And, Oh, Do We Love to Read…

March 26, 2010

Christian Life

Advice on Reading

by Richard Baxter

“Make careful choice of the books which you read: let the holy scriptures ever have the pre-eminence, and, next to them, those solid, lively, heavenly treatises which best expound and apply the scriptures, and next, credible histories, especially of the Church . . . but take heed of false teachers who would corrupt your understandings.”

1. As there is a more excellent appearance of the Spirit of God in the holy scripture, than in any other book whatever, so it has more power and fitness to convey the Spirit, and make us spiritual, by imprinting itself upon our hearts. As there is more of God in it, so it will acquaint us more with God, and bring us nearer Him, and make the reader more reverent, serious and divine. Let scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands and other books be used as subservient to it. The endeavours of the devil and papists to keep it from you, doth shew that it is most necessary and desirable to you.

2. The writings of divines are nothing else but a preaching of the gospel to the eye, as the voice preaches it to the ear. Vocal preaching has the pre-eminence in moving the affections, and being diversified according to the state of the congregation which attend it: this way the milk comes warmest from the breast. But books have the advantage in many other respects: you may read an able preacher when you have but a average one to hear. Every congregation cannot hear the most judicious or powerful preachers: but every single person may read the books of the most powerful and judicious; preachers may be silenced or banished, when books may be at hand: books may be kept at a smaller charge than preachers: we may choose books which treat of that, very subject which we desire to hear of; but we cannot choose what subject the preacher shall treat of. Books we may have at hand every day. and hour; when we can have sermons but seldom, and at set times. If sermons be forgotten, they are gone; but a book we may read over and over, till we remember it: and if we forget it, may again peruse it at our pleasure, or at our leisure. So that good books are a very great mercy to the world: the Holy Ghost chose the way of writing, to preserve His doctrine and laws to the ‘Church, as knowing how easy and sure a way it is of keeping it safe to all generations, in comparison of mere verbal traditions.

3. You have need of a judicious teacher at hand, to direct you what books to use or to refuse: for among good books there are some very good that are sound and lively; and some good, but mediocre, and weak and somewhat dull; and some are very good in part, but have mixtures of error, or else of incautious, injudicious expressions, fitter to puzzle than edify the weak.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=antique+books&iid=5289416″ src=”1/e/c/2/Antique_commercial_register_2360.jpg?adImageId=11740856&imageId=5289416″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]Reading

Generation after generation has read the insights of its writers. This is why fresh statements of old truth are always needed. Without them people will read error.

Daniel Webster once said, “If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; if God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy; if the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will.”1

Millions of people are going to read. If they don’t read contemporary Christian books, they are going to read contemporary secular books. They will read.

It is amazing to watch people in the airports. At any given moment there must be hundreds of thousands of people reading just in airports. One of the things we Christians need to be committed to, besides reading, is giving away solid books to those who might read them, but would never buy them.

The ripple effect is incalculable. Consider this illustration: A book by Richard Sibbes, one of the choicest of the Puritan writers, was read by Richard Baxter, who was greatly blessed by it. Baxter then wrote his Call to the Unconverted which deeply influenced Philip Doddridge, who in turn wrote The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. This brought the young William Wilberforce, subsequent English statesman and foe of slavery, to serious thoughts of eternity. Wilberforce wrote his Practical Book of Christianity which fired the soul of Leigh Richmond. Richmond, in turn, wrote The Dairyman’s Daughter, a book that brought thousands to the Lord, helping Thomas Chalmers the great preacher, among others.2

It seems to me that in a literate culture like ours, where most of us know how to read and where books are available, the Biblical mandate is: keep on reading what will open the Holy Scriptures to you more and more. And keep praying for Bible-saturated writers. There are many great old books to read. But each new generation needs its own writers to make the message fresh. Read and pray. And then obey.

Notes:
[1] Ernest Reisinger, ‘Every Christian a Publisher,’ Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 51, Winter, 1995, p. 17.
[2] ‘Every Christian a Publisher,’ p. 18.

“Reading” copyright desiringGod website, February 20, 2002. via the Reformation Theology blog at Monergism

[Book photo courtesy: “Photo Copyright FreeStockImages.org” ]

 

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