Words are powerful. They transform lives and make history. They birth nations and topple empires. They make peace and fuel wars. They commence marriage and wound those we most cherish. They change hearts and give news of eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Words are foundational to everything we think, do, and say in all of life; nevertheless, words are not ends in themselves. Words exist because God spoke them into existence that he might communicate with us and that we might commune with him. God has spoken to us in a book, and the Holy Spirit illumines those inspired words to us who trust the God who spoke them. Therefore, we read God’s Word not merely to have read and to have said that we’ve read, but that we might devour every jot and tittle and, thus, be renewed in our minds and continually transformed in our hearts.
In whatever form they take, words mean things. They have particular meanings in particular contexts. Words yield phrases, sentences, and books, and we read books, sentences, and phrases because life requires it. “We read,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “to know we’re not alone,” and we write precisely because we’re not alone. We read not merely to laugh or cry, not merely to be entertained or challenged, not merely to gain knowledge or understanding, but we read that we might glean and ponder so that, by God’s grace, we might think more accurately, know more comprehensively, speak more meaningfully, write more convincingly, love more affectionately, live more abundantly, and glorify and enjoy God more fully.
In our reading, we’ve all come across particular units of words in particular paragraphs on particular pages of particular books that change our lives. And with no pomp or circumstance, we bid the authors of such books to become our mentors, dead or alive.
We’ve all had mentors, and I am grateful to our Lord to have learned life-changing truths from many of them. Similarly, I have enjoyed learning from numerous instructors, both ancient and modern, who daily sit upon my shelves. The teachers upon our shelves have a voice, and though many have died, they still speak to us, albeit on aged, brittle pages with stamped ink and the musty fragrance of the past.
One Powerful Statement
When John Starke asked me to contribute an article to this new series, my mind was drawn to Sinclair Ferguson’s book The Holy Spirit (1996). In his preface, on page 13, I came across the following words that changed the focus of my studies, my life, and the gospel ministry of which God has made me a steward:
Theology proceeds from God, teaches us about God, and leads us to God.
In making this statement, Ferguson stands on the shoulders of his theological predecessors Louis Berkhof and Thomas Aquinas. That one statement on that one page in Ferguson’s book changed my life—it helped me grasp what theology is, why theology exists, and what theology does. However, I cannot help but recognize that his words in his book affected me in such a way because his words in life humbled me.
Throughout his doctrinal treatise on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, Ferguson worked out his guiding principle that what we know about God must come from what he has revealed in his infallible Word, which teaches us about God so that we might know God rightly. But theology doesn’t exist as an end in itself. We don’t study theology merely to know theology but to know God. The late Welsh pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “As theology is ultimately the knowledge of God, the more theology I know, the more it should drive me to seek to know God.” Right, biblical theology that comes from God will necessarily lead us back to know, love, and worship God himself, and that’s precisely what Ferguson does in his theology of the Holy Spirit—he leads us to know and worship the Holy Spirit according to the Word of God. His book led me to worship.
This is one reason we read books, why we write books, why Christian publishers publish books, and, for that matter, why we have blogs and use all forms of media that God gives us—namely, that we might glorify and enjoy God more and more in all that we think, say, and do. Phrases, sentences, paragraphs, pages, and entire books are powerful because words are powerful, and words are powerful because truth is powerful. Just as theology leads to God, so do the words that give us our theology. God communicated to us with words so that his words might teach us about him and lead us back to him in order to love and worship him as God.
The end of words is the beginning of words, namely, God.
Burk Parsons serves as associate pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel and the editor ofTabletalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. Parsons is the editor ofAssured By God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace (P&R) and John Calvin: A Heart For Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxologyl (Reformation Trust), and author of the bookletWhy Do We Have Creeds? (P&R). He and his wife, Amber, live in central Florida with their children.