Part 7: Using the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
I don’t like clothes. At least not for my birthday.
When it’s my birthday I hope for books: old used books, new shrink-wrapped books, leather-bound, clothbound or paperback books. It’s all the same. My family and friends, however, don’t buy me books because few people know what I need or want and I’m not about to tell them. So I get shirts and polos and (with a winter birthday) a lot of fleece and sweatshirts. These are nice and generous gifts, but they are not as delightful as free books.
If you have never walked into the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, you are in for a special treat. There they offer hundreds of free books. Good ones. Some you want, some you need (and some to leave on the shelf). The point is: these books are downloadable, searchable and delightful as they are free!
Who’s Who at the CCEL
Many of the Puritans we have talked about on the digital shelves of the CCEL include Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, Thomas Boston, John Flavel and Thomas Manton.
Beyond our Puritan Study, there are several other helpful references including the works of Augustine, Alexander MacLaren, Horatius Bonar, John Calvin, Stephen Charnock, John Foxe, William Gurnall, Matthew Henry, Charles Hodge, Martin Luther, A.W. Pink, Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter and Isaac Watts.
Take time to browse around and become familiar with the depth of free books available. There is also a very helpful topical index to locate books on given topics (click “Browse” > “Browse by Topics”).
We covered a majority of the tricks to electronic searches in the last post. Use those same textual and phrase searches here.
From my own experience at the CCEL, it seems the phrase searches are most fruitful because the various authors use too many different formats for verse references (ex.: ‘Ps. xvi. 11.’ / ‘Psal. 16: 11’).
An added bonus of the CCEL (as opposed to computer files) is that searches can
be done on the entire CCEL library with one click. Search on “pleasures for ever” and you will be searching their entire database!
But you can also run specific searches. Here is one example of a search I ran specifically of author John Owen and the phrase “Psa. xvi. 11” (see screenshot to the right).
There are several types of specific searches you can perform on the CCEL and they have a helpful search guide that does not bear repeating here.
After about 5 minutes of searching, here are three examples I found on a phrase search of “presence is fulness of joy.” Also, I’ve included a little information how I would use the quotations (though the next post in this series will address this topic more fully).
(i) John Owen teaches us that true faith is revealed when we seek the presence of God, knowing (again by faith) that it’s in His presence that our greatest joy springs. By contrast a weak faith would reveal itself in the heart by a lack of anticipation of God’s eternal presence, and a greater display of worldliness. This second point is not found here in Owen, but made obvious from a moment’s meditation upon Owen’s quote. I personally would not quote this passage to my listeners.
John Owen – “When the soul hath a view by faith (which nothing else can give it) of the goodness of God as manifested in Christ — that is of the essential excellencies of his nature as exerting themselves in him — it reacheth after him with its most earnest embraces, and is restless until it comes unto perfect fruition. It sees in God the fountain of life, and would drink of the “river of his pleasures,” Ps. xxxvi. 8, 9 — that in his “presence is fulness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures for evermore,” Ps. xvi. 11. It longs and pants to drink of that fountain — to bathe itself in that river of pleasures; and wherein it comes short of present enjoyment, it lives in hopes that when we “awake, it shall be satisfied with his likeness,” Ps. xvii. 15. There is nothing grievous unto a soul filled with this love, but what keeps it from the full enjoyment of these excellencies of God. What doth so naturally and necessarily, it groans under. Such is our present state in the body, wherein, in some sense, we are “absent from the Lord,” 2 Cor. v. 4, 8, 9. And what doth so morally, in the deviations of its will and affections, as sin — it hates and abhors and loathes itself for. Under the conduct of this love, the whole tendency of the soul is unto the enjoyment of God; — it would be lost in itself, and found in him, — nothing in itself, and all in him. Absolute complacency herein — that God is what he is, that he should be what he is, and nothing else, and that as such we may be united unto him, and enjoy Him according to the capacity of our natures is the life of divine love.” (from Christologia, chapter 13)
(ii) Puritan John Flavel emphasizes both the joy Christ must have experienced in the presence of God in His earthly life, and also the depth of Christ’s sacrifice through the incarnation. Maybe not points I would bring out in a sermon on Psalm 16:11, and certainly not a quotation I would read to my hearers, but it is still an interesting thought that reminds me to tie every sermon back to Christ and the Cross.
John Flavel – “(1.) We cannot but conceive it to be a state of matchless happiness, if we consider the persons enjoying and delighting in each other: he [Christ] was with God, John 1: 1. God, you know, is the fountain, ocean and centre of all delights and joys: Psal. 16: 11, “In thy presence is fulness of joy.” To be wrapt up in the soul and bosom of all delights, as Christ was, must needs be a state transcending apprehension; to have the fountain of love and delight letting out itself so immediately, and fully, and ever lastingly, upon this only begotten darling of his soul, so as it never did communicate itself to any; judge what a state of transcendent felicity this must be. Great persons have great delights.” (from Fountain of Life Opened Up, sermon 2)
(iii) Puritan Richard Baxter (whose printed works are a bit hard to find) is a highly recommended source of sermon material. Notice there is no biblical text reference in this passage (common in some Puritans). His point here is that without revelation we cannot understand that we have access to the full pleasures of God. This is an invitation from God in His own language, highlighting the importance of revelation. If the preacher were to update a few words and read the second half of this quote with increasing speed and volume it would beautifully illustrate the power of this concept – we are invited to experience the full joy of God’s presence!
Richard Baxter – “Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” What presumption would it have been, once, to have thought or spoken of such a thing, if God had not spoken it before us! I durst not have thought of the saints’ preferment in this life, as Scripture sets it forth, had it not been the express truth of God. How unbecoming to talk of being sons of God—speaking to him—having fellowship with him—dwelling in him and he in us—if this had not been God’s own language! How much less durst we have once thought of shining forth as the sun—of being joint heirs with Christ—of judging the world—of sitting on Christ’s throne—of being one in him and the Father—if we had not all this from the mouth, and under the hand of God! But hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?—Yes, as the Lord God is true, thus shall it be done to the man whom Christ delighteth to honor.” (from,Saints’ Everlasting Rest, chapter 1)
Some searches will produce hundreds of references. You need to scan for authors you trust and avoid trying to look at every reference. This highlights the importance of taking several hours to become familiar with the resources at the CCEL. The more you know about who is referenced there, the less likely you will be to jump at the first search result you see. Take your time. Especially become familiar with the authors I mentioned at the beginning.
So now you have 300 Puritan quotations and a sermon to preach in three days. What do you do with all the material? Paraphrase? Quote directly? Next time we will answer the question: To Quote or Not to Quote?
Next time … Part 8: To Quote or not to Quote?