An article in World magazine earlier this year caught my attention, making the point that many students of the Bible often spend more time reading on Theology than Biography, when the opposite should be true. The same applies to modern literature, that it is better replaced by classics (defined as classical works/books of history).
Have you ever wondered why a classic is classic? Or why some of the oldest books are often considered the very best? Take for example Homer’s Iliad, it is one of the older books of history, yet thousands and thousands of works existed even then. The Bible is obviously the best example of this–a book that has lasted through thousands of years and still being the best-selling, most life-changing book to ever grace mankind.
Classics are classics because they have proven to be better than the books of their time, than the books after their time, and the books of our time. And proving this over and over and over again. We have much to be taught by the classics, and to some of them I have turned my attention this summer.
I would like to share my findings with you and recommend some classics I have been able to read, so you can enjoy them as well:
The Republic by Plato (380 BC): I was excited to go through this book, because of the history it has had in the making of so many modern and ancient philosophies of governing. I was disappointed, I must say. The writing is very much idealistic, and lacks the sense of beauty and poetry I expected from this brilliant Greek philosopher. I would like to read more on him, but pure philosophy instead of politics.
Confessions by Saint Augustine of Hippo (397-8): Must Read! I have still to completely finish this book, but it has every quality of a great book, and surpasses almost every book I have yet read, after the Bible. I cannot recommend it enough! This book is rightly called Confessions because in it Augustine goes into great depth to recount all of his sins from his childhood on, and in a prayerful format repents before God. It is widely considered as the first autobiography ever written. It brings my heart to acknowledge its own wickedness and begs me to lift my hands and worship God with my whole being. This book is a gift from our heavenly Father, through the story of a wicked man–who is just like us.
City of God by Saint Augustine of Hippo (after 410): The first half was intriguing, no doubt about it. Dealing with the 400’s AD, he attacks those who still wanted to put their faith in the Greeks gods. Rome had fallen to the barbarians and Augustine had stood up to defend God, for many were blaming the Christians for abandoning Zeus and Saturn and this had caused them such calamity. Augustine handily destroys the Greek gods, by destroying the philosophy, politics, and superstition behind their non-existence. His arguments are very powerful, yet useless. That is the main problem with the first part of this book–almost completely useless to our modern society. The book is also immensely long, and laborious. He seems to move on and then goes backwards over the first material multiple times. All in all though, I must admit to Augustine being absolutely brilliant in his handling of arguments, logic, and history. I would not recommend this unless you have a lot of leisure time and enjoy Greek history.
The Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus (1511): Erasmus, by some, is considered one of the Reformers. It is not true. He was a man, who along with Thomas More of England, was brilliant yet out-of-touch. He sat in an ivory tower and pointed his long bony fingers at everyone, aside from himself. He knew exactly what the problems were that faced the Catholic Church (and he blatantly, yet with humor attacks them here) and could have worked to correct them. Yet at those two he laughed, one of them being the great William Tyndale who slaved his entire life to give the people of England what they so desperately needed: what God said (the Bible) in their own language. In this work of satire, enjoyment oozes from the pages, and it is enlightening as to the time period and hilarious to read. Yet Erasmus did nothing of the problems he so well describes here. He was as the sluggard who put his hand to the plate and was too lazy to take it back to his mouth, as Solomon warns.
Pensées by Blase Pascal (after death in 1662): Blase Pascal, the brilliant scientist and philosopher, became an ardent Christian (albeit neither Protestant nor Catholic, as we would understand it) and wrote this book in defense of God and of the Christian worldview as far superior to any other. His arguments are brilliant, but many are incomplete, since he died before it was ever published. His clarity of thought is astounding and his ability to use common, practical examples, to define God and our relation to him.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (after 1666): Must Read! It is short, beautifully sweet, practical, and ground-breaking (even after 400 years!). What more can be said? This quiet little monk who worked as a cook at a monastery during the continuing heat of the Reformation, kept to himself and loved God, perhaps more than any man I have ever heard of since. It is music to the ear of him who longs, as a deer for water, to love God, glorify him, and enjoy him forever.
Absolute Surrender (and Other Addresses) by Andrew Murray (1895): This book is series of sermons by the South African missionary of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. This book is astoundingly powerful and full of pointed and cutting examples of how we are so far from surrendering to God what he deserves–our entire life! I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to live a life of utility for God. We are only as powerful as we let God be through us–in our weakness we are strong, as Paul said.
Humility: the Beauty of Holiness by Andrew Murray (1895): Must Read! Murray makes a strong call to a Biblical teaching that was sorely lacking in his day–the pursuit of humility. He quotes text after text after text and confounds his readers as the enormous importance of being like Christ, especially in his humility. We would teach pride from the pulpit, before humility, he seems to yell out. His attack is pointed, and if it was a large problem back then, it is the chain that utterly shackles us today, perhaps no where more than in America. He presents that man’s greatest and most necessary goal in life is to become humble, like Christ was humble.
Enjoy your summer reading!