Saturday, 25 January 2020

Climate Extinction rebels, heirs to Medieval Millenarians: beware


Norman Cohn’s ‘The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages’ is a fascinating but sad read[1].

Hordes of peasants would rise up expecting the New Jerusalem. They inflicted an orgy of murder on the innocent, usually Jews; then they were slaughtered by the establishment. This happened again and again in the Middle Ages. 

Taking in the scenes of flagellants surrounding churches, or the Taborites and Anabaptists setting up their own communes, or children setting off for Jerusalem, it was hard not to see connections with the Climate Extinction rebels.

Of course Extinctionists are devotees of science and their concerns are grimly real.

So they are a million miles from the mental world of the medieval Millenarians. This Cohn explains was shaped by prophesies in the Bible about the return of Christ, the Sibylline writings about the rise of an emperor-saviour, and Joachim of Fiore’s teaching about how to unlock the future of the world concealed in Scripture.

Most Extinction Rebels have probably not read the Bible, let alone the Sibylline writing or Joachim of Fiore; yet it is so easy to see connections between them and the Medieval Millenarians the wise should be wary.

End of the world, skewers morality

The perspective is opposite, but for both groups it is the end of the world that is centre stage. The Medieval Millenarians rose up to hasten its arrival; the Extinctionists are rising up to stop it happening.

If your actions are going to impact the outcome of something as drastic as the end of the world – that will skewer normal morality. There can be no compromise. The stakes are too high.

Morality was certainly skewered for the Medieval Millenarians. To hasten the end they looted, slaughtered, and some threw sexual restraint to the wind.

So far, no murderous atrocities stain the Extinctionists. But the seeds are there. Recently the Extinctionists blocked Westminster Bridge in London. This is the main artery to one of the city’s largest hospitals, St Thomas’. When asked about this, activist Savannah Lovelock said that they were “Really sorry… but we are running out of time” That’s the skewered morality: the sick can suffer, even die: it’s our cause that matters.

Whipping and gluing

The Medieval Millenarians whipped themselves. Cohn describes how the flagellants would descend on towns to whip themselves in front of the church. Thousands watched. And that was their aim. This was some of the best PR the Medieval world had ever seen. The message easy to understand: repent of your sins or your suffering will be much worse.

The Extinctionists do not whip themselves. They glue themselves to trains, aeroplanes, and boats, powered by the evil engines causing the end of the world. The less brave block the roads and bridges used by carbon spewing machines. Just like their medieval ancestors, it is all PR, and it is almost exactly the same message: repent of using fossil fuels now or face much worse suffering.

Avaratia and Luxuria

These two words crop up again and again in Cohn’s account: avarice and luxury. Whatever the particular millennium movement is, these were the marks of the ‘Anti-Christ’. So once a movement got under way, the wrath of the poor would turn against the rich and the clergy. Castles were attacked, houses ransacked, the rich were slain.

Thankfully the Extinctionists have not yet attacked rich people. But they have attacked their buildings: the Shell offices and the Stock Exchange in London; the Rockefeller Centre and, a symbol of wealth, the Prometheus Statue in New York.

This is not just anger about the climate; this is the anger of ordinary people erupting against a system that has produced an apartheid like chasm between the rich and poor. It is anger against Arvartia and Luxuria – and who knows what would have happened if the Saville Row suited directors of the Stock Exchange or Shell had appeared on those days when their buildings were being attacked. Human nature has not changed.

Communes and assemblies

Perhaps the most wretched chapters in Cohn’s book are the ones that tell the story of the Taborites of Bohemia and the Anabaptists of Munster. They make ‘Animal Farm’ look tame. Tearing down the established order where they held sway, the chant of these two sects was John Lennon’s banal ‘Imagine no possessions’: all was to be owned by the commune.

The problem was there was no commune. There was the dictatorship of a charismatic and manipulative leader, and so when the communal chests ran out more was demanded from the citizens. Punishment in Munster was ferocious – ‘Death was to be the punishment for every kind of insubordination’. Life under the aristocracy and church was no doubt oppressive; under these cults it was murderous. Both the Taborites and the Anabaptists were obliterated by the establishment, and no doubt the peasants who survived welcomed a return to normality.

While perhaps the canvas villages that sprout up during a climate change campaign have the feel of a commune, it would be absurdly unfair to draw any parallel with the Extinctionists and the Taborites and Anabaptists of Munster.

Except.

Except the worrying demand by the Extinctionists for a citizen’s assembly. In the UK many of the same na├»ve MPs who agreed to a Brexit referendum, have also agreed to this demand; but what they have proposed will only have advisory power. That’s not enough for the Extinctionists. They want legal authority to implement whatever the assembly decides. They want power.

At the moment this is all a lot less dramatic than the Medieval Millenarians, but the argument is essentially the same: the establishment cannot be trusted, the ‘ordinary’ people must take control. If ever such an assembly was allowed to exist, it would only be a matter of time before there was a showdown with the established powers. And if the Extinctionists won that showdown the record of history is there would be a lot of misery in store for ordinary people. That is the norm when established rules are thrown aside in favour of a big cause. Think France and her Citizen’s Assembly.

The shrill cry of children

The Crusades were launched by Urban II for political reasons; but for the masses it was all about clearing Jerusalem of infidels for Christ to return. It was a millennial movement, ‘a mass sacrifice which was to be rewarded by a mass apotheosis at Jerusalem’ and some the shrillest cheer leaders were young.

So we have the tragic debacle of the ‘Children’s Crusade’. There are different accounts, but it is clear that in the early 13th C thousands of juveniles set off for Jerusalem expecting the Mediterranean Sea to part for them, as the Red Sea did for Moses. It didn’t and most of them either died or were sold into slavery. Disaster was inevitable and one wonders why the adults let them go.

Children are also very much the shrill supporters for the Extinctionists. Indeed the unofficial leader is Greta Thunberg. Aged just fifteen Thunberg stopped going to school to protest outside the Swedish parliament. Inspired by her, about a million other children around the world have also happily given up a day at school to protest. There have even been ‘Children’s Assemblies’. The adults have not only allowed this, but they have lauded the children. So much so it would be boring to list the honours Thunberg, now 17, has received.

It is easy to see why children are at the forefront of the Extinction Rebellion: it is their future that is at stake. And of course, to be young is to protest against the establishment. Nevertheless given the magnitude of the crisis it is odd that a fifteen-year old should be lecturing the UN rather than an experienced fifty-year old. And it is disconcerting that the adults are applauding the teenagers, as if somehow, they mystically knew the answer.

Rather than having sensible answers, from the tone of Thunberg’s speeches it would seem we have an angry young girl, possibly given to hyperbole.

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us, but the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.

With a few changes one can imagine the same sort of invective directed against parents by teenagers setting off for the Crusade.

We are at the beginning of the end times. And all you can talk about is money…How dare you! The rest of Thunberg’s speech can stay the same.

For those who know their Bible, the sight of the young dictating to their elders will is sign of God’s disfavour:

I will make mere youths their officials;
children will rule over them.”
People will oppress each other—
man against man, neighbuor against neighbour.
The young will rise up against the old,
the nobody against the honoured.

(Isaiah 3: 4 – 5)

At the moment the children are just taking time off school: given human nature things could get worse.

And then future generations (presuming humans survive) will ask why the adults allowed this to happen.

No totalitarian leader, yet

The Extinctionists and the Medieval Millenarians have plenty in common: the end of the world, aggressive physical publicity, a rage against greed, a demand for anarchic power, the shrill voice of children.

There is though something that thankfully they do not share – yet.

Cohn’s book is full of charismatic leaders – Fulk of Neuilly, Bertrand of Ray, Konrad Schmid, Martin of Mainz, John Capek, John Zizka, Hans Bohm, Thomas Muntzer, Jan Matthys, and Jan Bockelson. They were often violent and totalitarian, rising from obscurity to lead their followers, first in an orgy of violence, usually against Jews and the clergy, and then to a suicidal end: the peasants were massacred, the leaders gorily executed[2].

No such leaders have yet stained the record of the Extinctionists. However the wise should be wary. Just as a savvy politician has successfully hijacked the Brexit movement to win power in the UK; so it is possible to see that a charismatic but unscrupulous leader could hijack the Extinctionists and take it to places its youthful idealism never dreamt of.

This wariness has nothing to do with the reality of the climate crisis. It is real and action is needs to be taken. But not by fifteen-year olds, or agile glue artists full of rage against the establishment. The action needs to be taken by established leaders who have a track record of dealing with complicated problems in a pragmatic but successful way.

And once the adults have agreed on the best way to deal with climate change without triggering economic collapse, they need to hold their nerve against the wrath of the Extinctionists. This thankfully happened in the 1960s and 70’s when the rage of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) movement was constantly haranguing political leaders. CND was very similar to the Extinctionists – the end of the world, marches, sit ins, mass arrests, the shrill voice of the young. The establishment (both left and right) held its nerve, and the West won the Cold War, not by throwing away their weapons, but by having so many that the Soviet Union gave up. After years of frantic activity the CND movement achieved nothing except waste exorbitant amounts of public money on policing. 

Let us hope that our present generation of political readers will deal with climate change decisively and makes sure the Exhibitionists are restrained. If there is weakness, then it will only be a matter of time before a charismatic manipulative leader arises from obscurity to grab power and inflict untold misery on the millions he or she will be claiming to save.

Tom Hawksley
January 2020



[2] The final leader of the Anabaptists in Munster, Bockelson, was so loathed by the Catholic authorities that, once the town had been re-captured, he was led like a circus bear round the town and then tortured to death with red hot irons with two others. Their corpses were then put in iron cages and hung from the church tower. You can still see the cages.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Adoniram Judson (1788 – 1850): an uneasy voice for modern Christians


I was sitting around with a few English Christians and mentioned I had just finished a biography of Adoniram Judson. Every face was blank.

It would have been different if I had been in America. Judson was the first Protestant missionary to leave their shores.

And it would have been very different in Burma. When he arrived there in 1813 there were no Protestant Christians; when he died there were about seven thousand. Today there are over three million Protestant Christians in Burma, over half are Baptists, the denomination founded by Judson. Fittingly the Christians in Burma have a Judson day; a Judson church; a Judson College.

And a Judson Bible. He translated the whole Bible, almost single-handedly. This is a translation that won wide respect for its accuracy and style when first published. It is still used today[1].  

This is an impressive legacy.

Reading about his life[2] there are three fixed points in his way of looking at the world that form the foundation of this legacy: a conviction about the Gospel; a single-minded focus; and an acceptance of suffering as a part God’s good will for his life.  

One: Conviction about the Gospel.

During nearly forty years of ministry in Burma, Judson made just one visit back to America. Not surprisingly the churches were packed for his meetings.

At the Baptist Church in Morrisville, North Carolina, the people were disappointed. They were expecting to hear of his exotic adventures in Burma; instead he spoke, ‘with simplicity and pathos of what the precious Saviour had done for His people.’

Asked about why he did not share about his adventures in Burma, Judson replied:

‘I gave them a story – the most thrilling one that can be conceived of…the wondrous story of Jesus’ dying love.’

Judson continued to answer his critic:

‘My business is to preach the Gospel of Christ and when I can speak at all I dare not trifle with my commission. When I looked upon those people today and remembered where I should next meet them, how could I stand up and furnish food to vain curiosity – tickle their fancies with amusing stories, however decently strung together on a thread of religion. This is not what Christ meant by preaching the Gospel.’

Judson believed the Gospel with all his heart. He believed that sin, the wrath of God and hell were sober realities. He believed the atonement on the cross was a glorious reality. The Gospel saved people from hell and brought them to heaven.

That was his conviction.

One reason Judson was so gripped with the Gospel is because he had not always been a believer. Though from a devout Christian home, the fiercely intelligent[3] Judson abandoned the faith of his parents when he was a student at Brown University in Providence, Massachusetts.

Here Judson became close friends with the charming and clever Jacob Eames – a student one year his senior. Eames was a sceptical Deist[4], and soon Judson shared his doubts. Judson’s father, the Congregational minister in Plymouth, was angry; his mother distraught. After graduating with distinction, life at home was tense, so Judson left for New York. Here he joined a troupe of actors. These were Judson’s wild weeks.

‘We lived a reckless, vagabond life, finding lodgings where we could and bilking the landlord where we found opportunity.[5]

Judson soon tired of this life-style. He left the actors and decided to travel Westwards. He did not get far. Taking a room in a tavern one night, the land-lord apologized to Judson for the groans coming from a dying man in the next room. Judson had a restless night. Death was near, and Judson’s new-fangled beliefs weakened. He stared at eternity and wanted to know about his own soul.

In the morning Judson found out the man had died. Then came the shock. Asking if he knew who the man was, the land-lord replied:

 ‘Oh yes, a very fine fellow. His name was Eames. Jacob Eames.’

Judson was stunned: his scepticism at sea, his soul without an anchor. In a state of confusion he gave up his travel plans to the West and returned home. Though not a Christian, he enrolled in a new seminary at Andover, Massachusetts, seeking to resolve his crisis of faith. Slowly light dawned. A friend wrote:

‘He was prayerful, reflective and studious of proofs; and gradually faith, trust in God, and finally a hope though the merits of Christ, took possession of his soul, he scarcely knew how; and from the moment that he fully believed, I think he never doubted. He said he felt as sure that he was an entirely new creature…’

Judson’s conviction about the Gospel was not head knowledge; it came from this painful crisis of faith that he had lived through. For the rest of his life he never had a more beautiful story to tell than that of the dying Christ who saves men and women from the wrath of God.

Judson was not shy about the word hell or the fate of the unbeliever. Seeking permission from his future father in law to both marry and take his young bride overseas for missionary work, Judson was blunt about the risks:

 ‘Can you consent to her exposure…to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death?’

And he was equally blunt about one of the reasons for taking such risks:

‘Can you consent to all this…for the sake of perishing immortal souls?’

This conviction about hell remained throughout his missionary career.

When questioning baptismal candidates he would ask: ‘’Do you believe then that none but the disciples of Christ will be saved from sin and hell?’

If they answered no, he would not baptize them.

Without this conviction there would have been no legacy. This raw belief that without Christ men and women are destined for hell undergirded all he did.

Two: Single-minded for life

In June 1810 Judson, aged twenty-two, presented himself for missionary service with three friends before the annual conference of the Congregational Church of Massachusetts. In a speech that moved many to tears[6], this is what he said:

‘After examining all the information which they can obtain, they (the four students) consider themselves as devoted to this work for life, whenever God in his providence shall open the way.’

This was not just the idealism of a young man. He meant it. Judson left America in 1812 and gave the rest of his working life to mission in Asia.

Such commitment was challenging because mission to Asia was not the norm for Christians in the early 19th C in Massachusetts.

With his father a Congregational minister and he a seminary student, Judson’s future was obvious. He would become a Massachusetts clergy man. And if there would be any mission work, this would be to the native Indians in America, the only mission work Americans were engaged with at that time.

News though of the British missionaries in Asia was reaching the American churches. William Carey in India, and Robert Morrison in China were particularly well known.

Then at seminary Judson read the transcript of a sermon given by an English clergy-man who had served as a chaplain with the East India Company. The sermon was titled: ‘The Star In The East’. It was a call for Christians to go to India where people were ready to respond to the Gospel. Judson did not consider the sermon as being ‘peculiarly excellent’, but it had a great impact on his mind. A strange excitement filled his heart, and ‘it left a strong desire to prosecute my inquiries and ascertain the path of duty.’ The sermon directed Judson to India. He then read a book called, ‘An account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava.’ This was all about Burma and it left Judson fascinated. Mission to the East for Judson now meant either India or Burma.

Judson’s new interest in mission was immediately challenged by his peers. He wrote that he was ‘condemned by all and not infrequently ridiculed and approached.’
There was a dearth of encouragement, yet Judson kept on praying and asking God: ‘Should I become a missionary?’ He soon reached a settled decision:

‘It was during a solitary walk in the woods behind the college, while meditating and praying on the subject, and feeling half inclined to give it up, that the command of Christ, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature was presented to my mind with such clearness and power that I came to a full decision, and though great difficulties appeared in my way, resolved to obey the command at all events.’

This decision was immediately tested – by his own family.  His father had been talking to his friend Dr Edward Griffin who wanted Judson to be his assistant at Park Street Church in Boston, the largest church in the city. After telling his son about this offer, his mother added, as only a mother can, ‘And you will be so near home’. When Judson told his parents and sister of his missionary plans, his mother, predictably, burst into tears.

The tears failed to dissuade Judson. His determination and passion resulted in the Congregational Church forming a Mission Board and on February 6th 1812 Judson and four others were ordained as missionaries. Two weeks later, Judson and his young wife, Ann, were on their way to Calcutta. When the new American missionaries arrived they were welcomed by William Carey, but they were almost immediately ordered to return to America by the East India Company, resolutely hostile to Christian mission. Either they had to find another country to go to, or they would be forcefully deported.

The other country that Judson most wanted to go was Burma – the population was immense; there was no Bible in Burmese and translation was a task much suited to Judson’s fine intellect; moreover, going back to his days in seminary, this was a country he had always felt called to.

So it was that on July 13th 1813 Judson sailed into Rangoon. Within Burma Judson lived in different cities; but he never shifted his attention to another country. His whole work life only had one item on the agenda: bringing the message of Christ to the Burmese. He gave himself initially to learning the language, labouring often for twelve hours a day.

Once he had learned the language he immediately set about translating the Scriptures. He finished the New Testament in 1822, less than ten years after arriving in Rangoon. He finished the whole Bible in 1834. This was a monumental achievement for one man. And it was no mediocre translation. A colleague said ‘It was the best translation in India… free from all obscurity to the Burmese mind. It is read and understood perfectly.’

The Scripture was translated to be given out for Judson was a committed evangelist. His preferred method was to build a ‘zayat’, familiar buildings in Burmese culture. Here men would talk, and a religious teacher would teach. This is exactly what happened in the ‘Zayats’ Judson built. Seekers would come and Judson would sit with them, sometimes for a whole day, talking about faith in Christ, giving them a Scripture portion, or a tract he had written himself. It was through this Zayat evangelism that the first converts came to faith in Rangoon.

As well as Rangoon, Judson took teams of Burmese Christians for evangelism to other cities. One was Maulmain from where he got involved in the evangelism of the Karen people who are now solidly Christian[7]. Judson kept his printer busy[8] – especially when there were large Buddhist festivals. Thousands would come into the streets, and Judson liked to be ready with Christian literature.

Though in his last years Judson gave a lot of time to a Burmese-English dictionary which he saw as crucial for missionary success, he never gave up his preaching and increasing pastoral duties. He remained faithful to one of his many resolutions: ‘Go and preach the Gospel every day’

Judson was single minded in his work - and in his private life. All that strengthened his mission or relationship with God was cultivated; all that undermined them was ruthlessly cut out. 

Judson believed fervently in private prayer. To a friend he writes -

‘Arrange thy affairs if possible so that thou canst leisurely devote two or three hours every day…to the very act of secret prayer and communion with God. Endeavour, seven times[9] a day, to withdraw from business and company, and lift up thy soul to God in private retirement.’

Judson combined with prayer with self-denial. Here is some of his advice:

‘Use no intoxicating liquor as a beverage … Be content with the plainest diet…fast often…dress in course and poor apparel…discard all finery…occupy a poor habitation…allow no amusementsget rid of the encumbrance of worldly property; sell what thou hast and give to the poor.’

Judson was certainly sacrificial when it came to money. In 1828 he gave all his savings[10] to his mission, ‘or rather to Him “who loved us”; and in 1829 he asked the board to reduce his salary by a quarter.

Judson’s social life was also strictly curtailed. With his proficiency in Burmese, Judson had access to the elite of those in the British administration, indeed he was a friend of General Archibald Campbell, the victor of the Anglo-Burma war. However in 1828 Judson cut himself off from all Westerners. This was not because he was shy or uncomfortable in fashionable society; to the contrary he enjoyed educated company. His son, Edward, talks of his ‘thoroughly genial nature of his sociableness’. The issue was time and the calling on his life.

The same strictness was applied to his intellectual life: ‘Read no book in English that has not a devotional tendency’. Newspapers were firmly rejected: ‘Indulge in no foreign – that is English or American, newspaper reading, except a regular course of some one religious paper and sometimes an occasional article from other papers.’
Some might assume that with this strict intellectual diet Judson was a dire conversationalist. To the contrary, his third wife Emily, who had a vivacious intellect, wrote this about Judson after a year of marriage: ‘I never met with any man who could talk so well, day after day, on every subject, religious, literary, scientific, political…’[11]

Judson was keenly aware of the desires of the flesh for recognition which would mar life with God. To deal with this he took robust action that to many seemed to verge on the excessive. In 1828 he asked Brown University to withdraw a Doctor of Divinity degree they had awarded him five years earlier. He himself burnt the letters of thanks he had received from Sir Archibald Campbell for his work on drawing up the treaty ending the First Burma War. And, fearing fame after his death, he gave these severe instructions to his sister:

‘My request is that you will entirely destroy all my old letters which are in your and mother’s hands.’

The letters were destroyed; but of course, such was his achievement, recognition was inevitable.

Judson’s achievement is impossible to ignore because he was single minded. Single minded in his calling to live and die in Burma; single-minded in his ministry – Bible translation, evangelism, and church planting; and single minded in his private life, every moment of every day was to be used either for worship or work.

Judson’s legacy is built on conviction, single-mindedness. And a lot of suffering.

Suffering

Reading about Judson it is impossible not to be struck by the amount of suffering he endured. Some affliction came from the government, suspicious of any foreign faith. However the distress caused by this official hostility to the new church is slight compared to the personal misery that was Judson’s constant companion. It seems that almost on every other page a close colleague or family member is either desperately sick, or dying.
.
Judson adored his first wife, the vivacious and attractive and intelligent Ann Hasseltine. He met her when she was twenty. She was so beautiful the man of many words was struck silent. When Judson later proposed, he offered Ann both his hand, and a life overseas in mission. Ann, a keen Christian, accepted both, indeed she was more than ready ‘to carry the Gospel to the distant, benighted heathen.’ Ann and Judson were extremely well suited. They were nearly the same age; both voracious readers; both keen language students, both committed to mission.

Ann’s happy marriage to Judson though was marked by suffering. In her first year abroad Ann’s close friend and missionary colleague Harriet Newell died at sea, a few days after giving birth to her first baby who had also died.

Ann also gave birth to the Judsons’ first child at sea on the way to Rangoon. The baby was stillborn; and there were serious fears for Ann’s life too. She survived; and in September 1815 gave birth to a healthy boy, Roger Williams. He gave Judson and Ann, ‘unspeakable joy’. The joy was short-lived. In May 1816 the baby had coughing fits and a fever. Ann sat up with him t into the early hours of May 4th. Laid to rest in his cot, Roger Williams at last settled down to sleep. He never woke up and was buried that same afternoon. Ann and Judson, overwhelmed with grief, were again childless.

Ann’s own health was vulnerable. She suffered from a liver ailment and in August 1821 the decision was made that she needed to return to America. Judson would not accompany her. Writing about the oncoming separation Judson wrote: ‘I feel as if I was on a scaffold, and signing, as it were, my own death warrant.’ The separation lasted well over two years. And because some post was lost at sea, for over a year Judson received no letter. At times he gave up hope he would ever see the love of his life again, indeed according to Ann on ‘the very day I arrived, he had in despair yielded all hope of my existence.’

A year later (1821) a very cruel separation struck the missionary couple. As the British waged war against Burma, Judson was accused of being a spy and arrested and dragged off to prison. Here he was fettered with about fifty other prisoners in a dark airless hall. The stench was appalling. At night ‘the prisoners’ feet were raised by a pole until only their shoulders and heads rested on the floor’. They were being tortured. And there were barbaric executions. These always happened at three o’clock in the afternoon. A gong would sound and the prisoners knew one of them was to be executed; but nobody knew who. This was psychological torture. For throughout the time of Judson’s imprisonment there were constant rumours that the government were going to execute all the foreigners as Burma was losing the war against the British. The foreigners would be offered up as a sacrifice to please the gods of war. During transfer from the first prison to another, Judson, weak with fever and bloodied feet, ‘ardently longed’ to end his life by throwing himself over a bridge into a river thirty feet below. He restrained himself because of the enormity of the sin of suicide, and because he was tied to another prisoner whose life he would risk.

During this dreadful trial, which eventually ended in December 1825, Ann was again pregnant. Indeed she gave birth to a daughter, Maria, while Judson was still in prison. When he came home to his wife and daughter it was not joy though that met him, but misery.

At first, he did not recognise his new daughter, a scrawny dirty baby cradled in the arms of the Burmese servant.

As for Ann:

‘The face was of a ghastly paleness…and the whole form shrunken almost to the last degree of emaciation’.

Ann was desperately sick with cerebral spinal meningitis. Soon after Judson came home she lost consciousness and fell into a raging fever. The doctor expected her to die, but, somehow, she recovered and both she and Judson were able to enjoy a respite from suffering as guests of the English.

The respite did not last long. In early October 1826 the fever returned. At first the doctors were hopeful of another recovery, but it was not to be. Judson, away from home, received a letter with a black seal on it. Ann had died on October 24th. She was only thirty-six. Judson had lost his soul-mate and the wife of his youth. He was utterly devastated, with ‘bitter, heart-rending anguish, which… would admit of no mitigation’.

One would think that Judson had already tasted enough of the mystery of suffering, that now there would be a pause. There was not. In early April his only daughter, Maria, became ill with a bowel complaint. She was taken to the doctor, but there was nothing medicine could do. Maria died on April 24th 1827 aged just two years and three months.

Two months later in June there was more news for Judson of the reaper’s work: in November the previous year his father had died. At least he had had his three score years and ten. Not so for his brother Elnathan. He was only thirty-eight when he died in the spring of 1829. Judson had been very concerned about the spiritual state of Elnathan, and was deeply relieved when he learned that he had cried ‘Peace, peace’ on his death bed.

It was Ann’s death of course that caused the most anguish. Two years after her death he wrote of his ‘desolation’ and the ‘grief for the dear departed’. The grief also gnawed at his faith. He wrote to Ann’s sisters on the third anniversary of her departure, and coming from the pen of this great pioneer missionary, the words have a shadow hanging over them:

‘Have either of you learned the art of real communion with God…? God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I find him not.’

Happiness in Judson’s personal life returned seven years later in 1834 when he married Sarah Boardman, a missionary widow. The two had had some formal contact. Judson had immediately written to Sarah when her husband had died – ‘You are now drinking the bitter cup whose dregs I am somewhat acquainted with’; and she had written to fulsomely congratulate Judson on completing the translation of the Bible into Burmese: ‘I am delighted with the graphic style of the narrative part; and think many of the doctrinal passages are expressed with a force and perspicuity entirely wanting in our (English) version. She ended that letter with, ‘Yours affectionately’, so perhaps Judson sensed he would be welcomed as a suitor.

The marriage was a very happy one, especially as Sarah brought with her a step-son, George. However there was still suffering. As soon as Sarah arrived in Judson’s home town, Maulmain, her health sank with an attack of dysentery which brought her ‘to the brink of the grave’. For weeks she lay in bed, with Judson sometimes carrying her from their bed to a couch so she could enjoy a small change in the scenery. Sarah recovered, but soon there was a new trial. This was the sending of George, aged six, to America for his education. Sarah wrote, ‘I shall never forget his looks as he stood by the door and gazed at me for the last time...his little face red with suppressed emotions…it was not till he had turned away…that he burst into floods of tears.’

In October 1835 a daughter was born to Judson and Sarah, Abigail Ann; in April 1836, a son, Adoniram Brown; in July 1838 another son, Elnathan; and in January another 1839, another son, Henry.  At last there is a sense of normal, happy family life. To his sisters Judson proudly wrote that Abigail was pretty fluent in Burmese; and with obvious delight he wrote this about his first son – ‘When he is brought into the chapel, and sees me in my place, (he) has the impudence to roar out Bah (as the Burmans call father) with such a stentorian voice that his nurse is obliged to carry him out again.’

In 1841 the shadow of sickness and death returned. In March that year Sarah gave birth to a stillborn son; Sarah was struck down with dysentery; and all four of their children suffered from whooping cough. The translator and evangelist became a full-time nurse. Sarah and the elder children got better; but the two younger ones grew weaker. Henry, a sweet toddler, died aged just one year and seven months on July 30th.

After this tragedy, the shadows stayed away for three years, and the Judsons had
two other sons, Charles (born December 1842) and Edward (born December 1844). But then the shadows returned. Early in 1845 Sarah went down – again – with dysentery. The doctors were unanimous that she would have to return to America to survive, and Judson considered it ‘savage inhumanity to send her off on her own’. However, this meant leaving three of their children alone in Burma, a separation that ‘wring out bitterer tears from the heart’s core, than any can possibly conceive.’

On the voyage West Sarah’s health, after an initial recovery, deteriorated. She never made it to America. She died on board their ship off the coast of Virginia, near Jamestown on September 1st, 1845. Again Judson was a widower. Again he had to drink the bitter cup, the dregs even harsher because Sarah had been the mother of his children.

Judson’s first visit to his home-country after thirty years thus began in grief.

‘For a few days, in the solitude of my cabin, with my poor children crying around me, I could not help abandon myself to heart-breaking sorrow.’

Even in America the reaper gave Judson no peace. In August he learned his young son Charles, left in Burma, had died. He was nineteen months old.

Out of this blackness, Judson was surprised by joy. As were many others. Judson married the successful story writer Emily Chubbuck in June 1846. She was twenty-eight; he fifty-seven. Despite this age difference, and Emily’s very different career, the marriage was happy and Emily proved to be a true mother to Judson’s children. She also bore Judson a daughter, Emily Frances.

However, as with Ann and Sarah, Emily soon became acquainted with Judson’s constant companion - suffering. In 1847 there was a severe shortage of food in Rangoon, so much so that Emily wrote that she was ‘within an inch of starvation.’ She was so weak she could hardly walk across a room without falling over. Then during the difficult rainy season sickness swept through the whole city. Emily wrote, ‘We seem to be hemmed in by death.’ Judson fell ill with dysentery; and both of his young sons were also struck down by sickness. Edward’s was particularly alarming. His face was covered with purple spots and he had ‘an abscess in his forehead and the acrid matter has eaten back into the bone.’

Judson’s young wife was ill; his children in Burma were ill – and he was separated entirely from three of his children and a step-son who were in America. There was a brief year after the birth of her daughter that Emily’s health was stable; but again in 1849 her health sank.  There was a fear it was consumption and Judson would be facing the departure of his third wife. However it was not consumption, it was congestion of the liver and with the correct treatment Emily recovered.

Now it was Judson’s turn.  

In September 1849 Judson suffered a violent attack of dysentery accompanied by a burning fever. He would suffer severe pain for several hours every day. Emily wrote that ‘his wan face was of ghastly paleness’ and that ‘his groans would fill the house’. Right to the end Judson’s suffering was extremely intense. He told a friend, ‘No one could conceive the intensity of his sufferings. Death would have been a glad relief.’

The relief finally came on April 12th, 1859. Judson was sixty-one.

Here then is a life of suffering. The two great loves of his life, Ann and Sarah died; seven[12] of his thirteen children died; severe life-threatening sickness was usually near; and as well as the official intimidation of the new church, there was the terrible trial when Judson was imprisoned as a foreign spy.

And just in case we had not noticed this theme in Judson’s life, he had to endure six months of intense suffering before his final departure.

Judson was no Stoic when suffering swept into his life. He wept, he grew despondent, even tempted to commit suicide.  However Judson refused to question God’s ways. As storm after storm crashed into his days, so the anchor of God’s sovereignty secured his soul.

We are given a clear glimpse into Judson’s approach to suffering in a letter to a friend on hearing that many of his possessions had been lost in a fire.

‘Why has this grievous interruption been permitted, and this precious time lost? And why are our houses and property allowed to be burned up? And why are those most dear to us, and most qualified to be useful in the cause, torn from our arms, and dashed into the grave, and all their knowledge and qualification with them? Because infinite wisdom and love will have it so. Because it is best for us, and best for them, and best for the cause, and best for the interests of eternity, that it should be so.’

Judson bowed under the inscrutable will of God and accepted the river of suffering that flowed into his life as being for the best.

Without such a faith it is unlikely he would have left the legacy he did.

Unease

It is sad that Judson’s name is not that familiar among Christians in the UK. He was a remarkable man who has left a remarkable legacy.

And yet, looking at the fixed points in Judson’s outlook that shaped his life and left such a legacy, his voice carries unease for modern Christians.

There is unease over hell; unease over a radical single-minded focus; and certainly unease over a willingness to accept suffering as the good will of God.

It would be easy to explain this unease by saying our generation of Christians is indecisive, feeble, and faithless.

We are indecisive over what happens to a man or woman when they die without faith in Christ.

We are feeble when it comes long-term commitment and radical self-discipline.

We are faithless when it comes to suffering. We are quick to question God’s goodness. Indeed vast swathes of the church teach that suffering is from the devil and must be resisted

Unease is usually an invitation to for some thorough examination. So we need to examine ourselves for any needless indecision, indulgent feebleness and resentful faithlessness.

However it would be unwise though to let this unease follow through to become a blanket condemnation. Moreover it is surely wise to not to be too dogmatic on some matters. Hell is real; but we should not presume to know who is there. And it is important to have balance when it comes to our ministry and our spiritual lives, especially for our families. Extremism can cause immense hurt. And while Judson accepted the sovereignty of God, the valley of depression was not unknown to him.

Judson’s life should be known by Christians. His life will no doubt stir some unease in our hearts. Let that be a call to a healthy examination of our hearts from which we emerge stronger and fitter for the work God has called us to do.

Tom Hawksley
December 2019


[1] Just google Judson Bible available and you can download the PDF - https://www.bible.com/versions/386-bjb-judson-bible
[2] This article is based almost wholly on the excellent biography ‘Adoniram Judson: Devoted For Life’ by Vance Christie, published by Christian Focus, 2013. All quotations are taken from this book.
[3] Judson learned to read when he was three; he entered Brown University aged 17 and was the top of every class.
[4] The belief in a supreme being as the originator of the universe whose qualities can be discerned by reason. Divine revelation in the Bible is rejected.
[5] After Judson became a Christian he made a point of seeking out those land-lords and settling up his debt.
[6] ‘Grey hairs were all weeping’ one eye-witness related.
[7] The Karen have faced severe persecution from the Burmese government in recent years
[8] Judson would write long robust letters to his printer urging more output when his supplies ran low.
[9] The seven comes from Psalm 119: 164. It develops in the monastic tradition as the seven watches: 6.00. 9.00, 12.00, 15.00, 18.00, 21.00, and 24.00.
[10] About $6,000
[11] It is said that C.S Lewis barely glanced at the headlines of the newspapers. He too was a charismatic conversationalist – as well as being one of the greatest Christian writers of the 20th C.
[12] All three of his children with Ann died, the first was still-born, Roger Williams and Maria died when toddlers. Three of his children with Sarah died, one was still born, Henry and Charles died when toddlers. His second child with Emily, Charles, died after one week.

Monday, 9 December 2019

If the Tories are responsible for the abolition of marriage, ugly populism, and the Brexit mess – how can Jeremy Hunt be the best choice for S.W Surrey?


Jeremy Hunt and his friends have let two monsters out of the cage: an extreme gay agenda and populism.

Rather than be a true conservative and stand up for traditional marriage, Hunt voted to let in the LGBT plus agenda, an agenda determined to tear up all the normal rules about the precious gift of human sexuality.

Now, thanks to Hunt, everyone has to sign up to this anti child, anti Christian, anti Muslim Orwellian agenda or face the wrath of our new pink state. The grim results are easy to see: foster parents struck off the list because they refuse to support LGBTism; doctors sacked if they refuse to call a bearded man a woman as that is how he ‘feels’; teenage girls having intrusive surgery in the name of gender dysphoria; Muslim parents protesting outside a primary school which wants to teach children about sodomy.

Clockwork Orange has come to austerity Britain and Hunt is one of the architects.

How does that make him the best choice for S. W. Surrey?

And he has let the poison of populism into our political system. When faced with the question of our membership of the EU Hunt’s duty was to use his authority as a cabinet minister and decide in the national interest. He reneged on this duty and agreed to a referendum. Here was the surgeon paid to do heart surgery, asking the patients and hospital staff to vote on what method he should use: cowardly and dangerous. 

Now with the referendum poison in the system for three years, we have this quasi fascist talk of 'The will of the people'. 'Enemies of the people', 'Trust of the people.' Our head of state is the monarch who appoints a government than can enjoy the support of parliament. That is our system. It's been one of the best the world has ever seen. Now there is a monster in the streets claiming a stronger voice than either the crown or parliament: the people. The lesson of history is the people usually becomes the mob, and usually they become violent. 

The story is not over. When it does finally come to an end, the historians will point to an inner circle of Tories who took the decision to risk our parliamentary democracy to salvage their party’s unity. Hunt was a part of that inner circle.

These are just two monsters that Hunt is responsible for. They are both doing untold damage to our country: one is tearing apart the normal understanding of family; the other our parliamentary democracy.

As well as these evils, under Hunt the gap between the rich and poor has sharply increased. The food-bank in Guildford has been busy; and so have the builders working on extending the mansions in Godalming and Charterhouse. Here in Surrey a whole generation, who grew up here, face little chance of being able to live here. Hunt has been a part of the government that has allowed that to happen.

As for our public services – life is dangerous. I am a Street Angel. We work from 10.30 p.m to 4.00 a.m looking after the clubbers in Guildford. You can read the reports. Often there is no police officer to watch the CCTV cameras. Ambulances do not appear in minutes when phoned if there is a serious injury. They can take hours. After one fight, the police had to take the victim to the hospital.

This is because of cuts that have happened on Hunt’s watch.

Life is even dangerous on our pavements. Many of them are a disgrace. Unloved and uncared for by Tory councils for years, now they are a hazard for the old and disabled.

How can Jeremy Hunt be our best choice when he cannot even make sure we have reasonable pavements?

I find it impossible to believe he is the best choice for S. W. Surrey.

We need an M.P who will stand up for family values.

An M.P who will govern in the national interest respecting our parliamentary democracy.

An M.P who will fight so S.W. Surrey has proper public services.

An M.P who has a zeal to shorten the apartheid like chasm between the rich and poor.

Let’s hope that either Tim Corry or Paul Follows has these simple but important beliefs.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

An elderly gentleman; incident on a train


Rather than dive into the heaving underground at Waterloo I much prefer to get around London by bike.  

My bike, not Boris’.

It's very simple. It's a five minute ride to my station and I make sure I get into the carriage marked for bicycles. 

Yesterday I hauled my bike onto the train and a couple of young men were sitting on the fold down seats where the cycles are meant to go. There were other empty seats for them to use. So, being English, I didn’t say anything, but stood waiting, expecting them to see me and do the polite thing.

Nothing happened.

So I leaned forward and said, ‘Excuse me, do you mind moving to those empty seats, this is the place for bikes.’

One them looked up from his mobile and said curtly, ‘And for seats’.

I took that as a no, and was resigning myself to standing holding my bike the whole way to Waterloo.

Then, unexpectedly, another young man spoke up. The tone was not abrasive, but to the point.

‘Come on guys don’t be such assholes.’

The two sitters looked uncomfortable, but there was no movement.

My defender spoke again.

‘If you don’t move this elderly gentleman will have to stand with his bike’.

I was rather surprised to be called elderly; but I suppose at sixty one I am.

Rather shyly one of the sitters said he just needed to finish off a text. Then they moved.

I thanked them, and so everyone in the carriage could hear, I said to my defender:

‘And thank you, sir’.

I sat opposite my defender and said it was the small things in life that show character, and that he had done the sitters a favour. I can’t remember what he said, and we sat in silence till Waterloo.

As I was getting off, he patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘Have a great day’.

I had been surprised by the refusal of the sitters to move; but I was mightily encouraged by the young man who spoke up for me.

He could easily have kept quiet. It was none of his business. And it was not dramatically important. A sixty something man has to stand for forty-five minutes on a train.

But for my defender it was important and he spoke up, and – to give the sitters their due – they almost immediately gave in to his voice of reason.

In Bono Vince.


Tuesday, 29 October 2019

A. W. Tozer: who was he?


Like thousands of others I have worked with Operation Mobilisation (OM). And wherever that wonderful group goes they sell Christian books – in the street, in churches, on their ships.

There was one author who was always on an OM bookstall – A. W Tozer. Some of the titles were virtually given away. The leadership of OM, especially George Verwer, were passionate about A.W. Tozer.

They were passionate for a reason. Tozer spoke out with razor sharp insight against lukewarm Christianity and called for believers to join, what he called, the fellowship of ‘the burning heart.’

I have never read a dud sentence from Tozer. I could leave this lap-top right now and find a worn-out copy of ‘The Pursuit of God’ or ‘Born After Midnight’ and the prose would be just as engaging and challenging as it was over forty years ago when I was first introduced to him.

In case you have forgotten how good he is, savour a few of these well-known quotes:

What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.

How good it would be if we could remember that God is easy to live with.

God wants the whole person and He will not rest till He gets us in entirety.

To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.

The devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.

And my favourite, which I often use when teaching –

Truth has two wings

But who was he?

After revering this author for over forty years I realized I knew next to nothing about Tozer except that he was an American preacher. I didn’t even know what the A. W stood for (Aiden Wilson). I had no idea what sort of family he came from; what sort of education he had received; where he had lived and ministered; whether he had married and had children. And, apart from what could be gleaned from his writings, I had no idea about the man’s character.

My situation is no longer so dire. I have just finished an excellent biography on Tozer by Lyle Dorsett[1] and know a little more.

There were a few surprises.

The first surprise: Tozer was not from a Christian family.

The writing is so rooted in what historic Christianity is, the defence of orthodoxy so robust, that it seemed almost a certainty that Tozer was from a strong Christian family.

Completely wrong.

Tozer was one of six children born (1897) and bred on a poor farm in Clearfield Country, Pennsylvania. His father, Jacob, was a disciplinarian, devoted to hard work and his mother, Prude, was ‘shy, beautiful, and humble’. But they were not church goers; and while Tozer’s grand-mother, who lived with them, was meant to be a Presbyterian, there is little record of her going to church either.

In 1912 the family, like many others, left the hardship of the land and moved to Akron, Ohio. Here there was work for the men in a tyre factory; and it was here that A.W. Tozer heard a street preacher. Looking back he wrote, ‘I was little better than a pagan…I became greatly disturbed…I discerned that there was a Light – ever so dimly’.

A few days after hearing that street preacher A. W Tozer gave his life to Christ all by himself in the family attic. Tozer himself underlined that he was not from a Christian family. ‘I was converted by the grace of God when I was seventeen years old and there was no other Christian in my family…in the matter of faith I was completely alone.’

The second surprise: barely had a secondary education

Dr A. W Tozer, as he was known in later years, barely had a secondary education and never went to university. You would never guess this from the writing. The prose is succinct; the arguments clearly structured; and throughout Tozer draws on a vast range of writers and poetry, especially the early Church Fathers and Christian mystics, such as Julian of Norwich. This marked his preaching with a freshness and originality often lacking in his seminary trained peers.

Nor would you guess it from his audiences. Every week hundreds of students from Wheaton College (probably America’s finest Christian university) and Moody Bible Institute poured into his church, the Southside Alliance, in Chicago. And he was a favourite at Christian student conventions. Dorsett writes, ‘Probably no preacher in the United States and Canada captured the minds and hearts of college-age people like A.W. Tozer’. In recognition of his intellectual contribution to Christendom as a preacher and writer Tozer was awarded an honorary doctorate from both Wheaton and Houghton College.

And yet he had barely had a formal education.

Perhaps barely is too harsh a word. In rural Pennsylvania Tozer went to a one room school house where – like millions of others – he was taught from McGuffey’s Readers[2]. There were six of them and as well as giving Tozer vocabulary and literary understanding, he received a strongly Judeo-Christian world-view. Good and evil were never ambiguous, and Jesus stood above philosophers like Socrates and Plato. Tozer mastered those six grades – though the farm work often interfered with his studies, and like many others he left school aged just fifteen. Perhaps the world ‘barely’ is appropriate.

As seen, this did not hold Tozer back. He loved God, and was a firm believer in the importance of the intellect. So he studied. He was a voracious reader and a master at scouring Chicago’s second-hand bookshops for bargains. He read theology, history, literature, science – and he liked to ponder what he had studied. He once said ‘You should think ten times more than you read’. And so it was that this farm boy rose to be the teacher of those who were enjoying the finest education money could buy.

The third surprise: fragile family life

Great preacher, great marriage, great family life. That’s the assumption. Dorsett’s biography shows it was not so simple. This was also a surprise. On the surface it seemed a model family life. Ada, his wife, stood faithfully by Tozer’s side for forty-five years. She cooked, washed, went to the ladies’ meetings – and mothered seven children. The Tozers lived frugally (they never owned a car) but there is no record of Ada ever complaining. On Sundays they all sat around the table, with one or two poorer people from the church – the perfect picture of the Christian pastor’s family.

However under the surface Dorsett suggests family life was more fragile. He interviewed all the children and discovered they did not have rich memories of family times together. One would have expected that a man famous for his prayer life would have made sure his own family had an excellent devotional time together. This was not the case. Every so often Tozer did try to gather the family – ‘These never lasted more than a few weeks. As one son explained, the children just did not want it and they were seldom all together for extended periods in any case’.

As for family holidays, there were none. Perhaps this was because of Tozer’s frugality but it is more likely that the idea of being a tourist did not appeal to him. Once, when her older siblings had left home, their youngest daughter Rebecca did organise a holiday. It was not a success. Tozer was so moody that Rebecca had to ask him to cheer up. It seems this was the first and the last ‘family’ holiday.

Another normal family activity A.W. Tozer did not get involved in was engaging with the wider family, on either his side or his wife’s. He remained aloof. He was reluctant to visit them, and equally reluctant to invite them to his house. Dorset says it is clear this caused pain to his own family.

And at the heart of this family there seems to have been a shadow over the marriage itself. Rebecca, said that her mother ‘was a romantic soul to the core’. Tozer was not. Indeed he ‘eschewed sentimentalism’. It seems there was a distance between them, which the children felt. Rebecca even said, ‘Mother was a sad woman, she struggled to be cheerful’. This distance was seen every summer at the summer conferences where Tozer was a speaker. Usually Ada would stay at home.

After her husband’s death in 1963 Ada was more candid about her marriage to A.W. Tozer.

‘My husband was so close to God, a man of such deep prayer, always on his knees, that he could not communicate with me or our family. No one knew what a lonely life I had, especially after the kids left home’

Our view of Tozer as a husband will probably plummet even further when we consider his attitude towards his finances and his family. As a pastor, indeed one of their most successful[3], Tozer was given a salary by his denomination, The Christian Missionary Alliance (C&MA). He regularly gave half of it back to the church; but he never told Ada. She served up macaroni cheese day after day to her family, never knowing that she could have made her family’s diet more interesting. C&MA also wanted to make pension provisions for their pastors. Tozer refused to sign up. Moreover he gave away all his rights for the royalties for his books. Money which could have gone to his wife and family, poured into the account of Christian Publications.

All of this fragility in the family and the marriage was a surprise; but we should be very wary of judging Tozer.

Certainly it is not fair to judge him for being unromantic. That was his character. Moreover in his age romance in marriage was not as centre stage in people’s thinking as it is today. And there were plenty of examples of dynamic Christian leaders who were willing to make sacrifices regarding their marriage for the work of the church. Perhaps the most famous is C. T Studd, pioneer missionary in Africa and founder of WEC (World Evangelisation Crusade). For sixteen years he laboured in Africa; his wife, Priscilla, in England. They were apart. There were many others. And there are thousands of missionary children who were sent to boarding schools. Set in this context, in his own age, it is unwise to make any accusations against A.W. Tozer regarding a lack of romance in his marriage.

And it is unwise to judge Tozer for his attitude to his time and money. He grew up in a strongly patriarchal society, later buttressed by his reading of the Bible. The husband was the head of the household and it was up to him to decide how the family spent its time and money. For whatever reason Tozer did not believe in spending time visiting or being visited by relatives. Nor did he believe it was Ada’s role to have an opinion either about what he did with his salary; or how he provided for their senior years.

And Tozer did provide for his wife - in an unexpected way.

To their credit, after Tozer’s death in 1963, C&MA gave Ada the pension she would have been due if her husband had signed up to their scheme. So she was not destitute.

However the story is richer.

In 1959, after thirty-one years of ministering in Chicago, the Tozers moved to Avenue Road Church in Toronto. When preaching Tozer noticed a man sitting near the front all on his own. This man was Leonard Odam, a widower. Tozer encouraged Ada to sit next to him during the service, so he would not feel so alone.

A year after A. W. Tozer’s death Ada became Mrs Odam. She was more than provided for financially; it seems she also found the romantic love she had always yearned for. In 1974 she said, ‘I have never been happier in my life. Aiden loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me.’

This surprise about Tozer and his finances turns into a challenge. It seems that God asked Tozer not to take all his salary, or his book royalties, or secure a pension. Tozer was no fool. He would have asked, ‘What about my family?’. And it seems the reply was, ‘Trust me’. Tozer did just that.

Dorsett is aware that he is stepping into sensitive territory when he – quite rightly – shows this fragility of the Tozer family. And, perhaps apprehensive that some readers might become overly judgemental, Dorsett emphasizes that while there were strains, there was absolutely nothing untoward in the Tozer household. The children were all cared for, and moreover they all became Christians and have lived successful balanced lives. Moreover Aiden and Ada were totally loyal to each other. And just in case anyone leaves his book thinking that Ada did not love her first husband, Dorsett tells us that she, 'spoke glowingly of Aiden's accomplishments...and even endearingly had his mortal remains removed from Chicago and placed among the graves of her beloved family in an Ohio cemetery.' 

There are surprises, but none of them distract for a moment from the fact that Aiden Wilson Tozer was a man who lived close to God and through his preaching and writing has encouraged millions of others to do so.

He still does.

If you have never read any Tozer, make sure you do before you die.

And if like me you read him many years ago, why not read him again? You won’t be disappointed.



[1] A Passion For God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett, Moody Publishers, May 2008. Kindle Edition. Nearly everything in this essay is drawn from this book. If something is in quotation marks, unless I am quoting Dorsett.
[2] In chapter two Dorsett has a fascinating section on the impact of these McGruffy readers. Dorsett’s point is that through these readers morally Tozer would have had an education strongly influenced by Christian values.
[3] When Tozer arrived at Southside Alliance Church in Chicago under a hundred attended on Sunday. When he left there were around 800. Furthermore Tozer took over the editorship of the denomination’s magazine and subscription doubled.

Followers