On Companions and Books
George Everard, 1874
No truth is more important for the young Christian to remember, than that we become like those with whom we associate. We gain more and more resemblance to those with whom we are intimate. We insensibly catch their spirit and their tone of mind. It is written, "He who walks with wise men shall be wise — but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." Proverbs 13:20. "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character!" 1 Corinthians 15:33
Rehoboam takes counsel with the young rogues, and accepting their advice, he loses a large part of his kingdom. Jehoshaphat makes an alliance with King Ahab — disaster and defeat follow, and God sends him the solemn reproof: "Should you help the ungodly, and love those who hate the Lord?"
On the other hand, Ruth joins herself to Naomi and the people of God, and gains a rich blessing. Nathanael joins company with Philip, and finds a Savior.
The lesson is plain. Be careful in the choice of friends! Do not enter into the path of the wicked. As you have opportunity, make companions of such as love and fear God. It was the spirit of the man after God's own heart.
"I hate the work of them that turn aside . . . I will not know a wicked person. . . . My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me. He who walks in a perfect way, he shall serve me." (Psalm 101:3, 4, 6.) "Depart from me, you evil-doers! I will keep the commandments of my God I am a companion of all those who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts." (Psalm 119:115, 63.)
But side by side with this lesson we may learn another. We may well apply this truth to the BOOKS we should read. Where do we find the wisest thoughts of the wisest men? Where do we find the cream of that intellectual or spiritual power which a man may possess? Is it not in their writings? Take off your shelf the work of some godly man who lived a century ago, and do you not at once make him your companion, though he may long have been slumbering in the grave? Take up a thoughtful magazine, and read an article written by some servant of Christ who may be living hundreds of miles distant, and whose face you never expect to see in the flesh — and is he not in some sense numbered among the friends you value?
You may not often be able to find as your daily friend and counselor — one as true and wise and helpful as you would desire; but can you not by reading good books attain in some measure your object? Can you not find always, if you search for it, a book that will teach you and strengthen your hands?
And there is another advantage in these companions. We can have their society when we will. There are friends who come and talk with us — when we would rather be alone, or when we feel we ought to be about our work. And at other times we desire their presence, but they are far away. But we can always choose our time for conversing with our friend on the shelf. The time in which we have his company need not either be too long or too short. Let us consider then what sort of companions it is well to choose, and then apply this to the books we read.
First of all, we may be sure of this — that it is wise to choose as companions, such only as are of pure mind, sound principle, and whose conversation will not harm those who listen to it .
Some companions are very clever, very fascinating, sparkling with wit and life, and it even may be with kindliness of nature — and yet for all this, their influence is against all right feeling and Christian holiness. It is hard to resist their advances, or to refuse an invitation from them — and yet all the while a voice within tells us it is dangerous to be with them — their influence is all in the wrong direction; it is away from purity, from the love of God, from the path of faithful obedience to the Divine will. Their bands may be silken, but they are the bands of Delilah, for they bind the soul to its ruin! Their voice may be sweet, but it is the voice of the Syren that would draw you to the fatal island, where escape is well-near impossible.
Dear reader, is this a danger to which you are exposed? Have you a friend who makes light of spiritual things, and whose words leave many a taint of evil on your soul? What ought you to do?
Ought you most to regard Christ — or your friend? If you desire to be loyal to the Great Captain of your salvation — then take a bold stand. Don't let things insensibly take their course, until one by one you give up your own decided convictions. Act courteously, act kindly and considerately, but act firmly.
Speak out boldly when anything is spoken to the dishonor of Christ's name. Write a letter to your friend, and say how much you have been pained, and that you dare not be friends with one who speaks against the Name you love. Earnestly plead with your friend to turn at once to the Lord, and then you will rejoice to help each other on the way to Zion.
Never mind the pain it may give you to write the letter, or to speak the faithful word; with Christ by your side, you are stronger than any ungodly companion who may be much older or more clever than yourself. Perhaps your courage and faithfulness may win a soul for Christ. Perhaps it may break the friendship, and make your friend no longer care for your society. In either case it will do you good and glorify God, and you will have a fresh testimony in your own heart as to the reality of your faith in Christ.
That which is true of companions, is equally so of books. Much that is written is very amusing, very attractive — but it is very dangerous. It may please the imagination — but it pollutes and enervates the mind. It tends to destroy not only vital religion, but even common morality. It glosses over the most deadly vices with fair names, and palliates social evils that utterly ruin the peace of families, and debase and corrupt nations.
I have often thought of the dream of John Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press. He was just about to put forward his invention of the printing press, and it seemed to him as if an angel came and spoke to him:
"John Gutenberg, you have made your name immortal — but at what a cost! Think well what you are doing! The ungodly are many more than the godly. Your work will but multiply their blasphemies and lies. You have uncovered the bottomless pit — and a swarm of seducing spirits shall henceforth come out and turn earth into Hell. Oh think of millions of souls corrupted by your achievement. See the poison of fiends distilled into the souls of boys and girls, making them old in the experience of sin! See that mother weeping over her depraved son, and that grey-haired father hiding his face from his daughter's shame. Destroy your press, for it shall be the pander of blasphemy and lust! Destroy it, and forget it! Forbear, by multiplying the resources of the wicked, to make yourself through all ages the partaker of their crimes!"
Gutenberg was about to destroy his invention, but he reflected that the gifts of God, though perilous, are never bad, and that he might be helping the intellect and wisdom which God had given to man to gain fresh help and opportunity for good. So he proceeded with his work, and the first book that went forth from his press was a portion of the Holy Scriptures.
But, alas, the dream has come too true! Tens of thousands of publications, small and great, are issuing from the press which spread the contagion of evil on every side. Many a school boy has lost irretrievably the tone and purity of his mind by such reading. Many a girl has secretly read such a book, and it has left its stain on her for life — her dress may be fair and white, but the spot on the inner robe of purity abides.
Amidst the vast amount of printed matter sent forth daily, it is to be feared that the evil sadly exceeds the good. None can tell how the minds of multitudes are corrupted by the publications that they peruse. Therefore, my friend, be careful what you read!
It is true that "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he." But it is no less true that as a man reads — so very much will he think. Mind, memory, conscience, imagination, will, affection — all will be influenced by that which you read.
The questionable novel, with its picturing of the worst passions of the soul, as is too often the case — ought not to be devoured as if it would leave no bad impression behind. I know quite well, that we all need recreation, but it is not genuine recreation to spend hour after hour pouring over that which is trashy, nonsensical, and worse — and will only unfit you for anything higher and holier.
A great responsibility rests upon parents with respect to this matter. You would be very careful never to let poison be so exposed in your house that by any chance your children would be likely to touch it. But is there not worse poison than that which endangers life? And ought you not to take heed that no such books are in your home as may prove likely to injure the souls of your children.
And if, dear reader, you should have formed the habit of reading such light and injurious books or publications — is it not wise at once to cast them aside? It may be difficult for you at first to substitute other reading, but in the end you will be abundantly recompensed for the effort, in the real profit and solid enjoyment afforded by the perusal of works of a higher character.
If such books as I have referred to are in your house, follow the example of the Ephesians. They burned their bad books publicly, though the price of them was fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:19)
A good companion is one of a thoughtful spirit, and who has a mind well stored with useful information. Such a friend as this is invaluable. If you desire to think out matters of importance that occur around you, or subjects that you feel a difficulty in comprehending, or if you know that you have but stood on the shore of the great ocean of truth — and yet would gladly learn something more, you will find half an hour's talk with such a one will often help you. It may set a stone rolling that may be long before it rest. It may suggest a new view of some truth that may give you matter for thought for weeks or years. It may give you a key to unlock some difficult problem which has often perplexed you.
It is the same with the perusal of books containing real thought, or giving you reliable information. Such books are worth reading, and bring lasting benefit. They help you in any station of life. They fit you for more usefulness in your own home, and in the Church of God. They win for you the friendship of those who find you can help them as they can help you. They keep the mind fresh and alive, and prevent your being engrossed with little petty cares and duties which would otherwise lower the whole tone of your mind.
It is a good thing to cultivate a taste for this kind of reading — the tension of mind, which it requires, is very wholesome discipline.
Many an hour is wasted over books of fiction, or over every item in the daily newspaper, which might be far better spent. If men lived upon some light delicacies, and never took good nourishing food, what health could they expect to enjoy? And if your reading is merely of a aimless character, what mental or intellectual power can you look for?
The best companion is one who is a lover of God and His truth. A Christian friend is worth gold; yes, is a precious diamond. If he has faults, remember you have many also, and bear with them for the grace that is in Him. "A diamond with a flaw, is better than a pebble without one."
How much David was strengthened by the friendship of Jonathan. We read that when in the days of Malachi, those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another, the Lord hearkened and heard it.
The two friends on the road to Emmaus were speaking together of their Master, when He joined Himself to them and made their hearts burn within them. Such Christian friendship is one of the sweetest privileges a follower of Christ can enjoy on earth, and should be cultivated with the utmost care.
And here we discover the sort of reading that is of all the most desirable. We all want help heavenward. Around us we find temptations and snares which turn our feet aside from the narrow path: business, and the example of those we mingle with in society, and our own treacherous hearts — all these have a downward tendency. But God provides many aids to our faith, and among them Christian books have an important place. Often the reading of some such book has been the turning-point for good in the life of a young person. We often hear of the genealogies of good men, but it is interesting to trace the genealogy of a good book.
Sibbe's "Bruised Reed" was the means used of God for the conversion of Richard Baxter.
Richard Baxter wrote "The Saint's Rest," the reading of which led to the conversion of Dr. Doddridge.
Dr. Doddridge wrote "The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul," which became a blessing to William Wilberforce.
William Wilberforce wrote "The Practical View of Christianity," which touched the heart of Legh Richmond.
Legh Richmond wrote "The Annals of the Poor," which has been one of the most useful books ever written for the young.
Hence we see how a good book has become, not only an instrument of good to many readers, but a parent of successive works, which in succeeding generations have brought blessing to large numbers of readers. I may mention also an interesting fact which has lately come to my knowledge, and for which I thank Him who can use the simplest agencies and the weakest instruments for His own glory and the good of souls.
Some twelve years ago, a young Hindu of twelve years of age left a village in Tinnevelly, near Palamcottah, and went to seek a living in Ceylon. As his prospects were not very promising, he went about to several places, and at last was cajoled by a party, who carried him off to Penang, in China, and bound him down to servitude for two years. While there, he accidentally saw a little book, "Not Your Own," translated into Tamil by the Rev. E. Sargent, and purchased it, read it, and by the Holy Spirit he was brought to the Lord Jesus and became His faithful child.
He has now gone back to his native village, and the native pastor there has been greatly rejoiced at the prayerful and godly example he is setting before all. And if, sometimes, as in this instance, we see God using a little book to awaken and convert a soul to Himself, still more frequently does He use a similar instrumentality in guiding those that are seeking Him, and in strengthening and confirming weak believers in the faith.
About twenty-seven years ago, a young friend gave me a copy of "Come to Jesus," and in the plain and Scriptural way in which Christ is set forth as the only hope of the sinner, I found exceeding help in dispelling doubt and fear.
In the biographies of earnest Christians, especially of such as have worked hard in the mission field, or in spheres of great difficulty at home, we often have an agency of the first importance in raising up fresh workers in the Lord's harvest field. The lives of David Brainerd, Henry Martyn, and in later years, the lives of noble Duncan Matheson, and the story of the martyr Church of Madagascar — have been eminently useful in quickening the zeal of Christians in the work of the Lord. What a debt of gratitude also does many an invalid owe to books which take the place of the preached Gospel, and unfold the unsearchable riches of Christ in the sick chamber.
But never should any book, however excellent, take the place of the Word itself, or occupy the time that ought to be given to its study. All other books of Christian teaching are only valuable as they bring you back to the fountain-head.
Make the Book of God your chief and most intimate companion. Become well acquainted with every portion of this rich treasury of wisdom and consolation. It will be your safeguard against error on the right hand and on the left. When you enter fully into its spirit, and can see its various doctrines as revealed throughout its pages, you will instinctively shrink from teaching that undermines or denies them. It will be your safeguard against infidelity, in whatever shape it may meet you.
A Bible loved, and well studied, shines, like the sun, by its own light. The comfort and help which it affords is an evidence of its Divine origin which cannot be gainsaid.
And, remember, that when all other reading has lost its attraction, when heart-breaking sorrow, or approaching death, shall cast into the shade all mere human knowledge — this bright candle of the Lord shall illumine the darkness, and give a foretaste of the joy of that home of which the Lord Himself is the everlasting light.
One word more. Be not selfish in the enjoyment of this privilege of reading. Think of others; think of those who are too poor to obtain this help; think of hospitals, jails, and the houses of the needy. Give, or lend books or periodicals that may be likely to do good. Think also of those in the same station of life as yourself. Lend from your own library, from time to time, a book to a sick neighbor, or to one whose mind may be open to serious impressions.
Let Christmas, New Year, Birthday, or Marriage presents, take the shape of a really valuable book. Think especially of the young. Much that is very dangerous is cast in their way — do your best to counteract this by something that will help them. What a large number of young people are indebted to the "Pathway of Safety," for great assistance in their after course; and how many a young woman has found Richmond's "Annals of the Poor," a light to guide her to the Savior.
Sow diligently in this way the good seed, and pray that the Spirit of God may water it with the dew of His blessing. "Cast your bread upon the waters — and you shall find it after many days."