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biography

May 02, 2009

Last week I read a short biography of John and Betty Stam, missionary martyrs to China. Stay tuned for a review. In that book, written by Vance Christie, was a poem and the story that inspired it. I thought I’d share that today.

*****

The poem, entitled “Afraid?” was written by Presbyterian missionary E.H. Hamilton following the recent martyrdom of one of his colleagues, J.W. Vinson, at the hands of rebel soldiers in northern China. A small Chinese girl who escaped from the bandits related the incident that provided the inspiration for Hamilton’s poem.

“Are you afraid?” the bandits asked Vinson as they menacingly waved a gun in front of him.

“No,” he replied with complete assurance. “If you shoot, I go straight to heaven.”

His decapitated body was found later.

Afraid? Of what?
To feel the spirit’s glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace,
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid? Of that?

Afraid? Of what?
Afraid to see the Saviour’s face,
To hear His welcome, and to trace,
The glory gleam from wounds of grace,
Afraid? Of that?

Afraid? Of what?
A flash - a crash - a pierced heart;
Brief darkness - Light - O Heaven’s art!
A wound of His a counterpart!
Afraid? Of that?

Afraid? Of what?
To enter into Heaven’s rest,
And yet to serve the Master blessed?
From service good to service best?
Afraid? Of that?

Afraid? Of what?
To do by death what life could not -
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
Afraid? Of that?

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!

June 28, 2008

Heaven Without HerI came very close to tossing this book away. With so many books coming my way these days, I need to move assess them quickly, determining which are worth a closer look and which are not. I cannot read them all. In this case, I saw the cover, I saw the title, I skimmed the back and thought “not likely.” But then I noticed that the author had included a little note inside. There she drew my attention to a couple of the endorsements that she felt would be meaningful to me—namely, Nancy Pearcey and Mark Buchanan, both authors whose works I am fond of. As I looked further I saw that it is also endorsed by Ray Comfort. Based on all of this I decided I would read it. And I’m glad I did.

Heaven Without Her is a memoir. It is the life story of Kitty Foth-Regner, who, until the year 2000, was living exactly the life she wanted for herself as an ardent feminist. She owned her own business, and a rather successful one at that, had a live-in boyfriend whom she loved, and owned a house with a beautiful garden. It was all she had ever wanted. But when she learned that her mother had a terminal illness and as she watched her mother succumb to death, her heart was stirred with questions of eternity. Was there something to her mother’s Christian faith, or was that faith really nothing more than wistful delusions?

Kitty set out to determine what was true. Her searching took her through most of the world’s major religions (and a few more). She saw quickly how each of them failed to offer good answers and true comfort. All but one, that is. As she explored Christianity through the guidance of sound pastors and theologians, she found a faith that offered answers to the toughest questions. She found a God who loved her as He had loved her mother before.

In this book, Foth-Regner documents hear search. In a fun and narrative style, she describes how the Bible answered all of her questions and how her heart was first convicted, then convinced, and finally renewed. The unthinkable happened—she became a Christian, and this despite so many years of feminism and agnosticism. Her old passions and desires fell away and were replaced with new ones; holy ones.

Heaven Without Her is a valuable read and I think an important one. i consider it an important apologetic work. Sure it presents truths that have been written in other books over and over again, but rarely have they been written in so readable a style. The innovation here is not so much the content as the style and its readily accessible format. This is an ideal book to give to a person who may have questions about the Christian faith. For that person who seems to be seeking or searching, this is a book that can provide answers and can show how God has worked in the life of another of His children. Despite my initial apprehension, having read the book I now highly recommend it.

(Interestingly, Amazon shows that people who bought this book have also bought Same Kind of Different As Me, another fantastic memoir. I recommend them both!)

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