Jim Elliot Was Always Reading

Jim Elliot’s wife, Elizabeth, once said of him, “At 21, Jim began an adventure that would require the ultimate sacrifice.” That adventure, was to follow Christ toward the mission field of Equador, and ultimately, martyrdom at the hands of the Auca Indians he loved so much.

A big personal part of that adventure for Jim was that he was always reading; at least, the evidence is there that this was true.When one reads Jim’s life, especially his journals, one thing that stands out is his perpetual habit of reading. He was always using, consistently and fruitfully, Bible study aids, such as word studies of the  Old and New Testaments, lexicons, and other books that helped him understand Hebrew and Greek word usages and meanings. In addition, he was always reading a good book. Sometimes he even read authors and books that were not particularly spiritually helpful because he thought he would learn something that would help him. “Always reading” seemed to be his plan and practice. The richness of his reading life-style can be seen particularly in his journal entries, where he was always referring to his discoveries.

Journal Entries

February 7, 1948 – Genesis 44-45 on Jacob’s life — In Benjamin, Jacob’s life was ‘bound up’ (44:30) So in me, God’s life is bound up in much the same sense. His nature is given to me; His love is jealous for me; all His attributes are woven into the pattern of my spirit. What a God is this! His life implanted in every child. Thank you, Father, for this. Love through me today.

August 7, 1948 – 2 Samuel 11 on David’s life — Uriah the Hittite was a man who declined offered ease because the soldiers of his God dwelt in tents and open fields. This was David’s error: ‘When kings go out to battle . . . . David tarried at Jerusalem.’ (vs. 2) How often is this the history of Christian failure. The time comes for forward marching and some Christians are laying on beds of self-interest. In such a context, Satan sees to it that a Bathsheba is not far away. David’s tarrying in Jerusalem meant Uriah’s death in the thickest of the fight. Lord, don’t let me be found so reluctant because of my selfishness.

October 18, 1949 – In David Brainerd’s account of the Forks of the Delaware awakening [among the Indians], the Holy Spirit began evident conviction at a time which surprised Brainerd, for he was sick, discouraged, and cast down, at the time little expecting that God had chosen the hour of his weakness for the manifestation of His strength. Brainerd said, ‘I cannot say I had any hopes of success, yet that was the very time when God saw fit to begin His glorious work’. So God ordained strength out of weakness, whence I learn that it is good to follow the path of duty, even when in the midst of darkness and discouragement.

November 11, 1949 – I am spending this drizzly afternoon reading The Pilgrim Church by W. H. Broadbent. I see clearly now that anything, whatever it might be, if it is not rooted in divine grace, is not of God.

November 17 – Finished The Pligrim Church today. Noted again the importance of biography and history in learning God’s ways. Anthony Norris Groves was a pioneer missionary in India. I must read his memoirs if I can get them.

December 5, 1949 – “Give attendance to reading”; Finished a short biography of Allan Smith, missionary on the Paraguayan and Amazon river systems; then I prayed to be sent out soon with definite steps of guidance for my path. Having finished Gaussen’s Theopeneustia last week, I began S. J. Andrew’s Christianity vs. Anti-Christianity in their Final Conflict. It is prophetic and clarifying to some big present-day issues.

January 18, 1950 – Just finished reading F. W. Krummacher’s The Suffering Savior. I found it stimulating to my imagination and warming to my heart. The emotional unwritten backgrounds he interprets from the text are helpful and encouraging to the use of sanctified, imaginative powers. He lacks accuracy in one or two points of interpretation, it seems to me, but on the whole has written a spiritually edifying work.

February 4, 1950 – I have just this moment finished reading Amy Carmichael’s Gold Cord. How can I express the effect it has had on me? Ah, what a sham I am carrying on in the name of spirituality! I talk well, but, oh God of the thorny crown, please privilege me to walk Thy path of royalty.

Always Reading

The truth is, Jim Elliot in his days of preparation for the mission field, was a student, an athlete, a part-time substitute school teacher, an itinerant evangelist, a mountain climber, and a number of other things. Always active in those early days of preparation, long before he went to Equador, he was a disciplined young man in pursuit of godliness. But mixed through it all was a thread woven throughout the fabric of his life style–the discipline of reading. Private reading to stir his heart and to equip him further in the pursuit of God. He once wrote, “Spent the entire day–6 to 8 hours–just reading.” In addition to the Bible, his first book, a different book was always daily at some point in his hands.

Is a book often in our hands? We ought to be often reading. Under the blessing of the Spirit, it will produce continuing godliness and growth. Let us be always reading!

of Providence Chapel
Mack Tomlinson was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1977 in his home church of First Baptist Church of Clarendon, TX. He holds a BA degree in New Testament from Hardin-Simmons Univ. in Abilene, and has done graduate studies in Israel, and through Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth and Tyndale Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He has also served as an editor and book publisher. He also conducts an itinerant preaching ministry around the U. S., overseas in Eastern Europe, the South Pacific, and other areas of the world. Mack has been married to his wife, Linda, for 35 years, and they have 6 children.