Intellectually, man can do nothing greater than genuinely to think. "There are a hundred persons who can talk," Ruskin avers, "for one who can think." Great teachers have always thought that the ability to think clearly and cogently is the acid test of a good education. A scholarly Frenchman once declared that multitudes of people read omnivorously all their life, and when the end comes, they have learned everything except to think. There is doubtless a tinge of exaggeration in this statement, but it is essentially true.
Socrates, one of the most rigorous and original thinkers of all time, taught and thought so effectively and fruitfully that today, twenty-three centuries later, no student in a normal college is permitted to be graduated who has not completely mastered the Socratic method of teaching others the high art of thinking. In the work of educating, the main business of the student, declared the late Dr. Gladden, is "learning to think."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, that Titan in the realm of thought, counseled his readers to force themselves to reflect on what they read, "paragraph by paragraph." He knew that a page digested is vastly more profitable than a volume read cursorily. Reading should always be in proportion to thinking, and thinking in proportion to reading. Every reader who has mastered his art, reads himself into the very essence of his book, and thus assimilates the thoughts of the author and makes them his own. Montaigne asserted that the principal use of reading was, to him, the fact that it "roused his reason." He meant, of course, that reading had the happy effect of stimulating and deepening his powers of thought.
Francis Lord Bacon enunciated a great truth when he declared that we should not read to refute and contradict, or to believe and take for granted, or to find material for mere talk, "but to weigh and consider." Weigh and consider—these words are the very touchstone of creative, and therefore original, independent thinking. A great thinker is seldom given to disputation. He shatters false argument by stating the truth as he sees it.
We all remember Emerson's pronouncement respecting the rare and difficult art of cultural reading: "There is creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusions. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world."
From the pen of that brilliant thinker, Lord Beaconsfield, comes this needful counsel: "Nurture your mind with great thoughts." Of course the greatest thoughts in all literature are those which scintillate on every page of the Book of books. Emerson said that if we encountered a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he read. Such a man would unfailingly include among these books the Bible. "O Lord, . . . Thy thoughts are very deep," exclaims the Spirit-quickened psalmist. He in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the Author of the Book par excellence, declares: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Coleridge, an indefatigable reader of the Bible, says, "I know the Bible is inspired, because it finds me at a greater depth of my being than any other book." No wonder that Paul, referring to Bible truths, exhorts us to "meditate upon these things." To meditate means to reflect deeply, perseveringly, methodically; it means to ponder, to analyze, to compare, in order that we may rightly divide the word of truth. Of God's ideal man, portrayed in the first psalm, it is said: "In His law doth he meditate day and night." Note the eagerness and alacrity with which the poet psalmist exclaims: "I will meditate in Thy precepts." Ps. 119:15. Yes, we must "search the Scriptures" if we would appreciate and appropriate—so far as possible—the infinity of their breadth and length and depth and height.
Only a consecrated thinker can effectively teach and preach the thoughts of God.