The spiritual discipline of reading and meditating on the Scriptures is as old as God’s revelation. It has always been a common practice for the people of God. And yet, even good things can become common-place and the benefit and fruit of the discipline is lost. Paul exhorted Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:8). Though there is little to no spiritual growth without Spirit-empowered discipline, discipline can be for purposes other than godliness.
Thomas Cranmer noted this in the preface of The First Book of Common Prayer written in 1549. He writes of the importance of reading through the Bible annually, but also cautions against the good and godly discipline being misused or abused.
There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted: as, among other things, it may plainly appear by the common prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service: the ﬁrst original and ground whereof, if a man would search out by the ancient fathers, he shall ﬁnd, that the same was not ordained, but of a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness: For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year, intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers of the congregation, should (by often reading, and meditation of God’s word) be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able to exhort others by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the truth. And further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church) should continually proﬁt more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inﬂamed with the love of his true religion.
But these many years passed, this godly and decent order of the ancient fathers hath been so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertain stories, Legends, Responds, Verses, vain repetitions, Commemorations, and Synodals, that commonly when any book of the Bible was begun, before three or four Chapters were read out, all the rest were unread.
Cranmer recommends this for “Clergy” and “Ministers of the congregation” so that they might be edified and nourished themselves, and that they might be better shepherds as they lead God’s people to graze on the Word and to guard against those who are against the truth. Additionally, it is also for the benefit of the people of God so that they will grow in their knowledge of God and become more passionate in their love of God, His truth and living the Christian life. In Cranmer’s words, pastors ought to “be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able to exhort others by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the truth. And further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church) should continually proﬁt more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inﬂamed with the love of his true religion.”
This is an excellent reminder to all Christians as they engage in the spiritual discipline of reading the Scriptures on a daily basis with the goal of reading through all of God’s Word annually. May we engage in Bible reading for the purpose of godliness.