Books constitute one of the minister's principal problems. One of the first elements in the problem is how to get them. They are expensive and his salary, small at best, is further limited by the constant and imperious demands on his charitable impulses. But somehow he must get books, books for his own library and work, books for his family. Public libraries in the cities help, but cannot relieve him from the expense of a library of his own. One's own book is worth far more to him than any borrowed book. He can keep at, mark it, read it leisurely, go to it again and again, make friends with it, love it. Ephemeral books may be borrowed from the library, but staple books, the books, must be one's own.
Granting that books are to be bought, the next question is what books. Here the choice is not simply between good books and bad books, useless and useful books; but the question is how choose among the good and useful. A veritable flood of good books, old and new, pour from the presses. How can we know what to buy?
For the older books information and advice received in college and seminary study will greatly help if notes are preserved and referred to. For the new books one should study the reviews of books in the various magazines, and seek the opinion and advice of friends who are in a better position to know and judge. Nobody can determine finally what books you are to buy and read except yourself. The smaller the amount of money the more careful should be selection.
The next element in the problem is what to do with the books after they have been placed on the shelves. Here there are many dangers. We may read too much or too little; may swallow the books whole and simply take our theological and religious coloring from the last book we read; or may read some books too slowly and laboriously and others too rapidly and carelessly; we may read too narrowly or too widely. We may read so much as to have no time for contact with the people and life and things as they are; we may dissipate in light reading until serious thought and work become next to impossible. Few habits are worse intellectually than "the magazine habit." We may read so much that we shall have no time to think, no time to toil intellectually, no time for adequate work in and with the Bible. Each minister must determine the line of his own weakness and temptation, and guard himself in the direction the danger lies.
A few simple principles may help the minister in his reading. I would suggest the following as guiding lines:
1. You can't read everything, not all the good nor even all the best; you must select.
2. Your field is religion and life, therefore your reading ought to be predominantly in that field. If your prime interest is something else you ought not to be in the ministry.
3. Don't read religious and theological books exclusively. Your people are not reading them, and you ought to be reading some of the things your people read. But don't be securalized by your reading.
4. You must take time to think. Your own thought and experience is of more value in your sermons than the profoundest thought and the most brilliant expressions of others. Quotations embellish, thinking gives life and power.
5. Have some subject on hand continuously for thorough investigation. This kind of work will save you from superficial and unprofitable reading.
6. Read always and everything in the critical mood, that is, with faculties alert to know and to judge what is read. Mental mastication is as important for intellectual and spiritual health and strength, as good chewing is for the body.
[From The Baptist World, December 8, 1910. p. 9; Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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