Study the Word of God with Trembling

This sponsored post is written by Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, authors of Reformed Systematic Theology: Volume 1: Revelation and God (Crossway).

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Read with Reverence

While the Bible is written in human language, we must never treat it “as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). This truth calls us to do theology with profound reverence for the God who has spoken. King Jehoiakim cut up and burned the writings of God’s prophet because they displeased him, bringing God’s severe punishment upon himself (Jer. 36:23, 29–31). Too many so-called theologians likewise mangle the Bible when they despise doctrines with which they disagree.

God promises mercy to those who fear his Word. The Lord of heaven and earth, who created all things, says, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2). To such a person, God promises joyous vindication as a believer (v. 5). We should remind ourselves frequently when studying the sacred page, “This is the Word of God. The Word of God!” We must, therefore, receive it “with meekness” (James 1:21). If we read it with humility, God promises to be our Teacher: “The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way” (Ps. 25:9).

The Word of God is full of realities that should humble us with their grandeur. Calvin cited Augustine’s remarks: “When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, ‘Delivery’; what was the second rule, ‘Delivery’; what was the third rule, ‘Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, ‘Humility.’”1 Humility is the only proper posture of the theologian. Though Owen was one of the greatest theologians ever to arise in Britain, he said, “I personally do not claim . . . to be able to do more than stammer pitifully when I come to discuss such high matters. . . . Here is subject matter which the entire human intellect could never grasp.”2

God with Us

A key factor in cultivating the fear of God is remembering that God is always present with us in our theological studies. We must avoid at all costs doing theology as if God were far off. Warfield warned, “It is possible to study—even to study theology—in an entirely secular spirit. . . . The words which tell you of God’s terrible majesty or of his glorious goodness may come to be mere words to you.”3 Owen wrote, “Everyone who devotes himself to the study of holy literature should keep it firmly before his mind, in all of his reading and meditation, that the all-holy God is, in an special manner, close to him as he works.”4 Even while we study God, God’s eyes are upon us, subjecting the inner man to his trial and judgment (Ps. 7:9). Whenever we speak about God, God listens with open ears to hear whether we honor him.

When we study the Bible, God is not only watching and listening but speaking. Do you hear him? John Bunyan (1628–1688) gleaned these observations from Scripture: “The word of a king is as the roaring of a lion; where the word of a king is, there is power. What is it then, when God, the great God, shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem, whose voice shakes not only the earth but also heaven? . . . The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”5

Reformed Systematic Theology is a four-volume work combining rigorous historical and theological scholarship with application and practicality—characterized by an accessible, Reformed, and experiential approach. In Reformed Systematic Theology: Volume 1: Revelation and God, Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley explore the first two of eight central themes of theology: revelation and God.

References

1Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11.
2Owen, Biblical Theology, 6.1 (591).
3Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students, 5–6.
4Owen, Biblical Theology, 6.9 (699).
5John Bunyan, A Treatise of the Fear of God, in The Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offor (1854; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 1:443; cf. Ps. 29:4; Prov. 19:12; Eccl. 8:4; Joel 3:16.