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May 01, 2009
This morning I cracked the cover of a new biography—one I spied while browsing the book tables at The Gospel Coalition Conference. It is titled The Life of Rowland Hill: The Second Whitefield and is written by Tim Shenton, a school teacher in England who has several previous biographies to his credit. Dr. Joel Beeke wrote the Foreword and he says this: “Here is biography at its best. Shenton marvellously brings Rowland Hill to life in a balanced and objective way, neither minimizing his remarkable set of gifts nor hiding his destructive blemishes.”
It is only the rare and exceptional biography that can seem to bring its subject to life. If you have read Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards you may have felt, by the end, that you had actually met Edwards—that you actually knew him. The same is true of McCullough’s John Adams and, from what I’ve heard, of his Truman. Some authors have the ability to bring a person to life, to allow you to meet him, even from beyond the grave.
And this is the task of a biographer, isn’t it? His task is to take a person who is unavailable, usually because he is a historical figure who has long since died, and give you a taste of who that person was. A biography that relates no more than cold facts about a person is so much less satisfying than a biography that gives you the man himself.
I paused for a few moments this morning to thank God that we do not need a biography of Jesus. Rowland Hill died 176 years ago. All we can know about him now is what history has recorded of him. His biographer offers 48 pages of end notes, sources, and bibliography—the resources he has had to use to get to know his subject and to attempt to bring him to life in this book’s pages. Jesus died just about 2,000 years ago and a biographer could offer tens of thousands of pages of end notes, sources and bibliography of all that has written about Jesus. At the end of the gospel of John, the Apostle said “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Neither could the world contain all that has been written about Jesus since that day.
Yet we need no biography of Jesus. We have no need of a biographer who can make Jesus come alive. When Jesus ascended to his Father, he sent his Spirit to be his witness. He sent forth the Spirit in his name to testify about himself. Rowland Hill died but did not send anyone to bear witness to him. It is only through the skilled biographer that he can seem to come to life. But Jesus, he died and rose and even today is alive. He is the one man who died, but who has no need for any biographer to bring him back to life. He is, and remains, and will always be, alive!