Four Spiritual Giants

(c)1997 Raymond Brown
Published by Kingsway Publications Ltd
ISBN 0 85476 542 5

If we've been Christians for a while, and have circulated in church circles or studied at a Bible college, we will surely have heard of certain names in Christian history. Men who influenced how we live out our faith centuries later. However, many Christians never get around to reading their books. Perhaps because the language seems old-fashioned and will take some study to understand what they wrote. We almost need an interpreter to condense and explain their teaching to us.

Along comes this book by Raymond Brown to do exactly that for us. By telling the life story and summarizing the teachings and writings of four of these spiritual giants we get a better grasp of what they have to contribute to us.

Brown introduces Augustine, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and John Wesley in a more or less chronological order, which I noted also is perhaps the order in which we discover their life messages as we mature in our faith walk.

Augustine is now a more real, human being to me, and his story dwells much on the process of being drawn to faith in Christ. When he was finally converted he testified that he could see how God had proceeded ahead of him to open the way for him to believe. A key factor, of course, was his praying mother. That part alone should encourage parents desperately praying for the salvation of their children.

Above all that, we watch and hear in Augustine's book, Confessions the adoring prayers of a grateful Christian. Something that lingers best with those who have a difficult spiritual birth. That book has done many believers a world of good as they learned to pray from his book - full of prayers.

The second part, which focuses on Luther's life, teaches how to pray, using as an outline the letter he wrote to a man in prison for his faith. Not just the value of prayer, but how to have an effective devotional life. Luther offered some very good suggestions which transpose well to our own generation and prayer life. I learned of course, some other details about him I had not known before.

Brown's third profile is on John Bunyan. Brown says, "Luther maintained that three things make a good minister - prayer, meditation and suffering. Actually, all three feature in the spiritual development of any mature Christian, whether a minister or not. We have seen that prayer was uppermost in Luther's message to Peter Beskendorf, and Augustine's Confessions is one adoring prayer from beginning to end. So as we turn to Bunyan we focus on Luther's second theme - meditation."

John Bunyan also struggled in his faith, but the years he spent in the Bedford prison became glorious for him as he learned to accept God's grace and to meditate continuously on God's Word. Out of all that came some classic books, the best known being Pilgrim's Progress.

Personally, I'm amazed at how many valuable lessons Brown reveals in Bunyan's life. Again, I was introduced to a spiritual giant who has much to teach me - or you.

John Wesley is the fourth giant featured, and once more I am overwhelmed at how human and applicable his life can be to us. He learned to be well-disciplined in his own personal life, and thus became far more productive than most. He journaled his prayer life, and daily experiences, and I too, have discovered the value in that. But he also gave unstintingly of himself and his time to preach and teach the Bible everywhere. When he became unwelcome in the traditional churches he began preaching on the street and in green meadows, where the crowds followed to hear him. He taught believers to form small groups to encourage one another in Bible study and to care for one another practically. The believers did not have to wait until his riding circuit brought Wesley back into their neighbourhood to hear more from the Word of God. They could learn to study it for themselves and help one another.

At this point I would be glad to read their written works and hope to work it in as I have time. This introduction by Brown has done a good job of introducing them and making their messages more appealing to me. I believe this book will do that for you too.

Reviewer - Ruth Marlene Friesen.

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