By Connie W. Adams
How can you preach what you do not know? Paul charged Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). He said for him to “give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” and then Timothy to practice what he learned (“take heed to thyself’) continually in order to “save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:13-16). A gospel preacher must read in order to do his work effectively.
Early in the life of a gospel preacher decisions must be made and patterns established about the use of time. Routines must be established. Uninterrupted time for study is a must. It is all too easy to waste time reading things which will not profit. The Internet calls. The mail comes and brings an assortment of things to read. So then, priorities must be set. Some things are not as important to read as others.
“Search the Scriptures”
“Of the making of many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12). And there is no end to buying them over a lifetime. The first duty we have is to “search the scriptures.” We need to “hide” it in our hearts as a defense against sin. We must pour over it in order to absorb its message. We must struggle to learn the immediate and larger context and then work on applications of it to ourselves and our hearers. There is great value in memorizing Scripture. It is important to know exactly what the text said. While it is valuable to compare several translations, it is important to choose one good translation and use that consistently in public reading and quoting.
There are many more study tools available now than when I began preaching. They continue to multiply. But they are not all of equal value. Many books are written by denominational men, some scholarly and some otherwise. Some popular writers have concentrated on unique ways of saying things while offering little substance. When reading after any denominational writer, keep in mind that he does not know what the New Testament church is nor what to do to be saved. He may often have an axe to grind theologically. Calvinistic works abound in today’s religious book market. Many men have opted to spend their budget for books on the offerings of such men as Swindoll, McArthur, and Lucado while avoiding writings of men who have struggled to sort out the difference between sectarian error and the truth of God’s word.
The writings of the restoration pioneers are important and should be collected early in gathering a library. The writings of Campbell, Stone, Lard, and others of their day are of great value. They were not inspired, as were the apostles, but they were forced to grapple with fundamental issues in trying to arrive at a clear understanding of undenominational Christianity. Read The Christian System by A. Campbell, the first two volumes of Search For The Ancient Order by West, biographies on the lives of Campbell, Stone, and Raccoon John Smith. Such books as History of Reformatory Movements by Rowe, History of The Church Through The Ages by Brumback, Quest For a Christian America by Harrell are excellent. Collect and read available debates that occurred in the last 175 years.
Of more recent vintage such works as Foy E. Wallace’s God’s Prophetic Word, Bulwarks of The Faith, The Instru-mental Music Question, and Roy E. Cogdill’s New Testament Church, Walking by Faith and his book of sermons on Faith and the Faith are excellent. I have thrilled many times to read The Gospel Preacher, vols. 1 and 2 by Ben Franklin, and Gospel Plan of Salvation by T.W. Brents.
Biographies of men whose lives have made a great difference appear all along and challenge all of us to rise to greater heights in service to the Lord. There are biographies of Campbell, Ben Franklin, Walter Scott, B.W. Stone, John Smith, J.D. Tant, N.B. Hardeman and soon to be added to the list a book on the life and work of Roy E. Cogdill by Steve Wolfgang. W. W. Otey by Cecil Willis is a great book.
Books of general church history are useful tools. Among them, I would mention History of the Christian Church (8 Vols.) by Schaff, History of the Reformation (2 Vols.) by Lindsay, Neander’s Works, and of course, the Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 Vols.).
Background books and surveys are of great value. Foy. E. Wallace, Jr. first told me about Introduction to the Scriptures (5 Vols.) by Home. Include An Introduction to the Old Testament by Young, Introduction to the New Testament by Harrison, and also Theissen has one by the same name. Tenney’s New Testament Survey and New Testament Times are useful. There are two classic works on the life of our Lord: the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Edersheim and Life of Christ by Farrar.
Good reference works are a must. Among these are: The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by Vine, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, Young’s (or Strong’s) Concordance. There are several good Bible dictionaries. Take your pick.
In addition to the standard commentaries which have been in use for many years, there are the new ones published by Guardian of Truth Foundation. There are now six of these in print with others to follow. In print are these: 1 Corinthians by Mike Willis, Galatians by Mike Willis, Philippians-Colossians by Walton Weaver, Ephesians by Colly Caldwell,1 Peter by Clinton Hamilton, and 2 Peter & Jude also by Hamilton. Others are in the mill and some are near completion, including Revelation by Robert Harkrider and Romans by Clinton Hamilton. These are well done and all are in matching binding.
There are many others which fall into different categories. But these may offer some help in making a start. I would advise young preachers to inquire of older men they respect to offer suggestions along these lines.
What we feed into our minds determines what we are. While we are gathering books and devoting much of our lives to reading and studying them, I remind you of where we started. Unless your mind is filled with the knowledge of the Bible and your heart is determined to know it, to practice it yourself, and to teach it to all who will hear you, then any other study is of only marginal value. The books I have mentioned, and others which could be named by me or others, must never become bars to independent thought, nor crutches. They are simply tools to assist in the work of “mining the Scriptures.” Paul asked Timothy to bring “the books, but especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). So then, brethren, collect and read books, and computer pro-grams geared to Bible study. But unless you know the book and fill the minds of your hearers with what it says, your work will be a failure and your life a waste.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 23, p. 2
December 5, 1996