Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Read biographies! Would you take the challenge and read some good Christian biographies in this new year? There is such challenge, encouragement, strength, and resolve that comes from reading the lives of those “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38). Let us just take this one small event in one individual life as an example and see what impact it might have upon you.

Jonathan Edwards, though being a great theologian and preacher, was dismissed from his church in Northampton. He moved with his family to Stockbridge and began ministering among the Indians there. For Edwards, this was his golden moment. The conflict of Northampton was mostly behind him and he reveled in the extra time he had to think and write. But then everything changed on September 27, 1757. His son-in-law, Aaron Burr, who had been the president of the new College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton), died. Five days after Burr’s death the trustees of the college met and elected Edwards to be their next president.

Edwards received their letter and wrote back to the trustees on October 19th. In the letter he expresses his surprise that they would elect him to be the president of the new college. He then proceeds to list three main objections. First, he had suffered financially from the dismissal at Northampton and his family had just begun to recover. The property he now owned was at Stockbridge and the likelihood of being able to sell it was remote. Second, he felt “unfit” for such an undertaking. His body was suffering from poor health and he said it often led to “a kind of childish weakness and contemptibleness of speech, presence and demeanor; with a disagreeable dullness and stiffness, much unfitting me for conversation, but more specifically for the government of a college.” But the third and final point was his greatest objection. He believed that his great service to the Kingdom was found in his writing. And his labor at Stockbridge had finally afforded him the margin and opportunity to concentrate on the larger works he proposed to write for the Church. This was his passion and conviction. He said, “My heart is so much in these studies.”

And yet after offering these great objections—family, health, and heart’s passion—Edwards relented that if they still desired to have him he would submit the decision to a counsel of fellow ministers. The trustees of the college continued their support of calling Edwards, so Edwards called together his most trusted colleagues and submitted the decision to them. He knew what he wanted to do, but the Church was beckoning him to do something different.

The council met on January 4, 1758 and heard both sides of the issue. And then to a man they quickly decided that Edwards should accept the call to the College of New Jersey. Samuel Hopkins, a disciple of Edwards who was present, wrote what happened next: “When they published their judgment and advice to Mr. Edwards and his people, he appeared uncommonly moved and affected with it, and fell into tears on the occasion; which was very unusual for him, in the presence of others.”

Those tears did not stop him. Edwards did not hesitate. Rather, as he said he would,  he submitted himself to his brethren. He left later that month and headed to the college and left his “paradise.” The first sermon he preached at the college was, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

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13 thoughts on “Biographies Are Good for the Soul!”

  1. ELee says:

    I do love Christian biographies. Recommendations for good/must reads?

  2. taylor says:

    I would love if someone could provide a link to a listing of the top biographies of major reformers/christian leaders. Specifically looking for Edwards/Wesley/Calvin but also many others. Anything like that exist out there? Thanks

  3. Here are some of my favorites that come to mind:

    Jonathan Edwards– “Jonathan Edwards: A Life” by George Marsden; “Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography” by Iain Murray

    John Calvin–“Calvin” by Bruce Gordon; “John Calvin: His Life and Influence” by Robert Reymond; “John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor” by W. Robert Godfrey; “The Expository Genius of John Calvin” by Steven Lawson

    Robert Lewis Dabney–“Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life” by Sean Lucas

    John Newton–“But Now I See: The Life of John Newton” by Josiah Bull

    Martin Luther– “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther” by Roland Bainton

    Chalmer, Cunningham, Bonar, etc.– “Unity and Diversity: The Founders of The Free Church of Scotland” by Sandy Finlayson

    Charles Hodge–“Charles Hodge” by Paul Gutjahr; “Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton” by Andrew Hoffecker

    Athanasius–“Athanasius” by Peter Leithart

  4. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    What’s a great biography of Spurgeon?

  5. Forever Sad says:

    I picked up Joseph Alleine’s Life & Letters, read a few pages of his wonderful life and put it down. My heart sank. Why should I read biographies of these great men with great gifts? I just get discouraged. I don’t have what they have. I thus won’t attain their level of holiness and usefulness.

    Bios don’t seem to be good for _my_ soul.

  6. jeff Baxter says:

    I love Christian Biographies in particular. They have transformed me. The only thing better is reading a Biography and visiting the sites where they ministered. Fantastic! Thanks Kevin.

  7. You need to read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography even though he was not a Christian. He had a long list of virtues similar to J. Edwards’ resolutions. And he was very good friends with the itinerate pastor of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. It is a fascinating read. Old Ben resisted all attempts by Whitefield to try and convert him.

  8. Amy says:

    WOW. Thanks for the prompt. LOVE biographies and will now read this one.

  9. Wiseagle says:

    Interesting that this anectdote from his life was the immeadiate circumstance that led Edwards to the portals of Glory as he died of a smallpox vaccine two months later.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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