Outrageous Mercy

The Glory of God in the Gospel-Centered Life


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The Three Wives of David Livingstone

The Three Wives of David Livingstone

EVERY CHRISTIAN FACES THE DANGER THAT a goal, or relationship has become idolatrous. It can happen to the best Believers. How would we know that this has happened? The answer is simple. We will begin to compromise God’s will to serve the idolatrous focus. David Livingstone is a good example. Most students of history think of Dr. Livingstone as an explorer, but if you had asked him he would have answered, “I am a missionary. Yes, I explore, but I do so for the sale of the gospel.”

Livingstone is best known for his meeting with Henry Stanley in 1871. Livingstone had disappeared into the heart of Africa. No one knew if he was dead or alive. The editor of The New York Herald sent Stanley to find him. At their first contact Stanley famously said, “Doctor Livingstone I presume?” 

Livingstone was a great man. He embodied the concentrated focus that is at the heart of masculinity. One day he wrote in his journal, “I determined never to stop until I had come to the end and achieved my purpose.” He was faithful to that determination. Even though he didn’t achieve all of his purposes in his lifetime, most were achieved after his death. 

But like all men he had weaknesses. In fact, this strength was his weakness. At times his focus was so strong it caused him to compromise God’s will.[1] The same can happen to anyone. 

The Explorer

He was the first European to penetrate and map Africa’s unknown interior. It was called the dark continent for good reason. As late as the mid-nineteenth century the center of Africa’s map was blank. The civilized world knew nothing about Africa, and millions of Africans lived with no knowledge of the gospel or the outside world. Moved by compassion Livingstone focused with great intensity on his first great goal—exploring and mapping Africa’s interior so that Christian missionaries could follow. 

But this godly ambition had one obstacle—marriage. In 1845 he married a missionary daughter, Mary Moffat. Stationed in south central Africa together for the first seven years of their marriage, she bore him five children. Four survived, but one died in infancy. 

Meanwhile, Livingstone put together an ambitious plan. He would explore and map south central Africa, the area just north of the great Kalahari Desert. Estimating that it would take two years, he sent Mary and the children home to England. However, two years morphed into four. David had disappeared. Mary had no idea where he was. She didn’t even know if he was alive. 

During those four years Dr. Livingstone travelled close to 5,000 miles on foot through the unexplored wiles of subtropical Africa. He was the first man to traverse the continent from east to west. He discovered and mapped the Zambesi River, including Victoria Falls. He was attacked and mauled by a lion, befriended native tribes, drew detailed maps, suffered from the symptoms of malaria over twenty times, and kept an exhaustive scientific journal of all that he saw and did. 

But during his four-year absence Mary and his four children suffered greatly. Mary was profoundly lonely and socially isolated. She and her children also suffered from poverty. So great was the stress that Mary, a missionary daughter, turned to alcohol in her husband’s absence. 

He returned to London a national hero. After reunification with his family, he published his journals, the income from which lifted them out of poverty.

Even though back in London and reunited with his family, Livingstone was uncomfortable. He loved the solitude of Africa even more than London or his family. So, when an opportunity to return and open the Zambesi River to navigation came up, he jumped on it. European civilization, and especially the gospel, would follow. This time Mary, determined not to be left behind, sailed with him. 

Zambesi Expedition

He now he had three goals in mind: the dissemination of the gospel; the elimination of the African slave trade; and the discovery of the location of the Nile’s headwaters. Summing it up, one African historian wrote, “Livingstone had three wives, but none of them were women.”[2] In the words of another biographer, “His myopic commitment to Africa began to tear his family apart.”[3]

As he and Mary sailed down the west coast of Africa they discovered that she was pregnant with their sixth child. Livingstone left her at Cape Town, promising to return. But once again, two years turned into four. Desperately lonely, and feeling profoundly rejected by her husband, Mary went in search of him. She arrived depressed, addicted to alcohol, and angry at God for the neglectful husband that he had given her. A few months later, she contracted a fever, probably malaria, and died. Livingstone was brokenhearted. Too late, he confessed his sinful neglect of his wife. 

Was Livingstone’s focus on exploration and missionary work admirable? Absolutely. He was single-minded about his life’s work, and the long-term benefit to Africa has been substantial. The British buried him in Westminster Abbey, an immense honor, given only to men of great national importance. 

You can argue, however, that his ambition eventually became idolatrous. He probably should have stayed single. But, he didn’t. He made marriage vows to a wife, and he should have fulfilled them, if necessary, at the expense of his ambitions. “Husbands, love your wife as Christ loved his church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  Tragically, our hero loved his calling and work more than he loved his wife and children. 


The moral is simple. Although Livingstone was a great man, his relationship with Christ did not always control his focus on the goal at hand. 

I told this story because every ambition, no matter how good, can be a blessing or a curse. The question is who controls it? The will of God or our passions and goals? We all know adults who were abandoned by highly successful fathers. I have interviewed pastor’s children who have sworn to never enter the ministry. Why? Their fathers loved their congregations more than their wives or their children. We all know businessmen that have done the same. 

But the greater problem for most Christians is not too much focus, but too little on the thing that really matters. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all of your strength.”

[1] Seethe excellent book by Jay Milbrandt, The Daring Heart of David Livingstone, Thomas Nelson, Kindle Edition 

[2] Elizabeth Isichei, “The Man with Three Wives,” Christian History Magazine, Issue 56, pg. 28

[3] Milbrandt, Jay. The Daring Heart of David Livingstone (p. 45). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Form Follows Function & Sex

Form Follows Function & Sex

LOUIS SULLIVAN (1856-1924), THE FATHER OF MODERN ARCHITECTURE, famously articulated this crucial design principle “form follows function.” In other words, the design of a building or object should enable or expedite its intended function or purpose. 

Sullivan probably didn’t know it, but his principle was biblical. When God designs, form always follows function. This is especially true with human sexuality.  God created the “form” of male and female to enable the “function” he intended each sex to accomplish. Both genders have an intended purpose, and God has structured us physically, emotionally, and mentally to accomplish them. 

For example, God created the male sex to lead. He created Adam to be Eve’s head (1 Corinthians 11:3). The order of creation makes this clear. God created Adam first. God also tasked Adam to “work and keep” the garden (Genesis 2:15). He gave Adam the task of filling the earth with his image and likeness. He commanded him to exercise dominion over creation (Genesis 1:26-28). 

By contrast, God created Eve to be Adam’s helpmate (Genesis 2:18). He made her to help Adam exercise dominion and fill the earth with God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28). God created Eve to support Adam, encourage him, and bear and nurture their children. They were a team, a partnership. In the words of my friend, Robert Andrews, God created them to be a one-flesh fighting machine. 

After Adam’s sin, God confirmed the reason for their creation by judging the tasks he had assigned them. He cursed Adam’s assignment, the ground (Genesis 3:17). Adam would now “work and keep” it in sweat and toil. He would experience scarcity and stress. He cursed both Eve’s childbearing and her role as Adam’s helpmate (Genesis 3:16). 

Biological Masculinity

There is a difference between being born male, (biological masculinity), and achieving every Christian man’s goal—spiritual masculinity. Biological masculinity is genetic. It is OEM, the original equipment from the manufacturer. But spiritual masculinity is learned, and family, church, and culture rise and fall upon our willingness to transform biological into spiritual masculinity. Only the gospel is powerful enough to get the job done.  

Every cell in a male body has an XY chromosome, while every cell in a female is XX.

Every cell in a man’s body contains an XY chromosome, whereas every female cell contains an XX. The characteristics of the XY chromosome are well known to the social sciences.[1] Men are more aggressive. They are more prone to initiate. Men are more comfortable with risk and more attracted to competition. They are less likely to be compliant. Spatial reasoning comes easier, while verbal skills are generally weaker. Men find it easier to separate their logic from their emotions. When it is necessary for their maturation, men find it easier to let their children experience pain. Men are less conscious of their bodies and feelings. Lastly, there is the obvious fact of different genitals and greater physical size and strength.

However, biological masculinity, by itself, is insufficient: it needs to be socialized. Unredeemed biological masculinity, enslaved to sin, often oppresses women and children. The #Me-Too movement is a reaction to this reality. Rape, beatings, sexual abuse, mass murders, child abuse, adultery, impregnating women then walking away, plus a host of other sins can be laid at the feet of unredeemed biological masculinity.

However, throughout history, cultures affected by the gospel have successfully redeemed biological masculinity. Chivalry didn’t originate in Hindu or Moslem culture. It arose in Medieval Christian Europe. 

Spiritual Masculinity

Spiritual masculinity occurs when the Holy Spirit morphs the attributes of biological masculinity into tools for the service of women, children, the church, and the broader culture. The “morphing” begins at conversion and is a life-long process. 

Masculinity is often misunderstood. For many, it is beards, broad shoulders, athletic ability, muscles, extroversion, and aggression. But spiritual masculinity is inward. It is a constellation of heart attitudes. This means you can be an all-pro linebacker but be feminine by character. On the other hand, you can be a five foot four, 135-pound piano teacher and model masculinity. Here are some attempts to define what the fruits of spiritual masculinity look like in practice.

“Form Follows Function”

The leaders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. define masculinity as “a sense of benevolent responsibility to tend God’s creation, provide for and protect others, and express loving, sacrificial leadership in particular contexts prescribed by God’s Word.”[2]

In his book, Church Planting Is For Wimps, Michael McKinley defines it as, “Being responsible, dependable, humble, and strong. It means pouring yourself out for your wife and kids. It means walking closely with Christ and taking care of people in need.”

John Piper writes, ” At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”[4] 

In his book Boys Adrift, physician and social commentator Dr. Leonard Sax, Phi Beta Kappa M.I.T., Ph.D. The University of Pennsylvania, writes, “What does it mean to be a man?” It means “using your strength in the service of others.”[5]

For C.S. Lewis, masculinity was the willingness to initiate, especially in spiritual things like prayer, Bible study, church attendance, etc.

And pastor Douglas Wilson adds, “Masculinity is the glad, sacrificial assumption of responsibility.”[6]

From these definitions, a central idea emerges. Spiritual masculinity is about serving— but in a way that is appropriate to the male sex. Spiritual masculinity serves by leading, and then it leads by serving. This kind of masculinity is desperately needed, and all attempts to disparage it express a cultural suicide wish. 

Where do we get spiritual masculinity? Jesus was the perfect model of all that God intended the male sex to be. We get spiritual masculinity by looking at him, imitating him, and thinking about him. Since the gospel is all about Christ, gospel-centered men are most apt to perfect spiritual masculinity.

[1] For more details see Stephen Clark, Man And Woman In Christ, (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1980), George Gilder, Men and Marriage,(Pelican: Gretna, LA, 1986), chapter 2; Charles Murray, Human Diversity, (New York: Twelve, 2020), Chapters 1-5

[2] Complementarianism-A-Moment-of-Reckoning-9Marks-Journal-December-2019.pdf

[3] Mike McKinley, Church Planting is for Wimps, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010) pg 102 

[4] Grudem, Wayne (2006-08-31). Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (pp. 5-6). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[5] Leonard Sax, Boys Adrift (New York: Basic Books, 2009 Kindle Edition). p. 181

[6] Douglas Wilson. From a video interview entitled “Masculinity is the glad assumption of responsibility” at www.desiringgod.org


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This blog is about the gospel and how it influences every aspect of Christian life. Many Christians here the word, “gospel,” and think, that’s for beginners. I want to move on to the deeper truths. But this kind of thinking is a problem. Properly understood the gospel is the deepest truth in scripture. If you knew nothing about the Bible but the gospel, but knew it really well, you would have all the knowledge necessary for a life of godliness.

The gospel reconciles Old Testament and New. It is the center of the Bible. The Old Testament demonstrates the need for it . The Old Testament predicts it. Then the four gospels record the life and death of Jesus, the Messiah, which is the gospel. Last, the epistles look back on the gospels interpreting and applying them.

The gospel is also about ultimate issues. A display of the glory of God is God’s purpose for creation and redemption. The cross of Christ, the center of the gospel, is the greatest display of God’s glory in human history. It also displays the bankruptcy of man. In sum, the cross glorifies God and humbles humanity, and this is how it should be.

The gospel informs how married couples should relate, how they should raise their children, how they should relate to other Christians, why they should evangelize, and how they should conduct themselves in the market place. It’s all there for those who have eyes to see.

The gospel is the heart and soul of the Christian worldview. It explains how we got here, why life is often problematic, and the glorious hope that God has set before all true Believers.

These subjects and others, this blog will explore. Occasionally we will address culture and politics, but the main subject will be the gospel and its application.

If you have questions or concerns my email bfarley48@gmail.com

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The Three Wives of David Livingstone

The Three Wives of David Livingstone

EVERY CHRISTIAN FACES THE DANGER THAT a goal, or relationship has become idolatrous. It can happen to the best Believers. How would we know that this has happened? The answer is simple. We will begin to compromise God’s will to serve the idolatrous focus. David...

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read more
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