Here we enter into the minister's private life and open up that phase of the subject which deals with his individual study and personal devotion. In another article we shall consider the art of studying, which is closely akin to this subject, but here we shall confine ourselves rather to the field of the minister's reading and how to read effectively.
Paul recognized the importance of reading, both in his own life and in his counsel to the young ministers under his care. To Timothy he said: "Till I come, give attendance to reading." "Neglect not the gift," he said. "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all."
Paul had a small library of his own. Though he was a man whose duties called him to travel much, and he probably had no place he could call home, still he had some treasured volumes that he carried with him on his travels. In writing to Timothy, after his second arrest, he asked that Timothy bring to Rome "the books, but especially the parchments" that he had left at Troas. We have no knowledge of what these books were, but evidently Paul was a man who, having collected a small library, cherished it and wanted it with him in his dungeon cell, even in the hour of death.
As ministers, we should "give attendance" to our reading. That is, we must give heed to, and put our best thought into, our reading. To read profitably, we must read with a purpose, not haphazardly, here a little and there a little, but with careful selection and mental exertion. We should map out a course of reading for ourselves, selecting carefully from the mass of material available, and then set ourselves to read the books selected.
How extensive should be our reading, One of our veteran ministers advises: "Every preacher in normal health ought to read from fifteen to fifty books a year and know them." This may sound like a large order, but it is possible, if we select carefully and budget our time accordingly. We must budget not only our time, but our finances as well, in order to buy these books. However, every minister should consider money spent for good books and magazines as an expenditure that cannot be omitted from the budget any more than clothing or food.
Some of our ministers may not have had the privilege of an extended college education, but they can greatly increase their knowledge by carefully selected reading courses. This will give them a mine of information and an originality in their preaching that will attract and hold an audience. Especially should every worker enroll in the Ministerial Reading Course every year.
Careful selection of reading is, of course, the all-important question. Books may be had by the ton these days, but most of them are not worth the paper on which they are printed. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of first-class books, and from these we should make our selection.
First of all, there is the Word. There can be no substitute for a daily and prayerful reading of the Bible. In his preaching the minister must interpret everything—life, death, sin, and salvation—in harmony with the Word of God, and he should therefore be saturated with the Scriptures. He should know the truth, and truth is revealed in the Word. No other reading will give such strength to the intellect or such power to the ministry as a study of the Bible. "The Bible stands the highest among books, and its study is valuable above the study of other literature in giving strength and expansion to the mind."—Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 394.
Close beside the Bible, I would place the writings of the Spirit of prophecy. As ministers, we need to be close students of these special messages from God to the remnant church. The Testimonies have not been given as a substitute for the Bible, but as a complement of the Scriptures, to amplify their meaning, so that the beautiful simplicity of the truths of God's Word may be understood and appreciated. The Spirit of prophecy books are a library in themselves. There are more than thirty published volumes, and they cover every phase of our work in a most remarkable way.
In addition to the Bible, the writings of the Spirit of prophecy, and the Ministerial R-ading Course, which I consider most important, we should choose other reading for self-improvement and inspiration. Among these should be books of a devotional nature, which will lead us into a deeper Christian experience. Books on prayer, the life of victory, and righteousness through faith, will be a help to our own soul's experience and furnish new material for presenting these important themes to the people for whom we labor.
Books on Biblical exegesis and commentaries on portions of the Scriptures should also be read. Such books give opportunity for a deeper study of the Word. Although not always one hundred per cent orthodox, they often provide very valuable help in Bible study.
Then there are the informative books on historical, biographical, and current subjects. Their purpose is to inform the reader of past events, of the doings and accomplishments of great men and women, or of modern trends and recent happenings. Scientific books should be included under this heading, as they give an understanding of the whys and wherefores of the forces of nature which have come under the study and observation of men.
This field of study is in some respects the most interesting, especially to those who have an inquiring mind. It is also a legitimate field for a minister to enter, for, above all people, a minister of the gospel should be well informed and speak with accurate information on whatever subject he may discuss. It will take him into the study of history, both church and profane. It will open up to him the great social and political movements of the past and their relation to the events of today. It will require a study of the current news, modern inventions, and new ideas which are constantly inviting the attention of the world.
But always and in all his study he will see the relation between profane history and God's plan for men as revealed in the Word, and he will interpret all information in the light of divine truths. This field of reading is very extensive, and a minister must choose carefully, limiting his reading to authoritative standard books which he feels sure will give him intellectual character and increase his faith in God and His Word.
Thus far I have said nothing on the negative side of the question. But it would hardly seem necessary to warn Seventh-day Adventist workers against the evil influence of light reading and fiction. Such reading is not only worthless and a waste of time, but it destroys one's taste for good literature, so that substantial books will soon seem dull. Even the Bible will lose its interest, as the mind deteriorates to the level of the characters depicted in cheaper reading. On this point John Foster has said:
"Few have been sufficiently sensible of the importance of that economy in reading which selects, almost exclusively, the very first order of books. Why should a man, except for some special reason, read a very inferior book, at the very time that he might be reading one of the highest order?"
Only through personal study, with meditation and prayer, will you be able effectively to present the saving truths of the Word and save souls through your ministry.