Previous article in this series: December 15, 2009, p. 138.
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” Mortimer J. Adler
“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” Mark Twain
“. . . Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12b
“. . . Give attendance to reading. . . .” I Timothy 4:13a
Have you started to read a good Reformed book yet? If not, find one and get started! If you have, keep at it! As we pointed out in our initial article, we want to encourage our Standard Bearer readers to become greater readers, that is, to read more books and to read better books. In order to help you do that, we not only present you with a couple of opening “pep-talk” articles; we will also be giving you some suggested reading materials, books that we and others have found profitable.
In this second article encouraging you to read, we want to explore the “why” of good reading. That is, why should you as a Reformed Christian want to become a greater reader? Or, to put it another way, what are the reasons for reading solid Reformed/Christian books? We believe there are many reasons that may be given; we will highlight a few of them in this article.
First of all, we begin with the most important reason, the theological reason (where all good Calvinists should begin!): We should read good books because God wants us to! Why do we say this, and how do we know this? We have several points in mind under this reason. First, God wants/expects/calls us to read as His people because He gave us the greatest book to read—His holy word, the Scriptures! When God chose to communicate to us, His covenant friends, He chose to do so in words. It is true that these words were initially given orally (and in some cases visually—cf. the visions of Ezekiel and John), that is, out of God’s mouth through the mouths of His spokesmen (prophets, apostles, etc.). But in the end God committed these spoken words to writing and had them placed in His Book, the Bible (cf. Ex. 24:7; I Sam. 10:25; Neh. 8; Luke 3:4, 20:42; II Tim. 3:15, 16; II Pet. 1:20, 21; Rev. 1:11), or scripture (Mark 12:10, 24; Rom. 1:2, 15:4).
And therefore, this holy Book God charges His people to read (cf. Neh. 8; Is. 34:16). That means that we must first and foremost be readers of this Book! Not just any book under the sun, but the Bible must be the first book we turn to! Every Christian must be devoted to reading the word of God, like the Bereans of old searching the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). This is chiefly what Paul meant when he instructed Timothy to “give attendance to reading” (I Tim. 4:13). And what was true for that young pastor is to be true of every member of God’s covenant. God wills that we be readers because He gave us this marvelous Book of His words!
Second, and closely related to this, is the truth that this chief and fundamental book God gave us to read centers in His Son, Jesus Christ. The most important Word God gave us to read was His Son, the living and abiding Word of God (John 1:1, 14; Heb. 1:1, 2; I Pet. 1:23). Everywhere we go in the Scriptures we must read “Jesus Christ” the “Word of God.” That is true not only in the New Testament portion of the Bible, but also in the Old Testament (cf. Ps. 40:7; Luke 24:27; John 5:39). This is why the Scriptures are able to make us “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 3:15). This is why they are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” so that we may be complete and mature Christians (II Tim. 3:16). But only if this word be read! So read, people of God! Read the Bible chiefly and diligently! Set yourself to do so faithfully in this new year! Let sola Scriptura be the motto we live by in 2010! Indeed, God wants us and calls us to be readers, because He gave us this holy Book, centered in His Son, our Savior.
There are more reasons why we should be and become better readers. And we may confidently say that the other reasons we will now list are all rooted in that first one. The fact that God gave us His Book to read is the principle that governs all our other reasons for reading. This will become plain as we proceed.
So then, why should we read? In the second place, because reading is vital to the growth of our faith and walk in godliness. God in His sacred Book calls us to spiritual growth. II Peter 3:18, e.g., states, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (cf. also Eph. 4:15; I Pet. 2:2; Jude 20). Earlier in that same epistle Peter wrote that we should be “giving all diligence” to “add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness” (I Pet. 1:5, 6). And how are we going to do this? By reading! By reading (and hearing!) the Scriptures, of course (cf. I Pet. 2:2). But also by reading other sound Reformed/Christian books that teach us and encourage us to spiritual growth.
So then, are you tired of not being as strong in your faith as you should be and could be? Are you frustrated by the fact that your walk with God is not as close as it ought to be? Do you struggle with being spiritually mature and wise in handling trials and temptations in your life? Then read. Yes, again, read the Bible, so that your faith becomes more grounded in Jesus Christ and your walk is brought closer to the Lord! But also read the books that your fellow believers have written to help you grow in faith and godliness! They stand with you and support you in this calling to grow. They have wisdom and experience to share with you as we walk the common path of the Christian in this world. Our fellow Reformed Christians have written books because of their own struggles and hardships. Let us read them to benefit from them; to enhance our own spiritual life; to become stronger in faith and more holy in life! This too is why we must read!
In the third place, we should read good Reformed/Christian books because it is important to defend our faith and abide in the truth of God’s word. We are talking about the area of apologetics, the defense of the Reformed-Christian faith and walk. In this present world there are always threats to our faith and life. The devil and his hosts walk about as a roaring lion seeking to devour us with lies and deception (I Pet. 5:8). The world of unbelief with its “lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” seeks to lead us astray from the Father (I John 2:16). False prophets and teachers in the church “bring in damnable heresies” and “pernicious ways,” trying to overthrow “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3; I John 4:1ff.; II Pet. 2:1ff.). And, yes, our own sinful nature is still inclined to and tempted by all these lies and errors and ungodliness. We are Christian soldiers, called to be on the defensive against all these spiritual dangers (Eph. 6:10ff.). We are exhorted to resist doctrinal lies and remain steadfast in the faith (I Pet. 5:9). We are admonished to abide in godliness and stay obedient to our Savior, suffering accordingly (I Pet. 3, 4).
And how shall we be able to do this? By reading! Yes, again, by reading the Scriptures (Eph. 6:17). But also by reading good Reformed books that lead us and help us in the battle for the truth and for godliness! By reading we stay abreast of dangerous trends in the church and in the world. By reading we are informed of and warned about wolves in sheep’s clothing. By reading we are encouraged by the courageous stands of our fellow believers in other times and places. By reading we are urged to be faithful when the majority fall away into error and lawlessness. Yes, we must read for this reason too! Do you see the need for reading, especially now in these last days? Will you become a greater reader with this in mind too? We pray that you will, for the honor of Christ and His word, and for the safety of your own soul.
Finally, we have a very practical reason for reading good Reformed/Christian books. That is that by reading such books we set a good example for our children and young people. This too is so important, especially in the world in which we now find ourselves. As we mentioned in our opening article, we and our children are exposed to so many temptations and hindrances to good reading. We are in constant competition with TV, video games, the Internet, IPods, etc. But when our children and young people see us as adults taking time to read, to read the Bible and to read books that make us grow in our faith and walk, we provide a great example and encouragement for them to do the same. Then we are better able to gain their respect when we tell them to read good books. And, of course, at the same time, when we have on our shelves and on our tables (and in our hands!) good Reformed/Christian books that we are reading, we provide them with the very materials we want them to read too! And that is a win-win situation!
Now you have, we hope, additional motivation for reading. Once again we encourage you to contact us with your ideas and suggestions for reading (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com). We thank you for the feedback we have already received—it was most encouraging for us!
Before we leave you, we want to suggest a few devotionals to use in this new year. There are many good ones available—you may have your own, which you may suggest to us—but these are just a few of the really good ones we are aware of.
1. Tabletalk, published by Ligonier Ministries (www.ligonier.org). Not only are there devotions for each day, but each monthly issue contains several articles centered on a theme (Reformed doctrine, church history period, biography, Christian living, etc.). In addition, there are regular feature articles to read and suggested reading resources to follow up on the theme for the month. Ligonier will send you three free issues to get a taste of this publication.
2. C. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. This is a classic that Christians have used for years. You will find it in most Christian bookstores and online from various publishers.
3. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers, A. Bennett, Banner of Truth.
4. 365 Days With Calvin, J. Beeke, Day One and Reformation Heritage Books.
5. Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, S. Ferguson, Puritan & Reformed Publishers.
Tolle lege—”Take up and read”!