Directions for Reading Christian Books
from Richard Baxter's "Christian Directory" 1673
Because God has made the excellent, holy writings of his servants, the singular blessing of this land and age; and many may have a good book, even any day or hour of the week, who cannot at all have a good preacher — I advise all God's servants to be thankful for so great a mercy, and to make use of it, and be much in reading. For reading, with most, does more conduce to knowledge than hearing does, because you may choose what subjects and the most excellent treatises you please; and may be often at it, and may peruse again and again what you forget, and may take time as you go to fix it on your mind. And with very many, reading does more than hearing also to move the heart — because lively books may be more easily accessed than lively preachers.
Especially these sorts of men should be much in reading:
1. Masters of families, who have more souls to care for than their own.
2. People who live where there is no preaching; or bad preaching — which is worse than none!
3. Poor people, and servants, and children, who are forced on many Lord's days to stay at home, while others have the opportunity to hear the Word preached.
4. And non-working persons that have more leisure than others have.
To all these, but especially masters of families, I shall here give a few directions.
Direction 1.I presuppose that you keep the devil's books out of your hands and house. I mean cards, and idle tales, and play-books, and romances or love-books, and false, bewitching stories, and the seducing books of all false teachers, and the railing or scorning books which the men of several sects and factions write against each other, on purpose to teach men to hate one another, and banish love. For where these are allowed to corrupt the mind — all grave and useful writings are forestalled; and it is a wonder to see how powerfully these poison the minds of children, and many other empty heads.
Also refrain from books that are written by the sons of Korah, to breed distastes and discontents in the minds of the people against their governors, both magistrates and ministers. For there is something in the best rulers, for the tongues of seditious men to fasten on, and to aggravate in the people's ears; and there is something even in godly people, which tempts them too easily to take fire and be distempered before they are aware; and they foresee not the evil to which it tends.
Direction 2.When you read to your family, or others, let it be seasonably and gravely, when silence and attendance encourage you to expect success; and not when children are crying or talking, or servants bustling to disturb you. Distraction is worst, in the greatest businesses.
Direction 3.Choose such books as are most suitable to your state, or to those you read to. It is worse than unprofitable, to read books for comforting troubled minds, to those that are blockishly secure, and have hardened, obstinate, unhumbled hearts. It is as bad as to give medicines or remedies contrary to the patient's need, and such as nourish the disease. So is it to read books of too high a style or subject, to dull and ignorant hearers. We use to say: That which is one man's meat, is another man's poison. It is not enough that the matter is good — but it must be agreeable to the case for which it is used.
Direction 4.To a common family begin with those books, which at once inform the judgment about the fundamentals, and awaken the affections to entertain them and improve them. Such as are treatises of regeneration, conversion, or repentance
Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most — but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.
Direction 5.Next these, read over those books which are most suited to the state of young Christians for their growth in grace, and for their exercise of faith, and love, and obedience, and for the mortifying of selfishness, pride, sensuality, worldliness, and other the most dangerous sins.
Direction 6.At the same time labor to methodize your knowledge; and to that end read first and learn some short catechism, and then some larger catechism. And let the catechism be kept in memory while you live, and the rest be thoroughly understood.
Direction 7.Next read (to yourselves or families) the larger expositions of the Creed, Lord's Prayer, and Ten Commandments; such as Thomas Watson on the Commandments; that your understanding may be more full, particular, and distinct, and your families may not stop in generals, which are not understood.
Direction 8.Read much those books which direct you in a course of daily communion with God, and holy ordering your daily life.