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

 

 

 

Susanna Wesley

Susanna Wesley—the mother of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism—was exemplary in the educating and spiritual training of all her children. Susanna bore nineteen children but only ten of them lived to adulthood. During her childrearing years, the training and educating of her children was her primary focus in life. Each detail of her parental methodology will not be adopted by every parent. But her example has much to teach all Christian parents who desire to do a great job of raising their kids.

In an age when many girls and women, even among the upper class, never learned to read and write, Susanna had the blessing of growing up in the home of a university-trained London minister who saw to it that she received a sound homeschool education. Extremely intelligent, Susanna gained not only an excellent command of the English language but also a remarkable grasp of biblical and theological knowledge. When not quite twenty years of age, Susanna married Samuel Wesley, who was an Oxford graduate and a Church of England minister. The bulk of their ministerial career was spent at Epworth, a modest market town in western Lincolnshire.

Susanna taught her children to recite the Lord’s Prayer when rising each morning and retiring each evening. She also led them in memorizing other short prayers, various portions of Scripture and a short catechism. As was more common for Christian families in that era, Sundays were devoted entirely to religious learning and activities rather than to secular focuses.

Susanna taught each of her children to read when they turned five years old. All but two of the children learned the entire alphabet, upper and lower case letters, in a single day. As soon as they knew their letters, they began reading from the first chapter of Genesis, spelling out and reading one word then verse at a time.

Artist depiction of Susanna Wesley with some of her children

Artist depiction of Susanna Wesley with some of her children

Loud talking or playing were not allowed during the six hours of homeschool that Susanna held each day. Nor were the children permitted to rise out of their places or leave the room unless they had a good reason for doing so.

Susanna later initiated the custom of their singing psalms at the beginning and ending of each school day. She also began pairing up older children with younger ones, and having them read some Psalms and a chapter from the Old Testament before breakfast as well as Psalms and a New Testament chapter at afternoon’s end. Between the morning Scripture reading and breakfast the children were sent to their rooms for a period of private prayer.

From the time they were just a year old (some even earlier), Susanna trained her children “to fear the rod and to cry softly, by which means they escaped abundance of correction which they might otherwise have had.” Susanna placed great stress on the importance of subduing a child’s will from an early age: “In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will, and bring them to an obedient temper. To inform the understanding is a work of time and must with children proceed by slow degrees as they are able to bear it. But the subjecting of the will is a thing which must be done at once, and the sooner the better. For by neglecting timely correction, they will contract a stubbornness and obstinacy, which is hardly ever conquered, and never without using such severity as would be as painful to me as to the child.”

Epworth Parish Church

Epworth Parish Church

Susanna further advised with balance: “And when the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies and inadvertences may be passed by. Some should be overlooked and taken no notice of, and others mildly reproved. But no willful transgression ought ever be forgiven children, without chastisement less or more, as the nature and circumstances of the offense require.”

Samuel and Susanna Wesley saw to it that their three sons received a first-rate university education. The fact that their sons succeeded in doing so bears testimony to the quality of the foundational education they received from their mother.

Women did not pursue university education in that era. But Susanna took care that her daughters’ education, while confined to their home, was given top priority. She related one of her cardinal rules of education: “That no girl be taught to work till she can read very well. And then that she be kept to her work with the same application and for the same time that she was held to reading. This rule also is much to be observed, for putting children to learn sewing before they can read perfectly is the very reason why so few women can read fit to be heard, and never to be well understood.”

Eventually some of Susanna’s children left home to pursue further education or to live with other relatives for a time (as when the Wesleys’ rectory was destroyed by fire and needed to be rebuilt). Even then Susanna continued to look out for their welfare by writing them long letters full of instruction and advice concerning a variety of spiritual, moral and practical matters. Some of those letters were nothing less than theological treatises. In her first letter to her oldest son after he went to London to continue his education, she explained her motivation in writing him: “I shall be employing my thoughts on useful subjects for you when I have time, for I desire nothing in this world so much as to have my children well instructed in the principles of religion, that they may walk in the narrow way which alone leads to happiness.”

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance ChristieYou will find much more about Susanna Wesley’s interesting life and remarkable ministry to her children 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

 

 

Thanks everybody for the great response to my Thanksgiving perspectives article on what we can learn about giving thanks in all circumstances from the life of Corrie ten Boom. My friends over at Chosen Books saw the article and wanted to partner up for a special giveaway. Three winners will receive a Corrie ten Boom prize pack featuring the 35th anniversary edition of The Hiding Place, the young reader’s edition of The Hiding Place and Life Lessons from the Hiding Place.

Corrie ten Boom Prize pack

Win a Corrie ten Boom Prize Pack

Don Richardson teaching the Sawi

Don Richardson teaching the Sawi

In 1962 Don and Carol Richardson, Canadian missionaries with Regions Beyond Missionary Union, began serving among the cannibalistic Sawi tribes of western New Guinea (modern Irian Jaya). The Sawi honored treachery as an ideal. They befriended people of other villages with the intent of later betraying, killing and even eating them. The first time Don Richardson shared the story of Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus, the Sawi admiringly proclaimed Judas the hero of the story!

The Richardsons ministered to a pair of neighboring villages, Haenam and Kamur, that were constantly warring against each other. When, after several months, the Richardsons were not able to convince the two settlements to stop fighting, they announced that they would have to move elsewhere to minister. The Sawi, not wanting to lose the benefits to be gained by having westerners living among them, suddenly declared that they were going to make peace with each other. The Richardsons wondered how such peace could possibly be established, given the long history of hatred, treachery and distrust that existed between the villages.

Giving of a peace child

Giving of a peace child

The morning after announcing their intention to make peace, first a leader from Haenam then a leader from Kamur started to carry one of their own infant sons toward the neighboring enemy village. But in the first case the father from Haenam was prevented from doing so by family members who snatched the child back from him. And in the second instance the Kamur father, obviously distraught, changed his mind and turned back to his own village.

Suddenly a young Kamur father named Kaiyo picked up his six-month-old son, his only child, and began running swiftly toward Haenam. Kaiyo’s wife chased after him, pleading with him to stop. But when she slipped and fell into a muddy bog alongside the trail, she was unable to stop him.

When Kaiyo arrived at Haenam he came face to face with a line of his mortal enemies. “Mahor!” he called out to one of them. When Mahor stepped forward, Kaiyo asked, “Mahor! Will you plead the words of Kamur among your people?” When Mahor stated he would, Kaiyo continued, “Then I give you my son and with him my name!”

Peace Child by Don RichardsonTaking the baby gently in his arms, Mahor then announced for all to hear: “It is enough! I will surely plead for peace between us! Those who accept this child as a basis for peace, come and lay hands on him!” The men, women and children of Haenam eagerly filed by, each placing his or her hands on the Kamur infant. From then on Mahor went by Kaiyo’s name.

Presently an infant from Haenam was presented to Kaiyo, who made the same sort of pledge that Mahor had pronounced moments earlier. When Kaiyo returned to his village, the people of Kamur similarly placed their hands on the Haenam child as the basis for maintaining peace with that settlement. Kaiyo immediately assumed the name of Mahaen, the Haenam father who had given him his son.

Don Richardson feared that harm might come to the infants who had been given to the enemy villagers. But he was assured that those children would be carefully protected so peace could continue between the two settlements. When Richardson asked why all this was necessary, the Sawi answered, “You’ve been urging us to make peace. Don’t you know it’s impossible to have peace without a peace child?”

Richardson went on to use that deeply-rooted cultural tradition as a “redemptive analogy” of God’s having sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile His enemies (those who were opposed to Him and rebelling against Him) to Himself, thus establishing peace between forgiven people and holy God. That peace child analogy, in fact, served as the basis of the breakthrough in the Sawis’ understanding that led many of them to saving faith in Christ.

Don and Carol Richardson with son Steve

Don and Carol Richardson with son Steve

When the angels announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds in Luke 2, they declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” God was providing a Savior to make a way for human beings to come to be at peace with Him, to be reconciled to Him. By trusting in the Savior people could have their sins, which estranged them from God, forgiven. Christ Jesus was the ultimate Peace Child.

Romans 5:1, 10-11 also speaks of the peace and reconciliation God has brought to all who trust in Christ: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” See similarly 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 and Colossians 1:20-22.

God the Father and Christ the Son made a totally one-sided sacrifice to reconcile us; we sacrificed nothing. Christ bore on the cross the full judgment that we deserved for our rebellion against God. As a result, through Him we gain forgiveness and the countless other blessings that come through being in restored relationship with God. We rightly join the heavenly angels in giving highest praise to God for reconciling us to Himself in Christ.

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The full remarkable story of Don and Carol Richardson’s ministry among the Sawi is recorded in his excellent book Peace Child.

Luke 2:14

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were courageous, compassionate Dutch Christians who helped harbor Jews from the Nazis in Holland during World War 2. After the sisters were arrested for doing so, they were imprisoned at Ravensbruck, a German concentration camp.

In their barracks, they were shown to a series of massive square platforms, stacked three levels high and placed so close together that people had to walk single-file to pass between them. Rancid straw was scattered over the platforms, which served as communal beds for hundreds of women. Corrie and Betsie found they could not sit upright on their own platform without hitting their heads on the deck above them. They lay back, struggling against nausea that swept over them from the reeking straw.

Suddenly Corrie started up, striking her head on the cross-slats above. Something had bitten her leg. “Fleas!” she cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!” Descending from the platform and edging down a narrow aisle, they made their way to a patch of light. “Here! And here another one!” Corrie wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”

Womens' Barracks in a German Concentration Camp

Womens’ Barracks in a German Concentration Camp

“Show us. Show us how,” Betsie said matter-of-factly. It took Corrie a moment to realize that her sister was praying. “Corrie!” Betsie then exclaimed excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”

Corrie checked to make sure no guards were nearby, then drew from a pouch a small Bible she had managed to smuggle into the concentration camp. “It was in First Thessalonians,” she said, finding the passage in the feeble light. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …’ ” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18).

Betsie ten Boom

Betsie ten Boom

“That’s it!” Betsie interrupted. “That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this barracks!”

Corrie stared at her incredulously, then around at the dark, foul-smelling room. “Such as?” she inquired.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

Corrie bit her lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”

“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”

Corrie looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”

“Yes,” agreed Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at her sister expectantly and prodded, “Corrie!”

“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”

“Thank you,” Betsie continued on serenely, “for the fleas and for …”

That was too much for Corrie. She cut in on her sister: “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

“ ‘Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie corrected. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” So they stood between the stacks of bunks and gave thanks for fleas, though on that occasion Corrie thought Betsie was surely wrong.

As the weeks passed, Betsie’s health weakened to the point that, rather than needing to go out on work duty each day, she was permitted to remain in the barracks and knit socks together with other seriously-ill prisoners. She was a lightning fast knitter and usually had her daily sock quota completed by noon. As a result, she had hours each day she could spend moving from platform to platform reading the Bible to fellow prisoners. She was able to do this undetected as the guards never seemed to venture far into the barracks.

One evening when Corrie arrived back at the barracks Betsie’s eyes were twinkling.   “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” Corrie told her.

“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” Betsie said, referring to the part of the barracks where the sleeping platforms were. “Well—I’ve found out. This afternoon there was confusion in my knitting group about sock sizes, so we asked the supervisor to come and settle it. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice as she exclaimed, “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said: ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ ”

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten BoomCorrie’s mind raced back to their first hour in the barracks. She remembered Betsie bowing her head and thanking God for creatures that Corrie could see no use for.

May our own hearts and lips overflow with gratitude this Thanksgiving season and throughout the year. Even when faced with deeply trying and discouraging circumstances, we can identify numerous blessings that the Lord continues to pour into our lives. Some of those blessings come as a result of the difficulties we’re facing. As we focus on the Lord’s blessings, we will be heartened and enabled to persevere through life’s discouragements. And we’ll never fail to appropriately honor God by thanking Him for His ever-present blessings.

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You will find this and many other inspiring incidents from the life of Corrie ten Boom in her own book, The Hiding Place, and in two of my works, Women of Faith and Courage and Timeless Stories.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

 

John Piper

John Piper

In his excellent book for pastors, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper includes a chapter on “Brothers, Read Christian Biography.” His encouragements to do so, of course, apply not only to vocational ministers but to all Christians. So please consider his perspectives for your own spiritual benefit. And if you think these thoughts would encourage and profit your own pastor, perhaps you’ll want to share this blog with him.

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John PiperHere are some of Piper’s key thoughts on this subject in his own words: “Hebrews 11 is a divine mandate to read Christian biography. The unmistakable implication of the chapter is that if we hear about the faith of our forefathers (and mothers), we will ‘lay aside every weight, and sin’ and ‘run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (Heb. 12:1). If we asked the author, ‘How shall we stir one another up to love and good works?’ (10:24), his answer would be: ‘Through encouragement from the living (10:25) and the dead (11:1-40).’ Christian biography is the means by which the body life of the church cuts across the centuries.”

“[God] regularly uses human agents to stir up His people. So the question for us is: Through what human agents does God give us vision and direction and inspiration? For me, one of the most important answers has been great men and women of faith who, though dead, are yet speaking (Heb. 11:4).”

“Christian biography, well chosen, combines all sorts of things pastors [and other Christians] need but have so little time to pursue. Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C.S. Lewis calls it). It is also theology—the most powerful kind—because it bursts forth from the lives of people. It is also adventure and suspense, for which we have a natural hunger. It is psychology and personal experience, which deepen our understanding of human nature (especially ourselves). Good biographies of great Christians make for remarkably efficient reading.”

“Since biography is its own best witness, let me tell a little of my own encounter with biographies. Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to resist the inertia of mediocrity. Without them I tend to forget what joy there is in relentless God-besotted labor and aspiration.”

John Calvin

John Calvin

Piper then cites the examples of Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. Of the latter he writes: “How Calvin could work! After 1549, his special charge in Geneva was to preach twice on Sunday and once every day of alternate weeks. On Sunday, August 25, 1549, Calvin began to preach on Acts and continued weekly in that book until March 1554. On weekdays during this time, he preached through eight of the minor prophets as well as Daniel, Lamentations and Ezekiel. But what amazes me is that between 1550 and 1559 he took 270 weddings. That’s one every other week! He also baptized (about once a month), visited the sick, carried on extensive correspondence, and sustained heavy organizational responsibilities.”

“When I look at Calvin and Edwards and their output, it is hard for me to feel sorry for myself in my few burdens. These brothers inspire me to break out of mediocre plodding.”

“George Mueller has been a pacesetter for me in prayer. His Autobiography is an orchard of faith-building fruit. In one section he tells us, after forty years of trials, ‘how to be constantly happy in God.’ He said, ‘I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.’ ” Piper then relates how that for ten years Mueller would go to prayer first thing in the morning, but often suffered from wandering thoughts for up to half an hour.

George Mueller

George Mueller

Mueller himself describes a significant change he then made in his personal devotions routine and the benefits that yielded: “I began to meditate on the New Testament, from the beginning, early in the morning … searching into every verse for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, thanksgiving or supplication. So that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.”

Comments Piper: “I have found Mueller’s way absolutely crucial in my own life: be with the Lord before I am with anyone else and let Him speak to me first.”

Piper shares a number of other personal encouragements he has received from historic Christian biography in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Broadman and Holman, 2002), chapter 13, “Brothers, Read Christian Biography” (pgs. 89-96).

The Swans are Not SilentPiper not only reads biography but also has written seven outstanding volumes of historic Christian biography in his “The Swans Are Not Silent” series published by Crossway. Each of those volumes contains a trio of biographies on noteworthy, influential Christians of the past.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

 

William Wilberforce as a Young Man

William Wilberforce as a Young Man

Properly balancing work, ministry and family responsibilities is not an easy feat to accomplish. Sometimes the pressures of seeking to do so are considerable. And even when we’re giving it our best we don’t always feel like we’re doing a very good job of maintaining a proper balance.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a leading Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons whose enormous efforts helped bring about extensive social and moral reforms in nineteenth century England (see my September 13 & 28, 2016 Perspectives). But Wilberforce also serves as an encouraging example of an individual who did a good (though not always perfect) job of caring for and ministering to his family while at the same time carrying out his heavy vocational responsibilities.

Barbara Spooner Wilberforce

Barbara Spooner Wilberforce

Wilberforce was thirty-seven years old when, on April 15, 1797, he first met Barbara Spooner, the young woman who would become his wife. By that time he had been leading the political fight to end the British slave trade for nine years, and another decade would elapse before that battle would be won. By all reports, Barbara was physically attractive and, like Wilberforce, was an ardent Evangelical Christian. Just eight days after their first meeting Wilberforce proposed marriage by letter, and Barbara accepted that same day, also by letter. They were married five weeks later. Theirs was a happy marriage that lasted till Wilberforce’s death thirty-six years later.

William and Barbara had six children in ten years, four boys and two girls. Wilberforce sometimes had to be away from his family, a circumstance he strongly disliked, while attending to parliamentary duties in London. But when home, Wilberforce was very attentive and involved in the lives of his family members. With them he played games, read, went on walks, observed nature, went to museums, picnicked and celebrated holidays.

Kensington Gore House in London

Kensington Gore House in London

The Wilberforce home was a little eccentric and rather lax. Numerous pets, including a rabbit, were kept in the house. Barbara’s strong suit was not as “domestic engineer,” and the servants were allowed to be somewhat too laid back in their responsibilities. Sometimes the Wilberforces’ guests, who tended to be numerous, had to wait till odd, late hours for meals.

But William Wilberforce was very regular in his personal and family devotions. He habitually dedicated the first hour to hour and a half of the morning to personal Bible reading and prayer. Then, after a late breakfast, he led his family in a briefer time of Scripture reading and prayer, always kneeling for the latter.

One way in which Wilberforce sought to compensate when he needed to be away from his family members was by writing them many letters. His missives were full of warm affection and sound advice. Throughout his life he wrote a total of hundreds or even thousands of letters to his wife and children. One son collected and numbered all 600-plus letters that his father wrote just to him!

Barbara Spooner Wilberforce with child

Barbara Spooner Wilberforce with child

In 1808, after the birth of their last child, Wilberforce moved his family to Kensington Gore House in London so he could be with them more, even when Parliament was in session. Four years later, one of Wilberforce’s small children began to cry when placed on his lap, and the nursemaid commented of the child, “He always is afraid of strangers.” The incident led Wilberforce to resign his position as MP of Yorkshire (England’s most powerful county) and to become MP of a smaller and much less demanding constituency.

Sadly, William and Barbara’s two daughters died as young women, one at age twenty-two of tuberculosis and the other at thirty years of age from complications resulting from a chest infection. Three of the Wilberforces’ sons gained top university honors and entered pastoral ministry. Two of those wrote a comprehensive five-volume biography on the life of their beloved and esteemed father after his death. Unfortunately, the oldest Wilberforce son lost the family’s considerable fortune in the mismanagement of a large dairy operation late in his father’s lifetime.

William Wilberforce was obviously sensitive about and determined in his efforts to strike a proper balance in fulfilling his work and family responsibilities. Though he sometimes struggled to do so as well as he would have liked, he continued to work at it. As a result, he achieved a good degree of success in appropriately discharging both responsibilities. With God’s help and their own conscientious effort, committed Christian parents can do the same today.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

William Wilberforce as an Older Man

William Wilberforce as an Older Man

On Sunday, October 28, 1787, a year and a half after William Wilberforce’s Christian conversion, he wrote on a blank page in his diary: “God Almighty has placed before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [morals].” Wilberforce’s decades-long battle to help bring an end to slavery throughout the British Empire is well known. His equally-determined endeavors to promote a broad range of other social reforms and philanthropic causes are little known today so are well worth recalling.

Wilberforce (1759-1833) had a long and influential career as a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons. In addition to the abolition of slavery, Wilberforce championed some seventy other legislative causes for the welfare of both people and animals. Several of those causes included: small pox inoculation; public relief of poverty; popular education; injustices of the penal code; prison reforms; child labor laws (protecting child factory workers and chimney sweeps); eliminating bear baiting and other forms of cruelty to animals.

William Wilberforce Statue in Hull England

William Wilberforce Statue in Hull England

Besides the anti-slavery issue, another twenty-year political battle that Wilberforce was part of (from 1793 to 1813) was to gain the right for Christian missionaries to minister in India. The powerful British East India Company fiercely opposed missionary activity in its trading domain, claiming (without an evidential basis) such efforts would cause agitation among non-Christian people groups and would adversely affect EIC financial profits. Significantly, Wilberforce himself always declared that gaining the right for missionaries to serve in India was the greatest cause he had lived for, not even excepting the emancipation of the slaves. He doubtless thought that due to the eternal benefits that came to countless people through the passage of the missionary legislation.

Wilberforce generously used much of his personal wealth to help support many individuals and charities. Before marrying, he donated 2,000 pounds per year (fully one-fourth of his annual income) to charity. Wilberforce personally supported nearly every charitable institution in London and Yorkshire (England’s most powerful county and the one he represented in Parliament). He also financially supported numerous young men training for pastoral ministry, as well as many other young people preparing for other careers (including the Bronte sisters who eventually gained literary fame). Wilberforce helped keep many individuals out of debtor’s prison and assisted in funding the erection of a number of churches. He was instrumental in founding the forerunner of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Britain’s National Gallery of Art, London University, and the British and Foreign Bible Society.

William Wilberforce Two Great Objects Quote

Rather ironically in light of his tremendous generosity, and through no fault of his own, Wilberforce lost his fortune near the end of his life. By the time Wilberforce was seventy years old, his oldest son had run the large dairy farm in which Wilberforce had invested much of the family fortune deep into debt. Over 50,000 pounds were owed. Wilberforce decided he needed to lease the estate and mansion where he had been living in retirement years to generate income. The final three years of his life he lived with two of his other sons, both of whom served as ministers.

William Wilberforce Quote 2

A number of beneficial biographies have been written on Wilberforce in recent years: William Wilberforce, A Hero for Humanity, by Kevin Belmonte (Zondervan, 2007); Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas (Harperone, 2008);Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, by John Piper (Crossway, 2007). Belmonte’s and Metaxas’s works are full-length biographies while Piper’s booklet of sixty-four pages focuses more specifically on Wilberforce’s conversion and Christian convictions that were at the foundation of his remarkable career of public service.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie