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His Intensity Beame Destructive

It is always painful to point out the inadequacies of spiritual heroes, but sometimes it reveals in vivid form some danger signs in our own lives. C. T. Studd was, by any standard of evaluation, a remarkable man. A brilliant athlete, a Cambridge scholar, and heir to a considerable fortune, he created a sensation in nineteenth-century England by dedicating his life and fortune to foreign missionary service. As one of the Cambridge Seven, he sailed to China in 1885 to serve his Lord. After ten difficult years, he returned, broken in health, to England. In 1900 he and his family sailed again, this time to India, where he served for six years before his health again suffered. But in 1912 he was off again, this time for Africa, to establish the Heart of Africa Mission in the Belgian Congo. He left his sick wife and four daughters in England, over her strong objections to his venture, and returned home only once, in 1916, before his death in 1931.

No one can doubt C. T. Studd’s zeal for his Lord. He lived by his own words, “We do need to be intense, and our intensity must ever increase.” That meant working eighteen-hour days, with no days off and no diverting activities. It was the Lord’s work he was doing, and no sacrifice was too great to make for Him. The lethargy of most Christians toward the lost enraged him, and he determined to live with single-minded excellence for Jesus Christ.

But tragically, Studd’s zeal consumed both him and those around him. It is impossible to justify his treatment of his wife, leaving her ill and living apart for eighteen years. His other relationships deteriorated as he made dictatorial demands on missionaries who came to serve under him. He even dismissed family members from the mission because he considered them less than totally committed, despite their sacrificial care of him in illness. The work was torn by doctrinal and personal controversies and fellow-workers were shocked by Studd’s attitude toward the African Christians. Tragically, his hard work and ill health caused him to turn to morphine for relief, and he finally became addicted to the drug. This was the final straw for the mission’s home committee and they felt compelled to remove Studd from the mission which he founded.

It is sad to point to the downfall of a dedicated man who accomplished much good. But it points to a fundamental issue. C. T. Studd was so intensely committed to a single aspect of God’s truth that his intensity became destructive. He saw excellence in terms of what he did and that led him to miss God’s will for the entire range of responsibilities God had given him. Christlikeness, true excellence, involves a balanced life and if a zeal for evangelism causes us to ignore our families or to become harsh and unloving with fellow-believers, excellence has been sacrificed to extremism. Studd’s downfall has lessons for the business executive single-mindedly developing professional skill; for the pastor building a great church or preaching great sermons; for the scholar unrelentingly researching the book which will be his contribution to knowledge; to the mother pouring all her energy into her family and marriage. Worthy ambitions all, dedication to them can be destructive if it is not coupled with a prior commitment to godly character and a recognition of the full range of responsibilities to which God calls us.

Gary Inrig, A Call to Excellence, (Victor Books, a division of SP Publ., Wheaton, Ill, 1985), pp. 159-160