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On Reading 2: Reading Changes Lives

By Gerry Straker, 20 Apr 2020

On Reading 2: Reading Changes Lives

Reading is very powerful, it changes lives.

‘An ungodly Welsh clergyman, shopping at a fair in the eighteenth century, bought an article which happened to be wrapped in a page torn from an old Puritan portfolio [a form of book]. The reading of that one page led to his sound conversion'.[1] Isn't that incredible? Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691) tells this story: ‘A poor pedlar came to the door…and my father bought of him Sibb’s [sic] Bruised Reed… It suited my state… and gave me a livelier apprehension of the mystery of redemption and how much I was beholden to Jesus Christ…Without any means but books was God pleased to resolve me to himself.’[2] Isn't that wonderful?

Martin Luther once wrote: ‘Satan hates the use of pens'[3] - we wield pens or tap keys on a keyboard as we wage war against the devil and fight the good fight of the gospel, and for godliness, as people read. Reading is very powerful. John Wesley (the man of one book) said: 'Reading Christians are growing Christians. When Christians cease to read, they cease to grow.' Yes, we start with the Word of God, but we also are blessed by God in his creation, and that includes people and their writing of good books.

The whole earth is full of God's glory (Isaiah 6:3); and 'in your light, we see light.' (Psalm 36:9 NIV 1984) - as Christians looking at God's light, through his Word, we then, with new eyes opened, begin to see the light in his creation that reflects his glory. Tony Reinke, in one of my top three Christian books of all time, Lit!, says this: 'Even in its fallen condition, creation continues to emit the Creator's glory, a glow that can be found in the pages of great books... 'mere human' writing is truly lit by God... illuminated by 'the light of the gospel, we now perceive and enjoy God's truth, goodness and beauty - whether it's the blazing sun of the inspired Word of God, in the moonlight of creation, or in the starlight of great books.' [4]

As Craig Carter says: 'Nothing is more fundamental to the Christian life than reading the text of Scripture and submitting one's life to the One who speaks His Word through the human words of the inspired text.' [5] (If questioned, I'm sure he would agree with us that even more fundamental to the Christian life than that is hearing the reading and preaching of Scripture! But we get his point about the priority of the Word of God). Given that we now live in an age, when, thanks largely to the Reformation and Christians, most people can read, we should made the most of this gift from God.

The Bible stands alone as inspired by God - his breathed out words - sometimes miraculously, like the 10 commandments or John's vision in Revelation; and sometimes providentially - God using human authors to write what he would have them write as they were blown along like a ship in a wind (see 2 Peter 1:21). Either way it is always inspired and perfect, and therefore distinct from all other books. Those other books, however good, helpful or beautiful are fallible and imperfect. As Spurgeon said, 'all other books are but as gold leaf, requiring acres to find one ounce of the precious metal. but the BIble is solid gold. It contains blocks of gold, mines, and whole caverns of priceless treasure.' [6] All Christians need to draw a big thick line between the Bible and other books, and when we do read other books, we want to weigh them in the light of Scripture.

And yet, it is because of our Bible reading, that we can appreciate, and give God glory for, the good in writing that is not Scripture and thank God for it. In God's light, we see light, we see his glory reflected in truth, beauty and goodness outside of his Word, precisely because we are bathing in the light of His Word. Furthermore, like good preaching, good reading can deepen our appreciation of and understanding of the Scriptures themselves! Yes, to paraphrase Spurgeon, we want to live in the Bible but we also want to visit good books, and see in them the glory of God.

In these articles in the coming days, I want to challenge you to be a reader, and what better time to do it than now, when many of us have time. We read so that we might grow ourselves, not in knowledge for it's own sake - we want to steer well clear of the knowledge that puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1)! Rather, the knowledge we want to grow in, is the knowledge of our wonderful God, enjoying him more and living for him more, and helping others to do the same. This is a project for the rest of your life! I want to encourage you to keep improving - I really know I need to - and to pay attention to your diet, to evaluate what you read, to set aside quality time to read, and to make the most of small segments of time you might have if you are busy or when you are busy again: time when you are waiting for someone, for a bus, or at the doctors, if you're early somewhere, or perhaps travelling somewhere.

For some of course, reading is difficult, whether that's through health, education or lack of time. All of us will have different abilities, capacities and opportunities. But there's no set way of reading and indeed many of our Church enjoy listening to the Bible read out loud by David Suchet. Audiobooks might be a helpful thing for you to explore. When it comes to reading, whatever your starting point, the task before each of us, is simply - in the words of what is rapidly becoming one of our mottos at Church by the Bay - will you take a step?

C J Mahaney in his foreword to Reinke's Lit! says this: 'Growing up, I hated to read.' After his friend explained to him the gospel he had just begun to believe, (while Mahaney was smoking hash, mind you!), miraculously, Mahaney became a Christian. After his friend left he says: 'I began reading a King James Bible that he must have left behind. I stayed up all night reading it... So if you had met me the next day and asked for evidences of my conversion, high on my list would have been this new miraculous appetite for reading... Reading primarily Scripture, and then other books...made all the difference in my life and ministry... Though I now love to read, it's still work. It always involves discipline.' [7]

Can I encourage you to read that book that changed my reading life, Lit! by Tony Reinke - it is absolutely fabulous. I thought it would beat me up for not reading enough, instead it winsomely won me to commit to making the most of reading for the glory of God and the joy that can be. I need to apply the principles again, and I hope you will join me in doing so.

[1] Publishers' Foreword in Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, (1630 Rev. ed.: Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), vii.
[2] Quoted in Publishers' Foreword in Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, ix. 
[3] Publishers' Foreword in Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, vii. 
[4] Tony S Reinke, Lit!, (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 1999), 16.
[5] Craig Carter, Interpreting Scripture in the Great Tradition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2018), 32.
[6] Quoted in Reinke, Lit!, 27-28.
[7] Reinke, Lit!, 11-13.