Tim Challies maintains an outstanding daily blog at www.challies.com on a wide range of important issues from a sound Evangelical Christian perspective. While most of Tim’s features have to do with pressing contemporary topics, he also has a strong interest in historic Christian matters, especially those that help believers live for and serve the Lord well today.

Tim recently posted a blog entitled “Biographies for People Who Have Never Read a Biography”. It’s a relatively brief and very beneficial article that provides three tips for getting started in reading Christian biography. Tim also succinctly describes ten manageable biographies from which readers could choose in beginning to delve into this type of profitable reading.

I’d encourage you to check out this article and Tim’s remarkable blog. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Boer Family 1886
Boer Family 1886

It seems that many Christian ministers aspire to serve in a larger city and church setting which carries with it a degree of prestige and prominence. Not a few Christian ministers struggle a bit to serve contentedly in a smaller church and community context which may bring less esteem and eminence.

Faithful ministers with appropriate motives are needed in both larger and smaller ministry contexts, of course. Whatever size ministry setting Christians find themselves in, they need to realize the crucial importance of the service opportunities God has entrusted to them presently. And they should willingly give themselves to carry out heartily their present ministry responsibilities.

Andrew Murray eventually became the most prominent pastor in South Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But the first eleven years of his pastoral career were spent ministering in a smaller, isolated community and in a vast, sparsely-populated frontier region. He gave himself wholly to that demanding ministry and as a result experienced a good degree of fulfillment and fruitfulness in it.

Murray was born and spent the first ten years of his life in Graaff-Reinet, Cape Colony, South Africa. After spending a decade getting his secondary and university education in Scotland and Holland, he returned to South Africa in 1848 to begin serving as a minister at age twenty. He was assigned to serve as the first pastor of a new town and British military outpost, Bloemfontein, which had been established two years earlier beyond the northern border of Cape Colony.

During the 1830s and 1840s around 20,000 Boers (Dutch farmers) had migrated from Cape Colony to the immense regions north of the Orange and Vaal Rivers. In addition to ministering at Bloemfontein, Murray served as the first settled minister to the voortrekkers (Dutch pioneers) in that vast frontier region of nearly 50,000 square miles.

When Murray arrived at Bloemfontein it had about fifty houses, a few stores and shops, a courthouse and prison, a military fortress and barracks, and a schoolhouse which doubled as a church meeting house until a separate church building could be erected. As Bloemfontein was home to a British military outpost, most of the town’s residents were English. Initial attendance at the Sunday afternoon English-speaking worship service averaged around seventy. A smaller Dutch-speaking worship service was held Saturday evenings. Sunday school classes were held for English and Dutch children as well as the children of a group of African Bushmen who lived nearby Bloemfontein.

Andrew Murray as a young man
Andrew Murray as a young man

The plains throughout that region teemed with a wide variety of game and wild animals. Once while traveling to hold services at a location about seventy miles from Bloemfontein, Murray had to cross a wolf-infested plain at a time when they were very fierce. After fording a river, he dismounted to rest his horse. When the grazing animal heard a pack of wolves approaching, it spooked and ran off. Carrying his pack on his shoulders, Murray had to walk some twelve or fifteen miles to the nearest house. “How did you do it?” the surprised farmer who lived there inquired. ”I knew I was in the path of duty,” Murray answered calmly, “so prayed to God to keep me, and walked straight on. The wolves snapped at me but did not touch me.”

Between 1849 and 1852 Murray carried out four ministerial tours in the area north of the Vaal River known as the Transvaal. During the first itineration, which lasted just over six weeks, he traveled some 800 miles on horseback and by ox-drawn wagon. He conducted a total of thirty-seven services at six different locations. In addition, he baptized 567 children and interviewed well over 300 young people for church membership, 167 of whom were accepted upon their clear profession of faith in Christ Jesus for salvation.

While Murray would wear a beard throughout most of his adult life, at this time he was still clean shaven and looked quite boyish. But he quickly gained the respect of the Transvaal Boers through his serious, confident demeanor, his overwhelming fervency and his willingness to sacrifice himself for their spiritual wellbeing.

A contemporary testified of the intensity and gravity with which Murray ministered on the frontier: “When preaching, so absorbed was he in his message that should he by his violent gestures knock down Bible and reading desk of the impromptu pulpit, he would not notice it. Solemn were the confirmation services when, before the final confirmation promise was made, he would lift his hand, and with deep emotion would adjure them not to reject the Savior, saying, “If you do and promise falsely to be true to Christ, this hand will witness against you in the day of judgment.”

The residents of some of the areas where Murray ministered pleaded with him to accept their call to leave Bloemfontein and come as their settled pastor. When two men arrived from a settlement some 300 miles beyond where Murray was ministering during his first Transvaal tour, he had to tell them that he would not be able to come and minister in their area for eight months.

He afterward wrote his parents: “When the men heard that they could not be visited for such a time, they were in tears, as they had hoped I might go with them, and when they left again they could not speak. I hardly know what to say when the people begin to discourse about their spiritual destitution and their desire after the Word. Suppose another minister should refuse to come here, but be willing to take Bloemfontein, what would you think of my coming here? … The way in which some of the people here plead really moves my heart. Many are in a fit state for receiving the seed of the Word. May the Lord in His mercy help them.”

Murray had promised to visit the Transvaal’s northernmost Dutch settlement at Zoutpansbergen during his fourth ministry tour. But when word came that the settlers at that location were suffering from repeated attacks of malaria and that several individuals had already died, he was strongly advised not to proceed into that unhealthy region. Since arrangements had already been made for the services there, however, Murray considered it his duty to fulfill his ministerial obligation.

After he arrived there he learned that in recent weeks twenty-four of the 150 settlers at Zoutpansbergen had perished from malaria, eighteen of those within a fortnight of contracting the disease. No home had been spared from death. The majority of those isolated people had not had access to religious services for several years and were overjoyed with this opportunity.

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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

I have written a comprehensive biography on Murray entitled Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Christian parents rightly seek to share the Gospel (Good News) of salvation with their children and to lead them, at an early age if possible, to Jesus Christ as their personal Savior from sin. By God’s grace, some children do come to saving faith in Jesus early in life. But parents eager for their children’s salvation need to guard against assuming their kids have been saved simply because they’ve heard the Gospel and made some sort of an elementary profession such as “I asked Jesus into my heart” or “I believe in Jesus.”

Andrew Murray as a young man

Instead parents need to listen carefully for indications that their children have a clear understanding of the Gospel and an abiding trust in Christ and His death for them on the cross as their only means of salvation. Parents should also look for ongoing spiritual interest and fruit, which inevitably accompanies genuine salvation, in the lives of their children.

Andrew Murray, who eventually became arguably the greatest Christian preacher and devotional writer ever to come from South Africa, serves as an example of these truths concerning a young person’s salvation. Murray was raised by devout parents in a conservative Christian home and church until he was ten years of age (see my Jan. 29, 2015 Perspective on Murray’s upbringing entitled, “A Godly Parentage Is a Priceless Boon”). Throughout his growing up years he showed some sensitivity to spiritual matters. He had numerous opportunities to come to saving faith in Christ. But he did not do so until he was a theology student preparing for the Christian ministry. And until he did so, his parents never assumed his salvation but kept fervently praying for it.

Andrew Murray, Sr.

Andrew’s father, Andrew Murray, Sr., pastored the Dutch Reformed Church in Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, for over forty years. Opportunities for secondary and university education were severely limited in South Africa in the first half of the nineteenth century. So Murray, Sr., and his wife Maria made the painful decision in 1838 to send their two oldest sons, John and his younger brother Andrew, at the tender ages of twelve and ten, to live with an uncle, Rev. John Murray, in Aberdeen, Scotland. There the boys could receive a sound secondary and university education.

The year Andrew and John arrived in Scotland a dramatic spiritual awakening began sweeping across the country. In the spring and fall of 1840 William Chalmers Burns, the primary human agent used of God in igniting that bona fide revival, visited and ministered in Aberdeen for several weeks. He preached to densely crowded audiences in three separate churches each Sunday. Every weekday he led prayer meetings in the morning and afternoon, then gave a public address in the evening. Untold hundreds or even thousands of people came under pressing conviction of their sin, cried out to God for mercy and were saved at that time.

William Chalmers Burns, later as a missionary to China

Burns was a frequent guest in Rev. John Murray’s home. Andrew and John had the opportunity to converse with the evangelist about spiritual matters and to witness first-hand many of the stirring spiritual events then unfolding in Aberdeen. After leaving Aberdeen, Burns wrote Andrew and John, urging them not to delay in turning to Christ as their Savior. But despite all those advantages, neither Andrew nor John was converted under Burns’ ministry.

The Murray brothers excelled in their studies. They were admitted to Marischal College, Aberdeen, Andrew with an academic scholarship. While heartily commending them for their academic success, their father earnestly wrote to them about the greater importance of their Christian conversion: “I am well aware, my dear boys, that neither you nor I can ever change the heart. But let me entreat you both, with all the intense affection of a Christian clergyman and a loving father, to pray daily that God may in mercy be pleased to do so by His Holy Spirit. Many distinguished students have been taken away by death in the midst of their literary and scientific pursuits. And although I trust God will spare you long to be useful in the world, yet should He take one or another of you away in youth, the consolation of the bleeding hearts of parents would not be that you had excelled in human acquirements, however important in themselves, but that there was reason to believe that you died in the Lord.” 

Nine months later, on August 1, 1844, he wrote similarly: “Every parent wishes to see his family ‘getting on,’ as it is termed, but what unspeakable joy for the heart of a Christian parent to hear good ground for believing that his children shall have an eternal inheritance in Heaven! Oh!, when may I through the free grace of God have this soul’s joy with respect to you both? Do not think I am needlessly anxious. Every letter I write to you may be the last you may receive from me. One of our nearest neighbors spoke to me in tolerable health on Monday and died on Tuesday. This is a digression, but with such warnings we ought to live and act as dying creatures.”

Before that letter reached Aberdeen, Andrew had written to inform his father that he had decided to devote his life to pastoral ministry. After receiving that intelligence, the father immediately responded: “I have now to congratulate you on your choice of a profession, and rejoice that the Lord has been pleased to incline your heart the way He has done. I trust, however, my dear boy, that you have given your heart to Jesus Christ, to be His now and His forever, to follow Him through good and through bad report.”

Andrew and John graduated from Marischal College, the latter as the salutatorian of their class, the following spring. By then John had also determined to prepare for the Christian ministry, so he and Andrew decided to pursue their theological education at the Academy of Utrecht in Holland. There they joined a small group of consecrated students who had as their stated purpose “to promote the study of the subjects required for the ministerial calling in the spirit of the revival” that had visited Holland some twenty years earlier.

Sometime during his first autumn at Utrecht, Andrew Murray experienced a personal spiritual transformation that he ever afterwards called his conversion. In a letter dated November 14, 1845, he informed his parents of his spiritual rebirth: “My Dear Parents – It was with very great pleasure that I today received your letter containing the announcement of the birth of another brother. And equal, I am sure, will be your delight when I tell you that I can communicate to you far gladder tidings, over which angels have rejoiced, that your son has been born again. …

“For the last two or three years there has been a process going on, a continual interchange of seasons of seriousness and then forgetfulness, and then again of seriousness soon after. But after I came to Holland I think I was led to pray in earnest; more I cannot tell, for I know it not. ‘Whereas I was blind, now I see’ [John 9:25]. I was long troubled with the idea that I must have some deep sight of my sins before I could be converted. And though I cannot yet say that I have had anything of that deep special sight into the guiltiness of sin which many people appear to have, yet I trust, and at present I feel as if I could say, I am confident that as a sinner I have been led to cast myself on Christ. What can I say now, my dear Parents, but call on you to praise the Lord with me? At present I am in a peaceful state. I cannot say that I have had any seasons of special joy, but I think that I enjoy a true confidence in God.”

May many Christian parents today similarly have the blessing of wisely urging and fervently praying their children to Christ, even when a considerable number of years are involved in that process.

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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

I have written a comprehensive biography on Murray entitled Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Adoniram Judson

As we approach the New Year it is beneficial to take stock of our lives and to tune up any areas that need it in order to promote our overall health, happiness and effectiveness. Our resolutions for the New Year should certainly include needed spiritual disciplines that will enable us be more faithful and fruitful in our service of the Lord Jesus.

 Adoniram Judson was a pioneer missionary to Burma (modern Myanmar) who carried out nearly four decades of diligent service there. He persevered through staggering challenges and difficulties to spread the Gospel throughout Burma, to translate the entire Bible into the Burmese language and to see healthy Christian congregations established in various parts of the country.

Throughout his career Judson sought to govern his personal spiritual life and ministry with a high degree of discipline. At thirty years of age, after nearly six years of service in Burma, he adopted a set of personal ‘rules’ by which to live:

1. Be diligent in secret prayer, every morning and evening.

2. Never spend a moment in mere idleness.

3. Restrain natural appetites within the bounds of temperance and purity. ‘Keep thyself pure.’

4. Suppress every emotion of anger and ill will.

5. Undertake nothing from motives of ambition, or love of fame.

6. Never do that which, at the moment, appears to be displeasing to God.

7. Seek opportunities of making some sacrifice for the good of others, especially of believers, provided the sacrifice is not inconsistent with some duty.

8. Endeavor to rejoice in every loss and suffering incurred for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s, remembering that though, like death, they are not to be willfully incurred, yet, like death, they are great gain.

Seven and a half years later, Judson ‘readopted’ those rules and drafted an additional set of ‘minor rules’ to further regulate his behavior:

1. Rise with the sun.

2. Read a certain portion of Burman every day, Sundays excepted.

3. Have the Scriptures and some devotional book in constant reading.

4. Read no book in English that has not a devotional tendency.

5. Suppress every unclean thought and look.

Six months later, now at age thirty-eight, Judson rededicated himself to continue to live, with the Lord’s help, by both those sets of high standards: “Revised and readopted all the above rules, particularly the second of the first class [‘Never spend a moment in mere idleness’], on Sunday, March 11, 1827. God grant me grace to keep the above rules, and ever live to his glory, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”

Such careful discipline continued to characterize Judson’s life and service throughout the remainder of his career and was a primary factor in his remarkable diligence and success. As we adopt and live by similar disciplines that fit our particular challenges and ministry circumstances in life, we will also be enabled by God to live faithfully and productively to His glory.

Adoniram Judson quote

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Adoniram Judson by Vance Christie

I have written a comprehensive biography on Judson entitled Adoniram Judson, Devoted for Life. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.

Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie

Christmas gift books

Are you looking for a good Christian book to give someone as a Christmas gift or to enjoy reading yourself on some of the frosty winter evenings to come? If so, I happen to have several good Christian biographies I’d like to recommend to you.

Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians – This is like a Chicken Soup for the Soul book to encourage and strengthen followers of Jesus. It’s a collection of short, true stories from the lives of outstanding Christians on a variety of key themes such as Family, Prayer, Faith, Service, Adversity, etc. It appeals to adults and youth alike.

Women of Faith and Courage – Women and older girls will appreciate this collection of abbreviated biographies on five prominent Christian ladies: Susanna Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor and Corrie ten Boom. Both in the privacy of their own homes and in the public sphere these women served theLord, their families and others with tremendous faithfulness and fruitfulness.   

Hudson Taylor, Gospel Pioneer to China – Taylor’s missionary career was one big adventure from start to finish, and is fascinating to both younger and older readers. His undying concern for those who needed to hear of the Savior and his remarkable faith in God motivated and enabled him to establish the China Inland Mission, through which tens of thousands of Chinese came to faith in Christ. His example quickens our own compassion and faith.

John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs – This book relates the real-life story of two committed Christian young people who first separately, then together served Christ faithfully, and who ultimately sacrificed their very lives in doing so. Their examples have inspired untold thousands to serve Jesus with greater commitment. Older teens and young adults processing the issues of marriage and call to vocational ministry may find this biography especially beneficial.

These next three longer volumes (300+pages) are probably best suited for somewhat older and more serious biography readers. They’re ideal for readers who are ready to be benefited by more substantive Christian biography.

David Brainerd: A Flame for God – Brainerd was a pioneer missionary to Colonial American Indians. He persevered through marked difficulties and discouragements in his ministry, which was crowned with a remarkable bona fide revival among theIndians to whom he ministered. This book is full of citations from Brainerd’s private diaries, which reveal the passionate devotional spirit with which he served the Lord.

Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life – Judson was America’s very first foreign missionary and a pioneer missionary to Burma. He and his three successive wives endured staggering hardships in bringing the Gospel to Burma, establishing healthy Christian congregations there and translating the entire Bible into the Burmese language.Their sacrificial accomplishments continue to bear spiritual fruit in that difficult country to this day.

Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa – Murray was South Africa’s premier preacher, devotional writer and church leader in the latter 1800s and early 1900s. While being a man of seemingly constant action and accomplishment, Murray was also a contemplative individual whose preaching and writing were deeply devotional. Through his prolific writing endeavors he had a worldwide ministry to hundreds of thousands of Christians in his own day, and his books continue to minister to thousands today. Pastors and laymen alike will be inspired by his example.

There are lots of good historic Christian biographies that have been published for younger children and older youth. See Christian Focus Publication’s Trailblazer series (under its CF4Kids imprint), YWAM’s Christian Heroes Then & Now series, as well as similar series by other publishers.

Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie

Twice recently I’ve had the opportunity to speak on the subject of God justifying (declaring as righteous) sinful people who trust in Jesus Christ to rescue them from their sin and the divine judgment it deserves. An incident from the ministry of William R. Newell, a popular Bible teacher in the opening decades of the twentieth century, illustrates this profound truth beautifully.

William R. Newell as a younger man

William R. Newell as a younger man

In 1895, at the age of twenty-seven, Newell was invited by Dwight Moody to become the assistant superintendent of Moody Bible Institute under R. A. Torrey. Newell was a gifted Bible teacher, and large audiences flocked to attend the weeks-long, city-wide Bible classes that he taught in Chicago, St. Louis and Toronto.

Once while holding daily noon meetings in the Century Theatre in St. Louis, Newell spoke on Romans 4:5 from the old King James Version of the Bible: “To him that worketh not, but believeth in Him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned unto him for righteousness.” After the meeting, Newell was approached by a middle-aged man who introduced himself by saying: “I am Captain G—. You are speaking to the most ungodly man in St. Louis.”

“Thank God!” Newell responded. “What!” the captain exclaimed, “Do you mean you are glad that I am bad?” “No, Newell replied, “but I am certainly glad to find a sinner who knows he is a sinner.” “Oh, you do not know the half!” declared the captain, “I have been absolutely ungodly for years and years and years.” “Did you hear me preach on ‘ungodly people’ today?” Newell asked.

The captain, who was obviously under deep spiritual conviction, proceeded to divulge: “I have been coming to these noon meetings for six weeks. I do not think I have missed a meeting. But I cannot tell you a word of what you said today. I did not sleep last night. I have hardly had any sleep for three weeks. I have gone to one man after another to find out what I should do, and I do what they say. I have read the Bible. I have prayed. I have given money away. But I am the most ungodly wretch in this town. Now what do you tell me to do? I waited here today to ask you that. I have tried everything, but I am so ungodly!”

“Now we will turn to the verse I preached on,” Newell said simply. Placing his Bible in the captain’s hands, he asked him to read the verse aloud.  “ ‘To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly,’ the captain began, then broke off from his reading and fairly shouted, “There! That’s what I am—ungodly.” “Then this verse is about you,” Newell assured him. “Read the verse again, please,” the evangelist gently persisted.

“ ‘To him that worketh not,’ ” the captain began again. This time Newell stopped him by pointing out: “There, the verse says not to do, and you want me to tell you something to do. I cannot do that.” “But there must be something to do,” the captain stated in distress, “If not, I shall be lost forever.”

William R. Newell as an older man

William R. Newell as an older man

“Now listen with all your soul,” Newell replied. “There was something to do, but it has been done!” He then explained how that God had so loved him, all ungodly as he was, that He sent Christ to die for the ungodly. God’s judgment had fallen on Christ, who had been forsaken by God as He paid the penalty for people’s sins there on the cross. “God raised up Christ,” Newell concluded, “and sent us preachers to beseech men, all ungodly as they are, to believe on this God who declares righteous the ungodly, on the ground of Christ’s shed blood.”

The captain suddenly leaped to his feet and stretched out his hand to the evangelist. “Mr. Newell,” he exclaimed, “I will accept that proposition!” The Lord had enabled him to understand that there was nothing he could do in terms of his own good works to make himself right in the sight of God. Instead, he needed to trust solely in Jesus and His substitutionary death for him on the cross, so his sins could be forgiven and he could be declared righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ.

Those of us who have been justified (declared righteous) by God through faith in Jesus rightly overflow with praise and thanksgiving to God and Christ for graciously providing us with justification on that basis. Those who have not yet been justified are invited to receive it through faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior from sin.

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The above true story concerning William Newell is adapted from R. Kent Hughes’ 1,001 Great Stories and “Quotes” (Tyndale, 1998).

Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie

George's Army Photo

George’s Army Photo

My dad, George Christie, went to be with the Lord at dawn on Sunday, October 7, 2018, at the age of eighty-seven. Dad missed a beautiful sunrise that morning but instead awakened to the surpassing glory of his Savior Jesus Christ in Heaven.

Here’s a short summary of Dad’s life and a brief tribute to him. All the glory goes to God for Dad’s consecrated Christian living and service. It was all by God’s grace that Dad was called as a first generation Christian, that he provided his children and grandchildren with a godly heritage, and that he served the Lord so faithfully in his ministerial career.

Dad was born on January 4, 1931, near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He graduated from Soo High School in 1950 and then attended the two-year college in the Soo. After marrying Phyllis McCarry on March 1, 1952, he transferred to Michigan State University, from which he graduated with a B.A. in Geography. Following graduation Uncle Sam drafted him for a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, which was spent serving in Germany.

Phyllis' high school graduation photo

Phyllis’ high school graduation photo

Upon returning to the States, Dad intended to go back to school to obtain a degree in geology, but God had other plans for his life. Dad and Mom started attending a newly-formed Bible-teaching church in Lansing, Michigan, and there he came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. (See my August 29, 2013, Perspective on “Appreciating One’s Personal Spiritual Heritage” for an account of both my parents’ Christian conversions.) Before long Dad sensed God’s leading to prepare for vocational Christian ministry. So they moved to Winona Lake, Indiana, where he attended Grace Theological Seminary, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1962.

Dad was immediately called to pastor the Grace Brethren Church of Grandview, Washington. His entire forty-four-year career of pastoral ministry was spent in Washington State, where he served four established Grace Brethren churches and was used of the Lord to plant three other churches. Dad continued in full-time pastoral ministry until the age of seventy-six.

My most common word of appreciation for Dad, which I have shared with countless people, is that he was a man of integrity. What we heard him preach publicly at church, we saw him live privately at home. I honestly do not recall Dad ever losing his temper or swearing, slandering or gossiping about anyone, manifesting racial prejudice or putting others down, exhibiting greed or covetousness, being envious of the successes or opportunities of others. By the Lord’s enablement, he truly did live a life that was above reproach from a human perspective.

Not that he was perfect. He would have been the first to acknowledge his own shortcomings. But even when he fell short, he modeled how to recover in a healthy fashion. Several times as a boy I heard Dad ask the Lord’s forgiveness in prayer or heard him apologize to one or another of his family members for some small way in which he had wronged them.

George and Phyllis Christie at ages 63 and 60

George and Phyllis Christie at ages 63 and 60

As a husband Dad was blessed with the love of his life for sixty-six years. He always treated his wife in a caring, respectful fashion. In the latter years of his life, he did quite a bit of walking in an effort to keep himself healthy. He divulged to me that one of his primary motivations for doing that was so he could continue to help care for mom. (And Mom certainly returned that favor to Dad by attentively caring for him throughout his final years of decline.)

As a father Dad regularly led us in a brief time of family Bible reading and prayer after breakfast or supper, thus seeking to consistently teach us the way of the Lord on a daily basis. He was a firm but fair disciplinarian. He put enough responsibility on his children to help us develop into responsible human beings, but gave us enough freedom to enjoy our childhood years. He supported our interests and attended many of our activities, whether church-related, academic, athletic, musical or merely hobbies. He celebrated our successes in a low-key way that let us know he was proud of us, but without causing us to become overly proud of ourselves. Dad continued to support and encourage us as adults, without interfering with or trying to control our lives. To the degree that he had opportunity to do so (sometimes limited by geographical distance), Dad sought to provide his grandchildren and great grandchildren with a godly example, encouragement, guidance and constant prayer support.

Dad was a friendly individual who was quick to smile at, greet and encourage others. While having a generally serious, dignified approach to life, he also had a lighthearted side. He enjoyed relating humorous, true incidents from his life with family and friends, sometimes laughing so hard that he needed to wipe away tears. He was a good-natured tease, especially with his family. At one of the churches Dad served, he was willing to dress up as Mr. Ho, Ho, Ho! for the gift-exchange portion of the congregation’s annual Christmas dinner.

Dad was a man of God’s Word, the Bible. In his long ministerial career he preached or taught through most of the books of the Bible, several of them more than once.  He repeatedly read clear through the Bible each year.

George and Phyllis Christie's 60th wedding anniversary

George and Phyllis Christie’s 60th wedding anniversary

Dad clearly modeled the Matthew 6:33 principles of serving Christ’s kingdom as his top priority in life while walking by faith that the Lord would provide the material needs of his family. Dad served smaller-sized churches on a slender salary, while Mom worked outside the home to help make ends meet. They regularly shared examples of God’s timely provision for the needs of their family or churches. Dad and Mom never owned their own home or even a second car. Their life was definitely about serving the Lord and advancing His kingdom rather than accruing material possessions.

Dad had a heart for those who needed the Savior. After coming to faith in Christ in his mid-twenties, he was ever eager that others would come to know Jesus as their Savior as well. He and Mom were careful to lead their own children to the Lord and also shared the Gospel (Good News) of salvation with their other family members. Dad regularly gave a Gospel invitation at the close of his sermons, led his church people in carrying out a weekly visitation program to share the Gospel with others, and encouraged active participation in evangelistic crusades and campaigns that took place in their area.

Dad was a faithful pastor to the congregations he served. He genuinely cared about the wellbeing of his congregants and sought to minister to their varied needs. Most of them, in turn, deeply appreciated and readily supported him. Dad spent the final seventeen years of his ministerial career serving the smallest of the various churches he had pastored. When asked the secret of his staying power through the inevitable thick and thin of Christian ministry, he indicated the key for him was being in the place of service where he believed God wanted him to be.

Dad’s final years of life were more difficult and discouraging for him, especially as he experienced physical decline which curtailed his ability to carry out his accustomed ministries. But even through those challenging years he remained fully trusting, extremely patient and very thankful for God’s many blessings. He never exhibited self-pity or resentment. The final months of his life he just wanted to go be with the Lord, and we his family members are grateful that God has mercifully granted that earnest desire. We grieve our temporary earthly separation from Dad but rejoice that he is safely with his glorious Savior, has already been clothed with Christ’s perfect righteousness and has begun to experience eternal life in Heaven.

Dad’s life verse was Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” By God’s grace and enablement both aspects of that personal declaration concerning life and death were true of Dad. So also are the declarations of 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.”

Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie

 

Susannah Spurgeon

Susannah Spurgeon

Throughout much of her married life Charles Spurgeon’s wife, Susannah, was a semi-invalid.  For long periods at a time she was confined to her home and was not well enough to attend services at the Metropolitan Tabernacle where her husband preached.  But she longed to be useful to the Lord and of service to others.

In 1875 Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students was published.  After reading the book, Susannah said to her husband, “I wish I could send a copy to every minister in England!” “Then why not do it?” he replied.  “How much will you give?”

For quite some time she had been in the habit of saving every five-shilling piece that had come to her.  (Each five-shilling coin was worth one-quarter of a pound.)  Using these savings, she had just enough to purchase 100 copies of the Lectures and to send them out to needy pastors.

Susannah assumed that was the end of the matter but God had much bigger plans in mind for her charitable ministry.  Though Susannah did not permit Spurgeon to mention what she had done, news of her donations quickly spread, and friends started contributing money so she could send out more books.  She ordered a number of sets of Spurgeon’s multi-volume commentary on the Psalms, The Treasury of David, and sent those out to disadvantaged ministers.

Charles and Susannah Spurgeon in older years

Charles and Susannah Spurgeon in older years

Donations for her Book Fund and requests for books from straitened pastors began to pour in.  These gifts and requests came from individuals in a variety of denominations and independent church settings.  In less than half a year she had sent out over 3,000 books.

The letters received from ministers were filled with expressions of hearty thanksgiving to God and Mrs. Spurgeon for supplying them with cherished study resources they could not afford to buy for themselves.  Some of these pastors were paid as little as 40 or 60 pounds (equaling 200 or 300 American dollars) per year.  Some had large families.  Not a few spoke of sick family members and heavy doctor bills.  While seeking to provide basic necessities for their families, these ministers had no extra funds with which to purchase books.

Some indicated they and their family members were in need of better and warmer clothing, more bedding or personal items.  In response, Susannah also launched the Pastors’ Aid Fund.  Her appeal for gifts of money, clothing, and blankets met with a tremendous response.  Donations of clothing and bedding were sent to the Tabernacle where a group of volunteers forwarded them to needy ministerial families.

Susannah Spurgeon

Susannah Spurgeon

Susannah continued to package the books in her own home.  Every two weeks a full cartload of volumes left for the railroad station en route to many different destinations.  Susannah sometimes carried out this ministry in weakness and pain. But she felt more than compensated by the rich blessings the ministry brought both to her and to others.

Of this ministry and its blessings to his wife, Spurgeon wrote: “Our gracious Lord ministered to His suffering child in the most effectual manner, when He graciously led her to minister to the necessities of His service.  By this means He called her away from her personal grief, gave tone and concentration to her life, led her to continual dealings with Himself, and raised her nearer the center of that region where other than earthly joys and sorrows reigned supreme.”

Susannah herself testified of these blessings: “I am personally indebted to the dear friends who have furnished me with the means of making others happy.  For me there has been a double blessing. I have been both recipient and donor.  My days have been made indescribably bright and happy by the delightful duties connected with the work and its little arrangements … that I seem to be living in an atmosphere of blessing and love, and can truly say with the Psalmist, “My cup runneth over” [Psalm 23:5].

As the years passed, Susannah increased the different books she made available.  She often sent sets of her husband’s sermons, as many as six volumes at a time, as well as several of his other writings.  She frequently added the works of other men, which volumes she described as “solid, old-fashioned, Scriptural, Puritanic theology.”

Year by year thousands of volumes went out to hundreds of pastors ministering on nearly every continent around the globe.  Susannah carried out this ministry the final twenty-eight years of her life.  By the time of her death, she had sent out over 200,000 books plus countless copies of her husband’s individual sermons.

 

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You’ll find many other enjoyable and beneficial incidents from the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians. Two quality readable Spurgeon biographies are: Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon, A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1987); W. Y. Fullerton’s Charles H. Spurgeon, London’s Most Popular Preacher (Moody, 1980). The latter work is currently out of print but is well-worth purchasing through used book sources at a reasonable rate.

Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie

 

 

Charles Spurgeon's Orphanage, Stockwell, London

Charles Spurgeon’s Orphanage, Stockwell, London

Charles Spurgeon is remembered primarily for his powerful, Spirit-anointed preaching ministry that pointed thousands of individuals to Jesus Christ as their Savior and built up tens of thousands of believers in their Christian faith. For three decades Spurgeon regularly preached to 5,000 or more people at his church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

But Spurgeon was well aware of other ministry needs in the metropolis as well, and he led his congregation to seek and follow God’s direction in identifying and responding to such needs. Spurgeon serves as a great reminder to us to remain sensitive to needs that go beyond our regular, primary ministries. He shows that as we do, God may lead us into some special new ministries that will prove to be of great benefit.

In the summer of 1866, five years after worship and preaching services commenced at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon challenged his congregation at its Monday evening prayer meeting: “Dear friends, we are a huge church, and should be doing more for the Lord in this great city. I want us tonight to ask Him to send us some new work. And if we need money to carry it on, let us pray that the means also be sent.”

A few days later Spurgeon received a letter from Mrs. Anne Hillyard, the widow of a Church of England clergyman.  She stated that she had 20,000 pounds (equaling 100,000 American dollars) which she desired to use in establishing an orphanage for the training and educating of orphan boys, and asked for Spurgeon’s assistance.

Earlier Mrs. Hillyard had asked a friend to recommend some totally reliable public figure to whom she could entrust her considerable fortune to be used for orphans.  The man, though not a particular admirer of the prominent Baptist preacher, nonetheless immediately replied, “Spurgeon.”

Charles Spurgeon and William Higgs meeting with Anne Hillyard

Charles Spurgeon and William Higgs meeting with Anne Hillyard

At her request, Spurgeon and one of his deacons, William Higgs, paid the would-be benefactress a visit at her home.  The modest home and neighborhood in which she lived hardly indicated an individual who possessed a large sum of money.  So Spurgeon opened the discussion by stating, “We have called, Madam, about the 200 pounds that you mentioned in your letter.”

“200?” she responded.  “I meant to write 20,000.”

“Oh yes, you did put 20,000,” replied the pastor, “but I was not sure whether a nought [zero] or two may have slipped in by mistake, and I thought I would be on the safe side.”

He then queried whether there was some relative to whom the money should be given, to which she responded there was not.  He next suggested the funds might be sent to George Muller to assist him in his orphan work in Bristol.  But she insisted she wanted Spurgeon to have it to use in assisting fatherless boys right there in London.  She also expressed the certainty that many other Christians would want to help in the establishment and ongoing support of such a ministry, which did indeed turn out to be the case.

Young orphans at Spurgeon's orphanage

Young orphans at Spurgeon’s orphanage

As Spurgeon and Higgs left her home they remarked to each other how God was evidently answering the specific requests that had been made at the congregational prayer meeting just days earlier.  He was sending them a new work and the means to carry it out.

Within a month arrangements were made to purchase two and a half acres of land situated not far from the Metropolitan Tabernacle.  Eventually a row of several individual homes, all connected as one continuous building, were erected.  Each two-story home housed fourteen orphans and was sponsored by various donors.  A dining hall, infirmary, large gymnasium and even a swimming pool were constructed as part of the expansive complex.  Eventually a corresponding row of homes were built for orphan girls.  The area between the two sets of orphan houses was a grass-covered playing field, edged with flowers and shrubs. 250 boys and 250 girls at a time were housed and received a well-rounded education at the orphan complex.

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You’ll find many other enjoyable and beneficial incidents from the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians. Two quality readable Spurgeon biographies are: Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon, A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1987); W. Y. Fullerton’s Charles H. Spurgeon, London’s Most Popular Preacher (Moody, 1980). The latter work is currently out of print but is well-worth purchasing through used book sources at a reasonable rate.

 

Charles Spurgeon preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle

Charles Spurgeon preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle

Sharing the Christian Gospel (Good News!) of salvation from sin and God’s gift of eternal life is both a tremendous privilege and a sobering responsibility.  Charles Spurgeon kept the faithful proclamation of the Gospel front and center throughout his fruitful ministry career. His outlook on sharing the Gospel is worthy of our consideration and emulation.

One evening in the late autumn Spurgeon was returning from a speaking engagement.  The hansom cab in which he was riding made its way along the level ground at the base of London’s steep Herne Hill ridge which he needed to ascend.

LamplighterPresently he saw a light before him, and as he came near the hill he watched that light gradually go up the ascent, leaving a train of stars behind it.  Eventually the line of newborn lights reached from the foot of the hill to its summit. Spurgeon was witnessing the work of a lamplighter whom he could not see in the darkness.  In those days London’s streetlights burned gas but still had to be lit individually.

Spurgeon afterward reflected on what he had seen: “I did not see the lamplighter.  I do not know his name, nor his age, nor his residence. But I saw the lights which he had kindled, and these remained when he himself had gone his way.

“As I rode along I thought to myself, ‘How earnestly do I wish that my life may be spent in lighting one soul after another with the sacred flame of eternal life! I would myself be as much as possible unseen while at my work, and would vanish into eternal brilliance above when my work is done.’ ”

Charles Spurgeon lived with a weighty sense of the eternal peril of the unconverted and of his responsibility to point them to Christ.  He was also deeply concerned for those who might wrongly suppose themselves to be Christians.

During a period of sore illness he traveled to Marseilles, France, to rest.  He was suffering from gout of which he once wrote: “Lucian says, ‘I thought a cobra had bitten me and filled my veins with poison. But it was worse, it was gout.’ That was written from experience, I know.”

Arriving at his hotel in Marseilles, Spurgeon asked for a fire to warm his room and help him bear his pain.  When the porter came, he brought vine branches with which to kindle the fire.  As the branches began to burn, Spurgeon cried out in agony.  His distress at that moment, however, was psychological and spiritual rather than physical.  He was thinking of Christ’s teaching in John 15:6 concerning the destiny of fruitless branches of the Vine, how they are cast out and burned.

Charles Spurgeon's Funeral Procession

Charles Spurgeon’s Funeral Procession

In a sermon preached several years before his death, Spurgeon attempted to picture the scene that he desired to exist at his own funeral.  He spoke of a concourse of people in the streets and of the discussion that would be taking place among them:

“What are all these people waiting for?”

“Do you not know?  He is to be buried today.”

“And who is that?”

“It is Spurgeon.”

“What! The man that preached at the Tabernacle?”

“Yes; he is to be buried today.”

Continued Spurgeon: “That will happen very soon.  And when you see my coffin carried to the silent grave, I should like every one of you, whether converted or not, to be constrained to say, ‘He did earnestly urge us, in plain and simple language, not to put off the consideration of eternal things. He did entreat us to look to Christ. Now he is gone, our blood is not at his door if we perish.’ ”

 

Charles Spurgeon quotation on Hell

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You’ll find many other enjoyable and beneficial incidents from the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians. Two quality readable Spurgeon biographies are: Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon, A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1987); W. Y. Fullerton’s Charles H. Spurgeon, London’s Most Popular Preacher (Moody, 1980). The latter work is currently out of print but is well-worth purchasing through used book sources at a reasonable rate.