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Beautiful Words - The Writing of F.W. Boreham (1871-1959)

Literary, whimsical, insightful, creative, warm, optimistic, humorous, imaginative, beautiful and delightful are words that come to mind when I think of the writing of F.W. Boreham.

He was the Max Lucado of his day. If you were traveling by train through the English countryside, you might look across and see a fellow passenger engrossed in his latest volume. One man had a standing order with a bookseller for each new release. People made it a priority to buy and read his books. Ministers found in them a wealth of anecdotes, illustrations and quotations. Over 50 books, scores of newspaper articles, and many booklets bear his name.

Born in Tunbridge Wells, England and educated in Spurgeon’s Pastors College in London, Boreham pastored in New Zealand, Tasmania, and Australia. His remarkable writing skill gave birth to profound essays that were more story than sermon. His writing is a lesson for writers in showing rather than telling.

 His essays preserved the memory of the simple and interesting people that he encountered in the rustic settings of his pastorate. His words are a monument to what they taught him.

His love of biographies from an early age, and reading that at one point consisted of two books a week, provided a rich source for his fascinating anecdotes. Through them he infused the ordinary events of life with profound meaning. In a typical volume, which is divided into three parts, you will find profound rumination on everything from "Blind Alleys" to "Blushes." Each chapter is a different topic; no event or subject is too trivial or insignificant to be analyzed. 

Ravi Zacharias and Warren Wiersbe are two prominent North American evangelicals who regularly acknowledge their appreciation for his writing. Ruth Bell Graham sought to read all of his books, and when Billy Graham landed in Australia for a crusade, he made it a priority to meet him. 

Ravi Zacharias wrote in a newsletter that he tries to read a chapter of Boreham a day. He considers F.W. Boreham, C.S. Lewis, Malcom Muggeridge, and G.K. Chesterton to be the most influential writers in his life.

Boreham is less apologetic than Lewis, less philosophical than Chesterton and less historical than Muggeridge. It may be his Baptist background that gives his writing a distinct devotional edge. He uses his words to bring out some practical spiritual truth. 

When it comes to using fictional characters to make a point, Boreham is a master. He writes of one brought to life by A.S.M. Hutchinson in If Winter Comes: "Mark Sabre is not a perfect character. He is tactless, stupid, awkward. He has a genius for blundering. But, once he comes within the ambit of the love of God, his personality is irradiated and transfigured." In The Gospel of Uncle Tom’s Cabin we read, "‘I have felt!’ cries Tennyson: that is ‘the warmth within the breast that melts the freezing reason’s colder part.’ ‘Have we not felt, Robert?’ says Elsmere’s wife in Mrs. Humphrey Ward’s great book. ‘Have we not know and felt Him as He is?’ Anyone with half an eye can see that Tennyson’s stately stanzas and Mrs. Humphrey Ward’s moving romance simply present Uncle Tom’s crude philosophy in a more elegant setting. ‘Feels Him in my soul, massa!’" The Gospel of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Gospel of Robinson Crusoe, two of Boreham’s rarest titles, are entirely devoted to examining these beloved fictional characters. 

As beautiful as it is, his literary style may not appeal to those who like their truth plain and simple without adornment. But for those who hunger for more than just answers, who want to stir their imagination, Boreham is a welcome antidote for a culture that has grown cynical and jaded. He has a warm optimism that is refreshing and even healing. He ends "Rubble and Roseleaves" with this comforting thought, "Of all the things that are made in a world like this, mistakes are by no means the worst." 

The introduction to the chapter titled "Francis D’ Assisi’s Text" (Life Verses Volume Two) is typical of his style. "Oscar Wilde declares that, since Christ went to the cross, the world has produced only one genuine Christian, and his name is Francis d’Assisi. Certainly, he is the one saint whom all the churches have agreed to canonize; the most vividly Christlike man who has ever submitted his character to the scrutiny of public criticism. His life, as Green says in his Short History of the English People, his life falls like a stream of light athwart the darkness of the mediaeval ages. Matthew Arnold speaks of him as a figure of most magical potency and sweetness and charm. Francis called men back to Christ and brought Christ back to men. ‘All Europe woke with a start,’ Sabatier affirms, ‘and whatever was best in humanity leaped to follow his footsteps.’" 

This is what you find in the five volume Life Verses series. It began as a series of sermons that was so unconventional, it attracted large crowds and lasted for 125 Sunday evenings. Each chapter in the book covers the impact of a specific verse on a famous person. It is one of the greatest series of sermons ever preached. Originally published under different names each volume has been reprinted by Kregel Publications under the title Life Verses. 

This and the other Kregel reprints Mountains in the Mist and The Luggage of Life are good introductions to Boreham’s writing. Life Verses is unique in that it is more biographical than most of his other work. 

Though most of Boreham’s books are now out of print they can be obtained on eBay and through online bookstores specializing in used and out of print books. One safe place to buy is abebooks.com. Searching for F.W. Boreham on their site yielded over 800 possible matches. 

Are you still unsure about what to read first? Don’t worry. As Warren Wiersbe has said, "Selecting a Boreham book is like choosing a beautiful rose from a large bouquet—you can never make a mistake." 

In an old song, Christian recording artist John Fisher sings, "Naphtali is a doe set free; he gives beautiful words." The words come from a blessing that Jacob pronounced over one of his sons. They could apply to the writing of F.W. Boreham. One of his frequent characters is a minister friend named John Broadbanks who may have been an alter ego. His last name is indicative of his outlook. From the heart of an individual who had been set free by the gospel, and whose outlook was broad, came beautiful words that continue to inspire. 

Michael Dalton
November 30, 2005
 

 

 
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