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Reading Classics Together

August 05, 2010

I’m a wee bit under the weather today and am calling this a sick day. Everyone in the family has had some sort of flu and/or some sort of strep in the past couple of weeks and to this point I’ve managed to avoid it. It may now have caught up with me. The timing is terribly inconvenient with that book deadline looming. Nevertheless, I trust this won’t last long. Because of all of that, there is no A La Carte today and this Reading Classics Together post is going to be somewhat abbreviated. You understand, I’m sure.

This week we read three chapters of Arnold Dallimore’s life of Charles Spurgeon, each of dealt with a single aspect of Spurgeon’s ministry. In the first chapter Dallimore discussed the building of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. This represented a huge building project and one that came at considerable cost (and a cost that grew substantially over time, which always seems to be the way of it). Spurgeon was opposed to borrowing money for the Lord’s work so insisted that the project be carried out debt-free. He did more than his fair share of the work in fundraising and the church opened in March of 1861. Dallimore points out that there was some significance in the building as it established Spurgeon as a permanent presence in London. The building told the whole world that Spurgeon was here to stay.

The second chapter dealt with Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College. Not surprisingly, Spurgeon found himself much in demand as a teacher and mentor and he decided to formalize his role in the lives of young men by establishing this Pastors’ College. Though it added a significant measure of work to his life, it is clear that he loved the college and loved the opportunity it afforded him to train up a whole new generation of pastors. One of the outgrowths of the college was his Lectures To My Students, a book that is still treasured today.

July 29, 2010

When reading about Charles Spurgeon you will be drawn to the unavoidable conclusion that he was a unique individual. He was uniquely gifted by God and then raised up to a unique ministry. There can never be another Charles Spurgeon.

I spent some time this morning pondering what is unique in Spurgeon’s background that would keep another Spurgeon from arising in our day. And I started to think about our media-saturated world. And i started to think about the character qualities exemplified by the Prince of Preachers. And I started to think about a lot of other things. And then I started writing and rambling.

From his earliest days Spurgeon was drawn to great writing by great authors. Even when he was just barely old enough to read, he was reading some of the greatest theological tomes ever written. Even in the youngest days of his ministry, when most pastors today are finishing up high school, he was able to quote widely and quote deeply from these great writers of days gone by, relying on a photographic memory (or a near-photographic memory) to recall what they had said. But he did not rely on mere recall; he had not just read these authors, but he had applied their words to his own life. From the day of his conversion he was exceptionally godly and almost unbelievably mature.

By the time Spurgeon was in his mid-teens he was already successfully pastoring a church. Already he was becoming known as the boy preacher and his fame was beginning to spread. Yet God had gifted him with an extraordinary humility and a profound sense of his utter dependence upon God. He would pray earnestly before he preached, throwing himself on God’s mercy and begging for God to be present with him and to give power to his words—power to change the hearts of his hearers. Though he was the Prince of Preachers, easily one of the greatest preachers the world has ever known, still he relied entirely upon God rather than upon his own skill. More rightly, his utter reliance was the root and the cause of the power in his words.

July 22, 2010

Today we continue reading Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon: A New Biography. Two weeks ago we read the first couple of chapters and, after a one-week vacation, we’re back today to look at chapters 3-6.

The four chapters we read for today covered a lot of ground (which is both a benefit and a drawback of a relatively short biography). We began in the days immediately following Spurgeon’s conversion, progressed to the days where he began his very first efforts to share the gospel with others and ended with marriage. Along the way he felt God’s call to preach, he became the Boy Preacher who accepted his first pastorate at just seventeen years of age, he was called to New Park Street Baptist Church and he fell in love with and soon married Susannah Thompson.

Let me mention just a few of the things that stood out to me.

July 08, 2010

You are familiar, I think, with the Reading Classics Together program. Over the past few years, I and many of the readers of this site have read a series of classics of the Christian faith. We’ve read them concurrently, a chapter or two at a time, and then have met up here at the blog once a week to discuss what we’ve read. After we finished the most recent version of this program (which saw us read The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes) I thought it would be fun to try something new. And thus I proposed that we read a biography together. Today we begin.

The biography we are reading together is Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon: A New Biography. Of course it’s not that new anymore, having been first printed in 1985. Nevertheless, it is a good biography and one that is thorough enough without being too long or too dense. Dallimore was a Canadian pastor and biographer who ministered not too far from where I live. He is best-known for his work on George Whitefield, a massive two-volume set that is still regarded as the definitive biography of the great evangelist. Tomorrow I’ll share a guest article written by Dallimore’s granddaughter and will allow her to introduce you to her her grandfather.

As we turn from classics of the faith to biographies, I am not entirely sure what I ought to maintain as a format as I try to share just a few thoughts on the week’s reading. So I may mix things up a little bit week-by-week as I attempt to find a workable format.

June 26, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I announced that we’d be taking a slight diversion in reading classic books together and would instead be reading a biography. That project will begin in less than 2 weeks, so I wanted to offer a final reminder about it.

In order to make this program work, I set about looking for just the right biography. I wanted it to cover a person whose life is exemplary and a person who had a remarkable impact on the church. I also wanted to find a biography that was reasonably inexpensive and one that was not too long. And, of course, it had to be written by a superior biographer. All those factors combined to lead me to Arnold Dallimore’s life of Charles Spurgeon. It is 240 pages over 21 chapters, meaning we can quite easily read it in somewhere between 7 and 10 weeks. It is available for around $12 at many online retailers, ensuring that it will not break the bank.

June 17, 2010

The Reading Classics Together program has proven quite a success over the past couple of years. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community.

Those who have participated since the beginning (has anyone actually done that?) will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray and The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. That’s quite a list of profoundly important books!

Just recently we finished up The Bruised Reed and already some of you are wondering what the next book will be. I thought it might be fun to do something just a little bit different. Instead of reading a classic book together this time around, why don’t we read a really good biography? This will make for a nice change of pace and it will introduce us to the life of an important person in the history of the church. We can look at one of the men behind the classics. I think biographies can be like classics in that there are many of them we would love to read, but we just don’t find the time to do so.

June 10, 2010

And just like that we’ve come to the end of another classic. Looking back on The Bruised Reed I feel like I got the most benefit from the beginning and the end, which likely means that I allowed my attention to drift somewhere around the middle of the book. There is value in reading a book in this kind of weekly format, and yet it is also a little artificial. Those week-long gaps draw out the reading experience in such a way that it is easy to lose some of the flow of the book.

Nevertheless, The Bruised Reed has proven in my mind that its status as a classic is well-earned. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

Summary

Sibbes wraps up the book which a chapter titled “Through Conflict to Victory” and in his parting words he wants the Christian to know that all of God’s work and all of his progress in the world will necessarily be opposed. And yet he wants the Christian to know and trust that in the end Christ will have the victory. Here is how he describes the battles necessary to bring Christ into the heart:

June 03, 2010

As this round of Reading Classics Together draws near to a close (we’ve got just one more week after this) I’m already thinking ahead to the next book. But I guess I need to keep my head in the game and first finish up this one. It’s been a great read and I’ve learned a lot from Sibbes. Let me share a few of the highlights from this week’s reading.

Highlights

As I do every few weeks, I want to share some of the best quotes from these two chapters. So rather than provide a wrap-up or summary, I want to simply share some of Sibbes’ best quotes. I continue to marvel at the way he can coin a phrase and the way he can so succintly summarize great truths. Here are some examples:

“All sin is either from false principles, or ignorance, or thoughtlessness, or unbelief of what is true.”

“What the heart likes best, the mind studies most. Those that can bring their hearts to delight in Christ know most of his ways. Wisdom loves him that loves her.”

May 27, 2010

I don’t know how many Reading Classics posts I’ve written over the years, but I do know that as time goes on, as we progress through a particular book, fewer and fewer people read along. There is a lot of attrition along the way as people find that they just cannot (or perhaps are not interested in) keeping up with the reading.

Nevertheless for those who remain, let’s carry on and look to this week’s selection from Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. We’ve got just a couple of readings to go and we need to persevere!

Summary

I was surprised and quite excited to see that the first of this week’s two chapters deals with a subject near and dear to me: spiritual discernment. if I read Sibbes correctly, he is using the word judgment as a synonym for discernment. Sibbes begins by saying “Christ’s government in his church and in his children is a wise and well-ordered government and … it is called judgment, and judgment is the life and soul of wisdom.” If Christians are to be wise, if they are to live as Christ would have them live, they need sound judgment or discernment. Sibbes branches out from this statement in two different ways: first he says that Christ’s spiritual government of us is joined with discernment and wisdom and second, that wherever there is true spiritual wisdom and discernment there is the Spirit of Christ.

May 20, 2010

It’s Thursday again, which means we’re continuing our reading through The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. We are quickly drawing near to the end of this book—something that happens quickly when reading two chapters at a time. Another two or three weeks and we will be finished.

Summary

For some reason I found both of this week’s chapters more difficult than the ones that had come before. Somehow they seemed just a little bit less clear in their purpose. I’m guessing the fault is with me more than with Sibbes. Nevertheless, I did find it quite tough to orient myself.

In the first chapter Sibbes writes about people who offend Christ by in some way thinking little of his mercy. So he points to those who have a false despair of Christ’s mercy, those who have a false hope of his mercy, those who resist Christ’s mercy, those who presume upon that mercy, those who seek another source of mercy, those who mistreat the heirs of mercy, those who cause strife among the heirs of mercy, those who take advantage of the bruised and, finally, those who despise Christ’s simple means of mercy.

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