Title: So This is Boreham!
Author: Jeffrey S. Cranston
“For all of his life, he was a person apart. His Saviour was all important to him.” So runs the descriptive phrase of a son about his father. The son is Frank Boreham, Jr. and his father is the man I wish for you to meet. Frank William Boreham was a prolific author, penning more than 45 books, the composer of numerous booklets and approximately 2,000 newspaper articles. He served as pastor to three Baptist congregations in Mosgiel, New Zealand, Hobart, Tasmania and Armadale, Australia. His name is still spoken of with reverence in these locales today. As a minister, there is much to learn from him. As a writer, he leaves few equals in his wake. He was a consummate story-teller and every preacher can garner useful illustrations and acquire the knowledge on how to tell a good story simply be sitting at his feet and observing. He is a favorite of Mrs. Ruth Bell Graham, Warren Wiersbe, and Ravi Zacharias, along with countless others through the years.
F. W. Boreham was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England on March 3, 1871. He says of that day, “Salvoes of artillery and peals of bells echoed across Europe on the morning of my birth.” He was speaking, of course, not about his advent, but about the culmination of the Franco-Prussian War “that self-same day.” It was the days of Victorian England and a wonderful setting in which a boy could grow up. “Wroxton Lodge,” as his childhood home was called, held within its walls Frank and his nine brothers and sisters. He often recalled one of his favorite childhood memories: those Sunday nights when his mother would gather her brood around the fireplace and read a chapter or two from a classical book and then tell a personal story. Their perennial favorite was of their mother when she was a young girl visiting Canterbury Cathedral. She was to tour the grand old cathedral with her cousin, but her cousin failed to materialize. His mother was turning away, “disgusted and dejected,” when a kindly gentleman, “with a short, pointed beard, brown hair going gray, a very fine forehead and wonderfully lustrous eyes,” approached and offered to personally guide her through the Cathedral. She received a delightful tour and was later embarrassed to find out, upon receiving her escort’s card as they departed, that her tour guide had been none other than Charles Dickens! Years later, Boreham related that perhaps the greatest developments in his heart and mind took place at that fireside, “…and, of all the stories that I have ever heard or read, none ever moved me like those stories that, in the flickering firelight, mother told!”
One day in Tunbridge Wells, it was announced that the American evangelist, D.L. Moody, would be preaching that Sunday afternoon at the Village Green. Young Frank and his siblings were escorted to the village center by their aunt, she with strong evangelical leanings, and no doubt hoping for the salvation of her nieces and nephews. Upon arrival, they discovered the Green packed with people. There was no hope of getting close enough to the portly preacher to hear him. As they were resigning themselves to this fact, there was a sudden commotion behind them. The wind had shifted and a makeshift platform was being erected. Frank had a front row spot from which to listen to Mr. Moody! Frank learned a great deal about preaching that day. It is a lesson every preacher must learn and of which he should be constantly reminded. Boreham writes, “…the astonishment of that afternoon lay in the circumstance that I could understand every word! I had somehow assumed that preachers of eminence must be very abstruse, recondite, and difficult to follow. I had hoped that, by intense concentration, I might occasionally catch the drift of the speaker’s argument. But Mr. Moody took a text in which there was no word containing more than one syllable: The Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost. He used the simplest and most homely speech: he told stories that interested and affected me: he became sometimes impassioned and sometimes pathetic: he held my attention spellbound until the last syllable had died away. I could scarcely believe my ears. It was all so different – so delightfully different – from what I had expected the utterance of a world-renowned preacher to be.” Moody was not the only great man of God used to mold Boreham’s life.
Taking leave of home and moving to London for work at age 16, Frank was first employed in a clerical capacity. He later found a better paying job with a railway company. While working there, he suffered a serious accident that almost cost him his life and affected him through his remaining years. Living in a boarding house introduced him to many temptations only a metropolis like London could offer. Frank decided he needed to join a church and seek further spiritual training and teaching. The great Bible teacher, Dr. F.B. Meyer, pastored a church in London and offered a Saturday afternoon Bible class for young men. As Frank sat under Dr. Meyer’s expository teaching week after week, he sensed God’s call to the ministry. In order that he might test this tugging at his heart, he joined a group of young men from C. H. Spurgeon’s Preacher’s College and assisted them in evangelistic street meetings. Soon he found himself standing on a London street corner preaching the gospel.
Believing God was indeed calling him to ministry of some sort, Boreham enrolled at Spurgeon’s College. He was among the last students personally accepted by C. H. Spurgeon himself. In 1894, Thomas Spurgeon, who had been ministering in New Zealand but was returning to London to assume some of his father’s responsibilities, issued a call for men to immigrate to New Zealand. There was a need for pastors in this newly opened Dominion, especially for someone to minister in the South Island, who would assume the pastorate of the Mosgiel Baptist Church. After conferring with his parents, Frank declared that he would go. He set sail in January 1895, not even 24 years old and with a full year of school yet to complete. While en route, he cabled back to the little country village, Theydon Bois, where he had served a student pastorate. He asked for the hand of a young lady to whom he had become rather attached. Her father gave his approval and Frank’s teen-age fiancÚ arrived in New Zealand later that year. They were married by their close friend, Rev. J. J. Doke, who later was instrumental in saving the life of Mahatmas Ghandi while both were in South Africa.
Mosgiel was settled primarily by Scots who had left the Old Country not many years prior. Within a matter of months they had built a manse for their new minister and his wife. It stands there still today. Oh, the stories that poured out of the lives of those to whom he ministered! Read his essays and learn of Tammas the church treasurer. Boreham writes, “The man who got Church money out of Tammas was regarded in the light of a genius.” You will get to know Gavin and Wullie, Saddle Hill, and the engaging love story of Seth and Emily. Boreham himself played match-maker–partnering with a pressed nasturtium! It was in Mosgiel that Boreham’s pen started to make its presence known. He began to write on the many ordinary things in life that he observed, peculiarly different from others. He wrote as few others have. His command of language is impressive but the truths behind the words are what really captures the reader. Most of his writings are of the “devotional essay” style; they are engrossing and moving. He often enjoyed telling of the old gypsy crone who told his nanny, while she was taking him for a stroll one day, “Put a pen in his hand and he’ll never want for a living.” From childhood, he began his “scribbling,” sending in submissions to children’s magazines. In his later years he would be a household name among the Christian community of the British Commonwealth and North America.
After twelve fruitful years, the Borehams left Mosgiel and moved to Hobart, Tasmania, to accept the leading Baptist pulpit there. During his years at Hobart, his writing found an even greater readership. More articles and books flowed from his pen. His final pastorate was in Armadale, a prosperous suburb of Melbourne, Australia. He settled in nicely there and it was in Armadale where he spent his remaining pastoral years. As his writing became increasingly well known, invitations to speak began to come his way. He ministered all over the world addressing denominational councils and Bible conferences. He maintained his Baptistic convictions but in his heart his outlook was ecumenical. In his autobiography, My Pilgrimage, he writes, “During these years I have preached an almost exactly equal number of times in the pulpits of the various denominations and have felt equally at home in each. Indeed I like to think of myself as a kind of shuttle, moving to and fro, between the Churches and, perhaps binding them a little closer together.” He added that he felt his sermons were equally accepted in all the churches. Moving between various denominational traditions fulfilled a lifelong dream of his. He stated at his commissioning service prior to sailing for New Zealand and embarking on his ministerial career, “…it is my hope that in the course of my ministry, that I shall hold three pastorates, and then be free to travel in many lands preaching the everlasting gospel among all denominations.” While speaking at the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in 1936, the moderator, Dr. Daniel Lamont, welcomed him as “the man whose name is on all our lips, whose books are on all our shelves, and whose illustrations are in all our sermons.” His heart’s desire had come to fruition. His most well-known sermon series came about in a unique way. He tells it best. If you’re able, secure a copy of A Temple of Topaz and you shall find printed there, in the foreword, these words: “One Sunday evening…I was standing in my pulpit in Hobart, Tasmania. The occasion was special and the church was crowded. I was commencing that night my Winter Series of Addresses. The addresses, as the printed syllabus showed, were to be delivered at fortnightly intervals. During the hymn before the announcements, I was deliberating on the precise phraseology in which I should refer to the course on which I was embarking. It suddenly flashed upon me that, by emphasizing the address that was to be delivered a fortnight hence, I was virtually inviting the more casual members of the congregation to absent themselves on the following Sunday. Could I not say a word that would make the intervening Sundays attractive? It happened that, during the week, I had been reading the Life of Luther, and had been impressed by the way in which the Reformation sprang from a single text.
“Whilst I was still engrossed in this brown study, the hymn came to an end and the people resumed their seats. I announced my fortnightly addresses according to the printed syllabus; and then astonished myself by intimating that, on the following Sunday evening, I should commence an alternating series of fortnightly addresses entitled Texts That Made History. ‘Next Sunday evening,’ I added with extraordinary temerity, ‘I shall deal with Martin Luther’s Text!’
“At the close of the service, one of my most trusted officers came to me in great delight. ‘That’s a noble idea,’ he exclaimed enthusiastically; ‘it will be the best series that you have ever preached!’ It has certainly been the longest, and the most evangelistic, and the most effective. And it has been the series in which I myself have found the most delight.”
This series is composed of 125 messages Boreham delivered on fortnightly Sunday evenings. As a result of these compelling messages, scores of people placed their trust in the Saviour. Kregel Publishing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has recently reprinted these addresses. Included are the salvation accounts, with the Scripture texts God used, of such notable figures as Abraham Lincoln, Catherine Booth, John Wesley, Robinson Crusoe, Blaise Pascal, John Milton, David Brainerd, William Penn, and Everybody’s Text (Jn. 3:16). These delightful histories are readily available and should be in every minister’s library.
Into the life of every pastor come M.G.R. (More Grace Required)
parishioners. Boreham presents the minister with a stellar example of how to deal with his critics. His close friend, C. Irving Benson, tells us how one day Boreham handed over a very strongly worded letter commanding him to preach the gospel. “[The writer] was apparently misled by one of his intriguing titles. All who heard Frank Boreham knew full well that, however far away on the circumference he began, he always came to the very heart of the gospel. The letter hurt him and I advised he consign it to the waste-paper basket and forget it. ‘I have already answered it,’ he said. ‘I wrote and told her that I appreciated her concern for the preaching of Christ’s Gospel and asked her to pray for me that I may be a faithful minister of the Word.'” Every minister needs some of that spirit.
Although he lived a busy life, Boreham was always in control of his schedule and nothing stood in the way of him spending each and every morning in writing and study. His preaching and his writing were closely linked but his books are not necessarily collections of sermons. Once he was asked which he liked better: to write or to preach? He answered without hesitation that preaching and pastoring held the upper hand. He went on to add, “Of course, it is like asking a man which of his two children he loves best! I glory in my pulpit–the greatest moments of my life have been spent there–but I am scarcely less fond of my pen. I do not like to choose between them. I want to be a preacher and a scribbler to the end of the chapter.” There is much wisdom and insight to be gained for every minister as the reader meets Pastor John Broadbanks of Silverstream, surely one of the choicest ministers who ever lived. He and Boreham were inseparably linked in life; you will delight in learning about John. His knowledge, expertise, and sagacity will be a boon for every minister struggling with the daily challenges presented by both the ministry and people.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Boreham shares with preachers is his ability of story-telling. For those of us who stand in the pulpit on a weekly basis, we know the necessity of being able to communicate interesting stories. Boreham excelled at this. Reading his works and catching the spirit of the man will benefit every preacher. Boreham’s use of the language excels most of what is available to the general reader today. You will gain a deeper appreciation for the turn and twist of a phrase, the use of a properly presented adjective, and the spiritual truths that spring from the paragraphs near the close of a chapter. Heed Dr. Warren Wiersbe’s advice: “If at first Boreham does not excite you, give him time. He grows on you. He has a way of touching the nerve centers of life and getting to that level of reality that too often we miss. Some may consider him sentimental; others may feel he is a relic from a vanished era. They are welcome to their opinions. But before you pass judgment, read him for yourself and read enough to give him a fair trial.”
Boreham preached in numerous pulpits, to a variety of crowds, over the course of six decades. Nuggets for the preacher are buried just below surface level throughout his writings. One fine day, while on a bush walk in New Zealand with a very eminent preacher, young Boreham was asking advice from the seasoned preacher regarding the art and calling of preaching. His walking partner turned to him, looked him squarely in the eye, and remarked, “Keep up your surprise power, my dear fellow; the pulpit must never, never lose its power of startling people!” Let’s have Boreham mine the ore and extract the gold: “Is it enough for a preacher to preach the truth? In a place where I was quite unknown, I turned into a church one day and enjoyed the rare luxury of hearing another man preach. But, much as I appreciated the experience, I found, when I came out, that the preacher had started a rather curious line of thought. He was a very gracious man; it was a genuine pleasure to have seen and heard him. And yet there seemed to be a something lacking. The sermon was absolutely without surprise. Every sentence was splendidly true, and yet not a single sentence startled me. There was no sting in it. I seem to have heard it all over and over and over again; I could even see what was coming. Surely it is the preacher’s duty to give the truth such a setting, and present it in such a way that the oldest truths will appear newer than the latest sensations. He must arouse me from my torpor; he must compel me to open my eyes and pull myself together; he must make me sit up and think. ‘Keep your surprise power, my dear fellow,’ said my companion that evening in the bush, speaking out of his long and rich experience. ‘The pulpit,’ he said, ‘must never, never lose its power of startling people!’ The preacher, that is to say, must keep up his stock of explosives. The Bishop of London declared the other day that the Church is suffering from too much ‘dearly beloved brethren.’ She would be better judiciously to mix it with a few bombshells.”
In his essay entitled, Wheels Within Wheels, from his book, Cliffs of Opal, Boreham writes to a young man, the son of a ministerial colleague. The young minister had just been ordained and the reader senses a veteran Paul addressing a greenhorn Timothy. Boreham tells our young friend that preaching has “three distinct values.” Preaching, he says, should have an entertainment value. This is not to be confused with what comes through our television cable boxes that some call entertainment. Preaching should be of entertainment value in the regard that the preacher should, “at every art of his command…capture and hold the attention of his hearers. It is not enough that [the preacher] should say what it is his duty to say in the first words that happen to come. He must arrange his matter so attractively , and present it so effectively, that the most listless and languid will be compelled to follow him. There is no earthly reason why actors, [lawyers]
or statesmen should state their cases more attractively, more convincingly, or, if you like, more entertainingly, than the preacher. The art of preaching…is the art of compelling the congregation to listen to your message; and you can only be sure that they will listen if you make it worth their while to listen. The Master preachers – Jesus, Paul, Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Moody and the rest – knew that they had something to say that was well worth saying.” With a rather unique analogy, Boreham continues, “You will never attract or arrest your hearers by an elaborate display of theology. The prominence of theology in a sermon suggests a slipshod preparation. Theology is what ladies call a foundational garment: it imparts shapeliness and affords support to the drapery of your utterance without itself becoming visible. It is very noticeable that Jesus Himself seldom or never became theological.” Preaching should have an entertainment value and therefore, force the listener to pay attention. Boreham also believed that preaching should have an educational value. It “fill[s] the hearts of people, with thoughts and emotions that were startlingly and sensationally new to them. And, as an inevitable climax, [preaching] has evangelistic value.” In everything the preacher does – from prayer to preparation to delivery – “it [leads] his hearers to the feet of God.”
This brings to mind a story Boreham shared. A minister was leaving his church for another charge, when a church member approached him at a farewell reception and said, “Sir, I am sorry to see you go. I never had but one objection to you; your preaching was always too horizontal!” Boreham ties in this parishioner’s brutal honesty with the words of Henry Jowett: “We must preach more upon the great texts of the Scriptures; we must preach on those tremendous passages whose vastnesses almost terrify us as we approach them!” If you are looking for unexcelled conversion testimonies, his Great Texts series is a necessity. Some of the best devotional thoughts penned anywhere can be found in The Tide Comes In. Boreham delves into the Beatitudes in The Heavenly Octave and sheds light upon Luke 15 in The Prodigal. Mrs. Ruth Graham Bell was influenced by The Prodigal and includes a wonderful Boreham story of Dostoyevsky’s death-bed scene in her book, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them.
Finally, in one of his rarest and earliest writings, Whisper of God, Boreham reminds the preacher that he must have a vision of Deity before he steps into the pulpit. Preaching must flow from the wellspring that has as its source a personal relationship with Almighty God. Says Boreham, “A man who has no personal experience of the presence and power of God cannot possibly impress others with the august and intense reality of things eternal.” He reminds us of how this truth permeated the thoughts of our preaching forefathers. Boreham shares the words from the journal of an old Puritan divine: “‘Resolved that, when I address a large meeting, I shall remember that God is there, and that will make it small. Resolved that, when I address a small meeting, I shall remember that God is there, and that will make it great.’ It is said that, when Chrysostom was composing his sermons, he was wont to fancy that the communion rails around the pulpit were crowded with listening angels. It was splendid inspiration. But the truth is greater still. Dr. Gordon dreamed that, when he preached, the Christ sat in the pew. It is verily so. The preacher needs a vision of Deity as will fill his whole horizon with the grandeur of the Divine, and assure him, in the hours of loneliness and listlessness, of the stupendous fact that God is his witness and Co-worker.”
Where do you begin? Just like the rest of us who love Boreham’s writings–on your hands and knees scouring second-hand book shops. Be warned! His books are not easy finds, but when one is discovered, the recipient is awash with a sense of instant gratification and accomplishment of a job well done. Those of us in the ministry need that from time to time! Then the reward: relax in a comfortable chair, pour a cup of coffee, (Boreham would prefer that you imbibe with a cup of tea), and settle back. Happy hunting!
Rev. Jeffrey S. Cranston Is Senior Pastor of the Church at Hilton Head, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA.
Benson, Irving C. “Dr. Frank W. Boreham–The Man and the Writer.” In The Last Milestone, F.W. Boreham, London: The Epworth Press, 1961.
Boreham, Frank W., Jr. Personal correspondence with the author, 01 February 1997.
Boreham, F.W. Cliffs of Opal. Wheels Within Wheels. London: The Epworth Press, 1940.
________. Cliffs of Opal. So This is Moody!. London: The Epworth Press, 1940.
________. Faces In the Fire. The Baby Among the Bombshells. London: The Epworth Press, 1941.
________. My Pilgrimage. London: The Epworth Press, 1940.
________. A Temple of Topaz. London: The Epworth Press, 1928.
________. Whisper of God. The Seer. London: Arthur H. Stockwell, 1902.
Crago, Rev. T. Howard. “Tribute to Dr. F.W. Boreham.” The Australian Baptist, May 27, 1959.
The Australian Baptist. “Death of Dr. F.W. Boreham”, May 27, 1959.
The Victorian Baptist Witness. “New Mission Centre is Dedicated”. July 1995, p. 3.
…next page ________. Scholarships and New Courses. December 1996, p. 14.
Wiersbe, Warren. Walking With the Giants. Chicago: Moody Press.