A WORD TO THE READER
This section of the work contains Thomas Brooks Directions for Reading. He begins with the proposition drawn from the Proverbs, that one must obtain truth. Thus, Brooks is not speaking of all reading, but of reading that which is profitable.
DEAR FRIEND!—Solomon bids us buy the truth (Prov. 23:23), but doth not tell us what it must cost, because we must get it though it be never so dear.
The Puritans were quite careful to distinguish between buying truth and buying anything else. Christian, at Vanity Fair, was only there to be “buy truth”. And Bunyan in the Heavenly Footman advises:
Take heed that you have not an ear open to every one that calleth after you as you are in your journey. Men that run, you know, if any do call after them, saying, I would speak with you, or go not too fast, and you shall have my company with you, if they run for some great matter, they use to say, Alas, I cannot stay, I am in haste, pray talk not to me now; neither can I stay for you, I am running for a wager: if I win I am made, if I lose I am undone, and therefore hinder me not. Thus wise are men when they run for corruptible things, and thus should thou do, and thou hast more cause to do so than they, forasmuch as they run but for things that last not, but thou for an incorruptible glory. I give thee notice of this betimes, knowing that thou shalt have enough call after thee, even the devil, sin, this world, vain company, pleasures, profits, esteem among men, ease, pomp, pride, together with an innumerable company of such companions; one crying, Stay for me; the other saying, Do not leave me behind; a third saying, And take me along with you. What, will you go, saith the devil, without your sins, pleasures, and profits? Are you so hasty? Can you not stay and take these along with you? Will you leave your friends and companions behind you? Can you not do as your neighbours do, carry the world, sin, lust, pleasure, profit, esteem among men, along with you? Have a care thou do not let thine ear now be open to the tempting, enticing, alluring, and soul- entangling flatteries of such sink-soulsf13 as these are. ‘My son,’ saith Solomon, ‘if sinners entice thee, consent thou not’ (Pro. 1:10).
Brooks’ directions are to bring information into one’s heart so that it transforms both conduct and affections. Therefore, these directions for reading are not appropriate for all things which we read. As Paul Baynes writes in Brief Directions for a Godly Life, “That all filthy, lewd and wanton books, yea, needless and unprofitable books be avoided.”
Remember, it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul.
Meditation is a constant element of Puritan spirituality. Thomas Watson writes,
It is better to meditate on one sermon than to hear five. If an angel were to come down from heaven and preach to men; yea, if Jesus himself were the preacher, none would profit without meditation. The bee sucks the flower, and then works it in the hive, and it becomes honey. We must not only suck the flower of the Word, but work it in the hive of the heart.
Thomas Watson, Puritan Gems; Or, Wise and Holy Sayings of the Rev. Thomas Watson, A.M., ed. John Adey, Second Thousand. (London: J. Snow, and Ward and Co.; Nisbet and Co.; E. F. Gooch, 1850), 96–97. And:
Meditate upon what you read. Psalm 119:15: “I will meditate in thy precepts.” The Hebrew word to meditate, signifies to be intense in the mind. In meditation there must be a fixing of the thoughts upon the object. Luke 2:19: “Mary pondered those things.” Meditation is the concoction of Scripture; reading brings a truth into our head, meditation brings it into our heart; reading and meditation, like Castor and Pollux, must appear together. Meditation without reading is erroneous; reading without meditation is barren. The bee sucks the flower, and then works it into the hive, and so turns it into honey; by reading we suck the flower of the word, by meditation we work it into the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit. Meditation is the bellows of the affection. Psalm 39:3: “While I was musing the fire burned.” The reason we come away so cold from reading the word, is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.
Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit,” in The Bible and the Closet: Or How We May Read the Scriptures with the Most Spiritual Profit; and Secret Prayer Successfully Managed, ed. John Overton Choules (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1842), 24–25.
In his sermon, A Discourse of the Right Way of Obtaining and Maintaining Communion with God, Matthew Barker writes:
We should, with David, “set the Lord always before” our face; (Psalm 16:8;) and not as he that he speaks of, of whom it is said, “God is not in all his thoughts.” (Psalm 10:4.) This is rather to live “without God in the world,” than to live in communion with him. And these thoughts of God should not be slight and transient, but fixed and serious; especially at some times, which we should more peculiarly devote to solemn meditation. Meditation brings the object nearer to the soul, and the soul nearer to it, though locally distant; unites the soul to it; mixeth itself with it; whereby it doth possess it, or is possessed of it.
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 4 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 48. Meditation is a deliberate focus and pondering of the proposition; it is the exact opposite of a transitory reading.
Brooks is not merely asking for one to read his book, but to wrestle with the book. A serious book which discloses the truth of God deserves our serious consideration. Much of our trouble comes from not considering what we read.
The purpose of God’s truth is never for bare knowledge; this is an academic prize. I was once asked by a fellow Christian why I should take the time to know and understand, “After all”, he said, “when we’re heaven we’ll know it all any way.” But we are given truth for the end of godliness, faith working through love; never bare knowledge. Thus,
Thirdly, Know that it is not the knowing, nor the talking, nor the reading man, but the doing man, that at last will be found the happiest man.
As Thomas Watson wrote:
Learn to apply Scripture; take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: God means my sins; when it presseth any duty, God intends me in this. Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves. A medicine will do no good unless it be applied. The saints of old took the word as if it had been spoken to them by name. When king Josiah heard the threatening which was written in the book of God, he applied it to himself; he “rent his clothes and humbled his soul before the Lord.” 2 Kings 22:11.
Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit,” in The Bible and the Closet: Or How We May Read the Scriptures with the Most Spiritual Profit; and Secret Prayer Successfully Managed, ed. John Overton Choules (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1842), 33–34. The application is to be complete:
We must be careful to apply that which we read wisely to ourselves; persuading ourselves that all duties are commanded us and all sins forbidden us all and all promises to be believed by us. Likewise, we must look that all exhortations and admonitions quicken us; all reprehensions check us; and all threats cause us to fear.
Paul Baynes, Brief Directions.
Christianity is not a matter of bare knowledge, it is a comprehensive manner of life. And, we cannot know as we ought when we refuse to live as we ought:
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:14 (ESV). There is a necessary preparation and transformation of the human heart which makes it fit to receive the truth.
Brooks drives this home with an illustration:
Reader, If it be not strong upon thy heart to practise what thou readest, to what end dost thou read? To increase thy own condemnation? If thy light and knowledge be not turned into practice, the more knowing man thou art, the more miserable man thou wilt be in the day of recompense; thy light and knowledge will more torment thee than all the devils in hell. Thy knowledge will be that rod that will eternally lash thee, and that scorpion that will for ever bite thee, and that worm that will everlastingly gnaw thee; therefore read, and labour to know, that thou mayest do, or else thou art undone for ever.
The fact that knowledge increases condemnation is taught in the Scripture:
20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Matthew 11:20–24 (ESV). They had seen and heard and rejected. The Word of God is a dangerous thing, it will either transform or harden. In Nehemiah 8, the returned exiles are taught the people the Law of God; and when they heard it, they wept. But Herod, who heard the condemnation of John the Baptist, put John in prison. To hear the word of God, and to not listen and comply with the reproof is to be destroyed:
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
Proverbs 29:1 (ESV)
Application of this to Counseling:
These directions for reading are likely the most common reason that Biblical Counseling fails. The Counselor conveys information and permits to be bare information. The counselee hears something, consents, even admits to its importance. But, after leaving the counseling time, the poor Christian proceeds into the world with more information but the information is inert.
Even the homework given typically does little good because it most often information conveyance. While information is insufficient: Information is a necessary but a sufficient cause for change: the information must drive down into the heart and transform affections and conduct.
Brooks is here underlying the primary elements of turning information into transformation: Meditation – which transforms the thought and affections; and obedience. Conduct and sustained thought do much to drive knowledge into the bones and blood.