Sunday, August 19, 2007

Spiritual Classics

Someone I know is teaching a course on “Spiritual Classics.” This prompted me to think of what I would put on the reading list for such a course. It was a good exercise. Here is a list of Protestant Evangelical spiritual classics. What I mean by a “spiritual” book in this context is a devotional work that probes the soul, opens the gospel, and draws and conforms the heart to Christ. This is far from an exhaustive lost. Feel free to suggest others. I have taken the book summaries largely from internet retailers.

Thirsty souls, take note!

The Godly Man's Picture by Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
Watson subtitled this book, "Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven". The pages which follow thoroughly, but very simply, portray those very traits: a man of knowledge; a man fired by love; a man who serves God and not men; a man who loves the Word; a man of humility; a man of prayer; a zealous man; a patient man; a man who prizes Christ; and 15 more! It is, as C.H. Spurgeon said of his other work, “a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience and practical wisdom.”

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) by William Law
Law's prose is fresh and vivid as he illustrates the holy Christian life as one lived wholly for God. His thoughts on prayer, personal holiness and service to the poor will resonate with many contemporary readers. Samuel Johnson said this: “I took up this book expecting to find it a dull book (as such books generally are) and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me.” He later described it as “the finest piece of hortatory theology in any language.”

Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)
Doddridge offers 30 magnificent, matchless chapters on how one stays the course of the Christian life with strength. John Newton said: "few uninspired books have greater honor than Doddrige's The Rise and Progress". Jonathan Edwards wrote, "I cannot but rejoice at some things lately published in England, particular Dr. Doddridge's book. He seems to have his heart truly engaged for the interest of religion."

The Life of God in the Soul of Man (1739) by Henry Scougal
This book was used of God in the conversion of George Whitefield was much used more recently in the writings of John Piper. Whitefield said: “I never knew what true religion was till God sent me this excellent treatise.”

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648) by Jeremiah Burroughs
We live in a world of grumblers, discontent with God's widespread goodness. This book, in typical Puritan form, "doctors" us by proposing remedies to our "spiritual disease" and helps us grow a spirit of thankfulness in its place.

All Things For Good (1663) by Thomas Watson
Based on Romans 8:28, Watson simply but profoundly explains how God does in fact make all things - good and bad things - work together for the good of His people.

The Book of Martyrs (1563) by John Foxe
When the church does not feel pain with those that are part of them, the Church's nerves...become dead” (Sabina Wurmbrand, The Voice of the Martyrs). Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, like Pilgrim’s Progress, has been one of the most consistently and widely read books of Christian devotion in the English language. Profoundly influential.

The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan
This is one of the most influential books of the English language and rightly on any short list of spiritual classics. Augustus Toplady: “It is a masterpiece of piety and genius; and will, we doubt not, be of standing use to the people of God be so long as the sun and moon endure.” George Whitefield: “It was written when the author was confined in Bedford gaol. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross; the spirit of Christ and of glory then rests upon them.”

Holiness (1879) by J.C. Ryle
John Charles Ryle (1816-1900), the first Bishop of Liverpool, was affectionately known as "the working man's bishop." He was firm in his theological convictions, never suffering from what he called a "boneless, nerveless, jellyfish condition of soul." Today, more than a hundred years after his death, his works remain some of the Christian church's most cherished treasures. Among them, Holiness is an enduring classic.

The Knowledge of the Holy (1961) by A.W. Tozer
This book bears eloquent witness to God's majesty and shows us new ways to experience and understand the wonder and the power of God's spirit in our daily lives. Tozer: "The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him." Again: "Love and faith are at home in the mystery of the Godhead. Let reason kneel in reverence outside."

Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
The letters of Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Anwoth who was a participant at the Westminster Assembly, are considered the most remarkable, devotionally rich, series of letters in all literature by many students of church history. Charles Spurgeon called Rutherford's letter "the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men." Like John Bunyan in Bedford jail, Samuel Rutherford did his best work while suffering imprisonment for the gospel. It was out of this period that most of his famous Letters came.

Classic Counsels by C.H. Spurgeon
Any list of evangelical spiritual classics has to include something from the 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, known with great justice as “prince of preachers.” No matter what you pick up from this gifted saint, you have struck gold. Any sampling of Spurgeon tends to result in a lifelong reading relationship, and with great spiritual profit. This anthology is a collection of messages that covers major aspects of personal spiritual experience and Christian service, including: Obtaining certain assurance, help for doubting seekers, relief for the downcast believer, and how converts are strengthened.

Charity and Its Fruits (1738) by Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards, whose learned and godly ministry the Lord used in the Great Awakening, shows clearly the essential fruit of the Christian life in contrast to the way most "Christians" live today. This book will spur you on to genuine love and good works.

The Religious Affections (1746) by Jonathan Edwards
The question driving this book, which Edwards wrote as part of his defense of the awakenings of the 1730's-1740's, is: "What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal life?", or, in a shorter form, "What is the nature of true religion?" Review by “Jason” (Amazon): This is probably the greatest book available on the nature of true conversion. A thoughtful and thoroughly biblical analysis. One of the few books that made me rethink what I had assumed to be true about how the Spirit of God works in a person.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Review by Erik A. Olson (Amazon; altered): The book's major theme centers on what it really means to be a disciple of Christ. Christ calls us to "come and die." He wants all of us - nothing is to be held back. Bonhoeffer was an early foe of Adolph Hitler, and this book was published while he was being persecuted by the Nazis. Therefore, he wrote as one who has stood for Christ in tough times, and he knew that Christ is one's only hope. Bonhoeffer attacks "cheap grace" and demands a steadfast, deep loyalty to Christ.

1 comment:

Jason Poquette said...

The Crook in the Lot by Thomas Boston

'…the pure biblical wisdom of The Crook in the Lot is badly needed by many of us, and so I am delighted that it is being made available again in this handy form. For truly, as Americans love to say, this is where it's at.'
J.I. Packer