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Notes on Reading Good Literature

C. S. Lewis

"If one has to choose between reading the new books and reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are necessarily better, but because they contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful."

Seumas Stewart
"Bookworm: A devourer of books, human or insect. As a rule, human bookworms do not literally eat books."

Augustine Birrell
"Anordinary man can surround himself with two thousand books and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy."

Wilber Smith
"I think I read in a short autobiographical sketch by the late professor James Stalker that he had one recreation, and that was the reading of secondhand book catalogues. I would echo this."

Daniel Webster, 1823
"If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; if God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy; if the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; if the power of the Gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness, will reign without mitigation or end."

Robert Southey, from "The Scholar"
"My days among the dead are passed;
Around me I behold
Where'er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old:
My never failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day."

Charles Spurgeon:
Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come - and the books, especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:13)
"We will look at his books. We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them.

"Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra-Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermons, must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men's brains -- oh! that is the preacher.

"How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he want's books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, 'Give thyself unto reading.'

"The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the best way for you to be spending you leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord an dMaster's service. Paul cries, 'bring the books' -- join in the cry.

"Our second remark is, that the apostle is not ashamed to confess that he does read. He is writing to his young son Timothy. Now, some old preachers never like to say a thing which will let the young ones into their secrets. They suppose they must put on a very dignified air, and make a mystery of their sermonizing; but all this is alien from the spirit of truthfulness. Paul wants books, and is not ashamed to tell Timothy that he does; and Timothy may go and tell Tychicus and Titus if he lies - Paul does not care.

"Paul herein is a picture of industry. He is in prison; he cannot preach: What will he do? As he cannot preach, he will read. As we read of the fishermen of old and their boats. The fishermen were gon out of them. What were they doing? Mending their nets. So if providence has laid you upon a sick bed, and you cannot teach your class - if you cannot be working for God in public, mend your nets by reading. If one occupation is taken from you, take another, and let the books of the apostle read you a lesson of industry.

"He says, 'Especially the parchments.' I think the books were Latin and Greek works, but that the parchments were Oriental; and possibly they were the parchments of Holy Scripture; or as likely, they were his own parchments, on which were written the originals of his letters which stand in our Bible as the Epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and so on. Now, it must be 'especially the parchments' with all our reading; let it be especially the Bible.

"Do you attach no weight to this advice? This advice is more needed in the world now than almost at any other time, for the number of persons who read the Bible, I believe, is becoming smaller every day. Persons read the views of their denominations as set forth in the periodicals; they read the views of their leader as set forth in his sermons or his works, but the Book, the good old Bok, the divine fountain-head from which all revelation wells up - this is too often left. You may go to human puddles, until you forsake the clear crystal stream which flows from the throne of God. Read the books, by all manner of means, but especially the parchments. Search human literature, if you will, but especially stand fast by that Bood which is infallible, the revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

James Stalker
(From his famous Yale Lectures on Preaching in 1891, which were subsequently published by Hodder and Stoughton under the title The Preacher and His Models.)
A student ought, while at college, to make himself master of at least one or two of the great books of the Christian centuries in which Christianity is exhibited as a whole by a master mind. If I may be allowed to mention my own experience, it happened to me, more by chance, perhaps, than wise choice, to master, when I was a student ... John Owen's work on "The Holy Spirit." It exhibits Christianity entire, and I learned it almost by heart, as one does a text-book. I was not then thinking much of subsequent benefit; but I can say that it has been ever since a quarry out of which I have dug, and probably I have hardly ever preached a sermon which has not exhibited traces of its influence.

There is another valuable result which will follow from the early mastery of books of this kind. You will be laying the foundation of the habit of what may be called Great Reading, by which I mean the systematic study of great theological works in addition to the special reading for the work of each Sunday. Week by week a conscientious minister has to do an immense amount of miscellaneous reading in commentaries, dictionaries, etc. in connection with the discourses in hand; but, in addition to this, he should be enriching the subsoil of his mind by larger efforts in wider fields. It is far from easy to carry this on in a busy pastorate; and it is almost impossible unless the foundation has been laid in early days of study.