I steal. Not cars, guns, money, or even books (although the latter does tempt me). But I steal from other men’s labors. In fact, it is generally Christians I steal from: Fellow pastors.
Right now, I am embarking on a long, planned theft from one such preacher named Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Well, he is dead and gone, so he doesn’t need what I am taking. But along with stealing from Lloyd-Jones, I am plotting and planning on stealing from some other men who are still living.
No lawyer could help me in a court of law, save arguing insanity. But even that would be overturned, for my stealing is an evidence of sanity. I don’t rustle cattle and change the brands. Instead, I rustle intellectual and spiritual cattle and brag about where I got them, proudly pointing to the brands of their original owners.
What I refer to is reading books and plundering the ideas, outlines, words, and concepts wrought by the study of the authors. “Isn’t that plagiarism?” you ask. No, I footnote, reference, attribute, and proudly claim: “I copied my homework off this other kid.”
Reading good authors, in this case, Bible commentators, theologians, and pastors, is the life-blood of pastoral work. It is fellowship; it is iron sharpening iron; it is one of the essential elements of growing in grace. It is the communion of saints.
It is also humility and love of learning and joy in finding truth. It is sitting under the Word preached. It is enjoying the testimony of the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). It is running the race, fighting the fight, keeping the faith. It is salt and light. It is discipleship, mentoring, and leading by being led. Learning from other Christians fits many of the descriptions, both metaphorical and literal, of the Christian life.
So, I am reading, stealing from, plundering, borrowing from, and growing through reading Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In this case, all this is happening by my reading again from his classic book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. I am embarking on a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, so I have pulled Lloyd-Jones’ book from the study, placed it on the table where I work, and will be reuniting with an old and beloved companion.
I bought my copy of this book in 1976. It costs $6.10 from Puritan Reformed Book Service; the regular price was $8.95. That was for a hardback copy. (What a lesson right there in inflation.) I don’t know that I ever read all of the book, but there are portions that I read repeatedly. And I did lots of careful underlining, highlighting, and commenting in the margins.
The first two sermons I ever preached (in May and July of 1978), I preached from the Beatitudes and got much of my information from Lloyd-Jones’ sermons. The sermon I worked on today includes a couple of quotes from Lloyd-Jones. And I read the first two of his sermons in preparation for my own work.
And lest I simply become an echo of Lloyd-Jones, I have been reading from some other commentators. Daniel Doriani’s sermons on Matthew have been helpful, and the legendary Matthew Henry is, well, legendary.
What about the Holy Spirit? Yes, if I were on a desert island with only a Bible, I could study and teach the Bible. (Even then, I would be falling back on the gifts of teachers and preacher who had prepared me for everything except for escaping desert islands.) But I am not on a desert island. I am in the company of saints: it is called my library. I am gleaning from godly men of old and passing the insights on to those who hear me.
To tell the truth, I try to read as much as I can on a passage. Being employed as a teacher during the week, I am limited on time. I try to be taught, fed, and directed. Then I prayerfully start composing my own message and thoughts. Frequently, I reach for one of the books and read a passage over again and sometimes copy it into the message. And to think, I actually get paid for doing this fun stuff.
So the practice of taking from others will go on.