Widen Your Intellectual Horizon

No man will ever be the preacher he might be unless he annually does some mental tiptoeing under the inspiration and guidance of those mentors in books who have the power to enrich his preaching style and add to the content of his sermons.

By J. D. SNIDER, Manager, Review and Herald Book Department

The roll of those preachers who "give every flying moment something to keep in store," is long and illustrious. No man will ever be the preacher he might be unless he annually does some mental tiptoeing under the inspiration and guidance of those mentors in books who have the power to enrich his preaching style and add to the content of his sermons. Then will come forth, not beauty and vitality alone, but, what is more important, flashes of that prophetic fire which character­ized the early preaching of the advent message, and which brings an incandescent glow to the mind of speaker and hearer alike. Any preacher is doomed to a fruitless mediocrity, if somehow or other he does not organize his time and abilities around a carefully laid plan for reading books that meet his practical needs, and enrich his total powers.

We need not be limited in our personalities as we ofttimes are in our material possessions. We may covet our neighbor's land, but he may not wish to sell it, or we may not have the wherewithal to buy it. But in our personalities we are circumscribed only by the depth and breadth of our power to interpret and utilize what we can bring within our focus. No one's possessions in the intellectual realm can be limited by those of another, and the sharing of these possessions with others enhances them for the sharer.

Altogether too many are going up and down this well-read world with literary luggage so meager that it is hardly worth mentioning. Scarcely a day passes on which an eye of scorn does not fall on some detail of their literary destitution. No minister who is indifferent to his moral obligation to be intelligent concern­ing the trends of his own times, to keep in touch with the main current of thought life and to do his share toward directing its course, can work effectively for those who look to him for spiritual leadership. Reading is not a mere amusement with which to pass time. Wholesome reading is meat and drink, full of calories and vitamins. It is a tonic and a stimulus. Even to the sick it is not an opiate, but a blood transfusion of that precious lifeblood of master spirits of which Milton speaks.

Nor is reading merely an escape or a crutch for the mentally lame who read only to avoid the necessity of thinking for themselves. Of course, books may be both a crutch and an escape. But if rightly and intelligently ap­proached, they will be an escape tonot an escape from__ -the realities of life. Thought-provocative books lead to a wider source of realities—the experience of others. They are not an escape from life, but an escape from dull, narrow, routine thinking. Right reading not only provides information, but it frees and develops the imagination, stimulates a fuller and deeper appreciation of nature and life, and brings recreation and rest into otherwise weary hours. In studying good literature, one finds his whole being expanded, and in this way he experiences a richer and more abundant intellectual life.

It is the reader's business to discover the author's method and purpose, and to evaluate what he has to offer. If he cannot accept it, that author's book is not for him. Instead, he should search until he finds an author who talks to him as a friend, in language he can understand.

Proper Reader Attitudes

I do not mean that you must always agree with the author. But you must be willing to go to meet the author, rather than to insist that he come to meet your point of view. If the person who wrote the book is not wiser than you, then you need not read it. If he be wiser, he may think differently from you in many respects. As a reader of his books, you should be friendly, trustful, attentive, and respectful. Otherwise, you are discourteous to the author, making fair judgment difficult by failing to enter into his thoughts, which you must of necessity do before you can rightly evaluate them. This is granting, of course, that the book itself is worthy. If the value is not in the book, then you cannot find it there even though you are friendly, and your attitude is satis factory.

If you are too ready to say, "That is exactly what I think," the author has not taught you anything. He has merely expressed your own ideas for you. A better book for you is the one that makes you say, "I never thought of that before, and yet I see that it may be true." In other words, the writer who starts ideas in your mental processes does more for you than the one who merely injects ideas.

If you are reading for facts, look for them and pigeonhole them in your mind or notebook for future use. If you are reading to gain courage, inspiration, or new interests, read receptively and sympathetically, allowing the great teachers to tell you of their own desires and ambitions, and to share their experiences with you. Read wholeheartedly, with en­thusiasm, and with the determination to get all the information, beauty, and inspiration out of the book that the author has put into it. Then you will read, not to lose your­self, but to find yourself—not to kill time, but to keep every moment more vitally alive. Such reading will lead you to place greater value on mental riches.

Kindled Through Another's Flame

And such reading, instead of being a mo­notonous substitute for something else to do, becomes most interesting and vital. Motivated reading—reading with a purpose—means read­ing with interest. And what is thus read re­mains in the mind as nothing else does. In­terest is one of the strongest factors that makes for fixation in memory. It is an inexpensive tool, and contributes greatly to efficiency of thinking on the part of any public speaker by supplying more materials with which to think. I have read that before Byron began to write he usually read for half an hour. The thought of some great writer kindled him into a crea­tive glow, even as a match kindles upon a flame. Alone, man is often as an unlighted candle, but a good book stimulates his mind and rouses each faculty to its most vigorous life. There is an Arabian proverb which says, "A fig tree looking on a fig tree becomes fruitful."

One should read to test the value of his own judgment and the soundness of his ideas, or to give courage to his convictions. The fact that he has thought or imagined a thing, does not necessarily prove it to be of value or make it true. I am not suggesting that if one sees a thing in print it must be so. But I do believe that if one has an idea and learns that others who have given it years of study have reached the same conclusion, there is at least a possi­bility that that idea has some value.

It is not necessary further to describe the vitalizing power of books in the intellectual and spiritual life and resources of the modern minister. This vitalizing power will greatly aid him in making contact with the listening world. Perhaps nothing—next to the power of the Holy Spirit—is more needed by the aver­age minister than inclination, taste, judgment, and persistency in the use of books. The im­perative need of reading profitably and with due regard to economy of time and daily work is recognized by all those whose pulpit gifts have been richly varied in intellectual acumen and sermonic style. A contemporary religious leader writes:

"You ask about my habits of study. I try to do as much studying as I can. There is an enormous amount of material for the intelligent and thoughtful person in the ministry to read in these days. For one thing, there are the old precious sources with which to remain familiar, and, in addition, there is a vast amount of contemporaneous literature. I try to make it a rule never to go through a day without reading and studying something worthwhile. No matter how hard the day may have been, if, late at night, I find I have gone through the day without reading or studying, I devote from eleven to twelve-thirty or one in the morning to study of something of perma­nent value, even though I have to arise as early as I usually do the following morning.

"I think it is a great mistake for men in the ministry not to be students. Most of us cannot be scholars in the technical sense—I mean creative scholars—but we can be students, and we cannot really be helpful thinkers and teachers unless we know and are familiar with the best things that are being said and done in the world."—"American Preachers of Today," pp. 67, 68.

Another—a well-known Methodist preacher, writer, missionary, and bishop—rises at four o'clock in the morning and reads till six. He reads everywhere—on trains, in waiting rooms, on street corners while waiting for a car or bus—but seldom uses library books or bor­rowed books. A book, to mean anything to him, must be his own or his wife's, for he writes all over the margins and flyleaves. His book bill is larger than his grocery bill.

In the introduction to his recently published autobiography, Dr. William Lyon Phelps de­clares that the best thing ever said about heaven in the Bible is that there is no night there. He writes:

"I have always wished—and now that I am old, I wish it with tenfold intensity—that sleep were not necessary. If it were physically possible, and my eyes would permit, I should like to spend all the day­light in work and play, and read all night."

Let us avail ourselves of this richest pos­session of our inheritance—the recorded ex­perience of others. If we choose wisely from among this vast array of records, we may fraternize with great minds, and become citizens of the world and of all times. Through reading we may acquire an understanding not only of our physical universe, but of the trends of the time intellectually, morally, and spiritually. Thus we shall acquire that under­standing of human nature needed for adequate orientation in our changing modern world.


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By J. D. SNIDER, Manager, Review and Herald Book Department

October 1939

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