A young minister recently said to me, "I am reading the Ministerial Reading Course books this year, and feel that I am being stretched mentally, as it were." That is what the Ministerial Reading Course is for —mental expansion. And the fact that wide reading of good books always enlarges and enriches life should be more frequently emphasized. Good literature stimulates, inspires, and develops one's imaginative faculties, and gives an appreciation of the best, so that life becomes more colorful and experience more varied. The repetitious nature of the daily tasks of a minister or evangelist makes it imperative that he enrich his life and expand his environment by intelligent, well-balanced reading.
Elsie Robinson, a modern newspaper woman, wrote an article some time ago entitled, "Do You Travel or Move Around?" In it she described two people: one moved his body; the other moved his mind. Her column ended with this statement: "Unless you have changed your state of mind, you have never traveled." Traveling with the mind does not necessarily mean reading travel books. Any book which makes your mind move into new channels of thought is a travel book for you. Learning to think with tolerance, understanding, and eager interest often does as much for both body and mind as a real trip into other countries or other environments.
Association With the Truly Great
Books give one a free introduction to a large company of the most brilliant members of the literary world. Indeed one puts down a stimulating book in much the same frame of mind that one would have after having spent a week end in the company of celebrities. By the perusal of books, the reader has intimate acquaintanceship with those really worth knowing. After gaining a casual literary acquaintance with a large number of well-known authors through brief extracts from their writings, he is capable of choosing from a large list those whom he wishes to make close mental companions by more careful and frequent reading of their works.
Through reading we may always be in good company. If we associate with intelligent people in books, we soon come to appreciate them in life. Temple Scott reminds us that we tumble over each other to get a glimpse of an ordinary man driven through the streets merely because he is said to be a king of a country or a captain of some great industry. But when a real king of men—a great captain of thought and imagination, a great author—sits with us in our homes, we seldom take the trouble to get acquainted with him. "It is so much easier to look at a man's uniform," he says, "than it is to try to understand his thoughts."
Literature is the record of man as he is in this world—his strivings and longings, his loves and hates, his hopes and fears. It is a record of man at his best and at his worst, in his strength and in his weakness, in the heights and in the depths. It is with this man that preachers and religious workers have to do. It is to him that they have to speak. It is true, of course, that mere book knowledge of men is vain and worthless except as it goes hand in hand with intimate, everyday contacts. But it is no less true that the limited knowledge of human nature which any worker can gather singlehandedly is enriched and interpreted by the knowledge that has been stored un through the centuries and preserved in the literature of the world. In literature is the self-revelation of man, and any spiritual leader will inevitably fall short of the heights of his ministry if he does not dig with diligence in this rich and rewarding quarry.
I do not mean that a minister should look upon a book as a storehouse of grist for his pulpit efforts. A preacher who reads a book with a homiletic eye will be almost sure to miss the point of it. To read in that fashion is to do injustice to the book and injury to himself. He may get what he wants out of the book, but not all that the book intended to tell him. Neither do I mean to say that a minister in his reading may not make notes of striking sentences and phrases, apt similes, etc., as he goes along. Of course, he is entitled to do that, but he should let the book tell its own story and not risk the loss of a quickening word to his own soul for the sake of culling out sermon material. The larger advantage of intercourse with literature lies in what it does for the reader.
If the reader does his part aright, literature will give him both depth of insight and breadth of outlook. It will enhance his sensibility to the finer issues and rarer values of life. It will enlarge his sympathies, teach him tolerance with opinions and tastes that differ from his, and forbearance with the faults and foibles of his fellows. It will induce in him a profound sense of the worth of a human soul, and will quicken that passion for man which was the secret of the grace and power of Christ. Having such a treasure—even though it be in an earthly vessel—will enable the minister to utter his message in a fashion not unworthy of his high calling.