Why reading the Bible leads to conversion
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
6 Oct, 2022

In the right hands, the Bible is a powerful tool for bringing sinners to salvation. When the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to receive the truth, reading the Bible leads to conversion. A recent UK study which investigated the key influences that led to people coming to faith in Jesus has found that one of the biggest influences, second only to growing up in a Christian family, was reading the Bible. In fact, for younger people (aged 18-24) Bible reading is the single biggest influence in bringing people to follow Jesus. As the authors of the study comment, this should encourage us to keep making the Bible as available and accessible as we can. The Bible is designed and provided by God to teach us the truths about Jesus that we need to know for salvation, and the Spirit makes the preaching and even the reading of the Word effectual in conversion. In the following updated extract, David Dickson reflects further on the beautiful characteristics of God’s Word. These are set out in Psalm 19, which opens by showing how God’s works of creation and providence give us true and important but limited information about God’s greatness. The Psalm dwells on the characteristics of God’s special revelation, the Bible, which make it necessary and sufficient for conversion.

Psalm 19 is a sweet contemplation of the glory of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness shining in the works of creation (v. 1-6), and of the glory of His holiness and rich grace shining through his Word and ordinances in His church (v. 7-10).

God’s glory is displayed in creation and providence

Although the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord, yet any portion of it will absorb your meditation when you begin to think of it. Here, the psalmist focuses his meditations on the heavens, and the alternation between day and night, and the light of the sun. The invisible things of God, even His eternal power and Godhead, and His glorious attributes of wisdom, goodness, and majesty, are to be seen in the works of creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy work” (v1).

Yet, although His glory is shown to all, yet it is only the child of God, who has been illuminated by God, who can observe it. In substance the heavens declare that they are not their own maker, but that they are made by one, infinite, incomprehensible, omnipotent, everlasting, good, kind and glorious God. And the “firmament” (which I take is the region of the air, and the place of the stars) declares how skillfully and intricately God can adorn the work of His hands, and how powerfully He can put abundant glory on the creature, even though it has nothing in itself to make it glorious.

The message of creation and providence is plain

Next, the psalmist listens and hears what day and night speak. All that they say, he calls “knowledge” (v2). The day tells us that we live in time, that our days are numbered, that our days go away quickly, that time is precious, and cannot return when it is gone, and that as long as it lasts, it allows us to view the works of the Lord as we go about our own necessary labours. The night says that in ourselves we are weak, and cannot endure long toiling in labour; that as some little short rest is necessary to the labourer, so it is prepared for him, that he may lie under a curtain, and sleep a while, and so be fitted for more work; that he may now quietly review what he has been doing, and may commune with his heart and be still; and that if he does not do what he has to do in time, “the night cometh when no man can work.”

There is no people nor country, but the speech of these created things speaks convincingly enough to them to make them inexcusable. Even if not everyone learns wisdom by them, yet the “voice” of the works of creation and providence is heard everywhere in some measure: their line and direction has gone out “through all the earth” (verse 3-4).

For salvation we need the Bible

The next part of the psalmist’s contemplation is concerning the glory of the Lord declared in His Word and Scripture. This light is more necessary for our blessedness than the sun’s light is for our bodies. So the psalmist extols this point of God’s glory (far above what shines in the work of creation) from the perfection, efficacy, infallibility, and various other properties of it.

The Bible tells us all we need for salvation

The doctrine of life and salvation is set down to us in God’s Word, as a “law” to us, and a rule of faith and obedience. It does not need to be decked with human traditions; it is sufficient in itself, and lacks nothing necessary to salvation. “The law of the Lord is perfect.”

No doctrine, no word, other than this divine truth set down in Scripture, is able to reveal either man’s sin and misery, or the remedy and relief from it. No doctrine other than this alone can effectually humble a soul, and convert it to God, or make a soul aware of what loss it sustains by sin, and restore it to a better condition than was lost by sin. It is the property of God’s law to “convert souls” (v7).

The Bible is reliable

Anyone who hearkens to this Word can be satisfied about what is the Lord’s mind and will in all matters of religion, i.e., everything to do with God’s service and our salvation. It is after all “the testimony of the Lord” (v7), where He sets out His will about what He approves and what He disallows. We understand it rightly when it is compared with itself, one part with another, and using other means that God has appointed. Then we may rely safely on it and it will not disappoint us. “The testimony of the Lord is sure” (v7).

The Bible is accessible

Although there are many deep mysteries in God’s Word, which may stretch the greatest intellects, yet for the points necessary for the salvation of every soul, it is so plain and clear that it may be understood by persons of very ordinary intellectual abilities, and it may make those who are otherwise dull of understanding to be “wise to salvation,” for it is a testimony that “makes wise the simple” (v7).

The Bible gives us reasons to rejoice

Nothing is commanded by God in His Word apart from what the illuminated soul must subscribe to, as equitable in itself, and profitable to us. “For the statutes of the Lord are right” (v8). Equally, consenting to and following the Lord’s directions given to us in His Word is a sure means of getting comfort and joy in our conscience, “for the statutes of the Lord rejoice the heart” (v8).

The Bible illuminates us

“The commandment of the Lord is pure,” (v8), meaning that there is no mixture of error, no dross nor refuse, no deceit in the Lord’s word.

Also it enlightens or “illuminates the eyes” (v8). By the Word of God we may clearly see ourselves blind and naked, and wretched and miserable, and also by the Word, by coming into the grace and mercy offered in Christ, we may see ourselves entered on the only safe way of salvation. By the Word of God we may see every thing in its own true colours, seeing virtue to be virtue, and vice to be vice and vanity.

The Bible deserves our obedience

The way of worshipping, fearing, and serving God, set down in His Word, is holy, and in substance the same in all generations, and always unalterable by man for ever (v9).

The doctrines set down in the Word of God are all decrees of the almighty law-giver, issued from His own court with authority uncontrollable. All of them are true and worthy to be obeyed, for “the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether” (v9).

The Bible is infinitely enriching

The Word of God is able to enrich you more than all the riches in the world, because it is able to bring you to an everlasting kingdom. God’s judgments, being able to determine all necessary truths and controversies about saving truth, are “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold” (v10). There is more sweet comfort and true pleasure to be found in the Lord’s Word than in any pleasant thing in this world. They are “sweeter than the honey and the honeycomb” (v10).

The Bible is endlessly rewarding

David adds this commendation of God’s Word from his own experience, “Moreover, by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (v11).

As the Word of God is able to make you wise to salvation, so it is also able to make you wise in the way you live, not only to avoid sin, but also inconveniences as well. It warns you away from the snares you might fall into through imprudence.

When we have said all we can to commend the Word of God, we are unable to say it all. We have to conclude with some generality, because the benefits that come from observing the Lord’s statutes and commands surpass our reach. David can only conclude, “In keeping of them there is great reward” (v11).



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