William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

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Advice On Reading


by Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

[Reprinted with permission from Issue 11, June, 1958, p.1]

"Make careful choice of the books which you read: let the holy scriptures ever
have the pre-eminence, and, next to them, those solid, lively, heavenly
treatises which best expound and apply the scriptures, and next, credible
histories, especially of the Church . . . but take heed of false teachers who
would corrupt your understandings."

1. As there is a more excellent appearance of the Spirit of God in the holy
scripture, than in any other book whatever, so it has more power and fitness to
convey the Spirit, and make us spiritual, by imprinting itself upon our hearts.
As there is more of God in it, so it will acquaint us more with God, and bring
us nearer Him, and make the reader more reverent, serious and divine. Let
scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands and other books be used as
subservient to it. The endeavours of the devil and papists to keep it from you,
doth shew that it is most necessary and desirable to you.

2. The writings of divines are nothing else but a preaching of the gospel to the
eye, as the voice preaches it to the ear. Vocal preaching has the pre-eminence
in moving the affections, and being diversified according to the state of the
congregation which attend it: this way the milk comes warmest from the breast.
But books have the advantage in many other respects: you may read an able
preacher when you have but a average one to hear. Every congregation cannot hear
the most judicious or powerful preachers: but every single person may read the
books of the most powerful and judicious; preachers may be silenced or banished,
when books may be at hand: books may be kept at a smaller charge than preachers:
we may choose books which treat of that, very subject which we desire to hear
of; but we cannot choose what subject the preacher shall treat of. Books we may
have at hand every day. and hour; when we can have sermons but seldom, and at
set times. If sermons be forgotten, they are gone; but a book we may read over
and over, till we remember it: and if we forget it, may again peruse it at our
pleasure, or at our leisure. So that good books are a very great mercy to the
world: the Holy Ghost chose the way of writing, to preserve His doctrine and
laws to the 'Church, as knowing how easy and sure a way it is of keeping it safe
to all generations, in comparison of mere verbal traditions.

3. You have need of a judicious teacher at hand, to direct you what books to use
or to refuse: for among good books there are some very good that are sound and
lively; and some good, but mediocre, and weak and somewhat dull; and some are
very good in part, but have mixtures of error, or else of incautious,
injudicious expressions, fitter to puzzle than edify the weak.

 

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