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The Necessity of Biographies

I would urge you, my friends, to read biographies of choice servants of God. I do not think it is a stretch to use Hebrews 6:12 in support of this appeal: imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. My own love/hate relationship with biographies has been recorded in several entries in my private journal. Recently I read some of these entries and decided to share them here (with some editing) in the hope that God would impress upon your hearts the need to study the men and women who have gone on before us.


Entry 1 (Date)

My calloused and cold soul must be pricked many times in many ways before the sharp siphon finds life. And then it is hardly enough to maintain the faintest heartbeat for God. Why is it that my soul can only stand back at a distance from the great company of men that truly knew God? If I strain my eye I can see them far, far away, barely recognizable, but distinct as great men with great faith. How come they seem so foreign to me? They are so far beyond me and if I ever am able to get close enough to them through the medium of their biographies and writings to hear their beating hearts my suddenly enlarged soul shrinks back in shame. I feel like I am trampling in the courts of God. I defile the holy place by audaciously allowing a sense of affinity. I cannot bear to stand in the arena of my study with this great cloud of witnesses looking down on me from my shelves. I plead grace as my excuse. Grace is why I am here.

Mr. Spurgeon, Mr. Carey, Mr. Brainerd, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Bonar, Mr. Rainesford, Mr. McCheyne, Mr. Martyn: I would beg your forgiveness for vicariously entering into a spiritual hunger and thirst after righteousness by pondering your words and your lives. But once in the thrall of hunger and thirst for righteousness, once with the glorious fullness of God, once broken in my appeal for communion, you fade. I am no longer aware of you. I thought I was hanging on to your coattails. I wasn’t. I was groping for your God. The Common Denominator among you mediates between me and your God – the man Christ Jesus. And, like the poor woman in the press of the crowd, I have stretched myself out as much as I can to touch the fringe of His robe knowing that a touch, and only a touch, will fill my soul. Sirs, I am not hanging on to your coattails. I am hanging on to your Lord. I shall never have the great influence that you have had. I mourn the lack of education that you have had. I lack the spiritual and mental prowess that each of you possessed. But I can love Jesus as you did. I can bow my knees as you did. For the thing that you and I have in common is the only thing that makes all the difference: the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today I read Murray’s Spurgeon v. the Hyper-Calvinists and from The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.

Entry 2 (date)

I cannot endure David Brainerd’s journals. I have read it in the past, but now I read with different eyes. Before I read academically and it inspired me. Now, I am reading as a man completing the ___ year of his life with mournful frustration. Not because I cannot emulate him (which I am sure I cannot), but that I do not even want to emulate him. I am not ready to violate his memory by bringing his holy words to my mind. Actually, my revulsion is not even that noble. David Brainerd was a fanatic. And I am too in love with the world to follow him. I am addicted to the pleasures of this world, and I don’t really want to be free of them to the extent that I lose it all for Christ. Reading Brainerd is an irritation, an unkind reminder of an alternative lifestyle, the light of which sends my soul scurrying to its dark dingy hole – the place I call my Christianity.

My mind immediately hurls forth cavil and denunciations, excuses and condescending assessments of Brainerd’s psyche. He used hyperbole excessively. He was a fanatical recluse. He might have been more effective if he had taken care of himself. His passion was unusual and it is impossible for a normal person. He was imbalanced. He was emotionally unstable. Warped. Sick. He’s overrated. What did Carey see in him? Spurgeon? Edwards? But the truth is: he makes me feel rotten. It galls me to read a spiritual man describe his love for sinners and Christ and wonder what he is even talking about.

O, Lord, forgive me. That’s the truth. Is there any hope for such as me? From my vantage point in this dingy hole I can see the light from a safe distance, benefit from its warmth, and thereby procure an above average power of discernment of the place that I and my countrymen call Christianity. But, the thought of coming out into the fullness of the Light is still unappealing. For, there in the fullness of Your Light, I will have more than the power to discern the place I call Christianity, more than the warmth of basking in the glorious light, but – and this is the part I fear – I will have the empowered and undimmed discernment of the person that I am.

I am praying against my feelings when I ask for a portion of whatever it was that David Brainerd had.

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2 Responses

  1. Another introduction….

    For any of you who know the Bixby family (and even if you don’t), I’d recommended a new weblog sponsored/hosted by andriven (i.e. me ;-). Penses Pastor Bob Bixby has put up a LOT of good and thought-provoking content over…

  2. Thank you for what you wrote here. I’ve found myself avoiding biographies of late, not wanting their pricking.

    I think I’ll go see what I have on my shelf.

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