Spurgeon Wants You to Have Books
Charles Spurgeon, a London pastor in the 1800s, was known as the Prince of Preachers. And he was also a teacher of preachers. His book Lectures to My Students became a beloved classic among pastors world-wide. Across nearly 500 pages of superb writing, Spurgeon provides twenty-eight chapters of insightful instruction for pastors-in-training, as well as seasoned ministers who continue to learn from Spurgeon's wisdom. In this post, our focus is on Chapter 13: To Workers with Slender Apparatus. The slender apparatus of which Spurgeon writes is the lack of reading material among many pastors. Small financial resources often translate to a small library of resources from which a pastor may feed his soul and prepare sermons. Spurgeon see this as a top-shelf problem and dedicates an entire chapter to emphasizing the importance of rectifying this tragic scenario felt by many pastors. The following is a sampling of key statements, sentences, and paragraphs from Spurgeon's pen.
What are ministers to do who have a slender apparatus? By a slender apparatus I mean that hey have few books, and little or no means wherewith to purchase more. This is a state of things which ought not to exist in any case; the churches ought to take care that it should be rendered impossible. Up to the highest measure of their ability they should furnish their minister, not only with the food which is needful to sustain the life of his body, but with mental nutriment, so that his soul may not be starved...Instead of waxing eloquent upon the declining power of the pulpit, leading men in the church should use the legitimate means for improving its power, by supplying the preacher with food for thought.
If this scheme [developing a church library] be not adopted, let another and simpler one be tried; let all the subscribers towards the preacher's support add ten per cent or more to their subscriptions, expressly to provide food for the minister's brain. They would get back what they gave in the improved sermons they would hear. If some little annual income could be secured to poor ministers, to be sacredly spent in books, it would be a God-send to them, and an incalculable blessing to the community. Sensible persons do not expect a garden to yield them herbs from year to year unless they enrich the soul; the do not expect a locomotive to work without fuel, or even an ox or an ass to labour without food; let them, therefore, give over expecting to receive instructive sermons form men who are shut out of the storehouse of knowledge by their inability to purchase books.
If a man can purchase but very few books, my first advice to him would be, let him purchase the very best. If he cannot spend much, let him spend well. The will always be the cheapest. Leave mere dilutions and attenuations to those who can afford such luxuries. Do not buy milk and water, but get condensed milk, and put what water you like to it yourself. This age is full of word-spinners--professional book-makers, who hammer a grain of matter so thin that it will cover a five-acre sheet of paper; these men have their uses, as gold-beaters have, but they are of no use to you. Forgo, then without regret, the many books which, like poor Hodge's razors, of famous memory, "are made to sell," and do sell those who buy them, as well as themselves. Matthew Henry's Commentary, having been mentioned, I venture to say that no better investment can be made, by any minister, than that peerless exposition. Get it, if you sell your coat to buy it.
The next rule I shall lay down is, master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and re-read them, masticate them, and digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times, and make notes and analyses of it. A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which has merely skimmed, lapping at them, as the classic proverb puts it "As the dogs drink of Nilus." Little learning and much pride come of hasty reading. They gorge themselves with book-matter, and become mentally dyspeptic.
But if you feel you must have more books, I recommend to you a little judicious borrowing. You will most likely have some friends who have books, and who will be kind enough to let you use them for a time; and I specially advise you, in order to borrow again, to return whatsoever is lent, promptly, and in good condition. I hope there is not so much need that I should say much about returning books, as there would have been a few months ago, for I have lately met with a statement by a clergyman, which has very much raised acquaintance with three gentlemen who have actually returned borrowed umbrellas.
In case the famine of books should be sore in the land, there is one book which you all have, and that is your Bible; and a minister with his Bible is like David with his sling and stone, fully equipped for the fray. No man may say that he has no well to draw from while the Scriptures are within reach. In the Bible we have a perfect library, and he who studies it thorougly will be a better scholar than if he had devoured the Alexandrian Library entire. To understand the Bible should be our ambition; we should be familiar with it, as familiar as the housewife with her needle, the merchant with his ledger, the mariner with his ship.
I would earnestly impress upon you the truth, that a man who is short of apparatus can make up for it by much thought. Thinking is better than possessing books. Thinking is an exercise of the soul which both develops its powers and educates them. Thought is the backbone of study, and if more ministers would think, what a blessing it would be! Only, we want men who will think about the revealed truth of God, and not dreamers who evolve religions out of their own consciousness. Without books a man may learn much by keeping his eyes open. Moreover, however scant your libraries, you can study yourself. You will find the study of your heart to be of immense importance to you as a watcher over the souls of others. Even your own faults and failures will instruct you if you bring them to the Lord.
Learn from experienced saints. What deep things some of them can teach to us younger men! What instances God's poor people can narrate of the Lord's providential appearances for them; how they glory in His upholding grace and His faithfulness to His covenant! Once more, be much at death-beds; they are illuminated books. There shall you read the very poetry of our religion, and learn the secrets thereof. What splendid gems are washed up by the waves of Jordan! What fair flowers grow on its banks!
Get your copy of Lectures to My Students here.