The Christian mind (an expression popularized by Harry Blamires in his book of that title) is not a mind which is thinking about specifically Christian or even religious topics, but a mind which is thinking about everything, however apparently ‘secular’, and doing so ‘Christianly’ or within a Christian frame of reference. It is not a mind stuffed full with pat answers to every question, all neatly filed as in the memory bank of a computer; it is rather a mind which has absorbed biblical truths and Christian presuppositions so thoroughly that it is able to view every issue from a Christian perspective and so reach a Christian judgment about
A gem from Church history on what Christian marriage looks like when done right:
How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the sign of the cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these he gives his peace. Where there are two together, there also he is present; and where he is, there evil is not.
Trans. William P. LeSaint, Tertullian, Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage (1951 ed.; repr. New York, NY/Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, n.d.), 35–36.
William Carey wrote An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathens in order to make a case for the sending missionaries into the nations. He also answered some of the objections that were being raised. One of the objections was the “difficulties of procuring the necessaries of life” in foreign lands. In answering the objection, Carey reveals his understanding of the life and work of a Christian minister (missionary) that was not inconsistent with how his own life would turn out on the field. What is remarkable is that he had the most unromantic and realistic view of missionary work, yet he was eager to go. This shows that he was a man driven by convictions rather than earthly comfort.
A Christian minister is a person who in a peculiar sense is not his own; he is the servant of God, and therefore ought to be wholly devoted to him. By entering on that sacred office he solemnly undertakes to be always engaged, as much as possible, in the Lord’s work, and not to chuse his own pleasure, or employment, or pursue the ministry as a something that is to subserve his own ends, or interests, or as a kind of bye-work. He engages to go where God pleases, and to do, or endure what he sees fit to command, or call him to, in the exercise of his function. He virtually bids farewell to friends, pleasures, and comforts, and stands in readiness to endure the greatest sufferings in the work of his Lord, and Master. It is inconsistent for ministers to please themselves with thoughts of a numerous auditory, cordial friends, a civilized country, legal protection, affluence, splendour, or even a competency. The flights, and hatred of men, and even pretended friends, gloomy prisons, and tortures, the society of barbarians of uncouth speech, miserable accommodations in wretched wildernesses, hunger, and thirst, nakedness, weariness, and painfulness, hard work, and but little worldly encouragement, should rather be the objects of their expectation. Thus the apostles acted, in the primitive times, and endured hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; and though we living in a civilized country where Christianity is protected by law, are not called to suffer these things while we continue here, yet I question whether all are justified in staying here, while so many are perishing without means of grace in other lands. Sure I am that it is entirely contrary to the spirit of the gospel, for its ministers to enter upon it from interested motives, or with great worldly expectations. On the contrary the commission is a sufficient call to them to venture all, and, like the primitive Christians, go every where preaching the gospel. (Page 73)
The Missionaries must be of great piety, prudence, courage, and forbearance; of undoubted orthodoxy in their sentiments, and must enter with all their hearts into the spirit of their mission; they must be willing to leave all the comforts of life behind them, and to encounter all the hardships of a torrid, or a frigid climate, an uncomfortable manner of living, and every other inconvenience that can attend this undertaking. Clothing, a few knives, powder and shot, fishing-tackle, and the articles of husbandry above-mentioned, must be provided for them; and when arrived at the place of their destination, their first business must be to gain some acquaintance with the language of the natives, (for which purpose two would be better than one,) and by all lawful means to endeavour to cultivate a friendship with them, and as soon as possible let them know the errand for which they were sent. They must endeavour to convince them that it was their good alone, which induced them to forsake their friends, and all the comforts of their native country. They must be very careful not to resent injuries which may be offered to them, nor to think highly of themselves, so as to despise the poor heathens, and by those means lay a foundation for their resentment, or rejection of the gospel. They must take every opportunity of doing them good, and labouring, and travelling, night and day, they must instruct, exhort, and rebuke, with all long suffering, and anxious desire for them, and, above all, must be instant in prayer for the effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the people of their charge. Let but missionaries of the above description engage in the work, and we shall see that it is not impracticable. (Page 76)
Here are some highlights from Elisabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael.
Amy Carmichael was an Irish Presbyterian who worked as a missionary in India for 55 years without a furlough. She was born in Ireland and was the eldest of seven siblings. Her desire to serve can be seen even prior to becoming a missionary. She began a Sunday-morning class for poor mill girls in Belfast. Her call to missionary work began at a Keswick Convention in 1887, in which Hudson Taylor had spoken. Although she is famous for her sacrificial service in India, she initially served in Japan for 15 months. Due to sicknesses and other reasons, he course would take her to Ceylon, back to England and finally India (176). She had felt drawn to serve in China ever since hearing Taylor speak of the millions in spiritual need there, but was open to serving wherever God would lead her. Though she was not Anglican, she applied to the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society and was recommended by Keswick leaders who were Anglican clergymen (110). She reached India in 1895 and would remain there till her death in 1951.
Carmichael was deeply bothered by the idolatry that she saw was rampant in India, much like the apostle whose spirit was provoked when he saw the idols at Athens (Acts 17:16). Once when she came across idols while walking on the hills, she writes:
“To see those stupid stones standing there to the honor of the false gods, in the midst of the true God’s beauty, was too much for us. We knocked them over and down they crashed and over they rolled forthwith. Oh the shame of it! It makes one burn to think of His glory being given to another” (122).
Her response to the numerous temples and idols she witnessed when traveling by train:
“It makes you feel as if you couldn’t sit still. You must do something, try to do something, anything!… Oh to get into that stronger, calmer current, out of the feverishness of human haste. Do please, dear friends, ask that we may exchange the eagerness of the flesh for the earnestness of the Spirit and so move in the force of that Holy Wind that we shall be carried along by His great calm” (126).
Not only was she upset with pagan idolatry, she was frustrated with the nominal Christianity that was prevalent in India:
“The saddest thing one meets is the nominal Christian. I had not seen it in Japan where missions are younger.. The church here is a ‘field full of wheat and tares.’” (117).
Great men and women usually have role models of their own and are eager to learn from others who are worth hearing. Carmichael was no exception in this regard. Some of the authors she read were Richard Rolle, Raymond Lull, Suso and Tersteegen, Bishop Moule, Josephine Butler, Thomas a Kempis, Samuel Rutherford, Pere Didon, Bishop Bardsley and “the brave and burning souls of every age who had left torches.” (240). Her reading list was not limited to Christian books (251) but included military heroes, mountaineers (Whymper of Matterhorn, Somervell of Everest), explorers (Edward Wilson of Antarctic), and great educators (Arnold of Rugby). Her vast reading partly explains the amount of books she was able to churn out (more than 35) during her lifetime inspite of the hard work she was engaged in India. She was a writer but she saw value in only purposeful writing – “Nothing is worthwhile if the seed of Eternity be not in it.” (322) However, she was a little too strict when it came to novels, for she did not see their worth (even the good ones)!
Though she was well-read and her mind was stocked with knowledge, her heart was never callous towards human suffering. She was very sensitive to other people’s pain. When her mother had first shared the details of the Cross, she rushed into the garden to forget “thoughts too dreadful to be borne, for how could anybody hurt another so, specially One who was so good?” (24). When she heard Hudson Taylor speak about the lost, she wrote
“Does it not stir up our hearts, to go forth and help them, does it not make us long to leave our luxury, our exceeding abundant light, and go to them that sit in darkness?” (41).
When she sensed an irresistible call to the mission field, she found it excruciatingly difficult to ask of her mother the long parting that it would require. She felt as though she was “stabbing” someone she loved while writing the letter (54). Her heart was filled with compassion towards her family at home and the lost in foreign lands, but she knew that one who loved father or mother more than Christ was not worthy of him. In India, when she encountered the awful sexual abuse of children as temple prostitutes, her compassionate heart drove her to take efforts in founding the Dohnavur mission that would end up taking care of many orphaned and abused children. She was called amma (mother in Tamil), for though being single she had become the mother of many. A girl recounts her memory of Carmichael: “I thought, ‘My mother used to put me on her lap and kiss me – who is this person who kisses me like my mother?’ From that day she became my mother, body and soul.” (168).
She held a realistic view of the missionary life and warned future missionary candidates against a romantic one. She wrote to a lady who was to join her in the mission field “If any least wisp of glamor is in your mind ask God to let His wind blow it away..there is none of that rainbow thing in the life here”. Rather, missionary life was a “chance to die” (176).
I am at a dandy coffee shop in Kuwait drinking Cappuccino as I write this post on momentary sufferings! Not that Christians should despise comforts and blessings from God in search of suffering, but I pray that we would prepare and ready ourselves for suffering for the gospel through the stories of men like Judson.
On Christmas Eve of 1817 (exactly 197 years ago today!), Judson boarded a ship to Chittagong to find Burmese native Christians converted by the Baptist mission, in hope of getting approval for the tolerance of Christianity in Burma from the emperor by showing that it was not merely a white man’s religion. The two-week voyage turned into two months due to unpredictable weather. Fever, starvation, thirst and filthy conditions on board left him almost dead when carried off the ship at Masulipatam, India. Many months later, he recovered and returned to Rangoon after a failed mission to reach Chittagong. Such were the deadly frustrations that characterized his mission work.
When the British invaded Burma, all foreigners became suspect spies. Judson found himself in prison as a result, having to endure tortures of various sorts. Anderson describes the turmoil in Judson’s mind when in prison:
They were bitter and depressed. What had he brought to those who depended on him? Nothing but death. Death for Harriet Atwood – for in a way, he had been responsible for her becoming a missionary. Death for his only son. Now death for himself, probably death for Nancy. And what was there to show for it? Eighteen converts in the twelve years since he had left Salem. Of those, probably only a few would remain faithful – if they survived. Eighteen souls for all those years and lives. And the Burmese New Testament. But most of that was in manuscript, in the little wooden house by the river. Almost certainly it would be destroyed or lost. That left only the souls. The thought of those souls beside him at the throne of God would ordinarily have seemed compensation, but this dreadful night it did not. Deep in depression he lost hope for himself and for Nancy.
The humiliation of a fastidious man like Judson was torture enough for Nancy who had witnessed the change in Judson’s outward appearance after just two days of being in prison:
..haggard, unshaven scarecrow, his usually spotless white starched neckcloth a filthy rag, his neat black broadcloth suit disheveled, torn and smeared with fragments of rotting plantain leaves. She could scarcely recognize him. She gave him one long horrified incredulous look, and hid her face in her hands.
However, Nancy was remarkable woman who did everything she could to care for her husband in prison, and persistently pleaded with the Burmese authorities to free him, or atleast give him better treatment. The detailed accounts of her efforts and humiliation are quite moving to read. She once decided to prepare him a special meal when he was in prison:
The wretched food she had to bring him, usually nothing but rice with ngapi, disturbed her. Finally she decided to surprise him with a real reminder of home. She managed to procure some buffalo meat, and after some experimentation with plantains eventually produced a very good approximation of a New England minced pie….[which] when he [Judson] opened it, and realized what it was, memory was too much. The very thought of eating closed his throat. With the pie on the ground beside him, he rested his head on his knees and wept. Then…he secluded himself for hours. Nancy’s mince pie had been only too successful. Plymouth – Bradford – his father and mother and brother and sister…like a flood, carefully repressed memories overwhelmed him. And in the misery of his thoughts there was one which, at any other time, would have give him the greatest pleasure. Not, it was most bitter of all. Nancy was pregnant.
Little Maria was eventually born with Judson still in prison. Nancy managed to take care of her and continue supporting her husband in prison. Her health began to take its toll. She became so weak at one point that she could neither move nor breastfeed little Maria. It was at this time Judson was allowed to go out of prison for a few hours daily to carry the baby around the village begging for milk from Burmese mothers. His mind was struggling to believe God’s good purposes amidst such trials, but God sustained him, Nancy and Maria through. He was also released from prison eventually.
On October 26, 1826, when he was away from Nancy, he received the crushing news of the death of his beloved wife due to sickness. As he read the letter carrying the news..
All at once desolation overwhelmed him. The letter fell to the floor. He began to weep, softly at first, later with hoarse, racking sobs. Finally, as the full, crushing weight of the letter’s meaning descended upon him, he leaned forward over the writing table in from him and pillowed his head on his arms.
Sorrow’s iron rod had struck him again. But God carried him through for another 24 years of fruitful labor, having remarried twice. By the time of his death, he had translated the whole Bible into Burmese, leaving behind 8000 converts. His light momentary affliction had prepared for him an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17); and not only for him but to countless Burmese since then.
Adoniram Judson was one of the first American missionaries to set sail across the Atlantic in obedience to the Great Commission. Upon reading Courtney Anderson’s thrilling account of his story in To the Golden Shore, I was convinced that he was a man worth imitating. His faith, brilliance and ambition for the Kingdom led him to a life of many momentary sufferings and hard labor for about four decades in Burma. I wish to recount some of these sufferings and how the Judsons went about handling them.
After embarking on the historical journey to Burma, the Judsons soon discovered during their stay in India that Burma was to be an impossible mission field. Even the great William Carey himself gave them discouraging news, in light of despotic governors, political turmoil, and unwelcome attitude towards foreigners. They began to reconsider where they would serve. It was during this time that the 19-year old Harriet, the wife of Samuel Hewell, died along with her newborn baby as a result of being drenched by a violent storm at sea. The Newells had left America along with the Judsons and were a rare source of like-minded friendship. Ann “Nancy” H. Judson who was a close friend of Harriet wrote:
O death, thou destroyer of domestick felicity, could not this wide world afford victims sufficient to satisfy thy cravings, without entering the family of a solitary few, whose comfort and happiness depended much on the society of each other?
But upon further reflection and remarkable submission to God’s providence, she later wrote:
But thou hast only executed the commission of a higher power. Thou has come, clothed in thy usual garb, thou wast sent by a kind Father, to release his child from toil and pain. Be still, and know that God has done it.
The young missionaries understanding of the tough missionary task ahead was being purged of any romantic taint in the face of harsh reality. After desperately seeking other opportunities, God led them to Madras where the only option to leave India, while being chased by the East India Company, was to board a ship named Georgiana, bound to Rangoon, Burma! On their way, the Judson’s first child was born dead. Upon arrival, they saw that Rangoon, was a “dark, and cheerless, and unpromising”. The biographer describes their predicament:
It was the unhappiest evening they had ever spent. At last they had arrived at the destination Adoniram had aimed at for three years, the place he had dreamed of, the goal of his ambition; and they had never regretted anything more in their lives…All they could do, with despair in their hearts, was commend themselves to the disposal of God..
This they certainly did like God’s children usually do in life trials. What’s instructive is that even exemplary missionaries in the history of church did not float into the mission field without discouragements and internal conflicts. They began to learn the Burmese language, and build relationships with the locals. Shortly after, the next major suffering struck in the death of their second child, nearly 8-month old Roger. Any reminders of Roger’s life such his cradle, clothing, or grave caused “their hearts..to bleed”. Nancy records their grief and God’s discipline through it:
Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error, and to strip us of our only little all. O may it not be vain that he has done it. May we so improve it, that he will stay his hand and say, ‘It is enough’…[after a few weeks]…When for a moment we realize what we once possessed..the wound opens and bleeds afresh. Yet we would still say, ‘Thy will be done’
The Judsons did not curse God and die as Job’s wife or any rebellious, unsubdued heart might suggest. Instead, like Job, like Christ, they chose to submit to the will of God with loud cries (Heb 5:7).
In his lectures to students training for the ministry, Spurgeon throws out some gems of practical advice on various topics – personal prayer, self-watch, call to ministry, etc. In the last lecture, he exhorts ministers with limited resources (or “slender apparatus”) for study. Although this is rarely the case these days with an unlimited amount of theological resources available electronically, I thought some of his tips were worth applying just as well.
First, he states the importance of a good library for ministers, and likens it to a nutritious diet for the body. If a minister must be limited to only a handful of books, he encourages him to seek after depth and quality:
Do not buy milk and water, but get condensed milk, and put what water you like to it yourself. This age is full of word-spinners — professional book-makers, who hammer a grain of matter so thin that it will cover a five-acre sheet of paper; these men have their uses, as gold-beaters have, but they are of no use to you.
On a side note, Spurgeon seems to have a very high view of Matthew Henry’s commentary:
Matthew Henry’s Commentary having been mentioned, I venture to say that no better investment can be made, by any minister, than that peerless exposition. Get it, if you sell your coat to buy it.
He urges one to go deep in their knowledge of the quality books they possess. This I found very helpful, as there is the constant temptation to try and read widely without really absorbing the content. Although, I think there is a legitimate place for skimming and reading for breath of knowledge.
The next rule I shall lay down is, master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and re-read them, masticate them, and digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times, and make notes and analyses of it. A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them, as the classic proverb puts it; “As the dogs drink of Nilus.” Little learning and much pride come of hasty reading. Books maybe piled on the brain till it cannot work. Some men are disabled from thinking by their putting meditation away for the sake of much reading. They gorge themselves with book-matter, and become mentally dyspeptic.
Books on the brain cause disease. Get the book into the brain, and you will grow. In D’Israeli’s “Curiosities of Literature” there is an invective of Lucian upon those men who boast of possessing large libraries, which they either never read or never profit by. He begins by comparing such a person to a pilot who has never learned the art of navigation, or a cripple who wears embroidered slippers but cannot stand upright in them. Then he exclaims, “Why do you buy so many books? You have no hair, and you purchase a comb; you are blind, and you must need buy a fine mirror; you are deaf, and you will have the best musical instrument!” — a very well deserved rebuke to those who think that the possession of books will secure them learning. A measure of that temptation happens to us all; for do we not feel wiser after we have spent an hour or two in a bookseller’s shop? A man might as well think himself richer for having inspected the vaults of the Bank of England. In reading books let your motto be, “Much, not many.” Think as well as read, and keep the thinking always proportionate to the reading, and your small library will not be a great misfortune.
And then of course, there is the Bible:
In case the famine of books should be sore in the land, there is one book which you all have, and that is your Bible; and a minister with his Bible is like David with his sling and stone, fully equipped for the fray. No man may say that he has no well to draw from while the Scriptures are within reach. In the Bible we have a perfect library, and he who studies it thoroughly will be a better scholar than if he had devoured the Alexandrian Library [one of the biggest libraries in the ancient world] entire.
A man who has learned not merely the letter of the Bible, but its inner spirit, will be no mean man, whatever deficiencies he may labor under. You know the old proverb, “Cave ab homine unius libri” — Beware of the man of one book. He is a terrible antagonist. A man who has his Bible at his fingers’ ends and in his heart’s core is a champion in our Israel; you cannot compete with him: you may have an armory of weapons, but his Scriptural knowledge will overcome you; for it is a sword like that of Goliath, of which David said, “There is none like it.”
He goes on to give general exhortations on the importance of thoughtful study, and how those with only a few good books can use this to their advantage:
Without thinking, reading cannot benefit the mind, but it may delude the man into the idea that he is growing wise. Books are a sort of idol to some men…Thought is the backbone of study, and if more ministers would think, what a blessing it would be!…We want men who will try to think straight, and yet think deep, because they think God’s thoughts.
In addition to learning from good books, Spurgeon concludes with other sources for learning – everything else that meets the eye, self, people around you, seasoned saints, etc. In classic puritanical fashion, he believes that those in their death-beds are especially illuminated books.