Sunday, April 22, 2007
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) was born, raised and educated in the Roman province of Africa, in the parts of the world we know today as Algeria and Tunisia. Augustine's early adulthood was spent in Rome and Milan, where he had a distinguished career as a politician and teacher of philosophy. Like many ambitious people in the Roman empire of his day, Augustine was nominally a Christian, but also flirted with several other religious cults and philosophies. As well, he seems to have devoted quite a bit of his time and energy into chasing after women and attending drinking parties.
One of the sayings attributed to Augustine during this period is the famous prayer; "Lord, make me a good Christian but not just yet!"
Augustine did not have much chance of escaping from being a good Christian. He was surrounded by saints! His mother was Saint Monica, a devout woman who was a Christian scholar and teacher in her own right. And one of Augustine's professional colleagues whilst he was a teacher of rhetoric in Milan was the local Bishop, Saint Ambrose of Milan. The humility and simple teaching of the faith that he experienced in the ministry of Ambrose, together with the prayers and urging of his mother, brought Augustine to the point where he accepted baptism. Not being one to do things by halves, he completely turned his life around from that day on, leaving aside worldly philosophies and secular politics, and devoting himself entirely to the study of holy scripture and the practice of ecclesiastical politics, which is much more interesting.It was not long after his return to northern Africa that Augustine was ordained a priest, and then elected as bishop in the town of Hippo not far from where he had been born. During his lifetime he was a great teacher and leader of the church, and his sermons and writings are still quoted to this day amongst the texts which help us to understand the intricacies and implications of our Christian faith.
Augustine's greatest battle on behalf of the Church was against two groups with related ideas: the pagan Manicheans, of whom he had been a member in his youth, and the Christian followers of a British monk called Pelagius. Both the Manicheans and the Pelagians taught an idea which has never really disappeared from the world - indeed, it is surprisingly popular in the secular world, and even amongst some Christians, to this day. They believed that salvation and human fulfilment can be achieved by human effort - by knowing and doing the right things. Their argument goes something like this: 'If I know what is right, and then do what is right, I can find fulfilment in this life and salvation in the next. The more good I do, the better my chances of coming out on top in the end.'
That might sound familiar. The culture of good works as a path to salvation is alive and well in the world today, and even the Christian churches and their leaders are not totally immune to this seductive idea.
But Augustine stood firm against such heresy. He believed that human beings, even the best of us, still always fall short of the righteousness which would lead to salvation. His doctrine of "Original Sin" is a shorthand way of saying that it is in the nature of every human being, when faced with a moral decision, to choose evil more often than good. This propensity is not our own choice - it is hardly even our own fault. It is simply the way we are. We can all be good some of the time, and the most saintly of us might even be able to be good most of the time, but not one of us can be good all the time.
Augustine followed Jesus in defining the ultimate goal of religion, and therefore the definition of "goodness", as love of God and neighbour. Anything which harms our relationship with God, and anything which harms our neighbour, is sin. And the truth is that it is simply not possible for any human being to exist on this earth and be in a perfect state of union with God at all times, and to never do anything which brings harm to a neighbour. Almost every thing we do harms someone, even if we are not aware of it at the time.
In the book of Genesis, the events known as "the fall" recount how the first humans disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit, and then their offspring fought and brought harm to one another. This ancient story expresses the fundamental truth that ever since we have begun to make conscious choices, human beings have known what God wanted of us - and mostly done the opposite. We have also allowed our greed and pride to lead us into making choices almost every day which place the love we have for ourselves over the love we know we should have for others and for God.
Love of God and love of neighbour - the two things we have failed to do since the beginning of history. Pelagius and his followers said we could do them if we tried, but Augustine was more realistic, pointing out that we do not have it in ourselves to change what we fundamentally are. There is sin in each of us - a propensity to do what we know is wrong, in our relationship with God and in our dealings with our neighbours. That is just the way we are. Augustine taught that we cannot overcome the way we are - we cannot deny ourselves. Although we can change our behaviour (some of the time), we cannot change our nature. We have original sin, because it is in our nature as human beings to be against God and to do harm to our fellow human beings. The consequence of this is that we all die, and most of us probably deserve worse.The good news of the Gospel is that God in Christ does not change our nature, but he excuses us from the consequences of our nature. He forgives us the wrong choices we have made, and promises a better life than we deserve in this world and the next. What God asks of us is that we respond to his generosity and love by expressing our faith in him, showing the same generosity and love in our worship, and in our relationships with others. Augustine's teaching has been accepted as the definitive Christian view for about 1500 years. It undergirded both the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, and the Catholic Counter- reformation which followed. It is firmly based on the Bible, but also inextricably bound up with the life and worship of the Church.
As we remember Saint Augustine tonight, let us give thanks for his example and teaching, for his contribution to Christian scholarship and the spread of the Gospel. And let us give thanks for the wonderful truth that, although there is nothing we can do to escape the innate sinfulness of being a human being, God loves us anyway. He accepts us, and he calls us to love and serve him. As he has loved us, so let us love one another, in spirit and in truth.
Nigel Mitchell (reproduced with the author's permission).
Note from Rowland: The Confessions of Saint Augustine is one of the most moving books I've read. I'll probably write something on it in another blog - 1 Month of Books you should Read And I'll also be writing an article on Matthew Fox, whose idea of 'Original Blessing' is critical of Augustine's doctrine of 'original sin'.
Francis of Assisi is, by general consent, the greatest Christian since Jesus. Pope Pius IX called him 'the most perfect image of our Lord that ever lived.' People across the religious spectrum from the evangelical John Wesley to the Anglican-turned-Roman Catholic John Henry Newman have been inspired by his example and teachings. Many millions have been drawn to imitate this man who walked so closely to Christ. Even Jews and Moslems have honored him. And he was a favorite model for many of the counterculture 'Jesus people' of the 1960s, venerated for his emphases on peace, joy, simplicity, and charity.
Francis and his friends lived the 'gospel life' as Jesus did: devoted to teaching and to prayer, wandering from place to place, without any money or possessions. He took Jesus' teachings literally, including 'Go, sell all you have, and give to the poor, and come, follow me.'
He strongly, strangely and powerfully influenced everyone he met. CSLewis said about Jesus that once you'd met him you couldn't be neutral about him. It was the same with Francis... In the words of the popular historian Will Durant, Francis 'reinvigorated Christianity by bringing back into it the spirit of Christ.'
FRANCIS: HIS LIFE.
Francis was born in 1182, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. His early years were frivolous, but an experience of sickness and another of military service were instrumental in leading him to reflect on the purpose of life. He spent a year as a captive in prison: that experience always changes people: most of God's best servants spent a disproportionate amount of their lives in deserts or prisons! Most know how he exchanged his fine clothes with a beggar's. He lived off 'alms' requested 'for love of God'.
One day, in the church of San Damiano, he seemed to hear Christ saying to him, Francis, repair my falling house.' He took the words literally, and sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to pay for repairs to the church of San Damiano. His father was outraged, and there was a public confrontation at which his father disinherited and disowned him, and he in turn renounced his father's wealth (one account says that he not only handed his father his purse, but also took off his expensive clothes, laid them at his father's feet, and walked away naked). He declared himself "wedded to Lady Poverty", renounced all material possessions, and devoted himself to serving the poor. A few companions joined him, and after three years, in 1210, the Pope authorized the forming of the Order of Friars Minor, commonly called the Franciscans. The order grew rapidly, but, over the opposition of Francis, it soon abandoned his original plan of complete poverty, both for the individual friars and for the order as a whole. Francis' public ministry was relatively short - from his conversion in 1207 until his death on 4 October 1226. Within two years he was then canonized by Pope Gregory IX.
FRANCIS: HIS IMPACT
One of the most moving spiritual classics you can read is 'The Little Flowers of St. Francis.' There, legends and history exist side by side, but that doesn't matter really. If you read it to be energized by the sheer utter commitment of this man to love and obey to his Lord, you won't be the same again.
He introduced or popularized some common customs practised in many churches and homes - like the Christmas crib. We have had a little wooden one given by a friend that our children used to put under the Christmas tree each year. We have all heard of his wonderful prayers, 'The Canticle of Brother Sun,' and the one that has become known as 'The Prayer of St. Francis.' Some of you may have seen Franco Zeffirelli's movie 'Brother Sun, Sister Moon.'
1. Francis was a 'FOOL for Christ's sake.' He described himself as 'God's Fool.' 'My brothers, my brothers, God called me to walk the way of humility and showed me the way of simplicity... The Lord has told me that he wanted to make a new fool of me in the world... I put my trust in him.'  In an era when Scholasticism flourished, and universities were being founded across Europe, Francis said, 'It is not for us to be wise and calculating in the world's fashion; we should be guileless, lowly and pure.'  He believed that knowledge, apart from the wisdom of Christ, could be at best useless, at worst dangerous. (Last week I attended an international Theologians' conference. We didn't pray or worship together. Francis would have given us a prophetic blast at all the 'wise foolishness' in that place...)
2. REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING. Francis suffered many illnesses and diseases, particularly in his later life.
The church has oscillated, throughout its history, between a doctrine of redemptive suffering, and a belief in divine healing. Both are biblical, and we must hold both in tension. Jesus was 'made perfect through suffering'. Jesus and Francis both had their Gethsemanes. Francis believed that, as it has sometimes been expressed, 'This is the way the Master trod. Shall not his servant tread it still?'
3. Francis believed he was God's ARCHITECT. Many Christian chapels had fallen into disrepair, and Francis devoted a lot of energy to raising funds and working hard to rebuild them. In John Mark Ministries' seminar on 'The 100 Marks of a Healthy Church' one of these tests is associated with the old adage: 'Church buildings preach.' What does yours say to your community about the kind of God you worship?
4. One of the most popular associations we have of Francis is his love of NATURE. Find his 'Canticle of Brother Sun' and read it slowly some time. It's the best nature prayer-poem after Psalm 19. Jesus said, 'Look at the birds.' Francis did that. Preaching in the open countryside once, he was interrupted by singing swallows. So he turned from the people to address the birds: 'My brother birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part.'  Of course, the most common statues of Francis, in gardens all over the world, has him talking to the birds.
Look at the birds. Do you? I have a fernery outside my study, and a pair of scrub wrens visit me regularly there - as do doves, and crimson rosellas, and, occasionally, king parrots. They remind me constantly of the variegated beauty of God's creation; and their delight and colour are a wonderful inspiration. Sometimes when I'm counseling we stop to listen to the dynamic excited whistle of the white-eared honeyeaters... And this week a pair of bell-birds is visiting the trees in our garden...
Most have heard the story of the visit of Francis to a town named Gubbio, where a wolf had been terrorizing the community. Francis, says the story (or legend, I don't know), talked to the wolf, and harmony was restored between humans and this animal from the wilds.
Richard Rohr, my favourite contemporary Franciscan, says there's a wolf and a leper in all of us - and in every human. The wolf is angry and dangerous; the leper is also dangerous - and repulsive. Both can kill. But we must befriend both the wolf and the leper - in ourselves and in others. It's an evocative thought.
So Francis loved all God has made. No wonder he sang of burning sun, and silver moon, the weather's moods, rushing wind, clouds that sail, pure flowing water, mother earth, flowers and fruits... and kind and gentle death. Francis loved nature because he loved nature's God. Nature, as Francis concludes his 'Canticle of Brother Sun', causes him to 'Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, And serve him with great humility.' Nature, according to one mystic, is the hem of the garment of God. Touch nature, and you touch God. You shouldn't worship nature (pantheism) but you can worship God via nature (panentheism).
'Prior to [Francis' revolutionary attitude] ... for some, nature was to be feared, for it was demonic. For others, it was to be bribed, for it was capricious and unpredictable. For yet others, it was to be adored, for it was divine. For still others, it was to be destroyed, for it was the enemy. To polytheists, nature was confusing, for it was a complex of contradictory energies.' 
5. Perhaps the greatest impact Francis still has on us is his total COMMITMENT to his Lord and God. Let me give you a few of his prayers that speak for themselves:
* 'O great and glorious God, illuminate my heart, give me a steadfast faith, firm hope, perfect love, and knowledge and understanding so that I may keep your commandments'.
* 'Let us all love with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength and fortitude, with all our understanding and with all our powers, with our whole might and whole affection, with our innermost parts, our whole desires, and wills, the Lord God, who has given, and gives to us all, the whole body, the whole soul, and our life; who has created and redeemed us, and by his mercy alone will save us; who has done and does all good to us, miserable and wretched, vile, unclean, ungrateful, and evil.'
* 'And since [our Lord] has suffered so many things for us and has done and will do so much good to us, let every creature which is in heaven and on earth and in the sea and in the abysses render praise to God and glory and honor and benediction; for he is our strength and power who alone is good, alone most high, alone almighty and admirable, glorious and alone holy, praise-worthy and blessed without end forever and ever.' Amen.
I would defy anyone to read Francis' prayers and not be moved by his utter commitment to his God.
6. Like his Lord, Francis was a wanderer, an ITINERANT. He took seriously Jesus' instructions to his disciples (see Matthew 10:7-13). Like Jesus, Francis preached wherever people would gather - in marketplaces, in open fields. And like Jesus, Francis would turn a motley crowd into a congregation. Many thousands would leave these open-air meetings imbued with a greater love for God and a desire to devote their lives to God's will and service. A popular biography of Francis is titled 'The Journey and the Dream' (Murray Bodo). The theme is of Francis the wayfarer. And in a sense we are all pilgrims here, wayfarers, journeying through and beyond this life. Our short life on earth lacks permanence: Francis would never want us to forget that. We are strangers here; heaven is our home. We're just 'traveling through...'
7. Finally, there's Francis' SIMPLICITY. They say childish people live in 'simplicity this side of complexity'; scholars often inhabit 'complexity the other side of simplicity' - they know more and more about less and less; but the saints have moved beyond simplicity this side of complexity, through complexity to simplicity on the other side (if you understand!). They are childlike, but not childish. They, like Jesus, believe that to enjoy the rule of God you have to get in touch with the child within you. (The motto for my counseling practice: 'It's never too late to have a happy childhood').
One biography writes of him: 'It is almost impossible to reflect upon the saint of Assisi without a smile. His joy and his humour were unforced. They did not come at the expense of others. Instead they came from an inner childlike quality of spontaneity and an essential optimism... It was difficult for Francis to take the world with utmost seriousness.' 
Francis was a happy man, for he was 'poor in spirit' (Matthew 5:3). But he also 'went through the world weeping'. Betrothed to 'Lady Poverty' he did not fear destitution, but enjoyed Lady Poverty's invitation to a life of simplicity and integrity. He wore a habit, often with many patches inside and outside, bound with a cord, and trousers underneath. That's all. He was often hungry and cold: sometimes in the winter icicles were seen hanging from the bottom of his cloak. He sometimes had no shelter... So life wasn't easy for him. He was occasionally beaten, robbed, shipwrecked, betrayed by false friends, misunderstood by those in authority, often ridiculed. But like Paul before him, he 'counted all things loss' for the excellency of Christ.
Francis was a servant of all - inside the church and outside it; a missionary-evangelist to all; he respected the authority of people in authority, and he let his life be the prophetic reformer of corruption and ungodliness. (I saw in someone's Internet .sig file: 'Preach the gospel at all times - use words if necessary.' St. Francis).
On October 4th 1226, blind and very sick, Francis was laid on the cold earth, and with some of his closest 'friars minor' he sang with them the evening office. After the psalm was read, in a frail voice he said 'Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise your name' (Psalm 142:7). Then silence. Francis was visited by 'Sister Death'...
The other day I counseled a person who felt spiritually abused by a strong-willed dominating pastor. She had ten pages of examples of his abuse. What was she to do? After we'd talked, we prayed. And both of us then glanced to a small wooden plaque on a bookshelf in my office which I'd brought back from Israel. It was the prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon...
We both saw it. And for her (though not for everyone in this situation) there was her answer. 'Where there is injury, pardon.' She wrote a letter of 'pardon' to her pastor, who, hopefully, has also learned something through her painful experience...
Let us make Francis' great prayer our own today:
Lord, make me an instrument of your PEACE. Where there is hatred let me sow LOVE. Where there is injury, PARDON. Where there is doubt, FAITH. Where there is despair, HOPE. Where there is darkness, LIGHT. And where there is sadness, JOY.
O DIVINE MASTER, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to CONSOLE. To be understood as to UNDERSTAND. To be loved as to LOVE.
FOR it is in GIVING that we receive, It is in PARDONING that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to ETERNAL LIFE.
From the oldest known letter written by Francis to all Christians:
'O how happy and blessed are those who love the Lord and do as the Lord himself said in the gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul, and your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, let us love God and adore him with pure heart and mind. This is his particular desire when he says: True worshipers adore the Father in spirit and truth. For all who adore him must do so in the spirit of truth. Let us also direct to him our praises and prayers, saying: "Our Father, who are in heaven," since we must always pray and never grow slack. Furthermore, let us produce worthy fruits of penance. Let us also love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us have charity and humility. Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will recieve from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve. We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be sinple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive toe very human being for God's sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way and persevere in it to the end. He will permanently dwell in them. They will be the Father's children who do his work. They are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.'
PRAYER (traditional language): Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant unto thy people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of thee delight in thy whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
PRAYER (contemporary language): Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace gladly to renounce the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfect joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
We conclude with one of Francis' own prayers:
'Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God, grant us in our misery that we may do for your sake alone what we know you want us to do, and always want what pleases you; so that, cleansed and enlightened interiorly and fired with the ardour of the Holy Spirit, we may be able to follow in the footsteps of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and so make our way to you, Most High, by your grace alone, you who live and reign in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified, God all-powerful, for ever and ever. Amen.' 
1. Legend of Perugia, Omnibus trans., p. 114.
2. Letter to All the Faithful.
3. Get yourself a good recent book titled 'Jesus the Fool' by Michael Frost (Albatross, 1994.) As one of the judges who awarded it a 'highly commended' rating for the 1995 Australian Book of the Year Awards I believe it says something important about Jesus in a popularly written style.
4.Thomas of Celano's 'First Life of St. Francis', p.58].
5. Duane W. H. Arnold & C. George Fry, 'Francis: A Call to Conversion,' London: SPCK, 1988, p.112.
6. Arnold and Fry, op. cit., p. 95.
7. Letter to a General Chapter.
Article borrowed from the John Mark Ministries website
F W Boreham is Australia's best-known Christian preacher. I've been reading him since childhood, and for many years made a hobby of collecting his books and booklets. For more about the life and works of this amazing man, visit here.
I'm indebted to the world's premier F W Boreham expert Dr. Geoff Pound, for permission to reproduce this article by Irving Benson. Visit Geoff's F W Boreham blogs: you'll enjoy hours - days - of interesting reading. And if you see any Boreham books in your travels, grab them: he is probably Australia's only really collectible religious author.
DR. FRANK W. BOREHAM: THE MAN AND THE WRITER
A Biographical Essay by Rev. Dr. C. Irving Benson
Here was a man for whom life never lost the halo of wonder—that is the abiding impression of my long friendship with Frank Boreham. What a relish he had for living and how vastly he enjoyed being alive! He was interesting because he was interested in everybody and everything.
His forty books won for him a multitude of friends across the seven seas. But the man himself was greater than all that he wrote. His books were only the ‘fancies that broke through language and escaped’.
There was more in him than could be uttered in one lifetime. ‘If there is anything in the doctrine of reincarnation,’ he said, ‘I intend to spend at least one of my future spans of existence as a novelist, working up into thrilling romances the plots that I have collected in the course of my life as a minister.’
There was a Dickensian quality in his mind, a quickness to sense the possibilities of a story, a situation or a scene. But the chief charm of his books lies in their rich veins of autobiography. Pick up any one of them and you will not read far before striking some personal experience, confession or adventure. He poured himself into his writing. When the French King Henry III told Montaigne that he liked his books, the essayist replied: ‘I am my books.’ So it was with Frank Boreham.
His work is distinguished by a quiet insight, a gentle humor, a homely philosophy and a charming literary grace, but supremely he was a man with a message. He wrote because he had something to say.
When he was a baby in arms his mother took him for a walk on a summer afternoon along the Southborough Road out of Tunbridge Wells. She rested awhile on a seat in the shade of a hedge. A gipsy caravan came along and trudging beside it was a wrinkled old crone. Catching sight of the mother with her baby, she hobbled across to the seat. Lifting the white veil she looked into the child's face, and holding the tiny hand she said in a husky voice: ‘Put a pen in his hand and he'll never want for a living.’
He was a born teller of stories, with a perennial freshness and an ingenious, inventive, imaginative mind. He was scarcely out of school when he began sending articles to London papers and magazines. Had he kept to his youthful ambition to be a journalist he would have been a first-rate interviewer. It was amazing what he drew out of unlikely people.
When you met him you were impressed by his quietness, modesty and fine courtesy. There was no hint that here was a writer and preacher with a world reputation. His gentle, sensitive face seemed rather shy but became expressive as he talked. His voice was clear and kindly, with a lingering Kentish flavour.
If the word ‘genius’ may be used of him, it should be applied in the realm of friendship. You find it in his many essays on John Broadbanks, but he bestowed it upon a host of people, indeed he offered it to everybody he met. As a brother minister he was an apostle of encouragement and as a pastor he had a rare skill in the art of comforting.
To know him was to love him. He went through life scattering benedictions. I never heard him say an unkind or a mean thing about anybody. He did not attack people, always maintaining that the best way of proving that a stick is crooked is to lay a straight one beside it. ‘People want helping and you don't help them by scolding them.’
I do not remember his name being associated with any controversy. With Fundamentalist, with High Church and Evangelical, with Roman Catholic and Protestant, he had no discernible quarrel. With true catholicity of spirit he moved among them with the easy grace of a man who picked flowers from all their gardens.
Early on, Sir Robertson Nicoll raised the question in the British Weekly as to whether it was as easy as it looked to write in Boreham's style. But the truth was that the apparent ease with which he wrote was only seeming, for what appeared to be spontaneous was the result of sustained hard work.
Every morning he was in his study at eight o'clock writing down every idea and fancy and experience that came to him. They might not appear in sermons or articles for years, but he accumulated a vast store of material on which he drew as he needed it. His fingers itched to write, and he loved to have a pen in his hand. He always reveled in writing and he could not stay his hand even when he tried. When he told me that The Passing of John Broadbanks would be his last book, I smiled. It was not long before another volume appeared with the title I Forgot to Say, and he kept on remembering themes he had forgotten through half a dozen more books.
For all his understanding, he was incapable of understanding why a man should dictate to a secretary or—worse still—use a typewriter. His clear, flowing handwriting never made a compositor swear. Until he was an old man he refused to have a telephone in the house, maintaining that he could not have accomplished all he did if there had been the constant interruptions of phone calls.
Many a man envied his dispatch, his punctual attention to affairs so that he was never overwhelmed. And yet he seemed to be leisurely, and his methodical habits reminded me of Beau Brummel's definition of a well-dressed man—so well-dressed that you do not notice it.
His essays were grown—not manufactured. A story, an idea, a fancy came to him and he quickly captured it with his pen. Then, in living and reading, a host of associated ideas gathered round it until the theme ripened in his mind.
Look, for example, at his essay on ‘Strawberries and Cream’. Strawberries are delicious. Cream is also very nice. But it is strawberries and cream that make an irresistible appeal. He muses on that unrecorded yet fateful day when some audacious dietetic adventurer took the cream from his dairy and poured it on the strawberries from his garden, and discovered with delight that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Then you see the idea growing that things are enhanced by being brought together. Away he goes writing of husband and wife; William and Dorothy Wordsworth; new potatoes and mint. Maybe it took years for all these ideas to grow together in his mind.
Read his paper on ‘Dominoes’. He begins by telling how he was unexpectedly invited to have a game of dominoes. Now dominoes, he sees, stand for sympathy—the game is to match your neighbor's piece—and one of the delightful things about life is that the most unlikely people are found to play at dominoes. Working out this thesis he instances one of O. Henry's whimsicalities, in which a burglar, on discovering that his victim, like himself, is liable to rheumatism, drops his nefarious intention, and eagerly discusses symptoms and remedies with the astonished householder—in short, they play at dominoes. A sequence of illustrations, each piercing deeper into the heart of the subject, follows this opening until we come to Paul, the master of dominoes, who knew how to become all things to all people, and to One greater than Paul. Finally, he tells how a woman missionary showed a hundred magic lantern slides to a gathering of Japanese mothers. Not a flicker of response did she find until at last she threw on the sheet the picture of Christ toiling with His Cross. Instantly, the room was alive with interest and quick tears flowed. They felt that here was One who had suffered as they suffered, One whose deep and terrible experience answered to their own. These Japanese mothers felt that the scene fitted their lives as key fits lock, as glove fits hand, as domino fits domino.
The discerning can see how the idea suggested by the dominoes came first, how he then read O. Henry by the fireside, and so on until he lighted on the missionary story. The ideas grew together over a period until he gathered them all in the essay.
The essays would appear at intervals in a succession of newspapers and magazines to which he contributed. Then, after much revision, they were prepared for a book. But even then the book would be ready and under critical observation for two or more years before it went to the publisher.
Near the end, on the day his son drove him to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Dr. Boreham first took him into the study and entrusted to him a bundle of articles—enough to supply the editors of the various papers for which he wrote for six months! Was there ever such a man?
Although his style was his own, he confessed the lasting influence that Mark Rutherford had upon him. His earlier tendency to glittering alliteration mellowed into a graceful, engaging style. There was an exuberance about his adjectives and he always had more than he could use. A man's adjectives are often more characteristic than his nouns. His nouns are names for common objects which he is more or less forced to use; his adjectives are the distinguishing marks he places upon them, and reveal his individuality. There is much to be learned of the spirit of Frank Boreham from a study of his adjectives.
Always he kept his values adjusted, and the evangelist was never lost in the genial fireside essayist. John Wesley's Journal had a permanent place on his desk, and day by day he traveled through the year with the great itinerant who was ever about his Master's business.
Frank Boreham preached a great Gospel. There was fancy and artistry, but all his paths led to the Cross. The preacher of small subjects is doomed, he said. ‘The pulpit is the place for magnificent verities. It is the home of immensities, infinities, eternities. We must preach more upon the great texts of Scripture; we must preach on those tremendous passages whose vastnesses almost terrify us as we approach them.’
One day he tossed over to me a tart letter from a woman commanding him to preach the Gospel. She was apparently misled by one of his intriguing titles. All who heard Frank Boreham knew full well that, however far away on the circumference he began, he always came to the very heart of the Gospel. The letter hurt him and I advised him to consign it to the waste-paper basket and forget it. ‘I have already answered it,' he said. ‘I wrote and told her that I appreciated her concern for the preaching of Christ's Gospel and asked her to pray for me that I may be a faithful minister of the Word.’ As I have already mentioned, he had no secretary to handle the considerable flow of letters that came into his box from many lands. Each letter was answered expeditiously, either briefly on a post card or at length, as it deserved.
When asked whether he found his main satisfaction as a writer or a preacher, without any hesitation he answered, ‘As a preacher and a minister. Of course,’ he added quickly, ‘it is like asking a man which of his two children he loves best! I glory in my pulpit—the greatest moments of my life have been spent there—but I am scarcely less fond of my pen. I do not like to choose between them. I want to be a preacher and a scribbler to the end of the chapter.’ He was more interested in souls than subjects.
He browsed among many books, but the atmosphere he breathed was of one Book. You set out with him and he lured you through pleasant valleys, plucking flowers by the way, but he never mistook the by-path meadow for the King's high road, and finally he led you to the uplands of God. In his preaching he worked from the surface of a text to its deep heart.
‘I have been on a visit to the uttermost star’ is the exciting beginning of an essay, but before he is through he has you listening to the Good Shepherd telling: ‘A bruised reed shall He not break; a smoking lamp shall He not quench.’
Emma Herman, the mystic, said after hearing him preach, that there was something about his treatment of a theme that was reminiscent of the great Dutch manner of painting which, by the magic play of light and shade, can make a peasant's kitchen romantic as a fairy palace.
When in 1936 he was invited to address the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Moderator, Professor David Lamont, introduced him as ‘the man whose name is on all our lips, whose books are on all our shelves, and whose illustrations are in all our sermons’—which recalls the vicar who was heard to say that he hoped he would never meet Boreham for he would be ashamed to look him in the face because he had preached so many of his sermons!
No man can be at the top of his form in every line that trickles from his pen. The clock only strikes twelve twice a day. In writing thousands of essays a man must sometimes fall below his standard of attainment. Nobody knew better than he that it was so in his case. The high standards he set for himself kept him critical of his own work. He would try and try again, but sometimes he failed and there must be a pile of essays which he did not regard as worth a place in his books.
He found it good to form a set of friendships outside the circle in which he habitually moved, and his other great interest, after preaching and writing, was revealed in an illuminating sentence: ‘I only miss a cricket match when the house is on fire.’ No member of the Melbourne Cricket Club was more regularly in his place than he. He loved the game and found it a perfect holiday. When he went to the beach or the bush his mind chased quarries for sermons or articles, but watching cricket he forgot everything but runs and wickets.
On nights when sleep was hard to come by, instead of counting sheep he would replay cricket matches in his mind. Lying awake in the darkness, he saw again the green oval ‘fanned by the balmy breath of summer and fragrant with the peculiar but pleasant odor of the turf’. He relived the fluctuations and fortunes of the game and thus, so long as he remained awake, remained awake pleasantly, and in the process generated a state of mind in which it was easy to fall asleep.
His royalties must have been considerable, but he gave much of his income away. I learned, for example, in one of his unguarded moments, that he provided the capital cost to establish a Mission Dispensary with wards at Birisiri in Eastern Bengal and had given a capital sum for its maintenance. But it was unusual for anyone to discuss anything about his gifts. In the spirit of generosity, he followed the admonition: ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.’ He knew that the best way to do good is not to tell anyone—not even oneself. He had little stomach for committees, but he served for years on the Baptist Mission Board.
Dr. Boreham usually sported a flower in his buttonhole, but riding into Melbourne one day on a crowded tram he realized that he had forgotten it. In Swanston Street, a large, lame old lady climbed on board with difficulty and all eyes turned to the bunch of golden wattle she carried. It was in the winter month of July and the sight of the bright blossom was like the promise of sunshine on a rainy day. As she alighted a few streets further on she plucked off a handful of lovely blossom and gave it to a newspaper boy. He took them without a word of thanks, and while she watched the tram beginning to move he tossed it on the floor. Dr. Boreham was horrified. Diving down among the feet of the passengers he rescued it and asked the boy, ‘Don't you want it? ‘No,’ he muttered contemptuously, ‘what's the good?’ So Dr. Boreham stuck it in his own buttonhole and wore it proudly. All that afternoon people remarked on the wattle. ‘The wattle's out!’ said one with brightening face. ‘Like the breath of spring!’ said another. The posy sang to everyone he met of the coming spring. He thought of the woebegone face of the old lady as she stood looking after the vanishing car. She had tried to do a nice thing, and although her gift had been thrown away she had succeeded.
At many a gathering of ministers Dr. Boreham told this incident and warmed the hearts of his hearers. Though love's labor often seemed lost, he said, it had results that would surprise them. Lift up your hearts!
Characteristically, Dr. Boreham used to say that he was born on the day when bells pealed across Europe announcing the dramatic termination of the Franco-Prussian War. That was March 3, 1871.
His education at the local school was plain and practical, and he became a clerk in the office of a nearby brickworks. There he had an accident which left him with a limp through all his days.
Three months before he was seventeen he went up to London in answer to an advertisement and joined the office staff of the South London Tramways Company. Proficiency in shorthand, which he had mastered during his convalescence in Tunbridge Wells, brought him quick promotion. The office years were, he always said, of incalculable importance. He learned to be methodical, to be systematic in the handling of correspondence, and to be courteous, tactful and discreet in handling people.
The impact of London on his young spirit was the turning point of his life. London appalled him. He stood one day under the shadow of St. Paul's, shivering in the crowd at his own utter loneliness. Amid the hops and clover and the orchards of his native Kent he could shout as he wished and never a soul would hear him. That was a tranquil loneliness in which he reveled, but the loneliness of the surging crowd seemed intolerable.
In those first days in London there fastened on his mind a conviction that he needed Something or Someone to nerve him to live in London to some purpose, and in that mood of wistfulness his situation dramatically changed. There in his solitude, he said, ‘Christ laid His mighty hand upon me and made me His own.’ He could not recall any sermon or book, any minister or missionary, any church or society that played any part in this vital experience which changed his life.
The young Christian became acquainted with a group of city missionaries whose friendship fortified and energized the new life that had sprung up within him. They took him to their mission halls and their open-air meetings, sometimes inviting him to speak. Then in the late summer of 1890 he went with them to Brenchley in Kent to work and witness among the hop-pickers. He always said that was the most delightful holiday he ever had in England. Through those soft September days he reveled in the charming old village, the rambles through the poppy-splashed fields and through woods showing their first autumn tints. But his most vivid memory was of the great tent in which the missioners held their evening meetings. The appeals for personal decision—‘wooingly persuasive but never tediously protracted’—brought to his eager mind a powerful realization of the realities of which they spoke.
His first enthusiasm was to be a foreign missionary with the China Inland Mission. Dr. Hudson Taylor did not encourage him and tenderly pointed out the opportunities of doing missionary work at home. The injury sustained in boyhood which had left him with a limp would, he feared, seriously hamper him in China.
Under the guidance of a saintly, scholarly Baptist minister who befriended him, he applied to Charles Haddon Spurgeon for admission to his Pastor's College and was accepted. He was the last student Spurgeon personally chose. His college course lasted for two and a half years. Then Thomas Spurgeon, who had ministered at the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle in New Zealand, returned to succeed his father at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Before leaving, the Church at Mosgiel had commissioned him to send them a suitable minister. The college tutors recommended Boreham, and so it came about that at four and twenty he sailed in January 1895 for New Zealand.
Mosgiel, a few miles from Dunedin, was a Scottish settlement. Save for a small woollen mill, it belonged to the cow and the plough and the pleasant murmur of bees. The original settlers were still there. The people were largely Scottish and he was very English, but from the first he loved them. He did what love does—he discovered them. There was a wealth of human tenderness behind their faces rugged as granite cliffs. They furnished him with as many characters as James Barrie saw through the ‘window in Thrums’ or Ian Maclaren found in Drumtochty, and he described them in a style worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with theirs.
There was Gavin, one of the Deacons, who ‘fairly squirmed under a quotation from Dante or Browning’, and Tammas, the Church Treasurer, a massive old man of wrinkled countenance who looked searchingly at you over his spectacles. ‘The man who got Church money out of Tammas was regarded in the light of a genius.’ There was a night when Gavin and Tammas quarreled at a Deacons' meeting and then woke him up in the middle of the night to apologize and asked him to pray with them.
Oh peaceful Mosgiel! There were no cinemas, motor cars, planes or wireless, and in that tiny town free from distractions, he was able to fill the church on a week night with a Bible class. Instead of being run off his feet with a thousand fatiguing but futile engagements, he had time for reflection, for learning how to preach, and for pursuing the art of reading. He resolved to buy a book a week and to read a book a week, and he faithfully kept his pact.
It was at Mosgiel that Boreham learned to be a writer, for it was in that quiet manse among the farms of that far-away parish that he made his first literary ventures. He began a weekly column in the local paper and very quickly became a regular contributor to the Dunedin city newspaper.
Looking back upon his first ministry, he would say that from attending a criminal on the gallows to being asked by a bashful lover to propose to a blushing maid on his behalf, he tasted every pain and pleasure of a minister's life.
After twelve years at Mosgiel he was called in 1906 to the Hobart Tabernacle, the leading Baptist church in Tasmania. From the first time he entered the pulpit he realized that he was preaching with a self-possession, and with an enjoyment that made his ministry, as he said, ‘a perfect revelry’. Ten of the happiest and most satisfying years of his life were spent there. Hobart was a popular tourist resort, and at almost every service there were men and women whose names were household words throughout the Commonwealth.
When Boreham decided to publish a book of his essays, he looked round his shelves to choose a book the format of which appealed to him. His choice fell upon Percy Ainsworth's minor classic The Pilgrim Church. Thus he sent off the manuscript to the publisher of it. Dr. A. J. Sharp liked it but knew nothing about the author. Tasmania seemed a far cry and it was rather risky to take on this unknown F. W. Boreham. Still, he wanted to publish it, so he wrote asking if the author would pledge himself to take 300 copies. Boreham felt himself unable to accept such responsibility and wrote to say so. But on the way to post the letter he met a leading Hobart bookseller who asked if he had sent the manuscript.
‘Yes, he replied, ‘and here's my answer.’ When he had told the whole story, the bookseller asked if the Publishing House would be likely to offer his firm the same terms. The upshot was that the first letter was destroyed and another written. The same offer was made to the bookseller. The Luggage of Life appeared, and Boreham was launched upon his career as a writer. Every year thereafter he brought forth a new book which went through edition after edition and sold by the hundreds of thousands. Dr. Sharp once made the interesting remark to me that Boreham was the Publishing House's ‘greatest catch’ since John Wesley's day.
In June 1916 he accepted the invitation to the Armadale Church. Armadale is an attractive suburb of Melbourne between the river Yarra and Port Phillip. His great preaching –attractive, interesting and evangelistic—drew crowds of eager hearers. Trams and trains set down a constant stream of people bound for Dr. Boreham's church. Some of them became members, others were inspired to be more devoted members of their own Churches, all were confirmed in the Faith. Dr. Boreham became a spiritual power in the life of Melbourne and, indeed, throughout Australia.
A Bunch of Everlastings carries this dedication: ‘At the Feet of Those Three Elect Ladies, the Churches at Mosgiel, Hobart and Armadale, I desire, with the Deepest Affection and Respect, to lay this Bunch of Everlastings.’
Retirement in 1928 did not close but extended his ministry. ‘I must preach!’ he wrote to me urgently when he left Armadale, and Churches everywhere welcomed him. He liked to think of himself as a kind of shuttle, going to and fro between the Churches, weaving them closer to each other.
Through all the ministering years, he was loved and companioned by the lady—Stella Cottee—whose love he had won during his student pastorate at the village of Theydon Bois in Epping Forest. She was not out of her teens when she voyaged alone across the world to become the first mistress of the Mosgiel Manse. Her quiet grace and lovely serenity, blended with good sense, imaginative thoughtfulness and steadfast courage, inspired and sustained, protected and defended him, and smiled away his fears. He knew more than all of us how much she gave to make him the man we admired and loved. They walked and worked together and she was beside him on ‘the long last mile’. This must be said of him—that he was at his brightest and best with his wife and children around him in the blessed peace of his home.
Frank Boreham had his share of sorrows, but they were never wasted sorrows, for ‘aye the dews of sorrow were lustered by His love’.
He needed no honors, but his friends rejoiced when McMaster University conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1928 and Queen Elizabeth made him an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1954.
The man whom Billy Graham wanted to meet in Australia above all others was F. W. Boreham. So one fine summer morning I drove him out to Wroxton Lodge in Kew overlooking the valley of the river Yarra. It was a day to remember—the young evangelist greeting the revered old minister in his 88th year.
Dr. Boreham's mind was alert as ever, and as we settled down he said pointedly: ‘What interests me in you, Dr. Graham, is the way in which you preach. You break all the laws of oratory and yet you succeed. We were always taught to begin quietly and slowly, winning interest, developing an argument, gathering force and proceeding to a climax. But you begin with a climax and sustain it.’
Dr. Graham smilingly explained that he had listened to speakers in pulpits and on platforms, studied them on the radio and television, and had come to the conclusion that with people who were listening and viewing in their homes it was necessary to win them in the first two minutes.
I coaxed Dr. Boreham to tell Dr. Graham some of his best stories—particularly his memories of Dwight L. Moody with his rugged personality like a volcano in ceaseless eruption, a miracle of tireless energy with his flaming evangelism and zeal for souls.
Before we left I asked the dear old Doctor to bless us, and there Dr. Billy Graham and I knelt, while with face uplifted to Heaven and his hands on our heads, he poured out his great heart in a consecrating prayer which will follow us through the years like the sound of a grand Amen.
His day was then far spent. On a May day in 1959 he came to the end of the earthly road, ready to explore what he knew lay on ‘the other side of the Hill’. We gathered in the Armadale church knowing that our company represented a multitude of friends the world over whose lives he had blessed. After we had thanked God for the gift of this good and gracious and gifted man and his fruitful life, we laid all that was mortal of him in a plot of earth in the Boroondara burying ground not far from the resting place of John G. Paton, the apostolic missionary to the New Hebrides.
As I walked slowly away on that Australian autumn day, the golden poplars were like great torches of clear yellow flame and the lawns were strewn with scarlet and russet and bronze leaves blown by the clean wind. Yet I thought not of Autumn, but of Christ's gay springtime that sang in this man's heart. And that night as I sat by the fire with the long deep thoughts that such a day brings, there came to me the words of Dante: ‘If the world might know the heart he had within him, much as it praiseth, it would praise him more.’
C Irving Benson was a friend of Frank Boreham, and pastor of the Wesley Church in downtown Melbourne.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
This blog will introduce you to the 30 people I've most admired - some are dead, a few are still living; most are men, a few are women; a couple I've met in person, but most I've met through reading; most are Christians, a few are not. Their lives and works have been an inspiration to me - and, I hope, to you.
They may include: Abraham Heschel (orphaned after his family was killed at Auschwitz, whose greatest prayer is for a gift of 'radical amazement'), C S Lewis, Alan Walker, Garrison Keillor, Thomas Freidman, John Stott, Matthew Fox, Richard Rohr, Dom Helder Camara, Mother Teresa, F W Boreham, Francis, Brian McLaren, Frank Laubach, Billy Graham, Jack Spong, N T Wright, the apostle Paul, Barnabas, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, M L King, John Claypool, W E Sangster, George Will, John Updike, Dostoevsky... Don't know some of these? Well, you're in for an interesting time...!!!
Other Blogs in this series:
1 Month to Meet the Baptists
1 Month of Books you should Read
1 Month to Learn About the Internet
1 Month to Understand your Local Church
1 Month of Answers to Tough Questions
1 Month of Devotions
1 Month to Change Your Life
1 Month to Become a Christian
1 Month To Meet Jesus
Basic idea: you read one of the 30 posts each day and complete a 'mini-course' in a month. (I might even organize a certificate for those who complete the 300 units!)
Some of the material will be adapted from the 20,000 articles on the John Mark Ministries website. It's a big site, (although many of the 100,000+ unique visitors a month tell me it's easy to navigate).
I look forward to journeying with you!