In order to derive a good measure of the practical benefit of the scriptures for your souls, it as of importance that you should have its words resting in your memories. It is not always practicable in times of sudden difficulty and need to turn to the word of God itself, and there seek for counsel and guidance. In such emergencies the advantage of having the mind, to any extent, stored with the letter of the word is realised. Hence the necessity, one might almost say, the absolute necessity, of acquiring familiarity with scripture.
We shall discover that this principle, of which we now speak, is recognised in the holy writings themselves. We have there recorded instances of spoken or written words being brought to remembrance, and used with salutary effect upon the conscience and heart. These examples will illustrate the truth to which I wish to draw attention.
Take the familiar case of the Apostle Peter. When, on the night of the Paschal supper, the Lord spoke to His disciples of the sorrowful scattering about to ensue, the son of Jonas expressed his own determination of remaining faithful to the Lord, whoever else might deny Him. The Lord, however, warned the self-confident man that before cock crowing that same night he would thrice deny that he so much as knew his Master.
And it was so. The warning words of the Lord appear to have faded from Peter's memory. And three times the apostle, with all possible emphasis, declared that Jesus was utterly unknown to him. It was then that the stillness of the night was broken by the crowing of the cock. It was then too that the eyes of the Lord encountered those of Peter. And the word of the Lord hitherto forgotten was brought afresh before his soul in all its living power: "Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." Poor Peter remembered this (Luke 22:61), was convicted of what he had done, and went out weeping bitterly. The word and the look of the Lord wrought repentance in his heart, and, unlike Judas, he was restored.
Again: when the Galilean women came to the sepulchre, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus, they saw two angels who reminded the seekers of what Christ had said in Galilee, that on the third day He would rise again. "And they remembered his words" (Luke 24:8). These words coming to them at that juncture, confirmed what the open grave proclaimed, and what the angels declared, "He is not here, but is risen."
In like manner, after His resurrection, the disciples remembered that Jesus had said to the Jews, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Only then did they discern that He referred to the raising up of His body, and they "believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:19-22).
Another instructive example is to be found in the Acts of the Apostles. While Peter spoke the words of the gospel to Cornelius the centurion, and those with him, the Holy Spirit fell on those who heard the words. And the apostle forthwith commanded them to be baptised the name of the Lord (Acts 10:44-48). But when Peter was relating these circumstances to the brethren in Jerusalem (Acts 11:16), we learn from him what passed in his heart at the time, and we see the reason for his promptness in commanding that the Gentiles should be baptised. He said that when he saw that the Spirit had fallen on them, "Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptised with water; but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost." This was the very word suited to the occasion, and coming before him at that moment provided him with the needed guidance and authority in the public reception of the Gentiles into the company of believers.
Now in these instances we observe how words known beforehand were brought opportunely in mind to serve some useful purpose. In this lies the practical value of the scripture; but before it can be so used in any case it is necessary to have read the words previously. If you are in danger of being drawn away after earthly pursuits, and such a text as, "Set your affection (mind) on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:2), comes to your aid, it is because you are familiar with that verse from past reading.
So that if you commit portions of the Bible to memory, it is evident you prepare yourself to receive some help and comfort from the scriptures when you most need them. For instance, the verses you read or learned this morning may not have a direct application to you today. Days and weeks may elapse; and then in a moment of sharp trial they will come to you, like the arm of a strong man, to lean upon. But they would not so come to you, had you not previously learned or read them.
Committal to memory is of great assistance in quoting the words of holy writ with exactitude. In no other book is the importance of rigid accuracy so essential. The difference of a word may be the difference between truth and error. Nay, we find that even the difference between the singular and the plural in an Old Testament promise is made the basis of argument as to New Testament truth. (Gal. 3)
The apostle is showing that Christ is the true seed of Abraham, to Whom the promises were made. This he establishes, by pointing out that the terms of the ancient promises mentioned "seed," and not "seeds"; so that one person, not many, was in view. This person therefore was Christ, and not the sons of Israel. (Gal. 3:16.)
We ought, therefore, to be very jealous for the exact expressions of God the Holy Spirit, lest we add to His words, like Eve who added, "Neither shall ye touch it," to the prohibition (Gen. 2:17; 3:3). The apostles, too, thought that John was not to die; but, "Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (John 21:23). Read the warnings against this snare (Prov. 30:5, 6; Rev. 22:18, 19).
Accustom yourself to check your own quotations with the Bible itself, and verify also the references of others. It is not uncommon to hear, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world" (John 1:29); "It is appointed unto all men once to die" (Heb. 9:27); "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and are heavy laden" (Matt. 11:28); "Unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Not one of these misquotations is unimportant; and you can easily multiply similar instances if you watch what others speak or write. But be very sure you watch yourself, and that you make no mistakes.