Preachers and Books
Enlarged November 27, 2019 (first published May 23, 2007 as “The Power of the Printed Page”)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
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“The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13)

Some preachers seem to disdain books. I once heard a preacher at an independent Baptist meeting say, “We don’t need more books; we need more preaching.”

That’s a statement of ignorance. A good Christian book is simply good preaching and teaching.

When God wanted to speak to men, He wrote a Book.

The apostles communicated with the churches and with individual believers through the pen, and we have some of their writings in our New Testament. Had they possessed printing presses, I have no doubt that they would have used them.

The apostle Paul was a student to the end of his life. Even when in prison awaiting his death, he said to Timothy, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13).

Bring the books said the stalwart old warrior! Bring the books said the man whom we are told to imitate. “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Cor. 4:16). “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Philippians 3:17).

It has been said that the man who wants to be a writer must be a reader.

It has been said that“the man who
doesn’t read isn’t any better off than the man who cannot read.”

It has been said that “five years from now you will be the same person except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

Recently a pastor told me, “Brother Cloud, I am not naturally a good student, but I know that this is a necessary part of the ministry, and I work hard at it.”

Actually this man puts large numbers of Independent Baptist preachers to shame by his studiousness. Not only is he a diligent Bible student, but he is a student of all things necessary for the ministry. He keeps informed about current events and about dangers facing his people so he can protect them.

Another preacher wrote, “Thanking the Lord for the people of God like yourself who have prayerfully invested in pastors like myself. Taking your advice, I am thankful to the Lord for helping me begin to take reading and studying seriously. I have begun the
Bible Times and Ancient Kingdoms and have learnt so much just from the first two lessons. And from the time I left the conference in January 2019 till today, I have finished reading the following books: Holiness by your dear self, The Rise and Fall of Christian Standards, Firm up the Foundation (the book dealing with the compromise of Billy Graham), Successful Fathers, Building an Outreach Sunday School, Tying the Knot Tighter (marriage enrichment for Christians) and some others. These are smaller books as I felt it wiser to start small and begin to grow into thicker books. Please pray for me as I will be planning a clearer schedule on what books I need to read for study and learning. It has sharpen my thinking, challenged by conviction, bolder in my pastoring and clearer in the direction for the Lord's church.”

William Evans, in his course on preaching, said, “Reading good books acts as water poured down a dry pump--it primes and has a reactionary effect. ... To be prolific in thought one must be a faithful reader. Reading makes a wise man. The constant reader will not be at a loss for thoughts. The man who does not read much will not make much of a preacher. One good sermon a day, and one good book a week, at least, ought to be the intellectual diet of every man who would be a good preacher. Not to read is to have nothing to draw from except oneself, and ofttimes one feels himself to be a dry subject indeed. Reading is a tonic; it has a reactionary effect upon the mind” (Evans,
How to Prepare a Sermon, 1912).

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I have known men in the ministry, and men in various other walks of life who stop reading when they finish their training. they think they have acquired all they need; they have their lecture notes, and nothing further is necessary. The result is that they vegetate and become quite useless. Keep on reading” (
Preaching and Preachers, p. 177.

Baptist pastor
John Gill was a great reader. Gill’s formal education ended at age 11, part way through grammar school, because of the government requirement that every student attend services in the Anglican church. His father, a deacon in a Baptist church, refused to compromise his spiritual convictions. But John soon mastered Hebrew using a grammar book and spent so much time at the Kettering Bookshop that he became a local proverb. The people would remark, “That is as sure as John Gill is in the bookseller’s shop.”

B.H. Carroll (1843-1914), first president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, read history, all history, ancient, mediaeval, modern, civil, political and religious; biography and autobiography he absolutely devoured. He read all science, all romance, all poetry. For at least sixty of his seventy-one years, he averaged reading 300 pages a day. During his latter years even more than that. Only a little while before his death he was known to average 1,000 pages a day for ten consecutive days. ... He always read history with a map before him, and always kept near him the best and latest of the world’s atlases.” He told one young preacher, “My boy, you are in great danger. You have no library and do not read” (Dr. B.H. Carroll: The Colossus of Baptist History).

John Broadus (1827-1895), Baptist pastor and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:: “As a result of his severe discipline in independent study, he had, even as a young man, a large fund of general knowledge to draw upon. He not only sought to master his favorite studies, the Bible and ancient and modern languages, but he read widely in history, philosophy, art, literature, and current events. These studies strengthened and elevated the powers of mind and modes of expression and gave him a large mental store upon which to draw in sermon preparation.”

Lee Roberson, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church for 40 years and founder of Tennessee Temple Bible Schools, was a big reader. He did a lot of his reading in the evenings, though he read whenever he had occasion. He took a satchel of books with him on every trip. He marked the books and took notes from his reading to capture things for his preaching. He particularly loved to read sermons by prominent preachers such as Charles Spurgeon, T.D. Talmage, R.G. Lee, J. Frank Norris, W.B. Riley, T.T. Shields, and George W. Truett.

John Wesley had no sympathy for the preacher who is not a serious student. He said, “Gentlemen, either read or get out of the ministry.”

Wesley exhorted a preacher friend as follows: “What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps by neglecting it you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep: there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it any more than a thorough Christian. O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no; read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a petty, superficial prayer” (John Wesley to John Trembeth, August 1760).

Jerry Reece exalted the power of the printed page as follows: “Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘Give me 26 lead soldiers and I will conquer the world.’ Our alphabet has 26 characters. When set in lead type, they become Ben Franklin's army. There has never been a more formidable force than this! Their footprints march silently across the theater of human history and leave an indelible mark that meets the gaze of each generation, convincing them of truth and error, molding their philosophies of life and giving them causes for which to live and die. Why has the church been so slow in recognizing the awesome power of the army? Why has she delayed so long and enlisted so few of these faithful and fearless soldiers to the greatest of all causes? … An eminent missionary leader has said, ‘Christian literature is today's absolute number one priority in all missionary planning.’”

C.H. Mackintosh said, “We observe, with deep concern, a growing distaste for solid reading, specially amongst young Christians. Our reading may be taken, as a rule, as the great indicator of our moral, intellectual and spiritual condition.”

Peter Cartwright, circuit riding preacher, said, “Only Heaven will determine which was the most important in my earthly ministry--my preaching or the distributing of books.”

Christian statesman
Daniel Webster said, “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.”

English non-conformist preacher
Thomas Watson said, “Get books into your houses, when you have not the spring near you, then get water into your cisterns; so when you have not that wholesome preaching that you desire, good books are cisterns that hold the water of life in them to refresh you. ... So when you find a chillness upon your souls, and that your former heat begins to abate, ply yourselves with warm clothes, get those good books that may acquaint you with such truths as may warm and affect your hearts” (1662).

Charles Spurgeon had very little formal education and no formal theological training, but he had a great passion for learning. He was what is called an autodidact (self-educator). He was reading deep theological books by Puritans in his grandfather’s library by age 10. He read constantly and widely. It is said that he read six books a week.

Spurgeon advised the preachers in his Bible College, “Sell your shirt and buy books.”

Spurgeon said, “A little library, growing larger every year, is an honorable part of a young man's history. It is a man's duty to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life. ... The influence of books upon man is remarkable; they make the man.”

Spurgeon had little patience with preachers who despise commentaries and good study books. He addressed the following statement to his Bible School students:

“Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences. Usually, we have found the despisers of commentaries to be men who have no sort of acquaintance with them; in their case, it is the opposite of familiarity which has bred contempt” (Spurgeon, Two Lectures Addressed to the Students of the Pastor’s College, Metropolitan Tabernacle).

Spurgeon advised his Bible students to read the entire multi-volume Matthew Henry commentary set in the twelve months after they graduated from Pastor’s College. He said that the revivalist preacher George Whitefield read Matthew Henry through four times during his life. And this is a man who preached an estimated 18,000 sermons in his lifetime, an average of 500 a year or ten a week.

In commenting on 2 Timothy 4:13 in a sermon entitled “Paul: His Cloak and His Books,” Spurgeon said:

“Even an apostle must read. ... 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 wants 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. ... We are quite persuaded that the best way for you to be spending your 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 and Master'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 likes--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 gone 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, ‘but 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 England 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 Book, 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 Book which is infallible, the revelation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Charles Spurgeon,
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 9, year 1863).

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