“Reading well is listening well” by C.S. Lewis

“If we take literature in the widest sense, so as to include the literature both of knowledge and of power, the question, ‘What is the good of reading what anyone writes?’ is very like the question ‘What is the good of listening to what anyone says?’

Unless you contain in yourself sources that can supply all the information, entertainment, advice, rebuke and merriment you want, the answer is obvious.

And if it is worthwhile listening or reading at all, it is often worth doing so attentively.

Indeed we must attend even to discover that something is not worth attention.”

–C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961/1992), 131-132.

“Those who read great works” by C.S. Lewis

“In the first place, the majority never read anything twice. The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work.

We have all known women who remembered a novel so dimly that they had to stand for half an hour in the library skimming through it before they were certain they had once read it.

But the moment they became certain, they rejected it immediately. It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match, an old railway ticket, or yesterday’s paper; they had already used it.

Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life.

Secondly, the majority, though they are sometimes frequent readers, do not set much store by reading. They turn to it as a last resource.

They abandon it with alacrity as soon as any alternative pastime turns up. It is kept for railway journeys, illnesses, odd moments of enforced solitude, or for the process called ‘reading oneself to sleep.’

They sometimes combine it with desultory conversation; often, with listening to the radio.

But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for few days they feel impoverished.

Thirdly, the first reading of some literary work is often, to the literary, an experience so momentous that only experiences of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison.

Their whole consciousness is changed. They have become what they were not before.

But there is no sign of anything like this among the other sort of readers. When they have finished the story or the novel, nothing much, or nothing at all, seems to have happened to them.

Finally, and as a natural result of their different behaviour in reading, what they have read is constantly and prominently present to the mind of the few, but not to that of the many.

The former mouth over their favourite lines and stanzas in solitude. Scenes and characters from books provide them with a sort of iconography by which they interpret or sum up their own experience.

They talk to one another about books, often and at length. The latter seldom think or talk of their reading.

It is pretty clear that the majority, if they spoke without passion and were fully articulate, would not accuse of of liking the wrong books, but of making such a fuss about any books at all.

We treat as a main ingredient in our well-being something which to them is marginal.”

–C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961/1992), 2-3.

“As an expositor of Scripture, I regard Manton with unmingled admiration” by J.C. Ryle

“As an expositor of Scripture, I regard Manton with unmingled admiration. Here, at any rate, he is ‘facile princeps’ (‘easily the first or best’) among the divines of the Puritan school.

The value of expository preaching is continually pressed on ministers in the present day, and not without reason.

The end of all preaching is to bring men under the influence of God’s Word; and nothing seems so likely to make men understand and value the Word as lectures in which the Word is explained.

It was so in Chrysostom’s days; it ought to be so again. The idea, no doubt, like every good theory, may be easily ridden to death; and I believe that with ignorant, semi-heathen congregations, a short pithy text often does more good than a long passage expounded.

But I have no doubt of the immense value of expository preaching, when people will bring their Bibles to the service, and accompany the preacher as he travels on, or go home to their Bibles after the service, and compare what they have heard with the written Word.

I hold it to be a prime excellence of Manton’s expository sermons that, while they are very full, they are never too long.

For my own part, I am painfully struck with the general neglect with which these expository works of Manton’s have been treated of late. Modern commentators who are very familiar with German commentaries seem hardly to know of the existence of Manton’s expositions.

Yet I venture boldly to say, that no student of the chapters I have named will ever fail to find new light thrown on their meaning by Manton. I rejoice to think that now at length these valuable works are about to become accessible to the general public.

They have been too long buried, and it is high time they should be brought to light. I value their author most highly as a man, a writer, and a theologian; but if I must speak out all I think, there is no part in which I value him more than as a homiletical expositor of Scripture.

It only remains for me to express my earnest hope that this new edition of Manton’s works may prove acceptable to the public, and meet with many purchasers and readers.

If any one wants to buy a good specimen of a Puritan divine, my advice unhesitatingly is, ‘Let him buy Manton.’

We have fallen upon evil days both for thinking and reading. Sermons which contain thought and matter are increasingly rare.

The inexpressible shallownesss, thinness, and superficiality of many popular sermons in this day is something lamentable and appalling.

Readers of real books appear to become fewer and fewer every year. Newspapers, and magazines, and periodicals seem to absorb the whole reading powers of the rising generation. What it will all end in God only knows.

The prospect before us is sorrowful and humiliating.

In days like these, I am thankful that the publishers of Manton’s Works have boldly come forward to offer some real literary gold to the reading public. I earnestly trust that they will meet with the success which they deserve.

If any recommendation of mine can help them in bringing out the writings of this admirable Puritan in a new form, I give it cheerfully and with all my heart.

J.C. RYLE,
Vicar of Stradbroke, Suffolk.
29th October 1870.”

–J.C. Ryle, “An Estimate of Thomas Manton,” in Thomas Manton, The Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1871/2020), 2: xvii–xix.

“A neighborhood of strangers and a world of fragments” by Neil Postman

“A book is an attempt to make thought permanent and to contribute to the great conversation conducted by authors of the past. Therefore, civilized people everywhere consider the burning of a book a vile form of anti-intellectualism.

But the telegraph demands that we burn its contents. The value of telegraphy is undermined by applying the tests of permanence, continuity or coherence.

The telegraph is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.

The telegraph introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headlines–sensational, fragmented, impersonal. News took the form of slogans, to be noted with excitement, to be forgotten with dispatch.

Its language was also entirely discontinuous. One message had no connection to that which preceded or followed it. Each “headline” stood alone as its own context.

The receiver of the news had to provide a meaning if he could. the sender was under no obligation to do so. And because of all this, the world as depicted by the telegraph began to appear unmanageable, even undecipherable.

The line-by-line, sequential, continuous form of the printed page slowly began to lose its resonance as a metaphor of how knowledge was to be acquired and how the world was to be understood.

“Knowing” the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative.

To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.

Thus, to the reverent question posed by Morse–What hath God wrought?–a disturbing answer came back: a neighborhood of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.

God, of course, had nothing to do with it.”

–Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1985), 70.

“A man that is a stranger to meditation is a stranger to himself” by Thomas Manton

“A man that is a stranger to meditation is a stranger to himself.”

–Thomas Manton, “A Sermon on Genesis 24:63,” The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, Volume 17 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 17: 271.

“To know God is to live” by Herman Bavinck

“Mystery is the lifeblood of theological reflection. From the start of its labors, dogmatic theology is shrouded in mystery. It stands before God the incomprehensible One.

This knowledge leads to adoration and worship: to know God is to live.

Knowing God is possible for us because God is personal, exalted above the earth and yet in fellowship with human beings on earth. Good theology puts this knowledge of God on public display.

It resists allowing theology to degenerate into rhetoric, a theology merely of words. It seeks the heart of the matter, knowing God in order to worship Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.

Such theology is never a dry and academic exercise. It is eminently practical and superlatively fruitful for life.

The knowledge of God in Christ, after all, is life itself (Psalm 89:16; Isaiah 11:9; Jeremiah 31:34; John 17:3).”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Abridged in One Volume, Ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 147-148.

“Hammer your way through a continued argument” by C.S. Lewis

“I should rather like to attend your Greek class, for it is a perpetual puzzle to me how New Testament Greek got the reputation of being easy. St Luke I find particularly difficult.

As regards matter– leaving the question of language– you will be glad to hear that I am at last beginning to get some small understanding of St Paul: hitherto an author quite opaque to me.

I am speaking now, of course, of the general drift of whole epistles: short passages, treated devotionally, are of course another matter. And yet the distinction is not, for me, quite a happy one.

Devotion is best raised when we intend something else. At least that is my experience.

Sit down to meditate devotionally on a single verse, and nothing happens. Hammer your way through a continued argument, just as you would in a profane writer, and the heart will sometimes sing unbidden.”

–C.S. Lewis, “To Dom Bede Griffiths” (April 4, 1934) in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Books, Broadcasts, and the War 1931-1949, Volume 2, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 136.