Trinity College Library (Ireland)

[Adapted from Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory of 1673]

Because God has made available the excellent, holy writings of his servants; and many may have a good book, on any day or at any hour of the week, even those who have no access to a good preacher – I advise all God’s servants to be thankful for so great a gift as books, and to make use of them, and to read much. For reading can be more conducive to knowledge than hearing is, because you may choose what subjects, and the best treatises, you please; and you may read as often as you please; and you may peruse again and again whatever you forget; and you may take your time as you go, to fix it in your mind. And as is the case with very many, reading does more than hearing to move the heart – because lively books may be more easily accessed than lively preachers.

Especially these sorts of men and women should be much in reading:

  1. Mothers and Fathers, or heads of households, who have more souls to care for than just their own.
  2. People who live where there is no preaching; or, where there is only bad preaching. (Bad preaching is even worse than none!)
  3. Infirmed people, servants, and children, who are forced on many Lord’s Days to stay at home, while others have the opportunity to hear the Word preached.
  4. And non-working persons, since they have more leisure than others have.

To all these, but especially to parents, I shall here give a few directions.

Direction 1 – I presuppose that you keep the devil’s books out of your hands and house. I mean graphic romance novels or “love-books”, and the false, bewitching and seducing books of all false teachers; and the railing books by various factions written against each other, on purpose, to teach men to hate one another. For where these are allowed to corrupt the mind, other useful writings are forestalled in their benefits. It is an awful wonder to see how powerfully these kinds of writings poison the minds of children, and of many other empty heads.

Also refrain from books that are written by contemporary “sons of Korah“; those written to breed distastes and discontents in the minds of the people against their governors – both magistrates and ministers. For there is always something, even in the best leaders, for the tongues of seditious men to fasten on, and then to aggravate in the people’s ears and minds; and there is something even in godly people, which tempts them all too easily to become ill-tempered,  then to take aim and take fire, before they are aware of what they are doing. Rarely do most people, even godly people, foresee the evil to which such treachery leads.

Direction 2 – When you read to your family, or to others, let it be seasonably and timely – at a time when silence and participation are most likely to bear fruit; not when children are crying or talking, or servants bustling to disturb you. Distraction is worst in the greatest businesses.

Direction 3 – Choose such books as are most suitable to your condition, or to the spiritual condition of those you read to. It is worse than unprofitable to read books designed for comforting troubled minds to those that are block-headedly self-secure, and who have hardened, obstinate, un-humbled hearts. It is just as bad as a physician giving medicines or remedies that are contrary to a patient’s need, and that would actually nourish the disease! So it is to read books that are too high-a-style, or subject too deep, to dull or ignorant hearers. We use to say: “That which is one man’s meat, is another man’s poison.” It is not enough that the substance is good – but it must be agreeable to the situation for which it is used.

Direction 4 – In a common family, begin with those books which both, and at once, inform the understanding about the fundamentals of the faith and awaken the affections of the heart, such as treatises about regeneration, conversion, or repentance.

Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most – but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.

“Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most – but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.”

Direction 5 – Next, read over those books which are most suited to the state of young Christians for their growth in grace, and for their exercise of faith, and love, and obedience, and for the mortifying of selfishness, pride, sensuality, worldliness, and other of the most dangerous sins.

Direction 6 – At the same time labor to methodize your knowledge; and to that end read first and learn some short catechism, and then some larger catechism. And let the catechism be kept in memory while you live, and the rest be thoroughly understood.

Direction 7 – Next read (to yourselves or or to your families) some larger expositions of the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments; such as Thomas Watson on the Commandments; that your understanding may be more full, particular, and distinct, and your families may not be limited to a mere general knowledge, which, in truth, is not as valuable as genuine understanding.

Direction 8 – Read often and much those books that direct you in a course of daily communion with God, and a holy ordering of your daily life.

Lord, Make Me Like You

April 28, 2017

Dr Odd (Picasso)

I don’t recall where or when I first heard following story, but it has often caused me to stop and ask myself about my attitude and motivations:  Prayer

A man prayed to the Lord: “Lord, make me like you; may my words & thoughts be like yours; may my actions produce great fruit…”

This was his regular prayer.

Then one day a voice from within – perhaps the Holy Spirit, perhaps his own mind – simply said one word: “Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why?’  Lord, it’s a standard prayer!”

But why did he want to be like the Lord?  Why do I want to be like Jesus?

1.     So people will think highly of us?

-or-

2.     For God’s Glory

-and/or –

3.     Because the Lord is pleased with Jesus

How we answer makes a world of difference.

How NOT to Read the Bible

January 12, 2016

Knowing God

January 11, 2016

Thinking Man (B&W)

More than 200 names for God are recorded in the Bible.  All of them are important.  Each of them reveals and affirms certain characteristics of God.  While God is incomprehensible – we will never exhaust what there is to know about Him – He is nevertheless knowable.  He has revealed himself to us.  To know God is to recognize what He is like – and what He is not like.  As J.I. Packer once said:

“Those who know God have great thoughts of God.”

So what is God like?

This is not an academic question.  Though certainly there are some Academics in the news recently who may have been well served to have given a little more thought to the question before holding a press conference only to display syncretistic ignorance.  But even in that instance the question is not merely academic.  It is personal.

When asked: “What is the greatest commandment?”,  Jesus unhesitatingly declared: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  (Matthew 22.36-40; Deuteronomy 6.1-7) So let me ask a somewhat rhetorical question: “How can one love God if little to nothing is known about God?  Further, even if it is possible to love a god one knows little about, (and I suspect that it may be possible,) how can we claim to be keeping the command to “Love God with all your mind” if we do not engage our minds to learn more and more about him?

Now let me be clear about something: If you are reading this post, and you feel you are less knowledgeable theologically than you think you ought to be, I am not trying to shame you.  Truth is this: I am fairly theologically educated.  If you have any knowledge of God at all, the difference between your little knowledge and my educated knowledge is so minimal when compared to what knowledge there is to be known about God, that any sense of haughtiness I might be inclined to project would be laughable, if such pomposity would not be so pathetic.  My concern is not who knows more than who, but rather whether we  know God, and whether, in keeping with the greatest command, we are engaging our minds to be continually growing in our knowledge of God.

If you have a desire to love the Lord with all your mind, let me offer a handful of suggested books about God with which to feed your mind.  None of these are technical, but all are excellent. (To my mind, these are actually better than most of the technical theological books I have read.)

This list is far from exhaustive. There are many excellent books on this subject, and I welcome anyone who would like to add to this list to do so in the comment section.  Sadly, there are many, many, bad books under this heading as well.  Some of the better books I left off this list are Knowing God by J.I. Packer and Reason for God by Timothy Keller.  While I enjoyed and highly commend both of these, the list above reflects a thorough introduction and/or reflection, yet easy reads.  Keller’s is excellent for those asking the question: Is There a God? Packer’s would be on my list for next steps.

I will end with this: Earlier this year I heard a statement, attributed to John Piper (though I have been unable to confirm it is his), that stuck with me, resonates, and is appropriate to ponder:

“The mind provides kindling for the heart.”

Celtic Transformation

I have been mulling on something the late Francis Schaeffer said:

“There are four things which are absolutely necessary if we as Christians are going to meet the need of our age and the overwhelming pressure we are increasingly facing.”

No doubt that the church, in our culture as well as other cultures, faces increasing and overwhelming pressure.  Pressure to cave. Pressure to capitulate. Pressure to compromise.  These pressures come from both  subtle and overt threats from the culture and from the government, as George Orwell predicted in his classic 1984.  Perhaps even more devastating is the subversive seductive pressure. The craving of the church to be “relevant”, to fit in, to be liked, so people will come in great numbers, so we can be considered successful, has seemingly replaced a commitment to faithfulness and fruitfulness.  This mindset seems in line with Aldous Huxley‘s “nightmarish vision of the future” in his opus Brave New World.  And while there is certainly nothing wrong with a desire to be liked, nor to see our churches full, these consuming desires are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, and consequently, I fear, resulting in an increasingly impotent Church.

So what are Schaeffer’s four things?

Schaeffer labeled them Two Contents and Two Realities.

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I’ve been there. Likely, so have you.  The year begins with good intentions, and maybe even a strong start, only to fizzle days later.  The Statistic Brain Research Institute reports that 75% of New Years Resolutions are broken within the first week of the New Year.  No doubt most of the others go down soon thereafter.

Among the more frequent vows is a renewed commitment to read the Bible:

  • Read the whole Bible in one year
  • Read the Bible daily, or just more often

This seems a noble resolve. And as a church pastor, it is certainly one I applaud.  In fact, I often share some Bible Reading plans for anyone who endeavors to take up this challenge.  (Like this one: Bible Reading Plan for Slackers & Shirkers)

But in the brief (3 minute) video above, Steve Childers, of Global Church Advancement, offers a caution about making such resolutions – even resolutions such as to pray more or to read the Bible.

It may seem odd that I am posting such caution about making spiritual resolutions, especially since I commended the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards in a post just yesterday.  But without denying the potential benefit of reflecting upon Edwards’ Resolutions, nor even the positive effects of increased Bible reading and prayer during the coming year, I think Childers makes a good point.

Consider this:

The state of our heart is of utmost importance as we practice spiritual disciplines. It’s possible to read our Bibles, pray, attend Lord’s Day worship, and even take the Lord’s Supper for all types of reasons. But unless we do it for God’s glory, and our joy in him, it does us no ultimate good.

Or as Charles Spurgeon reasoned:

“It is not enough to do the correct thing; it must be done in a right spirit, and with a 
pure motive. A good action is not wholly good unless it be done for the glory of God, 
and because of the greatness and goodness of his holy name.”

In no way would I ever dissuade anyone from increasing their spiritual vitality through partaking in such means of grace as prayer and Bible study. Nor does Childers.  But Childers does wisely warn against resolutions that may result in merely going through religious motions – even if those motions come more frequently.  Instead Childers points us to the source of all grace, and encourages us to avail ourselves of all that is offered.

Take a moment to watch the video, and to consider what Childers says.  For those who prefer to read, a transcript of the message can be read on Childers’ blog: Pathway Learning

Desiring Truth

February 21, 2015

An Evening Walk (Besnard)

by Wesley Hurd

At the end of one of his films, Deconstructing Harry, writer/actor Woody Allen delivers a movie-ending confession that offers a perverted coherence to the film:

“All people know the truth. Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it.”

For believers, though, desiring truth – undistorted – is central to the process and experience of our salvation. Nothing is more fundamental in our striving for sanctification – our striving to be good as God is good – than our embracing the truth at every level at which it confronts us.

One of the most common names for the presence of God in our lives is the Spirit of Truth. He is the author and source of all that is valuable, good, pure, and true. It follows, then, that believers in the true Gospel – a work the Spirit of Truth authors in our hearts – will seek what is true. Our commitment to living according to what is true is a “litmus test” for whether we are authentically interested in knowing God and learning to love what He loves – truth, justice, and mercy. Are we interested in knowing God? Then, in the end, we will be open to following the truth wherever it leads us. This will be a lifelong process for us, however, because, like our distant ancestors Adam and Eve, we are more inclined to hide from truth than to seek it or to embrace its consequences. Our fallen, darkened hearts do not naturally respond well to truth, especially when it surprises and inconveniences us, when believing and acting upon the truth costs us something.

In his gospel narrative (John 18.28ff), the Apostle John portrays a powerful scene in which Jesus and his captor, Pontius Pilate, engage in a profound exchange over this issue of truth. Their conversation shows two levels at which truth confronts all humans. Both levels can potentially reflect a person’s moral disposition, but the second level proves to be spiritually crucial. Let me explain.

The first level of discovering truth involves whether or not a person believes truth exists at all in a practical and philosophical sense. Is there truth? If so, how do I know it? How can I be confident in what appears to me to be true? In the John passage, Pilate interrogates Jesus and his accusers, attempting to ascertain the true circumstances that led to Jesus’ arrest. At this level of truth seeking, Pilate assumes the truth can be known and assessed. His inquiry proves he believes truth is objectively available and can be sought and found. Having received adequate firsthand testimony, Pilate determines that Jesus is innocent of the allegations against him. The truth made itself plain to Pilate. Pilate then attempts political maneuvers to free Jesus, but he fails when Jesus’ accusers threaten anarchy that would put Pilate himself in political jeopardy.

Yet Jesus intrigues Pilate, who engages Jesus further, asking Him questions that lead Jesus to claim, “For this I have been born…to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears My voice.” Now the second level of our relationship to truth appears. Once we believe we know what is true, are we willing to embrace it and to act accordingly? Pilate was not willing. His reply to Jesus, “What is truth?”, enables Pilate to keep the conversation at the philosophical level rather than going to the second level of personal, existential response.

Jesus identified himself with the vital truths about a person’s relationship to God and eternal destiny. Jesus spoke the truth about God — who He is, what His will is, and how human creatures can align themselves with those truths. Jesus was concerned not only about the factual truthfulness of what one believes (truth at level one), but also about the deeply personal moral posture of one’s heart toward factual truthfulness. Does one’s heart lean toward or away from letting the truth have its way in one’s thought, choices, and behavior? For example, I can know and agree with the theological truthfulness of man’s sin and fallenness, while simultaneously refusing to allow its factual truthfulness to penetrate my personal conscience and thereby own the truth of my guilt and need for repentance.

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