As I perused Tim Challies list of his favourite books from 2009 it made me realise that most of the books that have impacted me this year have been by older authors. Reading Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Turretin, Bavinck, John Owen, Stephen Charnock, George Smeaton, to name some of them, has been wonderfully enriching.
A few things stand out about these authors and their books. Their age speaks to us of their proven worth. In so many cases they give a testimony to us today about what really matters. They served the church in their own day and by God's grace served the generations that followed. None of the authors mentioned above ministered in days marked by an abeyance of error. They believed that truth mattered and was worth contending for.
C.S. Lewis wrote the following wise words in his introduction to Athanasius' work On the Incarnation:
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books...Now this seems to me topsy-turvy.Who knows what contemporary books will continue to be in print fifty, a hundred, or four hundred years from now?
Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.