In this section, Watson gives a general proposition, three motivations and a rebuke.
First, the general proposition: Read the Scripture with seriousness:
VI. Read the word with seriousness. I one go over the Scripture cursorily, says Erasmus, there is little good to be got by it; but if he be serious in reading it, it is the savor of life; and well may we be serious if we consider the importance of those truths which are bound up in this sacred volume. Deut. 32:47: “It is not a vain thing for you; it is your life.” If a letter were to be broken open and read, wherein a man’s whole estate were concerned, how serious would he be in reading it.
Watson does not give further explanation of what he means by seriousness; however, some consideration will make the point clear. First, seriousness at the least requires undivided attention. Go into a room where someone else is intently watching a movie or a sporting event at a critical juncture. Their entire attention is focused upon that one thing and any distraction is likely to upset them. If the Scripture is as serious as fictional characters in a petty conflict, then certainly reading the Scripture must require focused attention.
Second, seriousness must entail an earnest consideration. Children plummeted into a game will give themselves heart and soul to some task. They will not merely give undivided attention but they will consider each aspect earnestly: it matters how this matter concludes.
Third, seriousness a willingness to respond as a result of the information received. Your friend watching a movie may give undivided attention and earnest consideration to the movie — but once it is over, your friend is not likely to move to Manhattan to be of assistance to the character whose life has been upended by a surprise revelation. When the movie is over, your friend quickly forgets what has taken place.
Yet, when we read the Scripture, we must read it with a seriousness that we are transformed by what we have read.
Watson now gives three examples why Scripture requires such seriousness. First, Scripture is serious because it concerns Christ, the Lord and King of Creation:
In the Scripture our salvation is concerned; it treats of the love of Christ, a serious subject. Christ hath loved mankind more than the angels that fell. Heb. 2:7. The loadstone, indifferent to gold and pearl, draws the iron to it; thus Christ passed by the angels, who were of more noble extraction, and drew mankind to him. Christ loved us more than his own life; nay, though we had a hand in his death, yet that he should not leave us out of his will. This is a love that passeth knowledge; who can read this without seriousness?
Second, Scripture concerns our eternal end; nothing could of greater concern to a human being than the unending end of his soul:
The Scripture speaks of the mystery of faith, the eternal recompenses, and the paucity of them that shall be saved. Matt. 20:16: “Few chosen.” One saith the names of all the good emperors of Rome might be engraved in a little ring; there are but (comparatively) few names in the Book of Life.
Third, Scripture explains with what deadly concern we must treat our destiny:
The Scripture speaks of striving for heaven as in an agony. Luke 13:24. It cautions us of falling short of the promised rest. Heb. 4:1. It describes the horrors of the infernal torments, the worm, and the fire. Mark 9:44. Who can read this and not be serious?
The lightness with which we treat Scripture must in part be because we do not actually think that much hangs in the balance. We belong to an age which does not consider Judgment Day to be a concern. Just today, a friend wrote to me and said many people treat Judgment Day as “Acceptance Day” because there God will be such an accepting Judge. Watson writes of this sort:
Some have light, feathery, spirits; they run over the most weighty truths in haste, (like Israel who eat the Passover in haste,) and they are not benefited by the word. Read with a solemn, composed spirit. Seriousness is the Christian’s ballast, which keeps him from being overturned with vanity.
Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit,” in The Bible and the Closet: Or How We May Read the Scriptures with the Most Spiritual Profit; and Secret Prayer Successfully Managed, ed. John Overton Choules (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1842), 22–23.