“A Cloud of Witnesses” is another edifying chapter in Encouragement for Today’s Pastors by Joel Beeke and Terry Slachter. The emphasis of the chapter is the practice of the Puritan pastors to gain strength and courage by feeding regularly on the biographies of believers before them. It is fitting, therefore, that we continue to look to their lives and writings for the encouragement we need today.
Whether it is the lives of the Puritans, leaders of the Reformation, or faithful believers who lived nearer to our own day, the story of another Christian’s life often lifts our eyes from our own ministries and circumstances to see something bigger. Consider eight purposes for Christian biographies.
- Christian biographies encourage us when we see how God worked in the lives of others. “Testimonies of people, such as the apostle Paul, David Brainerd (1718–1747), or John Newton (1725–1807), offer strong evidence of the almighty and enduring grace of God.”
- Christian biographies spur us onward through real-life examples. Cotton Mather wrote, “And besides Scripture examples, we should consider those whom we ourselves have known, that have faithfully served their generation: and in a special manner such faithful ministers of Christ as we have had knowledge of, and most of all, if we have lived under their ministry.”
- Christian biographies are evangelistic; that is, these books call for repentance. “James Janeway wrote Tokens for Children to rescue his young readers from their ‘miserable condition by nature’ and ‘from falling into everlasting fire.’”
- Christian biographies trace the saving work of God in the human soul. “Biographies of Christians generate in those who read them a sense of belonging to a spiritual family that transcends the centuries.”
- Christian biographies strengthens the reader’s soul with accounts of people who have exercised godliness in the midst of great sufferings and trials. “Reading about the labors and sufferings of other Christians should wake us out of our drowsy selfishness.”
- Christian biographies inspire us to proclaim ‘the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done’ (Ps. 78:4). “Biography offers us a kind of hindsight that expands beyond the narrow bounds of our own experience to see God working in history.”
- Christian biographies help pastors to serve as witnesses, tutors, and coaches by showing them how God worked through His servants in ages past. History thus becomes a textbook that warns us of dangers, while calling us to faithful service.”
- Christian biographies shed light upon the doctrinal treatises that Puritan preachers wrote or the sermons they preached. “Many of the challenges facing twenty-first-century pastors are the same, albeit in different dress, as the Puritans faced in former times. We can learn much from those who preceded us.”
Here are some Christian biographies that have blessed me:
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
- Fanny Crosby
- George Mueller
- John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock
- Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching
Also, be sure to read Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke
WTS Books has a great selection of biographies.