Results tagged “Biography” from Reformation21 Blog

New Vos Biography


Our friends at the Reformed Forum have recently published a quality hardback biography of the father of Reformed biblical theology, Geerhardus Vos, by Danny Olinger. Danny is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as general secretary for the OPC committee on Christian education. You can find out more about this wonderful new volume here. A promotional video about it is available here.

Tolle lege!

Forgiveness is the Key


When Jesus commands us to forgive those who have sinned against us, we have a tendency to question just how far he would have us go with extending such forgiveness. Surely the Savior didn't have Corrie ten Boom forgiving those who cruelly persecuted her and her family--those who were responsible for the deaths of some of her closest family members--in mind, did he?

Yet, he so clearly teaches, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25).

Until World War II, Corrie ten Boom had lived peacefully in her home in the Netherlands with her father and sister, Betsie. When the war broke out, Corrie and her family began hiding Jews in her father's home. Betrayed by a fellow countryman, the family was sent to prison where her father died. After being separated for a time, Corrie and Betsie ended up in the same place in Germany, the notorious prison camp--Ravensbruck.

Sadly, Betsie also died while in the camp, her body unable to tolerate any more of the poor conditions and cruel treatment. After a clerical error, Corrie left Ravensbruck and returned to Holland.

No one would have blamed Corrie if she had never returned to Germany. It was a miracle that she left Ravensbruck alive. But it was Betsie who suggested that they someday would, in fact, return. One night, in Ravensbruck, while lying face to face on a small cot, Betsie shared what she knew God had told her: that they would be back to share the love of Jesus. Even under Corrie's protest, Betsy insisted God would take away the bitterness and fill their hearts with God's love.

As Corrie rested her hand on Betsie's beating heart, she realized how close her sister's heart was to God's. Corrie wrote, "Only God could see in such circumstances the possibility for ministry in the future-ministry to those who even now were preparing to kill us."

After Betsie died, Corrie returned to Germany in order to bring the message of God's love and forgiveness to those left behind in war torn Germany just a few short years after her miraculous release from Ravensbruck.

When she had finished her talk, a man came forward to speak with her. Corrie recognized him to have been a guard in the prison camp, a man she described as "one of the most cruel guards."

He complimented her speech and proceeded to offer her a handshake. He did not seem to remember Corrie, when he told her that he was once a guard at Ravensbruck. He explained that the Lord had taken a hold of his life and he was now a Christian. He said he knew God had forgiven him, but he would like to hear that Corrie also had forgiven him.

Corrie describes the scene in her book Tramp for the Lord:

"It could not have been many seconds that he stood there--hand held out--but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it--I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who had injured us. 'If you do not forgive men their trespasses,' Jesus says, 'neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.'

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion--I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. 'Jesus, help me!' I prayed silently. 'I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.'

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

'I forgive you, brother!' I cried. 'With all my heart.'

For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely, as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5, 'because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.'"

What a story! What a vivid portrayal of God's miraculous work of grace in the hearts of His people! It is a lifelong work in progress. Even after being able to forgive a cruel Nazi guard through the Holy Spirit, Corrie says "I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me and on to others. But they don't." At eighty years old, Corrie still knew that she must draw fresh from God each day for good feelings and behaviors. Forgiveness is a miracle that we must ask God to work in our hearts each day.

Corrie summarized this best when she wrote: "Forgiveness is the key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. The forgiveness of Jesus not only takes away our sins, it makes them as if they had never been."


A Beautiful Scandal


There is a lot to like about the story of John Newton. And Simonetta Carr and Amal tell and illustrate it beautifully (Reformation Heritage Books, 2018). Newton first told the story himself in an 18th century best-seller. A young man with a dead mother and hard-to-please father pursues riches and adventure at sea. After several brushes with death Newton--who married the love of his life--left the sea to pursue poetry and preaching. Along the way he adopted needy relatives, and hosted struggling writers; he even befriended a few domesticated hares. Just months before his death he received news that warmed his soul: the British slave trade, against which he had fought for decades, had been abolished.

But another fact about Newton nearly ruins the story. He himself had been a slave trader. As both captain of a slave ship and later as an investor in the same, Newton profited from the sale of human beings. He willingly participated in the inexcusable degradation of precious lives of people created in the image of God. He is responsible for the misery and death of unknown scores of beautiful people.

Newton, the slave-trader who died as a well-respected minister in the Church of England, is the perfect picture of the kind of person we naturally hate.

The obvious questions flood our minds. How could such a vile person regain the dignity he lost in a dirty trade with the devil? Is it possible that the God who grieved over the death of Newton's victims could ever smile upon that lost, blind, guilty wretch? Could anyone like Newton be spared the eternal consequence of damnation for his sins? How could such a man get a second chance at life? And why should any of us care about his sin-ravaged story?

John Newton had racked up more moral debt than he could ever repay. His only hope was for God's Son to own Newton's sins and give him a righteousness that satisfied divine justice. Newton heard this message of hope in the gospel, the Bible's plainest theme. And by a heaven-sent faith he believed it and received new life in God.

Newton summarized his paradoxical life in his famous hymn. "Amazing grace!--how sweet the sound--that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see."

Newton's story is a beautiful scandal. Like Paul, he increasingly woke to the nightmare of his sin personified by the beautiful black faces of his victims. But God's grace had introduced a new reality: undeserved pardon. The man who should have died a thousand deaths for his sin died at peace in the hope of new life because of the single death of the Savior Jesus.

That story isn't just good news for Newton. It is the only relief for the rest of us whose sins are not as unlike Newton's as we would have others believe.

Read Simonetta Carr's John Newton. Weep over his sins and yours. And with Newton sing with the hope that God's word secures:

And when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil a life of joy and peace.

William Boekestein Pastors Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI. His latest book is A Colorful Past: A Coloring Book of Church History.

Theology for Beggars (Part 1)


On February 19th the "scrawny shrimp," as he was affectionately called, stood startled, as his lecture on Romans was interrupted by news no one wanted to hear. Hardly able to gather himself, Philip Melanchthon tearfully announced to his students assembled in the great hall at Lutherhause, "Ach, obiit auriga et currus Israel!" (Alas, the charioteer of Israel has fallen!")

Biographer Roland Bainton suggests Martin Luther had done the work of five men in his lifetime. By February 18th, 1546, it caught up with him. Returning from a trip to Eisleben, marked by weeks of efforts to reconcile two brother counts of Mansfeld, his heart was failing him. The weather had been terribly disagreeable. This didn't help. Luther, admittedly feeling his age and frailty, wearily took ill. As the story goes, his companions managed to find lodging for him in a nearby house. His condition worsening, one of them asked, "Dr. Luther, do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught." Breaking his labored breathing of prayer and scriptures, a distinct "Ya!" leaped from his lips. Between 2-3am, Luther died a good death - full circle, in the very town in which he was born 62 years prior.

One of the most telling pieces to this dramatic conclusion to a dramatic earthly journey is a note Luther scratched out just two days earlier. Knowing his dire condition, he penned something of a humble epilogue to his life, churchmanship, the Scripture he adored, and the "doctrine he had taught:"

"No one can understand Virgil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has spent five years as a shepherd or farmer. No one understands Cicero in his letters unless he has served under an outstanding government for twenty years. No one should believe that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has spent one hundred years leading churches with the prophets. That is why: 1. John the Baptist, 2, Christ, 3. The Apostles were a prodigious miracle. Do not profane this divine Aeneid, but bow down to it and honor its vestiges."1

This note, which Luther wrote in Latin, is concluded by a burst of German, "Wir sind alle Bettler." Then--resuming the Latin--Luther wrote, "Hoc est verum."   ("We are all beggars. This is true.")

2017 is the year of all things Luther, as we mark the 500th anniversary of the day that often ostentatious Augustinian monk walked the better part of a mile, from the University of Wittenberg to the door of the Schlosskirche, and posted his Ninety-Five Theses. The door was often used for making public notice of academic and religious matters. In one sense, this was no different from other such postings. In another sense--as history shows--nothing would ever be the same.

Having traced Luther's steps in Wittenberg on a tour through Germany many years ago, I have often thought about that rather straight mile as just one part of an expansive trajectory of a beggarly theology. Amidst the bustle around various celebratory Lutherpaloozas and conferences, books, t-shirts, and even a Playmobile Martin Luther action figure (yes, I am a proud owner of one), we honor him best by reminding ourselves we are, indeed, beggars, and that true theologians are theologians of the cross, humbled at the surprising notion of God's glory revealed in weakness.

When I went to the sites of Luther's life all those years ago, I took my prized first edition of Bainton's Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. I carried it around, from the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, where monk Luther trembled and stumbled through his first mass, to the Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament from Greek to German and effectively placed the Reformation in the laps of milkmaids and cobblers. I suppose in my mind I was adding to the specialness of my copy of Here I Stand by reading it, town to town, where it all happened.

I want to welcome you to walk with me this year as I share my interest in some of the books that have helped me--select biographies old and new (in which there will be more honesty than mere hagiography), theological analyses (accessible to academic), sources primary and secondary, that give us a taste of the gospel bread for which Luther lived his life learning to beg. We will pause along the way to consider some of the contours of Luther's thought in the context of his own life and ministry. The door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg opened the way to a disputation in Heidelberg some six months later in April of 1518, better showing us the beggarliness of a theology grounded in suffering and the cross. The stand that Luther took at Worms led to the Scripture that he translated at Wartburg. That, quite literally, is just the beginning. There is much more to see along the way!

In the next post, we will consider some volumes that help make up a good "starter kit" for building a Luther library. Until then, if you've already read Bainton, even if not while enjoying pizza at the little cafe across from the Theses-engraved doors at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, then let me suggest you now move on to Carl Trueman's Luther on the Christian Life.

1. See Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) p. 166

Griffith Who???

Griffith John was a contemporary of Hudson Taylor in China. One of theses two men is well known all over the globe--and has been an inspiration to the Christian church ever since--while the other has been all but forgotten.

Griffith was brought up in the same Chapel as I was in Swansea, South Wales and the author of this new biography taught me in school (though that isn't the reason why I'm commending the book). 

Griffith John deserves to be remembered for his sacrificial labors for the sake of the Gospel; and, Evangelical Press are to be commended for commissioning this biography in their series of Bitesize Biographies.

Griffith John exercised a remarkable pioneer ministry for 50 years in China and his desire to reach the unreached remained with him throughout his life. He returned to Britain in 1911 and left behind him many churches with a combined membership of over 100,000 Christians and yet, in all likelihood, you've never heard of him.

Two particular things stand our for me from this biography. First a quote from the start of his ministry:

"There is a glorious work before me. When looking at it, I cannot but rejoice, but with trembling. It is both humbling and cheering.  Oh that I could but feel that I am not my own, and that I am thoroughly consecrated to God. How difficult  it is to get rid of selifishness. The drunkard may set aside his drunkenness, the blasphemer his blasphemy, his curses and oaths, but it is almost impossible  to destroy self and live, to be and not to be at the same time. Self clings to us wherever we go; we find it with us in all our engagements, however sacred they may be. This is the great demon that continually seeks the mastery over us, the old Adam that perpetually speaks within us and driving us from God and goodness. Oh, could I but feel as Paul felt when he said, 'To me to live is Christ'." (p.18)

Griffith John was obviously a man of considerable ability and yet he's not known. John Aaron draws out that Griffith John was not unaware of the influence he could have in Wales for someone with his abilities, at a time when preachers were rock stars. He writes:

"'But he turned his back on it all, and chose a land where he would be an utter novice and a complete unknown...Looking back, he described his experience:

'It was during my stay in Brecon that I began to think seriously of the  missionary work and its claims. I entered college with two things in mind -  a higher and a lower. The higher desire was to serve man and to glorify God; the lower was the desire to become one of the great preachers of Wales. The higher desire was there all the time and occupied, I hope, the  highest place; but the lower was  there also and occupying, I am bound to say, no mean place. When, however, the missionary desire  came in and took full possession of my heart, the lower desire was driven out, and driven out never to return again. That was a great victory, one of the greatest victories ever won on the arena  of my heart and one for which I never ceased to feel truly thankful to God'"(p.140/141)
The book is a remarkable reminder that to bury yourself in the work that God has given to you can have huge ramifications for the work of the gospel.

EP have done a limited print run because who wants who wants to read a biography of an unknown!?! But I'd encourage you to get in touch with them so this man who God, used so powerfully, might be better known. 

"The Excellent Benjamin Keach"

Excellent Benjamin Keach (Walker) 2a.jpgWould you allow me to draw your attention to a book? It is my father's work, and concerns a man that you may not know, a seventeenth century Baptist called Benjamin Keach. Keach was one of the movers and shakers of the century, a prominent London Baptist who faced fierce persecution but also saw sweet blessings. He was a pastor of the church which can be traced to the one meeting today at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Might I also say that it is not just a tale for Baptists or historians, though both would find it delightful. His example as a man who wrestled toward truth, stood fast in accordance with his convictions, was prepared to suffer for the cause of Christ, and served the Lord and his people faithfully and fruitfully, makes him a worthy study for any Christian, perhaps especially any pastor.

This is a revised second edition of what is now the standard work on the life of this Baptist pastor and preacher, taking account of research conducted since the original publication. It is up at the publisher's website, and it is available in hardback ( / and paperback ( / and now has the virtue of an index, making it more useful to scholars. I strongly recommend it.

"Through the Eyes of Spurgeon"

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon small.png
Stephen McCaskell's fine biographical film, Through the Eyes of Spurgeon, surveying the life and ministry of 'the Prince of Preachers,' will drop this Thursday (18 Dec) at 12:00am CST, when it will be streamed live here. If you head over to that website, you will find all the information you need for viewing, ordering DVDs, and the like. Enjoy!