Stained Glass Church Window of Mary Slessor in Calabar

Stained Glass Church Window of Mary Slessor in Calabar

Mary Slessor (1848-1915), a Scottish Presbyterian, served as a missionary to Calabar (southern Nigeria), West Africa, for thirty-eight years. At that time Calabar was considered one of the deadliest and most degraded countries in all of Africa. While the European slave trade had been largely abolished in Calabar decades earlier, the country’s population continued to be ravaged by intertribal warfare, disease and superstitious pagan practices. Mary compassionately, courageously pioneered in areas of Calabar that other missionaries and even traders avoided.

For the first several years of her missionary career, Mary ministered in two mission settlements, Duke Town and Old Town, on the Calabar River, about forty miles from the coast. She was soon placed in charge of the mission work at Old Town and its three small outstations. In those locations she held regular school sessions for both children and adults during the week, then led worship services and a Sunday School on the Lord’s Day.

One of the horrifying, superstitious practices that Mary and the other missionaries strove to overcome was the custom of killing twin babies. Calabarians believed that the father of one of the twin infants was an evil spirit and that at least one of the twins was a monster. Twin babies were seized, their backs were broken and they were thrown out into the bush to be eaten by wild animals or insects. The infants of slave mothers who died were also left in the wild to perish. The missionaries rescued both those types of endangered infants whenever they could and took them to the missionary compounds where they were cared for and protected.

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Mary spoke out against the evils of those forms of infanticide and took several such rescued children under her care. At any given time throughout her missionary career she usually had a number of rescued and orphaned children she was foster parenting. At first the people of Calabar viewed this with suspicion, thinking Mary was in league with a devil and expecting to see her suffer ill effects as a result. But in time their superstitious suppositions faded, and she became known everywhere as “the white Ma who loves babies.” (In Calabar and neighboring regions “Ma” was a term of respect for a mother.)

After twelve years of service in Calabar, Mary was granted the longtime desire of her heart when she was given permission to carry out pioneering missionary work in the previously unreached Okoyong region, a densely forested wedge of land between the Cross and Calabar rivers north of Old Town. The Okoyongese practiced witchcraft and animal sacrifice. They plundered property and slaves from neighboring tribes. They commonly used two superstitious trials-by-ordeal to determine a person’s guilt or innocence if suspected of a crime: boiling palm oil was poured over the hands of a suspect or he was required to drink water mixed with ground powder from the poisonous esere bean. As a result, many innocent people were left badly burned or dead. The illness of a freeman was invariably considered the result of someone having practiced sorcery against him. The local witchdoctor was called to supposedly identify the guilty individuals, who were then executed by decapitation. When a chief died, many individuals were put to death to accompany him into the spirit world. Liquor, guns and chains were practically the only items of commerce that entered Okoyong. Gin or rum was in every home and was drunk by every adult and child, beginning from infancy.

Statue of Mary Slessor Holding Twins in Calabar

Statue of Mary Slessor Holding Twins in Calabar

Mary ministered among these desperately needy Okoyongese for many years. Initially she taught school and held Sunday worship services at two substantial neighboring villages, Ekenge and Ifako. She also helped undermine the prevailing and devastating liquor traffic in Okoyong by introducing more beneficial forms of legitimate trade. Okoyongese began giving their time, attention and effort to producing palm kernels and oil to trade with Calabarians in exchange for cloth, pots, dishes and other useful items. In addition to material benefits for the Okoyongese, this trade also resulted in a considerable reduction in the amount of time they spent in useless drinking and fighting.

Eventually the day came when, at Mary’s insistence and for the first time in the known history of Okoyong, the death and funeral of a chief took place without the traditional sacrifice of other individuals to accompany him into the afterlife. Chiefs and other free people, one by one and unknown to each other, secretly came to Mary to thank her for her love and courage as well as for all the peaceful, life-giving policies she was promoting. They encouraged her to keep a brave heart and to continue doing away with the old customs that invariably produced death.

Mary Slessor

Mary Slessor

Mary did continue to manifest marked courage in her dealings with the Okoyongese. On numerous occasions she was seen taking large, drunken mean by the neck, pulling them away from their alcohol and throwing them to the ground! She once stopped and confiscated a canoe-load of machetes that were being taken upriver for use in war. Several times she played a key role in preventing tribes from going to war with each other. On one such occasion she intervened between two tribes that were on the brink of attacking each other. Though her heart was beating wildly, she stood between them and made them pile their rifles on opposite sides of her. With mounds of weapons heaped up over five feet high on both sides, she then negotiated a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

Four years after beginning her ministry in Okoyong, the British Government asked Mary to carry out a new judicial responsibility in that region. For many years British authorities had exercised only minimal influence over the coastal regions of Calabar, while tribes like the Okoyongese further up the Cross River wholly ignored and opposed British directives. Recognizing Mary’s unique position and influence in Okoyong, British authorities asked her to organize and supervise an indigenous court and empowered her to do all that was necessary to promote the reception of new laws in the region.

Mary presided over the court at various locations throughout Okoyong. Large groups of tribal leaders came to consult her about adjusting their customs to the new laws. Through these activities justice was promoted for the local people and the rule of law was promoted in the region. Though Mary did not relish that type of service, she sought to carry it out faithfully, believing it to be part of the ministry the Lord had for her to do. Those efforts helped to greatly reduce such practices as killing infant twins, the poison bean ordeal and executing individuals at the deaths of chiefs. Mary gained a reputation as a tough but just judge, and Okoyongese

Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

came from great distances to have their trials held before her.

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A fuller account of Mary Slessor’s storied missionary career in Calabar is recorded in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). W. P. Livingstone’s Mary Slessor of Calabar, Pioneer Missionary (originally published 1916) is the classic full-length biography of her life. Bruce McClennan’s Mary Slessor, A Life on the Altar for God (Christian Focus, 2015) is a more recent full account of her life.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Mary Slessor
Mary Slessor (1848-1915) was one of the most celebrated Christian missionaries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For thirty-eight years she carried the Gospel to savage, degraded tribes in the dense forests of Calabar (southern Nigeria), West Africa, courageously pioneering in areas that other missionaries and even traders avoided.

Mary’s girlhood and early adult years were filled with both extreme difficulties and encouraging spiritual influences. Both the negative and positive facts of her girlhood were used of God to forge within her the selfless, indomitable spirit that would be needed to fulfill the career of daunting, heroic service He had for her.

Stained Glass Church Window of Mary Slessor in Scotland

Stained Glass Church Window of Mary Slessor in Scotland

Mary’s father, Robert, after losing his job as a shoemaker in Aberdeen, Scotland, due to his drinking problem, moved his family to Dundee, where he worked in one of the city’s mills. As Robert descended deeper into alcoholism, conditions grew increasingly desperate for the family. Any money he could lay his hands on was spent on alcohol, and his wife was often left with nothing to feed and clothe the children.

Saturday nights were tense, fearful occasions for Mary and her mother. Having received his weekly pay in cash, Robert would stay out late drinking and then stumble home thoroughly inebriated. When his wife and Mary, the eldest daughter, offered him the supper they had denied themselves in order to provide for him, he often threw it into the fire. Sometimes when he became violent Mary was forced to flee into the streets where she wandered, alone and sobbing, in the dark.

Not many months after their move to Dundee, Mrs. Slessor had to enter one of the factories to help support her family. Mary was left to care for her siblings and undertake many of the household responsibilities. When Mary was just eleven years old, she too was put to work in a factory to help supply needed income for the family. At first she was a “half-timer” in a textile factory, working half the day and attending a school connected with the factory the other half.

By the time she was fourteen Mary had become a skilled weaver and went to work fulltime while continuing her education at the school by night. She arose at five o’clock each morning to help with household chores before going to the factory and needed to carry out similar duties after returning home at night. When Mary’s father died, the pressures on her remained enormous as she had become the primary wage earner for the family. Her life at that time was said to be “one long act of self-denial.”

Mary SlessorMary’s mother was a gentle, devout Christian. She always took her children to the regular church services and had them attend the church’s Sunday School. Mrs. Slessor also had an active interest in the foreign missionary enterprises her Presbyterian denomination was carrying out in India, China, Japan, South Africa and Calabar (the southeastern coastal region of modern Nigeria).

Despite Mary’s wearisome work hours, she was active in the ministries of her church. In addition to attending a Bible class for teens and adults, she participated in the weeknight prayer meetings and taught a class of “lovable lassies” in the Sabbath School. Mary’s church started a mission to reach needy young people in the tall tenements of Dundee’s slums, and she taught classes for boys and girls on Sundays and weeknights. When she and a few others attempted to carry out open-air evangelistic ministry in those underprivileged neighborhoods, roughs opposed them, pelting them with mud.

Mrs. Slessor’s children, Mary most of all, shared in her intense missionary interest. In that era missionary service was generally not open to single women. Two of Mary’s brothers showed interest in becoming missionaries but both of them died at a young age. Mary began to wonder: Would it ever be possible for her to become a missionary? Could she go in place of her brothers? Gradually those thoughts, which she expressed outwardly to no one, formed into a definite desire and determination.

When news of David Livingstone’s death reached Britain early in 1874, it created a new wave of missionary enthusiasm and played a part in leading many, Mary Slessor included, to offer themselves for service on the Dark Continent. Mary’s mother and most of her trusted spiritual confidantes encouraged her to pursue the possibility. She offered her services to the Foreign Mission Board of the United Presbyterian Church in May of 1875 and was accepted as a teacher for Calabar.

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A fuller account of Mary Slessor’s formative girlhood and young adult years as well as a record of her storied missionary career in Calabar are included in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). W. P. Livingstone’s Mary Slessor of Calabar, Pioneer Missionary (originally published 1916) is the classic full-length biography of her life. Bruce McClennan’s Mary Slessor, A Life on the Altar for God (Christian Focus, 2015) is a more recent full account of her life.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Catherine Booth, Mother of the Salvation Army
For 140 years The Salvation Army (SA) has been ministering to the material and spiritual needs of underprivileged people in different parts of the world. This Perspectives article will sketch Catherine Booth’s vital role in the founding and dramatic early decades of The SA’s ministry.

In 1865 Catherine Booth’s husband, William, established The Christian Mission to minister to lower-class individuals in London’s degraded East End. Over the course of the next ten years The Christian Mission expanded to more than thirty ministry centers and preaching stations in towns scattered throughout England. In June of 1877 The Christian Mission was reorganized and renamed The Salvation Army.

William and Catherine Booth ministering in a street meeting

William and Catherine Booth ministering in a street meeting

Considerable military terminology and symbolism soon came to be used. Lay members of the mission were now soldiers, and evangelists were captains and lieutenants. Mission stations were called corps. William Booth, The Salvation Army’s general superintendent, was referred to as the General. Catherine never held a rank in The SA, but she did eventually assume the honorary title of the Army mother.

During 1878 and 1879 Catherine was kept constantly on the go, speaking at “war councils” in various cities and towns, presenting The Salvation Army flag to new corps, and explaining as well as defending the Army’s mission and methods to supporters and critics alike. Such ministries took her to fifty-nine towns in 1879. The SA was then experiencing explosive growth, growing to 130 corps and 195 officers in England that year.

Beginning in 1880 The Salvation Army’s ministry mushroomed beyond England and Wales to other parts of the world. That year and the next a dozen corps were established in both the United States and Australia. Within a year and a half of the first Salvation Army street meeting in Canada, a whopping 200 corps under the direction of 400 officers had been established in that country.

Despite its dramatic success (or because of it), The Salvation Army attracted many critics and opponents. Catherine played a major role in defending The SA against its numerous detractors. Anglican clergy denounced the Army as having no part in historic orthodox Christianity. Upper class individuals and members of the Established Church were especially critical of some of the Army’s novel methods: SA soldiers marching in the streets; “Hallelujah Lasses” preaching in the streets or speaking publicly in churches; the Gospel being preached in theatres and circuses; adapting secular tunes to many of the spiritual songs employed in their services; showcasing in public meetings trophy converts rescued from notorious pasts.

William and Catherine Booth, Founders of The Salvation Army

William and Catherine Booth, Founders of The Salvation Army

To one critic of such measures Catherine responded earnestly: “Oh, my dear sir, if you only knew the indifferent, besotted, semi-heathenish condition of the classes on whom we operate, you would, I am sure, deem any lawful means expedient, if only they succeeded in bringing such people under the sound of the Gospel. It is a standing mystery to me that thoughtful Christian men can contemplate the existing state of the world without perceiving the desperate need of some more effective and aggressive agency on the side of God and righteousness.”

The Salvation Army also experienced persecution from the “Skeleton Army.” Mobs, many of which were incited by individuals with vested interest in the alcohol industry, used intimidation and physical violence in an effort to silence Nonconformist groups that dared to challenge traditional social customs and religious beliefs. Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and The Salvation Army were all targets of such mob violence. Police and local magistrates often turned a blind eye to the brutal attacks.

In 1882 alone, sixty buildings used for Salvation Army purposes were attacked (and sometimes all but destroyed) by rioting crowds. That year 669 Salvationists were assaulted, including 251 women and twenty-three young people under the age of fifteen. A group of SA lasses in Whitechapel, East London, were tied together with rope and pelted with live coals. Two female Salvationists died as the result of injuries sustained in an attack at Guildford.

Such harrowing incidents drew considerable attention to the unjust treatment The Salvation Army was experiencing in various parts of Britain. Public sympathy began turning in its favor. The right of the Army to conduct street marches was defended in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

In 1885 the number of SA corps in Great Britain increased from 637 to 802 while foreign corps rose from 273 to 520. By the end of that year the Army had 1,322 corps and 3,076 officers stationed around the world.

Catherine Booth's Gravestone

Catherine Booth’s Gravestone

In the closing years of her life Catherine was one of the key individuals who assisted her husband in working out an extensive plan to minister to the pressing economic needs of England’s “submerged tenth,” the percentage of the nation without the basics of food, shelter and work. The Salvation Army launched a greatly expanded program for addressing those needs.

But in the Booths’ minds, social work was clearly secondary to the primary spiritual ministry of leading people to Christ. Social ministry was appropriate and necessary to alleviate human suffering and to gain a hearing for the Gospel. But lasting economic and moral reform in individual lives and in society could only come about as people were led to saving faith in Jesus Christ and had their lives transformed by His Spirit.

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A much-fuller account of Catherine Booth’s life and ministries is related in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Roger Green’s Catherine Booth, A Biography of the Cofounder of the Salvation Army (Baker, 1996) provides a more comprehensive account of her life. Other encouraging and instructive incidents from the lives of William and Catherine Booth are included in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians (Christian Focus, 2010).

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

William and Catherine Booth with the first five of their young children

William and Catherine Booth with the first five of their young children

With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just around the corner, here’s some encouragement for Christian parents from the examples of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army. The Booths carried out their parental responsibilities with a great blend of diligence, wisdom, seriousness and even fun. Though William and Catherine were heavily involved with their public ministries, they were also devoted to the healthy upbringing of their children. Their pronounced influence on their nine children (including an adopted son) resulted in all of them growing up to become dedicated believers, with most of them entering vocational Christian service.

The Booths sought, under God, to lead each of their children to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior at a young age. Once after an evangelistic meeting that was being held in a tent, Catherine approached their oldest son Bramwell, who was then seven years of age. It was obvious he was under deep spiritual conviction. “You are very unhappy,” she stated tenderly, then asked, “You know the reason?” He indicated he did. But when she asked if he was ready to make a public decision for Christ, he immediately and emphatically responded, “No!” Years later he related of that moment: “She put her hands suddenly to her face, and I can never forget my feelings on seeing the tears fall through them on the sawdust beneath our feet. But I still said ‘No!’”

Bramwell Booth (son) and Evangeline Booth (daughter) as Salvation Army leaders in adulthood

Bramwell Booth (son) and Evangeline Booth (daughter) as Salvation Army leaders in adulthood

Not many months later, however, following a meeting conducted specifically for children, Catherine was delighted to find Bramwell kneeling among the group of young penitents at the close of the service. The tenderhearted lad wept aloud over his sins. When his mother knelt and prayed with him, he experienced God’s forgiveness and knew he had been saved through faith in Jesus.

Family Bible reading and prayer was an everyday occurrence in the Booth household. In keeping with William and Catherine’s conservative convictions (which were common among many Evangelical Christians of their era), drinking alcohol, smoking, dancing, playing cards, going to theatres and dressing in worldly fashions that called attention to oneself were strictly forbidden.

While the Christian Sabbath was carefully observed, the Booths believed Sunday should be a happy day. When the children were younger, Catherine held Sunday meetings for them at home. Those services included singing, praying and a Bible lesson she always sought to make interesting for her children. The children began attending public services after they were old enough to take an interest in them.

The Booths were great believers in fresh air and encouraged their children to play outdoors a great deal. The children especially enjoyed tennis, soccer and cricket. Occasionally William Booth would join his children for a lively game of Fox and Goose in which he always led the chase and provoked the squeals of excitement.

William and Catherine Booth

William and Catherine Booth

Catherine insisted on having a good degree of peace and quiet in her home, but she did not want to thwart her children’s energetic play. So the Booths had a double floor (packed with sawdust between as a sound barrier) installed between the children’s upstairs playroom and the ceiling of the house’s main story. The children could thus romp upstairs without disturbing the tranquility of the rest of the house. Many of the games the children played reflected their Christian upbringing, as when they reenacted Bible stories or held pretend revival meetings.

The Booth children were encouraged to keep a variety of pets, both as a way of enjoying some of God’s creatures and as a means of learning to care responsibly for others. Dogs, rabbits, mice, guinea pigs (the latter numbering nearly 100 at one time!) and other creatures made up the family’s revolving menagerie.

Most of the educating of the children was done at home under their mother’s watchful eye and with the help of a governess. Catherine considered it of greatest importance not only to impart knowledge but also to shape character and train the heart. Over the home’s five-foot bookcase she exercised a vigilant though broadminded censorship aimed at reserving the children’s attention for literature that was really worth their time.

William and Catherine diligently taught their children that their lives were not their own to do with as they pleased. Rather, they rightly belonged to God who had redeemed them, and their lives were to be devoted to serving Him and the needy world around them. From the time they were teens the Booth children were given significant responsibilities in their parents’ mission work. Each of William and Catherine’s children (except one daughter who had a significant learning disability) eventually served as officers in The Salvation Army, some at the highest levels.

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A much-fuller account of Catherine Booth’s life, public ministries and parental practices is related in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Other encouraging and instructive incidents from the lives of William and Catherine Booth are included in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians (Christian Focus, 2010).

Christian Men and Their Godly Moms

In addition, Tim Challies is currently running a series of Saturday blogs on the helpful theme of “Christian Men and Their Godly Moms.” You’ll find a number of examples of devoted Christian mothers who profoundly impacted the lives of their children in that series at challies.com.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Catherine Booth

Catherine Booth as a young woman

When Catherine (Mumford) Booth, the future “Mother of the Salvation Army,” was just nine years old, she once saw a raucous crowd coming down the street of her girlhood town of Boston in Lincolnshire, England. The crowd shouted and jeered at a young man, obviously intoxicated, who was being dragged along by a policeman.

Catherine had often heard her father, a zealous proponent of total abstinence, speak publicly on the evils of drunkenness. A tenderhearted child, she instinctively felt pity for this individual who was obviously under the destructive influence of alcohol. Though normally shy, she now boldly stepped forward, took the drunkard’s hand and smiled up at him. That simple act of compassion and support had a calming effect on the man. Ignoring the continued ridicule of the crowd, Catherine bravely walked alongside the drunk, helping to steady him as he was led off to the town jail.

William Booth as a young man

William Booth as a young man

Catherine married William Booth, an itinerant Methodist evangelist, in June, 1855. Three years later William was appointed to be the pastor of a large Methodist congregation in the city of Gateshead in northern England. There Catherine devoted two evenings a week to house-to-house visitation in the lower-class neighborhoods of town where alcoholism and poverty prevailed. She prayed and read Scripture with people, shared and showed God’s love to them, invited them to church and succeeded in persuading a number of “drunkards to abandon their soul-destroying habits.”

Of one particularly pitiful home situation Catherine wrote: “I found a poor woman lying on a heap of rags. She had just given birth to twins, and there was nobody of any sort to wait upon her. I can never forget the desolation of that room. By her side was a crust of bread and a small lump of lard. … I was soon busy in trying to make her a little more comfortable. The babies I washed in a broken pie-dish, the nearest approach to a tub that I could find. And the gratitude of those large eyes, which gazed upon me from that wan and shrunken face, can never fade from my memory.”

In the years that followed William returned to itinerant evangelistic ministry, and Catherine began a fruitful public speaking ministry of her own. After they moved to western London in 1865, Catherine was invited to minister at a meeting of the Midnight Movement for Fallen Women. Two or three hundred prostitutes were at the meeting, and she spoke to them “as one sinful woman to another.” So fervent was her appeal, that some of them responded to her plea to reform their lives.

William and Catherine Booth

William and Catherine Booth

That summer William carried out a six-week mission in London’s East End. That section of the city was infamous for its extreme poverty, degradation and despair. Unemployment, drunkenness, prostitution and all variety of crime abounded. The East London Christian Revival Union (later renamed The East London Christian Mission) was formed to help raise prayer and financial support for the fledgling ministry. Through Catherine’s expanding ministry to well-to-do audiences in London’s West End she was able to acquaint them with and raise support for the East End mission.

William soon sensed the Lord’s leading to discontinue itinerant ministry in order to dedicate himself to this new mission. One night after walking from the East End to their home in the West End, he announced to his wife: “O Kate, I have found my destiny! As I passed by the doors of the flaming gin-palaces tonight I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, ‘Where can you go and find such heathen as these, and where is there so great a need for your labors?’ And there and then in my soul I offered myself and you and the children up to this great work. Those people shall be our people, and they shall have our God for their God.”

CaCatherine Booth by Roger Greentherine later recorded her initial responses to that declaration: “I remember the emotion that this produced in my soul. I sat gazing into the fire, and the Devil whispered to me, ‘This means another departure, another start in life!’ The question of our support constituted a serious difficulty. Hitherto we had been able to meet our expenses out of the collections which we had made from our more respectable audiences. But it was impossible to suppose that we could do so among the poverty-stricken East Enders—we were afraid even to ask for a collection in such a locality.

“Nevertheless, I did not answer discouragingly. After a momentary pause for thought and prayer, I replied, ‘Well, if you feel you ought to stay, stay. We have trusted the Lord once for our support, and we can trust Him again!’”

That further step of faith and obedience eventually led the Booths to found the Salvation Army with its pronounced emphases on ministering to the spiritual and material needs of the lower classes of society. The remainder of their lives was devoted to promoting and carrying out multifaceted, large-scale ministry to hurting, needy individuals throughout Britain and the world.Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

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A much-fuller account of Catherine Booth’s life of compassionate Christian service is related in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Roger Green’s Catherine Booth, A Biography of the Cofounder of the Salvation Army (Baker, 1996) provides a more comprehensive account of her life.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Benjamin Franklin gravesite plaque with epitaph

Benjamin Franklin gravesite plaque with epitaph

When Benjamin Franklin was a young man, he composed an epitaph for himself:

The body of B. Franklin, Printer,

Like the cover of an old book,

Its contents torn out,

And stripped of its lettering and gilding,

Lies here food for worms.

But the work shall not be lost,

For it will, as he believed,

Appear once more

In a new and more elegant edition,

Corrected and improved

By the Author.

Benjamin Franklin Gravestone

Benjamin Franklin Gravestone

However, the inscription on Franklin’s gravestone in the Christ Church Cemetery, Philadelphia, reads simply: “Benjamin and Deborah Franklin 1890.” A nearby metal plaque at the cemetery records Franklin’s self-epitaph but then explains: “This epitaph, written by Franklin as a young man, was not used. His nearby gravestone was prepared in exact accordance with the instructions contained in his will.”

Ezra Stiles

Ezra Stiles

Not long before his death, Franklin responded to an inquiry from Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale University, concerning his religious beliefs. Franklin stated: “As to Jesus of Nazareth, I have some doubts as to his Divinity. Tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.”

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Franklin died doubting that Christ Jesus is God the Son, much less trusting in Jesus as his Savior from sin and the source of eternal life. Any hope that Franklin ever entertained of being resurrected “in a new and more elegant edition” by God did not materialize.

1 John 5:11-12 provides the testimony of God Himself on this matter: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son [Jesus]. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Of the resurrection to life eternal, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 teaches: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [died]. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him.”

That last phrase, “those who belong to Him,” refers to Christians, those who die believing in Jesus as their Savior from sin and sole source of eternal life. They are the ones who, when Christ Jesus returns, will be resurrected in perfectly-restored bodies to live with Him forever. (Read all of 1 Corinthians 15 for much more teaching from God’s Word on the future resurrection of all who truly trust in Jesus for salvation and eternal life.)

This Easter Week we remember Christ’s death on the cross and celebrate His resurrection from the grave to provide salvation and eternal life for all who would believe in and receive Him as their Savior and Lord. Those of us who know Jesus as our Savior rightly thank Him from the depths of our hearts for graciously providing us with those unspeakable, undeserved gifts. Any who have not yet done so, but who turn in repentance from sin to faith in Jesus, will likewise receive salvation and life eternal through Him.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Fanny Crosby in older age

Fanny Crosby in older age

Fanny Crosby, the most prominent hymn writer of the nineteenth century, composed the lyrics for some 9,000 songs over the course of her songwriting career, which stretched out for more than fifty years. Through the years a number of fascinating true stories were preserved about how some of those songs came to be written or how they were used of the Lord to bring spiritual benefit to individuals.

Fanny composed over 1,000 hymns for William Howard Doane, a hymn writer and publisher from Cincinnati, Ohio. Not long after Fanny and Doane first met, he stopped by her New York apartment with the declaration, “I have exactly forty minutes before my train leaves for Cincinnati. Here is a melody. Can you write words for it?”

“I will see what I can do,” Fanny replied. She later related: “Then followed a space of twenty minutes during which I was wholly unconscious of all else except the work I was doing.” At the end of that time she recited the words to “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” to Doane, who quickly copied them down before dashing off to catch his train.

William Howard Doane

William Howard Doane

Probably more real-life incidents came to be known involving that hymn than any other song Fanny ever wrote. One of the most touching involved a pastor, Dr. John Hall, who went to see the ailing daughter of one of his parishioners. When the girl’s father came downstairs in tears, the clergyman asked, “My dear friend, what is the trouble? Has the little girl gone home?”

“No,” the father answered, “but she has asked me to do something that I cannot do. Anything that wealth might buy she may have. But I cannot sing ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’ for I never sang a note in my life.”

“Oh, I will go up and sing it for her,” the minister responded reassuringly. He did, and the child slipped into eternity just as he sang the hymn’s last two lines:

Wait till I see the morning

Break on the golden shore.

The words from another of Fanny’s best-known hymns, “My Savior First of All,” were once used of the Lord to safeguard a number of people from spiritual deception. A man suddenly appeared in London, claiming to be the Messiah. Charismatic and persuasive, he drew large crowds for many weeks. But one evening as he was speaking in a public square, a small Salvation Army band passed by singing “My Savior First of All” with its closing lines, “I shall know Him, I Shall know Him, By the print of the nails in His hand.”

The sizeable crowd spontaneously joined in singing that chorus. Presently someone pointed at the self-proclaimed Messiah and challenged, “Look at his hands and see if the print of the nails is there.” When no such marks were revealed, the man promptly lost his following.

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby

Money meant little to Fanny. She normally lived in simple apartments, sometimes in a rather poor part of town. She was extremely generous. Often she gave all the money in her possession to help some needy individual, then asked the Lord to provide what she needed for her own food, rent and other basic necessities of life.

One day someone said to her, “If I had wealth I would be able to do just what I wish to do, and I would be able to make an appearance in the world.”

“Take the world but give me Jesus,” Fanny instantly replied. That remark led her to write one of her most famous hymns, which bore those words as its title.

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

These and other remarkable hymn stories of Fanny Crosby, along with her fascinating life story, are related in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). The story of her life is shared in her own words in Fanny J. Crosby, An Autobiography (Baker, 1995, and Hendrickson, 2015). A more comprehensive account of her life and ministry is provided in Edith Blumhofer’s Her Heart Can See, The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (Eerdmans, 2005).

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby

In an era filled with prominent Gospel song composers, Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) became the world’s premiere hymn writer of her day. A number of her hymns are still sung and appreciated by Christians around the world today. The fascinating story of how God used the seeming tragedy of Fanny going blind as an infant as part of developing her for her primary lifework is briefly related in my December 13, 2013, Perspective on “God’s Constructive Use of Misfortune.” In this Perspective we’ll explore other remarkable aspects of Fanny’s phenomenal hymn writing career.

During the course of her songwriting career, which stretched out for more than fifty years, Fanny composed the lyrics for some nine thousand songs. The vast majority of those were hymns. Nearly two-thirds of those songs were written for the Biglow and Main Company. Of the 5,959 poems she submitted to that New York firm, only about 2,000 were actually published. Often when the publisher requested works on a certain subject, she would submit three or four possible pieces on that theme. Normally only one of that grouping would be selected for publication.

For two decades Fanny composed between one-third and one-half of the selections included in the various hymnals published by Biglow and Main. She contributed large numbers of hymns for the works produced by other publishers as well. Most of her poems appeared under the name of ‘Miss Fanny J. Crosby’. But to make the massive volume of her contributions less conspicuous, she also employed an extensive array of pen names, initials and even symbols. The use of pseudonyms was a common practice by hymn writers in that day. But no other hymnist came anywhere near the whopping total of 204 different self-designations that Fanny employed.

Fanny Crosby in older age

Fanny Crosby in older age

Among Fanny’s best-known hymns were: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”; “Blessed Assurance”; “Close to Thee”; “I Am Thine, O Lord”; “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”; “My Savior First of All (I Shall Know Him)”; “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”; “Praise Him! Praise Him!”; “Rescue the Perishing”; “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”; “Saved by Grace”; “Savior, More than Life to Me”; “Take the World but Give Me Jesus”; “’Tis The Blessed Hour of Prayer”; “To the Work! To the Work!”; “When Jesus Comes to Reward His Servants.”

Virtually all the songs destined to become Fanny’s most prominent works were composed in the first decade of her hymn writing career. Scores of others gained varying degrees of popularity for a time but not in the same abiding fashion. Interestingly, one other of Fanny’s most famous hymns, “To God Be the Glory,” did not gain widespread popularity until it was commonly used in Billy Graham crusades in the mid-twentieth century.

Fanny wrote so many hymns in her lifetime, in fact, that more than once she forgot that she was the author of a song that she heard and was blessed by. Once, many years after first meeting Dwight Moody’s famous song leader, Ira Sankey, she attended a Bible conference where he led the congregation in singing “Hide Me, O My Savior, Hide Me.” She afterward revealed, “I did not recognize this hymn as my own production, and therefore I may be pardoned for saying that I was much pleased with it.”

“Where did you get that piece?” she asked the song leader. Supposing she was merely joking, he did not respond to her question. But after the song was used again in the afternoon service, she insisted, “Mr. Sankey, now you must tell me who is the author of ‘Hide Me, O My Savior’.” “Really,” he replied good-naturedly, “don’t you recall who wrote that hymn? You ought to remember, for you are the guilty one.”

Fanny Crosby & Ira Sankey

Fanny Crosby & Ira Sankey

Fanny did not become wealthy through her voluminous hymn writing. She was commonly paid a dollar or two for each of her poems, the standard fee with which publishing companies normally compensated their poets. She did not share in the considerable profits that her poems helped bring to the companies that published her songs. She seems never to have resented this arrangement or to have thought of it as anything other than normal music publication procedure.

During the final two decades of Fanny’s life, various Christian acquaintances made definite efforts to insure she would not live in impoverished circumstances. These well-intentioned friends may have failed to realize fully that Fanny’s financial condition was due in large part to her own generosity and outlook on money. She never expected to be paid more than the minimal going rate for the many hymns she produced for various publishers. She frequently refused honorariums for her numerous speaking engagements. Often she gave all the money in her possession to help some needy individual, then asked the Lord to provide what she needed for her own food, rent and other basic necessities of life.

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

Fanny Crosby’s fascinating life story is related more fully in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). The story of her life is shared in her own words in Fanny J. Crosby, An Autobiography (Baker, 1995, and Hendrickson, 2015). A more comprehensive account of her life and ministry is provided in Edith Blumhofer’s Her Heart Can See, The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (Eerdmans, 2005).

 

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

 

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) is well-known as the prominent blind hymnwriter of the nineteenth century. Some of her hymns are still sung today, including “Blessed Assurance,” “Redeemed,” “To God Be the Glory” and others. The story of her brush with death and subsequent conversion as a young woman is less well known.

At age fifteen Fanny entered the New York Institution for the Blind (NYIB), where she was a student for eight years before becoming a teacher there in 1843. In May of 1849, when Fanny was twenty-nine years old, a cholera epidemic broke out in New York City. Students at the NYIB were given an early dismissal to summer vacation that month, thinking they would be safer away from the city. But a number of students were unable to return to their homes elsewhere. So Fanny and some other faculty members decided to remain, being convinced that God would take care of them and they could be of some help.

By mid-July over 2,200 New Yorkers had perished from the dread illness. In the end, twenty members of the NYIB contracted cholera and ten died from it. Fanny assisted the Institution’s physician, Dr. Clements, in making pills to try to fight the sickness. A school just one block from the NYIB was turned into a cholera hospital. The Institution’s sick were taken there, and both Clements and Fanny served there. Frequently as she sat by a patient’s bedside at night the stillness was shattered by the harsh cry of a city official outside the door of some bereaved home nearby, “Bring out your dead.”

After several nights of almost no sleep near the end of July, Fanny felt like she might be coming down with the sickness. But after taking a generous dose of medication and getting a long night of sleep she felt fully restored. Hearing of her close call, however, the NYIB’s superintendent sent Fanny to her home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for the remainder of the summer. After the first hard frosts of fall it was deemed safe for people to return to New York City, and the Institution reopened in early November.

Fanny Crosby as a young woman

Fanny Crosby as a young woman

Fanny’s experiences in the cholera epidemic brought her face to face with her own mortality and likely played a part in life-changing spiritual developments that took place in the months to follow. Dating back to her first years at the NYIB she had attended the class meetings at the Eighteenth Street Methodist Church. In those early days at the Institution she was timid and never spoke in public if she could at all avoid doing so. She would attend the class meetings and play piano or guitar for them on the condition that she would not be called on to speak. Though Fanny had been raised in a devout Christian home before coming to the NYIB, by her own admission she had by this time grown somewhat indifferent toward spiritual matters.

In the autumn of 1850 revival meetings were held at the Methodist Broadway Tabernacle on Thirtieth Street. Fanny and some others from the NYIB attended the meetings each night. Twice when the invitation was given at the close of the service, she went forward, seeking peace from her inner spiritual struggles, but found none. Finally on November 20 she went to the altar alone. As she prayed, the congregation began to sing Isaac Watts’ grand old hymn, “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?” When they reached the great words of consecration contained in the last verse – “Here, Lord, I give myself away” – Fanny expressed that commitment as the desire of her heart, yielding her life to Jesus Christ. Immediately her “very soul was flooded with a celestial light” and she sprang to her feet, literally shouting, “Hallelujah!”

New York Institution for the Blind

New York Institution for the Blind

A week later she gave a public testimony at the class meeting of her recent conversion. When a good friend challenged her to make a complete surrender of her will to God, she did so by promising to do her duty whenever the Lord should make it clear to her. A few weeks later she was asked to close one of the meetings with a brief prayer. Her first thought was, “I can’t.” To which her conscience responded, “But your promise.” Some sixty years later she testified, “And from that hour I believe I have never refused to pray or speak in a public service, with the result that I have been richly blessed.”

The Lord used Fanny to bring great glory to Himself and abundant blessing to countless people. She went on to write several thousand hymns and to carry out a broad-ranging speaking ministry. Well into her eighties she traveled widely, ministering in churches, Bible conferences, rescue missions, YMCAs and various other settings. Fanny never tired of testifying, through her songs and speaking, of what Christ had done for her or of pointing others to Jesus as their Savior.

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance ChristieFanny Crosby’s fascinating life story is related more fully in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). The story of her life is shared in her own words in Fanny J. Crosby, An Autobiography (Baker, 1995, and Hendrickson, 2015). A more comprehensive account of her life and ministry is provided in Edith Blumhofer’s Her Heart Can See, The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (Eerdmans, 2005).

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Susanna Wesley

Susanna Wesley

Not a few professing Christians sometimes have doubts about their salvation. If you or someone you know fits in that category, perhaps you’ll be helped by considering the following narrative of how Susanna Wesley and her famous sons, John and Charles, came to gain an assurance of their personal salvation.

Susanna grew up in an era when it was quite common for even devoted Christians in various denominations not to have an absolute assurance of their personal salvation. That was true of both Nonconformists (among whom she was raised) and of Anglicans (with whom she fellowshipped and served as an adult). Both Anglicans and Dissenters taught salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But there was also such a pronounced emphasis on living a life of good works that not a few professing believers mistakenly supposed their salvation was based at least in part on their own good deeds. That mistaken belief couldn’t help but leave many of them wondering if they were good enough to make it to heaven.

John and Charles Wesley were ordained ministers in the Church of England. In 1735 they accompanied Colonel James Oglethorpe, founding Governor of Georgia Colony, to America. John served as a chaplain and a missionary to the Indians while Charles was Oglethorpe’s personal secretary. While in America the Wesleys had considerable contact with a group of German Moravian Christians who emphasized (1) salvation through faith in Christ alone and (2) having an assurance of one’s salvation through the inner witness of God’s Spirit.

Young John Wesley

Young John Wesley

After returning to England in 1738, both John and Charles had conversion experiences in which they firmly laid hold of the doctrine of justification by faith for themselves, and thereby gained a settled assurance that they were truly saved. They immediately set about zealously proclaiming those doctrines. Along with fellow Anglican George Whitefield, another fervent evangelist who emphasized justification through faith in Christ alone, they became the primary human instruments used of God to bring about the Evangelical revival that swept across England at that time. Through their earnest preaching, hundreds or even thousands of people came under deep conviction and were converted.

A significant spiritual event took place in Susanna’s life in January, 1740, at a communion service led by her son-in-law Westley Hall. She afterward wrote of the incident: “While my son Hall was pronouncing these words in delivering the cup to me, ‘The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee,’ these words struck through my heart, and I knew that God for Christ’s sake had forgiven me all my sins.”

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley

When Charles heard of this he wrote his mother a rather blunt letter in which he apparently declared that she had all along been trusting in her own good works to save her and had not been truly converted until that moment of realization during the recent communion service. But in answering his letter she referred back to a time during her teenage years when God had brought her through a period of serious doubting and had kept her Christian faith intact:

“I do not, I will not despair. For ever since my sad defection, when I was almost without hope, when I had forgotten God, yet I then found He had not forgotten me. Even then He did by His Spirit apply the merits of the great atonement to my soul, by telling me that Christ died for me. Shall the God of truth, the Almighty Savior, tell me that I am interested in [have a share in] His blood and righteousness, and shall I not believe Him? God forbid! I do, I will believe. And though I am the greatest of sinners, that does not discourage me. For all my transgressions are the sins of a finite person, but the merits of our Lord’s sufferings and righteousness are infinite!”

Susanna Wesley salvation quote

Susanna’s father, Samuel Annesley, was a prominent Nonconformist minister in London during her childhood and younger adult years. When she related to her son John the assurance that had recently come to her heart at the communion service, he queried her about Annesley:

“I asked whether her father had not the same faith, and whether she had not heard him preach it to others. She answered, he had it himself, and declared a little before his death that for more than forty years he had no darkness, no fear, no doubt at all of his being accepted in the Beloved [Christ]. But that, nevertheless, she did not remember to have heard him preach, no not once, explicitly upon it [such assurance of salvation]. Whence she supposed he also looked upon it as the peculiar blessing of a few, not as promised to all the people of God.”

Susanna’s own assurance was in evidence at the time of her death on July 23, 1742. According to John, who was at her bedside when she passed into eternity, at that time she expressed ‘no doubt or fear’. Her sole desire was ‘to depart and to be with Christ’ (Philippians 1:23). Such is the settled assurance of the Christian who has come to trust in Christ alone (rather than partly in one’s own good works) for salvation.

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You will find much more about Susanna Wesley’s interesting life and beneficial spiritual perspectives on a variety of issues in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Two commendable full-length biographies on her life are: Susanna Wesley by Arnold Dallimore (Baker, 1993) and Susanna Wesley by Kathy McReynolds (Bethany, 1998).

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie