Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Boreham on Seeing the World in a Grain of Sand

This is the third of three postings by David Enticott who has been studying the early influences on the developing preaching style of F W Boreham:

The second and more pervasive impact of nature on his preaching was that it taught him to be curious. Boreham valued the instinct of curiosity highly.[1] It was to become an invaluable tool both for the preparation and content of many sermons. He was able to gain spiritual merit or value from a simple phrase or word. His sermons sought to probe the hidden depths of spiritual matters.

Therefore, more than providing illustrations, the natural world gave Boreham a curious spirit. It was detailed and contained surprises that could be unravelled. For Boreham the scriptures held a similar kind of detail. He was able to take, and sometimes even twist, a single phrase or sentence from a text into several different places and meanings. He had a photographer’s eye for minutia, for hidden shapes and colours. Of course sometimes this would not exactly accord with what the text itself was saying. For example on the 10th of December 1893 he preached a sermon at Theydon Bois[2], which was based on a simple sentence of scripture: “Beware! Lest thou forget the Lord” (Deut. 6:12). From these six words he constructed five points: “to forget God: is to miss the chief object of life, is Satan’s most subtle temptation, is to abandon hope, is to forget all that’s worth remembering, is impossible.”[3] One sentence had been not only expounded, but expanded as well, to cover a variety of topics. It had unfolded and opened up, like many things in nature.

It was only in his later years that Boreham allowed this sense of curiosity to spread from himself to his congregation. Perhaps part of the reason for his initial reluctance to feed the theme of creation into his sermons, was that Boreham believed at this stage of his ministry that nature was restricted in terms of revealing God. He said that it was “the shell and not the kernel, …the part and not the whole.”[4] It could not meet the deepest needs of a person’s soul.[5] Boreham’s earliest sermons allowed little room for the imagination. They were more often direct appeals for holy living or conversion. It was only in his later years that his messages were seasoned with truths from God’s creation when he came to view the natural world as being a place of revelation.

With time Boreham learnt to flavour his sermons with metaphors that granted room for different interpretations. [6] Nature assumed a leading role. He let the natural world speak for itself and for God. In his copy of his book Mushrooms on the Moor, Boreham wrote in his own handwriting a poem from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence that argues for the sufficiency of nature as God’s spokesperson:

“To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower,
infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.”[7]

David Enticott

Image: Grains of Sand

[1] Boreham commented that “the world owes more than it can ever acknowledge to the instinct of curiosity, and so do I.” In: F.W.Boreham, The Home of the Echoes (London: The Epworth Press, 1921), 25.
[2] F.W.Boreham, “Beware! Lest thou forget the Lord.” Sermon, Theydon Bois, United Kingdom, 10 December, Preacher’s handwritten sermon manuscript.
[3] ibid.
[4] F.W.Boreham, The Baptist Pulpit XXIV. The Whisper of God (London: Arthur H.Stockwell, 1902), 10
[5] F.W.Boreham, The Golden Milestone and Other Bric A Brac (London: Charles H.Kelly, 1915), 121-5. Here he wrote that while “nature is very, very beautiful”, “there are things for which my soul is aching, but which neither bush nor beach can give me.” “I need a Saviour.”
[6] One of Boreham’s models for preaching, F.B.Meyer wrote in the introduction to F.W.Boreham’s first book that “nature is full of analogies to deep spiritual truth, though it needs the purged eye to behold them.” In: F.W.Boreham, Won to Glory: A Review of the 24th Chapter of Genesis (London: Marshall Brothers, 1891), introduction.
[7] This handwritten note is contained on the inside cover of Boreham’s own copy of his book Mushrooms on the Moor. In: F.W.Boreham, Mushrooms on the Moor (London: Charles H.Kelly, 1915). Copy held in the F.W.Boreham Collection in the Whitley Library, Royal Parade, Parkville.