Thursday, 27 March 2014

ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS




Have you ever seen those commentaries that proudly declare on the front cover,
           
                       "The only book that you will ever need besides the Bible"?

Now is that not an idea to make one weep? 

 As someone who seeks during his brief time on earth to build as large and as useful a personal library as he can possibly muster, I could never conceive of going through life with only my Bible and a solitary commentary. 

 I will agree that such a two-book collection could scarcely be called a meager resource-one of those books, after all, contains all the riches of Christ. But, in terms of the merely human book, how could anyone be satisfied with a single resource for study? Indeed, I know that there are some who would dispense even with that. I wonder why it is that so many of us are content to live as though two millennia of biblical scholarship never happened?

 At this point I must report something curious that I have often observed in the behaviour of the people when I am preaching or teaching. I have noticed that if, as part of my message, I should happen to quote some profound insight from a great Christian thinker of the past, say an Augustine or an Edwards, the people might (at most) nod some small assent to the validity of that man’s statement. But mostly during these times I have noticed that people actually tend to just stare impassively ahead as though I had said nothing of any significance at all.

 On the other hand, let me share with them something that I think the Lord has shown to me personally during my meditations in the Word and immediately I will see them reach for their pens to write this down. Apparently anything God has shown to me now is considered to be a far weightier matter than something He might have revealed to some bloke centuries ago that we have never heard of. Seemingly we have no interest in what God might have said to a man a thousand years ago, we are really only interested in what He is saying to us today.

Now why should this be?

 Hopefully we cannot be so hubristic as to think that no one who has lived before us has any insights to offer us on the Christian life. Yet seemingly the thinking is that as we sit alone with our Bibles, God will drop into our spirits all the wisdom of the ages.

 But just why should God drop in all that knowledge, when He has made it freely available to us by having already dropped it into the spirits of the men who have lived before us? Men whose books we are perfectly free to avail ourselves of. 

 Must He re-educate each new generation of believers from scratch in the deep things of Him, simply because we steadfastly refuse to learn from anybody else? And even if He should deign to do so, do I really think that I am capable of absorbing such deep truths as though I were an Augustine or an Edwards?

 Now, please do not misunderstand me,  I am a firm believer in the sufficiency of Scripture. As such I affirm that the Bible, under the ministration of the Holy Spirit, is sufficient to convert me, and see me through this world and safely to Heaven. I need nothing other than that for the Christian life. Nevertheless the sufficiency of the scriptures must never be allowed as an argument against good Christian reading.

Put it another way: the issue here is not whether we will get to Heaven but how many people we will actually know when we get there! How many of us, when finally walking those happy halls, and being introduced to all of the great Christian sages who have lived before us; will have to admit to not having the faintest notion who most of them are?

We all know the old joke about the Pentecostal pastor whose study burned down. The really sad part was not only that he lost both of his books, but that he hadn't even finished colouring them in!

Well, I do not intend that this joke ever be on me.
  Instead I aspire to becoming as widely-read & knowledgable believer as I can possibly manage plus also hearing from God in my own private study of the scriptures. Intellectual pygmy though I am, I can yet "stand on the shoulders of giants" in the hope of seeing just a little further than they.

Important maxim: a man can never have too many books, only too little space!