Among the last words Paul wrote were in a letter to his young friend Timothy. "When you come," he asked, "bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments" (2 Timothy 4:13). The apostle was an old man facing death at the hands of the emperor. He was chained in a drafty dungeon in the city of Rome. He needed his cloak to keep the chill off his bones, but he needed his books and parchments to keep the rust off his mind.
We cannot go it alone.
Charles Spurgeon took a lead from these words when he observed, "Even an apostle must read. He is inspired and yet he wants books. He has seen the Lord and yet he wants books.... He has been caught up in the third heaven, and he had heard things which it is unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books. He had written a major part of the New Testament and yet he wants books." Paul had no more sermons to prepare and no more books or letters to write, but he needed to keep on reading. Even though life was running out on him, Paul needed books.
Ministers must read. We are required to read not as a luxury but as a necessity. We cannot go it alone. Our study of the Bible is enriched by the insights of scholars who have studied particular sections of the Bible more than we have. Only the lazy or stupid ignore the use of commentaries in their preparation. But we should also open our minds to wider vistas through reading books that are not sermon direct.
Working ministers cannot make this broader reading a top priority, but it can be done. Determine to read 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Do that for 50 weeks, and you will have read 125 hours in a year. If you read 30 pages an hour, you will have read over 3,750 pages a year. If you keep up that pace for ten years, you will have read more than 150 books of 250 pages. If those books were well chosen, you could become an authority in any field. As the venerable adage puts it: "Constancy surprises the world by its conquests."
If you have a book in your hand, you are never alone, and reading enables you to have continued education without having to pay tuition.
Haddon Robinson was a preacher and teacher of preachers all over the world. His last teaching position was as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.