When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” — 2 Timothy 4:13
One thing we see looking back at great movements of God (revivals and reformations) prompted by gospel preaching is that the preachers weren’t usually themselves “wakened” by preaching but by reading. For some it was rich, gospel-drenched books:
— For George Whitefield, the greatest preacher in American history, it was Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man. “Though I had fasted, watched, and prayed, and received the Sacrament long,” he wrote, “yet I never knew what true religion was, till God sent me that excellent treatise by the hands of my never-to-be-forgotten friend.”
— For George Thomson, influential 18th-century Anglican rector, it was William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.
— For Howell Harris, one of the great leaders of the Welsh Methodist Revival, it was Richard Allestree’s devotional work The Whole Duty of Man.
— For Charles Wesley, it was Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians.
— For John Wesley, it was Martin Luther’s Preface to Romans.
For some, it was in beholding Christ’s glory in the biblical text itself—not just the books, but the parchments:
— For Jonathan Edwards, it was 1 Timothy 1:17 that awakened his soul to the beauty of God’s sovereignty and caused him such delight that he wished he could be “rapt up to God and be, as it were, swallowed up in him forever.”
— For Martin Luther, (partly) it was the way Romans 1:17 and Habakkuk 2:4 fit together.
—For Augustine, it was Romans 13:13-14 that flooded his heart with light, ended his carousing, answered his mother’s long-suffering prayers, and began the most influential post-biblical theological ministry in church history.
Back when I was getting ready to publish my book Gospel Wakefulness, my friend Ray Ortlund, who wrote the foreword to it, told me this: “Jared, one day 50 years from now, some tired pastor is going to find this book on a shelf in a used bookstore and it will change his life.”
That meant the world to me. Ray didn’t say, “This book is going to be a bestseller.” He knew it wouldn’t be. But he also knew that wasn’t the best Gospel Wakefulness could be, anyway. Lots of books hit the bestseller list. Not many of those are still read 10 years later, much less 50. Many aren’t even read a year later. But the idea that the book could affect a soul, that it could awaken something fresh in a weary spirit, give a reader a new sense of Christ’s grace that changes everything—that’s worth writing for.
For Ray, by the way, it was Romans 9:18 (in the Greek, naturally) that, in his words, “turned his universe upside down.”
So when people criticize all the gospel-centered this and grace-focused that coming out of the few Christian publishing houses committed to producing them, I get a little concerned. First, because gospel fatigue is a real thing, and it is spiritually dangerous. Second, because while I share a concern about The Gospel becoming just a fad, I think there are a lot worse fads (to be honest), and also, until the CBA charts are dominated by “gospely” books, I’m not gonna be overly concerned about it. But most importantly, I am happy for gospel books because gospel books change lives—they historically and remarkably awaken souls and influence the church for the good of the world and the glory of Christ.
So for those tired of all the “gospely” books, I say keep ’em coming! They can feed the next generation of great preaching, which fosters the next great revival.
Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read . . . He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! — Charles Spurgeon, “Paul—His Cloak and His Books”