Tag Archives: Biography

Lay Pastors: Uneducated Implements of God

I have a theory that God delights to use uneducated men as shepherds in situations where we turn the pursuit of God into the empty traditions of religion. Here are some examples of such men:

  1. A.W. Tozer
    • Highest education: a few weeks of high school
  2. John Bunyan
    • Learned only to read and write – no formal higher education of any kind
    • Never learned Greek or Hebrew
    • “The Pilgrim’s Progress – ‘next to the Bible, perhaps the world’s best-selling book . . . translated into over 200 languages.’” -Piper
  3. Dwight Moody
    • without higher education, founded three schools;
    • without theological training, reshaped Victorian Christianity;
    • without radio or television reached 100 million people.
  4. Charles Spurgeon
    • Little formal education (some college)
    • Began preaching at 16
  5. William Carey
    • No formal education – self taught
  6. Andrew Fuller
    • Farm raised
    • “He had no formal theological training but became the leading theological spokesman for the Particular Baptists in his day.” -Piper
  7. Hudson Taylor
    • No theological education
    • Some medical education
    • Gathered missionaries which other mission societies rejected as too uneducated
  8. John Newton
    • 2 years of boarding school, after which he went to sea with his father
    • Self educated in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew
  9. David Brainerd
    • Expelled from seminary in his third year
  10. Leonard Ravenhill
    • Educated at Cliff College in England
    • Said it was advantageous for pastors to not attend Bible school
    • Yet taught himself for a time at Bethany College of Missions

John Owen (who not only attended but taught seminary) believed that the first and main purpose of all of a student’s studies and meditations is to cultivate communion with God. He says that the study of scriptures, “should always be conducted in order to learn from them our duty and, understanding that, let it proceed to practice holy communion with God as we experience to the depths of our souls the power of the Spirit mightily manifesting in us His grace and light.” Without this, he says, “our studies are useless.”

If there were seminaries which taught God-besottedness (such as Owen desired of all theological learning), I wonder if Christ’s Church would so often stand in need of uneducated lay-ministers. Regardless of my speculations, we can be confident of this: that if seminaries will not produce such men, then God will supply his Church with them out of his own stores. As Richard Baxter puts it;

As to supply of pastors, Christ will take care of that. … He who himself undertook the work of our redemption, and bore our transgressions, and hath been faithful as the chief Shepherd of the Church, will not lose all his labor and suffering for want of instruments to carry on his work … he will provide men to be his servants and ushers in his school, who shall willingly take the labor on them, and rejoice to be so emplyed, and account that the happiest life in the world which you account so great a toil, and would not exchange it for all your ease and carnal pleasure; but for the saving of souls, and the propagating of the gospel of Christ, will be content to bear the burden and heat of the day; and to fill up the measure of the sufferings of Christ in their bodies; and to work while it is day; and to do what they do with all their might; and to be the servants of all, and not to please themselves, but others, for their edification; and to become all things to all men, that they may save some; and to endure all things for the elect’s sake; and to spend and be spent for their fellow-creatures; though the more they love, the less they should be beloved, and should be accounted their enemies for telling them the truth. Such pastors will Christ provide his people, after his own heart.

Or if you prefer, consider John’s teaching to the religious teachers of his day;

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Perhaps best of all is the teaching of Jeremiah:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.

God promises to raise up the men he needs in order for his church to succeed. Sometimes he raised them through seminaries, sometimes he doesn’t. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

A Slave for Christ

Leonard Dober wondered if Jesus had thought the cross too much; then he remembered Jesus’ prayer in the garden ended, “Not my will, but yours, Father.” Leonard’s task seemed impossible, but he was pursuing God’s will and not his own.

Leonard Dober determined that God’s call to him was to reach slaves in the Virgin Islands. He planned to reach these men and women by selling himself as a slave and working alongside others each day while sharing Jesus’ love with them. The thought of being a slave frightened and sickened him. He dreaded the treatment he would receive. “But Christ was willing to die on the cross for me,” he thought. “No price is too high to serve him.”

It wasn’t the slave masters who were Dober’s harshest persecutors, but rather fellow Christians. They questioned his call to minister to slaves and ridiculed him as a fool for his plan. But Dober would not be dissuaded. He arrived in the Virgin Islands late in the 1730s.

When he became a servant in the governor’s house, he feared that this position was too far removed from the slaves to whom he had come to minister. So he left and moved from the governor’s house to a mud hut where he could work one-on-one with slaves.

In just three years, Dober’s ministry included more than thirteen thousand new converts.

Jesus freaks. That’s what the world calls those whose faith seems a bit radical. Odd. Extreme. Dober was an eighteenth century “Jesus freak”—a free man who chose to live as a slave in order to win them to Jesus. He was willing to do whatever it took to squeeze the last ounce of devotion from his heart in service to Christ. For Dober, that meant a specific plan that made sense to no one but him. Have you been written off because of your freakish refusal to go along with the majority rule? If God has called you to do something radical for him in your family, church, or community, you must obey. Let others call you crazy, but may Jesus find you committed.


The preceeding was taken from the VotM blog and can be found in the book: Extreme Devotion. As to why Dober desired to live this way, here is the man explaining his own reasoning:

Since it is desired of me to make known my reason, I can say that my disposition was never to travel during this time, but only to ground myself more steadfastly in my Savior; that when the gracious count came back from his trip to Denmark and told me about the slaves, it gripped me so that I could not get free of it. I vowed to myself that if one other brother would go with me, I would become a slave, and would tell him so, and what I had experienced from our Savior: that the word of the cross in its lowliness shows a special strength to souls. As for me, I thought: even if helpful to no one in it I could still give witness through it of obedience to our Savior! I leave it to the good judgment of the congregation and have no other ground than this I thought: that on the island there still are souls who cannot believe because they have not heard.

The Faith of George Müller

What did the faith of George Müller look like? Here is a story I found browsing around the internet:

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I went to America some years ago with the captain of a steamer, who was a very devoted Christian. When off the coast of Newfoundland he said to me, “The last time I crossed here, five weeks ago, something happened which revolutionized the whole of my Christian life. We had George Müller of Bristol on board. I had been on the bridge twenty-four hours and never left it. George Müller came to me, and said, “Captain I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec Saturday afternoon.” “It’s impossible,” I said. “Very well, if your ship cannot take me, God will find some other way. I have never broken an engagement in fifty-seven years. Let us go down into the chart-room and pray.”

I looked at that man of God, and thought to myself, what lunatic asylum can that man have come from? I never heard of such a thing as this. “Mr. Müller,” I said, “do you know how dense the fog is?” “No,” he replied, “my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.”

He knelt down and prayed one of the most simple prayers, and when he had finished I was going to pray; but he put his hand on my shoulder, and told me not to pray. “First, you do not believe He will answer; and second I believe he has, and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.”

I looked at him, and he said, “Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get audience with the King. Get up, Captain and open the door, and you will find the fog gone.” I got up, and the fog was indeed gone. On Saturday afternoon, George Müller was in Quebec for his engagement.

Müller dedicated his life to demonstrating God as faithful. What a tragedy it is that history remembers him as a man of mighty faith. Don’t come away from this story with awe of Müller but let Müller point you towards awe of God. Müller’s great faith did not make him mighty, but Müller’s weak faith showed God mighty. Towards such people as would think of Müller as a mighty man, beyond what is normally possible for God’s people, Müller says this:

I affectionately warn against being led away by the device of Satan, to think that these things are peculiar to me, and cannot be enjoyed by all the children of God; for though, as has been stated before, every believer is not called upon to establish Orphan-Houses, Charity Schools, etc., and trust in the Lord for means, yet all believers are called upon, in the simple confidence of faith, to cast all their burdens upon Him, to trust in him for every thing, and not only to make every thing a subject of prayer, but to expect answers to their petitions which they have asked according to His will, and in the name of the Lord Jesus.— Think not, dear reader, that I have the gift of faith, that is, that gift of which we read in 1 Cor. 12:9, and which is mentioned along with ” the gifts of healing,” “the working of miracles,” “prophecy,” and that on that account I am able to trust in the Lord. It is true that the faith, which I am enabled to exercise, is altogether God’s own gift; it is true that He alone supports it, and that He alone can increase it; it is true that, moment by moment, I depend upon Him for it, and that, if I were only one moment left to myself, my faith would utterly fail; but it is not true that my faith is that gift of faith which is spoken of in 1 Cor. 12:9 …

Once more, let not Satan deceive you in making you think that you could not have the same faith, but that it is only for persons who are situated as I am. When I lose such a thing as a key, I ask the Lord to direct me to it, and I look for an answer to my prayer; when a person with whom I have made an appointment does not come, according to the fixed time, and I begin to be inconvenienced by it, I ask the Lord to be pleased to hasten him to me, and I look for an answer; when I do not understand a passage of the word of God, I lift up my heart to the Lord, that He would be pleased, by His holy Spirit, to instruct me, and I expect to be taught, though I do not fix the time when, and the manner how it should be; when I am going to minister in the Word, I seek help from the Lord, and while I in the consciousness of natural inability as well as utter unworthiness, begin this His service, I am not cast down, but of good cheer, because I look for His assistance, and believe that He, for His dear Son’s sake, will help me. And thus in other of my temporal and spiritual concerns I pray to the Lord, and expect an answer to my requests; and may not you do the same, dear believing reader? Oh! I beseech you, do not think me an extraordinary believer, having privileges above other of God’s dear children, which they cannot have; nor look on my way of acting as something that would not do for other believers. Make but trial! Do but stand still in the hour of trial, and you will see the help of God, if you trust in Him.
-George Müller

When you read and hear about Müller. Know that he was a humble, poor, often full-of-doubt sinner. Yet God used him in mighty ways. Why? Because he opened his mouth. Here is Müller looking back over many years at the start of his endeavors towards the orphans:

It is now 68 years ago that my heart was greatly tried, when again and again I saw dear children losing both parents, and there was no one to take a real deep interest in their well-being.

I felt deeply for such bereaved children, and I said again and again to myself, “O I wish I had a little Orphan institution, into which I could take these children.” But the desire remained for years only a desire, though I had much prayer in connection with it. In the November of the year 1835, a particular circumstance occurred, through the instrumentality of which I was made to know how to be able to do some­thing for destitute orphans, and I began to pray more earnestly than ever I had done before that God would be pleased to guide and direct me whether I should make a beginning of a little Orphan institution. Thus I prayed month after month, and at last I came to the decision that I would do something in this way; and though it might have never so small a beginning, I would make a beginning.

Now, just reading through the whole Bible, I came, at that time, to this 81st Psalm and to this 10th verse, “I am Jehovah thy God, Who brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” When I read this verse, I shut the Bible, went to the door of my room and locked it, and then I cast myself on the floor and began to pray. I said to my Heavenly Father, “I have only asked Thee, Heavenly Father, that Thou shouldest show me whether I shall begin the Orphan work or not. Thou hast been pleased to make that plain to me, and now ‘I will open my mouth wide.’ Be pleased to ‘fill it.’ Give me, my Heavenly Father, a suitable house to begin the work; give me suitable helpers to take care of the children; and give me a thousand pounds sterling to make a beginning.

And in all God has been pleased to give me, simply in answer to prayer, £1,416,000 sterling! One million, four hundred and sixteen thousand pounds sterling, without asking a single human being! !

There is none, in this whole city, who can say that I ever asked them for a penny; there is none, in the whole of England, who can say that I ever asked them for a penny; there is none under heaven, in the whole wide world, who can say that I ever asked them for a penny. To God, and to God alone, I went; and I did this because I knew ever since my conversion that one of the greatest necessities for the Church of God at large was an increase of faith. Therefore, I deter­mined to dedicate my whole life to this one great lesson, for the Church of God to learn, and the world at large to learn: real, true, lasting dependence on God.
-George Müller

George Müller opened his mouth, and God filled it to overflowing. He will do the same to you.

John Paton's Spiritual Upbringing

If you have never heard of John Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides, I think you will really enjoy Piper’s presentation of him, it takes about an hour, and is well worth the time.

Piper on John Paton (64 minutes):

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Almost all of Piper’s materials are freely available here.

38 minutes into this talk, Piper claims the following about the origin of Paton’s spiritual character:

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His courage came from his father … And his father—I tell you after the first eighty pages of this, if you had taken it from me and ripped it to shreds and said; “See, you’ve wasted your $25.00,” I would have said; “I didn’t waste a nickel.” Five pages in this book are worth $25.00 to me. I have four sons and one daughter and I wept over these pages, and I wept last night as I read them again because I want to be a daddy like this daddy was. To produce a John Patton—he did not come out of know where—he came from a daddy and a mommy.

I also found those early pages to be exceptionally inspirational to me as a father and so I am going to post the first twenty pages of Paton’s autobiography after the jump. But first, here are some excerpts to whet your appetite:
[...]

The Conversion of David Brainerd

What follows is an account of the conversion of David Brainerd in his own words, as taken from the Life and Diary of David Brainerd which is published in Vol. 2 of The works of Jonathan Edwards.

“I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy than the contrary extreme; but do not remember any thing of conviction of sin, worthy of remark, till I was, I believe, about seven or eight years of age. Then I became concerned for my soul, and terrified at the thoughts of death, and was driven to the performance of duties: but it appeared a melancholy business, that destroyed my eagerness for play. And though, alas! this religious concern was but short-lived, I sometimes attended secret prayer; and thus lived at “ease in Zion, without God in the world,” and without much concern, as I remember, till I was above thirteen years of age. But some time in the winter 1732, I was roused out of carnal security, by I scarce know what means at first; but was much excited by the prevailing of a mortal sickness in Haddam. I was frequent, constant, and somewhat fervent in duties; and took delight in reading, especially Mr. Janeway’s Token for Children. I felt sometimes much melted in duties, and took great delight in the performance of them; and I sometimes hoped that I was converted, or at least in a good and hopeful way for heaven and happiness, not knowing what conversion was. The Spirit of God at this time proceeded far with me; I was remarkably dead to the world, and my thoughts were almost wholly employed about my soul’s concerns; and I may indeed say, “Almost I was persuaded to be a Christian” I was also exceedingly distressed and melancholy at the death of my mother, in March, 1732. But afterwards my religious concern began to decline, and by degrees I fell back into a considerable degree of security, though I still attended secret prayer.
[...]

Piper Biographies

I’ve been extolling the worth of John Piper’s biographies to several friends and family members.  However, some of you have had a hard time finding them.  Here is a link to make it easier:

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Biographies/

There you can find text, audio, and sometimes video versions of these biographies.  I recommend starting with the audio.

And to make it even easier, here are a few of my favorites:

John Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides

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John Bunyan: Writer of The Pilgrim’s Progress

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George Mueller: Champion of Faith and Prayer

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John Owen: A Man of Holiness

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