Then one needs to have a plan of reading. A consecutive plan gathers up the fragments of time into a strong whole. Get a good plan, and stick to it. Better a fairly good plan faithfully followed, than the best plan if used brokenly or only occasionally. Probably all the numerous methods of study may be grouped under three general heads, wide reading, topical study, and textual. We all do some textual study in a more or less small way. Digging into a sentence or verse to get at its true and deep meaning. We all do some topical study probably. Gathering up statements on some one subject, studying a character. The more pretentious name is Biblical Theology, finding and arranging all that is taught in the whole range of the Bible on any one theme.
But I want especially to urge wide reading, as being the basis of all study. It is the simple, the natural, the scientific method. It is adapted to all classes of persons. I used to suppose it was suited best to college students, and such; but I was mistaken. It is the method of all for all. It underlies all methods of getting a grasp of this wonderful Book, and so coming to as full and rounded an understanding of God as is possible to men down here.
By wide reading is meant a rapid reading through regardless of verse, chapter, or book divisions. Reading it as a narrative, a story. As you would read any book, "The Siege of Pekin," "The Story of an Untold Love," to find out the story told, and be able to tell to another. There will be a reverence of spirit with this book that no other inspires, but with the same intellectual method of running through to see what is here. No book is so fascinating as the Bible when read this way. The revised version is greatly to be preferred here simply because it is a paragraph version. It is printed more like other books. Some day its printed form will be yet more modernized, and so made easier to read.
To illustrate, begin at the first of Genesis, and read rapidly through by the page. Do not try to understand all. You will not. Never mind that now. Just push on. Do not try to remember all. Do not think about that. Let stick to you what will. You will be surprised to find how much will. You may read ten or twelve pages in your first half hour. Next time start in where you left off. You may get through Genesis in three or four times, or less or more, depending on your mood, and how fast your habit of reading may be. You will find a whole Bible in Genesis. A wonderfully fascinating book this Genesis. For love stories, plotting, swift action, beautiful language it more than matches the popular novel.
But do not stop at the close of Genesis. Push on into Exodus. The connection is immediate. It is the same book. And so on into Leviticus. Now do not try to understand Leviticus the first time. You will not the hundredth time perhaps. But you can easily group its contents: these chapters tell of the offerings: these of the law of offerings: here is an incident put in: here sanitary regulations: get the drift of the book. And in it all be getting the picture of God—that is the one point. And so on through.
A second stage of this wide reading is fitting together the parts. You know the arrangement of our Bible is not chronological wholly, but topical. The Western mind is almost a slave to chronological order. But the Oriental was not so disturbed. For example, open your Bible to the close of Esther, and again at the close of Malachi. This from Genesis to Esther we all know is the historical section: and this second section the poetical and prophetical section. There is some history in the prophecy, and some prophecy and poetry in the historical part. But in the main this first is historical, and this second poetry and prophecy. These two parts belong together. This first section was not written, and then this second. The second belongs in between the leaves of the first. It was taken out and put by itself because the arrangement of the whole Book is topical rather than chronological.
Now the second stage of wide reading is this: fit these parts together. Fit the poetry and the prophecy into the history. Do it on your own account, as though it had never been done. It has been done much better than you will do it. And you will make some mistakes. You can check those up afterwards by some of the scholarly books. And you cannot tell where some parts belong. But meanwhile the thing to note is this: you are absorbing the Book. It is becoming a part of you, bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh, mentally, and spiritually. You are drinking in its spirit in huge draughts. There is coming a new vision of God, which will transform radically the reverent student. In it all seek to acquire the historical sense. That is, put yourself back and see what this thing, or this, meant to these men, as it was first spoken, under these immediate circumstances.
And so push on into the New Testament. Do not try so much to fit the four gospels into one connected story, dovetailing all the parts; but try rather to get a clear grasp of Jesus' movements those few years as told by these four men. Fit Paul's letters into the book of Acts, the best you can. The best book to help in checking up here is Conybeare and Howson's "Life and Letters of St. Paul." That may well be one of the books in your collection.
You see at once that this is a method not for a month, nor for a year, but for years. The topical and textual study grow naturally out of it. And meanwhile you are getting an intelligent grasp of this wondrous classic, you are absorbing the finest literature in the English tongue, and infinitely better yet, you are breathing into your very being a new, deep, broad, tender conception of God.