My recent visit to Timor Leste is not my first overseas trip with a member of the Benn family. Fourteen years ago Shirley Benn led an OMF Mission Experience Tour, on which a much less mature and far more brash version of myself was sent. I continue to be thankful for her grace and patience on that trip, and trust whatever fruit is gained from the encouragement I can give to cross-cultural Gospel work is some compensation for her trials.
On that trip I encountered the idea of ‘story’. Accompanying our group along the way was a tote bag of books, generally missionary biographies. It was on the islands of Indonesia that I first encountered the stories of Isobel Kuhn, Pauline Hamilton and others. My concept of what God does through those who hand their lives over to Him was greatly expanded.
So, as I looked through Koorong in Melbourne the day before the trip I purchased a marked down copy of ‘The Cambridge Seven’ [Christian Focus, 2006 111pgs]. In this revised edition of his 1955 book of the same name John Pollock provides a sketch outline of what the cover terms ‘The True Story Of Ordinary Men Used In No Ordinary Way’.
The book is not a mystery, so it does no harm at all to explain the outline of the story. On February 5, 1885 seven young men left England to work as missionaries with the China Inland Mission. This in itself was still not commonplace, but the extraordinary aspect of these seven is that they were all graduates of Cambridge, all from priveleged backgrounds and each, by their choice walked away from lives of comfort and high society. These facts are no mystery, but the mystery the book seeks to explain is this: what influenced the cream of a generation to forsake all for China’s lost millions?

Pollock artfully weaves what could be a complex narrative, as these individual lives start to intersect and finally to bind together in purpose and plan.
Among the seven was the finest young cricketing all-rounder of his day, C.T. Studd; an elite rowing athlete, Stanley Smith; two military officers, D.E. Hostie and Cecil Polhill-Turner; and a Church of England Curate, W.W. Cassels. A religious newspaper report marveled: ‘When before were the stroke of a University eight, the captain of a University eleven, an officer of the Royal Artillery, an officer of the Dragoon Guards, seen standing side by side renouncing careers in which they had already gained no small distinction , putting aside the splendid prizes of earthly ambition… and plunging into that warfare whose splendours are seen only by faith and whose rewards seem so shadowy to the unopened vision of ordinary men?’ (pg 94)
Pollock’s work opens up the spiritual struggles and growth that brought these men to the point of departing England. Again and again we see that these are ordinary men, in the sense that their struggles were many and what made the difference was a growing dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and a complete realisation that their lives were His for the using.
There are fascinating insights into the growing influence of the Keswick Movement and the Christian expressions that would become the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The use of Scripture verses far removed from original context as being guiding words for personal direction is fascinating. Smith’s sense that he was not called to China because of one text is released by another Bible verse. (pg 56)
Their ongoing search for holiness, full consecration and spiritual power and vitality, lead in the direction of sinless perfection. (eg pgs 50-51)
Yet these observations should in no way give the impression that these men were subjectively driven or prey to their emotions or the manipulations of others. Hudson Taylor, among others, is shown to have acted with the highest of integrity, and others are eager to ensure that these decisions were not simply rash or spur of the moments flights of fancy. (eg pg 45)
In an age of ‘easy believism’, it is warming to watch their earnest struggle with salvation, assurance and holy living. Would that we mirrored their conscientous effort.
In warmly commending the book, some thoughts emerge:
The call of the Lord to go to the nations is still there today. Matthew 28 did not lose authority at the end of the nineteenth and twentieth century. There are still groups unreached into which pioneers must go to bring the Gospel.
But also, because of God’s grace, there are now more peoples and groups who have responsed to the Gospel; who need partnership and support in their witness. Is there enough imperative attached in our local churches to challenging people with concrete opportunities to partner or serve cross-culturally? It is one thing to talk about ‘mission’. It is another to put a face and a definite task to that talk. Hudson Taylor challenged England not to keep the Gospel to itself, but to share it with those who had noone to tell them. What definite cross-cultural partnership are the young people of your church growing up watching your church support? How else will they learn that cross-cultural work is just as central to our mission as local and regional Gospel work?
Many of our country towns, provincial cities and the outback are also increasingly bereft of Gospel witness. Christians are content to stick in groups in large cities. Their young follow their example.
The role which not only personal prayer, but the prayers of others played in the lives and decisions of these young men is prominent. Can we pray for our children, and the children of our church, in a way that will not manipulate their choice, but bring before Almighty God our earnest desire that He might take and use them?
A major factor in the repsonse of the seven was the publicity of the need, and the compelling example of Hudson Taylor and those like him. Are our brightest and our best hearing of the harvest today? Or do local churches want to hold their young people, afraid for the future if they leave? It seems that for many the loudest call they can hear is from those places where there are already many just like themselves.
It may also be true that an example they are observing within the church is that of the ordained ministry talking of a preparedness to follow the call of God, but at the same time failing to hear any call of God that does not draw them to or keep them in posts in a Capital City.
The God who raised up the Cambridge Seven is the God who draws people today. May our prayer be the one that was answered by God not much more than one hundred and ten years ago that He would take the best and the brightest of our generation and use them for his cause.

One thought on “Have you heard of ‘The Cambridge Seven’?

  1. M W says:

    maybe “where their are already many just like themselves.” should read “where there are already many just like themselves.”

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