Reading biographies of faithful men and women who have gone before us can be hugely beneficial to our growth in godliness (more on that here). In fact, the book that has made the most impact on my spiritual formation up until this point was not Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines, or Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (both of which are excellent), but a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis.
All that to say, you should read solid, Christian biographies. To get you started, here’s a short blurb on a man whose life, ministry, and writing have been greatly influential to me as I prepare for my own ministry: J.C. Ryle
John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) once believed that Christianity must be one of the most disagreeable occupations on earth—or in heaven. But one day in 1837 he happed into a church where, hearing Scripture read out loud, he was transformed. One verse, and the emphasis made in between each clause, gripped him. “By grace are ye saved . . . through faith . . . and that not of yourselves . . . it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8.)
In 1841 the Church of England ordained him as a minister of the gospel. In 1880, after thirty-nine years of faithful ministry, he was made the first Bishop of Liverpool, a post he held for 20 years. He was affectionately known as “the working man’s bishop.” And as a bishop he adopted one single text for his official work: “Thy word is truth” (John 17:7).
Ryle was a theological vertebrate. He never suffered from what he called a “boneless, nerveless, jellyfish condition of soul.” His convictions were not negotiable. Indeed, his successor described him as “that man of granite.” Archbishop Magee called him “the frank and manly Mr. Ryle.” Charles Spurgeon said he was “an evangelical champion . . . One of the bravest and best of men.” Ryle simply observed, “What is won dearly is priced highly and clung to firmly.”
From his conversion in 1837 to his burial in 1900, J.C. Ryle was entirely one-dimensional. He was a one-book man; he was steeped in Scripture; he bled Bible. As Ryle would say, “It is still the first book which fits the child’s mind when he begins to learn religion, and the last to which the old man clings as he leaves the world.”
In 1900, Ryle would be laid to rest, Bible still clasped in his hands. On his gravestone were carved two texts. Ephesians 2:8, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith,’ and II Timothy 4:7, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.’
Bio adapted from the Charles Nolan edition of Holiness by J.C. Ryle.