Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Recently at an estate sale I purchased a set of 8 small books. They were published in 1910 by Merrill Publishing. One book in particular caught my eye: Selections from the Writings of Abraham Lincoln. In its preface it states, to paraphrase; “The speeches have a deeper significance and a higher mission…They are exponents of a character and the mirror of life.” The book was published only 45 years after Lincoln’s death.
At the time these were published books were not as accessible or affordable as they are today. These books were a prize to those who had them.
Each book with its yellowed pages was embellished with the signatures and notes of the hands it had passed through. These books tell another story as they passed through the hands, mind and souls of many who are all now in the presence of our creator. These books were a part of their lives and helped shape their thoughts and actions.
Books transcend time and space to preserve and repeat and transmit knowledge to future generations. Through our God given imagination, we give substance to what we read.
By looking back we see humanities faulty logic and the futility of our sinful reasoning apart from God. Old books, old literature gives us context and a frame of reference and connects us to our collective past in a way that even recorded history cannot.
One of the greatest lasting virtues of good literature is its ability to help us see and experience things beyond the limited scope of our modern self-image and ego.
The books we read in our youth can help to form who we are for the rest of our lives. The enjoyment and enrichment they yield is of immeasurable value: these books play a part in the formation of our memories, the thought pattern we develop as our lives unfold, ultimately contributing to our conscious selves.
The recognition and understanding of past adversities and suffering can help relieve the perception that our troubles are overwhelming. Great books are testimony to the fact civilization survives all manner of adversity and change. Many people like John Calvin and Martin Luther suffered multiple severe health problems (as did all people of those time periods) that hindered their quality of life and outlook. Beyond home remedies they had no real healthcare yet they produced some of the greatest works of Theology while under the grip of these bodily distresses.
Reading old books and classics is educational and humbling. It makes us take off our blinders and widen our view of this world. Millennia of human history unfold from the pages of books.
C.S. Lewis wisely observed: “The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”