Several people have told me that the extent of their knowledge concerning David Livingstone is the well-known catchphrase, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” Some first saw the phrase used in one or another of a number of cartoon depictions of Livingstone being found in the jungles of Africa. Others first heard it in a classic Sesame Street episode involving Bert and Ernie.

Here’s the true story of how that phrase was first used in an extremely significant turn of events that took place toward the end of Livingstone’s life. It involves another individual who, like Livingstone, came to gain eminence as an explorer in Africa.

Livingstone spent the final seven years of his life (1866-1873) journeying in south-central Africa under the auspices of Britain’s Royal Geographical Society. During that time he explored the vast system of rivers and lakes in that part of the continent. He desired to discover if they might prove to be the then-undetermined headwaters of the Nile River, which was a question of enormous interest to British geographers in that day. However, his highest objectives throughout those years continued to be his desire to promote Christianity and to help bring an end to the slave trade in that portion of Africa.

For five years Livingstone carried out a series of journeys which involved all types of extreme difficulties and dangers. Finally, after getting to within just 100 miles of completing his westernmost exploration of the water system, he was forced by a combination of insurmountable circumstances to backtrack over 300 miles to the town of Ujiji on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. There he would likely need to wait many months for adequate supplies and reliable carriers to be sent to him from the coast before he could return to continue his westward explorations.

More than once Livingstone had made arrangements for food staples, trading items and dependable carriers to be sent by the British Consul on Zanzibar to him at Ujiji. But on at least one earlier occasion and again now, the supplies which were sent for him never reached Ujiji. Or after arriving there they were consumed by the unreliable individuals who were to preserve them for him there.

So presently, on his first evening back at Ujiji on October 23, 1871, he was distressed to learn that the man who had been placed in charge of his belongings, had sold all of them. 3,000 yards of Livingstone’s cloth and 700 pounds of his beads had been traded away in exchange for food, drink and other goods for the unfaithful steward and his associates.

Livingstone now found himself with almost no food or possessions in Ujiji. Referring to Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37, the Doctor later wrote: ‘I felt, in my destitution, as if I were the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves. But I could not hope for priest, Levite or Good Samaritan to come by on either side.’ Then, however, he added: ‘But when my spirits were at their lowest ebb, the Good Samaritan was close at hand.’

Late in the morning of November 10, the sound of rifles being fired from the top of the hill some 500 yards east of Ujiji was suddenly heard in the town below. At first the townspeople feared that Ujiji was under attack. But the group of people at the top of the hill carried a flag at the front of their procession, approached the town slowly, and fired their guns only to signal their approach, all of which showed that they were a peaceful caravan and not an attacking war party. Soon hundreds of townspeople ran up the hill to welcome the approaching caravan.

From the verandah of his rented house beside the Ujiji marketplace, Livingstone watched the excitement caused by the caravan. ‘Rejoice, old master,’ men soon called out to him, ‘it is a white man’s caravan. It may belong to a friend of yours.’

At first Livingstone was too surprised to believe that an Englishman was actually approaching. He had not seen a single white person since returning to the African mainland five years earlier.

Minutes later the Muslim Arab leaders in Ujiji gathered at Livingstone’s house and said, ‘Come, arise, friend David. Let us go and meet this white stranger. He may be a relative of yours. If God is pleased, he is sure to be a friend. The praise be to God for His goodness!’

They reached the center of the marketplace just moments before the caravan did. Livingstone afterward recorded of the approach of the procession and its leader: “The American flag at the head of a caravan told of the nationality of the stranger. Bales of goods, baths of tin, huge kettles, cooking pots, tents, etc. made me think, ‘This must be a luxurious traveler, and not one at his wits’ end like me’.”

The caravan’s leader, a young man of thirty years of age, pressed through the dense crowds and slowly walked toward Livingstone and the semicircle of Arabs standing behind him. A hush fell over the large crowd of more than 1,000 people who eagerly desired to see and hear what was about to happen.

The American wore a new flannel suit which he had reserved for this special occasion. The evening before his boots had been polished and his pith helmet freshly chalked in preparation for the meeting. He observed that Livingstone was pale, looked tired and had a gray beard. The Doctor wore a dark blue cap, like what a sea captain would wear, with a faded gold band around it. He had on a red-sleeved waistcoat and a pair of gray tweed pants.

At five feet, five inches tall, the American was three inches shorter than the Doctor. Approaching Livingstone in a deliberate, dignified fashion, he took off his hat, bowed and posed his immortal question: ‘Doctor Livingstone, I presume?’

‘Yes,’ Livingstone replied simply with a kind smile, lifting his cap slightly in respectful greeting to the young man.

‘I thank God, Doctor,’ the American announced aloud, ‘I have been permitted to see you.’

‘I feel most thankful that I am here to welcome you,’ Livingstone responded sincerely.

The American was Henry Morton Stanley, a traveling newspaper correspondent of the New York Herald. Stanley had been sent out by the Herald to find out if Livingstone were still alive and, if so, to assist him in any way he could.

While Livingstone had been in remote inner Africa, there was no reliable mail delivery system. It took many months for letters to be carried to the British Consul at Zanzibar or to friends and family in Britain. There were long periods when Livingstone was not heard from. More than once rumors circulated that he had died. 

Both in Britain and in America there was considerable interest in learning if Livingstone were still living and what new discoveries he was making. The proprietor of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, knew that considerable prestige and financial profit would come to his newspaper if it were the first to discover and publish this information. That is why he sent Stanley out in search of the Doctor.

Bennett gave Stanley an unlimited budget with which to accomplish his assignment. Stanley informed Livingstone that the undertaking was being carried out at an expense of more than 4,000 pounds. That equaled over 20,000 American dollars, an immense sum of money at that time.

Livingstone had been eating only two small, tasteless meals a day before Stanley’s arrival at Ujiji. But now he ate four delicious and nutritious meals each day with the food that Stanley provided for him. ‘You have brought me new life,’ the Doctor kept telling his generous new companion.

Stanley also delivered a whole bag of mail and newspapers which the British Consul at Zanzibar had sent for the Doctor. It was the first news Livingstone had heard from the outside world in over two years, as well as the only personal letters he had received from family and friends during that period.

Stanley had arrived at Zanzibar in January of that year, 1871. There he collected a whopping six tons of equipment and supplies for his upcoming expedition to find Livingstone. He hired 191 people to serve as his carriers, armed guards, and cooks. He also purchased twenty-seven donkeys to carry supplies and two horses for riding.

It took Stanley’s expedition over seven and a half months to traverse more than 800 miles from the coast to Ujiji. That included a three-month delay at another important Arab settlement, Unyanyembe, along the way, because a powerful African chief was blocking the route between there and Ujiji. Advancing from Unyanyembe with a smaller company of fifty-four well-armed men, Stanley skirted around the blocked territory and succeeded in reaching Livingstone at Ujiji.

After spending four months with Livingstone, Stanley returned to Zanzibar where he hired fifty-seven dependable carriers to take an abundance of supplies back to the Doctor and to assist him in carrying out his final explorations. Stanley continued on to Britain then America, where he gained great acclaim as the man who had successfully found and rescued Livingstone. Stanley published a massive 719-page book, How I Found Livingstone, in which he detailed his search for and assistance to the Doctor.

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My recently published book David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist (Christian Focus, 2023) provides a comprehensive account of Livingstone’s remarkable life and ministry.

Copyright 2024 by Vance E. Christie

In carrying out Christian ministry and in our other circumstances of life, God has a way of leading us to exercise faith in Him. He does so to keep us dependent on Him, to strengthen our faith in Him and to increase our appreciation of Him. George Muller was reminded of these truths time and again throughout his years of faith-filled ministry. Muller’s example encourages us to similarly trust God in our own faith-stretching situations of life.

For the first two years after establishing his orphan ministry in Bristol, England, Muller was blessed with a steady stream of God’s provision for the ministry. But then during the summer of 1838 Muller’s faith was put to the test when donations for his three orphan houses seemed suddenly to dry up.

One evening he was walking in his garden meditating on Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Presently the pressing need of the orphan houses came to his mind, and he was promptly led to say to himself: “Jesus in His love and power has hitherto supplied me with what I have needed for the orphans, and in the same unchangeable love and power He will provide what I may need for the future.”  A sense of joy flowed into his soul.

Barely one minute later a letter was brought to him.  It contained a gift of twenty pounds (equaling 100 dollars, a goodly amount in 1838). The Lord’s timing was evident, confirming both the teaching of His Word and the claiming of that truth in faith by His servant.

George Muller’s first orphan houses on Wilson Street, Bristol, opened 1836

By that September 18 all available funds for Muller’s orphan houses were again exhausted.  He and his staff had been praying earnestly about the pressing need but received no apparent answer.  Consideration was even being given to selling some household items deemed not absolutely essential in order to provide the next day’s food.

The middle of that afternoon a lady called at Muller’s home.  She explained that she had come from London to Bristol four or five days earlier and had been staying right next door to the boys’ orphan house that entire time.  She then presented Muller with a contribution to his ministry from her daughter in London.

Muller later wrote:  “That the money had been so near the orphan houses for several days without being given, is a plain proof that it was from the beginning in the heart of God to help us. But because He delights in the prayers of His children, He had allowed us to pray so long; also to try our faith, and to make the answer so much the sweeter.”

The following spring one of the orphanage’s annual reports came into the hands of a man in Devon who immediately perceived the ministry’s need for ongoing financial assistance.   The man had a Christian sister of means, and he began praying that she would be led by God to donate some of her valuable jewelry for the support of the orphans.

Not long thereafter Muller received from the woman a gift of a heavy gold chain, a ring set with ten diamonds, a pair of gold bracelets and a cash donation of two pounds.  Before parting with the costly diamond ring, Muller used it to neatly etch the words “Jehovah Jireh” (“the Lord will provide,” Genesis 22:14) on a pane of glass in his room.  Many times afterwards his heart was cheered when he caught sight of the words on the glass and remembered this particular instance of the Lord’s remarkable provision. 

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These accounts of George Muller’s God-dependent faith, as well as many other incidents from his life, can be found in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians (Christian Focus). Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

Adoniram Judson
Adoniram Judson

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. 

Adoniram Judson by Vance Christie

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.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Andrew Murray at age 28
Andrew Murray at age 28

After becoming convinced that the sudden spiritual awakening which came to his own church and community in Worcester, South Africa, truly was the work of God’s Spirit, Andrew Murray joined in supporting the powerful revival as it continued to sweep across the country. This blog, the last of a three-part miniseries, shows how God used Murray as a discerning and skilled young minister to help promote the awakening that took place throughout South Africa in 1860 and 1861.

In the weeks that followed the commencement of the revival at Worcester during the middle of 1860, Andrew Murray’s wife, Emma, wrote her mother of the ongoing, dramatic awakening in their parish: “We are having many visitors from the surrounding places who come to see us on account of the revival meetings, and they go away blessed, saying that half has never been told. It is a solemn thing to live in such a congregation at such a time.

“I feel sure the Lord is going to bless us even more, and yet there are heavy trials before us; the work is deeply interesting and yet some things are painful. In the midst of an earnest address [by Murray] a man drove a dog into the church with a tin tied on its tail and frightened the people. Andrew came down the aisle and prayed a most solemn, heart-searching prayer, that if the work was not of God, He Himself would put a stop to it. The people were terrified as the excitement was very intense and some even fainted.

“The prayer meeting last night was very full and ten men decided for Christ, but fifty undecided left the building about twelve o’clock. We had no idea of the time. Two souls afterwards came through who were wrestling in agony for a time, but got into the light in their own houses. Some go through a fiery struggle. Two sisters have both passed through, are now bright and rejoicing.

“Last night again the church was full and Andrew preached so powerfully and yet so simply on ‘the Lamb of God.’ He is so very discreet in dealing with souls. About twenty came forward, and others stayed behind to be talked to. We do feel and realize the power and presence of God so mightily. His Spirit is indeed poured out upon us.”

Several other South African towns were visited and transformed by the revival around that same time. Toward the end of the year God began to use Murray’s powerful preaching ministry in even greater ways than he had previously experienced. He was invited to speak at a number of conferences from Cape Town to Graaff-Reinet, 500 miles to the east. His itinerant ministry was greatly blessed by the Lord and helped further the revival in various locations.

Nicolaas Hofmeyr later in life
Nicolaas Hofmeyr later in life

During 1861 the awakening continued to spread across South Africa, impacting some two dozen additional parishes. Some of the communities first awakened in 1860, including Worcester, continued to be powerfully impacted by the revival in 1861. Early in September of the latter year a ministerial friend of Murray’s named Nicolaas Hofmeyr visited Worcester. He was on a collection tour to raise funds for missions but also wanted to observe for himself the “vehement, excited and confused prayer meetings” he had heard were taking place at Worcester, purportedly as an inevitable outcome of the mighty work of God’s Spirit.

Murray was away at the time of Hofmeyr’s arrival at Worcester, so the latter attended a prayer meeting with a church elder. As Hofmeyr opened the meeting in prayer he heard a few people moan. Then when a youth who had been powerfully converted began to pray in emotional tones, the assembly broke out in a bewildering verbal tumult. Due to their emotional distress, people tended to pray in short outbursts: “Lord, won’t you pour out your Holy Spirit?”  “Yes, Lord, do it!” “O Lord, convert the unconverted!” As soon as the young man’s emotional prayer came to an end, the commotion stopped. But when other individuals subsequently prayed with great fervor the same type of group response occurred.

Hofmeyr was convinced that such behavior was not of God’s Spirit, was unedifying and needed to be stopped. As soon as Murray arrived home, Hofmeyr expressed his concerns and suggested that Murray put an immediate stop to the questionable behavior. Murray instead told Hofmeyr he was in no position to accurately judge a whole movement by observing it during its middle phase rather than from its beginning. Murray further explained that he had tried to put a halt to the emotional behavior, but had been unable to do so. He had concluded that these prayers from the heart served as the most powerful proof that the Holy Spirit was at work. It was for this reason that he was reticent to suppress such manifestations with force.

This incident certainly shows the change of perspective Murray had come to have concerning his own role in the midst of revival. He was now seeking not to interfere with, rather than to moderate, the mighty moving of God’s Spirit. To Hofmeyr’s credit, he did not press the issue further.

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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

A full account of the revival in South Africa is recorded in chapters 11 and 12 of my 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

Artist's depiction of John Calvin in his study

Artist’s depiction of John Calvin in his study

John Calvin (1509-1564) came to saving faith in Jesus Christ in his early twenties, not many years after the Protestant Reformation spread to his homeland of France. When persecution broke out against French Protestants early in 1535, Calvin sought refuge in the Protestant city of Basel, Switzerland. He desired to pursue the quiet career of a contemplative scholar. To that end, during the summer of 1536 he sought to travel to Strasbourgh to continue his studies there.

But God providentially led Calvin instead to Geneva where he was recruited by a zealous Reformer named William Farel to stay and help advance the Protestant Reformation then taking place in that city. Calvin threw himself into that endeavor and some good initial progress was made. But opposition arose to those Reformation efforts, and in 1538 Calvin was ordered to leave Geneva by the city government.

After spending three happy, peaceful years in Strasbourgh, however, Calvin’s supportive acquaintances back in Geneva gained greater influence in their city and urged him to return to resume his reforming ministry there. Upon doing so in 1541, Calvin prepared a series of Ecclesiastical Ordinances that were approved by the city government with some modifications. Those ordinances placed the governance of the church in Geneva mostly in the hands of the Consistory, which was made up of the church’s five pastors and twelve lay elders. The Consistory, led by Calvin, sought to maintain high moral standards for the citizens of the city, who were also the members of the church. Punishable offenses included such transgressions as absences from public worship, blasphemy, adultery, drunkenness and gambling.

Artist's depiction of John Calvin refusing the Libertines communion

Artist’s depiction of John Calvin refusing the Libertines communion

Not surprisingly, not a few in Geneva resented and opposed Calvin and the Consistory’s strict standards. This was true of some of the influential families in Geneva’s high society who called themselves Libertines. For the better part of fifteen years after Calvin returned to Geneva, the church Consistory and the city government repeatedly clashed. On a number of occasions Calvin’s position of leadership became quite precarious. But he continued to hold his ground against the Libertines by refusing them the right to participate in the church’s communion services.

In the meanwhile, throughout Calvin’s second residence in Geneva, some 6,000 Protestant refugees, most of them from his native France, settled in the city, thus strengthening his base of support. Finally in 1555 the Libertines had to flee the city after overplaying their hand by fomenting an armed riot against French immigrants. After that, for the final nine years of his life, Calvin’s leadership and the church regulations he and the Consistory had established were no longer challenged.

John Calvin

John Calvin

In 1559 one of Calvin’s longtime desires was realized in the opening of the Genevan Academy. The school was under the direction of Theodore Beza, Calvin’s eventual successor as Geneva’s theological leader. Students at the academy included not only youth from Geneva but also students from various parts of Europe who later returned to their native lands, taking Calvinistic principles with them. Among those who spent some time training in Geneva was John Knox, the fiery Scottish Reformer. Knox called Geneva “the most perfect school of Christ since the apostles.”

Throughout Calvin’s years in Geneva, his work output was enormous. He presented daily sermons and lectures, from which he produced a series of commentaries (the first of their kind) on most of the books of Scripture. Calvin’s Commentaries, comprising twenty-two substantial volumes, are still widely and profitably used to the present day. Calvin also generated a steady stream of theological treatises and maintained a massive correspondence. Four secretaries at a time were kept busy assisting him with his workload. In addition, he labored in Geneva’s Consistory court, counseled many individuals and entertained endless visitors.

Reformation Wall in Geneva. From left - William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox

Reformation Wall in Geneva. From left – William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox

Calvin accomplished all this despite being plagued by a number of health problems. In the closing years of his life he suffered from chronic indigestion, headaches, gallstones, hemorrhoids, gout, fever and asthma. Despite those ailments, he pushed himself relentlessly, sleeping only four hours a night. Likely his poor health and early death at age fifty-four were due in part to his excessive labors and insufficient rest.

John Calvin stands with Martin Luther as the two most influential leaders of the Protestant Reformation. Both the Reformed (Calvinistic) and Lutheran branches of Protestantism have spread throughout the world. The influence of Calvin and Luther continues to this day, not only in Reformed and Lutheran circles but in other denominations as well.

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Sources used: The Story of Christianity, The Early Church to the Present Day, Justo L. Gonzalez (Prince/Hendrickson, 2005), Vol. 2, pp. 61-69; Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley (Word, 1982), pp. 274-281; Great Leaders of the Christian Church, John D. Woodbridge, Ed., “John Calvin,” James I. Packer (Moody, 1988), pp. 206-215.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

Mary Slessor (seated) with a Nigerian family

Mary Slessor (seated) with a Nigerian family

Throughout her thirty-eight year missionary career in southern Nigeria, West Africa, Mary Slessor (1848-1915) exhibited the spirit of a true pioneer missionary. She was never content to settle down permanently in one location, but was always seeking to advance Christ’s kingdom work into hitherto unreached areas.

The first twelve years of her missionary career were spent along the coastal region of Calabar, where Scottish missionaries of the United Presbyterian Church denomination had ministered for three decades. Mary then gained permission from the UPC Foreign Mission Committee to carry out missionary service in the previously unreached Okoyong region, which she did for the next seventeen years. (See my June 21, 2017, Perspective for a summary of her courageous, compassionate service during those first two periods of her missionary career.)

In 1904 she once again gained the Foreign Mission Committee’s permission to expand her work further inland to a pair of unreached tribes, the Ibo and the Ibibios. Slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism had been carried out among them from time immemorial. While the British Government was seeking to curtail those practices, they were known to persist, especially in more isolated regions.

Mary Slessor at a Nigerian village

Mary Slessor at a Nigerian village

In opening that new work, Mary was initially granted one year in which to carry out itinerate ministry in the area. She took with her a small group of Christian teenagers whom she had trained in Okoyong to assist her in the new ministry. Amazingly, by the end of that year of itinerating, Christian schools and congregations had been established in six towns and villages along Enyong Creek which ran between the Ibo and Ibibios.

When Mary’s year of ministry travels concluded, her mission board desired her to resume her former responsibilities back in Okoyong. But she could not reconcile herself to that prospect, explaining: “There is an impelling power behind me, and I dare not look backward. Even if it cost me my connection with the Church [denomination] of my heart’s love, I feel I must go forward. I am not enthusiastic over Church methods. I would not mind cutting the rope and going adrift with my bairns, and I can earn our bite [food] and something more.” She was greatly relieved when the Mission decided to free her from normal responsibilities at a fixed base so from that point forward she could act as a pioneer missionary.

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Mary Slessor and adopted children

Her advance into Ibibios territory was aided by the fact that the British government was building roads in that region. “Get a bicycle, Ma,” government officials said, pointing to the road, “and come as far as you can. We will soon have a motor car service for you.” At fifty-seven years of age Mary gamely learned to ride a bicycle after a government official presented her with a brand new model from England.

The early months of 1909 found Mary covered with painful boils from head to foot. “Only sleeping draughts keep me from going off my head,” she related. She later became severely ill from blood poisoning. She was taken to Duke Town near the coast where members of the mission attentively nursed her back to heal. But after five weeks of such care she was eager to resume her ministry responsibilities inland, and did so before some officials and doctors thought it fully advisable.

Mary Slessor Memorial in Dudee, Scotland

Mary Slessor Memorial in Dudee, Scotland

Eventually her health declined to the point that the Mission’s doctor forbad her to travel by bicycle. Hearing of her need for an alternative means of transportation, a group of ladies in Scotland sent her a Cape cart, a basket-chair on wheels capable of being maneuvered along quite easily by two boys or girls.

In the closing years of her life Mary established churches and schools in the villages of Ikpe, Odoro Ikpe and Nkanga further up Enyong Creek. She carried out ministry at those locations unaided by fellow missionaries. To her deep disappointment, the Mission had already concluded that health conditions were not safe enough in that region to place other missionaries there. To the end, however, she continued to be assisted by several African girls who lived with her as foster daughters.

Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

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A fuller account of Mary Slessor’s storied missionary career in Calabar is recorded in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). W. P. Livingstone’s Mary Slessor of Calabar, Pioneer Missionary (originally published 1916) is the classic full-length biography of her life. Bruce McClennan’s Mary Slessor, A Life on the Altar for God (Christian Focus, 2015) is a more recent full account of her life.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

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

Corrie ten Boom Prize pack

Win a Corrie ten Boom Prize Pack

Shoemaker and apprentice pix 1William Carey (1761-1834) is commonly credited with being “the father of modern missions.” He grew up in Paulerspury, Northamptonshire County, England. Carey was a spiritually indifferent boy, despite the fact that his devout parents taught him to read the Bible from a very early age and religiously took him to the village’s Anglican Church. As a young teenager Carey was apprenticed to a shoemaker named Clarke Nichols in the neighboring village of Piddington. There Carey gravitated toward irreligious companions and became addicted to “lying, swearing and other sins.”

However, a fellow apprentice, John Warr, regularly talked with Carey about religious and spiritual matters. Warr attended the worship services of a nearby group of Dissenters, who were also known as Nonconformists. Like most Englanders in that day, Carey despised Dissenters for not adhering to the Church of England. Though Carey arrogantly argued against Warr’s views on Christianity, the latter’s earnest verbal witness and consistent Christian lifestyle began to have a positive influence. Carey started attending church more frequently in hopes of finding relief from the growing burden he had come to have on his soul. He also determined to set aside his habitual sins and sometimes sought to pray when alone.

Paulerspury Anglican Church as where Carey attended as a boy.

Paulerspury Anglican Church as where Carey attended as a boy.

God used an incident that occurred just at that time to show Carey the badness of his own heart and his need for a complete spiritual transformation. It was customary in that part of the country for apprentices to collect “Christmas boxes”—small cash gifts, sometimes collected in earthenware boxes—from the tradesmen with whom their masters had dealings. (These gifts were considered a token of Christmastime goodwill toward the apprentices for their service of the tradesmen throughout the year.) That Christmas season Clarke Nichols sent Carey to Northampton, six miles northwest of Piddington, having given him money with which to purchase some supplies for his master. Nichols also gave Carey permission to collect “Christmas boxes” for himself from the Northampton tradesmen whom they serviced.

From Mr. Hall, an ironmonger, Carey received a shilling, worth twelve pence. After collecting a few more shillings from other tradesmen, Carey went to purchase “some little articles” for himself. Only then did he discover that the shilling he had received from Hall was counterfeit, made of brass. He substituted one of Nichols’ shillings for the artificial one in order to complete the purchase. Too late he realized that his personal items had cost “a few pence” more than the gift money he had just collected. Expecting to be severely reproached by his master for his careless mishandling of money, Carey resolved “to declare strenuously” that Nichols himself had inadvertently given him the counterfeit coin when he entrusted funds to him with which to buy supplies for his master.

Carey afterward related: “I well remember the struggles of mind which I had on this occasion, and that I made this deliberate sin a matter of prayer to God as I passed over the fields [walking] home. I there promised that if God would but get me clearly over this, or in other words, help me through with the theft, I would certainly for the future leave off all evil practices. But this theft and consequent lying appeared to me so necessary that they could not be dispensed with. A Gracious God did not get me safe through.”

William Carey in middle age.

William Carey in middle age.

Nichols was suspicious and sent Warr to investigate the matter. Hall, the ironmonger, admitted having given Carey the bogus coin. Carey’s own attempted deception of his master was thus discovered and as a result: “I was therefore exposed to shame, reproach, and inward remorse, which increased and preyed upon my mind for a considerable time. I at this time sought the Lord perhaps much more earnestly than ever; but with shame and fear.”

The Lord graciously used that painful and humiliating event to help Carey realize his need to believe in and receive Christ Jesus as his Savior from sin. Not long after, when Carey was seventeen years old, he was born again spiritually through personal faith in Jesus.

This Christmas season as we celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus into the world, may we also be deeply grateful to God for showing us our own need for the Savior and for drawing us to saving faith in Him.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie