Ligon Duncan spoke at the Gospel Coalition conference this morning on 2 Timothy 4:6-22. As he was expositing the text, he mentioned what he called a classic sermon by Charles Spurgeon on verse 13, in which Paul admonishes Timothy to “bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come– and the books, especially the parchments.” Ligon then went on the quote the sermon at some length, and I was so taken by this quote (as also was Ligon, obviously) that I wanted to share it with you all. Although Spurgeon’s remarks are aimed primarily at pastors, I am sure most of us will agree with Spurgeon that all of God’s people also have this same need. So, without further ado, from the sermon entitled Paul—His Cloak and His Books:
We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. 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. Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle! 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! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.
Sadly, reading has fallen on hard times these days, as Ligon noted in his own sermon. This is why we need Spurgeon’s warning even more in our own day. You see, we tend to acclimate ourselves to being spoon fed information in entertaining ways, training ourselves to be impatient with the length and attention required by reading books. But since we are a people of the Bible – the book inspired by God – then we all need go against the cultural current and train ourselves to be readers again. This may mean that we need to turn off the television more. It may mean we need to listen to the radio less. It may mean that we need to spend less time on the internet, where we learn to read only minutes at time. But aren’t these small sacrifices to make in order to help ourselves become better able to read longer and more attentively and so become more competent readers of God’s Word?