Columnists > Voices

Plucked out of the burning

From beneath the Castle of Despair, God is pleased to build His kingdom

Issue: "Double trouble," Oct. 21, 2006

There is a professor I know who doesn't do small talk. Not on principle, mind you, but the man just can't. Now we all know that small talk is necessary, a lubricant to social intercourse, the wedge into profounder subjects from the opening "hello." But the doctor's conversations snap shut like a clamp, because when he's said all he has to say, it doesn't occur to him to stay longer. And I am here to testify that I have learned more about Scripture and humility from this person than from any man alive.

There is a woman I know who can't "do" crowds. We all say this, but she really can't. To enter a roomful of people on a Sunday morning is almost more than she can manage. To pray aloud at Saturday prayer meeting is not even thinkable, though her attendance is as good as a promise. Some day the Lord, in His mercy, may give a breakthrough, but it's been decades like this. And did I mention that in the Sunday school class she's taught for 20 years, enthralled 4-year-olds who are elsewhere rambunctious sit in a circle and have learned what to do with little hands and feet, and that Jesus died to take away their sins?

I have a friend who is helpless before a chocolate éclair. I'm talking about lifelong warfare, a waxing and waning of the battle manifest in shrinking and expanding girth. We're hoping that the latest victory is a final rout, though we have been this way before. And may I add that she is unequal in friendship and counsel, and has more than once laid down her life for me.

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In 1751 there was a man who took himself to wife, and thereupon announced to the new Mrs. John Wesley that he was not willing to preach one sermon less in a married state than in a single one-embracing in a most literal sense Paul's counsel that "those who have wives should live as if they had none." His letters to his wife feel like acid splashed in the face (one critic called Wesley "granite in aspic"). And yet the man saved millions, a veritable Johnny Appleseed of church growth. Where Presbyterians sowed culture, his circuit riders sowed gospel-and with his brother Charles he left us some of the greatest hymns of the faith.

A century later came Charles Spurgeon, Spirit-filled preacher, man of prayer, founder of a college and orphanage, author of commentaries, propagator of uplifting literature, defender of godly biblical exegesis-and so encumbered by a melancholy spirit that he himself declared that "there are dungeons beneath the Castle of Despair," and that he had often been in them.

Firebrand preachers and lackluster husbands. Men of both prayer and clinical morbidity. Women of wisdom given to gluttony. Samson making shipwreck of his life but taking the prophets of Dagon down with him. How do you tally the sum of this? Where do you put the coordinating conjunction? "Wesley was a great soul winner, but he sure was a lousy husband!" or, "Wesley was a lousy husband, but what a soul winner!"

In 1753, Mr. Wesley, in the grip of serious illness, and "not knowing how it might please God to dispose of me," penned his own epitaph, which begins: "Here lies the body of John Wesley, A brand plucked out of the burning." Better words were never writ.

A 16-year-old boy I care deeply about is growing up with half a complement of parents, and the one who remains is obtuse in sports and tends to depression. Such are the children of the kingdom of God-all missing arms or limbs, all cracked vessels. His mother doesn't always hear her children because she's lost in thought about some essay or other for a Christian magazine. Out of such raw material God is pleased to build His kingdom, the better to show the power is from Him.

The Lord will judge. And when He does (on that Day when no flesh shall boast), I know His weights and measures will be fair, and tempered with a better love than mine, and that the Wisdom who was by His side when He established earth and sky will cast His judgment in our favor.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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