for God’s grace. And sometimes I’ll go two or three chapters until the Spirit presses me on something. It’s great to have such flexibility.

  6. Teresa says:

    Excellent responses from others above. It’s obvious when reading Spurgeon’s writings that he holds such a reverence of scripture – as if the words are the very closest tangible thing we have in our lives to the actual ‘in the flesh’ presence of Jesus, Himself. And if Jesus ‘in the flesh’ was standing before us, we wouldn’t just have “small talk” with Him, would we, and race through conversation! I am guessing he wrote the above passages out of a heart-felt motivation of wanting to encourage people to approach our reading of scripture with utmost reverance and total reliance upon the Holy Spirit, resulting in a deeper relationship with God rather than just ‘being acquainted’ with Him. That we would savor the reading of each word as a morsel of the finest of food. There is no other preacher that as affected my life as he has. I am so grateful for his ministry.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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