In 1883 Harold Schofield, a missionary doctor in China, surveyed the needs of his field and prayed in faith “that God would waken the church to China’s claims, that He would raise up men to preach His word. Above all that He would touch the universities and call men of talent and ability and consecrate them to His work in China. It seemed a prayer absurd enough except to faith” (p. 42). He did know know that God had begun answering his prayer “even while he was yet speaking,” and he didn’t live to see the answer: like those saints in Hebrews 11, he died not having yet received the promises, but God used him in faith and prayer.
This book details the answer to that prayer. The subtitle of The Cambridge Seven by John Pollock is “The True Story of Ordinary Men Used in No Ordinary Way,” an apt title.
A fairly short book at only 111 pages, it details the Lord’s leading in the lives of seven young men from their conversions to their departure for China with a brief synopsis at the end about what happened to each of them. C.T. Studd, M. Beauchamp, S.P. Smith, A.T. Polhill-Turner, D.E. Hoste, C.H. Polhill-Turner, W.W. Cassels were all Cambridge students who felt called to offer their lives as missionaries to China. They were from different backgrounds: some were wealthy, some were in the military, some were collegiate athletes — one of them a household name in his day; some were more “ordinary.” They were of varying abilities and gifts. Yet as God called them one by one, and it became known, and they shared their testimonies of salvation and surrender over England and Scotland, God used them in a remarkable way before they ever even got to China.
For many of them, the first stirrings toward faith in Christ came when D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey held meetings in England. Some of “their friends thought it a great joke that two uneducated Americans should be coming to preach to the University” (p. 29). But the Holy Spirit worked through His servant and His Word to convict their hearts and bring them to Himself. Others came from Christian families yet were only nominal believers until the Lord began to draw them to a closer fellowship and surrender to Himself.
Some of their families supported them: others strongly resisted the idea of their sons going to a foreign mission field, at least at first.
I appreciated the caution and care with which they approached their call. As D. E. Hoste “began to feel the urge to devote himself to the gospel. Nothing else seemed worthy,” his father “refused. He pointed out how recent was Dick’s faith, and reminded him that, though nothing could break its reality, the intensity of his emotions might be transient. To rush, on impulse, to such a binding decision would be foolishly wrong and might afterwards be regretted” (p. 43). C. T. Studd was listening to an address about the needs of China and “thought for a moment of rising in his place and offering for China on the spot. But he felt ‘people would say I was led by impulse.’ When the meeting ended he slipped away by himself and prayed for guidance” (pp. 69-70). I wince sometimes in our modern-day meetings when a speaker seems to feel he has to compel people down the aisle or else they’ll miss the will of God for their lives forever afterward. That may be true in some cases — there are moments of crisis when we need to make a decision for the Lord without hesitation. But as a general rule I’d rather people take time to pray and make sure their call is really of God than to respond to man-made pressure mistaken for the Holy Spirit’s.
China was not an easy field to go to then, if indeed it ever was. Some of these men were laying aside personal wealth and the possibility of brilliant careers and social prominence. But as they shared their call, they did not do so with woebegone countenances. They did not make it seem like a sacrifice: they made it seem like a joyous privilege. Perhaps that contagious joy was one of the things that drew a number of people to give their all to the Lord in their wake. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission through which they would be working, even allowed them to wait past their appointed time of departure because they were being called to more meetings in the British Isles to speak: he recognized that God was doing something unusual through them.
C. T. Studd is perhaps the most well-known of the seven in our day. One of his most well-known quotes is at the end of this section:
I had known about Jesus Christ’s dying for me, but had never understood that if he died for me, then I didn’t belong to myself. Redemption means ‘buying back,’ so that if I belonged to Him, either I had to be a thief and keep what wasn’t mine or else I had to give up everything to God. When I came to see that Jesus Christ had died for me, it didn’t seem hard to give up all for HIM. It just seemed common, ordinary honesty.
(This review will be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)