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October 08, 2007

Taking God at His Word.

Do you remember that amazing miracle of Jesus where he brought life to Lazarus? I’m sure you must remember it. Lazarus was sitting in his home along with his sisters Mary and Martha. He was chewing on some bread and cheese as an afternoon snack when, from outside the door of the house he heard a bit of a commotion as if a crowd was quickly approaching. There was mourning and weeping. And suddenly a voice boomed “Lazarus, come forth!” He licked his fingers clean and walked out the door where he saw that his good friend Jesus was standing there along with His disciples. Everyone gasped in amazement as Lazarus walked out into the bright sunshine.

That’s absurd, I know. It didn’t go like that at all. In the biblical narrative Lazarus wasn’t sitting in his house but was dead in a tomb. He wasn’t eating a snack but was rotting and decaying. Lazarus was dead and was brought to life. If it was any other way it would not have been much of a miracle. It doesn’t take any special power to bring life to the living. Jesus would not have been a great miracle worker if He simply gave life to those who already had it.

But this is a claim I see far too often—that people can bring life to the living.

One of the dubious perks of being a reviewer is that I receive all kinds of marketing material for various products. Just recently I received a copy of the marketing package for the new Word of Promise New Testament audio Bible produced by Thomas Nelson. It is a recording of the New King James translation of the Bible that is performed by a talented and well-known cast of characters. It boasts Jim Caviezel as Jesus, Richard Dreyfuss as the voice of Moses (in New Testament quotes), Stacy Keach as Paul, Marisa Tomei as Mary Magdalene, Luke Perry as Judas and Stephen, and so on. Slightly dramatized and complete with a soundtrack and various sound effects, it is something of a throwback to the days before television—the days when radio dramas were all the rage. All-in-all it seems like a decent enough production, though I listened only to the few sample clips that were provided.

But there’s one thing about it that really bothers me.

Hear the Word Come Alive

The cover page for the brochure says this, and only this: “The Word Comes to Life.” On the inside of the CD case are these words: “Hear the Bible Come Alive!” Interestingly, a similar product and one I reviewed a short time ago, The Bible Experience, makes a similar claim: “Hear the words of the Bible brought to life like never before. Inspired By…The Bible Experience: New Testament Audio CD is a fully-dramatized reading of the Bible performed by an unprecedented ensemble of distinguished African-American actors, musicians, and personalities.” And as I pause to think about it, I realize I’ve lost track of the number of products that claim to bring the Bible to life or to make its words alive.

I object. Every Christian ought to familiarize himself with the incredible words of Hebrew 4:12 which read, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Word, it seems, is already alive. And like the living Lazarus, it has no need for us to breathe life into it. That is no cause for boasting; no cause for acclaim; no headline for marketing materials. The Bible is alive. We can’t make it more so.

Now I’m no dummy and will admit that I know what the marketing people mean when they say they will bring the Bible to life. I make no objection to people trying to inject some emphasis and drama into the biblical text. Just yesterday our pastor’s assistant preached about Jesus’ crucifixion and clearly invested a lot of effort in reading the biblical text in a dramatic way. A drab, monotone, unenthusiastic reading can certainly seem to rob the text of its life or vitality. I believe it is right and good when the text is read in a way that emphasizes what ought to be emphasized. But we need to be careful how we speak of such things. We need to show a little bit of theological precision lest we inadvertently cause people to doubt that the Bible has life of its own and that we somehow need to inject it with excitement in order to give it vitality.

If we claim that a dramatization of the Bible brings life to it, we tacitly suggest that Joe Christian, reading the Bible in the morning before heading to work, is somehow reading it in a way that is less living, less powerful than when Marisa Tomei and Jim Caviezel read it superimposed over a professionally-produced soundtrack. By emphasizing the life-giving nature of dramatization, we necessarily de-emphasize the Bible’s own qualities; we de-emphasize the Bible’s power of having and giving life.

After all, the Word does not gain its power or efficacy from the way it is read or through dramatization. Rather, the Bible has innate power—power given it simply by virtue of its authorship. Because the living God has given us the Word, it has power and life of its own. In that way it is absolutely unique; there is nothing else like it. We can bring other words to life; we can bring the plays of William Shakespeare to life; we can bring history to life; we can bring other cultures to life; but we cannot bring the Bible to life. Nor should we even attempt to do so. The Bible is already alive. It is living and active and powerful. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. It has life of its own.

So don’t try to make the Bible come to life. You don’t need to do that anymore than you need to perform CPR on a living, breathing, healthy individual. It’s already alive. Dramatize it if you wish; there is value in doing that, I am sure. But be careful how you speak of such things. Be careful how you understand such things. God hasn’t told us to bring the Word to life. He has told us simply to bring the Word. If we bring the Word, He will bring the life.

October 07, 2007

Just a couple of days ago I completed a project for New Reformation Ministries, the teaching ministry of Dr. Steven Lawson. The timing was largely coincidental to the fact that only last week I was down in Mobile, Alabama at a conference hosted by Dr. Lawson and by his church. This is what the ministry is all about: “The unique focus of New Reformation is to recover and reclaim in the church a high view of God, an exalted vision of Him, who supremely reigns over all. Especially does this ministry seek to magnify the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners. These transcendent truths that once shook the world in the sixteenth century are those same doctrines that are particularly featured in the preaching and teaching here.”

I assume that Dr. Lawson will eventually write a “Welcome to this site…” kind of article pointing out some of the site’s new features. But until he does so, I’ll outline some of the good new features that I’m most excited about.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the Sermons section has been completely overhauled. Because it is difficult to know what an audio file contains, and thus it is difficult to search for just the right audio file, we created a tagging system to try to pull out some of the key words. Thus you can look at the sermons through a tag cloud, picking out particular key words that are of interest to you. Of course sermons can also be viewed more traditionally through titles, texts, series, dates, and so on.

Second, the site’s Books section has been expanded a little bit. I think it will be improved further as the site evolves. But even in its current form it contains some good information about Dr. Lawson’s books, and especially his most recent titles from Reformation Trust.

Finally, the site now has both an RSS feed to update you on new articles and updates, and also a podcast address so you can receive Dr. Lawson’s sermons and conference messages as soon as they are posted at the site.

Of course this is not all the site has to offer. There are some good articles there along with information about Dr. Lawson and his ministry and information about where you can hear him speak. So be sure to drop by the new web site and let Dr. Lawson’s ministry serve your faith. He is, I am convinced, one of the finest expositors of our time and I’ve benefited greatly from his ministry.

October 06, 2007

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers…or sometimes just because I really like them. It is a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every two weeks (or so. That is theoretical. Practically, I don’t get around to updating as often as I should and we’ve been know to have kings for a month or two!) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making the readers of this blog aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Pulpit Magazine, the blog ministry of the Shepherd’s Fellowship. Once an online magazine published six times yearly, Pulpit has now assumed a more typical blog style and sees near-daily updates. John MacArthur serves as Editor-in-Chief and Phil Johnson as General Editor while Nathan Busenitz and Nathan Williams are editors and provide much of the content. Though much of John MacArthur’s contribution is adapted from his books, articles or sermons, he does post the occasional piece of original commentary. The site covers a wide variety of interesting theological topics and is always well worth the read, whether or not you are a “shepherd.” They post some excellent series many of which are drawn from the long, distinguished teaching ministry of Dr. MacArthur.

In the coming days (and/or weeks) you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to look around.

October 01, 2007

Last week I went to Ottawa to enjoy my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful, classy, simple wedding. While the service was great from beginning to end, I particularly enjoyed the brief sermon which drew a startling contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God; between the love of the world and the love of God.

The pastor began by discussing a marriage contract drawn up by Albert Einstein. With his marriage disintegrating and already participating in extra-marital affairs, Einstein made a last-ditch effort to keep his marriage somewhat intact, even if only for the sake of the children. This is the contract he sent to his wife:

A. You will make sure

  1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;

  2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;

  3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, you will forego

  1. my sitting at home with you;

  2. my going out of traveling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

  1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;

  2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;

  3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.

His wife eventually agreed to them terms. When he received her response, “Einstein insisted on writing to her again ‘so that you are completely clear about the situation.’ He was prepared to live together again ‘because I don’t want to lose the children and I don’t want them to lose me.’ It was out of the question that he would have a ‘friendly’ relationship with her, but he would aim for a ‘businesslike’ one. ‘The personal aspects much be reduced to a tiny remnant,’ he said. ‘In return, I assure you of proper comportment on my part, such as I would exercise to any woman as a stranger.”

This comes from the pen (and from the heart!) of one of the brightest men the world has ever known. It’s a contract just shocking for its boldness and its polite disgust; its undertones of anger. Just imagine the state of the heart that would write such a thing.

What a contrast to the wisdom of the Bible. What a contrast to Colossians 3:5-17:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What a contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God!

I’m on my way down to Mobile, Alabama where I am going to bring a few reports from the Expositors’ Conference featuring Dr. Steve Lawson and Dr. John MacArthur. I hope to check in a bit later today…

September 30, 2007

Just a few days ago I found out that a dear old friend died last week. Though we had not spoken to him for several years, he is a man who, along with his wife, left a deep impression on Aileen and me. When we were young and newly married we held up this man and his wife as the example of elderly godliness; we did aspire and still do aspire to be like them someday.

A couple of weeks ago a reader forwarded an article to me written by James Russell Miller a Presbyterian pastor who lived from 1840-1912 and who pastored churches in Pennsylvania and Illinois. As I read it again today I couldn’t help but think of our old friend and the beauty of old age that he and his wife displayed. This article is worth the read just for the closing sentence.

This may scarcely seem a fitting theme to introduce in a book meant chiefly for the young, and yet a moment’s reflection will show its appropriateness and practicalness.

Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. It is the barn into which all the sheaves are gathered. It is the sea into which all the rills and rivers of life flow from their springs in the hills and valleys of youth and manhood. We are each, in all our earlier years, building the house in which we shall have to live when we grow old. And we may make it a prison or a palace. We may make it very beautiful, adorning it with taste and filling it with objects which shall minister to our pleasure, comfort, and power. We may cover the walls with lovely pictures. We may spread luxurious couches of ease on which to rest. We may lay up in store great supplies of provision upon which to feed in the days of hunger and feebleness. We may gather and pile away large bundles of wood to keep the fires blazing brightly in the long winter days and nights of old age.

Or we may make our house very gloomy. We may hang the chamber-walls with horrid pictures, covering them with ghastly spectres which shall look down upon us and haunt us, filling our souls with terror when we sit in the gathering darkness of life’s nightfall. We may make beds of thorns to rest upon. We may lay up nothing to feed upon in the hunger and craving of declining years. We may have no fuel ready for the winter fires.

We may plant roses to bloom about our doors and fragrant gardens to pour their perfumes about us, or we may sow weeds and briers to flaunt themselves in our faces as we sit in our doorways in the gloaming.

All old age is not beautiful. All old people are not happy. Some are very wretched, with hollow, sepulchral lives. Many an ancient palace was built over a dark dungeon. There were the marble walls that shone with dazzling splendor in the sunlight. There were the wide gilded chambers with their magnificent frescoes and their splendid adornments, the gaiety, the music, and the revelry. But deep down beneath all this luxurious splendor and dazzling display was the dungeon filled with its unhappy victims, and up through the iron gratings came the sad groans and moanings of despair, echoing and reverberating through the gilded halls and ceiled chambers; and in this I see a picture of many an old age. It may have abundant comforts and much that tells of prosperity in an outward sense—wealth, honors, friends, the pomp and circumstance of greatness—but it is only a palace built over a gloomy dungeon of memory, up from whose deep and dark recesses come evermore voices of remorse and despair to sadden or embitter every hour and to cast shadows over every lovely picture and every bright scene.

It is possible so to live as to make old age very sad, and then it is possible so to live as to make it very beautiful. In going my rounds in the crowded city I came one day to a door where my ears were greeted with a great chorus of bird-songs. There were birds everywhere—in parlour, in dining-room, in bedchamber, in hall—and the whole house was filled with their joyful music. So may old age be. So it is for those who have lived aright. It is full of music. Every memory is a little snatch of song. The sweet bird-notes of heavenly peace sing everywhere, and the last days of life are its happiest days—

“Rich in experience that angels might covet,
Rich in a faith that has grown with the years.”

The important practical question is, How can we so live that our old age, when it comes, shall be beautiful and happy? It will not do to adjourn this question until the evening shadows are upon us. It will be too late then to consider it. Consciously or unconsciously, we are every day helping to settle the question whether our old age shall be sweet and peaceful or bitter and wretched. It is worth our while, then, to think a little how to make sure of a happy old age.
We must live a useful life. Nothing good ever comes out of idleness or out of selfishness. The standing water stagnates and breeds decay and death. It is the running stream that keeps pure and sweet. The fruit of an idle life is never joy and peace. Years lived selfishly never become garden-spots in the field of memory. Happiness comes out of self-denial for the good of others. Sweet always are the memories of good deeds done and sacrifices made. Their incense, like heavenly perfume, comes floating up from the fields of toil and fills old age with holy fragrance. When one has lived to bless others, one has many grateful, loving friends whose affection proves a wondrous source of joy when the days of feebleness come. Bread cast upon the waters is found again after many days.

I see some people who do not seem to want to make friends. They are unsocial, unsympathetic, cold, distant, disobliging, selfish. Others, again, make no effort to retain their friends. They cast them away for the slightest cause. But they are robbing their later years of joys they cannot afford to lose. If we would walk in the warmth of friendship’s beams in the late evening-time, we must seek to make to ourselves loyal and faithful friends in the busy hours that come before. This we can do by a ministry of kindness and self-forgetfulness. This was part at least of what our Lord meant in that counsel which falls so strangely on our ears until we understand it: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”

Again, we must live a pure and holy life. Every one carries in himself the sources of his own happiness or wretchedness. Circumstances have really very little to do with our inner experiences. It matters little in the determination of one’s degree of enjoyment whether he live in a cottage or a palace. It is self, after all, that in largest measure gives the color to our skies and the tone to the music we hear. A happy heart sees rainbows and brilliance everywhere, even in darkest clouds, and hears sweet strains of song even amid the loudest wailings of the storm; and a sad heart, unhappy and discontented, sees spots in the sun, specks in the rarest fruits, and something with which to find fault in the most perfect of God’s works, and hears discords and jarring notes in the heavenliest music. So it comes about that this whole question must be settled from within. The fountains rise in the heart itself. The old man, like the snail, carries his house on his back. He may change neighbors or homes or scenes or companions, but he cannot get away from himself and his own past. Sinful years put thorns in the pillow on which the head of old age rests. Lives of passion and evil store away bitter fountains from which the old man has to drink.

Sin may seem pleasant to us now, but we must not forget how it will appear when we get past it and turn to look back upon it; especially must we keep in mind how it will seem from a dying pillow. Nothing brings such pure peace and quiet joy at the close as a well-lived past. We are every day laying up the food on which we must feed in the closing years. We are hanging up pictures about the walls of our hearts that we shall have to look at when we sit in the shadows.
How important that we live pure and holy lives! Even forgiven sins will mar the peace of old age, for the ugly scars will remain.

Summing all up in one word, only Christ can make any life, young or old, truly beautiful or truly happy. Only He can cure the heart’s restless fever and give quietness and calmness. Only He can purify that sinful fountain within us, our corrupt nature, and make us holy. To have a peaceful and blessed ending to life, we must live it with Christ. Such a life grows brighter even to its close. Its last days are the sunniest and the sweetest. The more earth’s joys fail, the nearer and the more satisfying do the comforts become. The nests over which the wing of God droops, which in the bright summer days of prosperous strength lay hidden among the leaves, stand out uncovered in the days of decay and feebleness when winter has stripped the branches bare. And for such a life death has no terrors. The tokens of its approach are but “the land-birds lighting on the shrouds, telling the weary mariner that he is nearing the haven.” The end is but the touching of the weather-beaten keel on the shore of glory.

September 25, 2007

A couple of new titles from HarperOne showed up here last night. Both look excellent. As a reader and reviewer who focuses on Christian books, it’s easy to keep an eye on the Christian publishers and neglect to watch the mainstream ones. But Harper sometimes publishes notable volumes that I wouldn’t want to miss.

City Upon a HillThe first is A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History by Larry Witham. Here is the publisher’s description:

The Puritan founder John Winthrop preached about “a city upon a hill,” Abraham Lincoln’s two greatest speeches have been called “sermons on the mount,” and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” oration is nothing if not a sermon. Not only can the history of the United States be told through its reflection in the landmark sermons preached from its pulpits and in front of its memorials, but in fact it was often the sermon that inspired and helped define American history.

Between the colonization of America and the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the sermon has both shaped America’s self–understanding and reflected both sides of its most important social, political, military, and philosophical debates. That is the story of A City Upon a Hill: How the Sermon Made America, a narrative history of events, people, and ideas, showing us at our best––and sometimes at our worst. The book will cover American history from 1606 to 2001, building links between the pulpit and politics, between preachers and presidents, between sermons and historical events.

A City Upon a Hill will elaborate on two unifying themes. The first and central theme will be the idea of America as a “chosen” nation (raised as recently as the second inaugural of President Bush in 2005). A second underlying theme will be the perennial debate in America between liberty and order. In addition, the role of the sermon as the first mass media will be examined.

As a narrative history, A City Upon a Hillwill ask about, for example, the role of religion in the American Revolution and slavery, whether religious affiliation has grown or declined in various centuries, and how much ideas and beliefs affected policies, and vice versa. The sermon offers a uniquely compelling vehicle to tell the national story. The sermon shows that what America says and believes can often be better than what it does, serving as a national conscience amid centuries of triumphalist claims. The sermon gathers together four centuries of disparate strands and provides a solid grip for defining a nation.

Christianity's Dangerous IdeaThe second title is Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First by Alister McGrath. Here is what the publisher says about it:

The “dangerous idea” lying at the heart of Protestantism is that the interpretation of the Bible is each individual’s right and responsibility. The spread of this principle has resulted in five hundred years of remarkable innovation and adaptability, but it has also created cultural incoherence and social instability. Without any overarching authority to rein in “wayward” thought, opposing sides on controversial issues can only appeal to the Bible—yet the Bible is open to many diverse interpretations. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea is the first book that attempts to define this core element of Protestantism and the religious and cultural dynamic that this dangerous idea unleashed, culminating in the remarkable new developments of the twentieth century.

At a time when Protestants will soon cease to be the predominant faith tradition in the United States, McGrath’s landmark reassessment of the movement and its future is well-timed. Replete with helpful modern-day examples that explain the past, McGrath brings to life the Protestant movements and personalities that shaped history and the central Christian idea that continues to dramatically influence world events today.

After a quick skim I can say that both titles look great and I’m looking forward to reading them…

September 24, 2007

Tim Begs Shamelessly…

The Discipline of Spiritual DiscernmentAs of this very moment, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (written by yours truly and with a Foreword by John MacArthur) is available for pre-sale through this site. As a bonus I’ll be signing all copies purchased in advance. This is the only place you’ll be able to order a signed copy.

The book will become available near the end of December and will be shipped to you as soon as I get my hands on it. Because I will be in Chattanooga at the time the book releases, it will ship from there. The publisher’s suggested retail price is $16.99 and I’m offering it for a nice round $17 which includes shipping via media mail. I realize the book may eventually be a little bit less expensive at online retailers, but I simply can’t sell it as cheaply as they can or I’d be losing money on every sale! Plus, I’m including shipping. So there.

So here’s the deal. I’m not the kind to beg, but I’m assuming that quite a few of this site’s readers intend to buy the book. If you do, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d consider buying it in advance and buying it through my site. It allows me to offer the book for a price similar to what you’d eventually pay elsewhere, but keeps just a little bit more of the proceeds here at home. And that, as I see it, is a good thing.

You can learn about the book, read the endorsements, and buy it right here.

Buy It!

So here’s the part where you go nuts and buy one for yourself and a few for your friends. You know the drill!

Some readers have asked if the book will be available on time for them to give as a Christmas gift. Unfortunately, it will not. However, if you would like to make a gift of it, I can offer you a card you can print and give to your loved one(s). The card will say that you’ve got the book on-order and that it will arrive (signed by the author!) very shortly after Christmas Day.

September 23, 2007

A few days ago I provided some suggestions for reading more and reading better. I recently dug up this valuable advice from the Puritan Richard Baxter. Centuries ago he wrote some advice on reading that seems as appropriate for us to learn from today as it was for the men and women of the seventeenth century. Perhaps the advice is even more important today as we have access to far more books and writing than the puritans could ever have imagined. The following is drawn from an article printed in the Banner of Truth (Issue 11, June, 1958). My commentary appears italicized.

“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.”

This is invaluable advice. Devotion to reading must never take pre-eminence over our reading of Scripture. If we spend many hours every day reading but only a brief period of time studying the Scriptures, we need to examine our priorities. We should also take care if we find that we enjoy reading about the Bible more than we enjoy reading the Bible itself. When we do read, we need to give priority to good books that increase our knowledge of and love for the Scriptures. Beyond them, it is wise to study the history of the church so we can never lose sight of our roots and seek to avoid the mistakes of the past. And finally, we should read with discernment and avoid submitting ourselves to the writings of false teachers who will corrupt our understanding of the truths of Scripture.

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.

Once again, the Bible must be pre-eminent. The Bible alone is God’s full, inerrant, infallible, authoritative revelation to us and we must treat it accordingly. All other books must take a subservient and complementary role to Scripture.

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.

Perhaps the greatest reason to read is that it gives us direct access to the God-given wisdom of some of the greatest preachers and theologians of our day and days past. While Charles Spurgeon (and Richard Baxter, for that matter) has long since gone to be with the Lord, we can learn from him as readily and effectively as did those people who sat under his ministry in the nineteenth century.

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.

For every good book, there are five or ten (or, more likely, far more) that are fit only for the trash. Much of what is published under the banner of “Christian” is anything but. Be careful what you read, for a book can lead you astray as easily as it can lead you closer to the Lord. Find mature believers who can guide you to books and authors that will edify you.

Baxter’s Guide To The Value of a Book

1. Could I spend this time no better? - Some of the most godly men I know of are (and were) voracious readers. Charles Spurgeon read tens of thousands of books, and in our day I know that John MacArthur and Al Mohler are both examples of men with extensive libraries who read constantly. So Baxter was not downplaying the importance of reading, but merely suggesting that it is not a pre-eminent concern. It must not take priority over all other responsibilities. If I read while watching my elderly neighbours shoveling snow from their driveway, I need to examine whether I have given reading undue importance.

2. Are there better books that would edify me more? - While reading is a wonderful way to spend time, it is merely a means to an end. It may be that there is a book I can read that will edify me more and prove more valuable.

3. Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life? - This is a difficult question. I sometimes read books that are popular, but favored by those who do not hold high the Word of God. While I do believe there is value in reading books for the purposes of research (for example, to understand what 22 million people are reading in The Purpose Driven Life), I need to prioritize good books that are loved by godly men and women.

4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come? - In other words, does this book complement my reading of the Bible and help me live a life of godliness? Or does it pull me further from God or leave me with feelings of skepticism?

In all things, we must use discernment. As we read books we must continually search the Scriptures to “see if these things are so,” all the while praying to God for wisdom. Baxter’s advice is sound and we would do well to heed it, even (or perhaps especially) hundreds of years after it was written.