I was still quite a new Christian at university, when I was put onto the importance of reading my Bible consistently and comprehensively. Back then there was only one tool to help me do that, now there are dozens, but I think the original is simplest, and best.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish minister in the early 1800s, who was deeply loved by the members of his church, and who had a striking impact despite his death at the shockingly young age of 29. One of his legacies is a plan he devised to help his people read through the Bible in a year – and to read the gospels and psalms twice.
Part of the attractiveness of what he proposes is that he doesn’t start at Genesis with four chapters. Instead, on Jan 1st you start with the four great beginnings of the Bible: Genesis 1 (the creation of the universe), Ezra 1 (the restoration of Jerusalem), Matthew 1 (the birth of Jesus), and Acts 1 (the birth of the church). And on it goes from there.
What I enjoy about it is partly that diversity, so that on a day when one chapter is from Leviticus, which can be a bit hard to distill gospel from, it’s balanced with three other chapters from different parts of the Bible. There is always treasure on the surface as well as deeply hidden.
What’s more, we get to see connections. Our brains love patterns, and they are all over scripture; this seemingly random reading structure is wonderfully exciting.
Do I do other things? Yes – I often work through a commentary, sometimes a devotional kind, sometimes a more technical one. Occasionally I’ve tried other systems, and often a new Bible has a reading plan or two at the back, but somehow I always come back to M’Cheyne.
Don Carson has produced daily devotions based on a lightly revised version of the original, which are very good, and now available in a daily blog But what I love about M’Cheyne is that it keeps me hacking away at the coal face, bible in hand and a pencil for company, with no-one else getting in the way. He forces me to do the work.
I do recommend this habit. Four chapters a day should get you there, and you can get a free copy of M’Cheyne, together with a good range of alternatives, here. I’ve fallen off the plan a good few times, but it has been a good, reliable friend, and I’ve always loved coming back to it.
5 comments on “Reading through the Bible in a year – the best and simplest way”
Do remember that the Church of England was the one to ‘invent’ daily reading through the Bible in a year—the OT once, the NT twice and the Psalms every month if you follow the BCP daily lectionary. That pre-dates M’Cheyne (good though his system is) by some way.
Guilty as charged, M’Lud. I did wonder about saying something like that, but autobiographically it isn’t true. Maybe the fact that I was at a Scottish university inclined me to M’Cheyne, maybe my home Anglican church could have pointed me in the lectionary’s direction. But it was that incisive Anglican, John Stott, who put me onto it in one his books, and so I’ll blame him.
I’ve used the McCheyne plan two or three times in the past, but I did find I fell into the ‘checklist’ mentality – rushing so that I could tick off the 4 chapters, and failing to allow the truth to marinate. I’ve come to believe it’s the quality of our meditation on Scripture that’s more important than the quantity of our reading. But I did appreciate the recommendation.
That’s always a danger – I now find I dwell on one of the readings more than the other three, although I do read all four. And a pencil to read, underline, make comments on the margin, is always helpful. Actually, a pencil running down the outside margin is a good way to keep you eyes running speedily but thoroughly down the page. And, to howls of protest, e-readers seem to encourage more thorough reading than paper. They are harder to skim.
Reading ESV on my Kindle now for 5 days….. And you’re right! Tend to read much slower. Thanks for the advice.