I am yet again, astonished at the level of writing in which young Andrew (who was only 19) started his diary entries. Of course, they were short entries, but nevertheless, it showed a remarkable depth of spiritual understanding and frank honesty of his own reflections. I particularly liked the consistent humility of his spiritual depravity (e.g. ‘I am not born again’ or ‘yet still not in Christ’).
Keeping a diary and ensuring its relevance and yet its usefulness to the reader is something of a skill and gift… it is not merely an exercise in pouring out your soul to yourself. The temptation to put to words, the thoughts in our mind on paper is a very strong one for certain people. But the fact remains that these thoughts are most often hurtful, unedifying and begets more sin if it were exposed. And therein lies a type of sick attractiveness to the notion of baring ones’ soul to another. It is a tantalising thought for a person whom we love to be given a glimpse of our vulnerability. But what if it falls into the hands of people who are not like minded? Our sinful, imperfect thoughts can (and will) often be misinterpreted by those who do not know its context. A sigh of defeat, can often be misread to be heard as a grunt of satisfaction or gleeful expectation.
George Whitefield learnt this the hard way, when his initial journals were unedited and raw – many thought ill of this young preacher (then) and fixed an arrogant cariculture of him. He learnt to be less detailed and more objective in his subsequent publication of journals.
Of course, of course, a personal diary that articulates personal thoughts and pangs is a treasure trove for those whom we love and cherish; often times it leaves with them a piece of our thought in visible form. It is certainly comforting. But the purpose of the diary must be made clear at the outset of writing it. I know of a man who kept his diary for the purpose of sharing it with the one he was to marry… when it came to pass, he gave his beloved the collection and showed her how God moved him and her through his own account of it, till they were united. The wife wept in joy, not because of the thoughts, but by the hand of God, chronicled by her beloved.
Sometimes, I wonder why we would want to relive back our past and go through the details of our sinful past life. It excites back some old desires and pleasures which we have gratefully mortify. Conversely, it does us good if we are able to be humbled by the picture of our hell-condemned life before salvation was granted. It is a double edged sword which you need to carefully brandish.
A journal/diary is a wonderful thing that can be edifying and terrifying at the same time. I really do hope that we will focus on the former and shun the latter. The day draws closer when the full diary of our lives will be flipped wide open for all and before the Almighty. May we learn from Andrew Bonar’s Diary the necessity and qualifications of diary keeping. 🙂