Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, June 16, 2007

F W Boreham: A Story About Marjorie

This is a further addition to the short series of postings on this site on the saints of the Christian faith. This is another essay on a person who is not commonly known as it is the story of someone that FWB met in the course of his ministry. Essays like this give a revealing glimpse into Boreham’s pastoral ministry. They highlight the way his pastoral work enriched his preaching and writing ministry.

There are some sentences in this article that underscore that pastoral visitation is not one way—a wise pastor bestowing insights and encouragement to those young in the faith. Underline this wonderful sentence:

“I set out the very next day, little dreaming that so very ordinary a mission was destined to bring into my life so wealthy an enrichment. Very abruptly sometimes life's casual ministries unlock for us the gates of gold. We turn a bend in a dusty road, and catch a glimpse of Paradise. We reach unexpectedly the brow of a hill, and obtain a vision of infinity. So was it with me that day.”

MARJORIE is ninety-two, although you would never suspect it. Her hair is as black as it was when, more than seventy years ago, her tall young lover first stroked it. Marjorie is English—as English as English can be. The fact stares you in the face as soon as you put your hand to the latch of her gate. For the little front garden is the condensed essence of England. It is as English as the garden of a Kentish cottage. You inhale the scent-laden English air as you walk down the path to Marjorie's door. You drink in the fragrance of the roses and the wallflowers, the sweet-peas and the jasmine, the carnations and the gillyflowers, the musk and mignonette; and then, as you pause for a moment in the porch, awaiting the opening of the door, the soft petals of the honeysuckle brush against your face. They must all be flowers of rich perfume to be of any use to Marjorie now, for Marjorie is blind. I had been in conversation with her for some time before I realized that the eyes that seemed to look so wistfully into mine were unable to convey any impression to her alert and hungry mind. Her sightless eyes and the slight stoop at the shoulders are the only indications that she gives you of her heavy burden of years. She cannot see the pictures on the wall, representing the scenes of her childhood—the village street with its comfortable inn and its odd medley of stores; the thickly wooded lane in which she so often found nuts and blackberries; the (folds of golden buttercups; and the village green with its rustic seats and shady grove of oaks. She cannot see these pictures now; but she says that the scenes all come back to her, as clearly as if she had visited them yesterday, when she sits out in the porch, luxuriating in the fragrance of the flowers, listening to the droning of the bees, and enjoying the song of the thrush who sings to her from his perch in the lilac by the side of the house.

Even if I, like Marjorie, live to be ninety-two, I shall never forget that first visit that I paid her. It came about very simply. `I wish,' said a gentleman, as he left the service on Sunday morning, `I wish you could find time to call on my old mother. She would appreciate it.' He gave me the address, and I set out the very next day, little dreaming that so very ordinary a mission was destined to bring into my life so wealthy an enrichment. Very abruptly sometimes life's casual ministries unlock for us the gates of gold. We turn a bend in a dusty road, and catch a glimpse of Paradise. We reach unexpectedly the brow of a hill, and obtain a vision of infinity. So was it with me that day.

As I sat in the cosy little parlour awaiting the old lady's entrance, I expected that I should have to make the conversation, and I wondered how I could best secure that it should serve some profitable end. I smile now at the ignorance that led me into such a line of cogitation. I had not then met Marjorie. When she entered the room, the conversation made itself. I had simply nothing to do with it. I came to minister; but I found myself being ministered to.

Not for a moment do I suggest that Marjorie was what Bunyan would call a brisk talker on matters of religion. She was far too reverent and far too modest for that. I mean rather that she had something really great to say, and she said it really greatly. Hers was the grand style, glorified by transparent sincerity. Her speech was dignified and stately, whilst her voice was tremulous with deep emotion. There was a majesty about her very diction. She employed phrases that are never now heard, and that are only to be found in the mellow pages of a school that is never now read. Outside a second-hand bookshop you may often see a box into which the desperate dealer has thrown all his rubbish, offering it to an unappreciative public at a nominal price of a penny a volume. To turn over this ill-assorted collection of literary flotsam and jetsam is as interesting and pathetic as to wander through the casual ward of a workhouse. No two cases are alike, yet all have come to this! Here in the box is a Spanish grammar, badly torn; there, too, is the second part of a three-volume novel. Like Euclid's ideal circle, it is without beginning and without ending. Yonder is the guide-book to a long-forgotten exhibition. Such a higgledy-piggledy box! But if you delve a little more deeply, you will be sure to come upon some old volumes of eighteenth-century sermons. The leather backs are badly broken, and the leaves are yellow with age. But if you will sacrifice the necessary penny and go to the trouble of carrying one of these old volumes home, you will find the very vocabulary to which I listened as I sat that day in Marjorie's pretty little parlour. Yet, as this dead language fell from Marjorie's lips, it came to life again! It was full of energy and vigour; it was instinct with spiritual significance and with holy passion. It throbbed and quivered and glowed and flashed. It was as if some ancestral castle that had stood deserted and gloomy for a century had been suddenly inhabited, and was now ablaze with light and vibrant with shouts and laughter. The antique phrases simply sparkled with vitality as they tripped from her tongue. It was, as I say, a great story greatly told. Marjorie had been buffeted in a long, stern struggle; she had known heart-break and agony and tears yet her memory remained at ninety-two absolutely unclouded, and her lip retained its power of forceful utterance. And sitting there in her cosy parlour, whilst the breath of the garden came pouring in through the open window, did Marjorie unfold to me the treasures of her rich experience.

`Ah, yes,' she replied, with a smile, when I made some reference to the remarkable length of her pilgrimage, 'I was only a girl when I entered into the sweetness of religion.' The phrase, illumined by that bright though sightless smile, and interpreted by accents so full of feeling, fastened upon my memory at once. 'The sweetness of religion.' 'I was only a girl when entered into the sweetness of religion!’ And then she went on to tell me of the rapture of her first faith. Seventy-five years earlier, religion had come into her life like a great burst of song. Amidst the sunshine of an English summer-time, whilst the fields were redolent of clover and of new-mown hay, her girlish soul had sought and found the Saviour. Instantly the whole world had stood transfigured. Her tongue seemed to catch fire as she told me of the radiant experiences, of those never-to-be-forgotten days. I saw, as I listened, that the soul has a rhetoric of its own, an eloquence with which no acquired oratory can compare. She told of the joy that she found in her own secret communion with the Lord, sometimes in the quietude of her little room—the room with the projecting lattice window from which she loved to watch the mists rising from the hollow as the sun came up over the hills; sometimes down among the alders along the banks of the stream, sitting so still that the rabbits would scurry up and down the green banks without taking the slightest notice of her; sometimes in long delicious rambles across the open park, rambles in which she was only disturbed by the swish of a frightened pheasant or the tramp of fallow deer; and sometimes amidst the leafy seclusion of the primrosed woods. And often, at sunset, when Dapple and Brownie had been milked, and the tea-things put away, she would take her knitting and saunter down the dusty old road. And as, one by one, the stars peeped out, and the nightingale called from the woods in the valley, and glowworms shone in the grass under the hedge, and a bat flapped and fluttered in its queer flight round her head, it seemed as though the miracle of Emmaus were repeated, and Jesus came and walked with her.

She spoke of the wonders that, under such conditions, broke upon her spirit like a light from heaven. Her Bible became a new book to her; and an unspeakable glory fell upon the village sanctuary, the dearest spot on earth to her in those days of long ago. A wave of happy recollection swept over her as she told of the walks along the lanes and across the fields, in the company of a group of kindred spirits, to attend those simple but memorable services. The path led through a tossing sea of harebells and cowslips; the lane was redolent of hawthorn and sweet-brier. As they made their way to the church that peeped shyly through the foliage of the clump of elms on the hill, the solemn monotone of its insistent bell mingled with the chatter of the finches in the hedges and the blither note of the lark high tip in the blue. Marjorie's blind eyes almost shone as she recalled, and, with glowing tongue, recounted, all these precious and beautiful memories. 'I was only a girl,' she said, `when I entered into the sweetness of religion!'
`But,' I interjected, 'you speak of the sweetness of religion as though it were a thing of long ago. Do you mean that it became exhausted? Did that happy phase of your Christian experience fade away?'
A cloud passed over her face like the shadow that, on a summer's afternoon, will sometimes float over the corn.
`Oh, well, you know,' she replied, after a thoughtful pause, 'the tone of one's life changes with the years. I left my girlhood behind me. I married; children came to our home in quick succession; life became a battle rather than a frolic; and sometimes the struggle was almost grim. Then troubles fell thick and fast upon me. In one dreadful week I buried two of my boys, one on the Tuesday and the other on the Friday. Then, last of all, my husband, the soul of my soul, the best man I have ever known, was snatched rudely from my side.'
Marjorie hid her face for a moment in her hands. At last my impatience compelled me to break the silence.
'And do you mean,' I inquired, 'do you mean that, under the stress of all this sorrow, you lost the sweetness of religion?'
'Well,' she replied thoughtfully, 'under such conditions you would scarcely speak of sweetness. I would rather say that, during those sterner years, I entered into the power of religion.'
A ring, almost of triumph, came into her voice.
'Yes,' she said, 'in those years I entered into the power of religion. Only once did my faith really stagger. It was on the night of that second funeral—that second funeral within a single week! I was kneeling in my own room on the spot on which I had knelt, morning and evening, through all the years. But I could not pray. I felt that God had failed and forsaken me. My shrine was empty, and I burst into tears. And then, all at once, a Hand seemed laid gently upon my shoulder and a Voice sounded in my car. "Am I a man that I should lie?" it said. I was startled. I felt chastened and rebuked. I had treated Him as though He were no wiser than I, and as though He had broken His Word. Then, through my tears, I prayed as I had never been able to pray before. A great peace soothed my broken spirit. I was ashamed of my distrust. It was the only time my faith had wavered. No; I should not speak of s sweetness as I recall those years of bitter sorrow and sore struggle. In those days I entered into the power of religion!'

`But now look, Marjorie,' I pleaded 'You tell me that, as a girl, you entered into the sweetness of religion, and that, in the graver years that followed, you entered into the power of religion. But your girlhood and your struggle have both passed now, and here you are in this quiet little cottage looking back across the intervening years at those far-away periods. Would you say that you now enjoy the sweetness or the power?'
Her face shone; it was almost seraphic. Her whole being became suddenly animated and luminous. She reached out her hands towards me as though she held something in each of them.
‘I have them both!' she cried in a perfect transport of delight. 'I have them both! The sweetness that I knew in my English girlhood has come back to me in the days of my old age; and the power that came to me in the years of trial and loss has never since forsaken me. I have them both; oh, bless His holy Name, I have them both!'

It was too much for her. Overcome by the rush of recollection and the tempest of exultant emotion, she sank back in her chair and lapsed into silence.

`Why, Marjorie,' I said, 'you have given me the very thing I wanted. As I walked along the road I was wondering what I should preach about on Sunday. But I know now. I shall preach on those words from the swan-song of Moses in which the old leader, in laying down his charge, bears grateful witness to God's goodness to Israel. "He made him," he says, "to suck honey out of the rock." I was reading in a book of travel only yesterday that in the Orient the wild bees store their honey in the crevices among the cliffs, and on a hot day you may see it trickling down the face of the granite in shining streams of sweetness! As a girl, you say, you entered into the sweetness of religion. As a girl, girl-like, you gave little thought to the rock itself, but you loved to taste the sweetness of the honey. You entered into the sweetness of religion! But, as a woman, in the turmoil and tussle of life, buffeted and storm-beaten, you forgot the honey that oozed from the cracks and fissures, and were glad to feel the massive strength of the rock itself beneath your feet. You entered into the power of religion! And now, the fury of the storm all overpast, you tell me that you still rest upon the great rock, rejoicing in its firmness; and, as in your earlier days, you once more enjoy the honey that exudes from its recesses. You enjoy both the strength and the sweetness; you have them both!" With honey out of the rock, have I satisfied you!" I shall certainly preach on that text on Sunday!’
And I did.

F W Boreham, ‘Marjorie’, The Uppermost Star (London: The Epworth Press, 1919), 38-48.

Image: “You drink in the fragrance of the … sweet-peas.”