I was about the age of fourteen when I was sent to a Church of England school,—now called St. Augustine’s College, Maidstone. We had three clergymen who came by turns to teach us their doctrines ; but, somehow or other, the pupils did not seem to get on much…
One of the clergy was, I believe, a good man ; and it is to him I owe that ray of light which sufficed to show me believers’ baptism…
He seemed always to have a respect for me, and gave me The Christian Year, in calf, as a reward for my great proficiency in religious knowledge. Proceeding with the Catechism, he suddenly turned to me, and said,
Clergyman — Spurgeon, you were never properly baptized.
Spurgeon — Oh, yes, sir, I was ; my grandfather baptized me in the little parlour, and he is a minister, so I know he did it right !
C.—Ah, but you had neither faith nor repentance, and therefore ought not to have received baptism !
S.—Why, sir, that has nothing to do with it ! All infants ought to be baptized.
C.—How do you know that ? Does not the Prayer Book say that faith and repentance are necessary before baptism ? And this is so Scriptural a doctrine, that no one ought to deny it. (Here he went on to show that all the persons spoken of in the Bible as being baptized were believers ; which, of course, was an easy task, and then said to me,—) Now, Charles, I shall give you till next week to find out whether the Bible does not declare faith and repentance to be necessary qualifications before baptism.
I felt sure enough of victory; for I thought that a ceremony my grandfather and father both practised in their ministry must be right ; but I could not find it,—I was beaten,—and made up my mind as to the course I would take.
C. —Well, Charles, what do you think now ?
S. —Why, sir, I think you are right ; but then it applies to you as well as to me!…
C.—Well, then, you confess that you were not properly baptized ; and you would think it your duty, if in your power, to join with us, and have sponsors to promise on your behalf?
S.—Oh, no ! I have been baptized once, before I ought ; I will wait next time till I am fit for it.
C.—(Smiling.) Ah, you are wrong ; but I like to see you keep to the Word of God! Seek from Him a new heart and Divine direction, and you will see one truth after another, and very probably there will be a great change in those opinions which now seem so deeply rooted in you.
I resolved, from that moment, that if ever Divine grace should work a change in me, I would be baptized, since, as I afterwards told my friend the clergyman, ” I never ought to be blamed for improper baptism, as I had nothing to do with it ; the error, if any, rested with my parents and grandparents.” [i]
[i] CH Spurgeon, Autobiography vol 1 (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1962), p.33-36
‘Minnows! Minnows!’ said my colleague and much-loved pastor Don Smith, as he threw the book down on to the table. It span towards me. ‘Don’t bother with these minnows!’
I could see that the book was a new volume about the great 19th century preacher CH Spurgeon.‘It’s like reading about a mighty whale through the eyes of a minnow: they want to tell you his secret, or make him agree with their views, or try and make him more respectable. You’re better off going to the man himself!’
Don and I were in the early stages of planting a church in the English coastal town of Eastbourne and our respect for each other, and our friendship, instantly sprang from our mutual admiration of the great preachers of church history, and especially Spurgeon.
There are a number of factors which make Spurgeon such an attractive subject for preachers and leaders in church life today, and as this series develops, we’ll enjoy them, drawing primarily on his own statements so that you get the whale and not the minnow. And all hopefully in bite-sized chunks.
We will be inspired by the fact that:
– After his conversion Spurgeon immediately began evangelising, and many doors opened for him
– He was an instant success with the working class, but treated with suspicion by well-educated, respectable ministers
– His sermons were so effective that literally thousands were converted
– His initial preaching in London drew sensational crowds and the interest of the secular press
– He was unashamedly committed to preaching from the Bible
– He was a proud Dissenter, never giving in to the pressures of elitist Christianity
– He was solidly calvinistic in doctrine and without doubt one of the most effective evangelists of the 19th century
– He was a master of off-the-cuff preaching, with an astonishing gift for illustration
– His collected sermons fill sixty-three large volumes. That series is the largest set of sermons by a single author in the history of Christianity
– Spurgeon is history’s most widely read preacher apart from the Biblical ones
– He was able to plant over two hundred churches from the time he founded a pastor’s college
– He suffered terrible losses in his personal life, and drew close to God, finding such tenderness in the presence of God that it deeply affected his preaching and writing
– He was committed to prayer, and to the church prayer meeting
– He enjoyed a beautiful family life, caring for his wife through her disability, and enjoying raising his sons
– He was theologically conservative but wide open to the supernatural activity of the Spirit
– He was committed to personal evangelism
– He was entirely self-educated, having neither university nor seminary training
– He was a voracious reader who soon became a bestselling author
The list goes on. If you’re a leader or a preacher in the Christian church the example and the wisdom of CH Spurgeon will delight your soul, inspire your faith, and spur you on to love and good works. I hope you enjoy this series.
CS Lewis talked about the quest to gain access to the ‘inner ring’, something he was unable to do at Oxford due to the snobbery of the English establishment, and the embarrassment Lewis caused fellow academics by writing about the devil as though he were a real being.[i] As you gain entrance to one ring, you discover yet another further in which holds yet more influence. Every effort is made to progress to the inner rings. Entrance becomes more costly. You can forfeit your soul as you gain the world. Once inside each ring, you strengthen its walls so that it remains difficult for others to enter (one UK pastor was telling me of South African émigrés to England who, having scrambled to get British passports and residency, are now solidly and immovably pro-Brexit).
Of course for outsiders like Lewis, slowly earning your way to an inner ring may not only take years but may turn out to be a hollow promise after all. But the nature of the old British establishment was that if you were born into the right family, went to the right school, had the right kind of accent and bearing, you could skip all those tawdry outer rings and accelerate right to the centre of things where commoners rarely, if ever, appear. The inner rings are inevitably smaller, and fewer people share the high-octane experience of access to key decisions and key information.
What MI6, the UK’s secret intelligence organisation, hadn’t bargained for was that once their trusted men were in the inner ring it was practically the only place they could let their guard down and share their experiences without fear of a snooping ear. And boy did they offload. Here were brothers, comrades, co-spies in a world where no one else knew their true work, not even their wives. And, from the 1930s through to the early 1960s, one man in particular – charming, intelligent, a veritable Bond – was picking them clean of every detail, every initiative, and every name.
Entrance into the UK spy organisation’s inner rings was surprisingly easy for Kim Philby. He simply asked a friend of his father’s to recommend him. ‘I know their people!’ was recommendation enough. In the 1940s the old boy network was considered as sound as a pound. A typical Eton old boy was as British as you could be. But it was at Cambridge that Philby first encountered the vision of a communist society. And it was an idealistic vision that held his loyalty for the remainder of his life. In fact he was so devoted to this ideal that he gave uncritical obedience to his KGB handlers from first to last. Philby’s beliefs as a student were well known, but when the Soviets recruited him they advised him not to join the Communist Party but rather to appear to grow out of that youthful phase and adopt more right-wing views. He obeyed, and became the KGB’s most senior operative; one who infiltrated the British security system to the highest levels. Philby, the Eton and Cambridge old boy, who loved cricket and was a thoroughly good egg, was ushered into the inner ring, and became the most notorious spy of his generation. He was so thoroughly British that the British refused to doubt him, and the KGB refused to trust him.
As Ben Macintyre describes in this highly readable account of Philby’s adventures, he actually became head of the UK’s anti-Soviet division – an almost unbelievable feat. The most senior Soviet spy in Britain became the head of the Britain’s anti-Soviet operations. And the information Philby was sending to the Soviet Union was so thorough and so accurate that the KGB began to be suspicious of him and had him followed.
After two other well-to-do Cambridge recruits were exposed as Soviet spies and defected, the spotlight fell (accurately) on Philby. He must have tipped them off. The CIA in America was certain of it. MI5 (British security service) and MI6 (British foreign intelligence service) had differing views on Philby. MI5 were convinced he had been a double-agent. MI6 thought those horrible people at MI5 were just slandering him, and had nothing concrete against him. And so, as an old boy truly in the security of a tightening inner ring, Philby was exonerated and declared to be so in Parliament by fellow-Etonian, Harold Macmillan. Incredibly, a few years later he was working for MI6 again.
Of course, it all finally caught up with him, and he was probably (Macintyre, and others infer) allowed to escape to Moscow where he received by the Soviet authorities. It was hardly a hero’s welcome for a lifetime or risk and deceit. He was kept at arms length. He lived in a small flat, avidly reading through old cricket games in old copies of the Times when he was able to get them, desperate of news from home. A humbling isolated end. A Briton in exile.
Philby’s betrayal, not only of country, but of friends, was intensely difficult to process by those who were closest to him. They were left devastated by his defection when the watertight evidence was revealed. We’re told Nicholas Elliot, in MI6, never fully recovered from the shock of it all. His closest friend was working for the Communists. He re-lived whole segments of his life with a new perspective. The realisation that he had spilled the beans on numerous activities which was relayed to the Soviet Union must have been unbearable to him. And the American James Angleton, another close friend, nearly destroyed the CIA through increasingly invasive internal witch-hunts prompted by the post-Philby paranoia.
Suave, sophisticated, well educated, gracious, the quintessential British gentleman, Kim Philby deceived them all. And all for an ideal it seems he didn’t care to review beyond his earlier infatuation with it. Somehow he looked past Stalin’s crimes and doggedly held on to a pristine ideal. He looked past the ruthless disappearance of KGB handlers who were suddenly under suspicion, and kept looking for the communist dream. He didn’t live to see the fall of it all along with the Berlin Wall in 1989.
As a result of his winnowing work he frustrated numerous cold-war operations, sent hundreds of agents to their deaths, and told a gazillion bare-faced lies, not least of which were his declarations of innocence in his mother’s flat before a crowd of reporters after Macmillan’s statement in the House of Commons. You can see footage of that and of him speaking in the USSR here
‘Meet it is I set it down that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain’, said Hamlet. Macintyre’s superbly readable account of the secret world of high-class spies has certainly been one of my most engaging reads of this year, and is a subject which continues to fascinate. Surely it’s time for a film version.
Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends. Published in the UK by Bloomsbury.
Douglass began teaching other slaves to read in clandestine Sunday School settings, one of which was violently broken up when the slave-owners discovered it. Eventually, disguised as a sailor, he made his daring escape to the northern states and won a tenuous freedom as a fugitive slave. Soon his incredible speaking gifts and his story made him a key player in the abolitionist movement in America. Preaching from church to church, and speaking from meeting to meeting he quickly became one of America’s most famous orators. In fact, scepticism that he was the real deal was a spur to autobiography: an audience member stated that Douglass could not possibly have accomplished such learning and oratorical skill because he recognised him as the former slave Fred Bailey. Douglass thanked his self-contradicting opponent for inadvertently verifying his story and began work on his Narrative. He travelled to Ireland, England, and Scotland commanding enthusiastic crowds. Several British abolitionists organised payment to Thomas Auld, Douglass’s legal ‘owner’, to release him permanently from slavery. This payment of £150 was obviously controversial for some of the abolitionists but for Douglass it legally ensured his freedom on American soil.
Douglass and Lincoln In America he vigorously campaigned against slavery, launched and edited a newspaper, and continued to expose and rebuke the hypocrisy of religious slaveholders.
Douglass’ story is of immense importance in itself, apart from his critique of the American church. Read ‘What America Owes to Frederick Douglass’ here He was so influential that Lincoln invited him to the White House on several occasions as advisor during the Civil War. When Douglass attended Lincoln’s second inauguration he wrote, ‘I had for some time looked upon myself as a man, but now in this multitude of the elite of the land, I felt myself a man among men.’ When Douglass met Lincoln at the reception afterwards (after being temporarily blocked by security) they discussed the inauguration speech. Lincoln told him ‘There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours.’ [i]
In the post-war period he worked for the full civil rights of freed slaves, as well as supporting women’s rights in the US. He later served in a variety of positions for the US government as a member of the Republican Party. You can read more about his life and work in David Blight’s excellent biography Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, Simon & Schuster (Oct 2018).
Biblical Christianity enables us to critique and reject error Douglass was careful to draw a distinction between the Christianity of the Bible and the practices of those who called themselves Christian in pre-emancipation America. It was the gobsmacking (and, frankly, terrifying) blindness of some Christians of that period that spurred me to include Douglass’s story in the Church History Review even though he’s not an evangelist or church leader. Having finished the first version of his autobiography, Douglass wrote:
‘I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.’ [ii]
Post-civil war America and the African American Struggle On an historical and sociological note, British academic Ali Rattansi, surveying the post-civil war period wrote,
‘The historical and continuing impact of racism on African American lives is hard to exaggerate. As some have remarked, for several centuries after the forced arrival of blacks from Africa as slaves from the 17th century onwards, they had to suffer under a system of affirmative action for whites. The formal emancipation of the slaves resulted only in an extraordinarily lop-sided playing field on which it was impossible for the blacks to enjoy equal opportunities without serious redress and redistribution to counter generations of cumulative inequality. The latter never occurred.
African Americans freed from slavery found the post-emancipation US a hostile and dangerous country with entrenched inequalities and high levels of official and unofficial opposition to black advancement. To take one telling example, from the 1860s to the 1930s, under the Federal Homestead Act the American government allocated at low or no cost some 246 million acres of land for farm homesteads, much of it taken from Native Americans, to about 1.5 million people, almost entirely from the white population…Many blacks found themselves having to labour in the same plantations and fields as before, and their segregated schools, housing, and other facilities had a level of resources well below those enjoyed by the white population.’ [iii]
[i] The Washington Posthere [ii] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p. 71(Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
[iii] Ali Rattansi, Racism, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: 2007 OUP) p.143-4
For the first post in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
David Blight, in his major biography of Douglass, makes it clear that Douglass had become a Christian in his teens. His passion for reading and rhetoric grew as he grappled with The Columbian Orator (an anthology of speeches and essays) and the Bible. He loved to hear preachers and discussed stories and verses from the Bible with an older Christian brother.
Then the famous American Methodist ‘revivals’, or Camp Meetings, came to the south. And they were hugely popular. The modern Christian finds it bizarre that slave-owners may have experienced conviction of sin at these meetings, and even a belief in Christ, yet didn’t repent of their most obvious sin. Douglass recalls seeing one of his masters repentant, dishevelled, at the front of a meeting. They returned more pious, more committed to prayer, but just as vicious in their cruelty towards slaves as they were before. In fact, things could get worse.
‘I was blind, but now I…I’m still blind.’
It’s not surprising that Douglass questioned the reality of this version of Christianity. It had no positive effect on the slave-owners’ behaviour towards his slaves. He doesn’t doubt the gospel itself, but exposes the way the white community avoided applying its reforming power to the obvious sin of racial discrimination and domination. The internalised rigour that was applied to the comparatively petty aspects of private behaviour and motive became a terrorising aspect of their brutality towards the slaves. There was now a religious reason for whipping and beating: thought, motive, suspicion of devilishly inspired rebellion; the demonising of the black man. The practices existed before, of course, but were now reinforced and exaggerated by religious zeal. What former slaver and hymn writer John Newton saw, was not only Christ but in Christ the impulse for repentance, including of slavery itself. But these guys didn’t see it at all.
‘Religious slaveholders are the worst!’
Douglass wrote, ‘I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,—a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,—a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,—and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.
‘A merciless, religious wretch’
It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists. Very near Mr. Freeland lived the Rev. Daniel Weeden, and in the same neighborhood lived the Rev. Rigby Hopkins. These were members and ministers in the Reformed Methodist Church. Mr. Weeden owned, among others, a woman slave, whose name I have forgotten. This woman’s back, for weeks, was kept literally raw, made so by the lash of this merciless, religious wretch…
Whipping in advance of deserving it…
Mr. Hopkins was even worse than Mr. Weeden. …The peculiar feature of his government was that of whipping slaves in advance of deserving it. … His plan was to whip for the smallest offences, to prevent the commission of large ones. Mr. Hopkins could always find some excuse for whipping a slave…. A mere look, word, or motion,—a mistake, accident, or want of power,—are all matters for which a slave may be whipped at any time. Does a slave look dissatisfied? It is said, he has the devil in him, and it must be whipped out. Does he speak loudly when spoken to by his master? Then he is getting high-minded, and should be taken down a button-hole lower. Does he forget to pull off his hat at the approach of a white person? Then he is wanting in reverence, and should be whipped for it. Does he ever venture to vindicate his conduct, when censured for it? Then he is guilty of impudence,—one of the greatest crimes of which a slave can be guilty. Does he ever venture to suggest a different mode of doing things from that pointed out by his master? He is indeed presumptuous, and getting above himself; and nothing less than a flogging will do for him. Does he, while ploughing, break a plough,—or, while hoeing, break a hoe? It is owing to his carelessness, and for it a slave must always be whipped. Mr. Hopkins could always find something of this sort to justify the use of the lash, and he seldom failed to embrace such opportunities. … And yet there was not a man any where round, who made higher professions of religion, or was more active in revivals,—more attentive to the class, love-feast, prayer and preaching meetings, or more devotional in his family,—that prayed earlier, later, louder, and longer,—than this same reverend slave-driver, Rigby Hopkins.’ [i]
‘Examine my heart, Lord’
And so my brother, my sister, my fellow white believer: what are we to make of such things? Is there any aspect of your own life where you allow for racial discrimination, or where you resist the reforming power of the gospel to affect any prejudice against people of colour? Have you identified that resistance as suspicious? Have you probed its reasons, and are you deliberately challenging your own assumptions? The story of Frederick Douglass presents both challenge and hope. More next time…
I’ll be honest with you. I don’t usually like this kind of book. Everything within me recoils at ‘The 12 Indistinguishable Keys to Success’, ‘The 32 Incomprehensible Laws of Leadership’, or ‘The 7 Insufferable Characteristics of a Winner’.
But we have a free library at Jubilee where people drop a book and take a book and I check the shelves once a week to make sure no Watchtower publication sneaks in unnoticed. And my son-in-law, a mild-mannered, gifted administrator, gave me a few books for the library including this one. Easy to read, with short chapters largely dealing with the character of a leader, I thought I would read it before adding it to the collection.
And now I’m recommending it! It has some features which could put you off. So better to consider those up front. This is a ‘90s book written for the US market. So it is very ‘American’ in that kind of celebratory way that can grate on some readers. This comes through primarily in the illustrations of against-all-the-odds achievers in sport, business, war, although there are non-US characters in there too. But is there really anything wrong with Maxwell drawing primarily from his own context? A second drawback for some Pastors might be that Maxwell doesn’t open a passage of Scripture and expound it (we might be grateful for that), nor does it include many specific church-related illustrations. But, seriously, we read lots of those books. You may already be a good preacher, or counsellor; this book is to help you become a better leader.
I was challenged and helped by both the content and structure of the book. Maxwell’s insistence that you actually examine yourself and your leadership style as you progress through the material is excellent. Each chapter takes a leadership quality, illustrates how that quality has helped a leader move forward, gives three or four reasons why this quality is indispensable for you and those you lead, and then gives several practical applications to your own life so you can assess where you are and make improvements. It’s not just theory; it’s practical. It’s the good stuff that we need.
Some of the leadership qualities are: Character, Charisma, Communication, Competence, Discernment, Generosity, Initiative, Listening, Problem Solving, Relationships, Self-Discipline, Serving, Teachability.
OK. Some quotes to whet your appetite (excuse the generic masculine pronouns)
Crisis doesn’t necessarily make character, but it certainly does reveal it.
Unaddressed cracks in character only get deeper and more destructive with time.
Quote from Charles Schwab: ‘I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greateer effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.’
When it comes to charisma, the bottom line is othermindedness.
Good leaders, the kind that people want to follow, do more than conduct business when they interact with followers. They take the time to get a feel for who each one is as a person…If you’re in the habit of listening only to the facts and not the person who expresses them, change your focus – and really listen.
More than 50 percent of all CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had C or C- averages in college…And more than 50 percent of all millionaire entrepreneurs never finished college.
The truth is that you can never lead something you don’t care passionately about.
Insecure leaders are dangerous – to themselves, their followers, and the organizations they lead – because a leadership position amplifies personal flaws.
An insecure leader [is] someone who cannot genuinely celebrate his people’s victories.
Learn to walk slowly through the crowd…The next time you attend a function with a number of clients, colleagues, or employees, make it your goal to connect with others by circulating among them and talking to people. Focus on each person you meet. Learn his name if you don’t know it already. Make your agenda getting to know each person’s needs, wants, and desires. Then later when you go home, make a note to yourself to do something beneficial for half a dozen of those people.
If what you did yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today.
Quote from Ray Kroc: ‘As long as you’re green, you’re growing. As soon as you’re ripe, you start to rot.’
Words. Communication. Style
I saw this book in a book sale a while ago and knew I’d enjoy it. Steven Pinker is a charming, wild-haired Psychology Professor at Harvard, a cognitive scientist with a passion for words. He’s written an informal yet rigorous writer’s guidebook in which he debunks both the grammatical pedant and the pretentious academic, and pleads for an easy‘classic style’. He acknowledges that changes are happening, that the English-speaking world seems to have become less formal. He’s not pushing for plain English (although that movement has done much good) but acknowledges the real need for clarity, grace, and coherence in our writing. Just good well-designed writing style. ‘Bad writing makes the reader feel like a dunce.’
There’s plenty of advice on sentence construction, grammar and punctuation, all of which is given in a disarmingly conversational style and with much humour. The humour makes the medicine go down easily: The compulsion of writers to ‘call a spade successively a garden implement and an earth-turning tool’ is just silly.
At the end of the book there’s a large section devoted to the technical problems you’ve always wondered about (and even that is very interesting).
I was continually pleased with his critique of the pretentious use of latin words which tend to make us sound clever but often don’t help us communicate clearly. His mockery of business-speak is both welcome and satisfyingly merciless, and he emphasises the importance of being more aware of how we are coming across, rather than how we think we’re coming across. That’s a key issue for every preacher, and every writer. Very helpful.
So, if you’re keen to improve your writing skills this would be worth buying (even at full price). Here are some juicy quotes for fun:
Dickens describes a man “with such long legs that he looked like the afternoon shadow of somebody else.”
The nominalization rule takes a perfectly spry verb and embalms it into a lifeless noun by adding a suffix like -ance, -ment, -ation, or -ing. Instead of affirming an idea, you effect its affirmation; rather than postponing something, you implement a postponement. The writing scholar Helen Sword calls them zombie nouns because they lumber across the scene without a conscious agent directing their motion. They can turn prose into a night of the living dead.
A writer who explains technical terms can multiply her readership a thousandfold at the cost of a handful of characters, the literary equivalent of picking up hundred-dollar bills on the sidewalk.
if your intuitions about who and whom are squishy, insert he or him in the gap instead
and ‘Shakespeare and his contemporaries frequently used who where the rules would call for whom and vide versa.
Some thoughts on the so-called multiverse
My only regret regarding this excellent book is that Pinker inserts his own belief bias into what otherwise would be an objective treatment of language. But then, why shouldn’t an author subtly slip his own bias into his own book? It’s not so much the commendation of Richard Dawkins (the quotation is indeed an excellent piece of writing), but the addition of an unexpected segment on the multiverse. If you’re not familiar with the idea of the multiverse it is a fantastical idea which is offered as an explanation of why Earth is so uncannily suited to life. And unless you’re in a very generous mood it merely presents itself as a rather opportunistic Design Avoidance Mechanism. Christians believe God created the universe and the life that exists within it. Cosmologists, whatever their personal belief, have spoken with awe of the incredibly finely tuned universe, of the balance of multiple constants in nature without which life wouldn’t be possible. These variables are so precise, and so stable, that it’s almost beyond belief that there isn’t an intelligent mind behind it all: the presumption of Darwinian-style unguided evolution doesn’t seem to fit the evidence. It’s all too precise to just have happened. So an unprovable and unfalsifiable idea is suggested that maybe there are millions, even trillions, of universes (a multi-verse). If there were then it might be possible that amongst all those universes just one might turn out by chance to have exactly the right conditions to sustain life. And it just so happens that that’s the one we’re in. In Pinker’s defence, after demonstrating the writer’s skill in explaining this idea he does, a couple of pages later, mention that the author points out that the idea is not yet proven (in fact there is, of course, absolutely no evidence for it). But it’s a convenient Design Avoidance Mechanism. One does sometimes feel that by the appeal to millions and millions of years for the evolutionary magic to work, and now the appeal to trillions and trillions of unseen universes for the context in which that magic could work, that we may be just blending fact with fiction, like in all the best magic stories.
Having said that, it’s not something that hindered my enjoyment of the book, or that restrains my warm recommendation of it.
Lessons in Digging
When my wife and I first moved to South Africa we employed a gardener. This was a new thing for us. In the UK and the USA I was the one who struggled with the lawnmower. In South Africa you employed people to do that. We became aware that there was a kind of emotionally remote relationship to gardeners, cleaners and so on. It felt different than just employer/employee. The difference was more pronounced. And it was racial. I have never heard of a white cleaner, or gardener in this part of the world.
One day, between the digging and the weeding, I asked our gardener what his interests were, or if he had studied. He said he used to have a keen interest in history. My face lit up! This was a great connection!
‘Oh! I also enjoy history! I’m fascinated by different periods of the past.’
‘No, but I hate history,’ he replied, looking toward me, ‘I don’t enjoy history at all.’
‘But why? How can you hate ‘history’?’ said Mr Stupid.
‘It made me angry. Very, very angry. So I stopped. I had to stop reading it.’
CS Lewis on White Supremacy
CS Lewis, in the excellent collection Christian Reflections, writes tellingly when he seeks to apply some of the ‘cursings’ we find in the Psalms. WARNING! This never-quoted section in Lewis’s writings may shock you:
‘I am inclined to think that we had better look unflinchingly at the work we have done; like puppies, we must have ‘our noses rubbed in it’. A man, now penitent, who has once seduced and abandoned a girl and then lost sight of her, had better not avert his eyes from the crude realities of the life she may now be living. For the same reason we ought to read the psalms that curse the oppressor; read them with fear. Who knows what imprecations of the same sort have been uttered against ourselves? What prayers have Red men, and Black, and Brown and Yellow, sent up against us to their gods or sometimes to God Himself? All over the earth the White Man’s offence ‘smells to heaven’: massacres, broken treaties, theft, kidnappings, enslavement, deportation, floggings, beatings-up, rape, insult, mockery, and odious hypocrisy make up that smell.’ 
I understand that it is quite natural for me, as a white man, not to want ‘my nose rubbed in it’, yet I don’t see how I can assist, support, or generate change in my context without at least attempting to understand, and to feel, something of the struggle and pain of others.
Frederick Douglass, both in his autobiography and in speeches, hits out not only at white slave owners but at a complicit church. He doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t write off true Christianity; he doubts whether the church, in his experience, was practising real Christianity. He writes:
‘I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,—a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,—a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,—and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists. Very near Mr. Freeland lived the Rev. Daniel Weeden, and in the same neighborhood lived the Rev. Rigby Hopkins. These were members and ministers in the Reformed Methodist Church. Mr. Weeden owned, among others, a woman slave, whose name I have forgotten. This woman’s back, for weeks, was kept literally raw, made so by the lash of this merciless, religious wretch … His maxim was, Behave well or behave ill, it is the duty of a master occasionally to whip a slave, to remind him of his master’s authority. Such was his theory, and such his practice.’ 
These things are surely not easy for anyone to process. Acknowledging the terrible crimes of history ought not push us away from the Christian faith, properly understood and applied. That’s not Douglass’s point. He appeals for genuine Christianity to rebuke the counterfeit.
And as we consider these things, we should ask questions of our own processes and practices today. Acknowledging our history or our bias should help Christian believers reapply the historic gospel, with all its liberating power through faith in Jesus Christ, to our own lives and churches. The gospel should convict us, humble us, and then renew our minds, liberating us from both shame and anger. Coming to the cross of Christ, acknowledging and repenting of our sin, will enable us to receive empowering grace, the grace to be changed personally, and the grace to persevere until we accomplish genuine change around us:
‘Let your Kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’
To read the next post in this series, on how religious legalism made the slaveholders even more vindictive, click here
For the first post in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
 CS Lewis, Christian Reflections, The Psalms, (1981 Glasgow: Fount/Collins) p.153
 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p.46(Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
CS Lewis and John Betjeman When I picked up A.N. Wilson’s highly readable C.S. Lewis – A Biography I thought Lewis might get a little rough treatment. That’s because I’d already seen how Wilson dealt with him in his biography of John Betjeman.
It’s true that Lewis and Betjeman couldn’t stand each other, but it wasn’t entirely Lewis’s fault. Lewis, a young man, had become a Tutor of English at Magdalen College, Oxford. Betjeman was one of his first difficult students. To Betjeman Lewis seemed overly serious, unimaginative and hard. To Lewis Betjeman appeared affected, unintelligent and lazy, regularly failing to hand in essays on time. In fact, on one occasion Lewis was pleasantly surprised by Betjeman submitting a decent essay and looked forward to the tutorial. He later wrote in his diary, ‘I soon discovered [the essay] to be a pure fake, for he knew nothing about the work when we began to talk. I wish I could get rid of the idle prig.’[i]
He did eventually, and possibly unnecessarily. Betjeman never forgave him and, in letters written years later, referred to Lewis as ‘my old enemy’.
His career Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast on November 29, 1898 and died on November 22, 1963. Although bright, he hated school and was moved from place to place until his father finally agreed to have him privately tutored. After gaining a triple first at Oxford he became Tutor of English Literature and Language at Magdalen, Oxford, a position he held for nearly 30 years. Shockingly, he was never made Professor until he was invited by Cambridge University to take the Chair of Medieval English Literature where he served until retirement.
His literary ambition was to be a poet, but he is best known for the Narnia Chronicles a series of children’s books. Through the influence of friends such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and others he moved from atheism to theism and finally to Christianity. He wrote some of the most influential Christian books of the 20th Century and was the central member of an influential literary circle called ‘The Inklings’.
A.N. Wilson’s C.S. Lewis – the best bad biography I’ve read! It’s a speedy, engaging, infuriating read. Wilson is rightly peeved by attempts to ‘canonize’ Lewis. ‘There are those readers who are so uplifted by the sublimity of Lewis at his best as a writer that they assume that he was himself a sublime being, devoid of blemishes.’ Even though that is an exaggeration one can understand Wilson’s desire to describe the man more realistically. There’s a difference, however, between bringing a man back down to earth and burying him.
After reading Wilson I also read an earlier Lewis biography to get a little balance. Wilson refers to (and draws heavily from) Green and Hooper’s biography from the early 70s. Undeniably less well written, I didn’t, however, find it gushing with hero-worship. Surprised by Joy although frustrating for different reasons, is also essential reading.
Why is ANW’s biography of Lewis ‘bad’? Where to begin? First of all, it must be said that since writing about Lewis, A.N. Wilson has had a change of heart about Christianity itself, and has moved from atheism to the Christian Faith. This does, in some degree, temper our response to what appears to be one of his aims in the biography: to discredit Christianity itself. This constant sneering disrupted my enjoyment of the book, like an irritating fly.
From the cover endorsements to Wilson’s clunky misunderstanding of ‘A Grief Observed’ (Lewis’s most authentic, mature expression of belief was doubt, supposedly) the reader senses a quiet celebration that this is the book that humiliates Lewis and his faith. With a silent nod and smile, we can breathe a sigh of relief, congratulate Wilson and go back to our skepticism unscathed: Lewis has been put in his place.
My copy is the Harper Perennial 2005 edition (which I understand includes some revisions based on reader’s reactions to the first edition of 1990). Before this, I don’t recall ever seeing the cover of a biography which says more about the biographer than the subject:
‘Wilson’s biography is probably the best imaginable…he is a brilliant biographer.’ Anthony Burgess (front cover).
‘The more biography Wilson writes, the better he gets – this life of CS Lewis is his best yet. It’s a vivacious and compassionate book. Wilson’s range of interests makes him an ideal match for the subject.’ Andrew Motion
‘It seems fitting that AN Wilson should have written the definitive biography of Lewis, and it is a superb job.’ John Bayley
The fact that the cover endorsements are primarily about Wilson’s literary skill, rather than Lewis’s, should be a clue: this is a take-down!
But enough of covers. It’s an odd thing to be forced to ask yourself a series of distracting questions as you move through the book: Does the biographer respect the subject?
Did he understand the nature of religious conversion and its implications? Does he understand the role and limitations of Christian apologetics?
He exposes the jealousies and nastiness of CSL’s peers but is ANW himself entirely free from such nastiness given that he appears to support their criticisms?
Why the persistent schoolboy name-calling, likening CSL to a low-class ‘police court solicitor’ (a disrespectful mocking of CSL’s father’s occupation)? Yet, even schoolboys have an opportunity to respond. Lewis has no ability to respond.
While there may be some debate about the nature of CSL’s relationship to Mrs. Moore in the early days, are we to believe that CS Lewis cherished being both a domestic and sexual masochist? You needn’t be a Freudian scholar to have a few chuckles at some of Wilson’s psychoanalytical observations.
The bigger question is if Wilson is so repelled by Lewis’s Christianity and by Lewis as a personality, then why on earth write a biography of him? May we ask for a proper revision?
What we have here is a gossipy attempt to cut the puffed-up Lewis down. Positively tabloid my good man! It just makes Wilson appear pompous and mean-spirited.
In an attempt at balance, Wilson writes, ‘Insufferably annoying as he may have been in life, there was also something glorious about him.’[ii] Seriously? Glorious?
Lewis’s Reluctant Conversion It may have struck you as odd that Lewis is usually quoted as describing his conversion negatively. He says that in 1929 he ‘gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.’[iii]
But actually, as both ANW and Green/Hooper helpfully point out, this was an intellectual assent to theism, not his decision to follow Jesus Christ which came about two years later. Wilson adds that Lewis, at the time, was emphasizing his unwillingness to accept any high sounding ‘divine call’ which might undermine him.
He still considered himself a ‘prodigal’ looking for any opportunity to escape the inevitable. Green/Hooper write of Lewis’s 1929 experience, ‘This conversion was, however, to theism pure and simple, and not to Christianity. He knew nothing about the incarnation at this stage.’[iv]
Lewis, Tolkien and Dyson Although in his autobiography Surprised by Joy Lewis only touches on the events surrounding his Christian conversion Green/Hooper describe it in some detail:
‘Lewis was still thinking about myth and resurrection when, on Saturday evening (19 September 1931), he invited Tolkien and Hugo Dyson to dine with him at Magdalen. Probably none of them had any idea what a momentous impact this night’s conversation would have to Lewis…In Lewis’s rooms they talked about Christianity till 3.00am when Tolkien left to go home. After seeing him through the little postern door that opens on to Magdalen Bridge, Lewis and Dyson continued the discussion for another hour, walking up and down the cloister of New Buildings…On Monday, 28 September, Lewis and Warren [his brother] took a picnic lunch to Whipsnade Zoo…But something happened to Lewis on the way to Whipsnade for, as he says in Surprised by Joy: ‘When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did…It was…like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.’
A few days later (1 October) Lewis wound up a long letter to Arthur Greeves with the news: ‘I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ…My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.’[v]
Lewis on ‘Low Church’ and ‘High Church’ Lewis was not a so-called ‘high church’ Anglican. In fact, he was forthright on this point. ‘I’m not…what you call high. To me the real distinction is not high and low, but between religion with a real supernaturalism and Salvationism on the one hand, and all watered down modernist versions on the other.’[vi]
Lewis on Adam as an Historical Figure On one evening, fellow academic Helen Gardner was dining with Lewis and a number of others at Lewis’s home. Wilson writes:
‘Conversation at the table turned on the interesting question of whom, after death, those present should most look forward to meeting. One person suggested he would like to meet Shakespeare; another said St. Paul.
‘But you, Jack,’ said the friends (or, as Helen Gardner felt, the disciples), ‘who would be your choice?’
‘Oh I have no difficulty in deciding,’ said Lewis. ‘I want to meet Adam.’ He went on to explain why, very much in the terms outlined in A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’, where he wrote: ‘Adam was, from the first, a man in knowledge as well as in stature. He alone of all men ‘had been in Eden, in the garden of God.’…He had ‘breathed the aether and was accustomed to converse with God ‘face to face’.
Be that as it may, Adam is not likely, if she has anything to do with it, to converse with Helen Gardner. She ventured to say so. Even, she told Lewis, if there really were, historically, someone whom we could name as ‘the first man’, he would be a Neanderthal ape-like figure, whose conversation she could not conceive of finding interesting.
A stony silence fell on the dinner table. Then Lewis said gruffly, ‘I see we have a Darwinian in our midst.’’[vii]
The inclusion of this incident may be intended to make Lewis appear either misogynistic, self-serving, rude, a fundamentalist or all of the above. The point, though, is that Lewis did consider Adam to be a real historical figure.
C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and J.R.R Tolkein There are numerous other small points of interest like this one. Lewis’s resistance to modern poetry alienated him from the emerging generation of poets. His own relative failure as a poet, especially as a narrative poet, even after publishing two books of poetry, was a source of sadness to him. And indeed, for those of us who have actually put in the hours to read every published poem by Lewis, we concur that he wasn’t a success (although there are a few brilliant pieces).
Some may, however, sympathise with him when considering the work of the modernists’ leading light T.S. Eliot. Lewis wrote:
‘For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening – any evening – would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.’[viii]
Wilson also describes such fascinating moments as when CSL and Tolkien decide they’ve had enough of the popular novels being published and made a commitment to each other that they will write ‘better’ books: ‘I’m afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves!’ What a result!
C.S. Lewis – never Professor of English at Oxford Is it not strange that Lewis never became a Professor at Oxford?
Wilson gives us the reason:
‘It could be said that Lewis was exiled, in some sense, for his refusal to toe the line. It was not his failure to be a good graduate supervisor which cost him the Oxford chair, it was Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.’[ix]
In 1954, however, Cambridge established a new ‘Chair’ of English and Lewis was invited, and accepted the position: Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature. His lectures were sensationally popular.
Other Biographers Towards the end of Wilson’s book, apart from a somewhat rushed feel, there is an attempt to undermine other biographers and historians of Lewis. Hooper is dismissed as unreliable. Wheaton College is snubbed with characteristic upper-class English pomposity: It’s not a real University is it, after all? Once again, we hear the persistent drone undermining Lewis’s Christianity: it’s that pesky fly again.
There is much to enjoy in Wilson’s biography but so much that is disappointing. In a book so littered with uncharitable moments, perhaps Wilson’s final paragraph gives a typical example: ‘Those who knew Lewis in the days of his flesh might suppose that he would chiefly be remembered as a vigorously intelligent university teacher and critic who also wrote some children’s stories.’
So that’s it then! Lewis, phenomenally popular during his own lifetime and an inspiration to thousands of Christian intellectuals, is triumphantly minimised and dismissed: not a Professor, not a best-selling author, just a ‘university teacher who wrote children’s stories’.
It’s time for a better CS Lewis Biography To coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death in 2013, when he was honoured in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, Alister McGrath released a new biography of Lewis. For a review in Christianity Today check here. Readers of that biography may still feel we need something more like Wilson in style and more like Hooper in appreciation. But that’s another story.
And yet…history reveals to us that racism can be so ingrained that it needs particular, persistent attention – exposure and rejection – before it falls. It’s a bondage that needs particular deliverance, and then disciplined follow-up, before it is purged from the human heart. Even after conversion. How was it that so many church-goers could be either supportive of or complacent about apartheid in South Africa?
The problem isn’t with the gospel
The inadequacy isn’t with the gospel, which has the power to change us inwardly and unite us (Col 3.11). Perhaps our preachers and teachers continually pass over the implications of the gospel when it comes to racism; worse, perhaps many don’t even see it.
And this essentially brings me to why I have included a series on Frederick Douglass on a website focussed on Church History. Undoubtedly one of America’s greatest social reformers and a very powerful speaker (just read his July 4th address), Douglass wasn’t a churchman. His story is here not because he was a church leader, but because of his experience of church leadership. What shook me to the core was the following account of the conversion of one of his masters and the subsequent increase of cruelty by this man towards his slaves. Those of us inspired by reformers like Wilberforce, MLK and Luthuli, or preachers of such moral clarity as Wesley or Spurgeon, and who love stories of revival, must surely cover our faces in confusion when we read accounts like this:
‘In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways…Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty…
He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and he proved himself an instrument in the hands of the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers’ home. They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he stuffed them…
While I lived with my master in St. Michael’s, there was a white young man, a Mr. Wilson, who proposed to keep a Sabbath school for the instruction of such slaves as might be disposed to learn to read the New Testament. We met but three times, when Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders, with many others, came upon us with sticks and other missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meet again. Thus ended our little Sabbath school in the pious town of St. Michael’s.
I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture—“He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”[i]
It is hard to believe that such a man was actually converted. What can we say to such things? Racism should die under the gospel…and yet…
To read the next post in this series, including CS Lewis on white supremacy, click here
For the first post in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
[i] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p.32-34 (Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
While Frederick Douglass was probably in his early teens his owner died and the estate needed to be valued for redistribution among the owner’s children. This valuation included all the slaves the dead man had possessed.
Valued along with the cattle
‘I was immediately sent for, to be valued with the other property. Here again my feelings rose up in detestation of slavery. I had now a new conception of my degraded condition… We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine.
There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. Silvery-headed age and sprightly youth, maids and matrons, had to undergo the same indelicate inspection. At this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder.
The trauma of being separated
After the valuation, then came the division. I have no language to express the high excitement and deep anxiety which were felt among us poor slaves during this time. Our fate for life was now to be decided. We had no more voice in that decision than the brutes among whom we were ranked. A single word from the white men was enough—against all our wishes, prayers, and entreaties—to sunder forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings.
The threat of cruelty
In addition to the pain of separation, there was the horrid dread of falling into the hands of Master Andrew. He was known to us all as being a most cruel wretch,—a common drunkard, who had, by his reckless mismanagement and profligate dissipation, already wasted a large portion of his father’s property. We all felt that we might as well be sold at once to the Georgia traders, as to pass into his hands; for we knew that that would be our inevitable condition,—a condition held by us all in the utmost horror and dread.
Frederick’s brother abused terribly
I suffered more anxiety than most of my fellow-slaves. I had known what it was to be kindly treated; they had known nothing of the kind. They had seen little or nothing of the world. They were in very deed men and women of sorrow, and acquainted with grief. Their backs had been made familiar with the bloody lash, so that they had become callous; mine was yet tender; for while at Baltimore I got few whippings, and few slaves could boast of a kinder master and mistress than myself; and the thought of passing out of their hands into those of Master Andrew—a man who, but a few days before, to give me a sample of his bloody disposition, took my little brother by the throat, threw him on the ground, and with the heel of his boot stamped upon his head till the blood gushed from his nose and ears—was well calculated to make me anxious as to my fate. After he had committed this savage outrage upon my brother, he turned to me, and said that was the way he meant to serve me one of these days,—meaning, I suppose, when I came into his possession.
Will not a righteous God visit for these things?’ (emphasis added)[i]
To read the next post in this series click here
For the first post in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
[i] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p. 27-28, 29 (Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
Believe it or not, acts had been passed in the Southern States forbidding any person to teach a slave to read.[i] But at about the age of twelve Frederick Douglass moved to a new owner and the owner’s young wife, a Mrs Auld, was unaware of this. When her husband discovered what she had been doing, he forbade her to continue, forcefully arguing that by reading and learning the slave would become discontented and yearn for freedom. A door had been opened. ‘What he most dreaded, that I most desired,’ wrote Douglass. From that time on, secretly and cleverly, Douglass learnt how to read from the white children he met doing errands.
Learning to read – a curse
‘The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity.’[ii]
A good Irishman
‘The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went, unasked, and helped them. When we had finished, one of them came to me and asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. He asked, “Are ye a slave for life?” I told him that I was. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the north; that I should find friends there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to be interested in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I feared they might be treacherous. White men have been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then, to get the reward, catch them and return them to their masters. I was afraid that these seemingly good men might use me so; but I nevertheless remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved to run away.’[iii] 25
To read the next post, how Frederick and his fellow-slaves were ‘valued’ along with cattle click here
For the first part in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
[i] See https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/experience/education/docs1.html and http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/slaveprohibit.html
[ii]Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p.24(Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
[iii] ibid p.25
One of the challenges American abolitionists faced was the assertion of pro-slavery advocates that the living and working conditions of slaves weren’t as bad as supposed. They claimed that, in many instances, where slaves were consulted, they said their masters were kind, and their situations pleasing. Case closed. Frederick Douglass, in his autobiography, gives a typical instance of how this false impression was both obtained and maintained:
‘To describe the wealth of Colonel Lloyd would be almost equal to describing the riches of Job. He kept from ten to fifteen house-servants. He was said to own a thousand slaves, and I think this estimate quite within the truth. Colonel Lloyd owned so many that he did not know them when he saw them; nor did all the slaves of the out-farms know him. It is reported of him, that, while riding along the road one day, he met a colored man, and addressed him in the usual manner of speaking to colored people on the public highways of the south: “Well, boy, whom do you belong to?” “To Colonel Lloyd,” replied the slave. “Well, does the colonel treat you well?” “No, sir,” was the ready reply. “What, does he work you too hard?” “Yes, sir.” “Well, don’t he give you enough to eat?” “Yes, sir, he gives me enough, such as it is.”
The colonel, after ascertaining where the slave belonged, rode on; the man also went on about his business, not dreaming that he had been conversing with his master. He thought, said, and heard nothing more of the matter, until two or three weeks afterwards. The poor man was then informed by his overseer that, for having found fault with his master, he was now to be sold to a Georgia trader. He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment’s warning, he was snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death. This is the penalty of telling the truth, of telling the simple truth, in answer to a series of plain questions.
It is partly in consequence of such facts, that slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The slaveholders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family. If they have any thing to say of their masters, it is generally in their masters’ favor, especially when speaking to an untried man.’[i]
I should give a warning to the reader about the graphic nature of what follows, although no warning was given to the child who witnessed it.
The abolitionists condemned the brutality of slave owners, in defiance of repeated attempts to portray the system as somehow beneficial. This account of a single incident from the childhood of Frederick Douglass brings home the reality.
This post is part of a series on Frederick Douglass (the first part here). Why is it here on the Church History Review? Because, as you track Douglass’ story you’ll see how it interacts with the church (in some instances a church experiencing revival) and presents lessons a challenge to how the church ought to respond to pressing social issues.
Douglass writes, ‘I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he [the Master, a ‘Captain Anthony’] used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.
I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.
This occurrence took place very soon after I went to live with my old master, and under the following circumstances. Aunt Hester went out one night,—where or for what I do not know,—and happened to be absent when my master desired her presence. He had ordered her not to go out evenings, and warned her that she must never let him catch her in company with a young man who was paying attention to her belonging to Colonel Lloyd. The young man’s name was Ned Roberts, generally called Lloyd’s Ned. Why master was so careful of her, may be safely left to conjecture. She was a woman of noble form, and of graceful proportions, having very few equals, and fewer superiors, in personal appearance, among the colored or white women of our neighborhood.
Aunt Hester had not only disobeyed his orders in going out, but had been found in company with Lloyd’s Ned; which circumstance, I found, from what he said while whipping her, was the chief offence. Had he been a man of pure morals himself, he might have been thought interested in protecting the innocence of my aunt; but those who knew him will not suspect him of any such virtue. Before he commenced whipping Aunt Hester, he took her into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist, leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirely naked. He then told her to cross her hands, calling her at the same time a d—-d b—h. After crossing her hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and led her to a stool under a large hook in the joist, put in for the purpose. He made her get upon the stool, and tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fair for his infernal purpose. Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she stood upon the ends of her toes. He then said to her, “Now, you d—-d b—h, I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders!” and after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dared not venture out till long after the bloody transaction was over.’[i]
To read the next post in this series click here
For the first part in this series click here
[i] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p.3-4 (Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
One of the aims of the Church History Review is to enable the reader to enter history, to provide a door through which you can discover lessons from the past to help you today. We’re inspired by those who have, through faith and patience, overcome almost impossible obstacles.
When I was in the USA earlier this year I stayed in a southern state and wanted to read more of its history. I found a little second-hand bookstore and spent some pleasant hours searching through the shelves for poetry and biography from the area. Like many in the UK in the 1970s, my family had eagerly watched each episode of Alex Haley’s Roots TV series. I was also aware that some former American slaves had written their biographies and discovered this bookstore had two or three. Their stories, told in such close and honest detail, are deeply shocking. I have only been in one significant car accident. As I pulled out onto a main road a speeding driver who wasn’t concentrating smashed into the back of my car. He hit me so hard the back of my driver’s seat broke, and the car was written off. Reading these narratives, particularly the one I will focus on in the next few posts, was a similar kind of experience. You might not want to be exposed to such a jarring experience, but let me urge you to read on for at least the following reasons:
history – I want to know what was actually going on. understanding – autobiography (as with poetry) helps me connect with another person’s experience. It informs my humanity. It can change my perspective and behaviour. context – I felt, as I read Douglass’ story, that I gained a fuller understanding of the USA itself – missing puzzle pieces fell into place; and actually not only the US picture, but any postcolonial or mutli-cultural context. Christian instruction – as we’ll see, Douglass had a strong and justified critique of the failure of the church to apply the gospel to issues of racism
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on a plantation in Maryland before the American Civil War. In 1838 when he was twenty he made a dangerous and daring escape and became an influential speaker in the growing abolitionist movement in the North. His first book was the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave published in 1845 and from which the following extracts are taken:
My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me.
My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age.Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.
I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day’s work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary—a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master.
I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master’s farms, near Lee’s Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care…’ [i]
Salvation Army scraps (part three) The modern (post-modern, post-post-modern) quest for purpose continues to generate a myriad of insightful seminars, ‘life-coaches’, book deals, promo guest appearances, wellness plans and disciplines. Many seem to benefit from these moments, and even Christians make their selections from the wisdom buffet and serve up motivational quotes on social media. All well and good. But for the Christian, is there not already in place, already embedded in the very nature of the thing, a driving, momentous cause propelling them forward?
A little decoration, a little flourish here and there, is no doubt good if you have the main structure in place, but if you’re trying to live on flourishes instead of building on a solid foundation you may one day be shattered by a storm. Or end up merely numb, desperately trying to find excitement surrounded by a seemingly inexhaustible collection of useless trinkets.
Leaders like William Booth stir us because they bring us back to the essential stuff. We need that. I really am trying to finish this series on Booth and the Salvation Army with this post of quotes, the first of which states Christian purpose powerfully.
Booth on Purpose in Life ‘What are you living for? What is the deep secret purpose that controls and fashions your existence? What do you eat and drink for? What is the end of your marrying and giving in marriage – your money-making and toilings and plannings? Is it the salvation of souls, the overthrow of the kingdom of evil and the setting up of the kingdom of God? I am not censorious. If I know my own heart, it is full of yearning for the happiness of all men…[but] I must push this question. Have you the assurance that the ruling passion of your life is the same as that which brought Christ to the manger, led Him to fight the foul fiend of Hell in the wilderness, bore Him onward on the back of suffering and tears and ignominy and shame, sustained Him in drinking the cup of anguish and enduring the baptism of blood, bore Him through Gethsemane, nailed Him to the Cross of Calvary and enabled Him in triumph to open the gate of the Kingdom? Is that what you are living for? If not, you may be religious – a very proper person amongst religionists – but I don’t see how you can be a Christian.’ [i]
Booth in 1911 (the year before his death): ‘The helping of the wretched, and the saving them out of the earthly, hellish conditions in which such multitudes live, and the saving of souls of the people in larger numbers, and the organizing them when they are saved for still further victories, is the dream of almost every hour of my life.’ [ii]
Booth on the need for courageous leadership ‘Heroism is, comparatively speaking, out of fashion here. In fact, there is no call for it. The milk-and-water type of man, who neither creates enthusiasm nor rouses opposition, is a model leader of modern religion. Nothing is to be done that is contrary to the taste or liking of anybody else.’ [iii]
The Salvation Army and women’s rights
Woman has won her place in The Army. She has won a very wonderful place in the world by means of The Army. It may be worth while to remark here that, though seldom acknowledged, there is little doubt that the women of The Army have played a part in the general emancipation of woman which we see to be going on in the Western nations. In the political struggle, The Army, of course, has taken no part, but in the higher realms of the fight, the hand of the Salvation woman, both Officer and Soldier, has helped to carry the banner to victory. The women who marched at the head of the little bands of despised Salvationists in years gone by were accustoming the public mind to the spectacle of woman in command, of woman taking an active unshrinking share in public duty, and overcoming by the grace of God her supposed inferiorities. Thus we may truly say that we were opening a door through which women might carry the Message of Love and Life to multitudes who would never receive it save from a woman’s lips. That door will never again be shut. (italics in the original) [iv]
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] The War Cry, Feb 21, 1885. Quoted in The Founder Speaks Again (London: Salvationist Publishing and Supplies, 1960), p.59-60
[ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 2, p.306
[iii] The Founder Speaks Again (London: Salvationist Publishing and Supplies, 1960), p.176 [iv] Quoted in Bramwell Booth, Echoes and Memories (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1925), p.172
Salvation Army Scraps (part two. Part one here) It is not widely known that the early Salvation Army was, by any standards, pretty charismatic. It’s a bit awkward. Their meetings seem to be, frankly, a little out there. But, as with many other movements that in reality created powerful evangelistic and missional communities, their claim was that the effects were nothing but the work of the same Holy Spirit that empowered the early church.[i]
Humphrey Wallis: Not only were there prostrations, but numerous cases of physical healing. The saved railway guard and Salvation Army Officer, James Dowdle, with his wife, had almost embarrassing cures occur during their services. One, a lame girl, was healed, and her father, to whom the news was immediately taken by an alarmed spectator, said, ‘Walking and cured in The Salvation Army is she? I’ll cure her of that blasphemous nonsense,’ took his stick and came to thrash her. On seeing his daughter, who had limped in distortion and pain for years, straight and joyous, her crutches carried by a woman behind her, the stick fell from his hand, and he could do nothing but marvel. [ii]
Elijah Cadman on these phenomena: These “Fits” and the bodily cures were nothing to do with any of us. They were manifestations of the power of God. We could not say when, where, or how they would occur, and we certainly did not know how God worked – we only saw them as signs of His presence. [ii]
Healings and Levi-whaaat?!? Bramwell Booth: Instances of levitation also took place in our services, and well authenticated stories came before me from time to time. Of these, however, I do not write now, except to say that I cannot doubt that everything about them was open and true. Nor can I dwell at any length upon equally well authenticated instances of Divine healing. The Army has ever had in its ranks in various parts of the world a number of people unquestionably possessed of some kind of gift of healing. If extravagances have gathered round the subject in some quarters, they ought not to be permitted to obscure the central fact, which is that the healing of the sick by special immediate Divine interposition, in answer to prayer and faith, has undoubtedly occurred. Surely there is nothing surprising in this. On the contrary, it would have been surprising had it been otherwise. [iii]
Extreme and overpowering joy, ecstasy In the United States, in the earlier days, we had a record of somewhat similar experiences, except that there they generally took the form of extreme joy. One of the peculiarities of the prostrations and trances and the like in Europe has been the great solemnity which has nearly always marked their occurrence, no matter whether they concerned those who were outside or inside The Army. But in the United States it was rather the other way about. In these demonstrations of the Spirit, the reality of which no one would challenge who knew what had really happened, there was an accompaniment of overpowering joy, exhibited in singing, and sometimes in a disposition to dance, or to remain for a long period in a kind of ecstasy. The practical effects, however – and it is by their practical effects that all these things must be judged – were very much the same there as elsewhere. [iv]
To read the next post, and Booth’s amazing challenge to us to find purpose in life, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] See Acts 2; the Moravians, the Methodists.
[ii] Humphrey Wallis, The Happy Warrior (London: Salvationist Publishing, 1928), p.109, 111
[iii] Bramwell Booth, Echoes and Memories (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1925), p56-57
[iv] ibid. p58
Salvation Army Scraps (part one)
I’m surrounded by odds and ends. Details too important to leave out. I’m not so keen on very short posts (as you, dear reader, already know), and don’t want to split all this into bits. So here are some riveting, powerful, juicy scraps fallen from the table of the Salvation Army’s early history. Enjoy!
Was William Booth’s multi-site church the largest church in Victorian London?
Richard Collier writes, ‘One week-night London survey of this era  tallied almost 17000 worshipping in Army barracks, as against 11000 in ordinary churches.’ It’s certainly true that no-one gathered a larger crowd than CH Spurgeon with his dynamic evangelistic and Calvinistic preaching. He was seeing 5000 in each Sunday meeting, and much larger crowds at special events. But the Salvation Army were organised much like the multi-site churches of today, with a distinct leadership over the whole, but individual leaders breaking through into new territory across the city. If we consider a multi-site church as being the largest church in a town or city we may, perhaps, have to review our opinion that Spurgeon had the world’s largest church of the day. [i]
Booth on the Russian Revolution
‘The news of the Russian Revolutionary Upheaval, with its scenes of bloodshed and disorder, has upset me terribly…To what will it lead and where will it end? O my God, my God, what an awful suffering state this world has come to, notwithstanding all that has been done for it during the 2,000 years that have passed since Jesus Christ shed His Blood on its behalf! How feeble and powerless all our efforts have been. I was awfully depressed yesterday – but there is no alternative but to push on. If we cannot remove the mountains of misery we can move some of the little hills.’ [ii]
William Booth to Churchill: ‘You’re not converted!’
On meeting with Winston Churchill (then, Home Secretary) in 1910 where Booth had outlined the Salvation Army’s strategy for helping those in British prisons: ‘We parted in the most genial manner – Mr Chruchill saying with a smile, “Am I converted?” We had talked much about conversion from our standpoint.
“No,” I said, “I am afraid you are not converted, but I think you are convicted.”
He added something about my seeing what was in him. To which I replied, “What I am most concerned about it not what is in you at the present, but what I can see of the possibilities of the future.” [iii]
To read the next post, and stories of miraculous healings taking place in the Salvation Army, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.90
[ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 2:213
[iii] ibid 2:299
As we bring our series of posts on the Salvation Army to a close (there may be one or two more), let’s hear from William Booth himself. This is a short clip where with great skill he brings the needs of those most disadvantaged to those most powerful in order to resource his mission. (3.02)
The following video includes footage of a Salvation Army ‘Open Air’ in 1904. (2.26)
The Salvation Army were committed to evangelism, but also developed ministries and even companies to help address social problems. Here’s s short clip about the Salvation Army’s Match Factory. (0.34)
Even towards the end of his life Booth continued personally evangelising and incorporating the most recent technologies to get the attention of those outside the churches. For many in Great Britain the first time they saw a car come through their town or village there was an old, bearded Moses-like figure standing in the back of it, preaching about Jesus Christ and how to get right with God. Here’s some footage. (2.26)
By the time Booth died the Salvation Army was one of the world’s most respected movements of social engagement. Below is a news reel showing how London came to a standstill for Booth’s funeral. (4.28)
Finally, a superb trailer for a new documentary about Booth. (1.10)
To read the next post, and how William Booth told Churchill, ‘You are not converted!’ click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
When Christianity begins to actually take hold – to decisively win the hearts of ordinary men and women – there is usually a violent backlash. Persecution is not something sensible Christians seek, but even the briefest glimpse of those times when the church has been very successful evangelistically will reveal the presence of a cultural kick-back.
The violent persecutions of the church by Diocletian in the early 4th Century, the martyrs before, during and after the Reformation period, the mobs that attacked Whitefield and Wesley, the persecution today of churches forced ‘underground’, are all examples of this phenomena. When the main body of a population begin to embrace Christianity in significant numbers there’s a reaction.
The same is true in the history of the Salvation Army. At first there were a few individuals throwing eggs and disrupting open air meetings, but soon there was an organised effort against the evangelists. The dreaded Skeleton Army, so called, violently attacked the Salvationists in order to stop them preaching the gospel. The assaults were persistent and extremely violent as the following accounts illustrate:
Arnold Begbie: ‘Perhaps the worst of the riots was that which occurred at Sheffield…when a Procession led by General and Mrs Booth was attacked by a numerous and savage multitude armed with sticks and stones. The procession arrived at its destination with bruised and bleeding faces, with ton and mud-bespattered garments, cheering the General who had passed unscathed through the rabble.
‘Now’s the time,’ he said, regarding his ragged, wounded and excited followers, ‘to get your photographs taken.’
Riots occurred at Bath, Guildford, Arbroath, Forfar, and many other places. In twelve months, it is recorded, 669 Salvationists, of whom 251 were women, were ‘knocked down, kicked, or brutally assaulted.’ Fifty-six buildings of The Army were stormed and partially wrecked. Eighty-six Salvationists, fifteen of them women, were thrown into prison. From one end of the kingdom to the other, this effort to break up The Army was carried on in a most shameless fashion under the very eyes of the law, the mob attacking the Salvationists, the police arresting the Salvationists, the magistrates sentencing the Salvationists.’[i]
Richard Collier: ‘But molestation wasn’t confined to the streets…At Plymouth, Devon, forty men armed with brimming chamber pots stormed the hall to drench James Dowdle, “The Saved Railway Guard,” with urine. Time and again meetings were closed down in wild confusion…Even 1,500 police doing extra duty every Sunday seemed powerless to protect Booth’s troops.
Neither age nor sex proved a barrier, for the mobs were out for blood. In Northampton, one blackguard tried to knife a passing lassie; Wolverhampton thugs flung lime in a Salvationist child’s eyes. At Hastings, Mrs. Susannah Beaty, one of Booth’s first converts on Mile End Waste, became The Army’s first martyr…Reeling under a fire of rocks and putrid fish, she was kicked deliberately in the womb and left for dead in a dark alley of the Old Town. [ii]
Humphrey Wallis: ‘No Salvationist defended himself or herself by physical force. Knocked down, kicked, struck, reviled, reported guilty of bestial behaviour, accused of blasphemy and unprintable acts in their Meetings, they took refuge in the reply, ‘God bless you,’ and in prayer for their assailants. Elijah [Cadman], who had been so ‘handy with the gloves,’ and experienced such rough handling that a few of his brother-Officers hinted he liked persecution, had never raised a finger for himself or Army protection. More than his share of mud, stones, dead rats, and cats found their billets on or around him. He led a march in the slums waving a stik with one hand, and carrying a dead rat by its tail in the other; he had caught the rat as it flew to its aim…A live cat was thrown at him. ‘The live one was worse than all the dead ones; for the live one, poor thing, hung on. People wondered why we carried those dead rats and cats with us. It did seem silly. But, don’t you see, if we had left ‘em where they fell the mob would have had ‘em again, and thrown ‘em at us again, and one swat in the eye per one dead rat is enough,’ said he.’ [iii]
Roy Hattersley: ‘Throughout England opposition to the Salvation Army was growing fast. The Skeleton Armies – founded in Exeter and Weston-super-Mare for the specific purpose of breaking up Salvation Army meetings – began to set up branches throughout the south of England. Although the Armies had no formal structure or high command, the groups that came together had four common features – the backing of the breweries, the sympathy of the magistrates, the conservative attitude of the local population and the relatively small size of the towns in which the ‘skeletons’ operated.
Without the breweries the Skeleton Armies would have been nothing. In one of his many angry memoranda to the Home Secretary, William Booth wrote:
In nearly every town where there has been any opposition we have been able to trace it more or less to the direct instigation and often the open leadership of either Brewers or Publicans or their EMPLOYEES. The plan adopted is by treating or otherwise inciting gangs of roughs.’ [iv]
To read the next post, and hear William Booth preach, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 2:2
[ii] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.94
[iii] Humphrey Wallis, The Happy Warrior (London: Salvationist Publishing, 1928), p.90
[iv] Roy Hattersley, Blood and Fire (London: Abacus, 2000), p.273
On the 22nd Nov 1891 Allister Smith and four Salvation Army volunteers arrived at the Amatikulu River in Natal. After several days of visiting peoples’ homes they organised a series of evangelistic meetings.
On the first night Smith preached the gospel and although they had decided not to make an appeal for responses after the first sermon, he couldn’t help himself, and asked, ‘Are there any here who will give themselves today to this God who gave His only Son to die for us?’
Immediately, a young Zulu warrior stood to his feet and declared, ‘I am willing!’ After he prayed with Smith and gave his life to the Lord he went back into the crowd and urged his best friend to do the same.
His name was Mbambo Matunjwa. In a relatively short time he became a respected young preacher of the gospel. Within a few years he was winning hundreds to Christ and was gradually promoted through the ranks of the Salvation Army until he became a Major.
Suffering in service and in war Matunjwa’s story is a deeply challenging one. His father was the chef to Prince Sitegu, and experienced both the favour and the dangers of serving in the royal court. After a sickness had swept through the royal family a sangoma was called in to determine if any foul play had taken place. The cause was determined to be malicious and four of Matunjwa’s family were slaughtered as a result of the sangoma’s finding. He wrote, ‘This is my earliest recollection – seeing my relatives lying on the ground, clubbed and pierced to death, their gaping wounds crying for vengeance.’ Later, his parents, both spared, became sangomas, and Mbambo became a skilled warrior, part of a resistance that almost wiped out the British 24th Regiment in 1879. During the civil war that followed, Matunjwa was wounded in battle, being speared through with an assegai. He said it felt like a fire passing through his body.
Matunjwa survived the wound, married, and at the first evangelistic gathering of the Salvation Army described above, he responded and gave his life to Christ.
A tragic blow He was so successful at planting churches that he was moved to a region further north. However, soon after the move he and his wife encountered the shocking loss of both their sons in quick succession. The younger boy died from natural causes and the elder son from what was strongly suspected to be food poisoning.
They were heartbroken. After their initial successes in evangelism this was an almost insurmountable blow. Nevertheless Matunjwa continued preaching and continued to see fellow Zulus responding to the gospel.
Forgiveness, pure, perfect, radical forgiveness On one occasion after he’d finished his message, he made an appeal for those who wanted to repent to do so by coming forward. A young man came forward and asked to speak with him privately. He confessed that he was a sinner and needed forgiveness and asked Christ into his life. Matunjwa urged upon him the truth that God does indeed forgive sin.
But then, to his horror, the young man confessed that he had been the one who had deliberately poisoned the preacher’s son. He begged to be forgiven. Matunjwa turned away in agony. With a heart aching with sorrow, yet knowing the reality of God’s grace, he turned to face the young man and offered to forgive him.
It didn’t end there. With a maturity that challenges all our impulses toward revenge, Matunjwa decided to begin a discipling relationship with the young man, teaching him the basics of living the Christian life.
Matunjwa’s wife, Nomalanga, also had to face the reality of both the discovery of her child’s murderer and the forgiveness her husband had offered him. And – astonishing though this may sound – this godly couple invited the young man to live with them in their home, effectively adopting him as their own son.
He went on to become an effective gospel preacher, and, like his adoptive parents, also served in the Salvation Army.
I have no more words.
To read the next post, about the violent organised opposition the Army face, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
‘While we have been standing upon our dignity, whole generations have gone to hell.’ Catherine Booth (1880)
These words penned by Catherine Booth over a hundred and thirty years ago, echo through the halls of time and rock our sense of complacency and self-satisfaction.
The co-founder of The Salvation Army, a slight woman of 5.6” with fiery eyes and dark hair, might have appeared weak and inferior to the untrained eye, but within her beat a heart of passionate love for the lost that forged her life’s choices from childhood until her untimely death at the age of sixty-one.
Her children knew her as mother and warrior: one who darned socks at the fireplace while, at the same time, preparing a sermon that she was to preach later that week. Her husband William cherished her as both wife and teammate in the daily war waged for the souls of men and women. In a world where women were considered more ornament than orator, this Woman-Warrior stood firm on the spiritual battleground representing both the ‘fairer sex’ and the ‘fighting soldier’.
Perhaps some of her seminal writings can be found in Aggressive Christianity.[i] This compilation of The Army Mother’s sermons became the missional pulse that propelled the early Salvation Army into the dark streets and dirty alleys of the East End of London and across the seas into countries around the world.
The writings of Catherine Booth should come with a warning to all would be readers: CAUTION: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
With the focused logic of a lawyer, Mrs. Booth laid out the foundations for Christian ‘warfare’.
Our warfare must be Aggressive Booth describes a burning building. A family is asleep within the consuming flames and their death is imminent. How would we go about rescuing them? Would we quietly invite them to exit the burning building? Would we give them a choice and if they do not respond, say ‘Oh well, I’ve done my duty’? Or would we rush through the flames, forcibly wake them from slumber and pull them out of the fire? This, she asserts, is ‘aggressive warfare’.
Too often Christians have allowed themselves to become compromised. The world has convinced us that not all sin is sin; that being inclusive is more important than being holy. Others begin to set the standard of Christlikeness and very soon God’s standards are forgotten.
Similarly, she asserts, Christians allow themselves to become complacent. Our love for the lost gradually diminishes while our expectation of personal comfort increases. We begin to believe that the desire for salvation is the responsibility of the sinner and excuse ourselves of the responsibility to speak up.
Compromise and complacency are the silent killers of aggressive warfare.
‘Don’t let your relatives, and friends, and acquaintances die, and their blood be found on your skirts!!!!’
Our warfare must be Adaptive ‘There is no improving the future, without disturbing the present, and the difficulty is to get people to be willing to be disturbed.’
Here the analogy Booth uses is a cup, representing the methods we often engage to share the gospel. The water poured into the cup represents the pure gospel, the life-giving refreshment from God.
She contends that too often we are more concerned with the shape, colour and size of the cup than we are the purity of the water being poured. We can become rigidly committed to ‘form and ceremony’ while being oblivious to the fact that, in our determination to stay in the rut of ‘we have always done it this way’, we may be compromising the purity of the gospel.
Again Booth calls us out of our routines, our personal preferences, and comfort zones with these words: ‘Here is the principle laid down, that you are to adapt your measures to the necessity of the people to whom you minister; you are to take the Gospel to them in such modes and habitudes of thought and expression and circumstances, as will gain for it from them a hearing.’
Our warfare must be Anointed The third analogy that the Army Mother employs is that of a witness in a courtroom. She reminds her readers that God needs witnesses who will stand up for Him – people who can honestly say: ‘Look at me: – the way I live and act – what I am – this is the religion of Jesus Christ.’
She goes on to state that there are four qualifications of a consistent witness for Jesus:
– The witness must be good – someone whose character matches their words.
– The witness must be faithful – someone who personally knows the truth and is willing to tell the whole truth; the convicting and healing truth of the gospel.
– The witness must be reliable – someone who is willing personally to go to those who need to hear the message; someone who accepts personal responsibility rather than merely sponsoring others to go.
– The witness must be courageous – like Daniel who was not ashamed or afraid of the consequences for his devotion to the Lord. A good witness must be willing to speak out for God whatever the cost.
Catherine sums up her thoughts with this rhetorical and yet profound question:
‘What is [the world] dying for? – downright, straightforward, honest, loving, earnest testimony about what God can do for souls. That is what it wants.’
The challenge issued by Catherine Booth to her generation is as relevant and challenging today as it was then. Such a challenge is seldom easy to swallow.
PURITY of heart is required as we seek to set aside complacency and root out compromise in our lives.
PASSION is needed to courageously disturb the present and improve the future.
Holy Spirit POWER must be sought after if believers are to be consistent and effective witnesses for Jesus Christ.
Is this PURITY, POWER and PASSION evident in your life?
Co-Director of Salvation Factory
The Salvation Army, USA Eastern Territory
[i] All quotes in this post are from Catherine Booth, Aggressive Christianity, (1986 edition, USA: The Salvation Army, ISBN: 0-86544-031-X)
There were many outstanding features of the Salvation Army that challenge every church-planter and church-planting movement:
Firstly, they were unashamedly committed to preaching the gospel, as raw, as clear, as directly as possible. They preached for conversion. They preached repentance and faith in Christ in language that was easily understood.
Secondly, they were obsessively active in each of their locations. They wouldn’t accept a place as being ‘hard’ or ‘resistant’. They developed techniques that attracted people to the gospel message; whether musical or theatrical, even gimmicky. They were determined to get a hearing amongst those in their respective mission fields.
Thirdly, they were not afraid of reaching the poorest, and those who might be considered ‘forsaken’ by society at large. This evangelistic impulse led to an incredible number of social ministries for which the Salvation Army today is largely known.
Fourthly, they trained huge numbers of very young leaders and sent them into new areas to open Salvation Army ‘Corps’.
Fifthly, their prayer meetings, and even their Sunday meetings were marked by spiritual power. They were dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit and didn’t shy away from what may appear to outsiders as overt displays of emotion.
Phenomenal Growth As a result of these (and other) factors, the Salvation Army grew at a phenomenal rate.
Norris Magnuson writes,
William Booth commanded fewer than 100 British Isles stations in 1878, but two decades later his world-wide organization numbered about 3500 posts, and by 1904 there were more than 7000. Though the founder died in 1912, rapid growth continued; 4600 new corps came into being during the thirteen years immediately following his death. This long-term expansion drew repeated praise from such leaders of American social Christianity as Josiah Strong and Charles Stetzle. The former, writing in the early 1890s, declared that the Army’s ‘amazing success,’ which would have been ‘phenomenal in any class of society,’ was in fact more amazing because it had occurred among those whom the churches had ‘conspicuously failed to reach.’
Throughout the era before World War I, neither William Booth nor his Army lost the fervor for evangelism that had driven the founder into the slums of East London. If anything, it increased across the years. ‘Souls! Souls! Souls!’ was the headline in one issue of the War Cry, and those words and spirit were everywhere in evidence. George Railton, in an article written during his brief foray in America, declared that ‘this willingness to sever ourselves, if needs be, from the whole world, in order to save somebody,’ to ‘plunge down to the very depths of human contempt,’ was ‘the essence of the life of Jesus Christ.’ [i]
As I read such reports from the Christianity of yesterday, I am convinced I should be, by the grace of God, doing more to serve others today.
How about you?
To read a guest post by a Salvation Army leader on Catherine Booth, click here
To read the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
The Secret History of the Salvation Army (part three)
It is well known that John Wesley and George Whitefield attended an all-night prayer meeting during which the Holy Spirit was poured out in such power that several men fell to the ground. They were overwhelmed by the power of God. They were filled with the Spirit. And then 1739 happened.
It’s not as well known that the early Salvation Army experienced very similar outpourings of the Spirit.
Sanctifying Power The Salvationists were taken with the theology of the Wesleyans, that a ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit after conversion imparts a degree of spiritual holiness. Different views exist on that point. Nevertheless, what is undeniable is that they were indeed receiving power to witness, and that their witness for Christ spread rapidly throughout Great Britain, and before long, the world.
One all-night prayer meeting is described in The Happy Warrior, Humphrey Wallis’s biography of Elijah Cadman:
At one o’clock in the morning the Holy Sprit came upon us, and suddenly thirty fell down and cried out to God for the Blessing of a Clean Heart. Some lay as though they were dead for a time. Oh, may God give us more and more of His Sanctifying Power, the complete armour for the people of The Salvation Army.’[i]
Glory Fits Obviously during the Victorian period, as in all others, people had distressing seizures which were popularly referred to as ‘fits’. Medical professionals were called upon to diagnose and treat the patients. These were, of course, distressing. When the primarily working class Salvationists began to be overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit in their meetings, they, rather endearingly and humorously, referred to these spiritual experiences as ‘glory fits’.
A gathering characterised by such experiences was also sometimes referred to as a ‘Hallelujah Wind-up’ because the atmosphere became so intense until release came through shouting, loud praying, singing, or by people running or jumping up and down (If you’re not sure about the phrase ‘wind-up’, which is still in use today, it refers to the tension created by winding up a watch or clock until almost at breaking point. Nowadays, it tends to refer to something that is increasingly irritating).
This was the hour when the phenomena characterizing the…first years of The Salvation Army – phenomena that has never wholly vanished – reappeared in a more extensive manner.
The course of the regular Meetings bean to be interrupted by Salvationists falling into ‘Glory Fits.’ In one of Elijah’s Meetings at Bradford ‘about a hundred persons were in ‘Glory Fits.’ Soldiers came up to Officers to say, “I don’t believe in this,” and while speaking fell under the strange manifestation of the Divine Presence.’
The ‘Glory Fits’ were ecstasies during which the individuals affected were insensible, usually silent, and remained thus for one, or many hours. All ages and both sexes were included in the cases. The prostrations were commoner in Holiness services and nights of prayer. Medical and other means devised to control or restrict the symptoms were useless. The condition was not contagious or always recurrent. Those beside or near a Salvationist experiencing the ecstasy were not similarly moved or sympathetic, and those who had been once in the state were often immune from a repetition.
People fell suddenly where they stood or sat, many crying out, as with a last breath, ‘Glory to God!’ On returning to consciousness, no coherent account was given of what had taken place. A few described their withdrawal from material sense as ‘bliss’, ‘great happiness’, ‘like Paradise’, ‘walking into Heaven in a rainbow’, ‘joy the body was unable to bear’, and a ‘sense of the love and glory of Christ’.
Said Elijah: ‘I have seen them lying about all over the platform and Hall, but never once in an unseemly posture. Their bodies were, as a rule, quite stiff. We had our own people carry them out of the Meeting – that was the strict regulation – and take every precaution for them. Men carried men and women carried women. They were placed in different ante-rooms adjoining the Halls, and several elderly, trusted Soldiers of the same sex left in charge till they recovered. Frequently doctors attended them. None ever became indisposed, ill, or died. It was often the most peaceful and composed of our people who were affected. There were never, in my experience of the “Glory Fits” any warning signs. A Meeting might be ‘hard’, that is, very difficult to pray in and to get others to pray; a lot of sinners making trouble, perhaps, and then, in an instant, the Power of God would descend on us, sinners be hushed into awe, and be overcome by the sense of His Majesty and His Love, through His Son, to us all, and all the world.
Sometimes we leaders would beseech Him to withhold His gift, that the people might not be alarmed, and that those in ignorance of Him might be prevented from sinning by spreading false reports.
I have led Meetings where the Holy Spirit was manifest in such power that half the soldiers present were in “Glory Fits” and I had to cling, nearly helpless, to the platform rail, lifting my heart and crying inwardly all the time to God to shepherd my people. Conversions always took place in such Meetings.’[ii]
Knowing history can help us evaluate contemporary experience
I recently heard a pastor ridiculing similar experiences of the Holy Spirit because he observed it merely left believers feeling loved and not empowered for fruitful mission. Love is important, of course, but let’s not rubbish outpourings of the Spirit because some (and even some leaders) fail to emphasise the missional purpose of such outpourings. The evidence of the early Methodists and the early Salvationists suggests such outpourings were the dynamic cause of their missional work.
To read the next post, on how they then experienced nothing short of phenomenal growth, click here
For the first post in the Salvation Army Series click here To see part one of the ‘secret history’ click here