Preachers and the Printed Page

June 22, 2015 (first published May 23, 2007) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org)

Preachers_and_printed
Some preachers seem to disdain books. I once heard a man say at a preacher’s meeting, “We don’t need more books; we need more preaching.”

That’s a statement of shocking ignorance. A good Christian book is simply good preaching and teaching in printed format.

While it is true that there are many heretical books available in the average Christian bookstore (and we have warned about that in our video presentation and free eBook “Dangers in Christian Bookstores”), and while it is true that we must weigh every book by the infallible standard of God’s Word, it is ridiculous to discredit the value of good books.

The apostles communicated with the churches and with individual believers through the pen, and we have some of their writings in our New Testament. Had they possessed printing presses I have no doubt that they would have used them.

The apostle Paul was a student to the end of his life. Even when in prison awaiting his death, he said to Timothy, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13).

Bring the books said the stalwart old warrior! Bring the books said the man whom we are told to imitate. “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Cor. 4:16). “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Philippians 3:17).

It has been said, “The man who doesn’t read is no better off than the man who cannot read,” and, “Five years from now you will be the same person except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

It has been said that the man who wants to be a writer must be a reader.

Charles Spurgeon advised the preachers in his Bible College, “Sell your shirt and buy books.”

Spurgeon had little patience with preachers who despise commentaries and good study books. He addressed the following statement to his Bible School students:

“Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences. Usually, we have found the despisers of commentaries to be men who have no sort of acquaintance with them; in their case, it is the opposite of familiarity which has bred contempt” (Spurgeon, Two Lectures Addressed to the Students of the Pastor’s College, Metropolitan Tabernacle).

John Wesley exhorted a preacher friend as follows: “What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps by neglecting it you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep: there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it any more than a thorough Christian. O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no; read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a petty, superficial prayer” (John Wesley to John Trembeth, August 1760).

Peter Cartwright, circuit riding preacher, said, “Only Heaven will determine which was the most important in my earthly ministry--my preaching or the distributing of books.”

Christian statesman Daniel Webster said, “If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; if God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy; if the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; if the power of the gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness, will reign without mitigation or end.”

The Great Awakening was more a product of the printed page than the product of direct preaching.

Spurgeon advised his Bible students to read the entire multi-volume Matthew Henry commentary set in the twelve months after they graduated from Pastor’s College.

Spurgeon said that the revivalist preacher George Whitefield read Matthew Henry through four times during his life. And this is a man who preached an estimated 18,000 sermons in his lifetime, an average of 500 a year or ten a week.

It is obvious that men of God of former times were more studious than the average preacher today, and wiser about the value of good books.
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About Way of Life
- The name “Way of Life” is from Proverbs 6:23: “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” The biblical instruction that molds men to God’s will requires reproof. It is not strictly positive. It does not focus on man’s “self-esteem.” It does not avoid controversial or unpopular subjects. It warns as well as comforts. It deals with sin and false teaching in a plain manner. It is reproves, rebukes, exhorts with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2). This is what we seek to do through Way of Life Literature. The Way of Life preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. A mail stop is maintained in Port Huron, Michigan.

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