When we gather and read books for the purpose of making plain to others the truths for our day, the blessing of the Lord accompanies such gathering and use; but when we accumulate them to read or study simply to learn truth for ourselves, or to become learned, or to receive mental stimulus or pleasure, and fail to pass on to others that which we receive, we become like stagnant pools, and make a curse of what might be a blessing.
I have in mind a pioneer worker who was an exemplification of what I believe to be a proper use of books by Seventh-day Adventist workers. He was always gathering, always reading, and always imparting. He wrote incessantly, sometimes well, sometimes poorly; but he did not fail to pass on to others what he was gathering for himself. And he used his store of knowledge in amplifying and strengthening and perfecting his presentations of truth from the desk. Thus he grew and developed, and his ideas became crystallized.
By "crystallized" ideas I have reference to a clarification of ideas that makes possible their presentation in lucid, forceful form, with no variation from the straight line of truth; and however much one may learn by way of further elucidation of an idea or a series of ideas, the ideas themselves remain unchanged, because they have their foundation in the eternal verities. A man with crystallized concepts ever cleaves to a straight line, and those who are associated with him always know where he will stand when brought into a crisis. He is actuated by an understanding of truth, and never wavers from a straightforward course. His message has the "old-time" ring, even when illumined and strengthened with much that is recent in the field of general knowledge.
To repeat, it is my conviction that when we gather to impart, we grow; when we gather to retain, we fossilize; and in gathering selfishly or sensually, for mere personal pleasure or recreation, we are liable to go wrong in our reading, and misuse that which otherwise could be put to a noble use, with saving results. Instances might be given of men who have made an unfortunate use of books, never passing on to others, in sermons or articles, the precious things they were gleaning. As a result their ideas became confused, and they never arrived at a proper understanding of truth.
There is another element in reading that is vitally important, for without it much reading is harmful. I refer to the element of full faith in the inspiration and binding claims of Holy Scripture and of the utterances of God's prophets of whatever age. Such faith serves as a sure anchorage, and as a cleaver of truth; and thus safeguarded and equipped, we can with profit peruse many works that otherwise might prove positively harmful and misleading. Such a faith, prayerfully and humbly maintained, will help one to approach all problems under investigation from the side of faith and belief rather than from the academic viewpoint of questioning and challenge and doubt. Sound faith is a fundamental necessity for anyone who ventures into the realm of the theological and historical literature of our day, or for that matter of almost any other period.