“That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and recount them to their children, that they should set their confidence in God and not forget the deeds of God, but observe His commandments, and not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.”
It was the place we went to play hide-and-go-seek on hot afternoons, or to take a nap during the all-day services, and where the kids – too young to stay quiet, much less awake – stayed while the parents prayed in the chapel every Wednesday night.
It was where I walked through most Sunday mornings and afternoons, without a clue that within this small library at Hopewell Primitive Baptist Church lay a treasure trove of godly wisdom and instruction, of reflections on God, life, and Scripture from Augustine’s Confessions and City of God, to Luther’s valiant defense of the gospel, and Calvin’s warm logic found within the pages of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
This church library was where I came to realize the Christian faith was ancient. It hadn’t simply jumped off the pages of the Bible and into the present day; it had marched across the centuries and around the globe, spreading the good news in jars of clay – the lives of these men and women whom God used to declare and preserve the Scriptures we hold today.
I didn’t appreciate the library in my youth, but looking back, I see how it shaped me. Memories of my uncle – my pastor in my youth – are mostly filled with him either standing in the pulpit or sitting in that library, poring over Scripture, commentaries, or other reflections on God’s word by godly men. Though I did not read much as a youth, I observed how these books influenced my uncle and how they shaped the men and women of this church, including my grandmother, and how their words and deeds shaped me. Because, if there’s one thing youths excel at, it is paying attention to how those in authority live. My uncle, my father, and my grandmother were often found in the library together, reading or discussing Christ and His work – often late into the night.
God commanded the fathers of Israel should teach their children the testimony and law – Scripture – in order, “That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and recount them to their children, that they should set their confidence in God and not forget the deeds of God, but observe His commandments, and not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God” (Psalm 78:6-8, LSB).
My dad taught me in the home; my uncle, from the pulpit. They both educated me by the books they read and discussed at the dinner table and after church in the library, where I so often peeked in and saw them with other congregants, discussing the truths in Scripture – the Doctrines of Grace, gleanings from the Puritans, and the various Protestant Confessions, from the Westminster to the 1689 to the Philadelphia Confession that shaped my dad’s beliefs about God and how we are to worship Him.
Many of these books have not been read in years, but they remain there, waiting. This library is the combined, accumulated effort of several generations of pastors, dating back to its opening in 1850 to the present day. It represents the life’s collection of these men who have pastored this small body of believers. This collection is now being passed down to the next generation of men and women who have discovered the treasure that is this library – the same treasure I found years ago when I stopped simply walking around the bookshelves without pausing to examine what these men had invested so much time and effort in preserving for their congregation (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
There is a lot of uncertainty in the world today – even within the church there is controversy and plenty of deconstruction. So, amidst all this tumult, why write about a small library in a church with fewer than fifty members?
Near the end of Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men,” the main character, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, reflects on his life as sheriff for half a century and his inability to stem the tide of moral degeneracy and abject evil. He remembers an old stone well he saw while serving during WWII.
The man who had built that well nearly two hundred years earlier had lived during hard, uncertain times ― famine, war, revolution. Yet, Bell considers, this man still thought to hew this well from stone, to take the time, labor, and skill to build something that would last longer than his own life or the lives of his grand- and great-grandchildren. It lasted through the French Revolution and two world wars after it.
That’s what this library is. Each time I return to that church and pick up one of these godly books, I hold the accumulated, faithful act of the generations of pastors who sought to teach the coming generation even after they were gone. Though small, it holds the collected writings of Calvin and his commentaries, of Thomas Manton and Thomas Brooks. The entire works of Owen were personally and carefully bound by a member who has long since died and gone to be with the Lord. It also holds every sermon Spurgeon delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and most of D. Martin Lloyd Jones’ works. Numerous Bibles, confessions, and hymnals are there for people to pick up and read. It has stood since before the Civil War.
Even if this library eventually succumbs to the destruction that time and man so often bring, it has served well to pass on the beautiful and precious truths found in Scripture. The men and women who taught me to love this library also reminded me that every good book ultimately points to the Good Book.
If your church has a library, take the time to thank God for the faithfulness of those who worked to create it, and while you’re at it, make sure to check out a book or two.
For further reading
JOSEPH L. HAMRICK III
Joseph L. Hamrick III is a Reformed Baptist Christian who serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3) in Commerce, TX, where he and his wife, Jesse, live. Joseph holds a BA in Liberal Studies from the Texas A&M University-Commerce and works for the Herald-Banner in Greenville, TX where he writes about the Christian life in his column entitled “Things to Consider”. When he is not at work, he can usually be found with a Bible, a work of Dostoevsky, or some other book in his hands.
September 1, 2023
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