Samuel Davies on Reading Scripture

By Joe Harrod

Although Samuel Davies (1723­–1761) defended Scripture’s divine authority from various eighteenth century detractors, notably the Deists, his devotion to Scripture as God’s word was greater than a series of doctrinal propositions and interpretive strategies. He found Scripture of matchless spiritual value: “The word of Christ has been the treasure, the support, and the joy of believers in all ages.”[1] When instructing congregants in using various means to pursue holiness, Davies’ frequently mentioned personal disciplines which involved Scripture.[2]

Hearing the Bible read and proclaimed was part of congregational spiritual exercises and domestic responsibilities, but public piety was only part of the Christian’s duty, for genuine spirituality thrived in a believer’s “secret” or personal duties. For Davies, reading the Bible was a necessary and vital way of pursuing personal holiness.[3] He exhorted congregants to “read the word of God and other good books, with diligence, attention, and self-application.”[4] As his people read Scripture, God would meet with them.[5] Reading might also stir the affections, as Davies recalled from his own reading of 1 Thessalonians 2: “I can remember the time, when the reading of [this chapter] has drawn tears even from [a] heart so hard as mine.”[6] On the other hand, the neglect of reading Scripture often contributes to “cooling in religion.”[7] The diligent reading of Scripture may also convince the unsaved sinner of their need for Christ.[8] Hearing and reading Scripture are a delight for Christians, because through these disciplines they enjoy filial and communal fellowship with God.[9]

[1]Samuel Davies, “Christ Precious to all True Believers,” in Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Davies, A.M. President of the College of New Jersey, vol. 1 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1854, repr. 1993), 384. Cited henceforth as Sermons.

[2]See Samuel Davies, “A Sermon on the New Year,” in Sermons, 2:207; idem., “Tender Anxieties,” in Sermons, 2:424; idem., “The Nature of Love to God and Christ Opened and Enforced,” in Sermons, 2:464–65; and idem., “Christians Solemnly Reminded,” in Sermons, 3:608.

[3]Samuel Davies, “A Sermon on the New Year,” in Sermons, 2:207.

[4]Samuel Davies, “The Connection between Present Holiness and Future Felicity,” in Sermons, 1:281.

[5]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464–65.

[6]Davies, “Love of Souls,” in Sermons, 3:501.

[7]Davies, “Christians Solemnly Reminded,” in Sermons, 3:608.

[8]Davies, “Tender Anxieties,” in Sermons, 2:424.

[9]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464–65.


jch_cropJoe Harrod serves as Director for Institutional Assessment at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is a doctoral candidate in the areas of Biblical Spirituality and Church History. He and his wife, Tracy, have three sons.