SPLENDOR OF GOD by Honore Willsie Morrow
Far from being a new book, “Splendor of God” was first published in 1929, and can no longer be purchased in any book store. However, you will no doubt have very little trouble finding it in any sizable library, and if you haven’t read it I would strongly urge you to do so.
Bent on finding a book which I could whole-heartedly endorse, I remembered reading this book by Morrow, and I read it again. I feel it is quite safe to say that most of those who will take it up will find their attention gripped to the end, and that they will rise from it both instructed and edified; that they will carry away an enduring impression of one of the most remarkable careers in the records of missionary history.
Adoniram Judson and his wife were Congregationalists, and were sent by the Congregational and Presbyterian board of foreign missions to Burma. During five long months of their voyage–“along God’s devious paths”–“every known device of Satan having been used to turn them back”–“their views as to the Scriptural authority for infant baptism were changed and he became the first American Baptist missionary to Burma.
Mrs. Morrow in her book; “Splendor of God” gives us a biographical account of the next 20 years of the Judson’s extraordinary life. It is an absorbing novel of the zeal of two very human, attractive and intelligent young people who were willing to sacrifice their lives and personal comfort and happiness for Christ’s sake. Much of the book is devoted to their spiritual and physical hardships, and a great deal of the Buddhist philosophy is described.
Never in the difficult years of his missionary work does there seem to flicker a shadow of a doubt across Adoniram’s consciousness in regard to his great calling in this land where the Burman King–who sought great pleasure in playing pick-a-back, literally owned everyone of his subjects; they were his to rob, to murder and to torture,–and Buddhism kept them submissive to his will. Conversion of a subject meant, disembowelment or some other horrible death.
The Judsons suffered much persecution during their early life in Burma. Suspected of being an English spy in a war between Burma and England, he was arrested and for two years confined in the loathsome jails of Ava, where he lay bound in fetters and suffered excruciatingly from fever, heat and hunger, and the cruelty of his keepers. By the persistent efforts of Ann, whose fortitude and courage also greatly sustained him, and the intervention of British military authorities, he was finally released to resume his work, laboring at the usual tasks of a missionary, but also translating the Bible into Burmese.
During his stay in prison his mind began to center on that shattering doubt: “Does God care?” Then “bared to the buff” by the death of his beloved Ann he goes into seclusion, striving in vain to look in his own heart upon the splendor of God. The unknowableness of God rocked the foundations of his reason, and it was a long road back to spiritual normality from the terrible carnal house which tragedy, physical suffering and mental strain has plunged him. He had to rise from depths which not many of God’s children are called to sound.
In the end he marries a second time to Sarah Hall Boardman, widow of Dr. George Dada Boardman, a colleague of Dr. Judson. She pointed out the folly and error of his awful struggle to see God’s face, and helped him to understand that he must leave to God the things that are God’s, for that unknowableness is His. Thus at the last we find him possessing peace and happiness once again, even though his life was seared with scars the Cross had worn there.
WIND OF SPRING by Elizabeth Yates
“Wind of Spring” is a quiet simply told story of Susie Minton. The style in which it is written does not at all conform to the modern trend, and this I found rather refreshing. There is nothing to grip the imagination, yet the reader’s attention is held throughout the book.
Susie, at the age of twelve started out her life work as a maid “in service”. Her life in the great houses of England, and those not so great, gives us a limited reflection of the English social life and its class system from the 1880’s to the outbreak of war in 1939.
Susie sometimes questions the treatment she received in the early years of her experience and regrets her lack of education. However, she grows mentally as the story progresses, and she learns to accept her place in society. Christ’s words: “I am among you as He that serveth” gave dignity to her lowly work and she did it “heartily as to the Lord”.
With Hitler overshadowing Europe and the world, she becomes a source of strength to those she serves. The stern unbending woman for whom she worked so long learns through Susie’s philosophy and example that happiness does not consist in seeking self but in serving others. She sees, too, that the class distinction which she had always upheld, should be abolished and that it should rather be established on a basis of worth, not birth. Susie views the war as a means of breaking down these long established and accepted walls of class, which she feels will in turn herald the springtime of a new world.
Her youthful “misstep” is dangerously minimized. There is an utter lack on Susie’s part of the consciousness of sin.
In reality the book is pregnant with the theory of evolution and the Doctrine of Pelagianism.
The Immortal Wife: by Irving Stone.
“For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away.”–I Peter 1:24
This passage alone will sufficiently serve to refute what the name of the book means to imply, and in the light of all Scripture the title serves as the book’s own indictment. Irving Stone is not a Christian and his work is devoid of even the pretense of religion. Apart from the fact that the main character did not make a name for herself in the annals of our history, and thus in that sense will not continue to live on, any unusual qualification or so-called virtues which she may have possessed as a wife, were from a purely earthly point of view, selfish, because her love, her sacrifice, and cunning conniving centered in the final analysis around her ambitions: her husband being but a channel – serving as a means toward an end. Surely in the sight of God her works will stand condemned, both for time and eternity, for never once through the strange vicissitudes of her colorful file does He seem to enter into her thoughts.
However, if you enjoy taking an excursion into the past you will enjoy this book. Undoubtedly it provided as easy and interesting way to absorb a lot of historical information. To what extent the author has tampered with history in order to include all the fictional embellishments, I do not know–he himself claims it to be the product of much conscientious and extensive research, and testifies that it is true to all the essential facts of history.
“Immortal Wife” is a biographical novel of Jessie Benton Fremont, daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, first and perennial senator from the state of Missouri. Her political education began when she was eight, and by the time she was sixteen she had been her father’s advisor and confidant for some years, often walking the streets of Washington with him at night while he threshed out his problems, using her as a sounding board. Her mother being a semi-invalid, and thoroughly despising the life of political Washington, she also presided at the famous Benton dining table, under which numerous presidents, and also an ever changing panorama of congressmen, army officers, explorers and trappers tucked their boots, When Jessie was not yet seventeen, she was a grown and matured woman, but for the first time Senator Benton thrust a calendar into her face, refusing his consent to her marriage. John Charles Fremont was a promising army officer of the tropographical corps. Jessie meant to have a career, and she knew that few women could attain one unless she did so through a talented young man, therefore she meant to have John whom she also sincerely loved. Being–as James Buchanan characterized here–“the square root of Tom Benton” she found a way.–They eloped.
Fremont was a small man, but surcharged with energy and in all fairness to Jessie it must be said that though in many ways her husband had the lesser personality she never tried to mold or manage him, but matched his courage, his love of action and general zest for life. Fremont crossed the Rockies for the first time in winter’s snow and ice, and his reports, written by Jessie made him famous. During this expedition he and his company bore all the agonies of hunger, cold and other pressure which it is possible for a human body to suffer, and Jessie who seemed to sense John’s predicaments, suffered with him. That was the beginning of their experiences, for the Fremont’s never lived at a normal tempo. John’s various undertaking left them either wealthy or poverty stricken. They also lost several children, and although this hits Jessie hard, she remains always first the wife, then the mother. This to my mind is hardly admirable. Once Jessie braved the jungles of Panama with her baby in order to meet John in California. They met in San Francisco only to find that their agent had swindled them out of their ranch, but that the barren mountain land he had acquired for them was full of gold mines. Then through a series of events John lost them.
A crisis was imminent with Mexico and Great Britain over California, Texas and Oregon. Fremont had been sent on a scientific expedition by the army to explore the coast between Oregon and the Gulf of California. He encouraged the American settlers to rebellion, being tipped off by his wife, who in turn had been encouraged by the secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft. Then ensued a technical battle between the naval commander and the army commander, Stephan Watts, of the navy, having appointed Fremont civil Governor over Southern California. Commander Kearny contested his authority and clinched his argument by bringing John under arrest for court martial to Washington. Although president Polk reversed the decision of the court, cleared John of the charge of mutiny and reinstated him in the army, he was too deeply insulted and resigned his commission.
He was offered the Democratic nomination for president in 1857 but both Jessie and John were fervent abolitionists and the democratic platform included the fugitive slave law–Fremont declined the nomination but was promptly chosen as candidate for the republicans. Jessie closely missed the realization of her dream–reigning as “First Lady” in the White House. John was beaten at the polls by James Buchanan.
Then came the Civil War. John was appointed one of the four Major Generals of the regular army with headquarters in St. Louis – where Jessie accompanied him as unofficial Adjutant. Everything went wrong. He issued an Emancipation Proclamation without consulting the President, and quarreled with the powerful Blair fraction. Jessie bungled matters still worse by going to Washington and interviewing President Lincoln. It all ended with the termination of Fremont’s military career. Once again he was nominated by the Republicans but he withdrew from the campaign when he realized that taking votes from Lincoln might elect McClellan as President.
He made a new fortune in western railroads and for five years they were again fabulously rich; then the railroad property vanished like the gold mines.
In the bitter end they are forced to seek shelter with friends. But when John fell ill with pneumonia Jessie wrote eleven stories in five days and earned eleven hundred dollars to take her husband to Nassau. In 1878 President Hayes appointed Fremont Governor or Arizona, but because the altitude was too much for Jessie’s heart she was forced to live alone for three years. Then it was to Fremontville, California for the Fremont’s, and congress had just awarded John a pension of six thousand dollars for life when he died in New York on a business trip. This left Jessie Benton Fremont widowed and impoverished but still undismayed.
The Apostle by Sholem Asch
This book, a sequel to the Nazarine, follows very carefully the framework of the book of Acts, with the apostle Paul as the central figure. Thus we see him first as he sits at the feet of Gamaliel, endeavoring to attain legal blamelessness, the ideal of Pharisaic virtue. This zeal is shared by his beloved friend bar Naba, who is none other than Barnabas, Paul’s companion on his first missionary journey. Barnabas soon accepts Jesus as the Messiah while Paul becomes a self-styled Phencas, defending “the honor of God”.
Considerable space is devoted to Paul’s tremendous spiritual struggle, his inner conflicts which makes one realize more fully that it was indeed hard for him to “kick against the pricks”.
His conversion on the road to Damascus, is somewhat obscured. It could be nothing more than a hallucination, especially, as the impression is left that the apostle was subject to epileptic seizures.
It is interesting, as you follow the book of Acts and the various epistles of Paul, to see what tiny dues Mr. Asch has expanded into major episodes, and what huge gaps in Paul’s story he has filled with his own imagination. Throughout the book we meet many of the figures that appear in the meagre accounts of Acts and the epistles, only as dimly sketched shadows. Peter, James, Barnabas, Silas, Luke, Titus, Timothy, Lydia, Acquilla and Priscilla, and many others, become living, personalities. There are also purely imaginative characters woven into the story.
Paul’s missionary journeys are set against the colorful background of the Mediterranean world, with its beauties and vices, its luxuries and squalor. It is a dark master painting of a writhing wicked world. The author does not mince words, but portrays the condition of Paul’s times with stark realism, and at times the detailed descriptions of pagan excesses, their festivals and religious rites are repulsive and almost offensive. He spares nothing in an effort to depict what the apostle to the gentiles went through. He pictures the pitiful slave-workers in the bronze foundries in Corinth, and the misery of the galley slaves— Paul bringing light and hope to these most wretched of all creatures.
The apostle Paul moves from city to city comforting, converting, edifying. His sojourn in Rome, of which actually so little is known, is made into a continued and dramatic story.
Very interesting, but at the same time very disappointing are Paul’s letters to the different churches. Some of them are described as actual letters, while others are given as discourses which Paul’s companions hear and later transcribe from memory. To a great extent the book is a work of exposition, and an attempt to show the growth of the early Christian doctrine. The author recounts Paul’s various epistles in his own words, often changing the original so completely that one scarcely recognizes the doctrines Paul so beautifully expounds. When writing to the Romans, he quite forgets those portions which deal with election and reprobation. The epistles to the Philippians and Corinthians are characterized as being filled; with bitterness and bursts of anger which are ascribed to Paul’s personal peeves. His letters to the Colossians and Ephesians signify that Paul finally found his way back to God, whom he had for a time lost because of his love for the Messiah, his zeal in his mission and his bitterness against his enemies.
For the sake of dramatic effect the author greatly exaggerates the tension between the Jerusalem Christians, the actual disciples and Paul’s followers. Sometimes the sheer weight of Paul’s own inner conflicts in regard to these differences are rather depressing. Until almost the very end, Paul is at variance with Peter and the other disciples. Peter and James deny Paul’s authority, causing much disturbance in the newly established churches. In short, they accuse Paul of selling the election of the Jews to the Gentiles, and dissuading the Jews from the loyalty to the Torah of Moses. Because his teachings are considered erroneous, he is forbidden to preach among the Christians in Jerusalem. Peter is made to appear as an ignorant fisherman incapable of comprehending Paul’s views on the Messiah. James, too, was astonished by Paul’s words. Paul is made the author of the most fundamental of all doctrines, “Christ’s Sonship”, When Paul visits Jerusalem for the first time after his conversion, Peter is made to ask: “What did he mean by the strange words: “Son of God in heaven, on earth, and in all the worlds?” A direct contradiction to Peter’s glorious confession in Matt. 16:16 “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God.”
Often I found myself wondering just where Mr. Asch himself stands and if he himself believes that Christ is the fulfillment of the Mosaic law.
The story ends with the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. The Christian Jews had become the scapegoat for the burning of Rome—Rome which burned upon Nero’s orders and for his pleasure. Nero prepares for the Roman masses, stepped aside as they were in immoralities, a spectacle such as they had never beheld – a gigantic blood bath. We see God’s people hiding and living in the catacombs, witness the horrible tortures for “the crime of Christianity”. All in all it was thoroughly in the spirit of the time—“and Rome was not astonished for Rome was worthy of Nero, and Nero of Rome”.
Peter and Paul are both victims of the Neronian persecution. The two apostles meet once again as they are both led out to die, the one on the cross, the other by the sword, all differences forgotten in the service to a common Lord.
This book of 800 closely written pages, is to be recommended only if read critically, as I believe it has serious discrepancies. Any author who sets out to add to the Bible narratives may expect much criticism, as the simple but beautiful records laid out for us in the gospels, remain completely satisfying. Anyone who endeavors to solve all the mysteries which the Bible does not reveal and sets out to expound all its teachings may expect violent reaction.
The reader must constantly be mindful that much of the narrative springs from the author’s imagination, and one should really keep the New Testament close at hand to verify where Scripture leaves off and Mr. Asch begins.
The book’s value should be measured by its historical background. Without a doubt the author is a master on this subject. One obtains a vivid picture of the spirit of the world in which the savior and His apostles lived, and that is indeed interesting and very educational.
And—just as a suggestion—this novel might be just the thing for the book lover on your Christmas list.
Not many of us are afflicted these days with “the terrible burden of having nothing to do.” On the contrary, our life is such a continual hustle and bustle that the general complaint of most everyone seems to be that time is pressing too hard; the burden of “must” leaves little opportunity for things we feel we would like to do.
The delight of throwing one’s self in a comfortable armchair at the end of a busy day and finding relaxation both according to body and mind, often appears to be one of those things for which time is lacking. Yet I believe that any person who truly loves to read, however beset his or her life may be with work and cares, will find a few minutes now and then to surrender himself to “another luxurious reverie.”
Reading offers dividends – rich and plentiful. It is one of the greatest sources of pleasure and one of the best means for a liberal education – providing we remember that no book or article is worth anything that is not worth much. Live always in the best company when you read. Because the quiet and leisurely hours of our lives are comparatively few, we should waste none of them in reading – speaking negatively – valueless books.
To many of us nothing is more troublesome than the effort of concentration and for that reason constructive reading is too often neglected. It is easier to read light fiction, and although I believe this too has its place occasionally, we should not always read just as our inclinations lead us. Often the book or article which we read from a sense of duty, or because for some reason we must, yields unexpected delight, and we feel well rewarded, while the things we frequently crave leave us feeling inwardly deflated.
It is quite needless, I am sure, to remind ourselves that as Christians we should not absorb all the cheap trash that is flooding the market today. This literature leaves an indelible effect upon the imaginative mind, in spite of anything we might want to say to the contrary. It does not mean that we must of necessity limit our reading solely to our church papers and literature. It does however unquestionably mean that this material should head the list. Here too we can apply the admonition of Jesus when He said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.” We surely should above all find pleasure in seeking and delving into the things of God’s Kingdom in its purest most beautiful manifestation.
From a purely natural point of view reading has great value. You can almost invariably spot a person who never reads. It is just as great an impossibility to be mentally developed and to remain fit without exercise as it is a sheer physical impossibility. The lack of either is equally apparent. Good reading will not only broaden the mind and give new ideas but it will also increase your vocabulary. Many people have good thoughts and ideas, but they cannot express them because of the poverty of their vocabulary. They have not words enough to clothe their ideas, and make them attractive.
To many people the struggle for self expression is a veritable battlefield of the mind, and although reading does not guarantee elimination of this dread affliction which grips so many of us, I do believe it will help to develop poise, ease and confidence. We acquire the comfortable feeling that we know whereof we speak. You sometimes meet intelligent people who are dull and uninteresting, while a person with a mediocre mind frequently has a very colorful personality, is clever and good company. I think you will usually find the later fairly well read.
Reading tends to broaden the mind in that it develops a deeper understanding of people and things. It quickens our perceptions, sharpens our
discrimination, widens our scope of thought, and mellows the rawness of our own personal opinions. To be well read does not necessarily mean that you will always quote someone else in your conversation, although that too is convenient and essential. It does mean that you will weigh various viewpoints and conceptions in your own mind, and be better equipped to draw your own conclusion and to express your own opinions on a given subject. It also means that you speak intelligently on a vast number of themes, but particularly on those pertaining to your religious beliefs and your spiritual life.
We should not be satisfied with the all to frequent lame excuse: “I understand it myself, but can’t explain.” If you are master of your subject you will no longer need this false shield which in reality is but a poor defense. Make it a point not only to be convinced in your own mind, but be prepared to give others the benefit of your light. That should press more heavily as our God given duty. It means that we also must be acquainted with other people’s arguments, and must then be able to refute them; primarily for our own benefit but also for those who would oppose us.
Remember the injunction of the apostle Paul in Col. 4:6: “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
The disciples of John had come to Jesus with the tidings that Herod the tetrarch had beheaded the Baptist. Jesus, feeling the need of solitude, had departed by ship into a desert place apart. The people, however, hearing of it and being thoroughly absorbed with their own needs and desires, followed Him afoot.
It was a huge multitude who sought the Lord. Many of them had come a long way, bringing with them their sick, the maimed, the deaf and the blind, and Jesus, moved with compassion, had healed them. Then, when evening had come—and there was no bread—Jesus had miraculously fed them; five thousand men, so we read, beside the women and children. How wonderful!
What a glorious achievement! How elated must have been the people, but especially that little inner circle—His chosen twelve. They too still looked for an earthly Messiah, who would banish forever this hated Roman yoke. In this mighty leader they saw the fulfillment of all their fondest hopes and dreams. Could anything be more simple than the ascension of Jesus to the throne of Israel—the earthly throne of David? The people were ready and eager to proclaim Him King; and with Christ on the throne there would never again be famine, sickness, or want of any kind, for could He not call into being the things that were not as if they existed? Were not all things subject to His will? All these things He had so plainly manifested. What power, glory and influence would be theirs in that new Kingdom! How lofty must have been those air castles and what bitter disappointment to have them all crumple in utter disillusionment, when contrary to all their plans, Christ puts a mighty damper on their enthusiasm and snuffs out every vestige of their high elation! From this time on they are to battle against a series of “Contrary Winds.”
With a spirit of authority Christ sends the multitudes away, commands them to depart by ship, while He Himself sadly leaves them to go up into the mountain to pray. There must have been a storm within the hearts and minds and souls of the disciples, for oh, they were still so very much of this earth earthy and had no conception of the spiritual, neither did they understand that the Saviour’s hour was rapidly approaching. There were still to be a great many “contrary winds” before they would finally understand their significance and worth. Until that time, they badly needed their Master’s cheering and assuring words: “Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” Yes, indeed, they needed that when all things seemed to go so hopelessly contrary to the Saviour’s success.
Confused and somewhat bewildered, we can almost imagine the trend of their conversation as listlessly they embarked for the opposite shore, perhaps wholly oblivious to the ominous signs of an approaching storm. But soon stark fear wipes out all other emotions, for we read that when they were in the midst of the sea they were tossed with the waves, for the wind was contrary. And when faced with contrary winds the struggle really begins. Their little ship is now tossed about on those mighty billows as easily as if it had been a tiny nutshell and every wave threatens to obliterate them.
Isn’t it a beautiful and comforting picture that when the storm is at its wildest and there seems no way out—no hope, no future but to be hopelessly engulfed—that the Lord comes with His “Peace be still”? How beautifully typical of a Christian’s life! O how those storms can rage—and how at times they do rage!
“But, when the storm beats
loudest and I cry
Aloud for help, the Master
And whispers to my soul,
“Lo it is I”
Above the tempest wild I hear
Beyond the darkness lies the
In every path of thine, I lead
And when we hear that whisper in our souls, it is quiet, very quiet, and we begin to understand what the apostle Paul means when he speaks of the peace that passeth all understanding. Still, how true, too, that one of the greatest disappointments in a Christian’s life is the fact that he so frequently disappoints himself and that he must over and over again hear those words of rebuke: “Oh ye of little faith.” For like Peter, when we see the mighty billows and hear the roaring of the winds, we are afraid, and our trust and faith all too often falters and fails, and from the anguish of our souls we cry: “Lord help me!” Sweet comfort, that when we really turn to Him He never puts us to shame for He knows and understands how weak and frail we are.
Many have been the storms during the history and development of the Church. Sometimes it seemed as if the little ship must surely perish. The odds seemed too great. But God miraculously preserved His people and His truth. There has ever been a remnant to raise the standard high; a little flicker of light in a great darkness. Always under great difficulties and tempestuous storms, storms which from a human point of view seemed to hinder God’s work and cause; and yet we know differently. It pleased God that through struggles and storms His truth should ever be kept pure and thus develop deeper, firmer roots, while much of the chaff in the same process should be swept away.
Just previous to the Reformation, it surely seemed as if the blessed Gospel would be engulfed by ritual, superstition and utter wickedness. God used a Luther whose inward struggles and outward storms were so hellish in violence, so fierce indeed that often it seemed to him that both body and soul must succumb. Yet out of this man’s bitter experiences and agonizing struggles, the Reformation was born. “God works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”
And we could easily go on, beginning with that little group in Jerusalem right down through the ages and up to this present day. It is true, there are times when the storms somewhat abate and there is comparative quiet and calm, but these periods are never conducive to real growth. Outwardly the Church may thrive but there is no depth, and when the fierce winds and raging storms again begin to blow, only that which is founded on that solid rock will remain.
Of course we know that a Church need not be wholly corrupt to warrant a Reformation or to justify a separation. Such was the case in 1924 and in many previous separations. How contrary seemed the winds to the always small minority group. The winds were never in their sails, but they ever had to face them and the going was hard and long, and their progress so very, very slow. Then, as is usually the case, questionings arose; for isn’t it true “that conquer we must if our cause it is just”? Or much better still, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Listen: “Fear not little flock!” It is the Lord’s work, but also the Lord’s way. In that we must rest while fighting the good fight of faith. May it ever be a source of comfort to us when encountering disheartening winds, which seem to retard our progress, that “contrary winds” are characteristic, especially in the measure in which we will be called upon to stand for our precious Reformed truth.
Often, in retrospection, we think of the “contrary winds” which crossed our individual paths. Not many of us have escaped facing them. There are all kinds of storms and all kinds of winds and one was called upon to face this and another that; but they all meant struggles and oftentimes tears.
God, in a very specific way has again sent storms and judgment upon His earth. Have we, looking on, and suffering too, calmly rested in the knowledge and assurance that our Father was at the helm and would safely see us and our loved ones through? Perhaps He didn’t always follow the course we would have chosen, but it was the best and only way; of this we may be sure. He can make the greatest trials a blessing—teaching us the lesson He means us to learn, working in us His Grace.
Were we to face the future in our own strength, we would surely tremble with nameless fear, for the clouds overhead are threatening and the way ahead looks dark! Shall we grope around along with the world, vainly seeking light? No! By grace we will put our hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to us better than a light and safer than a known way.
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