Samuel Gobat as Bishop of Jerusalem

Samuel Gobat was born on January 26, 1799, at Cremine, Bern, Switzerland.

After theological training in Basel, Switzerland, his first Christian ministry was in a mission house in that city, from 1823-26. He then went to Paris and London, mastered Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages (including Ethiopian), and was sent by the Church Missionary Society (Church of England) to pioneer missionary work in Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

“The account of his voyages down and across the Red Sea (in 1830) in open Arab vessels crowded with pilgrims, with only polluted water to drink, and sometimes none at all, and he himself suffering from ophthalmia and dysentery … is painful reading.”

But after two unfruitful years in that difficult field, he and his companions were expelled by the authorities … because “of the intrigue of French (Roman Catholic) priests.”

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When he returned home he found that the daughter of one of his teachers, whom he had known for many years, had blossomed into a lovely young lady. He married Mary Zeller on May 23, 1834 and two weeks later took her off to Ethiopia.

By the time they reached Arabia Samuel became desperately ill with cholera, which Marie also caught after nursing him. For the following 2 years their lives were desperately difficult, with ongoing illness that finally forced them to return to Europe. However, while crossing Egypt they suffered thirst and hunger and the disinterest of the locals. Their first child died just hours short of medical help in Cairo.

This was not the end of their troubles, as more children died in the ensuing years and Samuel took up poorly paid Bible translation work in Malta, translating the Scriptures into Arabic. However his health gradually improved and he worked as assistant principal in a school.

On July 5, 1846, the Gobats’ lives changed course when Samuel was consecrated as the second Bishop of Jerusalem. The new posting led to many challenges, but it became a life calling for the dedicated couple.

The official history of the Church Missionary Society, titled One Hundred Years, records how Bishop Gobat and the CMS were vigorously assailed at this time by High Churchmen for presuming to preach Christ to Orientals …”

Despite opposition, Gobat gave an evangelical lead to the Church of England in the Holy Land, establishing 37 schools, 12 churches and several hospitals.

When the Druse massacred hundreds of Christians in Lebanon and Damascus the Gobats faced the real possibility of martyrdom. They also faced harsh rebuke for welcoming converts from the Orthodox faith into their Protestant congregations. Samuel explained that these people had been rejected by their church because they sought to study the Bible.

“He carried on a vigorous mission as bishop for over thirty years, his diocesan school and orphanage on Mount Zion being specially noteworthy.”

The bond between the couple became legendary and Samuel was known for his affection and care toward Marie.

Samuel died in Jerusalem on May 11, 1879 at the age of 80, and Marie seemed to lose interest in life after his passing. She died less than three months later.

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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

Horatio Gates Spafford Turns Tragedy into Song

This is the day that Horatio Gates Spafford was born in New York State, in 1828.

He was to become a well known Christian businessman in Chicago; professor of medical jurisprudence at Chicago Medical College; director of a Presbyterian theological seminary; and active in the YMCA. He was a close friend of Moody and Sankey.

The young lawyer moved to Chicago to start a legal business. In 1861 he married Anna Tuben Larssen and they established a prosperous home. Anna bore Spafford a son and four daughters. Horatio junior, however, died of scarlet fever in 1870, aged four. Apart from their business income Spafford had built up a sizable property portfolio.

The Great Chicago Fire swept through the city on 8-10 October 1871, killing 250 people and rendering 90,000 homeless, destroying about a third of the city. While the Spaffords sustained significant personal loss, Horatio and Anna worked tirelessly for two years to help the victims put their lives back together.

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody based his worldwide ministry in Chicago and the Spaffords were good friends of Moody and his ministry. In 1873 they decided to travel to England to participate in the Moody/Sankey revival meetings there, before touring continental Europe.

The family of six travelled to New York to board their ship. Horatio was called back to Chicago by last-minute business obligations, but he saw no reason for the entire family to delay their travel, so he sent his family on ahead, planning to join them as soon as he could.

Anna Spafford, the couple’s four daughters, the children’s governess and two others in their party boarded the French steamship Ville du Havre on 22 November 1873, along with 307 other passengers and crew. At about 2 am on 22 November 1873, in the eastern North Atlantic, the Ville du Havre collided with the British iron clipper Loch Earn, then sank in a mere 12 minutes. 226 people perished, including the four Spafford daughters. Survivors were taken to Cardiff, Wales, where Anna Spafford cabled her husband on 1 December 1873 with the following devastating message: “Saved alone. What shall I do.” Horatio Spafford took the next available ship to join his wife.

It was two years later that Horatio Spafford wrote one of our great gospel songs:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows, like sea billows, roll –
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say:
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

The daughters had all been converted in Moody-Sankey meetings shortly before their deaths.

Ira Sankey, who incorporated this gospel song into his Sacred Songs and Solos, writes: “In 1876, when we (Moody and Sankey) returned to Chicago, I was entertained in the home of Mr and Mrs Spafford for a number of weeks. During that time Mr Spafford wrote the hymn ‘It is well with my soul’, in commemoration of the deaths of his children. P.P. Bliss composed the music and sang it for the first time at Farwell Hall” (My Life …, by I. Sankey, page 191).

Once reunited, Horatio and Anna Spafford returned to Chicago, and by 1880, they had another daughter, Bertha, and another son, also called Horatio. This son, too, died in infancy of scarlet fever.

The Spaffords also had another daughter, Grace, born in Chicago in January 1881. When Grace was just seven months old, the Spaffords moved to the Holy Land in August 1881. They helped to found a group called the American Colony in Jerusalem, with the mission to serve the poor.

Sometime during the 1880s, in Jerusalem, Horatio Spafford suffered a mental illness that caused him to believe that he was the second Messiah.

There he died of malaria on 16 October, 1888, at the age of 60. He is buried in Jerusalem.

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. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Amzi Dixon Establishes Fundamentalism

This is the day that … Amzi Clarence Dixon was born in North Carolina in 1854. His father was a Baptist preacher.

Converted at the age of 12, young Amzi “devoured the Bible, and the sermons of Spurgeon” (Dictionary of American Religious Biography, page 130).

At the age of 21 he was ordained to the Baptist ministry, and it was his aim to make each church he pastored “a soul-saving centre”. Among those churches were Chicago’s Moody Church (1906-11), and Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London (1911-19).

“He was not interested in social reform itself because only the gospel could meet the deepest needs of human problems. It was easier to reach the body, he argued, by curing the soul than vice versa, and to reform a person’s character was far more important an objective than effecting some change in the environment” (ibid, page 130).

He became a zealous opponent of modernism (a liberal theology), attacking Rev. Henry Ward Beecher’s emasculated gospel. “The kind of unbelief which he did more than any other man to popularise has done much to weaken the power of the pulpit,” Dixon said.

In 1909 he became editor of a 12-volume set of booklets defending the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. These volumes were called Fundamentals and gave rise to the name “fundamentalist”. They were sent free – thanks to two Californian millionaire brothers – to 200,000 ministers and missionaries.

In 1922 his first wife died during their tour of China. Two years later he married the widow of Charles M. Alexander (of Alexander hymn book fame) (she was Helen Cadbury of the famous chocolate family).

In his latter years he became more ‘mellow’. He had fought a good fight against the inroads of modern theology, but now he “gave up the militant stance” (In Pursuit of Purity, by D. Beale, page 225).

On 14 June, 1925, A.C. Dixon suffered a heart attack, and died.

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.

The Holy Spirit as a Dove

The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus Christ in the form of a Dove. And so the humble dove has become a perennial symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace. It is with that connection in mind that I share the following simple thought with you.

Two weeks ago I was in a staff meeting where one of my fellow pastors brought out a guitar and led us in a few worshipful songs. The experience was sweet and it prompted a couple of images to tumble through my mind. One of those thoughts was about releasing the Holy Spirit within me.

It is wonderful to worship God with abandon, such as David did as he welcomed the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem about 3,000 years ago. David readily put his own decorum aside and did not care if he looked foolish as he praised God. A word which David frequently used in his psalms, telling us to praise the Lord, means to be ‘clamorously foolish’ – so abandoned in adoration that we seem to be ‘over the top’ to others.

In practice, however, most of us are self-conscious and tend to adjust our own worship activity to match that expected or expressed by those around us. In a quiet setting everyone becomes quiet. In a noisy prayer meeting everyone tends to make more noise. If others are being restrained we tend to be restrained too.

During the morning devotion I am talking about there was a sweetness but also a level of polite restraint. As I pondered that I realised that many Christians restrain the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. The ‘dove’ of the Spirit settles in their chest and stirs them from time to time. The Spirit gives us witness and various stirrings that make us sensitive to God’s presence and work. When we worship we can even feel a sense of the dove wanting to spread its wings and soar. But to really let the Spirit soar we must cast off more of our decorum and social restraint.

As these thoughts trickled through my mind an image formed of what could happen when someone allowed the dove out of the cage. I imagined a person abandoning themself in worship and flowing with the impulse of that heavenly dove stirring within them. My imagination observed as the dove, powering upward into the heavenlies, was transformed into a majestic eagle. The verse about mounting up on eagle’s wings jumped into mind as I imagined a person, free in their worship, rising out of their restraint and into the lofty realms to which the Spirit of God could carry them.

The diary note I made after that worship time reads as follows: ‘Our spirit is like a dove inside a cage. If we let it out, let it fly and soar – by giving vent to the Spirit within us, rather than restraining our worship style to suit what those around us would prefer – then that dove takes flight and is transformed into an eagle – we rise up on wings as an eagle and soar in the heavenly places, far above all principalities and powers.’

I encourage you to flow with the Spirit of God and yield to the Spirit. I believe there is much that God has for us to enjoy, that is yet untouched while we are locked in stiff restraint. Some of you may well discover that being ‘clamorously foolish’ is as powerful and rewarding for you as it was for King David three millennia ago.  

First Temple Excavation

Recent news from the Israel Antiquities Authority has people buzzing. Remains of buildings from the First Temple period have been uncovered in Jerusalem and there are some interesting implications. In a location west of the Temple Mount excavators have worked through several historic layers to finally come to these ancient remains. 

The ruins date from the 800-600BC era, before the destruction of the First Temple, and have been preserved from plunderers since the Roman period, because of construction directly over the remains. The heavy limestone pavers encased the ruins, sealing them to be revealed 2,000 years later – echoes of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The site is about 100 metres west of the Temple Mount on the eastern slopes of the Upper City. Building walls are preserved  to over 2 metres high. Remains are characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah in the latter part of the First Temple period. 

So much for the archaeological summary – now to the significance. There is keen reaction from those who are incensed by Moslem revisionist efforts to suggest that the First Temple did not exist and that the Jews do not have a claim to the Temple Mount site. The recent finds support the Jewish presence on the site and seal the Israelite claim to the city. In another twist it has also been suggested that it may be possible to re-build the temple on this adjoining location, thus avoiding the problems presented by the mosque currently on the traditional site of the First Temple. 

For those with an interest in things archaeological here are some further tid-bits: The city of Jerusalem has had a long history and been affected by multiple constructions on previous ruins. The Christian Byzantine era provides a 6th Century map of Jerusalem which features the Roman Road, named the Eastern Cardo, part of which has been removed to reveal these fresh finds. That map, a mosaic design excavated in Madaba in Jordan, shows a city that exists with no regard for the Temple Mount, which at that time was a ruin. Several churches were identified – since the Christian locations were of more significance than the expired Temple.  

Note also that the ancient Temple site has become an icon to many. The Moslem world occupies it. Some Jews want it back and worship it. [consider these comment from Jews who learned of the recent excavations: “The temple mount is the holiest place on earth.” “The Third Temple will be built sometime over the next 41 years…”] Many Christians see the need for a new temple on the site, in preparation for Christ’s return.

Removal of the mosque from the site thus becomes an issue for some. Note the sentiment of this posting in response to the news: “Take it back now!!! ALL ARABS OUT!! BOMB THE DOME!!” Unholy passions run high around the Holy Land.