Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Boreham on The Powder Magazine

I have a special fondness for explosive people. I can never persuade myself that dynamite got into the world by accident. I intolerantly scout the theory that the devil built all the volcanoes, and that his minions feed their furious fires. I have admired an indescribable grandeur in the hurricane. I have felt the cyclone to be splendid, and the tornado to be next door to sublimity. Even the earthquake has a glory of its own. And how a thunderstorm clears the air! How deliciously sweet my garden smells when the riven clouds have passed, and the glittering drops are still clinging like pendant gems to the drooping petals and the bright green leaves! And, in the same way, I have discovered something terribly sublime in those stormy elements that sweep the realm within.

There was a time when my eyes were closed to this side of the glory of God's world. I used to think it a dreadful thing for Paul to be cross with Barnabas. I thought it shocking if Barnabas spoke sharply to Paul. For Barnabas was `a good man and full of the Holy Ghost.' And Paul was `a good man and full of the Holy Ghost.' And I thought that so lovely and tranquil a little world had no room for dynamite. Till, one day, a thing happened that made me feel as though a volcano had burst into eruption at my feet! I was thunderstruck! The circumstances are briefly told. Paul and Barnabas had just completed one adventurous, triumphant, and historic campaign together. Together they had crossed the tumbling seas in crazy little vessels that would scarcely now be permitted to cruise about a river. Together they had trudged, singing as they went, along the lonely forest trail through the lowlands of Pamphylia. Together they had climbed the great pass over the mountains of Pisidia. Together they had felt the exhilaration of the heights as they surveyed, shading their eyes with their hands, the lands that they had come to conquer. Together, at the risk of their lives, they had forded streams in full tumultuous flood; together they had known hunger and thirst; together they had shared unspeakable hardships; together they had faced the most terrible privations. Together they had been deified one day, and together they had been stoned the next. Together they had made known the love of Christ in the great capitals; together they had rejoiced over their converts; and then, together, they had made that never-to-be-forgotten return journey. I have often tried to imagine their emotions, as, on the homeward way, they came in sight of one city after another that they had visited in coming. In coming, those cities were heathen capitals and nothing more. In returning, there were churches there and fond familiar faces! And what meetings those must have been in each city when the members again welcomed Paul and Barnabas; when the two scarred heroes told the thrilling tale of their experiences elsewhere; and when, in each church, ministers and officers were appointed! And, leaving a chain of thoroughly organized churches behind them across the land, as a ship leaves her foaming wake across the waters, the two valiant and dauntless companions returned home. How all this had welded these two noble souls together! They are knit, each to each, like the souls of David and Jonathan.

And now a second campaign is suggested. Barnabas proposes that they should take with them Mark. Mark, who was the nephew of Barnabas had started with them on their former journey; but, at the first brush of persecution, he had hastily scampered home. Paul instantly vetoes the proposal. He will not hear of it. He will not have a coward at any price. His soul loathes a traitor. Barnabas insists, but Paul remains adamant. `And the contention was so sharp between them that they departed asunder the one from the other,' and, probably, never met again. If I had not been actually present and witnessed this amazing explosion with my own eyes, I fancy my faith would have staggered. As it is, the surprising spectacle only taught me that God has left room for dynamite in a world like this; and, much as I admired both Paul and Barnabas before the outburst, I loved them still more when the storm was overpast.

I have said that I saw this astonishing outburst with my own eyes. That is so, or at least so I fancied. For it seemed to me that I was honoured with a seat on a committee of which both Paul and Barnabas were valued and revered members. We all loved them, and treasured every gracious word that fell from their lips. For `Barnabas was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost.' And 'Paul was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost.' Now Mark had applied to the committee for engagement as a missionary. And Barnabas rose to move his appointment. I shall never forget the charm and grace with which he did it. I could see at a glance that the good man was speaking under deep feeling. His voice reflected his strong emotion. He reminded us that Mark was his relative, and he felt a certain heavy responsibility for his nephew's spiritual well-being. He trembled, he said, lest he should be condemned as one who risked his life for the heathen over the seas, but who displayed no serious solicitude concerning his own kith and kin. He had wept in secret over his young kinsman's former treachery. But it had made him the more eager to win his soul in spite of everything. He was alarmed lest the rejection of his relative should lead to his utter humiliation, total exclusion, and final loss. He admitted with shame and grief all that could be alleged against him. He had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. He had turned his back in the hour of peril. But what of that? Had we not all our faults and failures? I remember that, as he said this, Barnabas glanced round the council-table, and looked inquiringly into each face. There was moisture in his own bright eyes, and each man hung his head beneath that searching glance.

And then, he went on, surely there was something admirable in Mark's original venture. He had nothing to gain by going. It was his enthusiasm for the cause of Christ that prompted him to go. It proved that his heart was in the right place. And the very fact that he was anxious to set out again, with a full knowledge of the perils before him, proved indisputably that he had sincerely repented of his earlier unfaithfulness, and was eager for an opportunity of redeeming his name from contempt. How could we ourselves hope for forgiveness unless we were prepared to show mercy in a case like this? Once more those searchlights swept the faces round the table. And then, with wonderful tenderness, Barnabas reminded us of the bruised reed that must not be broken and of the smoking flax that must not be quenched. And, in the name of Him who, after His resurrection, found a special place for Peter, the disciple who had thrice denied his Lord, Barnabas implored us to favour his nephew's application. There was a hush in the room when the gracious speech was finished. We all felt that Barnabas was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost.

Then Paul rose. One could see at a glance that his whole soul rebelled against having to oppose the partner of so many providential escapes, the comrade of so many gallant fights. The affection of these two for each other was very beautiful. Paul admitted frankly that he had been deeply touched by the gracious words that had fallen from the lips of Barnabas. His heart leaped up to greet every one of those appeals. Each argument met with its echo and response in every fibre of his being. For old friendship's sake he would dearly like to accede to the request of Barnabas. Was it not through the influence of Barnabas, and in face of strong opposition, that he himself was admitted to the sacred service? And because Mark was his old friend's nephew he would especially wish to entertain the proposal. But we were gathered together, he reminded us, in the sacred interests of the kingdom of Christ. And for the sake of the honour of that kingdom we must be prepared to set aside considerations of friendship, and even to ignore the tender claims of kinship. The friendship of Barnabas was one of earth's most precious treasures; but he could not allow even that to influence him in a matter in which he felt that the integrity of the cause of Christ was at stake. The relatives of Barnabas were as dear to him as his own kith and kin; but there were higher considerations than domestic considerations. Mark had once—perhaps twice—proved himself unequal to the claims of this perilous undertaking. He might render excellent and valuable service in some other capacity. But for this particular enterprise, which required, as well as a warm heart, a cool head and a steady nerve, Mark was clearly unfitted. He became terror-stricken in the hour of danger. They could not afford to run such risks. A defection in their own party gave the enemy cause to blaspheme. It exposed them to ridicule and contempt. The heathen cried out that these men were prepared to follow Christ so long as Christ never went near a cross. The Jews, who had themselves suffered for their faith, laughed at a new doctrine from which its very teachers might be scared and intimidated. And the young converts would find it immensely more difficult to endure persecution for the gospel's sake if they beheld one of the missionaries turn his back in the hour of peril. He had long ago forgiven Mark, he said, for his former failure. Indeed, he scarcely recognized any need for forgiveness. He felt sorry for his young friend at the time, and he felt sorry for him still. Mark was a gentle spirit, not made for riots and tumults; and, in the shock of opposition, he was easily frightened. His love for Christ, and his zeal for service, were very admirable; and they all loved him for his simplicity and sincerity and enthusiasm. But, knowing his peculiar frailty, they must not expose either him or the cause to needless risk. The welfare of Mark, and the reputation of the Cross, were very dear to him; and he would on no account whatever agree to submit the delicate soul of Mark to a strain that it had already proved itself unable to bear, or the gospel to an unnecessary risk of being brought into disfavour and contempt. He implored the committee to deal wisely and considerately with the subtle and delicate and complex character of his young friend, and to prize above everything else the honour of the gospel. Personally he was quite determined that it would be a wicked and unjust and unkind thing to expose the soul of Mark to such imminent peril, and the Cross of Christ to such grave risk of further scandal. He would on no account take Mark. The speech was so tempered with tenderness, as well as with firmness and wisdom, that it created a profound impression. We all felt that Paul was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost.

Neither would yield. How could they? Each had heard a voice that was higher and more imperative than the voice of sentiment or of friendship. It is ridiculous to say that they should have `made it up' for old sake's sake, or for the gospel's sake, or for any other sake. Barnabas believed, in the very soul of him, that it would be wrong to leave Mark behind. And Paul believed, in the very soul of him, that it would be wrong to take Mark with them. You cannot bridge a gulf like that. Each tried to convince the other. The contention became sharp but futile. And they parted. And I, for one, honour them. They could not, as `good men and full of the Holy Ghost,' have done anything else. I do not pretend to understand why God has made room in the world for earthquakes and volcanoes. I see them tear up the valleys and hurl down the mountains; and I stand bewildered and astonished. But there they are! I do not pretend to understand these other explosive forces. But there they are! And I, for one, love both Paul and Barnabas the more that they will neither of them sacrifice, even for friendship's sweet sake, the interests of the cause of Christ.

In my New Zealand days I knew two men, almost aged. I have told the story in detail in Mushrooms on the Moor. These two men had been bosom friends. Time after time, year after year, they had walked up to the house of God in company. In the days of grey hairs they came to differ on important religious questions, and could no longer conscientiously worship beneath the same roof. They met; they tried to discuss the debatable doctrine; but their hearts were too full. Side by side they walked for miles along lonely roads on a clear, frosty, moonlight night, in the hope that presently a discussion would be possible. I walked in reverent silence some distance ahead of them. But speech never came. Grief had completely paralysed the vocal powers, and the eyes were streaming with another eloquence. They wrung each other's hands at length, and parted without even a `Good-night.' They still differ; they still occasionally meet; they still love. They even admire each other for being willing to sacrifice old fellowship for conscience sake. There is something here with which the more flippant advocates of church union do not reckon. Paul and Barnabas are good men, both of them, and full of the Holy Ghost. But they cannot agree. Face to face, the contention becomes very sharp. They wisely part. As I say, I do not pretend to understand why God left so many explosive forces lying about His world; but there they are!

It all turned out wonderfully well, as it was bound to do. Barnabas, whatever became of him, made a hero of Mark. He became perfectly lion-hearted. `Bring Mark with thee,' wrote Paul to Timothy, when he himself was awaiting his martyr-death at Rome. 'Bring Mark with thee, for he is profitable to me for my ministry.' And I like to think that when Peter felt that the time had come to put on permanent record the holy memories of earlier Galilean days, he employed Mark to pen the precious pamphlet for him. Peter and Mark understood each other. And as they worked together on that second `gospel,' they had many a tearful talk of the way in which, long before, they had each played the coward's part, and had each been greatly forgiven and graciously restored. To those of us who look up to Paul and Barnabas as to a terrific height above us, it is splendid to know that there is room for Peter and for Mark in the heart that loves and in the service that ennobles.

F W Boreham, ‘The Powder Magazine’, The Other Side of the Hill (London: Charles H Kelly, 1917), 253-264.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “I can never persuade myself that dynamite got into the world by accident.”