The Importance of Reading
George Everard, 1885
"When you come, bring . . . the books, and above all the parchments." 2 Timothy 4:13
"Give heed to reading." 1 Timothy 4:13
"Give heed to reading." For it is one of the greatest talents committed to you. It may be to you a mighty power for the development of moral and intellectual gifts. It may open to you fields of untold worth, and put you in possession of information touching every branch of science, every region of the world, and every age of past history. It may make you tenfold more useful in any profession, because your reading has taken a wide range, and there are few matters of importance on which you are ignorant. Do not throw away these great opportunities. Do not lose the vantage ground which youth gives you.
Give heed that you do read. If you had in your possession a field where the soil was very rich, and where you might look for a large increase in whatever you sowed, it would be a thousand pities to leave it uncultivated, and so let it be covered with weeds and thistles. Let not your field be neglected. Let not sloth and idleness win the day. In holiday time, get hold of some book worth reading, and so, while the memory is retentive and the mind is fresh, take in knowledge that will be of more value than any amount of wealth. If you can only get an hour, or even half an hour a day for good solid reading, it is not to be despised. It will soon bring great advantage, if you stick to it. And what you read carefully, may not itself be the whole advantage you may gain, for it will be sure to suggest other trains of thought which may be worth to you even more than that which suggested them.
Give heed how you read. For much depends upon this. You may let your eye wander over the page of a book as a sort of duty or penance, as many do with their daily portion of the Scriptures. You may thus skim the surface, but find nothing of the profit you might derive from it, for you retain little or nothing of what you read. Avoid this mistake. Give mind and thought to it.
Read also with discrimination. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Use your judgment as to the moral tendency of anything that is put into your hand. In the magazine literature of the day, remember how much there is of downright Atheism and impurity as well. To read this without the greatest care is perilous in the extreme.
And beside this, there lies a whole region of literature which is debasing and polluting beyond all expression. Did you ever hear the dream of Gutenberg? He was just about to put forward his invention of the printing press, and it seemed to him as if an angel came and spoke to him:
"John Gutenberg, you have made your name immortal, but at what a cost! Think well what you are doing! The ungodly are many more than the godly. Your work will but multiply their blasphemies and lies. You have uncovered the bottomless pit — and a swarm of seducing spirits shall henceforth come out and turn earth into Hell. Oh think of millions of souls corrupted by your achievement. See the poison of fiends distilled into the souls of boys and girls, making them old in the experience of sin! See that mother weeping over her depraved son, and that grey-haired father hiding his face from his daughter's shame. Destroy your press, for it shall be the pander of blasphemy and lust! Destroy it, and forget it! Forbear, by multiplying the resources of the wicked, to make yourself through all ages the partaker of their crimes!"
Gutenberg was nearly persuaded to destroy his invention, but he believed that God's gifts, though perilous, are never bad, and that the press might be a help in disseminating God's truth. So he went on, and printed the Bible as the first book that came from his press.
We are all aware that the dream has had a very sorrowful fulfillment. Amidst the vast amount of printed matter sent forth daily, it is to be feared that the evil sadly exceeds the good. None can tell how the minds of multitudes are corrupted by the publications that they peruse. Therefore, my friend, be careful what you read!
Give heed as to what you read. If you knew that on the table there were poisoned dishes, as well as food that was wholesome and nourishing — you would be on your guard, and touch nothing about which you were doubtful. Just so, exercise wise forethought as to the books and magazines you take up and peruse.
It is true that "as a man thinks in his heart so is he." But it is no less true that as a man reads — so very much will he think. Mind, memory, conscience, imagination, will, affection, all will be influenced by that which you read.
The eye of a Christian lad ought not to be polluted by that which he would be ashamed to show his mother. The questionable novel, with its picturing of the worst passions of the soul, as is too often the case — ought not to be devoured as if it would leave no bad impression behind. I know quite well, that we all need recreation, but it is not genuine recreation to spend hour after hour pouring over that which is trashy, nonsensical, and worse, and will only unfit you for anything higher and holier.
Think over what I have said. Most fervently does the writer wish that in early life time wasted in profitless reading had only been redeemed for that which would have been helpful in days to come. No more frequent regret has he cherished than this. May you avoid the same mistake and follow the inspired precept, "Give heed to reading."
In connection with this subject, one further hint may be given to those who are anxious to work in Christ's vineyard, and to do good in the Church and in the world. Never forget the far-reaching influence of Christian literature! Be a diligent worker in this direction. Carefully select books suited for various classes. Know the book, small or great, that will fill a special niche for the thoughtless one, for the inquirer, for one who is troubled, for one who is ill or who has lost a friend.
On a journey take a few sound and attractive booklets that you may be able to distribute wisely and with prayer. Take an interest in the support of such societies as the Religious Tract Society, and kindred associations. Perhaps in no other way may you be more likely to do real and abiding good.