Posted in Christianity

Advice On Reading by Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

“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.”

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.

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.

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.


Mr. Baxter’s guide to evaluating books (with my feeble thoughts thrown in):

1. Could I spend this time no better? Often a godly man is known for his devotion to extensive reading that furthers his love for God, fosters an understanding of His Word, and creates within him a desire for absolute obedience to his Lord. Such reading is good as long as it is doesn’t push out other, more pressing, things. Our obedience to God must be lived out; are we, by our devotion to the written word (however worthy) using it to escape our obligations (to family, neighbors, the church) in the here and now? For instance, can we rightly bury ourselves in a book for hours while our homes go to pot or our neighbor is down with illness and in need of food?

2. Are there better books that would edify me more? It is far too easy to find ourselves caught up in reading for fun rather than using our time wisely in reading for edification. It is also easy to read the good writers who write in modern vernacular while ignoring the best writers, the more noble and worthy writers, whose words might be harder, but more edifying, to seek to comprehend.

3. Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life? Do the writers we favor lead us to God or away from God? What we read should either further our devotion to Him, enable us to teach the Lord’s Truth better or enable us to break down the falsehoods promoted by those claiming to be teachers from the Lord. While there is value in reading for relaxation, still we should not read anything that will fill our minds with mindless junk or filth (romance novels…ugh…come to mind).

4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come? Is this something that you would be comfortable reading in the presence of the Lord (for surely you are)? Is it enhancing your love for things Holy or is it filling your mind with doubt and confusion? Does it lead you to the Cross or away from it?


One thought on “Advice On Reading by Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

  1. For Such A Time As This

    Dr. Jeffrey “Jake” Baker
    Edmond OK

    I recently wrote a letter to a friend. Some of the letter is personal and has been redacted but at his insistence I have placed the rest of the letter here. A bit of an unusual posting I agree … but perhaps after reading it will encourage you and help understand your role or calling … For Such A Time As This.
    I am encouraged a bit by the awakening I have seen in America. I have been in radio, television, and print media for 25 years, and for the first time, I think that we have a chance at another awakening such as we saw with George Whitfield early in the 18th century here in America, again at the time of Lincoln in the mid 19th century, and perhaps now, early in the 21st century.

    We need to encourage believers, both here and around the globe, with the understanding that it will probably get worse before it gets better, but, our future and our eternity is assured. In the meanwhile, whatever service I can render you or our fellows, I am only too happy to provide. If we can strengthen their mettle with encouragement, or raise their spiritual sights to see beyond this skirmish, to the victory that lies beyond earth’s eventide, then we have served our country, this world, and our Redeemer.

    I am convinced, my friends, that this must be a spiritual battle that results in political action — not a political movement with a religious tone. Like so many end time saints, I live and breathe for one reason and one reason only … that is to serve Yahweh in these last days. I need and am compelled, even driven, to take on this battle, fight this fight, and loose the power and light of the of the Holy Spirit in a sin darkened world.

    I am not about “fair and balanced”, I am about truth. I could care less what some leftist hack, or rightist progressive has to say. We need not coddle the lie of the other side to be fair. I think they get enough air time on their own. We need to expose the deception, destroy it, and move on. I am looking to blanket the globe with one last clarion call to saints from the hustings to the cities, in the dark corners or the bright cells in which the world has been locked away.

    When I was young, I thought it was about winning. Now I understand it is about fulfilling our destiny. It doesn’t matter whether the perception is that we won or lost. What matters is that we are so sold out to Yahweh that nothing else matters. Then winning, losing, life or death become irrelevant … it’s about walking out our divine destiny, which was antecedent even to the framing of the world.

    Remarkable, isn’t it? Free spiritual agents with a divine destiny, and yet given the power of choice to effectuate or abrogate that overawing call of heaven on our lives. And now here it is on the world’s stage – the last days. The manifestation of all things from Genesis through Revelation. The great and final confluence of the rivers of prophecy, history, divine occurrence, and satanic wrath. If we weren’t in the middle of the conflagration, it would be a show well worth paying to see. But here we are. Not mere spectators like those picnicking gapers sitting on the hill outside of Washington DC at the start of the civil war, but participants all, whether we choose a side or are given one by default.

    By the grace of Yahweh I have embraced the side of the Lion of Judah, and, if He is willing, we will roar louder and longer than the world can imagine from city streets to strange lands of forest or sand. I look forward to this time of crowns. This is the time for believers to sanctify themselves at the altar. These are the times for which men like us were born. There will be more crowns gathered to lay at the feet of the Messiah during this apocalyptic unfolding than at any other time in history.

    In the meanwhile, lest we drink so deeply of the heavenly vision that we forget to put out the fire that is even now destroying our national house, and tend to the unseating of the dogs inhabiting the seats of power in DC, and governor’s chairs in states, and politically effete in counties and towns across America, let us all do what we can in teaching our history, demanding constitutional government, working and contributing to campaigns that remove the corrupt and vulgar effectuating their replacement with the honorable and forthright.

    Be encouraged my friends, for the battle we fight now for faith and truth, is but a precursor to the one that is yet to come. It is in these days we are privileged to stand and fight for our country, in the future the battle will be much darker and more pitched. But ours is not to sit in vexation, but with clear heads and hearts to make wise decision that will show our countrymen the difficult path back to freedom and if we are faithful and if we are true perhaps we will be one day … America Again!

    We find ourselves in time when we are being hammered between the anvil history and the reality of unfolding prophecy. My prayer for you and me and all the saints is that we understand that this battle is not about winning or losing nor is not about glory or conquest or empire, it is about Kingdom – His Kingdom. To that end may we serve with holy boldness and reach out heavenward beyond our earthly grasp, fight this good fight with unbridled courage forged by the white hot heat of the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, and walk in unimaginable love even for those who are at present our enemy and enemies of the cross because we have been filled with the light of His love who is the father of lights and in whom there is no variableness at all.

    The calling for all of us at this late and evil hour is to stand … and having done all to stand. What a privilege to be counted in that glorious company to have enjoined the fray in a holy version of St. Crispin’s.

    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

    Bless you my friends in your coming in and your going out,

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