Jesus frequently used expressions such as, “Have ye not read,” or, “Have ye never read?” or, “Have ye not so much as read?” this or that passage from the writings of God.
These passages are explained by that one upbraiding word of the Lord, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.”
Have ye not read?
The world is full of literature, but “have ye read.” We fairly stumble our way through a jungle of literature, but, “have ye read?”
The capacity to read is the work of God whereby He adapts us to as well as confines us to His written revelation. Consequently, any reading which does not lead us to the more thorough acquaintance with His writing, is purposeless and vanity of vanities. Really it is not reading. Modern literature has led us to gloat over the non-sense of men’s writings, has induced us to thrill to the imagination of mere men, and in so doing leads us away from the writing which God has given.
This only by way of introduction.
Modern literature covers a big field. We cannot put all of today’s literary productions on one shelf neither can we therefore pass one criticism over them all. There is good literature, there is supposed-to-be-good literature, and there is bad literature. I am no painter on elements of literary criticism, nor yet am I a book reporter, but maybe for convenience we could put all of today’s literature on those three shelves. While I should then urge the reading of good literature, exhort moderate and critical reading of the supposed-to-be-good literature, I would nevertheless confine myself in this article to the influence of this world’s modern literature, its influence on us and our children.
It is Saturday evening. You are in the local drug store filling a prescription. In steps a young man. He looks over the display of magazines on the book stand. He has before him what one might call Modern literature. Rows and rows of magazines, confessions, romances, western, detective etc., etc. The young man selects one of these and it goes home with him for his Sunday reading. Needless to say, that literature he carries home with him carries a wealth of influence.
We might cite this as a concrete case and use it to illustrate our whole point.
What influence now does this literature have upon the reader. First of all the reader fills his spare time with reading things from which he certainly draws no benefit. The immediate result of which is that it takes the place of profitable reading. Instead of using his spare time to engage in something of value, he uses his spare time to engage in vanity. Soon enough his vain literature takes the place of all edifying habits and his spare time is viewed as a license to indulge in the base things. Consequently, he will never have time to read anything that is worthwhile. The family does have a library, father has seen to that, and that was wise. Rut son never touches any of those books. His spare time is consumed in a lust for foolish things and he does not edify himself. This brings him further than ever away from the reading of the writing of God. The thrilling, the sensually sensational non-sense of vain man captures his lust as the forbidden tree in Eden captured the lust of Eve, until finally she saw only that tree. The writing of God is put away and vanity comes in its stead. Modern literature promotes this apostasy. If the pastor appears with an elder for family visitation and asks “have you never read” he must admit that he has not and does not read. . . . God’s writing. And that is apostasy. That is willful blindness. That is using the God-given capacity to read in order to by-pass God’s writing and read that which is base and vain.
Secondly, however, the bulk of modern literature has sensual appeal. It seeks to satisfy a certain morbid curiosity, it appeals to the sex-lust, to the wander-lust, adventure-lust, and so many other lusts which fill our by nature so depraved lives. Modern literature seeks to give us a thrill. It wants to bring us excitement. Quietly sometimes it lifts the curtains aside and lets our eyes feast on vanity and corruption. Besides the damage these things do to our spiritual life (one surely is not making his calling and election sure by so doing) they also influence our reading taste. The result is that the person develops a crave for the sensual and develops a positive dislike for the spiritual. Spiritual literature no longer appeals to him, to him it is so “dry,” so “long” and so boring. Rather than read the article on Esther he would read about the flirtations of Greta Garbo, Robert Montgomery appeals to him much more than the sincere striving of the Wittenberg monk. If the Standard Bearer and the comics come in the same mail, in the mad rush for the comics the religious periodical is trampled under feet. The crave for the sensual, as fostered by sensual modern literature, is really also a vicious circle. The more one engages in the sensual appeal the more the lusts develop which seek that appeal, until one is wholly engulfed in the flood of sensuality. Wholesome literature is flung aside, it makes no appeal. And naturally not, for the things of the spirit, of truth, do not feed lust but they condemn lust. If the things that are true, the things that are honest, the things that are pure, if they no longer appeal to us, it is high time that we examine ourselves and ask whether the influence of modern literature has not already lured us down the broad way that leads to destruction.
But, thirdly, modern literature also has a formative influence on our lives. Indeed this is more true perhaps in the case of young readers but the fact holds for all of us as well. The characters your modern literature brings you in print become very much alive, so alive that you begin to keep company with them. You begin to associate with them. The more your literary characters live for you the more and the better you enjoy it. Witness, for instance, how true this is in the matter of the children and the comics. And as your characters become alive you associate with them. You ride the plains with your hero, with him (her) you spend the Saturday night at the tavern, with her you visit the Mardi Gras, with her you engage in illicit loves and intriguing romances, etc., etc. They become your friends. And the end of it all is that you conform yourself to the world, you become what they are. There are many cases on the court records of boys and girls whose life of crime was a copy of the crimes they read about in modern literature. Many a police court gets its own detective stories full in the face, enacted by youthful thugs, who in turn were tutored by book thugs. And so we might continue.
We would not condemn such reading as affords clean entertainment or gives edifying amusement, neither would we condemn reading a controlled amount of clean fiction (Dr. A. Kuyper, however, says we should not read more than a few in a year), but, by way of conclusion we would seek to emphasize two things.
First, we should not let entertainment take too great a part in our lives. That we need a certain amount of entertainment I will not deny, but to give that phase of our lives so much emphasis is entirely wrong. But when we do and if we do read for entertainment it must come under the rule of “Whatsoever is true, whatsoever is pure, whatsoever is wholesome, think on that” and read that. Whenever then the soul-searching Gospel of -the Lord asks us “Have ye read?” we can answer, “Yes, Lord.”
And secondly, we should cultivate reading such material as has lasting, spiritual value. We should be engaged in reading such material as serves to equip us with the necessary armaments to fight the good fight of faith. We ought to read that which can give us the triple knowledge we so much need. And what ought we to know? We ought to know God in what He has revealed of Himself. Then we ought to know ourselves, what we are and what is our calling. And we ought also to know the world, what it is, and where it is going and what is our calling in the midst of that world.
Parents, get a library where your children may learn to read that which is wholesome.
All of us, meet the bad literature and its influence with the good influence of good literature.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.