Okay, so maybe Puritan Richard Baxter did not know much about Facebook or Television, but I find that what Richard Baxter wrote regarding books and reading is just as applicable today as it was when he wrote it. This is essentially his insight and advice regarding the most popular medium for the exchange of ideas among the people of his time. Over 300 years ago, books were the medium that people invested their money, time, and mind in; books were what our forefathers turned their attention to, tuned into, and went for knowledge. Today (and sadly I will say), people spend less time turning to books, but what Baxter wrote is not just applicable to books, but to all forms of media that carry a message to our hearts.
Written by Richard Baxter (1615-1691):
[Reprinted from the Banner of Truth, Issue 11, June, 1958, p.1]
“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.”
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.
2. The writings of divines are nothing else but a preaching of the gospel to the eye, as the voice preaches it to the ear. Vocal preaching has the pre-eminence in moving the affections, and being diversified according to the state of the congregation which attend it: this way the milk comes warmest from the breast. But books have the advantage in many other respects: you may read an able preacher when you have but a average one to hear. Every congregation cannot hear the most judicious or powerful preachers: but every single person may read the books of the most powerful and judicious; preachers may be silenced or banished, when books may be at hand: books may be kept at a smaller charge than preachers: we may choose books which treat of that, very subject which we desire to hear of; but we cannot choose what subject the preacher shall treat of. Books we may have at hand every day. and hour; when we can have sermons but seldom, and at set times. If sermons be forgotten, they are gone; but a book we may read over and over, till we remember it: and if we forget it, may again peruse it at our pleasure, or at our leisure. So that good books are a very great mercy to the world: the Holy Ghost chose the way of writing, to preserve His doctrine and laws to the ‘Church, as knowing how easy and sure a way it is of keeping it safe to all generations, in comparison of mere verbal traditions.
3. You have need of a judicious teacher at hand, to direct you what books to use or to refuse: for among good books there are some very good that are sound and lively; and some good, but mediocre, and weak and somewhat dull; and some are very good in part, but have mixtures of error, or else of incautious, injudicious expressions, fitter to puzzle than edify the weak.
While reading ask oneself:
1. Could I spend this time no better?
2. Are there better books that would edify me more?
3. Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?
4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?
We could just as easily reword these questions for today:
1. Could I spend this time no better?
2. Are there better books (or magazine, or TV shows, or web sites, etc.) that would edify me more?
3. Are the lovers of such a book (or magazine, web site, TV show, music CD) as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?
4. Does this book (or magazine, web site, TV show, music CD, etc.) increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?
Tough questions. But necessary. Do you make a regular habit of asking these of yourself? And if not, why not?
Are you spending the time God has given you purusing Him or pursuing things that take you away from Him?
In the letter to the Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 )
And John tells us, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
Brothers and sisters, we do not prove our love for Christ by simply saying that we love Him, but by the way we live our lives. . . by the way we spend our time, and the way in which we love and serve others. Consider the conversation between our Lord and Peter at the end of the gospel of John:
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)
The Lord does ask Peter if indeed His disciple loves him three times, and three times Peter assures His Master with the profession of his mouth that he loves Him. But notice Jesus’ response all three times. He gives Peter an instruction each time — how Peter must demonstrate his love for Jesus. Peter confesses with his mouth his love, but Jesus instructs him what he must do if he truly loves Him. Peter must give his life to Christ for the good of His church. And indeed, he did. And we know of this disciple’s love for His master precisely because of what he did, not just by what He said.
O Brothers and Sisters, how I pray that the way we live our lives will bear witness to the faith we profess with our mouths. As James, the brother of Jesus said, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Let us not deceive ourselves with vain professions that we believe Jesus Christ is Lord, but be convinced by our daily habits: our death to self and our selfish desires, our hatred for (our own) sin, our love for our Master and His Bride, and our obedience to His commandments.
O Father, do not let us be deceived, but search our hearts and reveal to us whether or not we are truly following Christ. Is He in fact the Lord of our lives, or do we run after and serve the things of this world. Do not let us rest until we know the truth about ourselves, and Father if the truth is not in us make it known. Help us, great and merciful Father, to trust You, to follow Christ, and to offer our lives to You as a living sacrifice. . . that You would be glorified through us, and we would not bring reproach upon the name of Jesus. It is in His holy and precious name that I pray, amen.