Describing Greatness, Robert Hall

You can tell a lot about a person or a people by how they define greatness, what qualities they praise. I saw this again as I have been reading a pre-publication copy of the new edition of Robert Hall’s Help to Zion’s Travellers, updated and edited by Nathan Finn, to be published by Borderstone Press.

The book was originally published in 1781 and had significant influence on William Carey and others involved in the renewed mission efforts of that day. Finn’s introductory essay does a great job explaining the setting in which this book emerged and its influence.

My focus here, though, is the descriptions given in the two prefaces of Robert Hall:

“Strong natural powers, ardent piety, deep exercises of mind, a series of singular and sanctified trials, with a special unction from the Holy One, rendered him a man of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord” (John Ryland, of Robert Hall)

“I shall ever esteem it one of the greatest favors an indulgent Providence has conferred upon me, to have possessed such a father, whom in all the essential features of character it will be my humble ambition to imitate” (Robert Hall Jr., of his father)

It is so easy to be seduced by the world’s standards of greatness or significance, and the celebrity culture which invades the church is no help in this area. These descriptions of Hall are instructive. First, he lived a life which his son (an influential pastor as well) aspired to imitate. That is significant in itself. Then note the description of Ryland. In context, Ryland is saying Hall was a great man. How does he state it? He was “a man of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.” That is indeed quite a man. No reference to his crowds or other resume builders. He was a man quick to fear the Lord. And what prepared him to live such a way? Natural gifting, piety, hard mental work and suffering. Hard work and suffering- we tend to shrink from these but this is the way in which God tends to train His people.

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