System, and Time-schedules
We desire to gather under this head a number of matters of which we have already spoken in one way or another, but now wish to present in a more orderly way. The reader will pardon us if we take nothing for granted as to his abilities, present habits of study, etc. We have no doubt that some are already doing what is equivalent or superior to our own suggestions. Those who are already equipped will be the last to criticize our endeavor to give practical hints; they indeed will be the surest to compare our suggestions with their own practice.
If we are ever going to accomplish anything outside of our daily employment, we have to take up the matter of time and settle distinctly a number of points. The person who works eight or ten hours a day, and has to spend two more hours in going to and returning from work, has very little spare time. The element of home duties, bodily strength, and the necessary attendance at one or more weekly meetings consumes much of the remainder of our waking hours. Seven or eight hours must be devoted to sleep if the body is to be kept in working order. Perhaps it would be as well for each one to draw up some sort of list of the way in which the twenty-four hours are disposed of. Such a list might look something like this:
Work, 9 hours.
Going to and fro, 2 hours.
Morning and evening meals, 1&1/2 hours.
Sleep, 8 hours.
This leaves us but two hours out of the twenty-four in which to do numberless things — dressing, general reading, an occasional visit, two meetings a week — so it is not too strong a word to say that we must fight for whatever time we are to give to systematic Bible reading. It is no wonder that the average busy man or woman says, "Do you see? — what time have I to do all these nice things that you suggest? It is utterly out of question;" and so it goes.
Now we are quite aware of the truth of all this, and sympathize with it; indeed, may say the same of much that we would like to take up. The point is, are we going to fight for a half hour a day which we can regularly and rigidly dedicate to the Lord, to be used in the study of His precious Word? Each one must answer whether a half hour is too much. If so, can you be sure of fifteen minutes? And if not of that, you surely have five minutes out of the twenty-four hours which you can thus dedicate.
Of course, there must be the will, the desire, and the purpose; and these we take for granted. If many of us would collect together the minutes we spend in looking over the newspaper or something of that kind, we would find more than five or fifteen minutes has been consumed. If possible, the hours of retiring and rising should be definitely settled, and unless something special hinders, our time for reading and study should be in the morning. If we are obliged to leave home, say at half past seven o'clock, which means breakfast at seven, can we not give the fifteen minutes before that to this work? If you ride on the train or cars to work, usually a seat is to be had, and then you could do a good deal of the Bible reading, and possibly memorizing, on the way to and from work. If an hour is allowed for lunch, a few minutes of this could also be taken for something, while the Bible can be opened, or we may be learning our verses as we make our toilet in the morning. We must learn to write on our knee, so to speak, and acquire the habit of jotting down in our note-book all sorts of things. The act of committing them to writing will often fix them in the memory. Thus, if we are able to attend to our reading as we travel, and our memorizing at odd moments, it will leave the time for orderly study free and, possibly, we can proceed to make a weekly schedule of how we are to use the time. We will suggest four different schedules on a basis of fifteen minutes daily, half an hour, one hour, and two hours.
Fifteen minute schedule.
We have indicated, in addition to daily Bible reading and memorizing of Scripture, six different methods of Bible study. Where so small a period as fifteen minutes a day is all that can be devoted to study, it is well not to attempt to prosecute the six lines at the same time. It would probably be better, say for a month at a time, to pay special attention to one line until a fair measure of progress had been made.
We would suggest that these fifteen minutes be divided into two portions of ten and five. If one is only a beginner, it is important to get some clear knowledge of dispensational truth as furnishing the framework on which all our subsequent knowledge can be arranged. We therefore give ten minutes daily to the study of dispensational truth, along the lines suggested under that chapter. The other five minutes could be given to topical study. This could be done for one month; and for the next, analysis could take the place of the topical study, giving still the chief place to dispensational truth; so on through the year, giving one month of the five minute portion alternately to analysis and topical study. Thus, at the end of the year, the beginner would have acquired a fair measure of prophetic truth, and if he had used helps, would by this time be able to rightly divide the word of truth. For the next year he could possibly let dispensational truth change places with the five minute period, giving ten minutes daily to analysis, and alternating dispensational truth with topical study. When one feels that a certain line of truth is fairly clear in the mind, it can be put in an "occasional" column for odd moments, and another, such as "typical," take its place. "Word study" would also in this way find a place even in the fifteen minute schedule. "Biography" we would advise to be left for special times in this schedule, as for instance, Lord's Day, when perhaps a whole fifteen minutes or longer could be given each week to the study of the life of some prominent character, in the New Testament first and then in the Old.
Half hour schedule.
Again, we suppose our student to be a beginner and will therefore give the place of prominence to dispensational truth. Fifteen minutes daily can be devoted to this until a fairly clear conception is had. Special attention should be given in every case to getting clearly the great characteristics of the present or Church period in which we live, with its characteristic blessings, privileges and responsibilities. The remaining fifteen minutes could be divided between analysis and topical study — ten minutes to the first and five to the second. The order for these two could be reversed for the next month, and at the end of six months, the typical might displace the topical for the remainder of the year. Here, too, biographical study could be relegated to a weekly period on Lord's Day of, we hope, at least thirty minutes.
One hour schedule.
It is probably well, even with more time at our disposal, not to have "too many irons in the fire" at once. Again let dispensational truth have the first place of twenty minutes — fifteen minutes each for analysis and topical study, and possibly ten minutes daily for typical study. However, where so large a portion of time is being given, we would probably include the daily reading in the hour, and ten minutes could be the allowance for this. Any one who is able to give a full hour daily to study will probably be able to use good judgment in the disposal of it, so we do not indicate any more than the above. When we feel that we have finished a fairly careful review of dispensational truth, we might give the twenty minutes to analysis, which is indeed of prime importance. Twenty minutes daily will be none too much out of the hour, with ten minutes each for dispensational, topical and typical study, leaving ten minutes for daily reading.
Two hour schedule.
One who is able to devote so much time as this could probably divide it into two or more portions. If one has not formed the habit of study, it is probably better to do this, as it is difficult to keep the attention fixed for so long a time without a certain measure of practice. We would therefore divide it into two parts:
First, morning hour: daily reading, ten minutes; memorizing, ten minutes; dispensational truth for beginners, twenty minutes; analysis, twenty minutes.
Second, afternoon hour: topical study, twenty minutes; dispensational study, ten minutes; typical study, fifteen minutes; analysis, fifteen minutes.
At the end of six months, this order can be varied, and after certain prominent topics have been studied, "word study" could be introduced as alternating with the topical. "Biographical" could exchange places in like manner with typical; but we would advise continuing the analysis daily, and the dispensational, until one is thoroughly grounded in it, and even then allow a brief period daily to pursuing the dispensational truth, taking up the characteristics of each period until one is able to refer each portion of the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, to its appropriate dispensational setting. We might as well say here that the "typical" will long have a place in our studies, and we will find that the analytical method will remain with us throughout life, without exhausting the fulness and scope of the precious word of God.
A few further remarks may not be out of place in connection with these different schedules. First, we would mention the importance of moments. The whole material universe is made up of atoms, and our life , of moments. All vital processes take place on a microscopic scale. We should see to it that the moments are rightly used. The student may be well content if at the end of the first month's trial of any of these schedules he has formed the habit of regularity and promptness. Let a watch or clock be before the eye, and no matter how interesting the subject, when its appointed time is finished, let it be dropped for the next on the schedule. Of course, if one has extra time, he can return to that; but, for instance, in the fifteen minute schedule, let the five or ten minutes be rigidly devoted to the subject in hand. This very habit of system and regularity is an excellent mental tonic, and will assist to gird up the loins of the mind.
After leaving school, the majority have little or no mental training, and their minds and thoughts are allowed to drift about according to inclination. As a result, nothing definite is accomplished. We believe that when once the habit has been thoroughly formed of dividing our time rigidly according to a pre-arranged schedule, there is a fascination about it and such distinct results as will ensure our prosecuting it further. We will also find, no doubt, that we will annex other portions of time, and it would not be surprising if the fifteen minute schedule could later on be exchanged for one of thirty minutes; but, let us reiterate, give the exact time to each portion, even if it has seemed to be so insignificant that we can scarcely see the progress from one day to another.
Let the note-book be our constant companion in this work, and it might be as well to put it in a kind of diary form, giving the date each day and noting the carrying through of the schedule. This has been dwelt upon at length in speaking of the note-book and the various lines of study, but we repeat it here as being of the greatest importance. Let us not be afraid of system. God's whole creation is carried on by system. Each day and year is divided into periods. What would happen if God's works were carried on in the desultory, haphazard way in which we carry on much of our work? Nor let carelessness be taken as a mark of spirituality. One can be truly spiritual when ordering his spare time according to a given routine and system. It insures regularity and is in itself a tonic and stimulant in mental work. We are too prone to follow our own inclinations, and even in our Bible reading and study may be attracted into by-paths by our inclination, which will prevent that directness of purpose which gives true apprehension of details and a breadth of mind which can take in the entire scope of God's precious word. Let us then be systematic, and with grateful hearts dismiss from our thoughts the idea that routine is unspiritual.
We would mention also the importance of original work. Later on, we shall look at a goodly number of most helpful books as aids to Bible study, but there is a peculiar charm in original discovery, which is in itself an incentive to further research. God's dear people are sheep in more ways than one. Sheep are great imitators, and follow one another; and we are often in danger of simply following the beaten track made by others where we accept, as really as a creed is accepted, the teachings which are current amongst Christians of our acquaintance. For this cause, we would deprecate the use of many books in our Bible study, especially for the briefer periods. It may be well to have some useful outline of dispensational truth, but apart from this, our best and only text-book is the Bible itself.
There is nothing which promotes fellowship so much as original, private study. We meet together to exchange what we have learned, and thus are a mutual help. This also greatly aids in our enjoyment of ministry, whether written or spoken. If we are carrying on our own independent study, we will be able both to judge that which we read or hear and to appreciate it. So, let us be original investigators; whether scholars in the Sunday-school or aged Christians who through a long life of communion with God in His word have learned much, let us continue to gather fresh truths for ourselves. We speak this more particularly for the young Christian who is just starting out; and, with all the energy of which we are capable, would press again and again the great necessity and importance of what we are dwelling upon.
Next, we must say a word about avoiding extremes. There is always a danger of our being one-sided. Probably every one of us has certain lines of truth which are more enjoyable than others. This can be seen in public ministry. The Lord's servants, in common with all Christians, have these favorite lines of study and thought, and unless they are on their guard, it will be found that these recur with too great frequency in their public ministry. Thus the bent of mind in some leads them to finding the typical significance in occurrences, phrases, words, numbers, etc. While this is, as we have already pointed out, a most delightful field of study, we must not make it the staple, and we must not get the reputation of being the brother who always speaks on types.
Again, others are devoted to prophetic truth, and dwell almost exclusively upon interesting points of prophetic detail, omitting, however, matters of greater moment. Others in preaching the gospel will dwell largely upon the narrative portions of the Gospels and Old Testament, while still others may never leave the Epistles for their gospel themes. There are those who crowd their addresses with illustrations and narratives, and others in whose addresses these are entirely lacking. Let us do nothing over much in any of these directions. May our entire knowledge of the word of God be harmoniously developed; "Unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding."
Recurring to the subject directly before us, of Bible study, we reiterate the importance of not going too exclusively into any given line of work. Let us also avoid digressions in our studies and keep close to the subject in hand. It is well to have a place in our note-book where we can make a list of interesting and suggestive themes which we will pursue later on; but if we are to follow every lead, we will be like the child sent on an errand who turns aside after every butterfly that crosses its path.
We say a word on the great need of caution and of meditation in connection with our study. The young need to be especially on their guard against wonderful discoveries which they have made. They will indeed make these, but let them be tested soberly by the word of God. Nothing is sadder than to hear young Christian brethren giving out crude, extravagant interpretations of Scripture. Our plan of study would guard against this, especially if we guard against jumping at conclusions, and use caution along with the faith which ever reaches forth to the things that are before. If we give the place of prominence to our study period which it should have, and endeavor to place it in the early part of the day, we will find that what has been before us then will go with us throughout the day; we will meditate upon it, turning it over in our minds, and many are the thoughts which will find their way to our note-books as a result of our meditation.
Perhaps, at the close of this part of our subject, we might say a word as to the great dangers of mental dissipation and the destroying of our spiritual appetites by indulging in mental food which can only work injury. We say nothing against newspaper reading, for instance, or general literature in itself, but only ask, How much of our valuable time can we spare to those things which tend to destroy our appetite for the word of God and rob us of precious hours? We would particularly urge young Christians who are forming their habits for life, to avoid reading of this character. We need not specify. Conscience, and our own experience, will soon enable us to detect that which interferes with our regular work. We are living in days of superficiality. Even in secular things there is a light, trifling habit of mind which has taken possession of all. Many never touch a thoughtful book; have taste only for fiction, often of a most injurious character, and always tending to lead the mind from sober things. The love of amusement, the frivolity which seems to become a part of the very life, how often these little foxes are allowed to spoil the vines! May the Lord then lead us into true, systematic diligence, meditation and sobriety: "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them that thy profiting may appear unto all."
The expression," Give thyself wholly to them" is literally, "Be in them," immersed, absorbed, occupied with them. The same expression was used by our Lord as a child of twelve. "How is it that ye sought Me?" He said: "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" literally, "in the things of My Father." How truly was He thus characterized! He had but one object. "As the living Father hath sent Me and I live," not merely "by the Father" as in our version, but "because of Him," that is, for His sake, to be occupied with Him. He was the centre and circumference of His life. There was no other reason for His living here but for the Father. "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." Let us have unity of purpose. We pray that our words may contribute to this in many lives.