There is a treasure in the church that I hope you have discovered and are enjoying. I am referring to a large collection of writings by Christian men who no longer walk amongst us. While they were under the sun, they put pen to paper or quill to parchment and produced a body of work that has enriched many Christian lives. I have been and continue to be blessed by these authors, theologians, and pastors and want to highlight them and encourage you to open the chest and dig in if you haven’t yet or keep digging for more if you have. I doubt we will ever see the bottom.
After I became a Christian, it took me a while to discover this treasure. This was good timing because early on in my walk I had determined to not read the thoughts and conclusions of men regarding the tenets of Christianity until I had developed a certain degree of confidence in my own understanding of the Bible. I wanted no human influence to shape my view of the things of God. I only wanted His word. Since so much was new to me, I did not feel ready to assess the different opinions. I figured that would come in time. (The exceptions were some tracks and some early apologetics work, and of course I went to church. These things undoubtedly affected me, but for developing my personal beliefs in my own study time, I wanted only the Bible. Maybe at another time I’ll write about why this was so important to me.)
My first glimpse of the treasure came when my husband and I discovered that we had a sizable gap in our knowledge about church history, namely the period of the Reformation. Unable to live with that black hole and filled with curiosity, we began to gather and devour relevant material. What an education that was and what fun! I love learning new things and that time period is exciting and important. As our studying moved from general overview to specific key figures and their beliefs, we became aware of some of their writings. Soon we happily realized that we could actually read them. Opening these books that were written so long ago truly felt like I was uncovering hidden treasure. Though there was no actual dust because our copies were new reproductions, in my imagination I dusted off the covers and breathed in the aged paper. I gazed upon the words as if I was the first human to see them in centuries. I wondered what the authors would say if they knew that they were still being read today. I wonder now what they would think about the ways we can read them. Can you image their reactions to our computers and mobile devices?
One of the first pieces I read was The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. It was written in 1525 AD! I don’t remember if I completely finished it, but I enjoyed it and discovered that I really liked reading this old stuff. I was hooked. The old style of writing is so different from what I see today. It is lofty and poetic. They often take twenty-five words to say what we could say in five, but I think that’s beautiful.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of reading the writings of many different dead men. I would like to share some of their names with you. I do so because I would love you to benefit by them as I have. They have been a valuable addition to my study of the Bible. And they are only that, an addition. They could never supplant the Bible nor ever come close to its worth.
The men I have listed below have been my teachers for a long time and have helped shape the kind of Christian I am today. Reading them has elevated my thoughts and understanding in many ways. Recently I became aware of just how valuable this education has been. Studying with the great minds of the past has helped keep my theology tight and free from modern day, watered down, pop culture Christianity. You might say I have been classically trained. I’ve been studying great stuff not fluff. I believe all women can, and I work to promote that. We can read and understand great pastors and theologians. We can set down a scrapbook and pick up a systematic theology. We might need a dictionary every now and then to get through it, but that only means we’re learning even more!
In sharing these names I don’t mean to take away from the great teachers that are alive today. There are many and they’re very valuable. So of course I encourage you to read contemporary writings as well. And in referring these men of days gone by, I am not leaning on an appeal to tradition. I know that just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s good or right. Plenty of false ideas have been around for a long time. No, I refer these men because their writings are good. They demonstrate reverence for the Bible and fidelity to the gospel of Jesus Christ. From the very beginning, I assessed their work in the light of the Scriptures. I did my background checks and as always refer these men with my standard exhortation for you to do your own. Many other people have also read and dissected their work through the years. These men have stood the test of time, though resulting opinions are somewhat mixed. Not everyone would recommend all of them, but they are positively regarded by many. If you are not already familiar with them, you might enjoy learning about who they are and why they are significant. If you find them interesting and deem them worthy of reading, never stop testing them against the word of God. They don’t get everything right. Nobody does. They are special though, and there are plenty of others. I would love to hear whom you enjoy reading. I welcome you to leave their name(s) in the comments.
In no particular order:
If you are interested in reading some of their material, you can find a lot of it online for free. A good starting place might be Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening: Daily Readings. It is a devotional that is thought provoking and God honoring. From there, you could read some of his or Jonathan Edwards’ sermons. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was a staple amongst Christians for centuries. Reading it would connect you with that heritage. If you do choose to read it, you can get it in a modern English version. Matthew Henry and John Gill both have commentaries on the whole Bible that you might find helpful and interesting. I enjoy comparing old commentaries with new ones and seeing how interpretations line up. They read the same books of the Bible and oftentimes gleaned the same meanings.
This list of men recently provided me with an option for my morning reading time. I was looking for something meaty, something to increase my knowledge about God. He is my favorite, inexhaustible subject. So, I recently chose to go back to John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. I started it a long time ago and read different portions throughout the years. It finally made its way back to the top of my reading list. I plan on reading it from cover to cover this time even though I know it will take a while. After that, I’m not sure what I’ll be reading; but I wouldn’t be surprised if I turn to something old once again. I delight in learning more, refreshing what I already know, or seeing things in a new way. The Bible is absolutely my chief source for this, but the insight of those who expound the word well is a valuable source too. God gives some as pastors and teachers for our good. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Whatever you choose to read, I pray it is a blessing in your life. And along with it, I encourage you to always stay in the Bible.