C. T. Studd (1860-1931)
A few years ago, while sifting through the archives of the Africa Inland Mission (AIM), I came across the most unusual application papers I have ever seen. They had been submitted by Charles Thomas Studd, in November 1912.
The name was familiar because I had read of this outstanding England cricketer who abandoned fame and wealth to become a missionary. But until the discovery of his papers in the basement of the AIM offices I had not realised that he was an atypical servant of the gospel.
Applicants to join the Mission are required to answer a variety of questions, but his replies were surprisingly different. Asked for the name of his pastor and church, he wrote, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ and his church’. This was as vague as other answers given by him, and suggested a lack of seriousness. But here was a person who really was serious, though non-stereotypical, as later became evident in his life as a pioneer missionary.
Charles was born 150 years ago on 2 December 1860. His wealthy father Edward became a Christian during a Moody-Sankey visit to England in 1877. For the remaining two years of his life Edward was burdened for the salvation of others, including, of course, his own three sons.
Their luxurious home was opened to many who heard the gospel there for the first time, often to the embarrassment of Charles who said, ‘I was not altogether pleased with him. He used to come into my room at night and ask if I was converted. After a time I used to sham sleep when I saw the door open. And in the day I crept around to the other side of the house when I saw him coming’.
D. L. Moody
But an infinitely stronger love than that of a father for a son was pursuing Charles, and the love of Christ eventually conquered him. Life as a student in Eton and later at Trinity College, Cambridge, distracted Charles from a serious engagement with God.
Cricket captivated him, and his skills were widely recognised. His captaincy of the Eton cricket team led to similar leadership of the Cambridge team. Idolised by cricket fans and the general public, he played for England against Australia in 1882 in the famous match which was the origin of the ‘Ashes’.
A year later his younger brother George was critically ill. Charles was grief-stricken by the thought that the brother he loved so much appeared to be dying. Disturbing questions filled his mind: ‘Now what is all the popularity of the world to George? What is all the fame and flattering? What is it worth to possess the riches of the world, when a man comes to face eternity?’
Sobered and humbled by such thoughts, Charles went to hear D. L. Moody preach, and his heart was opened. ‘There the Lord met me again and restored to me the joy of his salvation … He set me to work for him, and I began to try and persuade my friends to read the Gospel, and to speak to them immediately about their souls’.
For the rest of his life this passion for souls never waned, and it flowed from total devotion to his Saviour. His intolerance of nominal or mediocre Christianity is searchingly expressed in The chocolate soldier, first published in 1912. In it C. T. Studd refers to
heroism as the lost chord, the missing note of present-day Christianity.
He regarded every Christian as a soldier of Christ, and insisted that a soldier without heroism is a chocolate soldier – ‘mere sweeties who melt in the heat of battle’! The plain calls of duty given by Christ to his warriors, and the battle-scarred lives of biblical characters, gripped him.
James Hudson Taylor
It is possible to find flaws in Studd’s theology, missiology and practice, but not in his motivation. Increasingly sensitive to the needs of those without Christ, he and other young men at Cambridge were challenged by James Hudson Taylor. Stirred by what they heard from the founder of the China Inland Mission, they responded to his passionate appeal for missionaries to China’s millions.
C. T. Studd was one of the ‘Cambridge Seven’ who left England in 1885 to face the challenges and sacrifices involved. They were dedicated and courageous young men, whose testimonies were printed and received by the Queen of England. But the approval of a higher Sovereign mattered most of all to them.
For Charles it was the end of ease, popular acclaim, and wealth. He had inherited from his father a considerable legacy, perhaps amounting in today’s value to £3 million. Believing that God would provide all he needed in the future, he gave it all away, except for a small reserve in case of future marriage.
When the day came for his bride Priscilla Stewart to receive the gift of £3,400 she joined Charles in giving the last of the fortune to General Booth of the Salvation Army. They married in China wearing their every-day Chinese clothes, much to the disdain of their friends.
For Priscilla the only adornment was a long white sash with the inscription ‘united to fight for Jesus’ across it. These non-chocolate soldiers would together face intense trials, even strains in their relationship, but they remained obedient to the Captain of their salvation.
Unlike the cricketer who recognised the discipline of team work, this independent and pioneering missionary found it difficult to submit to others. Driven by what he believed the Lord wanted him to do, it was not easy for him to keep in step with fellow-workers who preferred a different path. But it was not simply this that brought to an end his work in China. The rigours and dangers of life took their toll, and he returned to England in 1894 broken in health.
The flame still burned in his heart, and memories of his father’s plantations in India drew him. Priscilla did not at first accompany him, but eventually the family were reunited there, and his daughters, ages ranging from 12-18 years, were baptised. The joy of the family then was shared by Amy Carmichael among others.
This time in India may have been among the most precious in the life of a family which knew much of separation. With more time with his wife and four daughters, life was much less demanding than China had been.
The language barriers in India burdened him. His passion for souls was not satisfied by soul-winning efforts among British and European expatriates and he remained in India only until 1906.
Visiting Liverpool in 1908, C. T. Studd was intrigued by a notice saying, ‘Cannibals want missionaries’. Dr Karl Kumm, a German explorer, was addressing meetings where he passionately presented the need of tribes who had never heard the gospel.
Studd felt a kindred spirit with Kumm, and despite having a sick wife and four daughters unmarried, plus failing health and no money, he decided to engage with Africa.
His wife, suffering with asthma and a heart condition, pleaded with him not to go, as had his mother, but neither this nor the opinion of his daughters weakened his resolve. If they had known the separation would be for two years, and then for eleven more, their distress would have been even greater.
Thus the connection with AIM was made, but a few days after he left for Africa C. T. Studd asked for changes in the Mission’s constitution. These were refused by the Mission’s council and after only a few weeks it was mutually agreed to terminate Studd’s membership of AIM. With hindsight, faults can be detected all round in what happened.
The Church Missionary Society also encountered problems with this maverick! It assigned two senior missionaries to show him around southern Sudan, but he decided he could not work with Anglicans to reach the cannibals from the north. Instead he followed an independent and ever-widening strategy of gospel preaching.
This cost him dearly both in terms of human approval and health, but no amount of suffering could reduce his zeal and commitment. He named the enterprise the Heart of Africa Mission (HAM), but worldwide evangelisation remained at the forefront of his vision; and HAM was succeeded by the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade (WEC).
Today WEC stands as a testimony to a remarkable visionary, whose fruit remains in over 50 countries, where well over 1000 full-time workers preach the gospel.
Marking the 150th anniversary of his birth, we recognise that God may use people who do not keep all the rules, and that his kingdom on earth has often advanced despite the unease of purists!
This doesn’t justify irresponsible attitudes a actions by front-line soldiers of Christ, but it is humbling for those who are inactive idealists and cautious theorists. C. T. Studd’s own words are the best explanation for his life: ‘If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.’