What You Put in Your Head

Self-improvement by reading makes for true education.

By Gwynne Dalrymple, Associate, Professor of Bible, Walla Walla College

Have you ever stood in front of a shiny, modern furniture store, and looked at a display of cedar chests in the win­dow? For myself, I have rather a weakness for cedar chests—I don't know why—and I look with a good deal of interest at a display of them, some plain but beautifully polished, others elaborately carved, all of them hand­somely finished.

A man's head is a good deal like a cedar chest—not because it is necessarily wooden—we'll hope it isn't—but because, after all, the only things you'll find in it are the things that you put there. You can't stuff it with old rags, and then, sometime later, expect to find it filled with sterling silverware. What you put in is what you take out. This is not some kind of judgment or penal enactment; it is just a natural law of the mind. What else, after all, could one expect?

What makes the difference between the mentality of a professor of chemistry and the mentality of a professor of modern languages? Simply the fact that one has put into the chest of his mind facts concerning acids and alkalies, valences and isotopes, while the other has put into his mind French and German, conjuga­tions and declensions. What each one has put there, that he finds there—and that's what others find there, too.

A problem confronts our ministers today. It is not the problem of finding enough to put into their mind; it is the problem of not find­ing too much. For all around us, and generally in alluring guise, are things with which we are invited to fill our minds. Consider the daily newspaper. (Yes, I know we should keep abreast of the times. Yes, I know current events may be the fulfillment of prophecy.) Is it not a fact that the hours spent over the daily news sheet yield little that is worthy of a place in the chest of our minds?—yield far more in the way of dirty rags, trivial rubbish, than they do in sterling silver?

Again, there is the radio. It is a most won­derful invention, and it has accomplished some good. It bears for hundreds of miles—yes, sometimes thousands—the sound of beautiful music, or of elevating and ennobling words: But, after all, how much it bears that is not truly beautiful, not truly elevating or inspiring.' And the person who day after day fills his" mind with its broadcasts will by and by have little in his mind that is of value in the sight of God or in the sight of man.

Then, too, we who are Seventh-day Advent­ist ministers are busy men. The quiet life of dignified repose which is the lot of certain ministers, with abundant opportunity f or quiet study and uninterrupted research, can hardly be called ours. There is a constant stream of duties and responsibilities—yes, privileges, too; pressing upon us. There are series of evangelistic meetings to be conducted, and can paigns to be carried on, and church schools' to be opened, and the young people of the church to be sympathetically led in the way that is right—yes, time would fail us even to list all the things that must be done.

All the more need, then, to see that the chest of our minds holds a treasure trove, and not a mere collection of trivialities. All the more need, then—pardon me if I speak plainly to cut clown on idle reading of merely pass­ing interest, and radio programs of no real value, and to see that day by day, week by week, month by month, we are storing away in brain and mind those things that some later day we shall wish to find there. And one of the best—yes, I think it is the best—way of doing this is by careful, systematic, worth-while reading. 

Some years ago, when I was one of the editors of the Signs of the Times, a special anniversary number was published. In gather­ing material for this, I had occasion to look up, in our files, the first two or three issues ever published. I must confess that as I ex­amined those faded sheets, and read those articles penned by men who have now gone to their rest, I was surprised at the clearness, the force, the cogency and ability with which they wrote. We sometimes pride ourselves upon the increased educational advantage possessed by the Adventist ministry of 1940. Well and good; it is a fine thing for us to have these advantages. But though our pioneers may not have been educated overly well, let us remem­ber that they were well read. If I may judge, I would say that they were better read than we are. It may well be that less material was crammed into the cedar chest of their minds, but I wonder if it may not have been better material—more helpful, more substantial, more convincing, more enduring.

And as for us, here in this hurried, bustling, distraught world of 194o—can we be well read? Yes, we can. Like any worth-while endeavor, it will take time. It will require, every so often, a choice between the news­paper and the history book, the radio and the Spirit of prophecy. But, after all, life is made up of choices ; and it is a man's choices that determine his life and his destiny. They must be made in the field of reading just as they must be made anywhere else.

Often it is helpful for those who bear heavy responsibilities to guide their reading by enroll­ing in a definite course—such as the annual Ministerial Reading Course. The works se­lected for such an important course are almost certain to be helpful. The very fact that we have enrolled helps us to plan with sufficient definiteness to finish what we have begun. In this way it is possible for us to plan on a sys­tem of self-improvement by reading, so that as Seventh-day Adventist ministers we shall not be ignorant, trivial, misinformed, but shall be true examples of an educated body of men, devoted to proclaiming the truth of God to a busy world.


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By Gwynne Dalrymple, Associate, Professor of Bible, Walla Walla College

October 1940

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