14 October 2005

...More on reading old books

Many of us have only read old or classic books as students because we had to. If you were like me you did not get much out of the experience, putting little into it and having little interest. But as we get older, that attitude often changes. We come to realize that what amounts to contemporary arrogance—exalting the new and trendy while thumbing our noses at the old and the forgotten—stifles the ability to discern good ideas from bad or truth from error. We come to a point of realizing just how much we do not know after all. Then we begin to discover and mine the treasures from the past. Much of that treasure comes in the form of old books. As Gene Edward Veith has written, “For those of us stranded in the modern age, the old styles can cut through the fog of our culture and communicate truths that will seem refreshingly new.” Reading old books provides for a larger perspective of the time in which we live. Understanding the worldviews, cultures and assumptions of the past help us to understand our own times. It can awaken us from an irresponsible slumber, temper our tendency to pursue that which is popular or correct the error in our thinking. It also replaces a passive consumption of ideas with active and critical thinking. So be encouraged to read anew the old books. Broaden your understanding of the present through the lens of the past. Take up and read!

08 October 2005

Recommended: Flavel's "Mystery of Providence"

The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel. Banner of Truth, 1995 (first published in 1678).

This book is a classic work on a treasured biblical teaching all but lost in our "modern" day and should be read by every Christian who desires to enlarge his or her view of and appreciation for the majesty and grace of God. English Puritan John Flavel takes Providence-the ordering of life's details by our sovereign and gracious God-and illustrates the providential workings in our everyday lives, shows our duty to know and reflect on those providences (especially the difficult ones) and works through their practical implications. Written well over 300 years ago, it has passed the test of time. As Michael Bolan writes in the introduction, "[Flavel's work] is calculated to abase man and exalt God, and yet to kindle faith and adoration in the heart of every child of God." And it does just that, growing a healthy humility while increasing confidence, contentment and trust in God's provision through all things-good and bad, easy and difficult, ordinary and extraordinary. Reading The Mystery of Providence will profoundly change the way you see the world and your place in it

...On seeing "large things largely"

It is to our advantage to have both mentors and protégées in life; that is, one or more (usually older and wiser) who are models to us in conduct and character and who can give us advice and guidance, and also those (perhaps younger and less experienced) whom we can give counsel and be an encouragement to. Those relationships of witness and of being witnessed to aren’t always personal. One of my recently acquired “mentors,” gained through the reading of his biography during long hours in the hospital at my wife’s bedside”, is John Adams—the patriot, statesman, and our Nation’s first Vice President and second President. In Adam’s life of incredible personal sacrifice, his abiding love for his wife and family, his steadfastness and integrity of character, and his sense of duty to public service draw my admiration and cause must reflection; but it was his devotion and accountability to Christ and his awareness of and trust in God’s providential ordering of times and circumstances that most captivate my thoughts.

As Adams led the process toward declaring independence from Britain, it was said of him that he “saw large things largely.” In other words, as he navigated the “trees” of great endeavors, he always did so with the “forest” clearly in focus. Adams was able to do that primarily because of his Biblical worldview (even then in the minority) and because of his awareness of and duty toward Providence. That perspective on “things large” came through knowing the Scriptures as well as through reading widely. From “his treasured books” and reading he knew history, the lessons from the history of nations, and God’s providential hand in history. Even at age 25, he recognized that a man could not apply wisdom, knowledge, and virtue “unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.” Let us all take a lesson from John Adams, endeavor to understand the “large things” of life under the hand of Providence through good books and the Good Book, and take up and read!

(Originally published in Dei Light June 2004)