From Our Church Paper (New Market, VA), Vol. 15, No. 47, November 24, 1887, p. 1.
A LECTURE DELIVERED BY REV. W. A. LUTZ, NOV. 10, 1887, BEFORE THE STUDENTS OF NORTH CAROLINA COLLEGE AND OF THE FEMALE SEMINARY, AT MT. PLEASANT, NORTH CAROLINA.
Published by Request.
“Let no man despise thy youth . . . till I come give attendance to reading.”—Paul.
This subject, assigned to me by your worthy President, is one, the importance of which, persons old and young, learned and unlearned, rich and poor, in all ages of the world, have, either by word or action, success or failure, set their seal to, and, if possible, it gains importance as it rolls along down the path of time.
The human mind is the brightest display of the power and skill of the infinite mind, with which we are acquainted, and the only way that this power can perpetuate itself, is to reduce its thoughts to writing, and the only way that future generations can become acquainted with this power, and profit thereby, is by reading.
Once in a while we hear of a youth like Ferguson, who can tend sheep in the field, and there accurately mark the position of the stars with a thread and beads without reading on the subject. Though we have heard of but one. Many a youth has kindled at the story of Thomas Angelo, who was one day hawking fish through the streets of Naples, and the next day was master of armies and fleets, and made his will the rule for an empire, and this without reading; but these instances are rare, and the probability is, you and I will never be among this number.
Men can only become truly great by gathering the choice thoughts of other great men, and building their character therefrom, using their minds to clothe the same in their own language, and then join correctly the thoughts thus clothed. This is the rule for becoming wise and great, while men like Ferguson and Angelo are rare exceptions.
We will present this subject under the following heads:
1. The Office of Reading.
2. The Advantage-and The Necessity of Reading.
3. What to Read.
4. The Result of Reading.
1. THE OFFICE OF READING.
This is (a) To acquaint ourselves with the persons, character, and love of the Triune God : His Law, Gospel, Works, and Grace. ‘Tis true, the church of Rome would have us believe, that reading the Word of God is dangerous, to the laity, and would laud tradition as superior to Revelation, and that all that the laity need, or can profitably receive, is tradition. ‘Tis also lamentably true, that some of the Protestant families, believe and teach, that there are other ways of knowing the mind and character of God than by reading; e.g. Rationalists teach that through reason we can arrive at truth.
Swedenborg, and Zwingle in one instance, taught that God made known his mind to them in dreams; and the infidel claims, that he can learn enough of God through nature. Yet when that young lawyer asked Christ, Luke 10:25, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Christ did not point him to tradition, like Rome; or to his reason, like the Rationalists; or to dreams, like Zwingle and Swedenborg ; or to nature, as the Infidel; but to the Bible, saying to him ” What is written?” “How readest thou?”
He thus taught most positively, that man must learn the will of God, and his own duty to God by reading.
It was thus that Haman’s evil plans were exposed, when he would destroy all Israel, and the decree of Ahasuerus changed.
It was thus that Herod (Pharaoh) learned of the time and place of the birth of Christ, and was enabled to instruct the wise men from the East. It was thus the Eunuch learned of Christ. It was thus and thus only, that the immortal Luther, at Erfurt, learned aright of the True God. It was thus, that Robert Moffat, the first Missionary to the Hottentots of Africa, received his knowledge of, and zeal for, the cause of Christ.
(b) The second office of reading is to acquaint ourselves with people who have lived before us, back to the times of creation ; with their thoughts, manners, customs, habits, condition, and religion. Thus by reading we can converse with persons, who have acted an important part in the world’s history, through six thousand years, as well as gather the thoughts, and learn the character of those now engaged in the political and religious contests of this age. In short, with the exception of the dim and uncertain light of Tradition, Reading is the only key that will admit us into the corridors of past ages, and introduce us to the inmates, and their surroundings. Without reading, you will live in the little vain present, with perhaps much so called pleasure, like the wild Indian, ignorant of all the wisdom that has lived and died in former ages, and as man must either look into the past, or the future, you will then be prying into the dim future, and die, leaving the world none the better for your having lived in it. A curtain hangs before and behind us, but by reading we can break through into the past, out of our present environment, and make life pleasant, by walking leisurely along back the path of time, and conversing with persona at epoch and stage with much interest and delight, and at times, perhaps, with astonishment, as did Luther with the Prophets, Christ, and the Apostles, in the library at Erfurt.
Let us next notice,
THE ADVANTAGE AND NECESSITY OF READING.
First, among the advantages we name,
The first and the great object of education is to discipline and drill the mind. It is naturally like the colt, wild, playful, and ungoverned. Let any one who has not subdued his mind more or less, by careful discipline, try to read a long article or a book on any important subject, and try to confine his mind on what he reads. No doubt most of you know the results. The result will be, that he cannot bold his own thoughts upon the point. They fly off —they, wander away. He brings them back again and determines now to hold his attention there, when at once, ‘ere he knows how, he finds himself either away or nodding. The process is repeated, till he gives it up in discouragement, and throws the book aside; or else goes to sleep.
Reading is acknowledged to be the best mental drill known. A young man in one of our colleges, is reported as saying, that be could not mind on a hard or deep subject, that it rolled off like a barrel from a pin. He meant, that his mind was too great to be confined on a point. It is not uncommon to find many such minds as his, among the young men and ladies of to day. The world would be full of great minds, if such indications could be relied on. This young man knew there was a defect somewhere, but thought it was in the point, while it was really in his mind. “Let none of you think more highly of himself than he ought to think,” says St. Paul.
It is not so Important, that you, as students, should try to lay up a vast amount of general information. Your object now, is to fit your minds for future acquisition and future usefulness. You may have friends to cheer you on in your education; you may have books and teachers to aid you, and a multitude of helps, yet, after all, disciplining and educating your mind to work when and where you wish, must be your own work; absolutely your own.
(b) The second advantage is, The extension of our knowledge. Stores of useful knowledge lie within the reach of almost every one; yet the only avenue to almost any part of the vast supply, is reading.
So thoroughly has the historian, the explorer, the inventor, the machinist, the architect, the traveler, the geologist, the statesman, &c., done their work, that is unnecessary for you to try to surpass them, but you can now, at a very small cost, get the history of ages and nations, and by reading, acquaint yourself with them. You can sit in your room, in an easy chair, and by a comfortable fire, and learn of the results of the explorer, better than you could have done by being a silent companion of his, on his tour, or by reading carefully the machinists journal, you can gather more facts about the power, operations, and results of machinery, than you could learn by going from shop to shop; or you can sit in your room, and by reading, travel around the world, through cities and towns, and country, and over the sea at a small cost. Persons who do not read, make themselves appear ridiculous sometimes, by their expressions. I was once thrown in company with a young lady who, on hearing me speak often of Luther, asked whether he lived before or since the time of Christ. Also, a minister of one of the denominations, who, having never read of Luther, thought that Wesley was the great reformer. Only by reading do we extend our knowledge of the government of different nations. There are thousands of American people who have a good High School or College education, who know almost nothing about the government of this great country. They could not tell you how the expenses of the government, national and state, are met. How the salary of the President, Cabinet officers, and all other U. S. officials is paid. How the war debt is paid, &c., only as they hear the speech of some one hungry for office, end yet, this simply says they do not read; or if they do, it is some light, useless literature, that only touches the sympathy, or feeds the passions.
(c) Another advantage of reading is, that, in comparing our language with that of good authors, we see the defects in our expressions and language, so plainly, that we intuitively learn to use good language.
(d) Again, in reading we contrast our minds with others, and thus see our own weakness more plainly than in any other, and thus we are enabled to appreciate moral and mental worth in others.
Johnson asserts, “that, if any one would be master of the English language, he must give his days and nights to reading Addison.” The mighty minds that have gone before us, have left treasures for our inheritance, and the choicest gold is to be had for its digging. Mental culture is not properly appreciated by many. How great the dissimilarity between a naked Indian, dancing with joy over a new feather in his head dress, and such a mind as Luther or Newton.— And what makes the difference?— There is mind enough in the savage. He can almost out do the instincts of the prey which he hunts, but his soul is like a marble pillar, while that of Luther and Newton is like a tree laden with fruit. You mast calculate, to improve through life, and hence discipline your minds for it. Try to form the habit of reading, and you will be gaining information, provided you are choice in the selection of books and other literature. The advantages of reading a great deal while you are young, will become plainer to you each day that you live. You may converse with almost any man, however distinguished for attainments, or habits of application, or power of using what he knows, and he will sigh over the remembrances of the past, and tell you there have been many fragments of time lost forever which be should have spent reading. I once heard my highly esteemed Prof. in Theology, Rev. Dr. Krauth, say, that his father kept his Greek Testament on his dining table, and while the table was being served, be read a few verses in Greek, and thus be became one of the finest Greek scholars of his age. There are many who read without any benefit, simply because they read without a proper interest in what they read. This is partly because they have not formed the habit of reading, and partly because they have not read enough to give them mental drill.— Having formed the habit of reading, the next point is, to know what to read, since, first, there are many pernicious books and periodicals offered to us, and second, it is impossible for any one mind to read all the good books and periodicals available; hence the question is important,
WHAT SHOULD WE READ?
It is natural for the student, when looking over the shelves in the library, to try to find some thing new. This is not always wise. The man who declared, that the only two new books in the world were the Bible and Euclid, was not so far wrong as we would at first suppose. It is a sad fact, that to many, even good men, and men upon whom age is imprinting itself, the Bible is comparatively a new book; i. e., they have never read it through consecutively, neither have they read all the books of the Bible. It has been said, and perhaps quite truthfully, that there are more members of the church who have not read the Bible through, than there are who have. The first and the most important book for every one to read is the Bible. I know it is considered a dull book by many, and yet, there is no other book, so full of freshness to a careful reader. Luther says, it is like a perpetual bearing tree, every time you go to it and shake it, fresh fruit drops off. So every time you read the Bible with care, you get fresh fruit. Then there is no other book that treats of so many subjects; and treats them so learnedly, and yet so plainly as does the Bible. It is best, not to read too many books on any one point, but read reliable and standard works. Do you wish to study the relation of Natural and Spiritual Law, Natural Law in the Spiritual World by Drummond is good. Do you wish to study the government of this great country of ours, together with the origin and development of political law in the nations of the past, I would recommend FOOT PRINTS OF TIME by Bancroft, (published by Foote). Do you wish to study the social, political, and religious condition of the United States, you cannot afford to pass by or neglect to read OUR COUNTRY, ITS PRESENT CRISIS AND FUTURE PERIL. Do yon wish to study the origin and inspiration of Revelation, GAUSEN ON ORIGIN AND INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE, is grand. Do you wish to be well informed about the Lutheran Church, read the BOOK OF CONCORD, translated by H. E. Jacobs, D. D., Cons. Ref. by Dr. Krauth and SCHMIDT’S DOGMATICS.
For good English, read Scott, Bryant, Longfellow, and Emerson. For Literary value of tbe Bible: The writings of Solomon aud Paul, stand foremost, especially Acts 23, I Cor. 15, and Prov. These are a few books that every student should read. It is not quantity, but quality that you want, in selecting a line of reading. The hearer will naturally ask, what results may I expect to come of my reading. These come gradually, like the island in the Pacific Ocean, formed by the coral insects adding grain of sand to grain. It has resulted in good to thousands, and in evil to none. It was by reading, the Eunuch was prepared for the teaching of Philip. We have no reason to believe, that he could have, neglected reading, and yet have been the recipient of such blessings. It was by reading, i. c., following out the habits formed by him, that Luther was led to enter the library and get hold of the Bible, and it was by his reading this, that he became the reformer, and that we today have liberty. It was his habit of reading, that prepared him to translate the Vulgate into the vernacular. It was by reading, that Wesley was converted. He says, it was while reading the preface of Luther’s Com. on Gal., that the light first shone into his heart. Then, young gentlemen and ladies, if you wish to be useful in society, form the habit of reading some good work every day. If you wish to be happy, read a chapter or more in the Bible every day. Robt. Moffat, the great missionary of the M. E. Church to Africa, says, “When I was leaving my home in Scotland, to go to England, my mother followed me to the gate, and asked me to make her one promise. I refused. She plead with me so earnestly, that I told her at last I would promise. She asked me to read a chapter in my Bible every day. Because I promised her this, I kept my promise strictly, and not from love of the Bible, but because of my promise to my mother. This led me to become a Christian, and a missionary.”
Habitual reading makes reading delightful, and then it becomes profitable.
Spend a part of each day given to you in reading, and thus improve your talent.