How Readest Thou? A Tract by J.C. Ryle
(The following is excerpted from the public domain work “How Readest Thou?” by J. C. Ryle. John Charles Ryle was a Bishop in the Church of England during the late 19th century. One biographer1 wrote of Ryle that “on June 10 , he died, but he left behind a spiritual legacy that has enriched believers and strengthened the church.”
One of those enriching gifts Ryle gave to the church is the tract “How Readest Thou?,” an exhortation for the church, and for the unbeliever, to find themselves constantly in pursuit of the divine Truth to be found revealed in the Word of God. In this brief work, Ryle is exhibiting what God Himself stated so clearly through the thankful words of David in Psalm 138:2, “For you have exalted above all things, your name and your word.”
An oft-cited quotation from Ryle expresses what he came to understand through the preeminence of the Bible in his own life:
“I am firmly persuaded that there is no system so life-giving, so calculated to awaken the sleeping, lead on the inquiring, and build up the saints, as that system which is called evangelical Christianity. Wherever it is faithfully preached, and efficiently carried out, and consistently adorned by the lives of its professors, it is the power of God. … We have the truth, and we need not be afraid to say so.”
The content below is a summary of Ryle’s key points from “How Readest Thou?” You are encouraged to read his full commentary for each point by downloading the PDF of the entire tract provided at the close of this excerpt.)
“He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Luke 10:26
The question before your eyes is 1800 years old. It was asked by our Lord Jesus Christ. It was asked concerning the Bible.
I invite you to consider this question. I warn you, it is just as mighty and important now as it was on the day when it came from our Lord’s lips. I want to apply it to the conscience of everyone who reads this tract, and to knock at the door of his heart. I would fain sound a trumpet in the ear of everyone who speaks English, and cry aloud, “How readest thou? Dost thou read the Bible?”
Why do I hold this question to be of such mighty importance? Why do I press it on the notice of every man, as a matter of life and death? Give me your attention for a few minutes, and you shall see. Follow me through the pages of this tract, and you shall hear why I ask, “HOW READEST THOU? —DOST THOU READ THE BIBLE ?’‘
- I ask, first of all, because there is no knowledge absolutely needful to a man’s salvation, except a knowledge of the things which are to be found in the Bible.
- I ask, in the second place, because there is no book in existence written in such a manner as the Bible.
- I ask, in the third place, because no book in existence contains such important matter as the Bible.
- I ask in the fourth place, because no book in existence has produced such wonderful effects on mankind at large as the Bible.
- I ask in the fifth place, because no book in existence can do so much for everyone who reads it rightly, as the Bible.
- I ask in the sixth place, because no gift of God to man is so awfully neglected and misused as the Bible.
- I ask in the seventh place, because the Bible is the only rule by which all questions of doctrine or of duty can be tried.
- I ask in the next place, because the Bible is His book which all true servants of God have always lived on and loved.
- I ask, in the last place, because the Bible is the only book which can comfort a man in the last hours of his life.
A Warning To Those Who Chose Not To Read The Bible
This tract may fall into the hands of some who can read, but never do read the Bible at all. Reader, are you one of them? If you are, I have something to say to you. I cannot comfort you in your present state of mind. It would be mockery and deceit to do so. I cannot speak to you of peace and heaven, while you treat the Bible as you do. You are in danger of losing your soul.
You are in danger, because your neglected Bible is a plain evidence that you do not love God.
You are in danger, because God will reckon with you for your neglect of the Bible in the day of judgment.
You are in danger, because there is no degree of error in religion into which you may not fall.
You are in danger, because there is not a single reasonable excuse you can allege for neglecting the Bible.
Practical Advice For Reading The Bible
For one thing, begin reading your Bible this very day.
For another thing, read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it.
For another thing, read the Bible with deep reverence.
For another thing, read the Bible with earnest prayer for the teaching and help of the Holy Spirit.
For another thing, read the Bible with childlike faith and humanity.
For another thing, read the Bible in a spirit of obedience and self-application.
For another thing, read the Bible daily.
For another thing, read all the Bible, and read it in an orderly way.
For another thing, read the Bible fairly and honestly.
In the last place, read the Bible with Christ continually in view.
Reader, I commend all these things to your serious and prayerful attention. I want the ministers to be Bible-reading ministers,—the congregations, Bible-reading congregations,— and the nation, a Bible-reading nation. To bring about this desirable end, I cast in my mite into God’s treasury. The Lord grant that in your case it may prove not to have been in vain.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. Ryle
The entire tract may be downloaded here: How Readest Thou? by J.C. Ryle
- Warren Wiersbe, 50 People Every Christian Should Know (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Books, 2009) pg. 95.
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]