IX. Come to the reading of Scripture with humble hearts; acknowledge how unworthy you are that God should reveal himself in his word to you.
There are two elements here. First, at the most basic level humility is required for any learning. Learning is the movement from ignorance to knowledge. That movement can only begin with the acknowledge of ignorance — which requires humility. It if the fool who will not learn: “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15).
Second, there is the revelation of God through the Word of God.
Isaiah 66:2 (ESV)
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
Thomas Brooks explains, “Humility is both a grace, and a vessel to receive more grace.”
The reception of the Scripture in humility is how God reveals himself to us. J.I. Packer summarizes Owen’s doctrine of the Spirit’s illumination of the Scripture as follows:
How does the Spirit bring about this effect? By a threefold activity. First, he imparts to the Scriptures the permanent quality of light. Owen appeals to biblical references to Scripture as ‘light in a dark place’ (2 Pet 1:19), a ‘light’ to men’s feet and a lamp to their path (Ps 119:105), a word whose entrance gives ‘light’ (130), and other similar passages. By light, Owen means that which dispels darkness and illuminates people and situations. Light, by its very nature, is self-evidencing. ‘Let a light be ever so mean and contemptible; yet if it shines, it casts out beams and rays in a dark place, it will evidence itself.’19 Scripture, through the covenanted action of the Holy Spirit, constantly ‘shines’, in the sense of giving spiritual illumination and insight as to who and what one is in the sight of God, and who and what Jesus Christ is, both in himself and in relation to one’s own self and finally, in the broadest and most inclusive sense, how one ought to live. Thus it makes evident its divine origin.
Second, the Spirit makes the Scriptures powerful to produce spiritual effects. They evidence their divine origin by their disruptive and recreative impact on human lives. Owen quotes in this connection the biblical descriptions of the word of God as ‘quick and powerful’, ‘able to build you up’, and ‘the power of God’ (Heb 4:12; Acts 20:31; 1 Cor 1:18).
Third, the Holy Spirit makes Scripture impinge on the individual consciousness as a word addressed personally to each man by God himself, evoking awe, and a sense of being in God’s presence and under his eye. This is what Owen means when he speaks of the ‘majesty’ of the Scriptures. So he writes: ‘the Holy Ghost speaking in and by the word imparting to it virtue, power, efficacy, majesty, and authority, affords us the witness, that our faith is resolved into’.
J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 90–91.
God’s secrets are with the humble. Pride is an enemy to profiting. It has been said that the ground on which the peacock sits is barren; that heart where pride sits is really barren. An arrogant person disdains the counsels of the word, and hates the reproofs: is he likely to profit? James 4:6: “God giveth grace to the humble.” The most eminent saints have been of low stature in their own eyes; like the sun at the zenith, they showed least when they were at the highest. David had “more understanding than all his teachers.” Psalm 119:99: but how humble he was. Psalm 22:6: “I am a worm and no man.”
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), 25.
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 4 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 353.