Heart-Reading: Recovering A Spiritual Approach To The Bible -- By: Gerald M. Bilkes

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 01:2 (Jul 2009)
Article: Heart-Reading: Recovering A Spiritual Approach To The Bible
Author: Gerald M. Bilkes

Heart-Reading: Recovering A Spiritual Approach To The Bible

Gerald M. Bilkes

Towards the end of his magnificent “Preface to the Reader” in his translation of the Bible, Miles Coverdale, translator from Reformation times, urged readers to approach Scripture in such a way that Scripture enter their hearts. He writes:

And, above all things fashion thy life and conversation according to the doctrine of the Holy Ghost therein, that thou mayest be partaker of the good promises of God in the Bible, and be heir of his blessing in Christ; in whom if thou put thy trust, and be an unfeigned reader or hearer of his word with thy heart, thou shalt find sweetness therein, and spy wonderous things, to thy understanding, to the avoiding of all sedicious sects, to the abhorring of thy old sinful life, and to the stablishing of thy godly conversation [emphasis mine].1

This phrase “reading with thy heart” is no mere cliché for Coverdale. It refers to the intentional labor while reading and interpreting God’s Word to have the Word apply to the whole person, including one’s mind, will, affections, and practice.

Coverdale expressly elaborates on what such heart-reading is. He writes: “[T]ake these words of scripture into thy heart, and be not only an outward hearer, but a doer thereafter, and practice thyself therein; that thou mayest feel in thine heart, the sweet promises

thereof for thy consolation in all trouble, and for the sure stablishing of thy hope in Christ.” He continues to list another benefit of heart-reading, namely, the ability to “judge all spirits, and be free from every error.” He concludes this fine section with the observation that only through such heart-reading can Scripture “have free passage, and be had in reputation, to the worship of the author thereof, which is even God himself.” 2

This concept of heart-reading is potent in our day. Not long ago, the term would have conjured up to many in the academy and church images of lone fanatics using the Bible as a pagan priest does his talisman. Academicians would have viewed those who engaged in “heart-reading” as irrational eccentrics, unwilling to bow to the convincing force of Enlightenment thought and mournfully wishing for the days when allegory reigned supreme. Now, however, the tide is beginning to turn.3 As it does, there are dangers.4 The fact that much of this interest in spirituality is coordinated with an agenda of religious pluralis...

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