Building the Minister’s Library: Introduction
John G. Bales
A letter sent on February 1, 1757, from Dominie John Henry Goetschius to the classis of Amsterdam expresses a telling, but not surprising need of this popular colonial pastor and tutor:
“Each of my children needs a big Bible with marginal references. Other Dutch books (I have a few in Latin) a minister also needs for the better and more efficient performance of his work. This your Revs. very well know. And, in order that I may educate my six sons in the languages and in the sciences, I beg of your Revs. liberality, that you would send over the necessary school-books. I also have many poor catechumens in my churches. To these I should like to give certain question books, like S. de Molenaer’s book, styled “Spiritual and Pure Milk” (Redelyke, onvervalschte Melk). I would also like, for some other poor or pious church members, some other edifying books for their increase in truth and godliness. Together, these books would fill a box. And if sent by your Revs. to us, as objects of your Revs. liberality, as members of the household of faith, they would bring to us much joy." [ i ]
The desire of Dominie Goetschius to have a more complete library reveals several interesting insights. First, as long as there have been Reformed and Presbyterian churches, there has always been a correlating need for an educated ministry. And as long as there has been a need for an educated ministry, there has been a need for the minister to remain a lifetime student of the Scriptures. Second, the letter suggests that Goetschius was not selfish in his desire to obtain a library. He considered his own children, his students (he tutored several future ministers), and his congregation as recipients of the “joy” which would be theirs if they received such a generous gift.
While many colonial pastors did not have large libraries, they nevertheless held their libraries dear to them. Josias Mackie (1692-1716), one of the earliest Presbyterian ministers who came to America, provides an example. Mackie’s biographer comments, “A library is not always the test of one’s scholarship; but it is quite unlikely that a Presbyterian minister, in the seventeenth century, would have brought to the wilds of America (Virginia) a cumbrous load of books, simply for the sake of owning them.” [ ii ]
Colonial ministers kept libraries because their past education stimulated them to read and their present vocation demanded that they remain knowledgeable in the Scriptures.
The reason for a minister to have a library today is no different than in the past. The minister’s calling can only be faithfully accomplished through the assiduous and prayerful study of the doctrines contained in Scripture and summarized in our confessional standards. For an unashamed workman to accurately handle the word of truth, he needs the requisite tools of the trade, his books of divinity.
[ i ]Quoted in Gerald F. DeJong, The Dutch Reformed Church in the American Colonies. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978, p. 113
[ ii ]William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit. New York: Arno Press & The New York Times, 1969, vol. iii, p.8.