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5 Must-Read Biographies

W. Robertson Nicoll, a famous author in his own right, once said, “I have for years read every biography I could lay my hands on, and not one has failed to teach me something.”  When he died there were more than 5,000 biographies found in his personal library!  Perhaps we have too quickly assumed that the reading of biography was simply reading for hobby, when in fact it is reading for help.  The lives of great men become our classroom; their successes and failures our teachers.

It is understandable that one man’s “favorite” is not always another man’s favorite.  The timing of the reading of a book is often most important.  At many junctures in my life God has used a biography to shed some light on my own path.  As you read the life of George Mueller of Bristol you discover that biographies were a key in his own experience with the Lord.

My habit has been to season other reading with some regular reading of biography.  This “light” reading has often brought great blessing to me.  The following list is not exhaustive in any way.  It is personal.  Here are biographies that have encouraged me and I recommend them with the hope that they may help you as well…

  • Borden of Yale by Mrs. Howard Taylor

I read this classic for the first time when I was twenty-five years of age – the same age that William Borden finished his course on this earth.  It profoundly affected my life.  Here was a life of “no reserve…no retreat…and no regret.”  The world called Borden a fool but this young man had learned that “he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:17).  The book is full of Scriptural nuggets (like the footnote on page 122!) that are worth the price of the book.

(For years this book was out of print.  Crown Christian Publications has now reprinted the book in its original format through their Crown Christian Classics Series.  You may order this and other titles here.)

  • George Muller of Bristol by A.T. Pierson

Pierson’s account of this man of faith is rich.  The author gives an overview of Muller’s remarkable life, but also spiritual observations and reflections about the principles that his life was built upon.  This is the kind of book that you don’t just read quickly.  Read it meditatively.  Ponder on a few pages during your daily quiet time.  Pray your way through it.  God’s way is revealed “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17).  Allow this man’s example of faith to encourage your own!

  • Abandoned to God by David McCaslandphoto

Millions regularly read Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest but few know the life behind it.  McCasland tells the story of Chambers from Scotland to London.  He records the travels and ministry of this Bible teacher in America and Japan.  The book shows the work of his Bible Institute and final war-time labors with the YMCA in Egypt.  The title of the book is enough reason to recommend it!  Chambers truly was a man Abandoned to God.

  • All Things for Good – The Steadfast Fidelity of Stonewall Jackson by J. Steven Wilkins

It is not just the lives of pastors and missionaries that make a difference.  Biographies of men like William Wilberforce and Winston Churchill have made a deep impact on me.  One such story is the life of General Thomas J. Jackson.  This book is full of military strategy and historical interest, but the greatest portion relates to the Christian character found in this gentle man.  The record of his last moments and final words will stay with you.  He lived and died by Romans 8:28.

  • The Shadow of the Broad Brim by Richard Ellsworth Day

Like so many good books I have read through the years, this volume was reprinted and recommended to me by my Pastor, Clarence Sexton.  His affection for Charles Spurgeon has been contagious.  Day’s biographies of Spurgeon, Moody, Finney, John Jasper and others will stir your heart.  The present recommendation is one of the finest surveys of the life of “the prince of preachers” that has ever been penned.

Good biography is both instructional and inspirational.  While I enjoy reading all types of books, I most enjoy reading biography because of what it does for my heart.  The story of God working in and through others stirs my soul to believe Him for more in my own life.  My prayer is that these noble lives will affect yours as well.

10 Books to Read This Year

One of the men who works in our ministry came to me a few days ago.  He has determined to do more reading this year.  Personally I believe this is a worthy goal for all of us!  As I have done so many times to others, my friend asked if I could recommend several books that would be worthwhile to read.

old-books-11281939505MsrnHere is the list that I gave to him.  Perhaps it will be of some encouragement to you as well.  Solomon was accurate when he observed, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).  You cannot read everything.  You should not.  Recommendations have often helped me to know what books to read, what books to skim, and what books to avoid.

There is no substitute for the Bible.  Yet books are helpful tools for personal growth.  (Read more about the discipline of reading and the developing of a library here.)  Paul asked Timothy to “bring…the books” (2 Timothy 4:13).  Choose the books that influence you carefully.

While I have learned that what affects others does not always affect me the same way, the following books have been used of God in my life and I pray they will be in yours…

  • They Found the Secret by V. Raymond Edman.  This biographical sketch of men and women who learned the secret of the Spirit-filled life has been a special blessing to me.  Edman was a missionary statesman and a spiritual man.  This book will instruct and inspire.  God used it to open my eyes to what I have in Christ.
  • Disciplines of a Godly Man by R Kent Hughes.  A pastor friend gave me a copy of this book several years ago.  It is a book to read and reread.  Discipline touches the inner man, relationships, character in every area of life, and Hughes shows the connection with each.  This is not exclusively for men but it is especially applicable to them.
  • 50 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren W. Wiersbe.  This volume combines several earlier books written by Wiersbe.  It contains a wide variety of people and provides a wonderful overview of their lives and ministries.  One distinctive of this book is that it serves as a resource for other good books.  Wiersbe highlights both the authors that influenced these men and women and writings that they themselves produced.
  • Tally Ho the Fox by Herb Hodges.  Few people know Hodges or this powerful book, but it is one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. It is a call to return to the New Testament pattern of making disciples as a way of life.  It is not just for preachers; it is for every believer.
  • The Making of a Man of God by Alan Redpath.  While most contemporary literature is consumed with making leaders and making success stories, Redpath’s study of the life of David reveals how God makes His men.  This is a heart searching book and must be read prayerfully.
  • The Example of Jesus Christ by James Stalker.  Stalker was a a Scotsman and a prolific writer.  His best known work is on The Life of Jesus Christ.  The Example of Jesus Christ examines how Christ serves as the perfect example for believers in every area of life.  Stalker writes thoughtfully and he makes the reader think.
  • In Tune with Heaven by Vance Havner.  This collection of Havner’s articles for the Charlotte Observer is one of the finest devotional books you will ever read.  Havner uses Scripture, history, nature, and life experience to teach deep spiritual truths. It is a pleasure to read and very convicting.
  • Point Man by Steve Farrar.  Anything written by Farrar is helpful to husbands and fathers.  He writes to strengthen the home and is enjoyable to read.  This book is a classic on a man’s God-appointed responsibility to lead his family.
  • Power through Prayer by E.M. Bounds.  There are many books on prayer that I have benefited from but none have warmed my heart like Bounds.  This little book should be read again and again.  It will keep your soul stirred to seek the Lord.
  • The Saving Life of Christ by Major W. Ian Thomas.  One of my dear friends gave me a copy of this book years ago.  It is a powerful read for every Christian.  Thomas’ book on The Indwelling Life of Christ is also very helpful.

Most of these books for the new year are not new at all.  Many of them have been proven over time to be a continual blessing.  The list is not exhaustive and the recommendations are not endorsements of every thing these men have every written.  It is my prayer that you will join me and my friend this year as we seek to “give attendance to reading” (1 Timothy 4:13) those things that will make us more the men God saved us to become.

For additional recommendations see Pastor Clarence Sexton’s recommended book list here.

A Few Thoughts on Books

As a boy my parents encouraged me to read.  Without such encouragement, television, video games, and other distractions are apt to keep a young person away from the riches found in a good book.  My sixth grade teacher took a special interest in me.  Mr. Hess would often have me stand before my classmates and read aloud a book that he had chosen.  Little did I realize at the time that he was both instilling in me a greater love for books and helping to develop the skill of reading publicly.  This has served me as well as any class I ever took.  My uncle who has been preaching for many years has always been a lover of books.  I remember as a young man walking into his library and being enthralled with the massive collection of both new and old books.  Through the years he has constantly challenged me by his example not just to buy books but to read them.

For the last 17 years I have been under the ministry of a man who is a voracious reader.  Pastor Sexton has recommended more good books to me than anyone. He is always reading, always digging.  This has been a source of inspiration to me to not be content with what I have learned.  Early on, I made the mistake of buying books just to buy them.  I have learned that it is not the size of the library that matters, but the careful, well chosen one.  Reading has become a favorite pastime and one of the means of keeping my own soul fresh.

With the surge in internet resources and ebooks it can be overwhelming to wade through the number of books on the market.  Many of our Crown College students have no doubt taken as their life verse, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).  It should be remembered that books are tools, resources available to aid us in our journey.  May I offer a few thoughts which have been a great help to me…

1.  Never allow reading books, no matter how good, to distract you from a daily time of reading the Scriptures.

There is no substitute for the Bible and the Bible should not be read like any other book.  When the Apostle Paul was about to die he sent for Timothy.  In 2 Timothy 4:13 he requested that Timothy bring three things with him.  He asked for his cloke (something for his body).  He asked for his books (something for his soul).  It has always intrigued me that a man nearing the end of his journey still wanted to read and study.  But finally, he asked for the parchments – “especially the parchments” (something for his spirit).  The books were important but the Word of God was paramount.

2.  Measure every book by the Word of God.  Do not accept everything as truth simply because it is in print.

3.  Ask God to help you discern which books to read ponderingly, which ones to breeze through, and which ones not to read at all.

4.  Keep books accessible wherever you are so that you can read whenever you have a few free moments.

5.  Look for the great emphases of each book.  Glean all you can.

6.  Read with a pen in hand.  Mark great truths and jot down thoughts that come to your mind as you read.

7.  Read books on a variety of subjects.  Be as broad as possible.  Remember, there is a difference between reading for hobby and reading for help.  Avoid the temptation to only read about the subjects that you enjoy.

8.  Read several books at one time and you will likely read more.

9.  Learn authors – who to read, who to read carefully, who not to read.

10.  Read old books and new books.  Do not discount the benefit of either but remember that dead authors do not change their positions.

11.  Ask others to recommend good books to you.  Just because it is their favorite book does not mean it will be yours but it will save you a lot of time and money.

12.  Read books that really speak to you again and again.

13.  Learn to enjoy reading by simply doing it.

14.  Be careful about giving a wholesale recommendation  of a book or author.  Remember that authors may be strong on one subject but weak on another.

15.  Make a list of good books or authors on frequently studied subjects.

16.  Put your name in the front of your books and keep up with them.

17.  Write down when you loan a book and be sure to get it back.

18.  Catalog your books for easy reference.  Keep them organized and you will always know where to find them.

19.  Keep a list of books you want to get when you can.

20.  Take care of the books you have.  Be a good steward and you may be able to pass them on to others someday.

In addition to our College Library, we have a Pastor’s Study on our campus with several thousand books for preachers to use when they visit.  One bookcase is filled with the private library of Dr. Lee Roberson.  Recently I took a few minutes to look through many of his favorites.  They were well used and well marked.  It has been often said that readers are leaders.  This is not always true.  But it is true that effective leaders are always growing, always working on themselves.  Few things accomplish this like a good book.

Perhaps the best recommended reading list I could point you to is one that my Pastor has compiled.  You can access it at http://faithforthefamily.com/resources/pastors-book-list/.  If you have a good book to recommend I would love to hear your thoughts.