On Companions and Books: Choosing Wisely
Adapted from a Sermon by George Everard, 1874
No truth is more important for the Christian and especially to the young Christian to remember, than that we become like those with whom we associate. We resemble always more and more those with whom we are intimate. Without realizing it, we catch their spirit and their tone of mind. It is written, "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." Proverbs 13:20. And "do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals." 1 Corinthians 15:33
Rehoboam takes counsel with the young rogues, and accepting their advice, he loses a large part of his kingdom. Jehoshaphat makes an alliance with King Ahab — disaster and defeat follow, and God sends him the solemn reproof: "Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD?" (2 Chr 19:2)
On the other hand, Ruth joins herself to Naomi and the people of God, and gains a rich blessing. Nathanael joins company with Philip, and finds a Savior.
The lesson is plain. Be careful in the choice of friends! Do not enter into the path of the wicked. As you have opportunity, make companions of such as love and fear God. This was the spirit of David, the man after God's own heart.
"I hate the work of those who fall away …”, he writes, “A perverse heart shall be far from me….I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me." (Psalm 101:3, 4, 6.) And "depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.” And “I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts." (Psalm 119:115, 63.)
But side by side with this lesson we may learn another. We may well apply this truth to the books we should read. Where do we find the wisest thoughts of the wisest men? Where do we find the cream of that intellectual or spiritual power which a man may possess? Is it not in their writings? Take off your shelf the work of some godly man who lived three hundred years ago, and do you not at once make him your companion, though he may long have been slumbering in the grave?
You may not often be able to find as your daily friend and counsellor — one as true and wise and helpful as you would long for; but can you not by reading good books attain in some measure what you seek? Can you not find always, if you search for it, a book that will teach you and strengthen your hands?
And there is another advantage in these companions. We can be with them whenever we want. There may be times when friends who come and talk with us when we feel we ought to be about our work. And at other times we desire their presence, but they are far away. But we can always choose our time for conversing with our friend on the shelf. The time in which we have his company need not either be too long or too short. Let us consider then what sort of companions it is well to choose, and then apply this to the books we read.
First of all, we may be sure of this — that it is wise to choose as companions, such only as are of pure mind, sound principle, and whose conversation will not harm those who listen to it .
Some companions are very clever, very fascinating, sparkling with wit and life, and it even may be with kindliness of nature — and yet for all this, their influence is against all right feeling and Christian holiness. It is hard to resist their advances, or to refuse an invitation from them — and yet all the while a voice within tells us it is dangerous to be with them — their influence is all in the wrong direction; it is away from purity, from the love of God, from the path of faithful obedience to the Divine will. Their chains may be silken, but they are the bands of Delilah, because they bind the soul to its ruin! Their voice may be sweet, but it is the voice of the Siren that would draw you to the fatal island, where escape is well-near impossible.
Is this a danger to which you are currently exposed? Have you a friend who makes light of spiritual things, and whose words leave many taints of evil on your soul? What ought you to do?
Ought you most to esteem Christ — or your friend? If you want to be loyal to the Great Captain of your salvation — then take a bold stand. Don't let things slowly and imperceptibly take their course, until one by one you give up your own decided convictions. Act courteously, act kindly and considerately, but act firmly.
Speak out boldly when anything is spoken to the dishonor of Christ's name. You could write a letter to your friend, and say how much you have been saddened, and that you dare not be friends with one who speaks against the Name you love. Earnestly plead with your friend to turn at once to the Lord, and then you will rejoice to help each other on the way to the heavenly Jerusalem.
Never mind the pain it may give you to write such a letter, or to speak the faithful word; with Christ by your side, you are stronger than any ungodly companion who may be much older or more clever than yourself. Perhaps your courage and faithfulness may win a soul for Christ. Perhaps it may break the friendship, and make your friend no longer care for your company. In either case it will do you good and glorify God, and you will have a fresh testimony in your own heart as to the reality of your faith in Christ.
That which is true of companions, is equally so of books. Much that is written is very amusing, very attractive — but it is very dangerous. It may please the imagination — but it pollutes and agitates the mind. It tends to destroy not only vital religion, but even common morality. It passes lightly over the most deadly vices with fair names, and normalizes evils in society that utterly ruin the peace of families, and debase and corrupt nations.
In our day thousands of publications, small and great, are published, in print or electronically, which spread the infection of evil on every side. Many a young boy has lost irretrievably the tone and purity of his mind by such reading. Many a girl has secretly read such a book, and it has left its stain on her for life — her dress may be fair and white, but the spot on the inner robe of purity remains.
Amidst the vast amount of matter published every day, it is to be feared that the evil sadly exceeds the good. No one can tell how the minds of multitudes are corrupted by the publications that they peruse. Therefore we ought to be careful what we read!
It is true that "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he." But it is no less true that as a man reads — so very much will he think. Mind, memory, conscience, imagination, will, affection — all will be influenced by that which you read.
The questionable novel, with its picturing of the worst passions of the soul, as is too often the case — ought not to be devoured as if it would leave no bad impression behind. We all need recreation, but it is not genuine recreation to spend hour after hour pouring over that which is unworthy, nonsensical, or worse — and will only unfit you for anything higher and holier.
And a great responsibility rests on parents with respect to this matter. We would be very careful never to let poison be so exposed in our house that by any chance our children would be likely to touch it. But is there not worse poison than that which endangers life? And we ought surely to be careful that no such books are in our home as may prove likely to injure the souls of our children.
And if you should have formed the habit of reading such light and harmful books or publications — is it not wise to turn from them now? It may be difficult at first to substitute other reading, but in the end you will be abundantly recompensed for the effort, in the real profit and solid enjoyment which the reading of works of a higher character will give.
A good companion is one who is thoughtful in spirit, and who has a mind well stored with useful information. Such a friend as this is invaluable. If you want to reason out important matters that occur around you, or subjects that you feel a difficulty to understand, or if you know that you have only until now stood on the very edge of the great ocean of truth — and yet would gladly learn something more, you will find half an hour's talk with such a one will often help you. It may set thoughts in motion which will lead to much good. It may suggest a new view of some truth that may give you matter for thought for weeks or years. It may give you a key to unlock some difficult problem which has often perplexed you.
It is the same with the perusal of books containing real thought, or giving you reliable information. Such books are worth reading, and bring lasting benefit. They help you in any role in life. They fit you for more usefulness in your own home, and in the Church of God. They win for you the friendship of those who find you can help them as they can help you. They keep the mind fresh and alive, and prevent your being engrossed with little petty cares and duties which would otherwise lower the whole tone of your mind.
It is a good thing to cultivate a taste for this kind of reading — the tension of mind, which it requires, is very wholesome discipline.
Many an hour is wasted over books of fiction, or over every item in the daily news, which might be far better spent. If people lived eating only candies and desserts, and never took good nourishing food, what health could they expect to enjoy? And if your reading is merely of an aimless character, what mental or intellectual power can you look for?
The best companion is one who is a lover of God and His truth. A Christian friend is worth gold; yes, is a precious diamond. If he has faults, remember you have many also, and bear with them for the grace that is in Him. "A diamond with a flaw, is better than a pebble without one."
How much David was strengthened by the friendship of Jonathan. We read that when in the days of Malachi, those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another, the Lord paid attention and heard it.
The two friends on the road to Emmaus were speaking together of their Master, when He joined Himself to them and made their hearts burn within them. Such Christian friendship is one of the sweetest privileges a follower of Christ can enjoy on earth, and should be cultivated with the utmost care.
And here we discover the sort of reading that is of all the most desirable. We all want help heavenward. Around us we find temptations and snares which turn us aside from the narrow path: business, and the example of those we mingle with in society, and our own treacherous hearts — all these have a downward tendency. But God provides many aids to our faith, and among them Christian books have an important place. Often the reading of some such book has been the turning-point for good in the life of a young person. We often hear of the genealogies of good men, but it is interesting to trace the genealogy of a good book.
Richard Sibbe's "Bruised Reed" was the means used of God for the conversion of Richard Baxter.
Richard Baxter wrote "The Saint's Rest," the reading of which led to the conversion of Dr. Doddridge.
Dr. Doddridge wrote "The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul," which became a blessing to William Wilberforce.
William Wilberforce wrote "The Practical View of Christianity," which touched the heart of Legh Richmond.
Legh Richmond wrote "The Annals of the Poor," which has been one of the most useful books ever written for the young.
It is a blessing that these very books are so easily accessible today in print or electronically.
And so we see how a good book has become, not only an instrument of good to many readers, but a parent of successive works, which in succeeding generations have brought blessing to large numbers of readers.
I can attest how one book, “The Doctrines of Grace” by James Boice and Philip Ryken lead me to a understand sin and grace and the work of redemption in an entirely new and vivid light and opened the way to the discovery of so many other godly authors and their works, Gerard Everard being one of them.
In the biographies of earnest Christians, especially of such as have worked hard in the mission field, or in very difficult circumstances in their home countries, we often have an agency of the first importance in raising up fresh workers in the Lord's harvest field. The lives of men like David Brainerd have been eminently useful in quickening the zeal of Christians in the work of the Lord.
What a debt of gratitude also do many have who are unable by sickness or distance to attend a place where the gospel is preached to unfold to them the unsearchable riches of Christ.
But never should any book, however excellent, take the place of the Word itself, or occupy the time that ought to be given to its study. All other books of Christian teaching are only valuable as they bring you back to the source.
Make the holy Scriptures your chief and most intimate companion. Become well acquainted with every portion of this rich treasury of wisdom and consolation. It will be your safeguard against error on the right hand and on the left. When you enter fully into its spirit, and can see its various doctrines as revealed throughout its pages, you will instinctively draw back from teaching that undermines or denies them. It will be your safeguard against infidelity, in whatever shape it may meet you.
A Bible loved, and well studied, shines, like the sun, by its own light. The comfort and help which it gives is an evidence of its Divine origin which cannot be denied.
And, remember, that when all other reading has lost its attraction, when heart-breaking sorrow, or approaching death, will cast into the shade all mere human knowledge — this bright candle of the Lord will shine in the darkness, and give a foretaste of the joy of that home of which the Lord Himself is the everlasting light.
One word more. Do not be selfish in the enjoyment of this privilege of reading. Think of others; think of those who have not benefited from the help of these friends. Give, or lend books or tracts that may be likely to do good. Think also of those in the same life circumstances as yourself. Lend from your own library, from time to time, a book to a sick friend, or to one whose mind may be open to serious impressions.
Consider letting Christmas, New Year, Birthday, or Marriage presents, take the shape of a really valuable book. Think especially of the young. Much that is very dangerous is thrown in their way — do your best to counteract this by something that will help them. What a large number of young people are indebted to Richmond's "Annals of the Poor."
Sow diligently in this way the good seed, while you can, and pray that the Spirit of God may water it with the dew of His blessing.
“Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35-36)