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John MacArthur: Servant of the Word & Flock

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I have a deep respect for John MacArthur. I admire the man himself, having met him several times; I admire the teacher, having had many opportunities to sit under his teaching; I admire the writer, having had his books (literally) change my life; I admire the leader, having spent a lot of time with the people he surrounds himself with–always an interesting means of finding the measure of a man. MacArthur is a man who has been used by God in amazing and unexpected ways. He is the subject of a new biography penned by Iain Murray whose previous subjects include Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Pink and Jonathan Edwards.

Writing this biography did not occur to Murray until he was asked to preach at Grace Community Church on the fortieth anniversary of MacArthur’s ministry at that church. He says, “I sensed that some comment by me on the ministry we were commemorating would be appropriate, but how to address that subject was not at first clear to me.” Wanting to use the pulpit to preach, Murray settled for writing a 60-page biographical sketch. However, he knew that 60 pages could not do justice to the man, so he went ahead and followed it with this full-length biography.

He admits that even now this biography is little more than a start. “It is not the time for a full biography while a person’s life is still in progress. John’s ambition is to minister the Word of God to the end of his life.” A full evaluation of his life will have to wait until all of the evidence is in. But for now, Murray has written an engaging and informative biography. Though it may not tell the full story, it certainly tells a fascinating one.

Of course, though MacArthur is the subject of this book, he is not its hero. I could not say this better than MacArthur himself:

When I started in ministry, I committed myself to expository preaching, just explaining the Bible, because I knew that there was nothing I could say that was anywhere near as important as what God had to say. The real goal of ministry has always been to keep my own opinions out of it as much as possible. I never want to be guilty of giving people the illusion that they have heard from God when in fact they have only heard from me. When I step into the pulpit, the expectation is that I’m a messenger of God. I speak on His behalf, not my own.

For more than 40 years he has sought to speak of the Lord and to bring glory to him. This is shown clearly in the story of his life. The son and grandson of preachers, MacArthur was destined for the pulpit. What sets him apart, as far as I can see, is not sheer skill or force of personality, but simply a deep submission to God and a deep desire to know him through his Word. It is this lifelong commitment to immersing himself in the Bible that has made him the man, the preacher, the author, the leader that he is. There is no trick to it.

Through the 250 pages of this book, Murray looks at MacArthur’s life, ministry, family, travels and books. He even speaks a little bit about what MacArthur’s legacy may be. Through it all he offers a very personal portrait, drawing the reader into the life of his subject. I’ve often said there are biographies that make you feel like you know about the subject and biographies that make you feel like you actually know the subject. This one falls squarely in the latter category, surely the mark of a superior biographer.

Speaking personally, I can attest that I enjoyed this book thoroughly. It moved me to praise and gratitude–gratitude to God for blessing the church with this man whose ministry has so powerfully impacted not only the thousands who call him pastor, but the millions who have encountered him largely or exclusively through his books, his sermons or his radio program. Murray makes it clear that all that MacArthur is, all that he has accomplished, is due to the One he serves. And I know that MacArthur would agree.

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