In Hebrews 12:1-2a, we are encouraged that "since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith..." This cloud of witnesses is said to surround us, and another way to translate this Greek word is to "be bound (in chains)". In other words, our stories are intimately tied to theirs...it is the same story...the story of a God who pursues those who run from Him and loves the unlovely...it is the story of faith (ch. 11).
In our day and time, history does not seem to be very important. Oh, we may have daily calendars on our desk that say "On this day in 1784...", but this is more like training for Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. It doesn't contribute to the shape of our contemporary lives. This is why I have been seeking to read more history this year...admittedly, not a whole lot, but some. For example, in January, I read The Autobiography of George Muller. The encouragement I found in those pages still inspires me to persevere as we trust the Lord in the adoption of our child. (Side Note: Still no word on bringing our daughter home...I have plane tickets for this Saturday, December 1, but unless we hear something in the next 24 hours, we'll have to move them back. Everything else is done...just waiting to get word that I can travel.) Muller's voice from the grave challenges my heart to believe in the providence and provision of God in all things.
In addition to Muller surrounding me, I currently have the 17th century theologian John Owen spurring me on. I am participating in an online reading group, taking his Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers one chapter a week and making comments. It may seem like a hefty title, but it is incredibly practical in the arena of battling against sin in this life. Owen has proved to not only stretch my brain (it is 17th century language, after all), but the Lord has used him to stretch my heart. I have been renewed in the seriousness and necessity of facing and fighting sin daily. As he writes in chapter 2, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." Another voice from the grave being used for my sanctification.
One more example. This one is a little closer to today. William Newell (1868-1956) was a Bible teacher and pastor in the Chicago area and served as assistant superintendent at Moody Bible Institute under R.A. Torrey. Newell wrote the hymn "At Calvary" - "Years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified, knowing not it was for me He died at Calvary - Mercy there was great and grace was free, pardon there was multiplied to me, there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary." He also wrote commentaries on the books of Romans, Hebrews, and Revelation.
In his verse-by-verse commentary on Romans, William Newell penned a list of seven things that our souls learn as we live under grace. This list has been near and dear to my heart over the last few months. The words have been so powerful and used by God to convict me, it's as if Newell himself has climbed out of the grave to kick me around my living room...and this, all for my sanctification. Another voice from the grave used by God. Here's his list...maybe it will grab your soul for a few rounds.
1. To "hope to be better" is to fail to see yourself in Christ only.
2. To be disappointed with yourself is to have believed in yourself.
3. To be discouraged is unbelief - as to God's purpose and plan of blessing for you.
4. To be proud, is to be blind! For we have no standing before God, in ourselves.
5. The lack of Divine blessing, therefore, comes from unbelief, and not from failure of devotion.
6. Real devotion to God arises, not from man's will to show it; but from the discovery that blessing has been received from God while we were yet unworthy and undevoted.
7. To preach devotion first, and blessing second, is to reverse God's order, and preach law, not grace. The Law made man's blessing depend on devotion; Grace confers undeserved, unconditional blessing: our devotion may follow, but does not always do so, in proper measure.
If you breezed through that list with no reaction, read it again because you missed something. I'll wait...
Now, what's the point of all this? The point is that there are many spiritual mentors lying dead but waiting to help you on your journey to be more like Christ. There are many voices from the grave just waiting to be heard. Don't just let your pastor or professor or Sunday school give you little quotes here or there. That would be like occasionally enjoying a good appetizer when there's a continual amazing feast waiting to be had. Take up the challenge to spend some time with these dead men. Get to know Muller, Owen, Newell, Spurgeon, Baxter, Bunyan, Luther, Calvin, Carey, Judson, Wesley, and others. Read their biographies and renew your passion. Read their writings and challenge your thinking. You won't agree with everything they write, but who cares! You'll be able to think more clearly about the things of God and live more passionately for Him if you'll let the cloud of witnesses surround you...if you'll let the voices from the grave speak to you.