My friend Allen Rea is always reading inspiring Christian biographies, and I often ask him for recommendations. Frankly, although I read a lot, I do not read many biographies. But Allen inspired me to pick some up.
For example, I’m currently reading a biography of Robert Chapman, who became influential among the Plymouth Brethren. Apparently, C. H. Spurgeon called Chapman “the saintliest man I ever knew.” To be perfectly honest, his biography is not particularly exciting.
Chapman led a quiet life, pastoring a church in a quiet part of England. There is very little “action” in his story—no big ministry “successes” to boast about (no miracles, or crusades, or multitudes coming to faith).
If anything, his story is an example of being a loving presence during painful times of church splits and divisions within the Plymouth Brethren movement.
However, through his gentle admonitions and acts of hospitality, Chapman influenced other men whom God used in public ways—men such as J. N. Darby, Hudson Taylor, Anthony Norris Groves, and George Muller. Although Chapman’s biography isn’t stirring, it is convicting. I find myself wanting to love people the way he did.
In talking about the subject of Christian biographies, a friend said that pastors should not want to be remembered, but instead should just preach the gospel and be forgotten.
Is that right? Should Christian preachers, teachers, missionaries, pastors, and so on, be forgotten? Is it a sign of humility to want to go unnoticed?
I’m not so sure.
In fact, I lean towards the opposite conclusion.
There are numerous commands in the Bible to the effect that each one of us should be an example to the people around us:
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Tim 4:12).
In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified (Titus 2:7 NASB).
Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Pet 2:12).
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt 5:16).
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us (Phil 3:17 ESV).
Based on these verses (and many others), does God want your life to go unnoticed? Does He want it to be forgotten? And does God want you to forget how other Christians have lived?
Or is the opposite true? Does God want your good life to be remembered, to be noticed, and to be imitated for His glory?
I think the latter is true.
Christian biographies can teach you and inspire you to live in a way that glorifies Christ. That’s by God’s design. He wants us to be lights. Although Robert Chapman died 118 years ago, through his biography, his light is still shinning. How about yours?