September 19, 2017

The Impact of a Book

Wally Morris

I collect different editions of John Broadus’ The Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. I have 20 different editions of this book. Broadus was a Southern Baptist instrumental in starting Southern Seminary. I grew up in Southern Baptist churches but ended my association with SBC churches in the late 1970s as liberalism and neo-orthodoxy were running rampant in the SBC. That time was also when some leaders within the SBC finally attempted to regain control of the SBC Presidency and move the SBC toward a more conservative position.

I have always had a respect for John Broadus. His well-known book on sermon preparation began during the Civil War as lectures to one homiletics student who was also blind. First published in 1870, the book has had four major editions: Broadus’ original edition, a revised edition by Edwin Dargan, a third revised edition by Jessee Burton Weatherspoon, and a fourth revised edition by Vernon Stanfield. The later editions removed much of the original material.

My main interest is in those editions printed before 1900. My oldest copy is an 1871 second printing of the first edition. The descriptions of these earlier printings can be confusing. The 1871 second printing refers to it as “Second Edition” on the title page. But the word “edition” actually means “printing”. For example, I have an 1894 “Twentieth Edition” which is actually a “twentieth printing” of the first edition. To create more confusion, Broadus’ book was published by several different publishers. Many years ago I was able to look through Broadus’ original manuscript. However, the last 1/3 of the manuscript was missing.

Although all of this is interesting to a book collector, what fascinates me are the names of the owners written in the front of the books. For example, the 1871 “Second Edition” has the name “J. A. W. Thomas, Nov. 8th, 1871” written in pencil on the flyleaf. I have an 1871 “Third Edition” which was withdrawn from the library of Vanderbilt University in 2009. Before that library owned the book, at least two other individuals owned the book: someone named “A. I. Myhr” and someone whose name appears to be “R. Giddens” who is the original owner as he also wrote “Lexington, KY, bought for $1.80, Sept. 15th. 1871”. I have an 1873 “Fifth Edition” with the name “J. M. Michael” with the dates “1889-90, 1890-91, 1891-92” written on one of the front pages. Other copies of Broadus’ book have more names and dates.

The obvious questions concern who these people were, what their lives were like, and how they used Broadus’ book. Some basic research revealed nothing about these people. But seeing all these names in one book reminds me of the power of a printed book. Although digital books have their usefulness, a book printed on paper which you can hold in your hands is very different and, I think, much better.

An older printed book has history. Owners’ names, marginal notes, highlighting, even the physical wear on the cover and pages. The pages you read and turn are the same pages read and turned by someone decades earlier. Their eyes looked at the same words your eyes look at. Their hands touched the same pages your hands touch. You can make notes alongside of their notes. With their notes and markings, you can see what was important to them and maybe important to you. The margins of the 1871 “Third Edition” have many notes in pencil which one of the owners made. These notes are very common throughout the book, meaning that the owner worked through Broadus’ book very carefully. A physical book can be given to your children or to other people. Digital books have restrictions.

I also have about 90 books from the personal library of G. Campbell Morgan. Morgan rarely wrote in the margins of the books that I have. An exception would be the Genesis volume of The Expositor’s Bible. (I have Morgan’s complete set except for the Isaiah and Galatians volumes.) Liberal critic Marcus Dods wrote the Genesis volume, and Morgan inserted several comments on the first few pages expressing his disagreement with Dods’ critical and skeptical beliefs.

Another set of books which Morgan owned was a 14 volume set called Present Day Tracts: Christian Evidence, Doctrine, and Morals. The books were an early apologetics series which Morgan must have liked as he took the time to index the set in the first volume by topic and author. I can read Morgan’s small but elegant handwriting very clearly even today.

How did the Lord use these books in the lives of those who owned them? How did these books help their preaching and teaching? Did they help people come to know Christ as Savior? Did they help the owners when they were discouraged, bored, out of ideas? How did a book leave the possession of its original owners? Was it given away, sold, inherited by descendants? I’ll never know this side of heaven. But I am thankful that I have these copies and can give them a home together, at least for a while.

Looking at these books challenges me to think about my own role in serving Christ. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes that most people are forgotten after a few years. Although we know that we are not “forgotten” by the Lord, what are we doing for Christ that will last (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)? Books that we own and make personal notes in may have an impact on people far beyond our own lifetime. Even those who are able to write a good book or two may have an impact that will be known only until the Judgment Seat. Think of the impact Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress is still having today, over 300 years after Bunyan wrote it.

Good books have history, impact, and meaning years after they are first written. The owners of those books make personal notes and give those books to others, furthering their impact. Amazing that something as simple as paper and ink can be so powerful.


Wally Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.


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