One of my favorite books is titled, Walking With the Giants by Warren Wiersbe. In the book, Wiersbe provides a snapshot of leaders who’ve left a powerful imprint on the Christian landscape. If you are interested in studying the lives of great Christian leaders but intimidated by the size of most biographies, Wiersbe’s book will provide you a stellar entry point. But be warned, once you get a taste of these friends in an era gone by, you’ll find yourself desiring more and more of the rich relationship! Allow me to tell you about some men I’ve grown to love and admire…
Samuel Rutherford was born in the little village of Nisbet, in the shire of Roxburgh, around 1600. He would serve a small church in Anworth, a barn some 60 by 20 feet, but remain wholeheartedly committed, and his congregants wrote that, “He was always preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechizing, often he falls asleep at night talking about Christ.” He would eventually be tried and convicted of treason against the established church of Britain by Archbishop Laud’s party, and banished to Aberdeen, warned, “Never to preach in Scotland again!” But, while imprisoned he would pen what would one day be known as, The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, an edition of 284 letters which speak powerfully to the inner life of walking obediently with Christ. Samuel Rutherford is a great reminder that great things come in seemingly small packages; a man who served a small church, excommunicated early in his career, yet whose name we’re still writing and reading four hundred years later!
Alexander Maclaren served in London next to preaching greats such as Spurgeon, Parker, and Liddon. His printed sermons are scholarly, practical, and expositional. His monumental work Expositions of Holy Scripture has been republished for over 100 years! W. Robertson Nicoll said of Maclaren, “A man who reads one of Maclaren’s sermons must either take his outline or take another text.” One of Maclaren’s own congregants said, “This man is a prophet, and you must either listen and swallow, or flee.”
But, for all of Maclaren’s oratorical ability, he was a very normal man. Maclaren began ministry in a small context forcing him to hone and craft his abilities. He would spend up to 60 hours preparing sermons and always wear his boots (not slippers) to remind himself that ministry was to be hard work. He once told a group of young men, “I thank God that I was stuck down in a quiet, little, obscure place to begin ministry; for prominence spoils half of you young fellows. You get pitchforked into prominent positions early, and then fritter yourselves away in everything except studying your Bibles!”
Also, Maclaren was an introvert and slightly awkward in public, a reason many, myself included, find affinity to him. His natural shyness led many to think he was proud and aloof and when he gave interviews, he would often ask the person to retract what he had said. As an idealist and perfectionist, he would leave social engagements, greatly concerned about his choice of words. He was intensely concerned with personal holiness, to the point that he rarely went out on the town. Early in his ministry he promised church members that he would feed them very well on Sunday to make up for his inabilities, visits, and interactions throughout the week. Alexander Maclaren is a reminder that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to being a man or woman of God!
Hudson Taylor was born in Yorkshire in May of 1832. Taylor’s parents were godly people who dedicated him to the Lord. When he was five, he told his parents he planned to be a missionary in China, but it wasn’t until 17 that he was converted. Taylor’s mother was away visiting family, when she felt a need to pray for her son. She went to her room and prayed for hours until she felt released. At the same time back home, Hudson found a gospel tract in his father’s library, and began reading it. The words “It is finished” lodged in his mind and he dropped to his knees and realized, “If the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, what is there left for me to do?” Following his conversion, he trained in medicine, and left for China, eventually establishing the China Inland Mission, reshaping the eastern world forever.
Remarkably, most biographies of Hudson, contain just as much information about his early life (age 5-28) as they do about his actual ministry. The reason for this, is that God put him through massive amounts of training and testing before he was sent to endure the rigors of ministry. At one point, in preparation, Hudson intentionally starved himself to analyze his pain threshold. At another time, he gave all his money away, to see how God would provide. Thus, from the life of Hudson Taylor come many famous quotes such as, “All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” or, “Want of trust is at the root of almost all our sins.” or, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supplies.”
Hudson’s ministry reached many people but the story of his early years have potentially touched just as many. Hudson Taylor is a startling reminder that the man who God plans to use widely, will first be carved out deeply!