A Sermon Preached August 23, 1992. Recorded, Transcribed, and Revised
I am going to preach tonight on “Books and the Bible.” I know all of you folks here are inclined—some more and some less—to read other books besides the Bible. You all do so. How do you know that you ought to? Can you prove from the Scriptures that you ought to? I always take the ground—have always taken the ground on this point—that you don't need to prove it from the Scriptures. It's something that is so obviously right that even if you can't prove it from the Scriptures, you don't worry about it, any more than you would worry about proving from the Scriptures that you ought to eat—or, what may be more to the purpose, that you ought to eat certain kinds of food. How do you know you ought to eat peaches, pears, and apricots? Why, you've tasted them, and found them good. You know that they come from the hand of God, and experience proves them to be good for you. That's all the proof you need. And the same three tests would prove that the food for your soul, which you can find in books, is just as surely of God and of faith as that food for your body—even if the Bible said nothing about it. But the fact is, you can prove from the Bible that you ought to eat peaches, pears, and apricots. And you can prove from the Bible that you ought to read books—and that's what I intend to do tonight.
Now in searching through the Scriptures on the subject, I was really amazed at how much the Scriptures do have to say on it. What I'm going to do is take you through the Scriptures themselves, and show you what the Scriptures themselves have to say about other books—books which are not in the Bible—and give you a basis to be able to defend what you do if somebody else challenges you on it. Because this is a thing that will be challenged. There are a lot of people who insist that to read other books besides the Bible is in essence to overthrow the sufficiency of the Bible, and they condemn the reading of other books on that basis. Now I want to show you that doctrine in its true light tonight, but I'm going to save that until the end. First of all I'm just going to take you through a number of Scriptures, and show you what the Bible itself has to say about other books.
You can start with Numbers chapter 21, and while I'm showing you what the Bible has to say about other books, I'm going to endeavor to point out to you the implications of what the Bible says about them. Numbers chapter 21 and verse 14 says, “Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the Lord, What he did in the Red Sea, and in the brooks of Arnon, and at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.” Now, here is the book of the wars of the Lord that Moses is quoting from in writing the Pentateuch. In quoting from this book, he obviously indicates it is worth quoting from, indicating thus that there is something profitable in this book—which is not Scripture. The book of the wars of the Lord. What is it? Nobody knows. Why don't we know? Well, because somewhere back in history the people of God were apathetic and didn't care enough about preserving this book about the wars of the Lord, which Moses regarded as profitable, and worth quoting from in the very word of God.
Joshua chapter 10 and verse 13 reads, “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” What is the book of Jasher? Never heard of it. But it's a book that recorded a thing that Joshua was recording in Scripture, and it rather appears to me that Joshua is referring to something here which is so unbelievable that he calls another witness. “If you don't believe what I've got to say here, look in the book of Jasher. It's recorded there, too.” Now, this indicates in the first place that Joshua (who was a holy man of God, because the Scripture says that the Scripture came not by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost) —here, this holy man of God had obviously been reading the book of Jasher. I don't know if the book of Jasher is a secular book, or a sacred book, or what it is. But whatever it is, it was not a book inspired of God—not part of the canon of Scripture, but Joshua was reading it, and knew what it had to say, and here refers to it to substantiate his own testimony.
Now I am going to move on to some references to the books of the Chronicles. The first you'll find in the book of 1 Kings. We'll begin at I Kings, chapter 14—and I am not going to refer to all the references to these books, but to just a few of them. I Kings chapter 14 and verse 19, “And the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, how he warred and how he reigned, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel.” Now the author of this book has just related a few acts concerning King Jeroboam—a very few. But he says the rest of his acts, how he warred, and how he reigned, and everything about him, is all written in the Books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. Now, what is this Book of the Chronicles? Well, you say “It is the scriptural Book of Chronicles”. No, it is not the scriptural Book of Chronicles, because there isn't any more related there than there is here. Maybe not so much. He relates a few things here, and then says, “the rest of his acts, everything he did, it's all written in the Books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel.” It cannot refer to the scriptural Book of Chronicles, because whatever he did is not written in that scriptural Book of Chronicles. It's referring simply to the daily Chronicles that were kept at the king's court, and that is where the author of the Book of Kings got his information. And he says in effect that if you want to know more about Jeroboam, that's where you can find out. Now, in so saying He is indicating that there is something profitable for you to know about Jeroboam that's not written here. Something beyond the things which are written here in the Bible is profitable for you to know, and this is where you can find it—in the Books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel.
Now, in chapter 14 of I Kings, same chapter, the 29th verse, he says, “Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?” Now, here we have another reference—The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, the same as the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. The daily chronicles that were kept in the Royal court, perhaps written by the king himself, or by his counselors or scribes or somebody, but the record of all the royal acts. And he says in effect, “I've written you a few things here about king Rehoboam. If you want to know the rest of his life, it's all written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah” —again, implying there is something profitable for you to know in the life of this man, and this is where you may find it.
Now, in Chapter 15 of the same book, and verse 7, we read, “Now the rest of the acts of Abijam, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?” Verse 23 of the same chapter, “The rest of all the acts of Asa, and all his might, and all that he did, and the cities which he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?” Now you'll notice we have these continual references to “all that he did.” This is not a reference to the scriptural Book of Chronicles, because “all that he did” is not written concerning any king in that Book of Chronicles. This is talking about the journals kept at the courts of the kings, and the implication is that there is something profitable for you to know there, and if you want to know what it is, that's where you can find it. Thirty-one times in this book he makes that statement. Why? Why would he refer to those books of the Chronicles of the Kings thirty-one times? —and over and over say “the rest of the things that he did, all his works, all his wars, all the things he built, and so forth, everything he did, it's all written in those books of the Chronicles of the Kings”? Why would he say that thirty-one times in this book? Obviously, he is indicating there's something profitable for you to know there, and this is where you can find it. It's obvious, too, that he had been studying these books of the chronicles of these kings himself.
Now, one more verse in this 15th chapter—verse 31: “Now the rest of the acts of Nadab, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?” The reason I refer to this reference is this: some people will be hyperspiritual enough to contend that we ought not to read anything outside of the Bible, and will object to everything that I am saying about these books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and Judah, contending that the reference is really to the scriptural books of Chronicles. But this one says concerning Nadab, that the rest of his acts, and all that he did, are written in the Books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. Is that the scriptural Book of I Chronicles or II Chronicles? Absolutely impossible. There is not one word about Nadab in the scriptural books of Chronicles. The reference is to the secular books of the Chronicles kept at the king's court, and the indication is that there is something profitable there for you to know. Of course, everything which is profitable may not be necessary, and we can't know those things any more. Those books are long since lost and destroyed, along with many other things which would have been profitable, had they been preserved. But we have other things which are profitable, which we can know, and which you can find in the “books of the chronicles” of the lives of the men of God of the present dispensation.
I Kings chapter 11, verse 41: “And the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon?” Now again, the implication is the same: “There are a good many other things about Solomon that would be profitable for you to know. I don't have space to write them all here, but they are all written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon.” Wouldn't you like to get your hands on that book? All the acts of Solomon! All his wisdom! Yes, and all his follies and mistakes also. “All the rest of the acts of Solomon.” Wouldn't you love to read that book? You can't. It's forever lost, by the apathy and the carelessness of God's people. Nevertheless, the implication here is, there are other books which are not Scripture which are profitable to read. Now you'll observe that all of these books that we have talked about thus far have been history books: the chronicles of the kings, The Acts of Solomon, The Book of the Wars of the Lord—they are all history books. This is a good indication, by the way, of what kind of books it is that are profitable for you to read. Biographies and histories. A good share of the Bible itself is made up of that, and a good share of the books which the Bible itself refers you to are history books.
Now if you will turn with me to the Book of I Chronicles, chapter 29, we'll see a different sort of book. Verse 29, “Now the acts of David the King, first and last, behold, they are written in the Book of Samuel the seer, and in the Book of Nathan the prophet, and in the Book of Gad the seer.” Now, wouldn't you like to get your hands on those books? The acts of David—first and last! His whole life story, which we have just briefly told here in the Scriptures. Well, you say the book of Samuel the seer, that may be our scriptural Book of Samuel, which does in fact concern itself largely with the life of David. And you may be right. But he also mentions the books of the prophets Gad and Nathan, and these are placed alongside the book of Samuel, and all recommended together. Now I do know something about Nathan. He was the man that came to David from God with his parable, and said, “Thou art the man.” Wouldn't you like to read his book? God himself here indicates that it is profitable—but alas, lost.
II Chronicles, chapter 9 and verse 29, “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah, the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?” Solomon was a great and famous man, and his life was evidently written by many, as were the lives of Wesley and Whitefield and Moody and Spurgeon, and the writer of this scripture recommends them all. We have two more books mentioned here besides the book of Nathan the prophet. We have the books of Ahijah and Iddo. The last five of these books which have been mentioned in the past two references, were all written by prophets of God. They are not inspired Scripture, they are not part of the Bible, but they are written by prophets of God. They are historical works concerning the acts, first and last, of both David and Solomon, and God indicates by these references that these things are profitable to be read. They are religious books, not inspired Scripture, but religious books, written by men of God, and God's indication is that there is something in them that you would do well to read.
Turn on with me to II Chronicles, chapter 12 verse 15. It's says, “Now the acts of Rehoboam, first and last, are they not written in the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer concerning geneologies?” Here we have another one mentioned, the book of Shemaiah the prophet, another godly man who wrote a book which is not part of the Bible, but recommended by God in the Bible to be read. Profitable—a book written by a man of God. You know, all of these are what may be called “religious books.” But I am going to go beyond that, because the Bible does, and indicates that sometimes it may even be profitable for you to read secular books.
Turn with me to the book of Esther, the tenth chapter, and verse 2. “And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordecai, whereunto the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia?” Now, here we have a secular book recommended. Thirty-one times he recommends to us the books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel or of Judah. But here it is the books of the Chronicles of the Kings of the Medes and the Persians. Two pagan nations. Why does he recommend them? Because they contain something about a man of God! The greatness of Mordecai is proclaimed in those books. Now I don't have many secular books in my library. I have hardly any. Most of the secular books that I have are dictionaries or lexicons or something of that nature. Most secular books you ought not to waste your time on. Alas, the same is true of most Christian books! But I do have a very few secular books. The reason I have them is because they contain some information, some reference to the church of God, or the history of the church, or some men of God. And the inspired Scripture here recommends the chronicles of a heathen court, because they contain a record of the greatness of a man of God. Now if it wasn't profitable for you to know those things, God would never have made any reference to such a book—nor to any of these other uninspired books either.
Now, this brings me to the principle that there are many things that are profitable for you to know, which are not written in scripture. Hyperspiritual folks will be offended to death at anyone who says so. They will contend that absolutely all that you need to know is what is written in the Bible. Don't laugh at such folks if they don't know how to butter their bread, for the Bible doesn't tell them—nor how to eat it, either. But the Bible itself teaches us that there are things profitable which are not written in the Bible. Things which are to be found in other books. And the implication of course is, many things which have not been written in other books, too—because everything there is to know, and everything that is profitable to know, has not been written in books. And every profitable thing which is now written in a book was once upon a time unwritten—but it was just as profitable then as it is now.
Now this principle is set forth in the New Testament in the writings of John. You can turn with me first to the Gospel of John, the 20th chapter. It says in verse 30, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, ye might have life through his name.” Now, why does he tell us that there are many other things that Jesus did that are not written in this book? Is this not an indication that what he has given us here is just a small selection, and that there is a great deal more that would be profitable for us to know? He has given us here what is necessary to know to believe and be saved. Now I do believe that the Bible gives us what is necessary for our salvation, but there are other things that need to be done besides getting saved. And there is a great deal of knowledge that is profitable for you to know, for the edification of the church of God, even for the effective preaching of the gospel, which you will not find in the Bible, but you will find in other books. I preached some of those things to you this morning—how God chooses the weak and the foolish and the base and the despised. I didn't find the lives of Gipsy Smith, or D.L. Moody, or Bud Robinson in the Bible. I read other books to find those things. But I see the hand of God at work in them, and that is profitable. Now, in II John, verse 12, we have another verse with the same inference. And I believe this will be very convincing as to the point I am trying to make. II John 12 says, “ Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink, but I trust to come unto you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” Now, here is an apostle of Christ. He says, there are many things for me to say unto you. What kind of things? Worthless chit chat and trish trash, or profitable and edifying things? Profitable things, certainly. Not unprofitable things, not foolish trivia, but things that are profitable and edifying. Things that are going to build up the soul. Things that are going to refresh the soul. Many such things. But he says, I am not going to write them with paper and ink. I'm not going to put them in this book. I'm just going to save them till we meet face to face. They are profitable to be known, undoubtedly, but they are not written in the book.
You'll find the same thing in III John, verses 13 and 14. “I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face.” Now don't you wish that the apostle John had seen his way clear to write down those “many things”? He didn't do it, though. So we have these inspired epistles, II and III John, each of them just about a paragraph long, and in both of them he says, “I have many things to say to you, but I'm not going to write them down.” Now, the plain implication here is that there are many things that are profitable to know. John wasn't going there to be unprofitable, and unedifying. He was going there to profit their souls. He had many things to speak, but he didn't write them down. So, there are many things which are profitable to know that are written in other books. The Scripture plainly teaches that. And there are many things that are profitable to know that aren't written down at all.
So, how are you going to learn them? Well, go through the world with your eyes open. I have come across a very intriguing title of a book. It's by a man I'm not much impressed with, and I don't have the book, but the title of it is, Observation: Every Man's University. I have “observed” that for years. If you want to know anything, go through life with your eyes open, and observe. And, besides that, read the things that other men, especially other men of God, have observed, and you'll learn something.
Now, what about the sufficiency of Scripture? What does this doctrine that I am preaching tonight do to the doctrine of the all-sufficiency of Scripture? Doesn't what I am saying overthrow in some way the sufficiency of Scripture? Not in the least, I'll be very bold with this one. I believe that those folks who refuse to read other books on the plea of the sufficiency of Scripture, don't have any more belief in the sufficiency of Scripture than I do. What they do have is a belief in self-sufficiency. Turn with me to Ephesians, chapter 4. We read beginning at verse 11, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” Now, if he gave these, these are his gifts. Some people think they don't need his gifts. They say, “All I need is the Bible. The Bible is all-sufficient. I don't need prophets and apostles and evangelists and pastors and teachers. I don't need anybody to teach me. All I need is the Bible.” That is not a belief in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. It is a belief in the sufficiency of self. It is to say, I am sufficient to understand the Scripture all by myself, and I don't need God's gifts, and I don't need what they have written.
But this notion is wrong on another count also, for the Bible was never written to teach you what you can learn without it. It wasn't written to tell you what kind of tree to make your axe handles of, and what kind to put in the fire. It wasn't written to replace common sense and human experience. And neither was it written to replace spiritual experience. It was written to guide it, but not to replace it. The Bible tells you scores of things to do, without giving you a single word to tell you how to do it. “Abide in me.” It tells you what to do, but not how. It doesn't even explain to you what it consists of. “Walk in the Spirit.” It doesn't even tell you what it is, much less how to do it. “Esteem others better than yourself.” You know what that is, but do you know how to do it? The Bible doesn't tell you. How are you going to learn these things? By spiritual experience—or by listening to someone who has some spiritual experience, or by reading his books.
But he goes on and says in verse 12 that all these gifts are given for “the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Now listen to verse 16: “From whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” “Built up by that which every joint supplies.” But the man who contends for the sufficiency of the Scripture, and says that therefore he's not going to read any other books, is really saying, “I don't need anything that the other joints supply. I'm all-sufficient myself. I can read the Bible and understand it all by myself. I don't need the other things that the other joints are going to supply. I don't need the working of every part of the body. I don't need John Wesley. I don't need C. H. Mackintosh. I don't need C. H. Sprugeon. I don't need Menno Simons, or Martin Luther. And I don't need to look in the mirror to see if my wig is on straight. I just need the Bible, and my all-sufficient self.”
You see, the Bible is all-sufficient, for the purpose for which God gave it. It is the all-sufficient foundation for the truth of God, but it won't teach you how to tie your shoes, and in the things which it does teach, you aren't all-sufficient to be able to understand it all for yourself. You need that which every joint supplieth.
Now, just in case anybody might misunderstand what I am saying here tonight, I'm not saying you ought to read every book there is. I believe that 95% of all the books that have been written—I'm talking about Christian books—ought not to have been written at all. They were not written by holy men of God, who had a message from God. Many were written by someone who was just proud enough to think that he had the ability to write a book, or maybe somebody who had money enough to print one. Most of them were written by good and sincere men, who were shallow and mediocre. Most of the books on the Christian market today should never have been written. Most of the books on the Christian market in history should never have been written. You don't have time to read everything that has been written. You don't have time to read the profitable things that have been written, much less all the unprofitable. I'm not contending that you ought to read everything that has ever been written. You need to exercise some discernment, and read those things that are most profitable. You may waste plenty of time and money finding out what is profitable.
I did so, and that's why I labor to help other people, so they don't have to. I wasted a lot of time and money on books that weren't worth buying or reading. But that doesn't change the fact that there are books that are worth buying, and that are worth reading and re-reading—that are worth studying. Receive some of that grace which every joint supplies. Do you believe John Wesley was a gift from God to the Church of God? Then maybe he has something to offer you. Do you believe Spurgeon was a gift of God? Maybe he has something to offer you—something you may not get anywhere else.
No man, of course, is any authority. Isaiah 8:20 says, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Setting any book on the same level as the Bible, as an authority, teaching you what you ought to believe, I never dreamed of such a thing—it never entered my head. But I believe there are a lot of things you may learn from reading books, that you won't learn at all from reading the Bible. Or if you do learn it, it may take you ten years to do so.
The nature of the Bible is involved in this question. This Bible is not written to spell everything out to you clearly. This Bible is like a gold mine. You have to dig deep to get the nuggets out of it. Those nuggets are scattered here and there. And some of the gold that is in this gold mine is just gold dust. You have to sift it out. And you know, it often happens, you may read this Book for twenty years, and read right over some nugget of gold, until you read that same thing in some book that some other man wrote, and it finally dawns upon you. You see it clearly. You may have read the Bible for another twenty years, and not have seen it at all. But somebody else saw it, and he wrote it in a book, and that man that wrote that book was a gift of Christ to you to profit your soul. And what he wrote will profit your soul. Not in setting aside the Bible, but in opening up the Bible to you. Or in opening up to you godly, Christian experience—the history of the hand of God at work in the souls of men. Those things are profitable. And as I said, I myself have been rather surprised at how much the Bible has to say on the subject, and how many are the books which are not Scripture that the Bible itself recommends to us. Now, we are not wiser than God. If God in his own Book recommends to us books which are not Scripture, then obviously those books are good for us. Let's dig into them, and get the good.