Boer Family 1886
Boer Family 1886

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.

Andrew Murray as a young man
Andrew Murray as a young man

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 me.”

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 for salvation.

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 judgment.”

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.

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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

I have written a comprehensive biography on Murray entitled Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby

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

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

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

Fanny Crosby in older age

Fanny Crosby in older age

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

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

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

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

Fanny Crosby & Ira Sankey

Fanny Crosby & Ira Sankey

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

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

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

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

 

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

 

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) grew up in London, England. She was raised in a Christian home and attended church and Sunday school as a girl. But as she entered young adulthood she became impatient with religious matters. Her one great ambition was to become an actress. While working as a housemaid in London, she took drama classes in the evening.

One evening, instead, she attended a church service, although she hardly knew why. There she heard again the Gospel truths she had been taught as a child, realized that God had a claim on her life, and placed her trust in Christ Jesus as her Savior from sin.

Sometime later Gladys read a magazine article that spoke of millions of Chinese who had never even heard of Jesus, a thought that staggered her. She spoke with friends and relatives about that alarming situation but none of them seemed too concerned. Before long Gladys came to sense that God was directing her to go as a missionary to China.

She learned of the China Inland Mission training school for prospective missionaries in London.  She went through three months of its training program but was rejected as a suitable missionary candidate due to her lower academic performance.

For a time she served with a ministry in Swansea that sought to rescue young women from prostitution and drunkenness. While she thought that ministry worthwhile, she could never escape the thought that God desired her to be serving in China.

Gladys Aylward with one of her many adopted orphans

Gladys Aylward with one of her many adopted orphans

As Gladys endeavored to read and study through the Bible, she was arrested by the story in Genesis 12 of God calling Abraham to leave his relatives and country, to go to a distant land, and to be used there as a blessing to others. Her attention was also drawn to the example of Moses in the early chapters of Exodus. In order to carry out the challenging mission God called him to, he had to leave the comfort and security of the work and family he enjoyed in Midian. Gladys couldn’t help but draw parallels to her own situation and sense of God’s call on her life.

Eventually she returned to London and resumed working as a parlor maid. The third day on her new job she began reading the narrative concerning Nehemiah. She could relate to his being burdened over a distressing, distant situation that he could do nothing about. But after reading Nehemiah 2, she was filled with elation and exclaimed, “But he did go. He went in spite of everything!” From that Scripture passage Gladys was convinced that God was giving her marching orders – to go, as Nehemiah had in his own time and place, to play a part in addressing the concerning situation in China that had been so long on her heart.

She laid her Bible on her bed as well as her copy of a Daily Light devotional guide and all the money she possessed – only two and a half pence (cents). “O God,” she prayed simply, “here’s the Bible about which I long to tell others, here’s my Daily Light that every day will give me a new promise, and here is two and a half pence. If You want me, I am going to China with these.”

Just then her new mistress rang the service bell to summon her. “I always pay the fares of my maids when I engage them,” the mistress informed Gladys. “How much did you pay getting here?” When Gladys told her, the mistress promptly gave her three shillings, slightly more than she had paid for her travel fare. “So in a few moments my two and a half pence had increased by three shillings,” Gladys afterward related. (A shilling was worth twelve pence.)

Gladys worked hard, scrimped and in time saved up enough money to buy a one-way railway ticket to China. At last, at age thirty, she traveled to China to assist an aging lady missionary in her ministries in the mountains of Shansi Province in northeast China.

Gladys Aylward quotationThat was just the beginning of Gladys’s many years of devoted, sacrificial, faith-filled service in China. Her colorful missionary career there included ministries to muleteers, women, orphans, refugees, prisoners, soldiers and others. Her years of service were full of adventures, dangers, remarkable providential protection and provision, as well as much spiritual fruit.

After World War 2 Gladys helped establish and carry out ministries to Chinese refugees and orphans in England, Formosa (modern Taiwan) and Hong Kong. She also traveled widely throughout Britain, Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Japan, sharing of and raising funds for her ongoing ministries.

Books worth reading on Gladys Aylward’s life and ministry include: Gladys Aylward, The Little Woman (her autobiography, co-authored with Christine Hunter); A London Sparrow, The Story of Gladys Aylward, by Phyllis Thompson; Gladys Aylward, The Courageous English Missionary, by Catherine Swift; The Small Woman: Gladys Aylward, by Alan Burgess.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

Each of us would instantly recognize the pictures of scores of prominent people living today, whether political leaders, sports figures, Hollywood celebrities or others. Just for the fun of it, let’s see how well we do at identifying a number of eminent Christian servant-leaders from the past few centuries of Church History.

Match the following names with the appropriate numbered pictures below. If you need some assistance, most of these people and their pictures have been featured at www.vancechristie.com in the past. The correct identifications are supplied at the end of this Perspective. When you’re all done, see how you rate according to the suggested scale which also appears at the end of the blog.

I hope you’ll have fun with this. Perhaps you’ll want to pass it on to some others for their enjoyment.

Who's Who in Church History?

Martin Luther, Protestant Reformation leader (1483-1546)

John Calvin, Protestant Reformation leader (1509-1564)

Susanna Wesley, Influential mother of John & Charles Wesley (1669-1742)

John Wesley, Founder of Methodism (1703-1791)

Jonathan Edwards, Premiere pastor in America’s first Great Awakening (1703-1758)

George Whitefield, Premiere evangelist in America’s first Great Awakening (1714-1770)

William Carey, “Father of Modern Missions” (1761-1834)

Adoniram Judson, America’s first foreign missionary, served in Burma (1788-1850)

George Muller, Faith-based orphan ministry in England (1805-1898)

Fanny Crosby, Celebrated hymnwriter (1820-1915)

Andrew Murray, South African pastoral leader and devotional writer (1828-1917)

William & Catherine Booth, Founders of the Salvation Army (1829-1912 & 1829-1890)

Hudson Taylor, Founder of the China Inland Mission (1832-1905)

Charles Spurgeon, “Prince of Preachers” (1834-1892)

Dwight Moody, Prominent 19th century evangelist (1837-1899)

Mary Slessor, Missionary to Calabar, West Africa (1848-1915)

Amy Carmichael, Missionary to Dohnavur, India (1867-1951)

Corrie ten Boom, “The Hiding Place” and world evangelist (1892-1983)

John & Betty Stam, Missionary martyrs in China (1907-1934 & 1906-1934)

Billy Graham, 20th century’s premiere world evangelist (1918-present)

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Pictures correctly identified & Your rating:

19-20                           Superlative

17-18                           Great

15-16                           Good

13-14                           Fair

1-12                             Plenty of room to progress 😉

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Correct Answers:  (1) John Calvin;  (2) John Wesley;  (3) Jonathan Edwards;  (4) William Carey;  (5) George Whitefield;  (6) Martin Luther;  (7) Adoniram Judson;  (8) Corrie ten Boom;  (9) Susanna Wesley;  (10) Hudson Taylor;  (11) Dwight Moody;  (12) George Muller;  (13) Charles Spurgeon;  (14) Andrew Murray;  (15) Billy Graham;  (16) Amy Carmichael;  (17) Fanny Crosby;  (18) Mary Slessor; (19) John & Betty Stam;  (20) William & Catherine Booth.

Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie