John and Betty Stam were a young American missionary
couple who served a few short years in China before being executed by Communist
rebels in 1934. Their martyrdom at ages 27 and 28 tragically ended their young
lives and their short, consecrated missionary careers. Yet ever since then God
has used their devout examples in life and death to help point not a few people
to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to inspire untold thousands of Christians
to serve the Lord with greater fervor and dedication.
Several weeks ago my wife Leeta and I had the privilege of visiting Christian Focus Publications, my primary publisher located in the scenic Highlands of Ross-shire, Scotland. Here’s the short feature Christian Focus released from our interview about the John and Betty Stam biography I’ve published with CFP. In this brief interview, I highlight a few of the outstanding aspects of the Stams’ lives and ministries.
If you’ve not yet read John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs, I’d encourage you to do so. I think you’ll find it spiritually instructive, beneficial and encouraging. If you’ve already read the book and found it profitable, perhaps you would want to recommend it to someone else as worthwhile reading.
While in Scotland last month, my wife Leeta and I had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters of my primary publisher, Christian Focus Publications. Since 2008 I’ve had the privilege of publishing six books with CFP, and we’re presently collaborating on a seventh volume, a comprehensive biography on David Livingstone. Through those years I’ve interacted with a number of the CFP staff via email about a variety of matters. But this was my first opportunity to visit CFP’s lovely premises and meet several of its cordial staff members in-person. To follow are several highlights of our visit to CFP.
Christian Focus Publications is located on a scenic country estate on the western edge of the Moray Firth, an inlet of Scotland’s North Sea. CFP is a couple miles up the shoreline from the seaside village of Hilton and approximately a one-hour drive northeast of Inverness.
The CFP offices are housed in a portion of Geanies House, a handsome, substantial manor built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Another part of the house is used as a private residence.
The manor is surrounded by several acres of beautiful, well-tended lawns and gardens. Walking paths wind through those and the surrounding woods, which stretch to the nearby cliffs overlooking the Moray Firth.
On the shoreline at the base of those 200-foot cliffs is the bothy, a small stone cottage. Leeta and I enjoyed spending part of a day exploring the seashore as the tide was going out. An additional treat was sharing a picnic lunch at the bothy with Willie and Kate Mackenzie (of CFP), along with their lively young boys.
Leeta and I stayed in the CFP’s Caretakers Cottage for several nights. Half of that cottage is a charming three-bedroom guest house which can be rented out by tourists in the summer months. The other half of the duplex is the private residence of one of the estate’s friendly groundskeepers.
Meeting the cordial staff at Christian Focus Publications was truly one of the highlights of our visit there. Several years ago I had met William and Willie Mackenzie (uncle and nephew to each other), who serve, respectively, as CFP’s General Director and Publications Director. In addition to renewing my acquaintance with them, it was a delight to meet their staff members, who were all very friendly and helpful. They provided us with some great advice and assistance concerning some choice sights to visit while in their area.
Christian Focus Publications has a room in its office building where copies of all the nearly 1,500 titles it has published through the years are displayed and available for purchase. People are welcome to stop by and browse through the books in this home-office bookstore. Each year CFP publishes scores of highly worthwhile books on a wide variety of topics for adults, youth and children. You can learn much more about Christian Focus Publications and its titles by visiting its website.
The good folks at the CFP home office enjoy having people stop by to say “Hi” and to check out their great selection of books. If you ever have the opportunity to do so, it will be well worth your while.
Adoniram Judson was the first foreign missionary sent out from the United States. He faithfully served Christ Jesus in Burma (modern Myanmar) for the better part of four decades. He did so despite staggering trials and hardships experienced by himself, his family and the Burmese Christians to whom he ministered. With unshakable faith in God and through unrelenting diligence in Christian service, Judson was used of the Lord to spread the Gospel throughout Burma, to lead many Burmese to faith in Christ, to establish healthy Christian congregations and to translate the entire Bible into the Burmese language.
Last month my wife Leeta and I had the privilege of visiting Christian Focus Publications, my primary publisher located near Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland. Here’s the short feature CFP released recently from our interview about the Adoniram Judson biography I’ve published with them.
I hope this brief feature will whet your appetite to read the full account of Judson’s life and ministry in Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life. I think you’ll be inspired and encouraged by Judson’s example, as I have been, to faithfully follow the Lord’s leading in diligently serving Him with the unique abilities and opportunities He gives each of us. May we be heartened to do so with unflagging faith and commitment, even when encountering extreme difficulties.
While in Scotland recently my wife Leeta and I had the
privilege of visiting Christian Focus Publications, my primary publisher
located near Fearn, Ross-shire. One morning during that visit CFP interviewed
me about several of the books I’ve had the privilege of publishing with them.
Here’s the short feature CFP released earlier this week of “yours truly”
commenting briefly on the biography I’ve written on Andrew Murray, South
Africa’s premier preacher, devotional writer and church leader of the
nineteenth and early twentieth century. To this day Murray’s devotional
writings continue to bring significant spiritual benefit to Christians around
I hope this brief feature will whet your appetite to read the full account of Murray’s life and ministry in Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. I think you’ll be inspired and encouraged by Murray’s example, as I have been, to serve Christ with greater diligence and warmth of personal devotion to Him.
It seems that many Christian ministers aspire to serve in a larger city and church setting which carries with it a degree of prestige and prominence. Not a few Christian ministers struggle a bit to serve contentedly in a smaller church and community context which may bring less esteem and eminence.
Faithful ministers with appropriate
motives are needed in both larger and smaller ministry contexts, of course. Whatever
size ministry setting Christians find themselves in, they need to realize the
crucial importance of the service opportunities God has entrusted to them
presently. And they should willingly give themselves to carry out heartily
their present ministry responsibilities.
Andrew Murray eventually became the
most prominent pastor in South Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But
the first eleven years of his pastoral career were spent ministering in a
smaller, isolated community and in a vast, sparsely-populated frontier region.
He gave himself wholly to that demanding ministry and as a result experienced a
good degree of fulfillment and fruitfulness in it.
Murray was born and spent the first
ten years of his life in Graaff-Reinet, Cape Colony, South Africa. After
spending a decade getting his secondary and university education in Scotland
and Holland, he returned to South Africa in 1848 to begin serving as a minister
at age twenty. He was assigned to serve as the first pastor of a new town and British
military outpost, Bloemfontein, which had been established two years earlier
beyond the northern border of Cape Colony.
During the 1830s and 1840s around 20,000
Boers (Dutch farmers) had migrated from Cape Colony to the immense regions
north of the Orange and Vaal Rivers. In addition to ministering at
Bloemfontein, Murray served as the first settled minister to the voortrekkers
(Dutch pioneers) in that vast frontier region of nearly 50,000 square miles.
When Murray arrived at Bloemfontein
it had about fifty houses, a few stores and shops, a courthouse and prison, a
military fortress and barracks, and a schoolhouse which doubled as a church
meeting house until a separate church building could be erected. As
Bloemfontein was home to a British military outpost, most of the town’s
residents were English. Initial attendance at the Sunday afternoon
English-speaking worship service averaged around seventy. A smaller Dutch-speaking
worship service was held Saturday evenings. Sunday school classes were held for
English and Dutch children as well as the children of a group of African
Bushmen who lived nearby Bloemfontein.
The plains throughout that region
teemed with a wide variety of game and wild animals. Once while traveling to
hold services at a location about seventy miles from Bloemfontein, Murray had
to cross a wolf-infested plain at a time when they were very fierce. After
fording a river, he dismounted to rest his horse. When the grazing animal heard
a pack of wolves approaching, it spooked and ran off. Carrying his pack on his
shoulders, Murray had to walk some twelve or fifteen miles to the nearest
house. “How did you do it?” the surprised farmer who lived there inquired. ”I
knew I was in the path of duty,” Murray answered calmly, “so prayed to God to
keep me, and walked straight on. The wolves snapped at me but did not touch
Between 1849 and 1852 Murray carried
out four ministerial tours in the area north of the Vaal River known as the
Transvaal. During the first itineration, which lasted just over six weeks, he
traveled some 800 miles on horseback and by ox-drawn wagon. He conducted a
total of thirty-seven services at six different locations. In addition, he baptized
567 children and interviewed well over 300 young people for church membership,
167 of whom were accepted upon their clear profession of faith in Christ Jesus
While Murray would wear a beard throughout most of his adult life, at this time he was still clean shaven and looked quite boyish. But he quickly gained the respect of the Transvaal Boers through his serious, confident demeanor, his overwhelming fervency and his willingness to sacrifice himself for their spiritual wellbeing.
A contemporary testified of the
intensity and gravity with which Murray ministered on the frontier: “When
preaching, so absorbed was he in his message that should he by his violent
gestures knock down Bible and reading desk of the impromptu pulpit, he would
not notice it. Solemn were the confirmation services when, before the final
confirmation promise was made, he would lift his hand, and with deep emotion
would adjure them not to reject the Savior, saying, “If you do and promise
falsely to be true to Christ, this hand will witness against you in the day of
The residents of some of the areas
where Murray ministered pleaded with him to accept their call to leave
Bloemfontein and come as their settled pastor. When two men arrived from a
settlement some 300 miles beyond where Murray was ministering during his first
Transvaal tour, he had to tell them that he would not be able to come and
minister in their area for eight months.
He afterward wrote his parents: “When
the men heard that they could not be visited for such a time, they were in
tears, as they had hoped I might go with them, and when they left again they
could not speak. I hardly know what to say when the people begin to discourse
about their spiritual destitution and their desire after the Word. Suppose
another minister should refuse to come here, but be willing to take
Bloemfontein, what would you think of my coming here? … The way in which some
of the people here plead really moves my heart. Many are in a fit state for
receiving the seed of the Word. May the Lord in His mercy help them.”
Murray had promised to visit the
Transvaal’s northernmost Dutch settlement at Zoutpansbergen during his fourth
ministry tour. But when word came that the settlers at that location were
suffering from repeated attacks of malaria and that several individuals had
already died, he was strongly advised not to proceed into that unhealthy
region. Since arrangements had already been made for the services there,
however, Murray considered it his duty to fulfill his ministerial obligation.
After he arrived there he learned
that in recent weeks twenty-four of the 150 settlers at Zoutpansbergen had
perished from malaria, eighteen of those within a fortnight of contracting the
disease. No home had been spared from death. The majority of those isolated
people had not had access to religious services for several years and were
overjoyed with this opportunity.
Fanny Crosby, the most prominent hymn writer of the nineteenth century, composed the lyrics for some 9,000 songs over the course of her songwriting career, which stretched out for more than fifty years. Through the years a number of fascinating true stories were preserved about how some of those songs came to be written or how they were used of the Lord to bring spiritual benefit to individuals.
Fanny composed over 1,000 hymns for William Howard Doane, a hymn writer and publisher from Cincinnati, Ohio. Not long after Fanny and Doane first met, he stopped by her New York apartment with the declaration, “I have exactly forty minutes before my train leaves for Cincinnati. Here is a melody. Can you write words for it?”
“I will see what I can do,” Fanny replied. She later related: “Then followed a space of twenty minutes during which I was wholly unconscious of all else except the work I was doing.” At the end of that time she recited the words to “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” to Doane, who quickly copied them down before dashing off to catch his train.
William Howard Doane
Probably more real-life incidents came to be known involving that hymn than any other song Fanny ever wrote. One of the most touching involved a pastor, Dr. John Hall, who went to see the ailing daughter of one of his parishioners. When the girl’s father came downstairs in tears, the clergyman asked, “My dear friend, what is the trouble? Has the little girl gone home?”
“No,” the father answered, “but she has asked me to do something that I cannot do. Anything that wealth might buy she may have. But I cannot sing ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’ for I never sang a note in my life.”
“Oh, I will go up and sing it for her,” the minister responded reassuringly. He did, and the child slipped into eternity just as he sang the hymn’s last two lines:
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore.
The words from another of Fanny’s best-known hymns, “My Savior First of All,” were once used of the Lord to safeguard a number of people from spiritual deception. A man suddenly appeared in London, claiming to be the Messiah. Charismatic and persuasive, he drew large crowds for many weeks. But one evening as he was speaking in a public square, a small Salvation Army band passed by singing “My Savior First of All” with its closing lines, “I shall know Him, I Shall know Him, By the print of the nails in His hand.”
The sizeable crowd spontaneously joined in singing that chorus. Presently someone pointed at the self-proclaimed Messiah and challenged, “Look at his hands and see if the print of the nails is there.” When no such marks were revealed, the man promptly lost his following.
Money meant little to Fanny. She normally lived in simple apartments, sometimes in a rather poor part of town. She was extremely generous. Often she gave all the money in her possession to help some needy individual, then asked the Lord to provide what she needed for her own food, rent and other basic necessities of life.
One day someone said to her, “If I had wealth I would be able to do just what I wish to do, and I would be able to make an appearance in the world.”
“Take the world but give me Jesus,” Fanny instantly replied. That remark led her to write one of her most famous hymns, which bore those words as its title.
David Livingstone’s storied thirty-three-year career as a missionary, explorer and slave trade opponent in the southern half of the African continent led to his becoming a missionary legend and a British national hero. He was honored with a burial in Westminster Abbey.
But initially his qualifications for missionary service were seriously questioned, and he was nearly not approved to serve with the missionary society under whose auspices he first went to Africa. His early history as a would-be missionary suggests important lessons about persevering through discouragements in preparing for and pursuing the ministries we sense God is calling us to undertake.
Livingstone was raised in a pious but poor family in Blantyre, Scotland. From the time he was ten years old he worked long, taxing hours in a cotton mill while pursuing his education on the side. He came to saving faith in Christ Jesus at age nineteen. Two years later he sensed God’s leading to prepare to become a medical missionary.
Thoroughly independent, at first he planned to work his way through medical school then pay his own way in going to the foreign field. But during his second year of medical training, friends encouraged him to apply for service under the London Missionary Society (LMS).
The LMS Directors provisionally accepted Livingstone as a possible missionary candidate and, in the fall of 1838, sent him for a period of probationary training under Rev. Richard Cecil at Chipping Ongar, not quite thirty miles northeast of London. Livingstone and six other probationers studied theology as well as Latin, Greek and Hebrew under Cecil’s tutelage.
The students were also given the responsibility of leading, in rotation, the daily family worship sessions that were held in Cecil’s home. They were further required to prepare sermons that were submitted to Cecil for editing. Those sermons were then committed to memory and delivered to village congregations in the area.
David Livingstone buying a book as a boy – London Missionary Society painting
Livingstone’s first attempt at preaching proved a disaster. One Sunday he was sent to deliver the evening message at a church in nearby Stanford Rivers. After reading the scripture text for his sermon very deliberately, Livingstone suddenly found that he could not recall a single word of his intended discourse. After a painful silence, he blurted out, “Friends, I have forgotten all I had to say,” then hastened, humiliated, out of the chapel.
Early in 1839 Cecil submitted his report on the current mission students to the LMS Board. Due to Livingstone’s hesitating manner in leading family worship and while praying during weekday chapel services, as well as his failed first attempt at preaching, Cecil’s report on Livingstone was rather mixed:
“His heaviness of manner, united as it is with a rusticity, not likely to be removed, still strikes me as having importance. But he has sense and quiet vigor; his temper is good and his character substantial, so that I do not like the thought of his being rejected.” Cecil thought Livingstone was “hardly ready in point of knowledge” to go to a theological college but stated his hope that his plodding Scottish charge “might kindle a little.”
Having read the report, the Mission Board was about to decide against Livingstone as an acceptable missionary candidate. But one of the Directors “pleaded hard” that Livingstone’s probationary period should be extended, with the result that it was. Six months later Livingstone was finally approved to serve as a missionary with the LMS. After finishing 1839 under Cecil’s further training in Chipping Ongar, Livingstone moved to London for a year of additional medical education. He sailed for South Africa in December 1840.
Gravestone of David Livingstone, Westminster Abbey.
What does Livingstone’s example in this early phase of his history have to teach us? When we sense God leading us to a particular ministry, we should diligently prepare for it. Even if at first we don’t seem (to ourselves or others) highly qualified for our future course of service, we should persevere in preparing for it if we remain convinced that the Lord is still leading us that direction. If God is, indeed, leading us into a particular course, He will give us success in becoming well prepared for it and will direct others to affirm and support us in pursuing it.
From a different angle, perhaps the Lord has us in a position to guide and encourage along an individual of less-than-obvious qualifications who nonetheless senses God’s leading to a particular ministry. Let’s seek to be careful and to be guided by God’s Spirit ourselves in how we advise that person. The Lord may use us to help bring to light a diamond in the rough.
My primary publisher, Christian Focus Publications, has blessed me with a grand opportunity this year – to write a new biography on David Livingstone, the eminent missionary explorer to Africa. I’m deeply grateful to both God and CFP for this privileged opportunity, and greatly look forward to carrying it out with the Lord’s help.
Here are five main reasons I’m looking forward to writing this book:
(1) David Livingstone (1813-1873) is one of the premier missionaries in the annals of Christian missions. Through his extensive pioneer explorations in southern Africa, he prepared the way for the spread of Christianity and helped bring about an end to the slave trade throughout that portion of the Dark Continent. He gained tremendous acclaim during his lifetime. Since his death, untold thousands have been inspired by his example to undertake missionary or other forms of active, sacrificial Christian service. It truly is a privilege to research and write the life story of such a prominent, significantly-used servant of Christ.
(2) Livingstone has good name recognition, especially through Henry Stanley’s immortal greeting, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” But a relatively small percentage of people know much about the good doctor other than that he was a famous missionary and explorer in Africa. This is a wonderful opportunity to help many people learn a great deal about Livingstone’s:
challenging and formative upbringing
Christian convictions that motivated and guided him
expansive (and sometimes controversial) missionary vision
phenomenal explorations – remarkable for their distances, difficulties and discoveries
tireless determination to stamp out the African slave trade
honest struggles as a husband and father.
David Livingstone & Family
(3) Livingstone possessed many outstanding strengths, including: his granite convictions; his unwavering devotion to fulfill what he perceived to be his divine mission and duty; his huge vision in various undertakings; his astounding determination and perseverance through all types of hardships and sacrifices; his unflagging courage; his highly respected character; his effectiveness in working with different races and classes of people. Such an individual has much to teach us.
(4) To be sure, Livingstone had weaknesses and failures as well. His fierce independence sometimes created marked relational difficulties. He was rather neglectful of his family. As a leader he could be dictatorial. A few of his cherished ambitions and undertakings failed to materialize or even turned out poorly.
Recent Livingstone biographies, apparently eager not to portray him as a plaster saint or larger than life, seem to relish the opportunity to emphasize his shortcomings and failures. They often judge him by contemporary standards and perspectives rather than by those of his own day. Some secular biographies of Livingstone exhibit little or no understanding of or appreciation for his spiritual perspectives and convictions. While I intend to acknowledge rather than ignore Livingstone’s shortcomings, I also anticipate being able to rightly provide a more positive and accurate assessment of his life and ministry.
Sculpture of David Livingstone Being Attacked by a Lion
(5) One aspect of pioneer missionary biography I’ve always enjoyed is the real-life adventure side of it. Who needs fiction when there’s such thrilling history to read?! Livingstone’s entire career as a missionary, explorer and slave trade opponent in Africa brims over with adventure and excitement, harrowing dangers and fascinating discoveries, triumphs and tragedies.
I’ll likely provide periodic perspectives from David Livingstone’s life in this blog as I write his biography. In the meanwhile, for a brief, beneficial summary of Livingstone’s life, see “David Livingstone,” by Brian Stanley, in Great Leaders of the Christian Church, ed. by John Woodbridge (Moody, 1988), pp. 329-333. A number of informative and helpful articles on different aspects of Livingstone’s life and ministry can also be found in Christian History, Issue 56 (Vol. XVI, No. 4), published by Christianity Today, Inc., 1997.
Andrew Murray (1828-1917) is best known by Christians today as the author of several still-popular devotional classics. In his lifetime, however, he was equally well-known as a prominent, powerful preacher.
Throughout his active preaching career of some six and a half decades, hundreds and even thousands of people eagerly gathered to hear him preach. His sermons were characterized by overwhelming intensity, depth of spiritual insight and evident empowering by God’s Spirt that stirred, instructed and challenged his hearers.
Beginning in his early twenties, Murray conducted ministry tours to Dutch pioneers in the frontier regions northeast of Cape Colony, South Africa. Dutch settlers would assemble by the hundreds at pre-arranged meeting sites to hear the dynamic young preacher. An early Murray biographer related of his tremendous fervency on such occasions: “When preaching, so absorbed was he in his message that should he by his violent gestures knock down Bible and reading desk of the impromptu pulpit, he would not notice it.”
Once an indigenous tribesman watched Murray closely as he preached with his habitual earnestness. The native did not understand a single word of what he heard but afterward stated his impression of what he had observed: “I never thought that the white men stood in such dread of their chiefs. Look at the young chief yonder [Murray]. He points his finger at the people; they sit quiet. He threatens them; they sit quiet still. He storms and rages at them; they sit as quiet as death!”
In 1895, at age sixty-seven, Murray was invited to speak at a number of prominent Christian conferences in Europe and America. An article in a popular British publication provided this description of his intense preaching:
“When preaching or conducting a service his whole being is thrown into the task, and he glows with a fervency of spirit which it seems impossible for human flesh to sustain. At times he startles and overwhelms the listeners. Earnestness and power of the electric sort stream from him, and affect alike the large audience or the quiet circle gathered round him. In his slight, spent frame, of middle height, he carries in repose a volcanic energy which, when he is roused, bursts its barriers and sweeps all before it. Then his form quivers and dilates, the lips tremble, the features work, as from the white-hot furnace of his spirit he pours the molten torrent of his unstudied eloquence. … Audiences bend before the sweeping rain of his words like willows before a gale. The heart within the hearer is bowed, and the intellect awed.”
Older Andrew Murray
Well into his eighties Murray continued to be a powerful, popular preacher who ministered at numerous churches and Christian conferences. He once was the featured speaker at a conference in which a new missionary enterprise to Sudan was being launched. One of the missionary candidates, who was well acquainted with Murray’s preaching ministry, reported:
“A lady was sitting close to me, and as Dr. Murray went up the pulpit steps, frail and gray and old, she asked: ‘Who is that old man? What a shame to make him go up those steps to preach.’ I smiled inwardly and thought, ‘My dear lady, you will be surprised tonight.’ Dr. Murray got up, he seemed to grow tall and majestic. In regard to the new work in the Sudan he once more spoke according to the oracles of God. ‘Forward!’ was his cry. Well, my lady was surprised, and more than surprised, pity made way for esteem. ‘What a voice for such a body!’ she exclaimed.”
Murray’s fervent preaching was reflective of his intimate, earnest personal relationship with the Lord. His preaching was carried out—through dependence upon and empowering by the Holy Spirit—in the context of an extremely demanding ministerial career. By reading a complete account of Murray’s life and ministry (such as my recent biography, Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa) one is able to glean the keys to his powerful preaching ministry as well as the many other fruitful aspects of his Christian service.