James Gilmour of Mongolia review

James Gilmour on the Missionary Call (includes link for a free ebook)

James Gilmour was a lifetime missionary in Mongolia. Though he suffered bereavement and isolation in a remote field, his writings on the missionary call show that he gave his life to Mongolia willingly and steadfastly, not under the compulsion of some emotional experience. In his fantastic book on The Missionary Call, David Sills places Gilmour’s words alongside those of Jim Elliot and Oswald Chambers, who likewise celebrated Christian freedom in regard to calling. Here is the full section that Sills quoted, with a link to the free ebook at the bottom:

I had thought of the relative claims of the home and foreign fields, but during the summer session in Edinburgh I thought the matter out, and decided for the mission field; even on the low ground of common sense I seemed to be called to be a missionary. Is the kingdom a harvest field? Then I thought it reasonable that I should seek to work where the work was most abundant and the workers fewest. Labourers say they are overtaxed at home; what then must be the case abroad, where there are wide stretching plains already white to harvest, with scarcely here and there a solitary reaper? To me the soul of an Indian seemed as precious as the soul of an Englishman, and the Gospel as much for the Chinese as for the European; and as the band of missionaries was few compared with the company of home ministers, it seemed to me clearly to be my duty to go abroad.

But I go out as a missionary not that I may follow the dictates of common sense, but that I may obey that command of Christ, “Go into all the world and preach.” He who said “preach,” said also, “Go ye into and preach,” and what Christ hath joined together let not man put asunder.

This command seems to me to be strictly a missionary injunction, and, as far as I can see, those to whom it was first delivered regarded it in that light, so that, apart altogether from choice and other lower reasons, my going forth is a matter of obedience to a plain command; and in place of seeking to assign a reason for going abroad, I would prefer to say that I have failed to discover any reason why I should stay at home.’

Gilmour, James. James Gilmour of Mongolia: His diaries, letters, and reports, pp. 42-43. Originally printed in 1895. Click here to download the free ebook from Project Gutenberg.

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Here and Here Alone

“Here and here alone
Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.
In other worlds we shall more perfectly
Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him,
Grow near and nearer Him with all delight.
But then we shall not any more be called
To suffer, which is our appointment here.
Canst thou not suffer then one hour? or two?
And while we suffer let us set our souls
To suffer perfectly, since this alone—
The suffering—which is this world’s special grace,
May here be perfected and left behind.”

Source: Mrs. Hamilton King. Quoted in Herbert Alfred Birks, Jesus, A Man of Sorrows: Lent Addresses. 1900.

Review: Recapture the Wonder

Rating: ★★★

Who: Ravi Zacharias, modern apologist and speaker. Ravi is the author of Can Man Live Without God? and many other books.

Overview: The subtitle, “Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy,” shows that the publishers intended this book for a popular Christian audience. Less than half of Ravi’s books have made the long passage from the Christian philosophy to the Christian living shelf: Cries of the Heart (1998), I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah (2004) and Has Christianity Failed You? (2010) being some of them.

Ravi deals with the concept of wonder here for a primarily Christian audience, then. There is no attempt to shoehorn “wonder” into the language of his philosophy books, which I can appreciate. And although he doesn’t say so, I expect that “wonder” is awfully close to what he calls “meaning” in some of his other books. (Meaning, purpose, origin and destiny are four keys to life provided by a Christian worldview.)

If we take the title as it is, the book takes a while to reach its object; the first chapter is about what wonder is, and the second and third are mostly cautionary, against seeking wonder in impersonal pursuits like wealth or sex. It is not until the fourth chapter that Ravi begins to spell out positive steps towards “recapturing the wonder.” Still, there is plenty to gain along the way.

Meat: The second half of the book is where he begins to spell out how to maintain wonder. Wonder, he says, is not something that comes or goes in our lives unbidden. It is something that must be “maintained” with thought and discipline. In the fourth and fifth chapters, Ravi calls for some self-examination: Are we living in gratitude? Are we grounded in the truth? Do we daily meditate on God’s love?

In the last chapter, maintaining wonder climaxes in a call for the Christian disciplines. Here, Ravi makes a case for thoughtful reading and patient reflection, giving examples from the lives of Henri Nouwen and his own life. This section is unique in that churchgoers are often called on to simply “read” and “pray” without much thought given as to why and how. The final section calls for a life of prayer, noting that worship is the highest function of wonder.

This is by no means Ravi’s best book, since he is stretching himself in terms of his audience. In the second half of the book, though, he has a wealth of straightforward advice towards living life in wonder.

Review: Poems (C. S. Lewis)

Rating: ★★★★

Who: C. S. Lewis, British scholar and lay theologian.

Overview: This little volume of poems was arranged posthumously from sundry sources, including many plucked from The Pilgrim’s Regress. There is in general a strong overlap in subject matter with both Lewis’ fiction (“Narnian Suite,” “Wormwood,” “The Dragon Speaks”) and his nonfiction (“Love’s As Warm As Tears,” “Divine Justice”). Walter Hooper has arranged the poems along the lines of their themes, beginning with the most ambitious.

Though enjoyable, it will never enjoy as wide an appeal as Lewis’ fiction or Christian living titles, since much of the material is written for a literary audience. If you enjoyed his excursions and ramblings in God in the Dock, or The Pilgrim’s Regress, or George MacDonald’s poetic works, you would probably enjoy this book.

In terms of form, all of the poems are very short except for two or three, and almost all of them rhyme, sometimes incorporating sonnets, other times incorporating classical metrical schemes.

Meat: There are several hidden gems in here whose original sources are no longer available. “The Turn of the Tide” is a favorite, which conceptualizes Bethlehem in terms of spiritual combat. The poems from The Pilgrim’s Regress—which, like The Lord of the Rings or Phantastes, mixes poetry with its prose—stand alone quite well.

Not surprisingly, Eden is a major theme: see “The Future of Forestry,” “Adam Unparadised,” and “Eden’s Courtesy,” for a few. Other Old Testament characters are dealt with (“Solomon,” “The Late Passenger”), though none so seriously or so often as Eden, which is seen as a hint of the new creation that will be:

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell. (“What the Bird Said Early in the Year”)

Lewis’ intellectual independence is also seen in some of the more sarcastic works, like “An Exposulation: Against Too Many Writers of Science Fiction” and “Evolutionary Hymn.” His odes to Andrew Marvell and John Milton are also notable in the context of his academic position.

Bones: Christian readers expecting didactic theological insights would feel for the most part short-changed by Lewis’ poetry. The book is, for the most part, a literary effort, and therefore has little in the way of moral imperative. Part I especially—pages 1-49, more than a third of the book—is replete with classical references (“And Peleus took the Nereid Theris …”) which are lost on almost all modern readers.

Overall, this collection is well worth having, but most people will prefer to cherry-pick poems with intriguing titles rather than read the whole book.

New Ebook on Mary Calvert

Rowe’s Memoir of Mary Calvert is now available as an ebook. Mary Calvert was a pioneer missionary in Fiji where she was instrumental in opposing an ancient pagan custom of wife-burning, similar to the ancient Indian practice of suttee (or sati) that was encountered by William Carey a few decades before. Mary Calvert vehemently opposed the murder of aristocrats’ wives and family members, even at the peril of her own life.

After many years in Fiji, James and Mary Calvert also served in South Africa, and later returned to Fiji in their old age to celebrate 50 years of Christianity in Fiji. The majority of Fijians are Christian today—thanks to the exemplary work of missionaries like the Calverts and many others—although widespread immigration from India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has led to a large demographic and cultural shift.

The inspiring biography of James Calvert (Mary Calvert’s husband) is also now available as an ebook, which is free when you buy a copy of the paperback.

Affliction by Edith Schaeffer book cover

Review: Affliction (Edith Schaeffer)

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: Edith Schaeffer, co-founder of L’Abri, American missionary to Switzerland with her husband, Francis Schaeffer. Edith and Francis Schaeffer spent many years serving the Presbyterian church in Missouri and in writing children’s materials as missionaries before they stumbled into a mission to reach Europe’s intelligentsia, which became their full-time vocation and lifelong focus. Edith’s books are very different in tone from those of her husband—and they are at least as good, if not better.

Overview: Edith Schaeffer’s book tactfully and compassionately explores human affliction. Rather than presenting a central “theodicy” to explain evil or suffering, Edith focuses on practical, devotional thoughts that are central to biblical thought about suffering.

Meat: The chief insight of Affliction is that we are given a unique role in human history, a role that no one else can fill, and that suffering cannot take that away. The most important ingredients in life, its meaning and destiny, and the chief end of man, are unaffected by suffering.

A central metaphor for Edith Schaeffer is that of the tapestry: God is weaving our lives together into a redemptive history, and every unique story of faithfulness presents a special proof of God’s love and care—whether that faithfulness occurs in plenty or poverty, in joy or suffering.

Bones: I can add no criticism of her book, except that it took me so long to chew on all the material. It is dense with anecdotes, like its twin book, L’Abri.

Quotes: “Our personal afflictions involve the living God; the only way in which Satan can persecute or afflict God us through attacking the people of God.” (p. 27)

“The compassion and the tenderness of our loving heavenly Father will take forever to learn about.”

“Death is not to be taken as a ‘normal, beautiful release’ but as an enemy. It spoils the beautiful creation of God.”

Related: L’Abri.

The Call of God

God’s call is not just about missions. Os Guinness explains that “calling” in Scripture begins with and includes salvation; it is as much a calling to a person as it is a calling to a work or a place. We are called first into a relationship and a new identity in Christ, and any discussion of a “missionary calling” is incomplete without mentioning this first. (1)

God’s call is both repeated and prolonged. Paul and his group experience a variety of “callings” in the book of Acts. The call of God is not a one- time event. It is a complex, life-long driving force leading us to and through salvation and service. It is the “due north” by which we set our compass and take our bearings every day. The call of God is the general direction for all our specific obedience to God.

God’s call is multifaceted. Paul had a long road between the vision on the Damascus road, and the prophetic call in Antioch. He is called first to salvation (Acts 9), then to a work (Acts 13:1-3), followed by a variety of locations and ministries. Sills writes:

God seems to call some to a particular kind of missions service, others to a people group, others to a region, others to a country, others to a city, and others to a life purpose (such as rescuing young girls from prostitution) or some combination of these. (2)

God’s call is not about location. We tend to focus on all of the visible aspects of calling: where we will go, what we will do, who we will marry, and who we will work with. God focuses on the invisible aspects: spiritual preparation, the burden of prayer, the willingness to proclaim, and the stubborn ability to plod on without stopping.


(1) See Os Guinness’ book The Call. Chapters 4 and 5.

(2) M. David Sills. The Missionary Call. Kindle edition. Location 364.