Centuries ago the Puritan preacher Richard Baxter penned some wisdom on the subject of reading. His concern was for people to become better, more discerning readers. His advice seems as timely today as it must have been for the men and women of the seventeenth century. It may be it is even more important today since we have access to far more books and writing (and blogs and web sites and Twitter feeds and e-books and…) than the Puritans could ever have imagined.
I’ve taken the liberty of adding annotations to his words of wisdom.
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.
Devotion to reading must never take pre-eminence over the study of Scripture. If we spend many hours every day reading but only a brief period of time studying the Scriptures, we would do well to examine our priorities. This is not to say there has to be a certain ratio (if I spend one hour reading the Bible I earn one hour of reading other material). Rather, it simply means that in our hearts, in our affections, the Bible must remain supreme. It is not a sign of spiritual health if we wake up eager to read a book but dreading time in the Bible. 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 sins of our fathers. 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.
Baxer reiterates that 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; it must be first and most. All other books must take a subservient and complementary role to Scripture.