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Man: The Dwelling Place of God: Chapter 34. Some Thoughts on Books and Reading

By A.W. Tozer


      ONE BIG PROBLEM IN MANY PARTS of the world today is to learn how to read, and in others it is to find something to read after one has learned. In our favored West we are overwhelmed with printed matter, so the problem here becomes one of selection. We must decide what not to read.

      Nearly a century ago Emerson pointed out that if it were possible for a man to begin to read the day he was born and to go on reading without interruption for seventy years, at the end of that time he would have read only enough books to fill a tiny niche in the British Library. Life is so short and the books available to us are so many that no man can possibly be acquainted with more than a fraction of one percent of the books published.

      It hardly need be said that most of us are not selective enough in our reading. I have often wondered how many square yards of newsprint passes in front of the eyes of the average civilized man in the course of a year. Surely it must run into several acres; and I am afraid our average reader does not realize a very large crop on his acreage. The best advice I have heard on this topic was given by a Methodist minister. He said, "Always read your newspaper standing up." Henry David Thoreau also had a low view of the daily press. Just before leaving the city for his now celebrated sojourn on the banks of Walden Pond a friend asked him if he would like to have a newspaper delivered to his cottage. "No," replied Thoreau, "I have already seen a newspaper."

      In our serious reading we are likely to be too greatly influenced by the notion that the chief value of a book is to inform; and if we were talking of textbooks of course that would be true, but when we speak or write of books we have not textbooks in mind.

      The best book is not one that informs merely, but one that stirs the reader up to inform himself. The best writer is one that goes with us through the world of ideas like a friendly guide who walks beside us through the forest pointing out to us a hundred natural wonders we had not noticed before. So we learn from him to see for ourselves and soon we have no need for our guide. If he has done his work well we can go on alone and miss little as we go.

      That writer does the most for us who brings to our attention thoughts that lay close to our minds waiting to be acknowledged as our own. Such a man acts as a midwife to assist at the birth of ideas that had been gestating long within our souls, but which without his help might not have been born at all.

      There are few emotions so satisfying as the joy that comes from the act of recognition when we see and identify our own thoughts. We have all had teachers who sought to educate us by feeding alien ideas into our minds, ideas for which we felt no spiritual or intellectual kinship. These we dutifully tried to integrate into our total spiritual philosophy but always without success.

      In a very real sense no man can teach another; he can only aid him to teach himself. Facts can be transferred from one mind to another as a copy is made from the master tape on a sound recorder. History, science, even theology, may be taught in this way, but it results in a highly artificial kind of learning and seldom has any good effect upon the deep life of the student. What the learner contributes to the learning process is fully as important as anything contributed by the teacher. If nothing is contributed by the learner the results are useless; at best there will be but the artificial creation of another teacher who can repeat the dreary work on someone else, ad infinitum.

      Perception of ideas rather than the storing of them should be the aim of education. The mind should be an eye to see with rather than a bin to store facts in. The man who has been taught by the Holy Spirit will be a seer rather than a scholar. The difference is that the scholar sees and the seer sees through; and that is a mighty difference indeed.

      The human intellect even in its fallen state is an awesome work of God, but it lies in darkness until it has been illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Our Lord has little good to say of the unilluminated mind, but He revels in the mind that has been renewed and enlightened by grace. He always makes the place of His feet glorious; there is scarcely anything on earth more beautiful than a Spirit-filled mind, certainly nothing more wonderful than an alert and eager mind made incandescent by the presence of the indwelling Christ.

      Since what we read in a real sense enters the soul, it is vitally important that we read the best and nothing but the best. I cannot but feel that Christians were better off before there was so much reading matter to choose from. Today we must practice sharp discipline in our reading habits. Every Christian should master the Bible, or at least spend hours and days and years trying. And always he should read his Bible, as George Muller said, "with meditation."

      After the Bible the next most valuable book for the Christian is a good hymnal. Let any young Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone and he will become a fine theologian. Then let him read a balanced diet of the Puritans and the Christian mystics. The results will be more wonderful than he could have dreamed.

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See Also:
   Preface
   Chapter 1. Man: The Dwelling Place of God
   Chapter 2. The Call of Christ
   Chapter 3. What We Think of Ourselves Is Important
   Chapter 4. The Once-born and the Twice-born
   Chapter 5. On the Origin and Nature of Things
   Chapter 6. Why People Find the Bible Difficult
   Chapter 7. Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine
   Chapter 8. True Religion Is Not Feeling but Willing
   Chapter 9. How to Make Spiritual Progress
   Chapter 10. The Old Cross and the New
   Chapter 11. There Is No Wisdom in Sin
   Chapter 12. Three Degrees of Religious Knowledge
   Chapter 13. The Sanctification of the Secular
   Chapter 14. God Must Be Loved for Himself
   Chapter 15. True Faith Is Active. Not Passive
   Chapter 16. On Taking Too Much for Granted
   Chapter 17. The Cure for a Fretful Spirit
   Chapter 18. Boasting or Belittling
   Chapter 19. The Communion of Saints
   Chapter 20. Temperament in the Christian Life
   Chapter 21. Does God Always Answer Prayer?
   Chapter 22. Self-deception and How to Avoid It
   Chapter 23. On Breeding Spotted Mice
   Chapter 24. The Unknown Saints
   Chapter 25. Three Faithful Wounds
   Chapter 26. The Wrath of God: What Is It?
   Chapter 27. In Praise of Dogmatism
   Chapter 28. What Men Live By
   Chapter 29. How to Try the Spirits
   Chapter 30. Religious Boredom
   Chapter 31. The Church Cannot Die
   Chapter 32. The Lordship of the Man Jesus Is Basic
   Chapter 33. A Do-It-Yourself Education Better Than None
   Chapter 34. Some Thoughts on Books and Reading
   Chapter 35. The Decline of Apocalyptic Expectation
   Chapter 36. Choices Reveal - and Make - Character
   Chapter 37. The Importance of Sound Doctrine
   Chapter 38. Some Things Are Not Negotiable
   Chapter 39. The Saint Must Walk Alone

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