Following this introduction Whitefield presents his two points. The first is that every person must search the Scriptures (379). This is not just the responsibility for pastors or teachers, but for all God’s people. All who seek to follow Jesus as his disciples must be active students who apply God’s Word to their lives. Whitefield discovered the importance of this personally while still a student at Oxford and a member of the Holy Club with the Wesleys. Their emphasis was on a persistent and daily reading that combined both an intellectual search for knowledge and spiritual application of experience. To accomplish this, their reading of Scripture included prayerful meditation on the text.5 This was a pattern that Whitefield practiced throughout his life.
The majority of the sermon is in the second section, where Whitefield presents seven specific principles for searching the Scriptures.
First, he counsels us to always remember to emphasize the main theme of Scripture, which is Jesus Christ, the way of salvation. Jesus challenged his listeners to search the Scriptures. One reason was to help them discover that the Word, properly sought, always leads a person to Jesus Christ, the Living Word. Whitefield practices what we might call christological exegesis. That is, when reading the Old Testament, one observes how the prophecies, sacrifices, and other events prefigure and point to Jesus. What is nascent in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament. For any biblical passage, Whitefield’s goal is that we should always be alert to how the Bible helps us to grasp and better understand Jesus.
Second, we need to approach the Bible with a “humble child–like disposition” (381). This principle of humility has been clearly championed throughout every age of the church. Amma Syncletica, one of the early desert mothers of the Christian East, vividly illustrates this in reference to the biblical example of Luke 18:9–14. She says, “Imitate the publican, and you will not be condemned with the Pharisee. Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock changed into a spring of water.”6 Humility creates a teachable spirit that is eager to search and willing to welcome new truths that the Holy Spirit presents to us. The humble person is not only receptive to the pleasant words of comfort, but is also willing to embrace the more difficult, but equally important, words of conviction or correction. If we approach the Bible in an attitude of superiority, we will fail to appreciate its message. The simplicity of a childlike wonder creates a hunger and desire and openness for learning. This reflects both Jesus’ teaching on the humility of a little child (Matt. 18:2–5) and the receptive nature of the good soil that welcomes the Word of God in the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:20). Unfortunately children often lose this wonderful quality as they go to school and face the inimical challenges of competition and comparison with other students.
Significantly at this point, Whitefield encourages the use of imagination as we read the Bible. He declares, “Fancy yourselves… To be with Mary sitting at the feet of the holy Jesus; and be willing to learn what God shall teach you, as Samuel was, when he said, ‘Speak Lord for thy servant heareth’” (381). For developing imagination, our best teachers are children. Their eagerness to listen and learn is a critical quality as we approach the Word with a desire to grow as Jesus’ disciples. Further, the purpose of this sanctified imagination is to personalize our reading. The passages we read were intended not only for people in earlier generations; they were written to us today.
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