""Ministers should devote time to reading, to study, to meditation and prayer.. . . Take a book with you to read when traveling on the cars or waiting in the railway station. Employ every spare moment in doing something."
"Those in charge of our publishing houses at Battle Creek, Mich., and Oakland, Cal., have been led by a sense of duty to make a careful selection of the best books, which they offer for sale at reasonable rates. Those who wish books will do well to purchase these in preference to the great mass of current literature that will strengthen neither mind nor morals. Many of our people already have the “Life of Christ.” The “Life of Paul,” now offered for sale at this Office, is another useful and deeply interesting work which should be widely circulated. The volumes of “Spirit of Prophecy,” should be in every family, and should be read aloud in the family circle. More than one-half of our people know little or nothing of the contents of these books, and they are losing much by their neglect."
There is an unfortunate idea in the minds of some, that Seventh-day Adventists should only read books written by Seventh-day Adventists. That is incorrect, proven by the counsel and library of Ellen White, and the typical libraries of countless loyal Seventh-day Adventist pastors. Ellen White read extensively and had a large library that she consulted. She did not try to hide the fact, and recommended that others read them as well, as you see in the paragraph above. In our day unfortunate suggestions have been made about the doleful results that accrue to reading anything by a non-Seventh-day Adventist. I don't think she would have agreed, although she would have counseled much discernment, and would have admonished to make sure there is ongoing reading of the inspired books.
However, lest I be misunderstood, let me make it clear that the Bible is the most important book to read, followed by the Spirit of Prophecy books. After that, some authors are more reliable than others—James White, J. N. Andrews, and other pioneers come to mind.
Needless to say, prayerful discernment is needed.
The following articles provide helpful perspectives the Pastor or spiritual worker's books.—Dan
Meade MacGuire was a pastor, church leader, youth worker, revivalist who conducted highly appreciated spiritual revivals, and author of books on righteousness by faith.
It seems to me that feeding the mind is in many respects similar to feeding the body. Often in eating vegetables we are made aware that the necessary care has not been given to the removal of all particles of sand and grit. If the digestive organs took up all this foreign matter and passed it on through the delicate tissues, the result would be disastrous. But the digestive organs have too much sense to do that. All such foreign material is passed by untouched, and is expelled from the healthy body without doing any damage.
To my mind, the same principle applies in the reading of a book. In the process of mental digestion, I am looking for truth, and as I find truth I appropriate it, leaving whatever of error there may be to pass on without causing any injury. Unless I am reading a book critically, with the chief thought in mind of being able to recommend it to others, I find myself at the end of the reading of a book unable to tell whether it contains error-or not, unless it may be something of major importance. That which the book contained, which I did not need or want, followed the course of the familiar phrase "in one ear and out the other," only in this case it entered the mind through "one eye and out the other."
I do not see the wisdom of reading a book with the primary purpose of displaying keenness of mind in detecting error. The buzzard looked over the landscape, and was attracted only by the decaying carcass. The bumble bee, surveying the same landscape, ignored the carcass, but was attracted by the flowers, from which he diligently extracted the honey. We have much to thank God for in having the precious volumes of His word and the Spirit of prophecy, which contain no error; and the more we feed upon the pure truth from such a source, the more discernment we shall have to recognize and appropriate truth where-ever it is found, and be better able to ignore error.
To me, the most helpful books are those which present vital truths in a fresh and interesting setting. Such truths, if well digested by the author and set forth in a clear, adequate manner, can usually be condensed into a single pregnant sentence. Often the author himself does this.. Such condensed and expressive statements' I mark, and endeavor to memorize the thought, and thus it is possible to master to quite an extent the really great and essential thoughts which convey the message of the book, and adapt them to my own experience and ministry.
Pastor Froom wrote the Coming of the Comforter and other books, and played ministry leadership, writing, and editing roles, including being one of the people associated with A. G. Daniells when the ministerial instututes were being conducted in the 1920s and 1930s.
The minister is declared in Holy Writ to be a "workman." Good books are his necessary tools.
Now tools are not made for ornamentation, neither are books designed for making an impressive appearance in the bookcase. Tools and books are for service, and their value is in proportion to their serviceability in workaday tasks. As the minister's tools, his books should be freely marked, and indexed in such a manner as to make their contributions available at the moment needed. Each individual must, of course, develop a system of marking which is adapted to his personality and the demands of his particular line of work. But perhaps a suggestion regarding the method which has been used to advantage in some cases, may be of some service to younger workers seeking practical help from the experience of others.
1. Marginal Notations.—Margins on the pages of books can be effectively utilized for terse notations, such as brief catchwords of crystallized thought, which serve as a wonderful help in review or for later reference.
2. Cover Index.—References to statements on important subjects are indicated by an appropriate word or sign on the margin, and on the inside of one of the covers of the book, arrange a brief, special index, jotting down important statements, facts, or suggestive thoughts, with the page number indicated. This enables the "workman" at a moment's notice to get practically the full value of the book in a panoramic survey.
3. Envelope File.—Then there is an added feature which I have personally used with great profit. In my reading and study I am constantly assembling material for sermons and articles on a wide-variety of subjects, so there is a steady, quiet accumulation awaiting the moment of demand. Ofttimes the finished product along the line of an article or presentation from the pulpit is the result of years of gathering texts, quotations, et cetera. Only thus can the preacher be prepared against the emergencies and calls of a busy and varied life, and only thus can the most mature and complete results be obtained.
I have about 150 envelopes which are the repository of ideas that come to mind from time to time, and are jotted down on slips of paper for the envelope file. These envelopes also contain reference slips guiding to desirable quotations in books and current magazines. If a quotation or citation is lengthy, I merely indicate the thought by catchwords on the slip, giving the volume and page. In this way, a book renders the utmost service as it is read, and its essentials are conveniently available for ready reference. I find the little note pads furnished by the Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tenn., most convenient for pocket memoranda.
Let us study rather than merely scan our books. A book that is not worth such serious treatment is rarely worth the time expended in perusal. Remember that while you are reading one book you are automatically shut off from the whole world of other books. Such is the tragedy of reading. We have only so much available time and money to expend, therefore let us choose the best.
Let us put first on the list the 1931 Ministerial Reading Course books. They are tried and true. Their value is attested to by many different readers, and there is a distinct benefit to be derived from united reading of this limited group of books. Let us march forward in solid phalanx, making 1931 the banner year in Ministerial Reading Course study.
In company with a prominent Seventh-day Adventist minister, I was walking along a business thoroughfare in one of our Western cities recently, when we happened to pass a church and observed on the bulletin board a very apt quotation. Immediately my friend drew from his pocket a notebook and pencil, and quickly made the quotation a part of his ministerial asset along the line of forceful illustration. His conduct seemed a little unusual, and I expressed some surprise, whereupon he assured me that such was the habit he had formed whereby to keep growing and developing in his ministerial work. I had observed on various occasions that this minister always had something worth while to say, and that he always clothed his thoughts in new form to make them interesting, and now I could understand the reason why he seemed different from many ministers.
Not long ago I had occasion to mention to a fellow worker that a certain book which I had just read was of very great value to me. Here again I observed notebook and pencil brought into action by jotting down the title and author. But in speaking of the same book to another worker, I was met with the remark, "I do not have time to read such books. I am too busy!" It was apparent that this man did not realize that the busiest men are the greatest readers, for the more they impart, the greater is the realization of need for constant replenishing of the mind.
Today, as never before, opportunities for gaining worth-while information are on every side. The man who is really alive to the importance of his work, and anxious to make a success of his ministry, will be found improving every opportunity to build up his store of knowledge by the inspiration which comes from reading a deeply spiritual book. How useful to the minister is an apt illustration, which impresses truth upon the heart of the listener in a manner similar to that which Jesus employed when He spoke in parables as object lessons for the common people. And these illustrations and the wonderful thoughts which accompany them, lie within reach of every diligent reader.
Every minister and worker should first of all be very familiar with our own denominational literature. This is absolutely necessary for success. In addition to this field of thought, he may draw liberally from the great field of up-to-date books,—religious books of a deeply spiritual character, historical books, narratives of missionary travel, biographies, and authentic discussions of present-day conditions in the world. Thus the minister may become familiar with a wide range of subjects from which to draw in the preparation of his sermon or as the background for intelligent conversation as he mingles with men.
"Ministers should devote time to reading, to study, to meditation and prayer. . . . It was not His design that man should be content to remain in the lowlands of ignorance, but that he should secure all the advantages of an enlightened, cultivated intellect."—"Gospel Workers," pp. 278, 279.
The Ministerial Reading Course presents to our ministers a wonderful opportunity to secure a set of very valuable books at a very reasonable price.
As a young minister, standing on the threshold of public work, there comes to me a forceful and timely suggestion as a preventive against failure in my ministry, in the following statements: "The merchant, the carpenter, the farmer, and the lawyer, all have to learn their trade or profession. At first, for want of knowledge, they do imperfect work; but as they continue patiently at their vocations, they become masters of their several callings. Without close application of mind and heart, and all the powers of the being, the minister will prove a failure."—"Testimonies," Vol. V, p. 528.
We expect the successful merchant to study the science of keeping accounts as well as the fluctuating scale of the market; we can understand why the carpenter and the farmer depend upon blue print and agricultural journal, and are constantly in search of better tools whereby to perform their work; and we observe that the lawyer gathers about him tier upon tier of massive books dealing with law and its application in specific cases. Through the Spirit of prophecy, these various professions are cited as examples to the gospel minister in making thorough preparation by "close application of mind and heart, and all the powers of the being," in order to attain efficiency and success in the highest of all callings.
It is often said that "the preacher must be master of many books, but servant of one." Just how to choose books worthy of being mastered by the servant of that one Book, is my problem. There are so many books, and such a vast array of appealing titles in current book catalogues! It is stated that 7,000 new books came from American presses in a recent year, not counting new editions or pamphlets. Surely the general reader needs assistance in sifting the wheat from the chaff in present-day literature. But for this it is not safe to be guided by reviews in popular journals, nor by the publishers' statements, for their legitimate purpose is to sell books, not to guide readers. The advice of specialists in the particular field of thought open to heralds of the third angel's message, offers the safest guide.
There is Elder Brown, who has been in the ministry for many years! His sermons have always been an inspiration to me; they cause me to think deeply and to weigh words well, and the spiritual lessons which he never fails to impart have made a lasting impression. I think I will go to Elder Brown's home and ask permission to examine his library.
My knock at the door is answered by Mrs. Brown, who cordially bids me come in, explaining that her husband is at work in his study, as is his custom at this morning hour, but she is sure he will be willing to grant my request.
The home is cheery and inviting, but as I sit awaiting Mrs. Brown's return from her husband's study, I sense intuitively that the most sacred spot in all the house is that little room in the corner—the throne room, the audience chamber, the study room in which God's servant spends so large a portion of his time in study of the word and prayer, and in the companionship of his books. I am reminded of what a Seventh-day Adventist minister told me concerning his visit to the home of John Wesley, in London, England. He said that a thrill came over him as he went from room to room and recalled the many recorded experiences of that godly man's life. Especially solemn was the impression made on entering the study room where Wesley prepared sermons which awakened all England and spread to other countries. The books and the desk he used still stand as witnesses to the past, and seem to impart a sense of the sacredness of the great work in which they served a part.
There also comes to mind the description of the study room of Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, the renowned Bible student and teacher of the present day. His biographer states: "It is a long room in which Dr. Morgan is busy at his daily task. Every available inch of space is occupied. The walls are as thickly studded with pictures as a portrait gallery, for the owner of the study loves to have about him the pictures of his friends. . . Below the pictures and along the four walls of the room, range row upon row of crooked bookcases; on the center table a receptacle for lexicons and various translations of the Scriptures. Close at hand is an open Bible, bearing obvious signs of incessant use and constant wear. Over the doorway hangs a framed motto, 'One With God Is a Majority,' which has occupied this position in Dr. Morgan's study, no matter where located, ever since the days of his earliest ministerial charge. Everything is in order and in its place. All the books are marked inside the cover with the date of reading, and of every volume he reads he afterward makes notes in books specially made for the purpose. System and order prevail everywhere, not a pencil out of place, not a pen anywhere except in a container."
But as I am musing over these memories, the door to the corner room opens, and Elder Brown approaches with outstretched hand and fatherly greeting. Taking me by the arm, he leads me inside his study, and there he listens patiently to my expression of earnest desire to become a successful workman for God, and of my need of counsel in choosing books which will prove of greatest value. As he tells me of his own experience, when as a young man he entered the ministry, I am sure that he understands me and my need.
"When I entered the ministry twenty-five years ago," he says, "we thought that the world had just about reached the zenith of King Solomon's observation that 'of making many books there is no end,' for there were thousands of volumes of choice Christian literature available. But today that stream of literature has widened and extended beyond all our early conception. And still more bewildering is the fact that this stream has become tainted with a subtle deadly poison, known as Modernism, infidelity, or 'science falsely so called,' which makes the choice of current literature all the more hazardous. My library, as you see, is not so large as you may have expected to find in my study, but during the years of my ministry I have sought to retain the genuine and to discard much that drifted in on the tide of popular opinion and which proved to be worthless. These books on my shelves are my companions in study and labor; they are tried and true friends, and their messages of inspiration, comfort, counsel, and instruction are always at command. I believe that every minister should begin to build a library of choice books from the very first year of his ministry, and possibly before that. This is just as essential to his success as for the artisan, the mechanic, the lawyer, or the physician to procure the best books dealing with his vocation.
"No man can keep abreast of the times who is not a careful and continuous reader. To fill the mind with rich thoughts, gleaned from books produced by men of successful experience, is a stimulus and inspiration, and leads to a fuller, brighter, deeper understanding." (Read all of Montgomery's article on systematic reading of books.)