The Value of Old Books in a Brave New World

Ours might be a new era in Christian history, but it is not unprecedented. The work of Christ and His Kingdom might presently be assailed by fiery challenges, but we are not unique in our concern for the future of the Church. As the sands of culture shift around us, as hedonistic materialism with all of its concomitant threats to the welfare of God’s people increases in influence and ‘reach’, it is good to be reminded that the Church has faced tremendous difficulty before, and found rich succour in the goodness of her sovereign God.

New publications might diagnose our present state, but in turning to old books we find there a repository of gospel wisdom and hope which is unfettered by present circumstance and concern. Take for instance Banner of Truth’s recent reprint of W.S. Plumer’s commentary on the Psalms. Here is old truth indeed – a volume originally published in 1867 – and yet the author’s ‘Doctrinal and Practical Remarks’ carry a sense of relevance and power which is hard to surpass. I am presently combining the Psalms prescribed in the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan with Plumer’s observations. His commentary could not be more exegetically tight, nor devotionally rich, and so often his insights pack punch in terms of our present condition as Christians in a secular world.

Recently, while reading Psalm 89 I was deeply challenged and helped by the following:

‘It is appalling to live in a time of general desolation of church or state. Till a good man knows by experience, history gives him almost no conception of the misery and crime which then appear on every hand. The badges and insignia of authority are despised, the fastnesses of society loosened, malice with her minions and myrmidons slandering and beleaguering all good men, the laws of property set aside, the throne of iniquity framing mischief by a law, the meanest men laughing at the miseries of the most honourable, the finger of scorn pointed at all who do not join in noisy clamour for blood and persecution, vile men exalted to power, fools being counsellors and wise men pronounced to be behind the times, fundamental laws swept away in a moment, strangers and enemies laughing to scorn, wise plans of adjustment and pacification wholly despised, the glory of order and religion utterly obscured, men fasting to smite with the fist of wickedness, and giving thanks for events which fill a thousand dwellings with howling. It is not strange that such scenes should make men old before they have reached their prime, or send them for shame to premature graves. But when they can bring their case before the Lord, they may conclude their meditation with a doxology’

In an age when fools are making play for power, when blood-thirst seems to abound on every hand, and where long standing statutes are sacrificed on the altar of sinful pleasure, the Christian can find in Plumer’s counsel rich ground for faith and fortitude. His is insight mined from Scripture, founded on doctrine and expressed with a force and faith which disarm our deepest discouragements and divest us of the tendency to self pity.

Old books have much to say in our brave new world. In reading them we might find strength for today and hope for our future, tracing the unchanging, unfailing ways of our faithful Saviour – the Lord of time and eternity.


  1. Andrew,i wish that I had your desire for the written word and your ability to retain it. That is why I rejoice in the fact that God has gifted you in such a way that you can apply this to those who sit under your ministry and to those who will read this blog. I understand a little of what you say about old books. I just read ‘thoughts for young men ‘ by JC Ryle, written 130 years ago and it is as applicable now as it was then. Keep up the good work. Gordon Moore


    1. Thanks for your encouragement Gordon, it’s great to have you reading along. Ryle is a real gem of a writer, so practical and earthy but with such a grasp of Scripture and doctrine.


  2. Just to balance this specific example, Mark Futato’s Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on the Psalms is superb. Published in 2009 but probably less used than Plumer. Having both would be useful for the pastor.


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