This particular blog post is intended as a brief update on some significant developments that have been taking place in my life and ministry in recent months, and to let you know of a blessed new ministry focus into which I believe the Lord is leading me.

As some of you may have noticed, my writing website has been rather inactive this past year. Fourteen months ago I made the difficult decision to discontinue my Perspectives blogs in order to devote all my limited writing time to wrapping up a full-length biography on David Livingstone that I’ve been working on for several years. I’ll share more about the recent completion of that book manuscript in a future blog. But now that it’s completed, I’m able to turn my attention to other writing endeavors, including the resumption of materials for this website.

For a quarter of a century (!) I had the privilege of pastoring the Evangelical Free Church of Aurora, Nebraska. My family and I were unspeakably blessed all those years with a congregation that supported, encouraged, and appreciated us.

However, developments in recent months and years gradually led me to a reluctant but definite conviction in the early months of this year: namely, that a different pastor was needed to more effectively lead our congregation into the future. That realization led to the announcement of my resignation in early March and to the conclusion of my pastoral ministry at the church on May 1.

Initially, I supposed I would serve one more (shorter) pastorate or an interim pastor ministry before possibly retiring from pastoral ministry a few years from now. But due to a variety of factors, my wife Leeta and I found our hearts inclining in a different ministry direction.

For years I’ve thought that in retirement I’d like to devote more time to my writing ministry, which has always been carried out on the side of full-time pastoral ministry. As we thought and prayed over our next ministry step, we came to the settled conclusion that it would be appropriate (and in keeping with God’s will) for me to devote my coming years of still-full-time ministry to focus on my writing and related speaking opportunities.

So I’m presently in communication with a couple of publishers about future works in the field of historic Christian biography which I think they might well be interested in. To be clear, I’m presenting different potential works to those publishers, as it’s usually considered a no-no to run the same idea past separate publishers simultaneously. ☺ 

The posting of today’s blog also serves as the first official public announcement of a corresponding speaking ministry I’m launching. I’m now available for making biographical presentations on great men and women of the Christian faith at churches, schools, camps, retreats, conferences, and other ministry settings. In these presentations, I will relate some of the highlights and key spiritual lessons from the lives and ministries of outstanding Christians of the past in a way that is not only interesting but also spiritually inspiring and instructive. 

For more information about this speaking ministry, including some of the prominent Christians and Christian living themes I’m able to make presentations about, see the Speaking page of our website.

You may also want to check out some other new material on the website, including the Why HCB? page, which brings together several of my past Perspectives that point out the benefits and enjoyment of reading and sharing historic Christian biography (HCB). You’ll also find John Piper’s and Tim Challies’ perspectives on HCB shared there.

Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

In Scripture and throughout Church History there are many examples of committed Christians who continued to faithfully, bravely carry out their God-directed ministries in the face of stiff or sometimes even fierce opposition. Not a few such Christians continue to do so around the world today. Their examples show us how to respond appropriately to such challenging situations and inspire us to be similarly brave and faithful with the Lord’s help.

William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army in 1877, is one such worthy model in this regard. Booth and the Salvation Army zealously proclaimed the Christian Gospel of salvation from sin and its deserved judgment through faith in Jesus Christ. They also ministered actively and compassionately to the material and moral needs of the lower classes of society. Tens of thousands of people were eventually helped and elevated through their ministries.

But initially Booth was repeatedly assaulted in the press by government and religious leaders alike. They attacked not only Booth’s unique evangelistic methods, but also his bold notions of how to bring about moral-social reform.

William and Catherine Booth Ministering at a Street Meeting

Professor Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist and an agnostic who more than anyone had won public acceptance for Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories, wrote twelve letters blasting Booth in the London Times. Huxley viewed Booth’s sway over his followers as being “the prostitution of the mind” and a worse evil than prostitution or alcoholism. He characterized Booth’s campaign to make people sober and hardworking as nothing more than a ruse to herd “washed, shorn and docked sheep” into his “narrow theological fold.”

Another newspaper accused Booth of being a “sensual, dishonest, sanctimonious and hypocritical scoundrel,” “brazen-faced charlatan,” “pious rogue,” “tub-thumper,” and “masquerading hypocrite”!

William and Bramwell Booth

Even the great Earl of Shaftesbury, a leader in the evangelical branch of the Church of England and an eminent social reformer, announced that after much study he was convinced the Salvation Army was clearly antichrist. One of the Earl’s admirers then revealed that in his own studies he had learned that the “number” of William Booth’s name added up to 666.

When Booth’s loyal oldest son showed him such newspaper attacks, the Salvation Army’s “General” would often shrug and reply: “Bramwell, fifty years hence it will matter very little indeed how these people treated us. It will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God.”

Booth and the Salvation Army went right on actively leading people to Christ, ministering to the material needs of individuals and promoting moral-social reform, all despite strong ongoing opposition. The Lord granted them not only the ability to do so, but also significant success in their ministries in spite of the enmity they faced.

The same will be true of us as we seek God’s help to respond with similar courage and faithfulness in carrying out our Christian ministries even when encountering marked resistance.      

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This and many other instructive, heartening incidents from the example of William Booth and a number of other outstanding believers are featured in my book Timeless Stories: God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians.

Copyright 2021 by Vance E. Christie

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a number of responses to my February 10, 2021, Perspective on “Why Read Full-length Historic Christian Biographies?” Several people kindly emailed to affirm the tremendous blessing and benefit such biographies have been to them. Some respondents mentioned a few or even several of their favorite biographies. Others requested a list of my top recommendations.

So here are some of my top-tier biography suggestions on a dozen outstanding servants of Christ during the last three centuries. Of course numerous other worthwhile biographies have been written about many other remarkable Christians from throughout Church History. Periodically in future Perspectives I’ll seek to share additional lists of some of my other high-ranking biography recommendations. Meanwhile, here are some great biographies with which people can get started.

The individuals featured here are simply listed in alphabetical order by their last names, rather than in any type of priority listing. I’ve included more than one quality biography for most of these subjects. These specific people have been selected for a variety of reasons, including their exceptional prominence and the extraordinary impact of their ministries. These particular biographies present some of the most enjoyable and spiritually-beneficial accounts of their lives and ministries.

William and Catherine Booth, Founders of The Salvation Army
William and Catherine Booth, Founders of The Salvation Army

1. William and Catherine Booth (1829-1912, 1829-1889), British Methodist evangelists and founders of The Salvation Army: The General Next to God: The Story of William Booth and The Salvation Army, by Richard Collier (Fontana/Collins, 1985). William and Catherine: The Life and Legacy of the Booths, Founders of The Salvation Army, by Trevor Yaxley with Carolyn Vanderwal(Bethany, 2003).

William Carey in middle age.

2. William Carey (1761-1834), British Baptist missionary to India, considered to be the father of the modern missionary movement: William Carey: “The Father of Modern Missions”, by S. Pearce Carey (Hodder & Stoughton, 1923; Wakeman, 2008). William Carey: Missionary Pioneer and Statesman, by F. Deauville Walker (Moody, 1951).

Fanny Crosby

3. Fanny Crosby (1820-1915), American hymnwriter. Blind from six weeks of age, she wrote nearly 9,000 hymns in her lifetime and became the world’s premiere hymnist of her era: Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography (Baker, 1995). Her Heart Can See, The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby, by Edith Blumhofer (Eerdmans, 2005). Fanny Crosby, by Bernard Ruffin (Pilgrim, 1976).

4. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), American Congregational minister prominent in promoting America’s First Great Awakening (spiritual revival): Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, by Iain H. Murray (Banner of Truth, 1996).

5. Billy Graham (1918-2018), American evangelist, world’s premiere evangelist of the second half of the 20th century: A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, by William Martin (Morrow/Quill, 1991). Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (Harper Collins/Zondervan, 1997).

Dwight L. Moody

6. Dwight Moody (1837-1899), American evangelist, world’s foremost evangelist of the second half of the 19th century: Moody: A Biography, by John Pollock (Baker/Christian Focus, 1997). They Called Him Mister Moody, by Richard Curtis (Eerdmans, 1967). The Life of Dwight L. Moody, by his son W.R. Moody (Barbour, 1985).

George Mueller
George Mueller

7. George Muller (1805-1898), German-born Brethren minister in Britain best known for his faith-based orphan ministry: George Muller: Delighted in God!, by Roger Steer (Shaw: 1981). George Muller of Bristol: His Life of Prayer and Faith, by Arthur T. Pierson (Kregel, 2000).

Charles Spurgeon
Charles Spurgeon

8. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), British Baptist minister, the world’s premiere preacher of his day: Spurgeon, by Arnold Dallimore (Moody, 1984). Charles H. Spurgeon: London’s Most Popular Preacher, by W.Y. Fullerton (Moody, 1966).

Hudson Taylor
Hudson Taylor

9. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), British missionary to China, founder of the non-denominational China Inland Mission:  Hudson Taylor: Gospel Pioneer to China, by Vance Christie (P&R, 2011). J. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ, by Roger Steer (OMF, 1991). Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, by Howard and Geraldine Taylor (Moody, 1989).

10. Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983), Hollander, Nazi concentration camp survivor, evangelist to the world: Corrie ten Boom, Her Story (The Hiding Place, Tramp for the Lord, Jesus Is Victor), Corrie’s three best-known autobiographical works in one volume (Inspirational Press, 1995). Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith, by Carole C. Carlson (Revell/Spire, 1984).

11. John Wesley (1703-1791), Prominent evangelist in Britain’s 18th century Evangelical Revival, founder of Methodism: John Wesley, by John Pollock (Victor, 1989).

George Whitefield
George Whitefield

12. George Whitefield (1714-1770), British Anglican priest, used of God as the human sparkplug of Britain’s Evangelical Revival and America’s First Great Awakening: George Whitefield: God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century, by Arnold Dallimore (Crossway, 1990; Dallimore’s original comprehensive two-volume work on Whitefield is available from Banner of Truth). Memoirs of George Whitefield, by John Gillies (Pietan, 1993).

Most of these proffered biographies are of more-substantive length. Shorter biographies of all these individuals are also available, and doubtless would be of greater benefit for reading by children. But for adults the extra time and effort needed to read fuller accounts of these people’s lives are well worth the investment. Newer editions of several of these recommended books are no doubt available. Some of these works are now out of print but copies of them can still be found through various online booksellers.

Copyright 2021 by Vance E. Christie

We live in a day when many or perhaps even most people limit their reading to quick reads about the most current events. In some ways that is understandable. The amount of material and subjects coming at us on a daily basis through Facebook, Twitter, online news feeds, blogs and other sources can be rather overwhelming.

But if all we read are soundbite tweets or brief posts about only the latest breaking news or the hottest contemporary topics, we end up impoverishing ourselves through the limited focus and extent of our reading. Many truly-significant subjects require book-length rather than blog-length development to adequately address them. In addition, numerous people, events, and perspectives of the past are so important and enlightening that we can gain great benefit by reading at length about them too. And, in fact, we’ll be the losers if we don’t do so.

Those of you who kindly follow my writing blog know that it usually features “Perspectives” aimed at promoting interest in and benefit from historic Christian biography. Regularly I share short biographical sketches that I trust are interesting and spiritually profitable for our readers. But in this brief Perspective I’d especially like to encourage us as Christians to read full, book-length historic Christian biographies as part of our reading regimen. Here are four quick reasons why:

1. For our own spiritual profit and encouragement. As we read the life stories of great men and women of the Christian faith we are inspired and instructed in our own living and service for the Lord Jesus. Their outstanding examples encourage and challenge us in all areas of our personal and public lives, modeling how to integrate our Christianity into every aspect of life. I join those who testify that, after Scripture, Christian biography is one of the most beneficial and encouraging types of reading we can do to strengthen our spiritual lives.

Many contemporary believers have become discouraged and lethargic in their Christian lives and service just now, due to disheartening, deflating personal and ministry circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic and other difficulties in their life-situations. Without exception extraordinary Christians of the past faced extreme difficulties that needed to be overcome or simply worked around (though not removed). Their examples of unremitting faith, perseverance, diligence and dependence on the Lord through such adversity provide us with much-needed encouragement for such a challenging season as the one we find ourselves in presently.

2. To gain fuller knowledge of some of the truly outstanding servants of Christ in the history of the Church. There’s a primary reason why certain Christians in history have had books (sometimes many volumes) written about them—because their Christian devotion, service, vision and fruitfulness truly were extraordinary. Their personal lives, perspectives, public ministries and accomplishments were viewed as so remarkable, inspiring and beneficial that others were careful to preserve their life stories in biographies.

To me it doesn’t make sense for us to ignore altogether the lives and ministries of such devoted, capable servants of the Lord who were so mightily used of Him. Nor does it seem we should be content with nothing more than a short online summary of their lives. Rather, we do well to read full accounts of at least some such individuals, so as to gain much fuller understanding, appreciation and spiritual profit from their exceptional lives and service. Of course we won’t be able to read a full-length biography on every great Christian who has been written about. But we can at least make a point to read and benefit from a number of such biographies as we progress through life.

3. To gain a more-informed perspective on Christianity in the past and present. Christian biography is a great and enjoyable way to learn Church History. Reading straight history can sometimes be a bit daunting. But as we read accounts of notable Christians of the past, we often also learn much about the age in which they lived and served.  While we’re enjoying their life story, we’re simultaneously learning (without even needing to work at it) about the society and Church of their day. As we read about Christians in different eras, we gain a much fuller understanding of God’s powerful work throughout Church History. We also become acquainted with incredible trials and triumphs of Christ’s Church in the past about which we otherwise would remain oblivious. We learn that the Church of the past had both greater successes and failures than we previously realized.

Acquiring a fuller historic understanding of the Church helps us to better understand and evaluate the Church today. We’ll comprehend how we got to where we’re at. We’ll see that many of our current spiritual blessings and successes have come at least in part from the faithfulness and sacrifices of outstanding Christians who labored diligently and capably before us. We’ll be encouraged to see that we’ve learned from and overcome some of the mistakes of the Church in earlier generations. But we’ll also be convicted and humbled to realize that in other ways the modern Church has declined noticeably compared to the fervency, commitment and fruitfulness of the Church at some times in the past. And the good example of the earlier Church in those regards will help show us the way to recovering the ground that has been lost.

4. Simply for enjoyment! Well-written historic Christian biography makes for very enjoyable reading. We get drawn into the interesting, compelling story of a person’s life, and we want to keep reading to find out how things turned out for him or her. We become interested or even fascinated in the remarkable ways the Lord used such individuals for His glory and the good of countless people. We find ourselves gaining so much inspiration and benefit from a person’s life that it’s a joy and a privilege to continue on with a full consideration of his or her ministry. I often enjoy one biography of a person’s life so much that I end up reading a second or third account of his/her ministry because I’m eager to learn more about how God used him/her.

I hope for all these reasons (and other benefits to be gained) you’ll get started right away reading a book-length historic Christian biography. Perhaps you already know an exceptional Christian whose life story you would like to read. Maybe you’ll be interested in reading one or more of the book-length Christian biographies I’ve had the privilege of writing (as described at my writing website www.vancechristie.com). Or perhaps some of the shorter Perspectives I’ve posted on various other individuals will pique your interest in reading more about them. Often I’ve recommended quality biographies that others have written about them.

Happy, profitable reading to you!

Copyright 2021 by Vance E. Christie

William Booth as a Young Man

Recently I preached through the book of Daniel. The first half of that book of Scripture presents one inspiring instance after another of Daniel and his three faithful Jewish companions steadfastly obeying God under extremely threatening circumstances in pagan Babylon. Rather than compromising, they determined to fully obey the Lord, even if doing so resulted in their deaths! God honored their wholehearted commitment to Him, protected them from harm and brought great blessing to them. 

We also find such instructive models of determined, uncompromising obedience to the Lord in the lives of many outstanding Christians of the past, whether in the New Testament or subsequent Church History. An incident from the early Christian life of William Booth (1829-1912), who later went on to found and lead the Salvation Army, provides one such heartening example. 

Pawnshop in the 1800’s

William was apprenticed to a pawnbroker in his hometown of Nottingham, England, at age thirteen, after his father’s business failed. Young William’s income became crucial to the welfare of his family when his father died less than a year later. William came to saving faith in Jesus Christ at fifteen years of age. His conversion resulted in his having a strong desire and determination to obey God in every way. 

His commitment in that regard was soon put to the test when he began to feel uneasy about working on Sundays. The vast majority of nineteenth century British Christians believed the Bible taught that the Lord’s Day was to be strictly observed as a day of worship and rest rather than being given to work or secular recreation. Although the pawnshop where William worked officially closed at midnight on Saturday, the employees were often kept working without a break long into the early hours of Sunday morning. 

Artist’s Depiction of Young William Booth Preaching in the Open Air

Compelled by his conviction against working on Sundays, William informed his employer, a Mr. Eames, that he would no longer be able to continue work past midnight on Saturday. Eames was not impressed. In no uncertain terms he informed his young apprentice, ‘You can work with the rest of us until we shut up shop, or you can leave.’ When William stood strong in his determination not to work on Sunday, Eames promptly fired him! 

For choosing to live by his biblical convictions, William’s only source of income and his support for his family were summarily cut off. He found himself among the hordes of unemployed people in Nottingham at that time, with little likelihood of finding work. The streets were packed with individuals desperately searching for employment, each willing to wait in line for hours at the slightest glimmer of hope that the opportunity to work might come along. 

But William did not need to seek employment for long, for God soon brought about a remarkable turn of events. After just a few days, Mr. Eames realized he had lost his most valuable worker. William was reinstated and became the only employee at the pawnshop who was allowed to finish work at the stroke of midnight each Saturday.   

William Booth’s stouthearted determination to obey God no matter what the cost became a hallmark of his Christian life and teachings. Such determined obedience played a significant role in the remarkable success he had in his long, fruitful ministry career for Christ. 

We realize, of course, that careful obedience to the Lord sometimes does bring marked hardships and suffering to those who faithfully obey and serve Him. Hebrews 11:32-38, for instance, summarizes both the triumphs and the tragedies experienced by many of God’s faithful people in Bible times. But even when God doesn’t bring a timely, positive resolution to adversity which results from faithfully following Him, committed Christians still continue to obey Him. They also keep trusting Him to help them through the difficulty, to accomplish significant good through it, and to resolve the trying situation in His perfect time and way. When we continue to trust and obey under such challenging circumstances, even greater glory is brought to God and a stronger testimony is borne to others. 

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The true story concerning William Booth featured in this Perspective was gleaned from Trevor Yaxley’s worthwhile biography: William and Catherine, The Life and Legacy of the Booths, Founders of the Salvation Army (Bethany, 2003). Other uplifting and instructive incidents from the lives and ministries of the Booths may be found in two works I’ve written: Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians and Women of Faith and Courage, both of which are published by Christian Focus. 

If you have enjoyed and benefited from this blog post, I would sincerely appreciate your sharing it with your friends and acquaintances who could likewise profit from it. 

Copyright 2021 by Vance E. Christie 

My favorite New Year’s hymn is Frances Ridley Havergal’s “Another Year Is Dawning.” Like many of Frances’s hymns, this one is a wonderful declaration of Christian consecration to living for the Lord.

Frances Havergal (1836-1879) was an English poet and hymnwriter. Many of her poems and hymns emphasized devotional closeness to Christ and dedicated service of Him. Those were primary emphases Frances sought to cultivate in her own life and to promote to other believers.

Such consecration is clearly seen in her best-known hymn, “Take My Life and Let It Be,” as well as in some of her other well-known songs: “Lord, Speak to Me,” “I Gave My Life for Thee” and “Who Is on the Lord’s Side?”

Each New Year’s Day Frances reconsecrated herself to living for Jesus. As a result, she wrote several New Year’s hymns, “Another Year Is Dawning” being the most popular of those. She composed this particular poem near the end of 1873 as a prayer for New Year’s 1874. She had it printed on a greeting card to be sent to friends. The card’s caption read, “A Happy New Year! Ever Such May It Be!”

As circumstances turned out, Frances herself ended up needing this prayer, for just a few days later she experienced a stunning setback. She was looking forward to being launched as an author in America, and her agent in New York had made reassuring promises. Then a letter came which she thought would bring a royalty check, perhaps the first of many. It instead brought the intelligence that her publisher had gone bankrupt in the Stock Market crash of 1873.

Frances had only recently entrusted all her affairs to the Lord. As a result, she was able to bear this sudden reversal of her prospects with peace. She wrote of this to a friend:

“I have just had such a blessing in the shape of what would have been only two months ago a really bitter blow to me. … I was expecting a letter from America, enclosing thirty-five pounds now due me, and possibly news that [my book] was going on like steam. The letter has come and, instead of all this, my publisher has failed in the universal crash. He holds my written promise to publish only with him as the condition of his launching me, so this is not simply a little loss, but an end of all my American prospects. …

“I really had not expected that He [God] would do for me so much above all I asked [Ephesians 3:20], as not merely to help me to acquiesce in this, but positively not to feel it at all, and only to rejoice in it as a clear test of the reality of victorious faith which I do find brightening almost daily. Two months ago this would have been a real trial to me, for I had built a good deal on my American prospects; now ‘Thy will be done’ is not a sigh but only a song.”

By God’s grace working in her life, on this occasion Frances certainly lived up to the sincere consecrated sentiments she had not long before penned in “Another Year Is Dawning.”

Whether or not you are familiar with this hymn, I would encourage you to spend a few minutes contemplating and perhaps even singing it. (It is set to the tune of another well-known hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.”) May the Lord help all of us to live lives that are deeply devoted to Him in the coming year.

“Another Year Is Dawning”

1. Another year is dawning: Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting, Another year with Thee;
Another year of Progress, Another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

2. Another year of mercies, Of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness In the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning Upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, Of quiet, happy rest.

3. Another year of service, Of witness for Thy love;
Another year of training For holier work above.
Another year is dawning: Dear Father, let it be,
On earth or else in heaven, Another year for Thee.

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Much of the information for this Perspective was gleaned from Robert Morgan’s uplifting book Then Sings My Soul, 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories (Thomas Nelson, 2003).

If you have enjoyed and benefited from this blog post, I would sincerely appreciate your sharing it with your friends and acquaintances who could likewise profit from it.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

John and Charles Wesley are commonly considered the primary founders and promoters of Methodism in the eighteenth century Church of England. Both brothers were not only powerful evangelists but also skilled hymnwriters. Together they produced several hymnbooks.

Charles was especially gifted as a poet and hymnist, composing nearly 9,000 poems and over 6,000 hymns. His hymns are characterized by not only poetic beauty but also theological brawn. They are packed with biblical allusions and doctrinal truths. Charles’ best-known Christmas hymns are “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Charles was happy to share his songs freely with the public. But he did not appreciate people amending them. In one of his hymnals he wrote:

“I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honor to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome to do so, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they are really not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them these two favors: either let them stand just as they are, to take things for better or worse, or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.”

But Charles’ friend, the eminent evangelist George Whitefield, appears to have done the Christian Church a favor by ignoring Charles’ request and polishing up one of his hymns. At age thirty-two Charles wrote a Christmas hymn that began:

Hark, how all the welkin rings,

“Glory to the King of kings;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

Universal nature say,

“Christ the Lord is born today!”

The word “welkin” was an old English term for “the vault of heaven.” When Whitefield published this song in his 1753 hymnal, he changed the words to the now-beloved “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

For those who are interested in tracing out the numerous Scriptural references and truths included in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”: Verse 1 is based on Luke 2:8-14; Verse 2 reflects Matthew 1:19-23 and John 1:1, 14, 18; Verse 3 refers to Isaiah 9:6, Malachi 4:2 and John 1:4, 9, 12-13. I’d encourage you to take some time this Christmas season to read through the verses of this hymn and reflect on the related Scriptures.

May all of us come to know and appreciate much more fully both who Christ Jesus is and the many spiritual blessings He has brought to us. As a result, may our hearts overflow with exalted worship of Christ, as Charles Wesley’s heart did when he wrote this classic Christmas hymn.

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Some of the information for this Perspective was gleaned from Robert Morgan’s uplifting book Then Sings My Soul, 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories (Thomas Nelson, 2003). An outstanding biography on Charles Wesley is Arnold Dallimore’s A Heart Set Free, The Life of Charles Wesley (Crossway Books, 1988).

If you have enjoyed and benefited from this blog post, I would sincerely appreciate your sharing it with your friends and acquaintances who could likewise profit from it.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf

In 2 Corinthians 5:15 the Apostle Paul states a principle that rightly applies to all Christians: “And Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

Every Christian should ask himself or herself, “Is that true of me?” Here’s the true story of a committed Christian young man who, after being confronted with that question, went on to intentionally live a life fully dedicated to serving Jesus his Savior.

Domenico Feti’s Ecce Homo painting observed by Zinzendorf

Nicolaus Zinzendorf was born in 1700 into a German family of wealth and nobility. Influenced by the Lutheran Pietism of some of his relatives and of his boyhood education, Zinzendorf grew up with personal faith in Jesus and warm devotion to Him. After studying law it was expected that Zinzendorf would have a career in state service, which was considered the only acceptable vocation for a nobleman. He instead longed to enter vocational Christian ministry.

In 1719-1720 Zinzendorf had his Wanderjahr, a year of traveling abroad to complete his education. While at the magnificent art gallery in Dusseldorf he viewed many masterpieces. The painting that impacted him the most was of the thorn-crowned Christ after he had been flogged by Pontius Pilate. Beneath it was the Latin inscription: “This I have suffered for you, but what have you done for me?” Zinzendorf thought his honest answer to that question would have to be: “Very little.” He prayed to his Savior to draw him into the “fellowship of His suffering” (Philippians 3:10) whenever he was inclined to wander from it.

Zinzendorf preaching to people from many nations

When Zinzendorf arrived at Utrecht on his nineteenth birthday, he marked the occasion with a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for the gracious preservation of his life to that point. He also expressed his desire not to live longer than he would serve his Savior.

Zinzendorf’s opportunity to become involved in meaningful Christian service began three years later when a group of Protestant refugees from Moravia (in the eastern region of the Czech Republic) sought shelter on his estate at Berthelsdorf, Germany. As word of the young count’s generosity spread, religious refugees continued to arrive, and soon a thriving new community named Herrnhut (meaning “the Lord’s watch”) sprung up near Berthelsdorf.

Modern Day Herrnhut, Germany

Five years later, in 1727, a period of spiritual renewal ushered in a great revival at Herrnhut. A primary abiding manifestation of the revival was a passion for missions, which became the chief characteristic of the Christian Moravian movement. Within the next several years the Moravians planted mission stations in the Caribbean, Greenland, North America, Lapland (northern Finland), South America and South Africa.

Zinzendorf not only became the spiritual leader at Herrnhut but for thirty-three years oversaw the Moravians’ worldwide network of missionaries who looked to him for leadership. Missiologist Ruth Tucker describes Zinzendorf as “one of the greatest missionary statesmen of all times and the individual who did the most to advance the cause of Protestant missions during the course of the eighteenth century.” Tucker further relates of Zinzendorf: “He pioneered ecumenical evangelism, founded the Moravian church, and authored scores of hymns. But above all else he launched a worldwide missionary movement that set the stage for … the ‘Great Century’ of missions that would follow.”

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Much of the information for this Perspective was gleaned from Ruth Tucker’s outstanding volume From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions (specifically chapter 3 on “The Moravian Advance: Dawn of Protestant Missions”). An excellent biography on Zinzendorf is John R. Weinlick’s Count Zinzendorf (Abingdon Press, 1956).

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

Jonathan Edwards

From a human perspective the death of Jonathan Edwards, Colonial America’s preeminent pastor-theologian, was untimely. But Edwards did not adopt such an outlook as his earthly life came to a previously-unforeseen and rather abrupt end.  Instead, he manifested remarkable trust in God’s watchcare over himself and his family, as well as submission to the Lord’s will.

Edwards’ responses in those ways flowed out of decades of intimate fellowship with, and intense devotion to, God and Christ. Edwards’ example has much to teach us about living with and for the Lord in such a way that we come to trust Him in what He ordains in our life and death.

Northampton Church

Edwards pastored for twenty-three years (1727-1750) in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts, then for seven years (1751-1758) in the frontier village of Stockbridge, also in the Massachusetts Colony. During those years he gained great prominence as a highly-respected minister, leader in America’s Great Awakening, and writer of numerous devotional and theological treatises.

Aaron Burr

Edwards’ son-in-law Aaron Burr served as the second president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) from 1748 to 1757. After Burr unexpectedly died of illness at age forty-one in September 1757, Edwards was promptly asked to become the college’s third president. At first, Edwards declined but, at the urging of a council of fellow ministers, later accepted the call.

Edwards moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in January 1758, to begin his presidential duties at the college. He left his wife Sarah with some of their children in Stockbridge, planning to move them to Princeton after the winter passed. Edwards was then fifty-four years old. His ongoing outstanding ministry career appeared to stretch out brightly before him.

College of New Jersey at Princeton, NJ

In his first sermon at Princeton Edwards preached from Hebrews 13:8 on “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” When he concluded the message it is said his hearers were surprised to discover that two hours had passed so quickly!

Around that time there was an outbreak of smallpox in Princeton. Since Edwards had never had the disease, he was advised to be inoculated. He received the vaccine the last week of February. The inoculation at first appeared to be successful and all danger was thought to have passed. But then pustules developed in Edwards’ mouth and throat, preventing him from swallowing. He was unable to drink sufficiently and developed a secondary fever. His condition quickly deteriorated and recovery became increasingly unlikely.

Shortly before Edwards’ death on March 22 he spoke briefly with his younger daughter Lucy who was then living with his daughter Esther (Burr’s widow) in Princeton: “Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you. Therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife … And I hope she will be supported under so great a trial and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all, to seek a Father who will never fail you.”

A little while later Edwards looked around the room and asked, “Now where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never-failing Friend?” Still later those at his bedside thought he was unconscious and expressed grief at what his absence would mean both to the college and to the church at large. Presently they were surprised when he suddenly uttered his last earthly words: “Trust in God, and you need not fear.”

As we exercise faith in the Lord and come to know Him as our ever-reliable, never-failing God, Helper and Companion, we learn to trust Him even in the hardest trials of life. And we’ll be able to fully trust Him when we face our own death and prepare to step into eternity, even if our earthly end and heavenly beginning come sooner than expected.

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Much of the historical information for this Perspective was drawn from Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography (Banner of Truth), an outstanding full-length account of Edwards’ life and ministry.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

My Writing Retreat Work Table

The church I have had the privilege of pastoring for over twenty-three years graciously grants me a two-week writing sabbatical each year. I recently returned from this year’s writing retreat and wanted to express some heartfelt thanks to the Lord and a number of people who have blessed me with this tremendous opportunity.

Some pastors are granted a sabbatical every several years by their churches to get away for a few months to rest, be refreshed and pursue some line of study to strengthen their future ministry. With my ongoing sidelight writing ministry (which is secondary to my primary pastoral ministry), a few years ago I proposed and our congregation kindly approved my taking a mini writing sabbatical annually, rather than being away for a more extended sabbatical all at one time.

This arrangement, it seems to me, works out advantageously for our church and myself. On the one hand, I’m not away from my pastoral responsibilities for a long period of time, a situation that can sometimes prove challenging for a smaller church like ours to manage. But on the other hand, each year I can get away and make a significant leap of progress on the writing project I’m pursuing at the time. I find that I can accomplish in an intensely-focused, two-week retreat what it normally takes me a quarter of a year to complete, while writing very part time in the midst of the normal responsibilities and activities of life and ministry back home.

I cannot adequately express my appreciation to our congregation for granting me this annual writing retreat (and advance! J). In doing so they are affirming and supporting an important sidelight ministry that God allows me to have to the larger Body of Christ that extends far beyond our local church and community. Without such support that broader ministry would be considerably curtailed.

Prairie School Retreat Guest Home
Prairie School Retreat Guest Home

In recent years my writing sabbatical has taken place at an attractive ministry retreat setting called Prairie School Retreat, located several miles out in the country from Sidney, Nebraska, in the state’s western panhandle region. You can check out that ministry’s website at www.prairieschoolretreat.com for much fuller information about it. This retreat home used to be a two-classroom rural school building, and it retains that look from the outside. But the inside of the building has been entirely refurbished into an appealing, comfortable modern home, which looks and feels nothing like a schoolhouse.

Prairie School Retreat
Prairie School Retreat

The sizeable schoolyard, lined on two sides with bushy evergreens, has playground equipment for guest families with younger kids, and is home to an assortment of wildlife including rabbits, pheasants and several other types of birds. The landscape on all sides of the retreat home is surrounded by scenic sloping farm fields and an occasional farmstead. One can see for miles in almost every direction. About the only outdoor noises to be heard in this tranquil setting are birds, a few vehicles passing on a paved and a gravel road, and an occasional train in the distance.

Don and Nancy Cruise

Don and Nancy Cruise are the founders and operators of the Prairie School Retreat. They established the retreat several years ago as a secluded, peaceful place for individuals or families involved in vocational Christian ministry to come to rest, relax and be refreshed. The Cruises have a great interest in and heart for the welfare of people. I have always benefited from their kind, generous hospitality and service.

Prairie School Retreat Living Room
Prairie School Retreat Living Room

Another person to whom I owe a debt of gratitude when it comes to my annual writing retreat is my wife Leeta. She fully, willingly supports my getting away for this yearly time of focused writing, knowing how important it is to me. She always sends me off with more food than I can possibly eat during the two weeks away – including casseroles and other home-cooked meals which I just need to heat up in the oven or microwave. I have to be careful not to gain a pound or two while on my retreat as a result of enjoying all those nice meals a little too much!

David Livingstone at middle age

I’m currently in the process of revising an extensive biography I’ve written on the life and ministry of David Livingstone, the eminent pioneer missionary and explorer to Africa.  Revising a section of that work was the sole focus of this year’s writing retreat. The Lord greatly blessed my retreat with health and strength, travel safety, few distractions and many supportive individuals. For all those blessings I’m truly thankful.

I’d like to close this feature by sharing a special providential blessing that God granted during my recent retreat. This blessing occurred in the middle of the first week of the retreat. Here’s what I wrote about the blessing (which was clearly a “God thing”) in an email to our congregation the day after it happened:

Some David Livingstone resource books used during this retreat

“I tried to be careful to bring all the resource materials (research books) that I would need during this retreat. Yesterday just before noon I discovered to my chagrin that somehow I had left back in Aurora [the town where I live] one of the primary resource books which would be needed throughout the remainder of my retreat. That book is so important to this portion of the revision process I immediately concluded I would need to drive to Aurora then back here (spending nine hours of time and $40 of gas) in order to have it to use during the rest of my time here.

Prairie School Retreat Kitchen and Dining Room
Prairie School Retreat Kitchen and Dining Room

“The couple who own and operate this ministry retreat home had been away visiting relatives in recent weeks and were driving back home from Kansas yesterday. I phoned to let them know of my unexpected round-trip to Aurora and back, so they would know why I wasn’t here when they arrived at their home (otherwise I knew they would wonder and be concerned). This thought had not even crossed my mind, but they “just happened” to be about thirty miles from Aurora, so volunteered to pick up the book as they passed by Aurora and bring it to me. Leeta gave them the book, they dropped it off to me late yesterday afternoon, and I started using it last night.  I’m so grateful to the Lord, Don & Nancy Cruise and Leeta for working all that out, thus saving me considerable time and expense which would have otherwise been spent in making a trip to Aurora and back.  If I had discovered the missing book even an hour or two later than I did, this providential connection would have been missed and I would have needed to make the roundtrip.”

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie