I am all for new books. I just ordered one the other day. Still with each passing year, I find my heart increasingly aligned with C.S. Lewis’s rule to never allow oneself to read another new book “till you have read an old one in between.” Indeed, old books that make it to our time deserve our attention. If nothing else, we should be curious to know why they have survived when other volumes did not. I also suspect the more we read old books the more we will come to understand that the refinement of time ultimately furthers the stewardship of our time and thought today. As one can now guess, the books that most resonated with my soul this past year are rather well-seasoned if not downright ancient. If you are in the market for book to fill the space between the newer volumes on your shelf, I invite you to consider the following 3 options:
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Being a Pastor
By: John Wycliffe
This small volume serves as a fantastic introduction into the stream of gospel-based theological discourse that shaped the theology of the Middle Ages. As Wycliffe’s principled defense of the authority of Scripture makes clear, the dark ages still contained many rays of truth (Click here for a brief introduction to Wycliffe’s life and ministry). Admittedly, Wycliffe remains very much a man of the Middle Ages. He possessed views on marriage and church-state relations that do not translate well into our modern theological discussions.
Thankfully, this book introduces readers to Wycliffe’s gospel convictions without distractions tied to the age of knights and princesses. The 102 pages that compose this volume clearly and concisely convey Wycliffe’s conviction that priests should stay with their sheep, should live pure, humble lives, and should preach the unadulterated gospel. In addition to repeatedly addressing the dangers of worldly greed, this book conveys Wycliffe’s passion for powerful preaching, a preaching that would replace the stories and poems that dominated so many sermons of his day with clear reflections upon the text of Scripture designed to produce biblical and lasting change. Lastly, the text provides readers with a sense of why the Catholic Church found Wycliffe so unsettling. The pages detail Wycliffe’s belief that priests, princes, and lay people should defy the pope and his officials whenever they violated the commands of Scriptures. Those who possess an interest in pastoral ministry, in English history, and in understanding how theology developed in the years leading up to the Reformation should grab a copy of this book…this window into the soul of the Middle Ages.
We should take as an article of faith that God’s law surpasses all other in authority, in truth, in intelligence…Therefore, God commanded his apostles not to preach man’s law but to preach the Gospel to all kinds of people. Accordingly, those who preaching is a matter of jokes and telling stories are all the more to be blamed. For God’s Word must always be proclaimed faithfully if it is to be understood.
By: J.C. Ryle
This concise 128 volume written by Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle blessed my soul the past Christmas morn. Ryle’s focus upon the complete and never-ending promises of God warmed my heart which has been cooled be dampness of deep grief. He displays his genius in explicitly warning his readers of the perils of unbelief while also showing his readers how the human longing for perfect community finds it fulfillment not in Christmas gatherings which prove fleeting and forever incomplete but in the new heavens and new earth. That wonderful meeting will consist of all God’s people from ever age and will never end. There will be no more goodbyes. No more sense of loss. Ryle’s helpfully ties the glories of Christmas to the community of the Church (all belivers of all ages), providing a small and needed correction to the Western over preoccupation with family at the holidays. In other words, if you open to the possibility that a book could stir your heart to long for Christ, to love God’s people, and to evangelize the lost all while putting up your Christmas tree, I encourage you to read this small volume at Christmas.
Moreover, it’s application does not end with the holidays. As the book’s editor, Andrew Atherstone, noted, Ryle republished several of the tracts without the Christmas references, revealing the truths contained within to be appropriate for the holiday and yet to possess the ability to reach far beyond the bounds of December 25th. The truth of the gospel is powerful both in and out of season!
But, thank God there is one great family whose prospects are very different. It is the family of which I am speaking in this tract, and commending to your attention. The future prospects of the family of God are not uncertain. They are good, and only good – happy and only happy.
Surprised By Suffering
By R.C. Sproul
For most of my life, I have spent my time meditating on how to live well. But on May 31, 2022, I abandon my preoccupation with life and began contemplating in earnest how one dies well. As April and I came face to face with the cruel truth that no cure, no medicine, no hope of life remained for her, I came across R.C. Sproul’s volume. Sproul’s discussion of death being a vocation, a calling, helped me to understand that April’s last weeks had a glorious purpose. They were a time for her and me to praise God. A time to call others to repentance and faith…to the hope of Jesus. A time to once again battle sin. A time to redouble her faith in her loving Father, trusting that he would forever hold her fast. In other words, a time to finish well the last race that God had set before her.
In one sense, we should all begrudge death. And yet in another sense, Sproul shows us that we can embrace it without fear. For the believer, death does not end in the sorrows of grave. As Sproul noted, “Ultimate healing comes through death after death.” The first half of the book resolutely reminds the hurting Christians that God is with us even at death, transforming tragedy into our greatest victory.
The second half of the book which explores heaven grows a little more speculative therefore little less insightful. The book then concludes with a series of questions and answers that cover topics such as near-death experiences and what happens to babies when they die. Regardless of what one thinks of the second half of the book, the first half of this book which applies the balms of the gospel to the pain of death more than covers the price of this volume.
I believe this 158-page volume will bless both those who are facing the prospect of death and those who seek to love the dying. And if we are honest, that is all of us.
Teachers argue that there is healing in the atonement of Christ. Indeed there is. Jesus bore all our sins on the cross. Yet none of us is free from sin in this life. Likewise, none of us is free from the sickness in this life. The healing that is in the cross is real. We participate in its benefits now, in this life. But the fullness of the healing from both sin and disease takes place in heaven. We still must die at our appointed times.
2 Bonus Picks
Charity and It’s Fruits: by Jonathan Edwards
Grief: Walking With Jesus: by Bob Kellemen