Have a plan to Read the Bible in 2019?

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a brilliant young Scottish pastor who died in 1843 at the age of 29.  One of the legacies of this remarkable servant of God was a Bible reading plan.  I’ve used a great many Bible reading plans over the course of my life, including a version of my own, but I love M’Cheyne’s and will be using it in 2019 and encouraging my family to do so as well.

One of the great things about the M’Cheyne plan is the wonderful pastoral letter that explains the reasons, dangers, and advantages of pursuing a plan such as this.

My Dear Flock, The approach of another year stirs up within me new desires for your salvation, and for the growth of those of you who are saved….What the coming year is to bring forth who can tell?…Those believers will stand firmest who have no dependence upon self or upon creatures, but upon Jehovah our Righteousness.  We must be driven more to our Bibles, and to the mercy seat, if we are to stand in the evil day.

Many will bristle at the idea of following a set plan such as the one M’Cheyne proposes, for a variety of reasons.  Indeed, he anticipated exactly this to be the case even among his own flock, and therefore dealt with a variety of objections to his proposed plan:

  • The danger of formality. Among these is the danger of formality.  M’Cheyne acknowledges that following such a plan can become a dead ritual, a “skeleton religion.”  This is a danger, of course, with any religious observance when the letter overrides the Spirit.
  • The danger is self-righteousness. Might we not be tempted to be a bit too pleased with ourselves for our piety in following such a plan?  This is a danger, certainly – the danger of self-complacency.  “I read the whole Bible this year – aren’t I impressive?”
  • The danger of careless reading. In covering such large chunks of scripture, are we not in danger of doing so in a “slight and careless manner”?  Are we not likely to give far too scant attention to the majesty and glory to be found there?  Again, this danger is a real one.
  • The danger of overburdening the saints. Perhaps by asking so much we are imposing a yoke too heavy to bear. Is it too much to ask the average Bible reader to read through the entirety of holy scripture in a single year?  If we fall behind, are we not likely to feel more like spiritual failures than faithful disciples?  This too is a danger, and is in some ways it is the inverse of the danger of self-righteousness.

Over against these difficulties, M’Cheyne offers a list of advantages.  Why risk such possible calamities as those considered above?  Because the spiritual advantages of such a discipline promise rewards far greater than the dangers.

  • The advantage of the whole counsel of God.  The first advantage is that of reading the whole Bible in a single year.  M’Cheyne laments that most Christians never read portions of the Old Testament, and yet “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.”  “If we pass over some parts of Scripture, we shall be incomplete Christians.”  Greater familiarity with the Big Picture of the Bible (the meta-narrative, or Big Story), and the manner in which it all ties together in the person and work of Jesus Christ, is perhaps one of the greatest ways to grow in our walk.
  • The advantage of systematic reading.  Another advantage of a plan such as this is that it is a plan.  No time needs to be wasted figuring out, “Hmm, what should I read now?”  Many Christians jump around the Bible willy-nilly with no coherent plan or purpose in their reading.  No wonder such little progress is made toward growth and maturity.
  • The advantage of catechizing children.  Here is a terrific advantage for spiritual nurture in the home: Parents will have a regular subject upon which to examine their children.  One of the great things about the plan of M’Cheyne is that readings are broken down into readings that are corporate (with the family) and those which are private (secret reading).  Reading corporately gives opportunities for questions, answers, conversation – in short, catechesis, training our children in the truths of the faith.  How many parents have a systematic plan for doing this?
  • The advantage of pastoring the flock.  Another advantage M’Cheyne anticipates is that this will be part of his pastoral task of feeding the flock.  He envisioned this not only as a plan for personal devotion, or for family life, but also for the entire congregation.  The flock is corporately working through the Bible and considering the same truths of the faith.  Even if they are not all following the same plan, if the whole flock were to read the Bible each year, there would be a wonderful advancement in the culture, interaction, worship, and fellowship of the whole body.

These are tremendous advantages, for sure.  We should pursue disciplines such as this with zeal, recognizing the great good that God will do in us if we pursue him in faithfulness in this way.  He longs to meet with us in the ministry of his holy Word; it is a means of grace for our benefit.  There are dangers to such a discipline, but if we maintain a posture of humility and remember ever God’s grace to sinners, these may be overcome.

Want to try M’Cheyne’s plan?  A version can be found here:


There are lots of other great resources as well.  There are thousands of Bible apps and reading plans to be found easily enough.  The details of the plan are less important than the discipline itself.  Like all disciplines, though, there is certainly strength in numbers.  Consider joining together with your spouse, your kids, your small group, your Sunday School class, or a good friend to pursue this discipline together this year.