Directions for Reading Christian Books

“Because God has made the excellent, holy writings of his servants, the singular blessing of this land and age; and many may have a good book, even any day or hour of the week, who cannot at all have a good preacher — I advise all God’s servants to be thankful for so great a mercy, and to make use of it, and be much in reading. For reading, with most, does more conduce to knowledge than hearing does, because you may choose what subjects and the most excellent treatises you please; and may be often at it, and may peruse again and again what you forget, and may take time as you go to fix it on your mind. And with very many, reading does more than hearing also to move the heart — because lively books may be more easily accessed than lively preachers.

Especially these sorts of men should be much in reading:

1. Masters of families, who have more souls to care for than their own.

2. People who live where there is no preaching; or bad preaching — which is worse than none!

3. Poor people, and servants, and children, who are forced on many Lord’s days to stay at home, while others have the opportunity to hear the Word preached.

4. And non-working persons that have more leisure than others have.

To all these, but especially masters of families, I shall here give a few directions.

Direction 1. I presuppose that you keep the devil’s books out of your hands and house. I mean cards, and idle tales, and play-books, and romances or love-books, and false, bewitching stories, and the seducing books of all false teachers, and the railing or scorning books which the men of several sects and factions write against each other, on purpose to teach men to hate one another, and banish love. For where these are allowed to corrupt the mind — all grave and useful writings are forestalled; and it is a wonder to see how powerfully these poison the minds of children, and many other empty heads.

Also refrain from books that are written by the sons of Korah, to breed distastes and discontents in the minds of the people against their governors, both magistrates and ministers. For there is something in the best rulers, for the tongues of seditious men to fasten on, and to aggravate in the people’s ears; and there is something even in godly people, which tempts them too easily to take fire and be distempered before they are aware; and they foresee not the evil to which it tends.

Direction 2. When you read to your family, or others, let it be seasonably and gravely, when silence and attendance encourage you to expect success; and not when children are crying or talking, or servants bustling to disturb you. Distraction is worst, in the greatest businesses.

Direction 3. Choose such books as are most suitable to your state, or to those you read to. It is worse than unprofitable, to read books for comforting troubled minds, to those that are blockishly secure, and have hardened, obstinate, unhumbled hearts. It is as bad as to give medicines or remedies contrary to the patient’s need, and such as nourish the disease. So is it to read books of too high a style or subject, to dull and ignorant hearers. We use to say: That which is one man’s meat, is another man’s poison. It is not enough that the matter is good — but it must be agreeable to the case for which it is used.

Direction 4. To a common family begin with those books, which at once inform the judgment about the fundamentals, and awaken the affections to entertain them and improve them. Such as are treatises of regeneration, conversion, or repentance.

Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most — but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.

Direction 5. Next these, read over those books which are most suited to the state of young Christians for their growth in grace, and for their exercise of faith, and love, and obedience, and for the mortifying of selfishness, pride, sensuality, worldliness, and other the most dangerous sins.

Direction 6. At the same time labor to methodize your knowledge; and to that end read first and learn some short catechism, and then some larger catechism. And let the catechism be kept in memory while you live, and the rest be thoroughly understood.

Direction 7. Next read (to yourselves or families) the larger expositions of the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments; such as Thomas Watson on the Commandments; that your understanding may be more full, particular, and distinct, and your families may not stop in generals, which are not understood.

Direction 8. Read much those books which direct you in a course of daily communion with God, and holy ordering your daily life.”

Richard Baxter, Christian Directory

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See the Evil Effects of Sin

“See the evil effects of sin!

Sin has degraded us of our honor. God made us in His own image–but sin has debased us. Sin has plucked off our coat of innocence, and now it has debased us, and turned our glory into shame.

Sin disquiets the peace of the soul. ‘But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.’ (Isaiah 57:20-21). Whatever defiles, disturbs. As poison corrupts the blood–so sin corrupts the soul. Sin breeds a trembling at the heart; it creates fears, and there is “torment in fear.” Sin makes sad convulsions in the conscience. Judas was so terrified with guilt and horror, that he hanged himself to quiet his conscience. In order to ease his conscience–he threw himself into Hell.

Sin produces all temporal evil. It is the Trojan Horse, which has sword, and famine and pestilence, in its belly. Sin is a coal, which not only blackens–but burns! Sin creates all our troubles; it puts gravel into our bread, and wormwood in our cup. Sin rots the name, consumes the estate, and buries loved ones.

Sin unrepented of, brings final damnation. The canker which breeds in the rose is the cause of its perishing; just so–the corruptions which breed in men’s souls are the cause of their damning. Sin’s pleasure will turn to sorrow at last; like the book the prophet ate–sin is sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly. Sin brings the wrath of God–and what tears can quench that fire?”

– Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity

Study the Scripture

“Study the Scripture. It is a copy of God’s will. Be Scripture-men, Bible-Christians. Search the Scripture as for a vein of gold. This blessed Book will fill your head with knowledge, and your heart with grace!

There is majesty sparkling in every line of Scripture.

There is a melody in Scripture. This is that blessed harp which drives away sadness of spirit. How sweetly does this harp of Scripture sound, what heavenly music does it make in the ears of a distressed sinner, especially when the finger of God’s Spirit touches this instrument!

There is divinity in Scripture. It contains the marrow and quintessence of true religion. It is a rock of diamonds–and a manual of piety. The lips of Scripture have grace poured into them. The Scripture speaks of faith, self-denial, and all the graces which, as a chain of pearls, adorns a Christian.

Oh, then, search the Scripture! Had I the tongue of angels, I could not sufficiently set forth the excellency of Scripture. It is a spiritual telescope, in which we behold God’s glory! It is the tree of life, the oracle of wisdom, the rule of godliness, the heavenly seed of which the new creature is formed. 

‘The two Testaments,’ says one, ‘are the two breasts which every Christian must suck, that he may get spiritual nourishment.’ These holy leaves of Scripture are for the healing of our souls. 

The Scripture is profitable for all things. If we are downcast–here is spiced wine that cheers the heavy heart. If we are pursued by Satan–here is the sword of the Spirit to resist him. If we are diseased with sin’s leprosy–here are the waters of the sanctuary, both to cleanse and cure. Oh, then, search the Scriptures! 

Read the Bible with reverence. Think, in every line you read–that God is speaking to you. The ark wherein the Word was put was overlaid with pure gold, and was carried on bars, that the Levites might not touch it (Exodus 25:14). Why was this–but to give reverence to the Word? 

Read with seriousness. It is matter of life and death; by this Word you must be tried and judged. 

Read the Word with affection. Get your hearts quickened with the Word. Labor that the Word may not only be a lamp to direct–but a fire to warm. Read the Scripture, not only as a history–but as a love-letter sent to you from God, which may affect your hearts. Pray that the same Spirit who wrote the Word, may assist you in reading it; that God’s Spirit would show you the wonderful things of His law, so that the Word will become effectual.”

– Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity

Ingredient 1: Sight of Sin

“A man must first recognize and consider what his sin is, and know the plague of his heart before he can be duly humbled for it. Th first creature God made was light. So the first thing in a penitent is illumination: ‘Now ye are light in the Lord’ (Eph. 5:8). The eye is made both seeing and weeping. Sin must first be seen before it  can be wept for.

Hence I infer that where there is no sight of sin, there can be no repentance. Many who can spy faults in others see none in themselves. They cry they have good hearts. Is it not strange that two should live together, and eat and drink together, yet not know each other? Such is the case of the sinner. His body and soul live together, work together, yet is unacquainted with himself. He knows not his own heart, nor what a hell he carries about him. Under a veil a deformed face is hid. Persons are veiled over with ignorance and self-love; therefore they see bit what deformed souls they have. The devil does with them as the falconer with the hawk. He blinds them and carries them hooded to hell: ‘the sword shall be upon his right eye’ (Zech. 11:17).

– Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance, p. 18-19

If We Were More Deeply Affected With Sin

“How happy it would be if we were more deeply affected with sin, and our eyes did swim in their orb. We may clearly see the Spirit of God moving in the waters of repentance, which though troubled, are yet pure. Moist tears dry up sin and quench the wrath of God. Repentance is the cherisher of piety, the procurer of mercy. The more regret and trouble of spirit we have first at our conversion, the less we shall feel afterwards.”

– Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, p.7