Robinson Crusoe the Christian Classic

Robinson Crusoe was published, on April 25, 1719.

Based loosely on the real life adventures of one Alexander Selkirk, Daniel Defoe penned this best seller, which became one of the world’s greatest adventure stories – at the age of 54, in poor health and confined to this bedroom.

In today’s reprints much of the religious element has been omitted, but in the original version Defoe “produced one of the world’s wisest and most tolerant books in the whole field of applied Christianity”.  In the original preface to his work Defoe tells us that, whilst historically basing much of his research on the life of Selkirk, yet at the same time he was revealing something of his own spiritual pilgrimage through his writing. Defoe records his castaway’s conversion, of his leading Man Friday to faith in Christ, and of his constant calling upon the Lord in times of trouble.

Crusoe’s eventual rescue by a Spanish galleon posed problems … “I had rather be delivered up to savages and be devoured alive, than fall into the merciless claws of the priests, and be carried into the Inquisition…”

Thus it was in thousands of Christian homes, that the adventures of Robinson Crusoe became Sabbath afternoon reading material.

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Adam Clarke, Wesleyan commentator par excellence, tells how he “learned more of his duty to God, his neighbour and himself from Robinson Crusoe than from all the books except the Bible that were known in his youth”.

Daniel Defoe had been born into a non-conformist family, and in later life displayed fanatical anti-High Church views. Romanism likewise was anathema to him.

He was an enterprising man who made several attempts at business, which left him deeply in debt. He found in life’s experience the forge in which the real lessons are learned. He said, “In the School of Affliction I have learnt more Philosophy than at the Academy, and more Divinity than from the Pulpit: In Prison I have learnt to know that Liberty does not consist in open Doors, and the free Egress and Regress of Locomotion. I have seen the rough side of the World as well as the smooth, and have in less than half a Year tasted the difference between the Closet of a King, and the Dungeon of Newgate.”

He was also no stranger to controversy, engaging in the various political issues of his day. On one occasion, hiding in a graveyard, he saw the name Robinson Crusoe engraved on a tombstone. That is where he took the name of his famous fiction character.

Along with Samuel Richardson, Defoe is considered the founder of the English novel. Earlier prose was usually written in the form of long poems or dramas. Defoe produced some 200 works of non-fiction prose in addition to almost 2,000 short essays in publications, some of which he also edited.

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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

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Arthur Walkington Pink Calvinist Writer

Arthur Walkington Pink was born to Christian parents on April 1, 1886, in Nottingham, England.  Early in his life he became involved with the Theosophical Society, even becoming one of their chief speakers for this occult gnostic group.

But conversion at the age of 22 (1908) through his father’s patient admonitions from Scripture – based on Proverbs 14:12 – broke the bondage of this cult and set his feet in a new direction. Influenced by Moody and Sankey’s 1880 British tour, Arthur Pink enrolled in the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago.  Six weeks later he “dropped out”, telling a lecturer that he felt he was “wasting his time”.

There followed various pastorates in California, Kentucky, South Carolina and Australia, starting with Silverton, Colorado – he moved some 16 times between 1910 and 1940 – preaching and studying the Word of God.

He bade farewell to the dispensational theology of Moody Bible Institute and became adamant in his Calvinistic viewpoint.  He also harshly criticised the Scofield Bible.

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He married Vera E Russell in 1916. His first major published work was Divine Inspiration Of The Bible (1917). The following year he published The Sovereignty Of God, selling less than 2000 copies.

During a three year stay in Australia he ministered with the Baptist Union of New South Wales, until they asked that he state his views at a special Ministers’ Fraternal meeting on 8 September, 1925.  This resulted in a “unanimous resolve” that Pink was out of Baptist circles!  (Reformation Today, August, 1972).

Pink returned to England for a year then spent eight years engaged in itinerant ministry back in the USA.

Eventually he moved to the Isle of Lewis, at the northern tip of Scotland, where he lived an isolated life and died of anaemia in Stornoway, Scotland on 15 July, 1952.

For 30 years he had written, and published, Studies in the Scriptures – a monthly magazine with less than 1000 regular readers.

His volumes on Genesis, Exodus, Elijah and Elisha, and the Sovereignty of God, are still widely read.  Iain Murray has penned Pink’s biography (Banner of Truth Publications), and many of his books are still in print. Murray noted that “the widespread circulation of his writings after his death made him one of the most influential evangelical authors in the second half of the twentieth century”. Pink’s books prompted renewed interest in expository preaching and biblical living.

Warren Wiersbe writes: “He was not a great theologian, and some of his exegesis was weak, but it is impossible to miss the author’s love for Christ…” (Good News Broadcaster, December, 1983).


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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

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

CS Lewis Weds

Clive Staples (CS) Lewis married Joy Davidman, on March 21, 1957. He was 59 years of age, an Oxford professor and a ‘confirmed bachelor’, who had forsaken his ‘determined atheism’ for Christianity over 20 years previously.

His Screwtape Letters (1942) and Mere Christianity (1952) had made his name well known throughout Christendom.

Joy Davidman was Jewish by birth – and had been associate editor of the Communist New Masses paper in America.  At the time the couple were wed she was divorced with two sons.

Joy abandoned Judaism and Communism and became a Christian in 1948, partly due to reading Lewis’ books. She wrote to Lewis, known by the nickname “Jack” since his childhood, concerning his books. In time her Communist theories had given way to the certainties of the Christian faith.  At the time she was still married to Bill Gresham. An on-going correspondence between Jack and Joy ensued.

The pair first met in 1953 when Joy visited England. The correspondence connection blossomed into a friendship, despite their diverse backgrounds.

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Following her return to America Joy’s marriage disintegrated when her husband deserted her.  Her husband instituted divorce proceedings.  Two years later she was back in England – and having trouble with the British Home Office, which refused to renew her visa.  She must leave.  But C.S. had a solution … he would marry her!

Their marriage was first done in secret, as a civil ceremony to satisfy the British Home Office. That was on April 23, 1956. That initial marriage of convenience was rethought as their relationship blossomed and so they decided to have a Christian wedding to celebrate their bond of love.

Joy was found to have cancer of the bone – and when they decided to have a public Christian wedding it was in the hospital ward they were joined as man and wife on 21 March, 1957.

Following the wedding Joy experienced a remarkable recovery. In July of 1958 the couple enjoyed a 10 day holiday in Ireland. Lewis continued with his recordings and writing.

In 1960 news that Joy’s cancer had returned prompted the couple to travel to Greece together, with another couple. They enjoyed many sights in their travels but shortly after their return Joy’s end came quickly.

Joy had lived another three years since the wedding … during which time friendship blossomed into love “they had never dared to think possible…”

Joy died on July 13, 1960, ending the former affirmed bachelor’s short-lived excursion into married life. Jack was distraught at Joy’s death, pouring out his grief in a book entitled ‘A Grief Observed‘. Three years later, Jack died on the day of President John F Kennedy’s assassination.

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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

Frank William Boreham Australian Preacher

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”.

Warren Wiersbe writes, “Fortunate is the pastor who gets to know and love the writings of Boreham” (Walking with the Giants, page 153).
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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

Charlotte Elliott the Devotional Invalid

This is the day that … Charlotte Elliott died in 1871.

Born in Clapham, England (18 March, 1789), she achieved some fame as the writer of frivolous verse and a portrait artist. But by the age of 30 she was a bed-ridden invalid.

The visit of Swiss evangelist Cesar Malan led her to a knowledge of sins forgiven. And from that turning point in her life came the hymn, “Just as I am, without one plea” – although it was not written until 14 years after her conversion experience.

This account of her conversion explains her focus on the now famous words. One evening, as they sat conversing, the servant of God (Malan) turned the subject to our personal relation with God, and asked Charlotte if she knew herself to be really a Christian. She was in poor health and often harassed with severe pain, which tended to make her irritable. A severe illness had left her a permanent invalid.

She resented the question thus pointedly put, and petulantly answered that religion was a matter she did not wish to discuss. Dr. Malan replied in his usual kind manner, that he would not pursue a subject that displeased her, but would pray that she might give her heart to Christ, and employ in His service the talents with which He had gifted her.

It seems that the Holy Spirit used her abrupt and almost rude conduct towards God’s servant to show her what depths of pride and alienation from God were in her heart. After several days of spiritual misery, she apologised for her unbecoming conduct, and confessed that his question had troubled her greatly. “I am miserable” she said, “I want to be saved. I want to come to Jesus; but I don’t know how”. “Why not come just as you are?“, answered Malan. “You have only to come to Him just as you are”. Little did Malan think that his simple reply would be repeated in song by the whole Christian world!

Charlotte kept much of her writings for private use, expressing to the Lord her deep devotion to Him and not intending the texts to be used by others. At times people took her notes and spread them on her behalf, much to her displeasure.

In time, however, she became accustomed to others benefiting from her personal lines and in 1836 she became the editor of Yearly Remembrancer, in which she inserted some of her works, without identifying herself as the author.

One lady printed copies of “Just As I Am” as a leaflet and sent them out to towns and cities in England. A doctor took a copy and offered it to his aging patient saying it had been helpful to him and thought it might bless her. It did indeed, since it was Charlotte herself who was his patient.

Charlotte Elliott died at the age of 82 and is still regarded as “one of the finest of all English women hymn writers”. She wrote about 150 hymns. Her verse is characterised by tenderness of feeling, plaintive simplicity, deep devotion and perfect rhythm.

The testimony of Miss Elliott’s brother, (the Rev. H.V. Elliott, editor of Psalms and Hymns, 1835) to the great results arising from just one of his sister’s hymns (Just As I Am) is very touching. He says, “In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit for my labours; but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s”.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.