Reading Better with Richard Baxter

this article was written by Tim Challies on 

A few days ago I provided some suggestions for reading more and reading better. I recently dug up this valuable advice from the Puritan Richard Baxter. Centuries ago he wrote some advice on reading that seems as appropriate for us to learn from today as it was for the men and women of the seventeenth century. Perhaps the advice is even moreNPG D681,Richard Baxter,by; after Jonathan Spilsbury; John Riley important today as we have access to far more books and writing than the puritans could ever have imagined. The following is drawn from an article printed in the Banner of Truth (Issue 11, June, 1958). My commentary appears italicized.

“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.”

This is invaluable advice. Devotion to reading must never take pre-eminence over our reading of Scripture. If we spend many hours every day reading but only a brief period of time studying the Scriptures, we need to examine our priorities. We should also take care if we find that we enjoy reading about the Bible more than we enjoy reading the Bible itself. When we do read, we need to give priority to good books that increase our knowledge of and love for the Scriptures. Beyond them, it is wise to study the history of the church so we can never lose sight of our roots and seek to avoid the mistakes of the past. And finally, we should read with discernment and avoid submitting ourselves to the writings of false teachers who will corrupt our understanding of the truths of Scripture.

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.

Once again, the Bible must be pre-eminent. The Bible alone is God’s full, inerrant, infallible, authoritative revelation to us and we must treat it accordingly. All other books must take a subservient and complementary role to Scripture.

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.

Perhaps the greatest reason to read is that it gives us direct access to the God-given wisdom of some of the greatest preachers and theologians of our day and days past. While Charles Spurgeon (and Richard Baxter, for that matter) has long since gone to be with the Lord, we can learn from him as readily and effectively as did those people who sat under his ministry in the nineteenth century.

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.

For every good book, there are five or ten (or, more likely, far more) that are fit only for the trash. Much of what is published under the banner of “Christian” is anything but. Be careful what you read, for a book can lead you astray as easily as it can lead you closer to the Lord. Find mature believers who can guide you to books and authors that will edify you.

Baxter’s Guide To The Value of a Book

1. Could I spend this time no better? – Some of the most godly men I know of are (and were) voracious readers. Charles Spurgeon read tens of thousands of books, and in our day I know that John MacArthur and Al Mohler are both examples of men with extensive libraries who read constantly. So Baxter was not downplaying the importance of reading, but merely suggesting that it is not a pre-eminent concern. It must not take priority over all other responsibilities. If I read while watching my elderly neighbours shoveling snow from their driveway, I need to examine whether I have given reading undue importance.

2. Are there better books that would edify me more? – While reading is a wonderful way to spend time, it is merely a means to an end. It may be that there is a book I can read that will edify me more and prove more valuable.

3. Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life? – This is a difficult question. I sometimes read books that are popular, but favored by those who do not hold high the Word of God. While I do believe there is value in reading books for the purposes of research (for example, to understand what 22 million people are reading in The Purpose Driven Life), I need to prioritize good books that are loved by godly men and women.

4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come? – In other words, does this book complement my reading of the Bible and help me live a life of godliness? Or does it pull me further from God or leave me with feelings of skepticism?

In all things, we must use discernment. As we read books we must continually search the Scriptures to “see if these things are so,” all the while praying to God for wisdom. Baxter’s advice is sound and we would do well to heed it, even (or perhaps especially) hundreds of years after it was written.

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Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me

Brand new song from CityAlight.  It is a great example of modern, biblical, song writing.  In the face of the shallow songs played on the radio, this is refreshing.

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Our Verseless Bibles

Published by Stand to Reason on 09/25/2018

Written by Greg Koukl

First, a definition. A “verse” is a passage of Scripture distinguished from other passages of Scripture by a numerical address (e.g., John 3:16, famously). Those numbers, though, were not in the original, but were inserted nearly sixteen centuries later by French printer Robert Stephanus in 1551.
Beware the Numbers

There’s good news and bad news about verse numbers. The good news is it’s easier to find stuff. The bad news is it’s easier to get stuff wrong. Verse numbers tempt readers to take a passage as a collection of discrete statements having meaning and application in isolation from the larger work (“How does this verse apply to my life?”).

Take a verse like “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent” (Ex. 14:14). It wasn’t meant by Moses as a stand-alone promise. Sure, the Red Sea narrative has plenty of relevance for New Testament believers, but this individual verse has no application to any Christian isolated from its context. Simply put, it’s not our promise.

In fact, standing on their own, most “verses” have absolutely no application to anyone’s life. That’s because most of the time the precise point of a verse cannot be found in the verse itself but in the relationship of that verse to verses above and below it. We can’t simply isolate a line or two and ask, “How can I stick this line into my life?”

Here’s why. God did not give us 66 books of short, pithy sayings to be applied piecemeal to our lives (with a few exceptions, e.g., much of Proverbs). Most of Scripture is narrative—story. Most of the rest—NT epistles, for example—is argument (making a case) or instruction. Each of these—narrative, argument, instruction—involves a flow of thought within the passage from the larger part to the smaller part.

Chapters help us understand a paragraph’s role in the larger narrative. Paragraphs help us understand what a sentence means. Sentences help us understand individual word meanings. The account taken as a whole, then, has instructive value, not necessarily a verse standing by itself. That’s why at Stand to Reason we follow the rule “Never read a Bible verse.” Always read a paragraph (at least) before drawing conclusions about meaning.
Beware Section Headings

The same warning goes for section titles added by Bible editors. Headings can be helpful, but they can be harmful, too, by severing material from the larger flow of thought that’s important to the meaning of a passage the heading has now isolated.

Take Jesus’ teaching on the Good Samaritan. Read Luke 10:30–37 without reading the six verses that precede the heading “The Good Samaritan” that you’ll find in some Bibles, and you’ll miss why Jesus told the Samaritan tale in the first place. Which means you’ll completely miss the point of the parable—and most do (hint: it’s not about loving your enemy)—because Jesus’ main point hinges on a critical phrase in verse 29.
Start Big, Then Get Small

So, beware. A really good idea almost five centuries ago had a bad consequence that can sabotage your understanding of Scripture. I suggest you ignore the artificial divisions (chapters, verses, headings) and focus on the larger narrative, argument, or instruction. Start big, then get small. Look at the larger flow of thought, then zoom in on the particulars.

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Reformation Pratum: All for His Glory

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October 26-27, 2018

Emmanuel Bible Church

We often forget what society and church life was like before 1517.  We also forget how much the changes from the 16th century still influence our lives today.  Reformation Pratum: All for His Glory will focus on how the Reformation fundamentally changed so much of our understanding of faith and society.  We will look at the history and theology of grace, worship, vocation, family and marriage, and assurance.  All ages are invited to attend, as we will have a simultaneous conference for kids 3 years old through 6th grade.  Nursery is also provided.  The cost is free.

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Friday, 5:30-9:00 PM

The Right Time

In God’s Providence, He brought about great changes to the church and to society through the work of Martin Luther and other reformers of the 16th century.  Brett Davisson of Emmanuel Bible Church will begin the conference by setting the historical stage for how and why the Reformation was so radical.

A Restored View of the Family

 The medieval church developed a view of the family, and especially marriage, that greatly needed reforming. Dave Leandre of Living Water Church will examine how the Reformation brought about the affirmation that marriage was good, children were a blessing, and husbands and wives had different roles but equal standing before God.

A Theology of Grace

 How do we receive God’s grace?  How do we stay in His grace?  Andrew Murch of Northwest Gospel Church will explore this central theology of the Reformation, discussing the life-changing theology that celebrates the blessing that Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.

Saturday, 8:30-12:00 AM

Sing to the Lord a New Song

     If we thought we had disagreements over how to structure the worship service, it was nothing compared to what happened during the Reformation.  Although the reformers had differing opinions about this matter, they all sought to retrieve from Scripture what faithful worship looked like.  Vladimir Mitsuk of Grace Bible Church will explain how the medieval modes of worship gave way to congregational singing, a proper understanding of the sacraments, and the centrality of the preached Word.

How Then Should We Work?

     Before the Reformation there was a definite sacred/secular divide when it came to work.  There were those who ruled, those who prayed, and those who worked.  Only those who worked in the church realm were considered to be participating in spiritual work.  Michael Tourtellotte of Emmanuel Bible Church will explore the radical shift in thinking about how one’s vocation can be redeemed for God’s glory.

Christian Assurance

Some historians have noted that the Catholic Church may have considered the doctrine of assurance that the reformers promoted to be more dangerous than any other.  Stan Myers of Emmanuel Bible Church will wrap up the conference focusing on the promise of God: that if you are truly saved it is your privilege as a believer to have assurance, not in your works, but in the finished work of Christ.

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“Why I Believe the Bible” by Voddie Baucham

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The Five Key Factors in Every Christian’s Sanctification

taken from challies.com

Growth in Christlikeness is a lifelong, active progression. We are holier on the day we die than we were on the day we came to Christ. We are holier on the day we die than we are on the day before we die. Yet this long progression is peppered with seasonal lulls, drudgery, and complacency. We know we are never as Christlike as we ought to be or even as we want to be. Yet while our lack of holiness ought to motivate greater effort in godliness, we often allow it to contribute to discouragement, laziness and apathy. Sanctification is a tricky business.

How does God go about this work of sanctification? David Powlison helpfully narrows it down to five means or five streams through which God pours out his sanctifying grace. These factors work in tandem, each one contributing to our lifelong gain in godliness.

God Changes You

God changes you. He sovereignly and sometimes invisibly intervenes and interferes in your life to help you grow in holiness. This may be the most obvious means, but your natural atheistic bent paired with your inclination for self-glory threatens to lead you to forget or dismiss its importance. Your sanctification would not be possible without God first intervening to make the gospel beautiful to your darkened heart and mind. You cannot will yourself to see when you have been blind from birth. In the same way, you cannot make yourself alive in Christ when you are dead in sin.

Conversion is only one example of God’s sovereign interference. When you call upon him to be your Lord, you must welcome his permanent and perfect interference throughout the course of your life. You must remember that your sanctification too depends on him, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Truth Changes You

God chooses to work in harmony with a book, his book. Romans 15:4 shows this interplay between God and God’s Word: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Yet in verse 13, Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” The Scripture gives hope because its author is the God and giver of hope.

The Bible is “perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). An unconverted mind may glean wisdom from its proverbial truths and even this can result in behavioural changes. But Christians drink from its words because they are indwelled by God’s Spirit and they desire to hear God’s voice. This, too, should result in behavioural changes, and changes of a much better and deeper nature. God’s truth transforms you as you read, ponder, understand, and obey his Word.

Wise People Change You

At a most basic level, you cannot know the gospel unless it comes to you. You came to faith because someone shared the gospel with you: “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). Soon after, I hope, you became a part of a church family. It is, after all, in this corporate setting that God dispenses grace through the ordinary means of grace. No man or woman is meant to be an island.

Proverbs 13:20 admonishes us to walk with wise people, for then we become wise. Conversely, the companion of fools becomes foolish. I hope you are acquainted with the sweet blessing of Christian friendship. God calls us to rebuke, to encourage, to confess our sins, to disciple, and to comfort one another in affliction. As we do that, we change each other. Perpetual isolation will keep you from one of God’s great means of sanctification.

Suffering and Struggle Change You

If even Christ “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8), how much more are you changed by suffering and struggle? Think about doctrines that became dearer to you in the darkest nights of your soul. Think about the lessons you learned in your toughest trials. Suffering and struggle necessitate God’s grace in your life in a way that ease does not.

Much of your suffering is a result of your inner darkness, and the evil in others. As you wait with expectation for your complete sanctification, your sinful nature keeps you bent towards evil, and this often opens a door to suffering. Other times, it is the result of uncontrollable circumstances, of loss, of physical deterioration, of persecution, or of the harmful effects of someone else’s sin. We live in a decadent world where trouble abounds. But suffering is never without cause, for we know “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). God changes us through every struggle and every moment of suffering.

You Change

Suffering, wise people, truth, and the sovereign work of God must be joined with your willful and constant repentance. You resist sanctification when you are passive and unresponsive to these four factors. You are called to be both a hearer and a doer of the Word. If someone gently rebukes you for sin, you ought to choose to repent and change. In the face of suffering, you have the choice to give in to the temptation to mental doom or to find hope in God. When you believed upon the Lord, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). But even your repentance is an outworking of God’s power in you.

Rather than resisting, enter into the current of God’s sanctifying work and see the Lord’s power reveal itself in all the ways God, truth, people, and struggle change you as you respond in continual obedience and continual repentance.

These points were drawn from How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison.

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7 Marks of a False Teacher

taken from challies.com

No one enriches hell more than false teachers. No one finds greater joy in drawing people away from truth and leading them into error. False teachers have been present in every era of human history, they have always been a plague and have always been in the business of providing counterfeit truth. While their circumstances may change, their methods remain consistent.

Here are seven marks of false teachers.

1False teachers are man pleasers. What they teach is meant to please the ear more than profit the heart. They tickle the ears of their followers with flattery and all the while they treat holy things with wit and carelessness rather than reverence and awe. This contrasts sharply with a true teacher of the Word who knows that he is answerable to God and who is therefore far more eager to please God than men. As Paul would say, “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thes. 2:4).

2False teachers save their harshest criticism for God’s most faithful servants. False teachers criticize those who teach the truth, and save their sharpest criticism for those who hold most steadfastly to what is true. We see this in many places in the Bible, such as when Korah and his friends rose up against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:3) and when Paul’s ministry was threatened and undermined by those critics who said that while his words were strong, he himself was weak and unimportant (2 Cor. 10:10). We see it most notably in the vicious attacks of the religious authorities against Jesus. False teachers continue to rebuke and belittle God’s faithful servants today. Yet, as Augustine declared, “He that willingly takes from my good name, unwillingly adds to my reward.”

False teachers teach their own wisdom and vision. This was certainly true in the days of Jeremiah when God would say, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds” (Jer. 14:14). And today, too, false teachers teach the foolishness of mere men instead of teaching the deeper, richer wisdom of God. Paul knew, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3).

4False teachers miss what is of central importance and focus instead on the small details. Jesus diagnosed this very tendency in the false teachers of his day, warning them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23). False teachers place great emphasis on their adherence to the smaller commands even as they ignore the greater ones. Paul warned Timothy of the one who “is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:4-5).

5False teachers obscure their false doctrine behind eloquent speech and what appears to be impressive logic. Just as a prostitute paints and perfumes herself to appear more attractive and more alluring, the false teacher hides his blasphemies and dangerous doctrine behind powerful arguments and eloquent use of language. He offers to his listeners the spiritual equivalent of a poisonous pill coated in gold; though it may appear beautiful and valuable, it is still deadly.

6False teachers are more concerned with winning others to their opinions than in helping and bettering them. This was another of Jesus’ diagnoses as he considered the religious rulers of his day. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matt 23:15). False teachers are ultimately not in the business of bettering lives and saving souls, but of convincing minds and winning followers.

7False teachers exploit their followers. Peter would warn of this danger, saying: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. … And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (1 Peter 2:1-3). The false teachers exploit those who follow them because they are greedy and desire the riches of this world. This being true, will always teach principles that indulge the flesh. False teachers are concerned with your goods, not your good; they want to serve themselves more than save the lost; they are content for Satan to have your soul as long as they can have your stuff.

Tim Challies

Inspired by Shai Linne and Appendix II of Thomas Brook’s Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.

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