Understandest Thou What Thou Readest?
Delivered on Lord's-Day Evening, May 11th, 1884, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
"And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth."Acts 8:30-33.
OW THIS NEGRO CHAMBERLAIN of the Queen of Ethiopia came to be a proselyte we do not know. The book which he was so fond of reading may have been the means of leading him to worship the God of Abraham, certainly it has answered that purpose thousands of times. At any rate, he followed the light he had, and though he had not yet come to the full glory of Christianity, it was more than probable that he would do so, because he was evidently prepared to follow truth wherever her flaming torch should lead the way. Oh, that there were more candour among men in these latter days, and less of the prejudice which puts scales upon the eyes of the mind!
Must give them to the poor;
None but the wounded patient knows
The comforts of a cure."
Jesus will not waste his grace on those who are already good. "He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away."
Oh, that you would also understand the second half of Isaiah's verse, "The Lord hath laid, on him the iniquity of us all"! There is more philosophy in that statement than in all the teachings of Aristotle, there is more truth worth knowing in that one sentence than in all the books of the Alexandrian Library. The Lord Jehovah lifted up the sin of man, and deliberately laid it upon his dear Son. His Son, willingly bearing that load as our Substitute, went up to the tree, and there he bore what was due for all that weight of sin, even the penalty of darkness, desertion, and death. By bearing the chastisement he put away sin, and hurled it into his own sepulcher, wherein it is buried for ever. Now, every man who believes in Jesus may know that his sin was laid upon Christ, and borne by Christ, and put away by Christ. A thing cannot be in two places at one time. If my sin was laid on Christ, it is no longer laid on me. God cannot exact two penalties for the same offense: if he accepted Christ Jesus as my substitute, then he cannot punish me. God's justice cannot twice demand the penalty
And then again at mine."
Such an exaction would be a strange confusion and destruction of both love and justice. Such injustice can never be. This is how you are to get rid of your sin. You cannot bear it, but Christ bore it; you are to accept Christ as your Sin-bearer, and then you may know that your sins have gone, that the depths have covered them; that there is not one of them left. I sometimes think if men did but understand this they would be sure to accept the Lord Jesus. I heard of a minister in Edinburgh who went to visit one of his poor people. He heard that she was in deep poverty, and therefore he went to take her help. When he came to her house, he could not make anybody hear, though he knocked loud and long. Seeing her some time after, he said, "Janet, I knocked at your door with help for you, but you did not hear me." "What time did you come, Sir?" said she. "It was about twelve o'clock." "Oh," she said, "I did hear you, Sir, but I thought it was the man calling for the rent." Just so. Men do hear the calls of Christ, but they are wilfully deaf, because they think be wants them to do something. But he does not want anything of you; he wants you to receive what he has already done. He comes laden with mercy, with his hands full of blessing, and he knocks at your door: you have only to open it and he will enter in, and salvation will enter with him. Say, "Come in, thou Traveller unknown! What hast thou in thy hands? I gladly accept what thou dost bring." Will not some young man here, who has thought religion to be a hard exaction, change his mind, now that he understands that it is a bountiful boon? Salvation is a gifta free gift of God. "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." The Savior lifts sin from men to himself, and then makes an end of that sin once for all by his death upon the cross. Oh, hear you this, ye guilty ones: there is fall salvation presented to you in the word of Godsalvation from every sort of evil! You shall be helped to overcome every bad passion, to conquer every evil habit, to be masters of your own minds, and lords of your own spirits. The Lord Jesus Christ, if you accept him, will come into your heart, and turn out his enemy and yours, and he will reign in you from this time forth and for ever, until he has made you perfect, and fit to dwell with himself in glory. Oh, that you understood this vital point; "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all"!
II. WHAT IS THE TEST OF A MAN'S UNDERSTAXDING HIS BIBLE, AND OF UNDERSTANDING THIS PASSAGE IN IT?
I answer that the test of a man's understanding this important part of Scripture is that Jesus Christ is everything to him: for Philip, who did understand it, when he explained it, preached unto the eunuch Jesus and nothing else. I try with all my might to preach my Lord Jesus Christ, and I love to meet with people who delight in this theme. Certain critics call upon us to preach something fresh. This also will I do, for I will preach Jesus, and he is always fresh: there is nothing stale in him, he has for ever the dew of his youth.
It may be said, "But new doctrines are brought out continually." Yes, but they grow stale in a month; they are a poor kind of Covent Garden stuff, and need to be carted away quickly, else they decay. I have lived to see a score or more sorts of modern theology; they all come and go, but Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
If you have Jesus Christ, you have everythingtop, bottom, and middle as well. Have Christ and nothing else but Christ. You will not be in safety if you rest without having a firm hold of Jesus, the divine Savior. "Well," says one, "but what do you make of Socinians and Unitarians?" I come to the same conclusion about them as did an old Baptist minister, who was greatly grieved to see a Socinian chapel erected opposite his own. One of his deacons said, "This is a dreadful thingthis opposition shop that has been opened on the other side of the road!" "I don't call it opposition at all," said the minister. The deacon exclaimed, "Why, they are Unitarians; they don't preach the Godhead of Christ!" The old man said, "If you kept a baker's shop, and another man were to open an ironmongery business opposite you, that would not be opposition, for he would be in quite another line. Those who do not preach the deity of Christ are in an altogether different business. If you want ironmongery you may go to them, but if you want the bread of heaven you must look to the Lord Jesus, the Son of the Highest." So if you want to understand the Scripture, test yourself by this: Is Jesus Christ everything to you?
Unless you think rightly of him."
You understand the Scripture if you make everything of the Lord Jesus Christ; if you believe on him with all your heart, and then yield yourselves up to him in his own way.
Every young man, when he believes in Jesus, should give himself to Jesus, heart and soul, for ever. "That's the kind of young man for my money, for he is O and O." So spake a certain person, and when he was asked what that meant, he replied, "Out and out for Jesus Christ." Such a man is precious in these days; yes, precious as the gold of Ophir. Jesus was out and out for us, he loved us, and gave himself for us: there should be no half-heartedness in our dealings with him. If we have read Scripture aright, we have not received the kind of Christianity which sanctifies us on Sunday, but enables us to be dishonest throughout the week. True saints have a religion that has entered into their very blood, changing their nature, and permeating their being, so that it is part and parcel of themselves. Practical Christianity is the only real Christianity. If your religion can be laid aside I would advise you to get rid of it; for a real Christian could no more lay aside his godliness than he could unscrew his head.
I like this eunuch for proposing that he should be baptized. He was not advised to do so, but he proposed it himself, and gave himself up to his Lord and Master to do the Lord's bidding at once, the providonce of God having provided water that he might there and then fulfill his Master's command. Young man, whichever way the Scripture bids you dedicate yourself to God, set to work about it, and let it be done at once. Find out what is the scriptural way, and then follow it without delay, surrendering yourself wholly to the Lord: you have not read the Scriptures with understanding unless you do that.
The next thing is, if you have read the Scriptures with a clear understanding, they have made you glad, for this eunuch "went on his way rejoicing." The man who gets up from reading his Bible, and says, "I am a believer in Jesus; what a solemn thing it is!" and then goes forth with a pious resolution that he will make everybody as miserable as he can all the day long, wants converting again. The faith of the Scriptures leads joy by the hand, and chases away despair. When true religion coupes, its tendency is to make us rejoice in the Lord always; and though we are not as happy as we ought to be, that is not the fault of our faith, but of our unbelief. Fair flowers of Paradise spring up where Faith plants her feet; but thistles grow where doubt abides. Our indigestion, or some other malady may depress us; but faith should make our songs abound even while we are travelling through the wilderness. Joys unspeakable may be ours before we
Or walk the golden streets.'"
You have not read your Bible so as to understand it to the full, unless you have learned to be happy by a sweet resting in Jesus.
I think you have not understood the Bible unless it makes you care about the salvation of others; for this Ethiopian nobleman, when he got home, I have no doubt, spread the gospel throughout his native land: he was, probably, the founder of the Abyssinian Church. If any young man reads this Book aright, he becomes large-hearted, he cannot hold his soul within the narrow bound of his ribs, but his great heart looks out to see where it can scatter benefits. If thou canst let another man be damned without an effort, I fear that such will be thine own end: if thou canst be quiet when thou believest thy brother is on the brink of eternal ruin, I fear thou art on the brink of ruin thyself. One of the holiest instincts born in a renewed man is that of longing to save others. Being saved, we wish to co-operate with the Savior in his gracious work. A missionary enthusiasm is the natural result of a clear perception of the true state of matters in reference to the world, which lieth in the wicked one. The heathen die without hope: shall it be always so? Will no young man rescue the perishing? I put it to you from the deeps of my soul, will you not cry, "Here am I, send me!"?
You have read this Book so as to understand it, if your message to others is what the message was to youChrist, Christ, Christ, Christ. You have nothing else to employ as the means of good, except the salvation of Jesus, and there is nothing else worth telling. I heard of a congregation the other day that was so very small that hardly any one came to listen to the preacher. Instead of blaming himself, and preaching better, the minister said he thought he was not doing much good by sermons and prayer-meetings, and therefore he would found a club, and if the fellows came in, and played draughts, that might do them good. What a lot of that sort of thing is now being tried! We are going to convert souls on a new system,are we? Are we also to have a substitute for bread?and healthier drink than pure water? We cannot save men by faith in Jesus Christ, and so it seems we are going to try new dodges of our own. We shall reap small, scant sheaves from such wretched seed. If you can do good anyhow, do good anyhow; but to hope ever to bring sinners to holiness and heaven by any teaching but that which begins and ends in Jesus Christ is a sheer delusion. None other name is given among men whereby they can be saved. If you have to deal with highly learned and educated people, nothing is so good for them as preaching Jesus Christ; and if the people be ignorant and degraded, nothing is better for them than the preaching of Jesus. A young man said to another the other day, "I am going down to preach at So-and-so, what sort of people are they there? What kind of doctrine will suit them?" Having heard of the question, I gave this advice,"You preach Jesus Christ, and that will suit them, I am sure, if they are learned people it will suit them; if they are ignorant it will suit themGod blessing it." When the great Biblical critic, Bengel, was dying, he sent for a young theological student, to whom he said, "I am low in spirit; say something good to cheer me." "My dear Sir," said the student, "I am so insignificant a person, what can I say to a great man like yourself?" "But if you are a student of theology," said Bengel, "you ought to have a good word to say to a dying man; pray say it without fear." "Well, Sir," said he, "What can I say to you, but that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin?" Bengel said, "Give me your hand, young man; that is the very word I wanted." A simple gospel text is the word which every man needs who is in fear of divine wrath, and he may be sitting next to you at this moment, or he is in the same house of business with you, and needs that you should tell him about Christ. Do that, and bless his soul. May you all understand the Scriptures in this way, and may God make you a great blessing to those around you.
III. Now in a few words I want to answer the question, WHAT CAN BE DONE TO OBTAIN SUCH A DESIRABLE UNDERSTANDING OF THE SCRIPTURES? "I read the Bible," says one, "and get a great deal puzzled over it." Let me advise that when you read a passage in the Scriptures which you do not understand, you should read it until you do. "I should have to read often." Well, that would not hurt you. "But suppose I never do understand it?" Keep on reading it all the same. "Can passages of Scripture which we do not understand do us any good when we read them?" Yes; they gradually filter into our souls: by long considering them we get light out of them. Here is a little boy whose father is an artisan, and uses a great many technical terms when talking about his work. The boy is apprenticed to the trade, and wants to know all about it, and therefore he listens to his father, and when the day is over he says to himself, "I heard my father say a great deal, but I do not understand much of it." "But you did understand a little of it?" "Oh, yes." To that little he is faithful, and day by day he adds to his store of information, learning more by the help of that which he already knows. He hears his father talk again the next day, and still he does not understand much; but at last, by hearing the terms often, and by meditating upon them, light breaks in, and at length he can talk like his father, using the same words with understanding. So I have found it. When I do not comprehend a chapter, I say,This is probably comprehensible, I will therefore hear my great Father speak, even if I do not understand at first what he may say to me, and I will keep on hearing him until at last I grasp his meaning. I fear we do not understand some passages because we have not read them often enough, nor thought upon them with full concentration of mind. Once or twice they pass before the mind and produce no impression; let us observe them yet again, and then their effect will be deep and permanent. Do as the photographer does, when he allows an object to be long before the camera until he obtains a well-defined picture. Let your mind dwell on a passage till at last it has photographed itself upon your soul by the light of God.
The next bit of advice I would give is, always read with a desire to understand: always have the crackers with you to crack the nuts, that you may feed upon their kernels. Some may say, when reading the Bible, "That may be a very blessed passage, but I don't in the least know what it means." Be not content to leave the text in that condition. Weep much because no man can open the book, and loose its seven seals. Pray over the words, and study them again and again, till at last you come at the essence of the text. Reading with that view, it is wonderful how soon you will obtain the understanding you seek after.
Next, be sure to pray for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. If you want to understand a book, and you find difficulties in it, do as I have done on several occasions with my contemporarieswrite and ask them what they mean by their language. I have in this way obtained much valuable information. Can we do that with the Bible? Assuredly we can if we know how to pray. The Author of the Bible is never more pleased than when we go directly to him to ask him what he means. He puts himself at the disposal of every earnest student to open up by means known to himself those Scriptures which he hath himself dictated. "I consulted a learned commentator," says one. Very well; at the same time, to go to a commentator upon a book is not half so certain a mode of procedure as to go to the author of the book. Seek instruction of the blessed Spirit by humble prayer.
Remember that you can also go to the Maker of your mind, and he can open it to receive the truth. Your mind is out of order, and it is no wonder, considering its serious damage by the Fall, and the atmosphere of sin which surrounds it in this present evil world. My mind, I know, is very likely to be in a disorderly state; it has for fifty years been always at work, and I think it must by this time be like an old clock that has grown rusty or dusty. I find my brains want clearing out a bit; and I believe that this is the case with you young men, too. You are either very busy, or else very careless, and the dust of care or neglect spreads over your brain. Who can set the brain right? The Creator who made the brain. The Holy Spirit has a wonderful power in clearing the intellect. You shall study for a month and make no headway; but you shall pray to God about a spiritual truth, and it shall be clear to you in a minute. There are multitudes of instances in which men have turned dark problems over and over again in their minds, and have never solved them by their own mental efforts, but one flash of Divine light has made everything bright as noonday. Wait, then, upon the Author of the Book, and then wait upon the author of yourself, and say, "Lord, as thou openest the Scriptures, so open my understanding that I may perceive their meaning."
I would earnestly entreat every man who desires to understand the Bible to consider at this moment the vital point of his natural condition, and the nay of salvation from it. You are lost, dear friend. If you are an unconverted man you are still lost, and you cannot save yourself; it is impossible that you should. You may have heard the story of that philosopher who was once on the roof of a house, when suddenly behind him came a strong man with a huge whip, and told him to jump down to the ground. Certain death would have been the result. The man was a lunatic. The philosopher perceived that terrible fact in a moment, and so he very wisely said, "Well, you see? any fool can jump down, the grand thing would be to jump up. Let us go down, and jump up." They went down, but they never jumped up, for the gentleman thus escaped. Are there not some here who are jumping down? some young men who are taking a desperate leap to one sin or another? Any fool can jump down; but if any of you are already down, I defy you to jump up again. No, you need a greater power than your own before you can ascend the heights of holiness. If you have tried to jump up, I know, young man, you have fallen back in despair. Easy is the descent to hell, the gravitation of our nature tends that way; but to retrace our steps, this is the work, this is the difficulty. Turn that over in your mind, and say, "If there be salvation to be had, since I cannot work out my own rescue without divine grace, I will trust in Jesus." Oh, that you would seek his grace at once!
I tried to preach the gospel just now; let me again put it simply. A negro worded it thus, "Christ die, me not die," and that is the gospel; Christ dies that you may not die. Only trust him, and you are saved.
When you are about it, dear young friend, I beseech you to trust Christ out and out. A homely parable will illustrate what I mean. A father, it is said, had to go one night along the top of a rugged and very slippery precipice. His two boys were with him, and when he started, one boy said, "Father, I will take hold of your hand." He did so, and it seemed a very wise thing to do. The other boy said, "Father, take hold of my hand," and, as it turned out, that was a much more prudent course; for the first youngster clung to his father's hand until he grew weary, and when they were in a very frightful place he failed to hold on, and down he went, but the other trudged along right merrily, for he was not dependent upon his hold of his father's handall depended upon the father's hold of him. Now come, young man, and begin as you mean to go on. Put yourself right into the hand of the Lord Jesus for him to keep you. When I was a lad I heard a preacher say that Christ gave to his sheep eternal life, and that they should never perish, for he would keep them to the end. This charmed me. I longed to find this sure salvation. I thought within myself, "I know James So-and-so, and Tom So-and-so, who went up to London, and who were about a year older than I, and they, within half-a-dozen years, were as far gone in vice as well could be. They were better boys when they were at school than I was, and yet they went to the bad. I may go and do the same thing as they did unless I get this eternal salvation. I may lose my situation, or be found pilfering, or something of that sort, for I have as bad a heart as they have." I looked upon salvation as a spiritual insurance, which would guarantee my character. So I tried the promise and now, at the age of fifty, I place myself under the care of the Lord Jesus as I did at the age of fifteen; he has kept me to this day, and I believe he will never let me go, however long I may live. Oh, young man, give yourself up to that dear pierced hand wholly and heartily! Let your motto be, "Jesus only." Trust Christ a little, and yourself a little, and, like a man who plants one foot on the rock and the other on the quicksand, you will go down. Trust in him alone, and he will hold you fast. If Jesus does not save me, I shall be lost, for I cannot save myself. It is his business to save me, for both by name and office he is Jesus, the Savior; and I rest quite happily in him.
When we meet in heaven we shall praise the Lord for making us understand what we read. God bless you all, for Christ's sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMONActs 8:26-40.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"478,483,486.