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.

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.”

Flood of Knowledge

March 29, 2012

“Behind every stack of books… there is a flood of knowledge.”

HT: Steve Erickson

Photo: Yerkaland

Of Paramount Importance

February 7, 2011

Take a moment to ponder these observations about the paramount importance of God’s Word:

Since there is a more excellent appearance of the Spirit of God in the holy scripture than in any other book,  it has more power and ability to convey the Spirit and make us spiritual, by imprinting itself upon our hearts.

Since there is more of God in it, it will acquaint us more with God, and bring us nearer to Him, and make the reader more reverent  and godly.

Let scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands, and other books used as subservient to it.

The endeavor of the devil… is to keep it from you, which is evidence that reading it is most necessary and desirable, and beneficial to you.

Adapted from the Works of Richard Baxter.

Choosing a Book

February 3, 2011

Richard Baxter wrote:

“Make careful choice of the books which you read.”

Baxter went on to state:

You need a judicious teacher at hand to direct you about 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 some weak and somewhat dull; and some are very good in part, but have mixtures of error, or incautious, injudicious expressions.  These are fitter to puzzle than edify the weak.

The folks at Together for the Gospel (T4G) have published a series of posts offering counsel for Reading & Studying. While these posts are primarily directed to pastors, the wisdom should be appreciated, and insights appropriated, by anyone serious about growing in grace and godliness.   C.J. Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever serve as the “judicious teachers” Richard Baxter said we need.

Puritan Richard Baxter offers a few simple questions to guide us in evaluating the value of any book:

While reading ask oneself:

  1. Could I spend this time any better?
  2. Are there better books that would edify me more?
  3. Are the lovers of this book the greatest lovers of the Book of God – the Bible – and of a holy life?
  4. Does this book increase my love for the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?

Some Thoughts About Reading

February 3, 2011

The writings of  the 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, whenever it is applied to the condition of the hearts in the congregation which hears 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 only an 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, while books may still be at hand.
  • Books may be kept at a smaller charge than preachers.
  • We may choose books that address the very subject which we desire to hear about; but we cannot choose what subject the preacher shall treat us.
  • Books we may have at hand every day and hour, when we can have sermons but seldom and at set times.
  • If sermons are forgotten, they are gone. But a book we may read over and over, till we remember it. And if we forget it, we may again peruse it at our pleasure, or at our leisure.

So, good books are a very great blessing to the world.  The Holy Ghost chose writing to preserve His doctrine and laws for the Church, knowing how easy and surely it is a way of keeping it safe for all generations, in comparison with mere verbal traditions.

~ adapted from the Works of Richard Baxter