Rev. Laning is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Walker, Michigan.
I was asked to speak tonight on our calling to read good, theological works. My theme I take from two passages in the book of Proverbs:
The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things
Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them. For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief
Prov. 24:1, 2.
Those are the two realities. One either studies to answer, or he studies destruction. The believer is to be a diligent student, studying to be able to give a good answer. Out of a strong desire to know the truth and to be able to explain that truth to others, he must dig into the treasures that our God has set before his eyes upon the pages of Holy Scripture.
One thing that hinders us from moving forward in our knowledge of these truths is that so many of us do very little spiritual reading. Even many of those who say they enjoy doing this kind of reading must admit that it is not that often that they are actually found doing it. It is so easy to fill up our days with so many activities, that there is little or no time left to read. Or, if on an occasion we do have an hour or so at the end of the day to read, we are often so tired that we are unable really to comprehend what we are reading.
The subject of reading is related to the writing done by the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA). As a general rule, the good readers are the ones who make the best writers. More specifically, it is those who study a subject before they write about it, who produce the kind of writing that is truly profitable to read. When we sit down to write about this or that, it is good for us to ask ourselves whether or not we have sufficiently prepared for what we are about to write. When we finish what we are writing, it is often good for us to ask ourselves whether we have learned anything in preparing and writing what we wrote. The more we as writers do our homework, the more this is going to be evident in the theological depth of the material which we write.
The more God’s people read, the more they will desire better writing with more depth. The more we spend time reading good spiritual material, the more we will be crying out to the RFPA for more of the good, sound, theological works they have been publishing.
Studying to Answer
Proverbs 15:28 speaks of our “studying to answer.” To study is literally to mutter words to oneself. The student of the Word meditates upon that Word, going over it in his mind. Not only while reading, but at various times throughout the day, he thinks about the things he has read or the things he has heard in the preaching, and he looks for opportunities to discuss these matters. He mutters his thoughts inwardly as he strives to grow closer to his God.
That we are called to study to answer means that we must think about a subject before answering. Throughout our life God tests us by bringing to us many problems. To solve these problems we must seek our answer from God. We are truly seeking our answer from God when we are not only praying to God about our problem, but also arising from our knees to seek the answer in God’s Word, or in works that faithfully expound God’s Word, such as our creeds and other sound theological works.
It is the heart of the righteous that does this studying (Prov. 15:28). It is not merely an intellectual pursuit. There are some who spend much time reading theological works, but actually spend little or no time studying what they are reading. No matter how much a person reads, and no matter how sound the books and articles may be that he is reading, if he puts down what he is reading and continues to live in a sin, then he is not really studying the truth. True studying is done in the heart of the righteous, that is, in the heart of the one who is living and abiding in Christ by faith.
II Thessalonians 2:10 speaks of those who in a sense had the truth, but did not love the truth. One who truly studies to answer is one who loves the truth. He shows this by desiring to read and to grow in his knowledge of that truth. A person who enjoys a delicious meal often shows this by asking for more. Spiritually the same thing is true. The more we love the truth, the more we will be requesting good, solid, exegetical works from the RFPA.
The wicked do not study to answer. Rather, they study destruction (Prov. 24:2). To study destruction is to meditate upon violence, to delight in destructive thoughts, and often to express this with the mouth. These destructive thoughts refer not only to that which is physically destructive, but also to that which is spiritually destructive. Those who entertain these thoughts promote teachings that go against Scripture and are destructive both to themselves and to those who hear them speak.
The reprobate ungodly, however, are not the only ones who study destruction. We are always thinking about something, and we are often thinking about things that are not edifying, but rather are destructive. When we are thinking about getting even with a brother or sister in Christ, for example, we are studying destruction, rather than studying to answer. When we are thinking and gossiping about the sins of others, then we are not engaged in profitable studying, but rather are studying that which is destructive both to ourselves and to the congregation of Jesus Christ.
Another common way in which we can be guilty of studying destruction is by spending much time reading about all the wickedness that is going on in this world. Certainly it is good for us to keep abreast of the events that are taking place around us, whether by reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or whatever. But it is easy for us to fall into the trap of wasting much time reading about all the acts of ungodliness going on around us. Let us say a person has an hour to read something during the day. If he routinely spends all of this time reading the newspaper, delighting to dig into much of the trash that is set forth on its pages, and spends no time at all doing profitable, spiritual reading, how can he say that he is studying to answer, rather than studying destruction?
How good it is for us frequently to think on Philippians 4:8, which reads:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Teaching Our Children to Do Theological Reading
If we as a people are going to grow to be better readers, we must teach our children how important this kind of reading is. Perhaps we do not often think of it, but family devotions is a good time for us to teach our children the importance of theological reading. There are a number of ways in which we can do this. One of them is by not only reading a passage, but also taking the time to explain it slowly. This is showing our children that there is much more taught on the pages of Holy Writ than at first meets the eye. When fathers study a passage before reading it in family devotions, they will be much better prepared to show their families the glorious truths that are taught in what they have just read. The more the father and mother show a joy in digging into these truths during times of family devotions, the more their children will desire to do the same.
The more time one spends reading good quality material, the better he is able to discuss spiritual matters, whether within the family, among the members of the congregation, or with those outsideour churches. We not only need to be reading, but we need to be reading books and articles with substance and depth. When our young people are found reading, it is not often that they are found reading one of the theological works published by the RFPA, or some other sound, theological work. Perhaps this is partly because many of the adults around them are not often found reading such works. When we decide to read, it is so easy for us to pick up some superficial work that will take very little effort to read, and which will therefore bring very little profit. We need to make the most of our reading time, by reading that which is going to lead us to grow in our understanding of God’s truth.
Another important way in which we teach our children the importance of the truths we confess is by rereading some of the most profitable works in which these truths are clearly set forth, works such as those which have already been published by the RFPA. Think, for example, of the effect it would have on a man’s children if they knew that he was reading Hoeksema’s The Triple Knowledge for the third time. If one reads a work like this when he is in his twenties, he will often find that he will glean a lot more from it when he picks it up again, say, in his forties or fifties. It is so easy, and yet so foolish, to let works like this just sit on our shelves, rather than reading them again and again, until we are confident that we have mastered the material found within them. When our children see us doing this, and hear us talking about these things during our times together, they will be much more inclined to dig into these works themselves, in order that they also might grow to enjoy the glorious treasures our heavenly Father has given to us.
Indeed it is true that one can study to answer without even reading. A person, say, who does not even have the ability to read can nevertheless study to answer. He studies as he meditates upon the truths he has heard, striving to get a better grasp upon them as he mutters these truths to himself, and as he discusses these truths with others. But those of us who have the ability to read should make use of this ability, and do so by reading works that help to prepare us for the difficult days ahead.
When Noah was building the ark, he was heeding the warning of God and doing what was necessary to prepare his family for the days ahead. This is given to us in Hebrews 11:7 as an example of God-given faith. Faith heeds the warnings of God, and takes refuge in Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. God warns us that there are very difficult days ahead. The calling comes centrally to us as fathers to do what is necessary to ensure that our families are prepared for these days. By heeding God’s warning, we will be prepared for that which is coming. As prepared soldiers in His kingdom, we will glorify our God, and show our thankfulness for the rich heritage of the Reformed faith that has been given to us in Christ Jesus.