1] The best of the Banner of Truth books are the double volumes, that is, on the lives of Whitefield (Dallimore), Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones (Murray) and on Princeton Seminary (Calhoun). All capture fervency and theological maturity and harness them to the service of God. They speak to your affections as well as your mind.
2] Everything Iain Murray has written is essential reading. Start with "The Forgotten Spurgeon," and then read all his books.
3] The best book of Dr Lloyd-Jones is his ‘Studies in the Sermon on the Mount’ because it addresses the conscience and follows a biblical narrative. But all his books are enormously important. He is wordy. He does not use enough illustrations in preaching, but the few he uses are grand. I have been reading his Philippians recently and am impressed with these sermons of fifty years ago. They are thoughtful and thorough. He despises passivity.
4] John Murray’s first volume in his Collected Writings, a gathering of his articles on many subjects, shows a clarity and, of course, seriousness and commitment to confessional Christianity. He is lucid. His other essential book is ‘Redemption Accomplished and Applied’, though the first chapter is a little harder going. Some men here read it together paragraph by paragraph, but they read part two first.
5] Splendid introductions to the Puritans are Thomas Brooks’ ‘Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices’ and Thomas Watson’s ‘Body of Divinity.’ Once you get a taste for them you will find many more, such as the Banner’s modern translations by Law of John Owen’s works. For example, once you have read Owen’s paperback on the Holy Spirit you question if anything else is needed..
6] For a one volume Systematic Theology I reluctantly think that Wayne Grudem is the best. I don’t find his chapter on the gifts of the Spirit, and writing a chapter on prophecy and nothing on preaching or on revival is crackers. It is special pleading. He scores, though, in his spirit and his respect for the Bible. He comes across as an experiential Calvinist. His treatment of all the millennium views is over fair. Surely one is better than another . . . surely. It is a very accessible and enjoyable book to read – for a volume of systematic theology – and that silences 95% of our grumbles.
7] For a brief introduction to Christian doctrine you can’t beat Don MacLeod’s ‘A Faith to Live By.’ It is unputdownable. It is absolutely hopeless on creation. He hits at the easy targets – we creationists – when we need someone to speak up for a historic Adam and Eve, paradise and the fall. I am surprised that that chapter survived into a second edition.
8] ‘Robert Murray M’Cheyne’ by Andrew Bonar succeeds in capturing the holiness of the man. It becomes a little austere, but don’t be frightened. There are flashes that remind us of his manhood – as does the other biography of him by Smellie. It gives a picture of what Christ must have been like, and how powerful was his preaching.
9] J.C.Ryle is superb in almost everything he writes. One familiar caveat is some of his essays defending the Establishment, bishops and the baptismal formula of the Church of England in his book ‘Knots Untied.’ Other than that tiny point, buy and read all his books. His classic is ‘Holiness’.
10] J.I.Packer is also an important figure though all his best writings were yesteryear. His book on the Puritans, ‘Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God’, ‘Knowing God’ , ‘God’s Words’, ‘Amongst God’s Giants,’ and his 4 volumes of Shorter Writings (get at cut price) are his best. But though he writes freshly I would still pit the lucidity of Iain Murray or Don MacLeod above him. His Anglican churchmanship pulls him down.
11] B.B. Warfield is important, but where to start with him is not easily decided. He has a fine selection of writings on the Holy Spirit. They are grand, and his ‘Selected Shorter Writings’ in two volumes are full of light and truth and warmth.
12] Some of the young men in the congregation were meeting at 8 am Fridays last year (after the ‘Arise to Pray’ Prayer Meeting) to read Ted Donnelly’s ‘Heaven and Hell’ and are finding that it put a metal rod in their backbones. Also his book on Simon Peter is fine. There is a splendid section on the work of the minister in that book.
13] Spurgeon is magnificent. As a preacher he can take another preacher’s breath away with his language and insights and passion. Wherever you meet him, in his daily devotions or his ‘All Round Ministry’ – he has scores of books – you must get familiar with him.
14]. Read Whitefield’s Journals for an immediate fresh-from-his pen insight into a young man caught up in a Great Awakening and recording naively his impressions, open eyed with wonder at what is happening to him and through him.
15. Jonathan Edwards’ sermon ‘Sinners in the hands of an Angry God’ could have been preached yesterday. Unlike that Victorian quality that touches some of Spurgeon’s sermons that sermon seems freshly minted each time you read it, and so it encourages you to read more of Edwards’ sermons.
16. R.L. Dabney is a southern Presbyterian theologian who was rediscovered forty years ago but seems to be neglected in our Dabney-lite days. The value of his three volumes is in the kaleidoscope of fascinating short essays you discover there, coming from another of those massive Victorian intellect whose hearts were bound to Jesus Christ and his Word.
Time would fail me to tell of Ferguson and Machen and Beeke and Douglas Macmillan and Iain Campbell.