By Lewis Bayly
BRIEF DIRECTIONS HOW TO READ THE HOLY SCRIPTURES ONCE EVERY YEAR OVER, WITH EASE, PROFIT, AND REVERENCE.
But forasmuch, that as faith is the soul, so reading and meditating on the word of God, are the parent's of prayer, therefore, before thou prayest in the morning, first read a chapter in the word of God; then meditate awhile with thyself, how many excellent things thou canst remember out of it.
As-First, what good counsels or exhortations to good works and to holy life.
Secondly, what threatenings of judgments against such and such a sin; and what fearful examples of God's punishment or vengeance upon such and such sinners.
Thirdly, what blessings God promiseth to patience, chastity, mercy, alms-deeds, zeal in his service, charity, faith and trust in God, and such like Christian virtues.
Fourthly, what gracious deliverance God hath wrought, and what special blessings he hath bestowed upon them who were his true and zealous servants.
Fifthly, apply these things to thine own heart, and read not these chapters as matter of historical discourse, but as if they were so many letters or epistles sent down from God out of heaven to thee; for whatsoever is written, is written for our learning (Rom. xv. 4.)
Sixthly, read them, therefore, with that reverence as if God himself stood by, and spake these words to thee, to excite thee to those virtues, to dissuade thee from those vices: assuring thyself that if such sins (as thou readest there) be found in thee, without repentance, the like plagues will fall upon thee; but if thou dost practise the like piety and virtuous deeds, the like blessings shall come to thee and thine.
In a word; apply all that thou readest in holy Scripture, to one of these two heads chiefly; either to confirm thy faith, or to increase thy repentance: for, as sustine et abstine, bear and forbear, was the epitome of a good philosopher's life; so crede et resipisce, believe and repent, is the whole sum of a true Christian's profession, One chapter thus read with understanding, and meditated with application, will better feed and comfort thy soul than five read and run over without marking their scope or sense, or making any use of them to thine ownself. If in this manner thou shalt read three chapters every day-one in the morning, another at noon, and the third at night (reading so many psalms instead of a chapter), thou shall read overall the canonical scriptures in a year, except six chapters, which thou mayest add to the duties of the last day of the year. The reading of the Bible in order, will help thee better to understand both the history and scope of the holy Scripture. And as for the Apocrypha, being but penned by man's spirit, thou mayest read them at thy pleasure; but believe, them so far only as they agree with the canonical Scripture, which is endited by the Holy Ghost.
But it may be thou wilt say, that thy business will not permit thee so much time, as to read every morning a chapter, &c. O man, remember that thy life is but short, and that all this business is but for the use of this short life; but salvation or damnation is everlasting! Rise up, therefore, every morning by so much time the earlier: defraud thy foggy flesh of so much sleep; but rob not thy soul of her food, nor God of his service; and serve the Almighty duly whilst thou hast time and health.
Having thus read thy chapter, as thou art about to pray, remember that God is a God of holiness (Exod. xxvi. 36;) whereof he warns us by repeating so often, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." (Levit. xxi. 44; xix. 2; xx. 7.) And when he devoured with a sudden fire Nadab and Abihu, for offering to him incense with strange fire (Lev. x. 2),-like these now a-days, who offer prayers from hearts fraught with the fire of lust and malice,-would give no other reason of his judgment but this, "I will be sanctified in them that come near me." (Lev. x. 3.) As if he should have said, If I cannot be sanctified by them who are my servants, in serving me with that holiness that they should, I will be sanctified on them, by confounding them with my just judgments, which their lewdness deserves. God cannot abide any wilful uncleanness or sin in them who serve him: "For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp to deliver thee, and to give thee thine enemies before thee: therefore the host shall be holy." (Deut. xxiii. 13, 4.)
Zophar in Job saith, "If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hand towards God to pray; if iniquity be in thy hand, put it far away, and let no wickedness dwell in thy tabernacle." (Job xi. 13, 14.) For, as Esai saith, "If there be any uncleanness in our hands" (that is, any sin whereof we have not repented) "though we stretch out our hands unto him, and. make many prayers, the Lord will hide his eyes from us, and will not hear our prayers." (Isai. i. 15.) Therefore, before thou prayest, let God see that thy heart is sorrowful for thy sin, and that thy mind is resolved (through the assistance of his grace) to amend thy faults. And then, having washed thyself, and adorned thy body with apparel which beseemeth thy calling, and the image of God, which thou bearest, shut thy chamber-door, and kneel down at thy bedside, or some other convenient place; and in reverent manner lifting up thy heart, together with thy hands and eyes, as in the presence of God who seeth the inward intention of thy soul, offer up to God from the altar of a contrite heart, thy prayer, as a morning sacrifice, through the mediation of Christ, in these or the like words:-