Frank William Boreham was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England on March 3, 1871. He was one of ten children and his birth coincided with the end of the Franco-Prussian War. He said in later life that “Salvoes of artillery and peals of bells echoed across Europe on the morning of my birth.”
His biographer, T. Howard Crago, tells the odd story of a gipsy woman who gazed into the child’s face when he was but four months old and said to the nurse-girl, “Tell his mother to put a pen in his hand and he’ll never want for a living.” It may well be that the telling of this story by mother to son in after years inspired F.W.B. to become a best-selling author. His 46 volumes and numerous small booklets have become collector’s items. Kregal Publications (USA) recently republished his “Great Text Series” under the title “Life Verses”.
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Boreham heard the great American preacher Dwight L Moody during his youth and that may have influenced his ideas of compelling preaching.
At the age of 14 he was to lose his right foot in a railway accident. During his long stay in hospital a Roman Catholic nurse broadened his understanding of the broader faith community.
Two years later (with an artificial foot) we find him living and working in London and attending a non-conformist church where he was converted, and “from now on,” his biographer tells us, “his interests and activities were to centre increasingly in Christian things.”
He was baptised, Easter Tuesday 1890, applied for training in Spurgeon’s Pastor’s College (“the last student that Spurgeon personally selected”), and after graduation headed ‘down under’ … first to New Zealand to pastor the Baptist Church at Mosgiel, Dunedin, from March 1895.
It was in Dunedin that Boreham began his writing career, providing religious content for the local newspaper. Other pastorates took him to Hobart (Tasmania) and Armadale and Kew (Victoria).
Nearly 50 books came from his pen. He also wrote as a regular Saturday columnist for “The Age” newspaper in Melbourne.
Dr Boreham wrote reflections on Biblical stories, homespun parables, and reflections on the best works of others, such as Catherine Booth, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Abraham Lincoln. Boreham gave over one hundred addresses in that latter category.
“Thousands of copies of his books were sold every year. He was well known on radio. Christ was always central to his ministry” (20th Century Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 66).
But Boreham was not only gifted with the pen. Many of his books are simply documentations of his messages which were hugely popular as live presentations.
T Howard Crago reported that Boreham’s address titled ‘The Other Side of the Hill’ (a variation of which was entitled ‘The Sunny Side of the Ranges’), was preached 80 times and an address titled ‘The House that Jack Built’ was given 140 times to churches which requested Dr Boreham to give this lecture as a community fund raiser.
Boreham’s earlier works tended to be long-winded, until, as is said of his later writings “the terse Boreham” had arrived. Following criticism for his excessive wordiness, Boreham worked hard to achieve a simple and flowing style. That done, his books became internationally popular.
So powerful were Boreham’s written sermons that some people doubted that Boreham could preach such wonderful messages to the standard they are written. Dr James Hastings, editor of the Dictionary of the Bible, noted that “Mr. Boreham is an artist. Every sermon is constructed. Every thought is in its place, and appropriately expressed. And there are no marks left in the constructing. To the literary student, as to the average reader of sermons, every sermon is literature.” The question of Boreham’s preaching was answered by Howard Crago, saying, “The fact was, of course, that each of these sermons was preached from memory in almost the exact words in which it was printed”.
One account of Rev Boreham’s preaching says, “Boreham came-spoke-and conquered! He spoke for an hour; but the minutes passed by on shimmering wings. He speaks quite as well as he writes-the voice is strong and sweet; ringing, yet winning, and the word lives in the message. ‘The House That Jack Built’ was a brilliant drama, staged and performed by the author. And his control of the audience! A happy and original introduction; apposite stories from history, science, and romance, related with telling effect; soft touches on the varying notes of the human soul, making it tremble with childlike laughter, and then a sudden chord of richer music with concentrated and arresting power-while the listener perceives God through smiles.”
Rev F W Boreham notionally retired in 1928 at age 57, but continued to preach and write. He died in Melbourne almost thirty years later, on May 18, 1959. Not long before Boreham’s death, in early 1959, evangelist Dr Billy Graham sought Boreham out, in deference to his extensive and popular writings.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com