The Dangers of Incessantly Reading Books

Christmas has now passed and the New Year is quickly approaching. This means that many of you are putting together your 2019 reading list. In your effort to do this, you are looking at other people’s top 10 book lists of 2018 in order to compile a beneficial reading list for 2019.  And undoubtedly, many of you may have already started ordering your books for January and February so you can get a bit of a head start (no shame in that)!

But in the midst of compiling a reading list and ordering books, I want to give you some helpful counsel from two prominent Christians that were avid readers. The reason I want to do this is because these two men were very aware of the numerous dangers of the incessant reading of books. And these are dangers that we too need to be aware of so that we will not fall prey to our flesh or the evil one as we take up and read in 2019.

Counsel from Spurgeon

So, let’s begin with a look at a quote from Charles Spurgeon:

A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed. Little learning and much pride comes from hasty reading. Some men are disabled from thinking by their putting meditation away for the sake of much reading. In reading let your motto be ‘much not many.’

Here, Spurgeon identifies two dangers of the incessant reading of books:

  1. Produces little learning
    1. While one flies through numerous books, they develop a thought process that a book read means wisdom attained. This, however, is far from the truth. One can plow through a book and not gain a bit of wisdom. In all actuality, flying through numerous books actually inhibits our learning and disables our thinking. It inhibits our learning because we are not set on mastering the subject of the book, but simply finishing the book. And it disables our thinking because we end up spending little time thinking about what the author has said, why the author said it, and if what the author said is right. This is not profitable at all. This is exactly why Spurgeon said that our mind is more affected by mastering one book than by skimming twenty.
  2. Produces much pride
    1. Like I said above, flying through books somehow produces a thought process that a book read means wisdom attained. So, we navigate through numerous books thinking that we are growing in wisdom, when, in all actuality, rather than cultivating wisdom and knowledge, we are cultivating pride. With the skimming of books, we haven’t mastered a single subject, though, in some strange way, we pridefully think that we have.

Counsel from Newton

Alright, now let’s look at a quote from John Newton:

It is far from my intention to depreciate the value or deny the usefulness of books, without exception: a few well-chosen treatises, carefully perused and thoroughly digested, will deserve and reward our pains; but a multiplicity of reading is seldom attended with a good effect. Besides the confusion it often brings upon the judgment and memory, it occasions a vast expense of time, indisposes for close thinking, and keeps us poor, in the midst of seeming plenty, by reducing us to live upon a foreign supply, instead of laboring to improve and increase the stock of our own reflections.

Here, Newton lists numerous dangers to the incessant reading of books:

  1. Confusion upon judgment and memory
    1. I am not entirely sure what Newton is getting at here, but I will try to make sense of it. The incessant reader’s judgment is confused because he does not spend much time meditating on what is being said. Since he does not spend time meditating on what is being said, he is not thinking critically. And where one does not think critically, his judgment is confused. This is a dangerous place to be when reading books written by fallible men!
    2. He also mentions that there is confusion brought to the memory. This makes perfect since. The incessant reader spends his hours skimming and flying through sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books on a broad range of topics. Therefore, he is not able to remember what he has read (which actually does not benefit anybody)!
  2. Takes up a great deal of time
    1. Reading books takes time, and time is incredibly valuable. If we dedicate our seconds, minutes, hours, and days to the incessant reading of books then we will not be abounding in other good works for the Lord. So, while reading books is a good use of time, it should not be the only way we use our time. There are other works that we need to be doing to the glory of God!
  3. Keeps us from close thinking
    1. We touched on this when we looked at Spurgeon’s quote.
  4. Deceives us into thinking we have plenty when we are poor
    1. We touched on this in Spurgeon’s quote as well, but I love the way Newton says it. The incessant reader seemingly has plenty, but in all actuality, he is poor. And that which he has is not even his own, it is a somebody else’s. Since he has not meditated and thought much about what he has read, he simply becomes a parrot of the thoughts of others!

Concluding Thoughts

So, these are the dangers of the incessant reading of books. Now, the last thing I want you to do after reading this blog is to cease from reading books. That would be a travesty! And I am confident that both Charles Spurgeon and John Newton would not want you to cease from reading books either. Both of these men were avid readers. John Newton often talked about certain books that he was reading and also recommended numerous books to people he was writing letters to. Also, Charles Spurgeon is known to have read six books a week (and he’s trying to teach us to thoroughly read books…….ha…..jk)!

So, do not cease from reading books in 2019! Rather, take time to master certain books. Take Spurgeon’s counsel when he says,

“Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them…digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times and make notes and analyses of it.”

I am sure that if you do this it will prove to be very beneficial.

Also, glean wisdom from Newton. I think Newton’s greatest fear was that people would consistently read other books to the detriment of reading the Bible. And it is apparent that this was not only a problem in Newton’s day, but it is also a problem in our day. There are many Christians that read many books throughout the year, but they neglect the very Word of God. This ought not be! So, in 2019 don’t neglect the Bible. Keep this quote from Newton in mind:

“And books that have a savor and unction may likewise be helpful, provided we read them with caution, compare them with the scripture, and do not give ourselves implicitly to the rules or decisions of any man or set of men, but remember that one is our Master and infallible Teacher, even Christ. But the chief and grand means of edification, without which all other helps will disappoint us, and prove like clouds without water, are the Bible and prayer, the word of grace and the throne of grace.”

So read other books often, think deeply about what they are saying, meditate on their meaning, and remain humble all the while persistently reading the Bible to learn from our Savior. This will keep you from the dangers of incessantly reading books.

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