Christian literature has had an amazing place in the conquests of the Christian faith from the time of its very inception. God put the evangel into writing that it might do its appointed, abiding work. Thus the New Testament, written by the apostles of Christ's cross, came to be. In the battle with Roman paganism and Jewish doubt, literature had a mighty place. Apologies to the Roman emperors, appeals to the people, and expositions of the faith multiplied. They exerted a powerful influence when the church first went forth "conquering and to conquer." But alas, literature likewise played a fateful part in the development of the great falling away. The literature of perversion between the fourth and sixth centuries is tragic in its amount and in its baleful influence. Literature was pre-eminent in the early church.
Literature also played a powerful part in the later recovery of the lost primitive faith. Along with the appearance of the Bible in the language of the people, came the paralleling writings of the pre-Reformation men. Wycliffe, and many before his day and following, scattered over the European continent, wrote literature that helped dispel the engulfing darkness. Literature was used constantly by the Waldenses, along with portions of the Word in the tongue of the people.
Then came the Reformation period, accompanied by the newly developed printing press and movable type. That unloosed the very instrument the Reformers needed. The battle of pens was on. The number of tractates and books elucidating the evangelical faith and combating papal error was enormous—literally thousands of treatises. They were scattered everywhere, and made an indelible impress. And Rome too made good use of this medium. And again the Counter-Reformation press did its baleful work, and undermined part of the Reformation accomplishments.
Finally, we come to the great nineteenth century Second Advent Awakening. The extent of the literature on the prophecies and the Advent produced in Britain and on the European continent is truly amazing. The actual record shows about two hundred writers, and literally hundreds of tracts and books—some running through numerous editions—that exerted a far-reaching influence, and changed the thought of thousands. The circulation was astonishing.
And as the Advent voice was lifted in North America, the press, from Miller's first articles and book onward, grew until there were some thirty periodicals alone issued in connection with the Advent Movement prior to 1844. And scores upon scores of tracts, pamphlets, broadsides, and books exerted their influence. It is a fascinating picture to watch. The Millerites, in proportion to their number and to the population at the time, used literature to an extent we have not yet begun to equal. It all came in the providence of God—along with the renewed and enlarged circulation of the Word through the Bible societies. They always go hand in hand.
The place of message literature in the finishing of our work is not a matter of personal option. In addition to the lessons of church history, we have the express declaration of the Spirit of prophecy that it is to blanket the world like the "leaves of autumn." Go out into the woods this coming fall, and watch and ponder that statement—leaves falling, falling, swirling, and scattering everywhere, getting deeper and deeper until the earth is piled high with them to protect the tender roots and plants from the chilling blast and to produce a mulch that will enrich the soil and cause it to bring forth abundantly. Leaves of autumn! Let the picture be ever before us.
Message literature is to play the greatest role in the history of the Christian church in these last days. Effective literature is the spearhead, the pathfinder, the stabilizer, the educator, the defender, the evangelizer. It lays down a barrage before the battle of the Lord. It prepares the soil for the sowing of the gospel seed. It dissipates doubts and answers questions. It does not argue or talk back. It does not get into a debate. It quietly, convincingly, convictingly, persuades. It is the incomparable accompanist for the gospel solo.
It is the greatest aid to the evangelist and pastor. It clarifies and stabilizes. Sermons make their impress, but their sharpness and content fade with time. Literature abides, with its unchanging impress and message. It establishes converts, tying them to solid piers in the harbor of truth. It keeps them from drifting. It strengthens and informs and inspires. It is inseparable from the spoken word. God has established an indissoluble union between them. And what God has joined together let us keep together with bonds that increase in strength through the years.
The place, then, of message literature in the work of the evangelist, pastor, Bible instructor, the physician and nurse, and the layman, is paramount. The working relationships between minister and colporteur-evangelist are most important, and should be the best. The relationship of the resident colporteur to the local minister in an effort is fundamental. The wise preliminary use of literature prior to an effort is highly important. The most effective use of literature during the effort—the book table or booth—is a phase that needs development.
The place of literature in the follow-up of interests in a spearhead or full series of meetings, and in local radio interests, for which the pastor and evangelist are responsible, is vital. The possibilities of the reading room are not to be forgotten either.
The choice and production of the most effective soul-winning literature is most important. This is the fascinating field that opens before us in this new section of THE MINISTRY, to which we welcome our credentialed colporteurs as readers.
L. E. FROOM.