They Were Pilgrims: Marcus L. Loane

10 11 2008

Last November Carolyn gave me a copy of this book as a 30th birthday present. I had casually mentioned it to her weeks before (I wasn’t hinting, honestly!), and was astounded to open the wrapping and find that she had gone to Belfast to get me a copy in the intervening time – what a wife!!!

I had wanted to read They Were Pilgrims in light of the fact that the four individuals portrayed within it each died before, or around, their 30th year. These were men who accomplished much for God in a short span of time, and I felt that it might be a suitable challenge to my own indolence and mediocrity to read of them at this period of my own life. I spread my reading of the book out over a year, and have benefitted enormously through taking my time with these great men of God.

In They Were Pilgrims Loane writes extended biographical sketches of David Brainerd, Henry Martyn, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and Ion Keith Falconer. His aim is not to provide incisive and criticially nuanced analyses of their lives and ministries, but to celebrate the incredible worth of handing over all of our hopes, plans, ambitions and personalities to God for His glory.
For a little more detail about Loane’s other literary output please see Gary Brady’s brief summary here.

The accounts of Brainerd, M’Cheyne and Keith-Falconer were particularly rich. I had already enjoyed a brief encounter with Brainerd’s biography through one of John Piper’s audio biographies, had read Bonar’s Memoir and Remains of M’Cheyne last year, and knew nothing of Keith-Falconer at all. To follow the progress of the Gospel amongst native Americans through Brainerd’s ministry, with his pioneering concern to see them won for Christ regardless of personal or physical cost made a deep incision into my own inherent sense of self-protection in Christ’ service. There is much talk in Christian ministry circles at the moment of ‘self-care’ (which is vitally needed), but this can at times be at the expense of challenging men and women to sacrificial service. Brainerd’s life serves to bore holes in any sense ministerial self pity. M’Cheyne’s sweet piety, his diligent pursuit of holiness in ministry, and his tireless efforts in a settled local church ministry refreshed me once again. It is clear that Loane relies heavily on Bonar’s memoir, which made my reading of his sketch all the more enjoyable, given my recent readings in that text. One niggling concern which I harbour about our view of M’Cheyne is the lack of critical material regarding his life. The Memoir was written by a close friend of M’Cheyne and, as Loane acknowledges, follows a Victorian approach to the writing of his life. One feels that the great preacher of Dundee might prove to be even more of a challenging role model if we saw and sensed more clay mixed with the iron of his devotion to God. Keith-Falconer was a stranger to me, and it was a blessing to read of his labours in Aden to reach Muslims. Keith-Falconer was a linguist of the highest academic acumen, and his willingness to devote intellectual and financial resources to the cause of Christ was stirring. Some of the incidental details of his life – like his expedition on a Victorian large wheeled bicycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats provided light relief amidst the rigours of his labours to Christ. Keith-Falconer was a contemporary of C.T. Studd and John G. Paton, and his work among Muslim communities is highly informative, given our world mission context of the 10-40 window.

The only low point in the book for me was Loane’s treatment of Henry Martyn. While there was much to bless me, I did feel that too much detail and time were devoted to his doomed romance with Lydia Grenfell. Whilst this was a cause of much vexation and heartbreak to Martyn, Loane’s focus on it did at times draw one’s attention away from his life and labour in Persia. This is a trifling criticism, and Martyn’s life still proved to be a deep challenge as I read the treatment of it contained within these pages.

Loane’s writing style is quite simply beautiful. Biographical details are conveyed to the reader via language which is lyrical, succinct and deeply moving. The book is presented in typically good Banner hardback quality with a beautiful dust jacket, and large easily readable typeface. I would readily recommend this title to anyone who wishes to gain an introductory insight into the lives of these great men of God, and would definitely commend it as an excellent gift idea for anyone who is reaching the ripe old age of 30!

For a survey of Loane’s other writings see Gary Brady’s brief overview here.
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