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Read Any Good Books Lately?

I’m tempted to put it still more pointedly: ‘Read any books at all lately?’ Market research informs us that reading books is on the decline, and that decline is steeper still in relation to good books. Children, we are told, have lost much of their passion for reading by the time they reach their mid-teens. Publishers report smaller print runs, booksellers lament decreasing sales, and librarians tell of works withdrawn without having been borrowed even once. And the advent of the Kindle and a variety of other e-readers has not arrested the decline.

I bemoan this trend not simply because I have been a ‘bookworm’ as far back as I can remember – I admit it! – but, more seriously, because I think it has significant ramifications for Christians, and for the Church. Sound, edifying literature has been a force for good throughout the long history of the cause of Christ.

Perhaps you have heard the oft-repeated account of a story that began with Richard Sibbes. That godly Puritan published ‘The Bruised Reed’ in 1630, and saw it used in the conversion of Richard Baxter. His ‘Call to the Unconverted’ was instrumental in reaching Philip Doddridge, who went on to pen ‘Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul’, which, in turn, brought the truth to the renowned William Wilberforce. Subsequently, Wilberforce authored his ‘Practical View of Christianity’, which so profoundly impacted Thomas Chalmers. Amazing! Admittedly, it is not always like this; but it is folly to deny the worth of good, spiritual, Christ-centred writing. I can recall times when my own soul was truly warmed, not to say well taught and thoroughly challenged, by the words of some saint from another age. I thank God for all their labours!

And so, to engage with such literature, will be to our personal benefit. We live at a time when so much that passes for Christianity is pitifully shallow and almost devoid of substance. How much more profound was the spiritual experience of many of our forefathers! We may shout of our progress in this field or that – and with some justification – but do we know the Lord better than those who have gone before? Familiarity with their writings will soon shatter that illusion!

To read these volumes – and they need not be centuries old – is surely to be strengthened in our understanding of Biblical doctrine. Paul’s representation of those ‘tossed to and fro’ because of ignorance of the truth certainly finds fulfilment in these times (Ephesians 4:14); and we are reaping the harvest of this lack of knowledge. We would not be where we are today if men had a firmer grasp of God’s truth!

No, I’m not suggesting that every believer should rush out and purchase the weightiest theological tome to be found. (Though there are some good, accessible examples out there!) Begin where you can – perhaps with the biographies of those who have been much used by God. We can profit immensely by acquaintance with the lives of these worthies, and with the times in which they lived and laboured. You may have heard your minister refer to Henry Cooke or C H Spurgeon or Robert Murray M’Cheyne – but how much do you really know of them, of their struggles and successes, and of countless others whose names may produce a flicker of recognition but nothing more? Well, the information, instructive and inspiring, is all there – in books!

Believer, what a lot you are missing by leaving those covers unopened and those pages unturned!

Rev. Timothy Nelson.