by Tom Wacaster
The ancient library of Alexandria is said to have contained more than 700,000 books. That pales, however, in comparison to the Library of Congress, containing more than 11 million catalogued books. If you have ever had the opportunity to step into the halls of that vast collection of books you know what I mean when I say the sheer magnitude of books contained therein swallows you up the moment you walk through the front door. I have heard that the late Guy N. Woods had a personal library in excess of 9,000 books. B.C. Goodpasture had a five room house in which he stored his vast library of books; all stacked from floor to ceiling with only a narrow path to pass between. He was once asked if he had read all of the books, to which he replied, “No, but I plan to.” Some collect books for the mere sake of collecting books; something that seems frivolous and foolish to me. Sir Thomas Phillips set as his goal to collect every printed paper available. People tried to help him by dropping off boxes of books. Unfortunately, they weren’t usable since they weren’t organized in any way. The floors of his house were about to collapse from the weight of the books so he decided to move. It took 230 horses, 130 wagons, and 160 men to move the books to a new house. Some were left behind when the wagons broke down. His daughters could afford only one dress and he was nearly always in bankruptcy because of his obsession for books. But the books didn't help him. He was so busy gathering books he had no time to read them. What happened to his books? His family was still selling them 100 years after his death.
While my library is minuscule in comparison to some preachers whom I have known, I consider myself blessed to have amassed a considerable number of books. If you were to walk into my office, several hundred books line the north wall, all of which I have read; some more than once. The east wall contains commentaries (most of which I have read, and many which I have repeatedly used in my studies over the years). When Johnnie Ann and I moved to South Africa we crated up somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 boxes of household goods, clothes, and books; of which 40 of those boxes contained books. When the movers were unloading those boxes of books there in Port Elizabeth, one of the men, after handling about ten of those boxes, asked me what they contained that made them so heavy. I said, “Books!” After one or two more trips from the truck to the house he commented, “You must really be a smart man to have all those books!” I responded, “No—that’s why I need the books.”
Guy N. Woods had a love for books, and expressed that love and admiration in an editorial in the Gospel Advocate, from which comes the following: “Books are history’s most priceless heritage, the storehouse of the wisdom of the ages. Were it not for them, but little, very little of man’s thrilling past would be known and preserved for us and the struggle of mankind through the ages only imperfectly realized. To consort with those who lived in ages past, reliving their experiences and profiting by their mistakes and rejoicing in their triumphs is surely one of the noblest and grandest privileges vouchsafed to man. Blessed indeed is he who has made books his friends. They are ever present to stir his emotions, cheer his heart and edify his mind; and, when on occasion they are neglected, they exhibit no resentment, upbraid him not, but patiently wait his pleasure to flood his heart and mind again with their precious stock of rich resources. A collection of good books is a fairyland of delight, a storehouse of treasure, providing a haven from the world’s current distresses, putting all who choose in the company of the earth’s greatest philosophers, its most noble thinkers and its wisest minds” (Gospel Advocate, November 1991, page 32).
Solomon had something to say about books: “And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecc. 12:12). There are two things in that verse that catch my attention. First, “of the making of many books there is no end.” Twenty years ago it was reported that 175,000 new books were printed annually. That was before the age of digital books and Kindle Readers. The second thing Solomon said is something I have experienced personally: “Much study is a weariness of the flesh.” To that I simply say, “Amen!”
Unfortunately, much of what is printed today is not worth the paper it is printed on. Wayne Jackson addressed this very point some years ago, and no doubt things have gotten worse in this category. “When one contemplates the vast number of volumes on biology, zoology, anthropology, geology, astronomy, etc., that are rank with materialistic theories of origins and skeptical concepts of the diversity of living organisms, he encounter a vast library of pathetic ignorance couched in mere phraseology that is wild with speculation and void of concrete evidence. If one may borrow a hyperbole from the apostle John, not all the books of the entire world are capable of containing the bizarre religious theories that humanity has concocted as substitutes for divine revelation. From the mysticism of the Far East, to the violence-laced confusion of the Middle East, to the myriads of absurd doctrines in both Catholicism and Protestantism—that have faint whispers of Christian teaching in the shadows—there is a maze of literary confusion” (Christian Courier, February 2006). Much of what is sold in bookstores, particularly the religious section, is nothing more than spiritual cotton candy; it tastes good as it goes in, dissolves quickly, and adds nothing of significant value to those who eat thereof.
One more observation is in order. Christians should go about building a good personal library. Most important of all, they should spend time in the Book of books. All else is inconsequential so far as the value and lasting effect any single book will have upon your life. With regard to reading, brother Woods had these comments: “There is, I think, no work in which man engages in which there is such great obligation to be both efficient and proficient. Great though one’s natural talents are, no man approaches his potential who is indolent in mind, who does not enjoy and use good books. He who brings within reach of lost humanity life eternal, sows the seed of immortality, contributes to the well being of those involved in a fashion not otherwise possible and while so doing faithfully serves his Creator. To achieve these goals, one must study. Great though a man's native talents are and respectable his formal education, I have never known one to attain to his potential in life who is mentally lazy, intellectually indolent and has little or no regard for good books.” I’ll close with this beautiful poem by Wordsworth:
Books are yours,
Within whose silent chambers treasure lies
Preserved from age to age; more precious far
Than that accumulated store of gold and orient gems
Which, for a day of need,
The sultan hides deep in ancestral tombs.
These hoards of truth you can unlock at will.