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ss nucleus - September 2013,  Heroes and Heretics: CT Studd

Heroes and Heretics: CT Studd

Alex Bunn considers a missionary and cricketer.

Heroes 11: CT Studd (1860-1931): Not just cricket!

Etonians get bad press these days: rich, arrogant and over-privileged. But what would you think of an Etonian who gave away £2 million and rejected celebrity status to become a pioneering missionary in China, India and Congo? Chances are, you've never heard of Charles Thomas (CT) Studd.

the Ashes

The Ashes is the most important contest in cricket. It dates back to 1882 when the Studd brothers played in an historic match alongside the legendary WG Grace. A doctor who served the poor in Bristol, Grace found fame and fortune by hiring locums and playing first-class cricket for a staggering 43 years. However, he scored a disappointing four and 32 in this test.

With only eight runs needed, CT could have saved the match that caused so much English shame ever since. But he never faced a ball as England's last batsman, Peate, foolishly kept the strike. Given that Studd was Cricketer of the Year, having already hit two centuries against Australia that season for Cambridge, this was the error that lost the match and led to the Ashes tradition.

This first loss to Australia was met with shock. The Sporting Times printed a mock obituary to English cricket. Soon after, some lady supporters in Melbourne presented Lord Darnley, the English captain, with an urn which is said to contain the ashes of a cricket bail. The motivation is unclear, but one of these ladies later married Darnley, who must have appreciated the joke. This urn gives the Ashes contest its name. Not until 2013 did England regain parity with Australia, and now the two countries boast 31 wins each.

not just cricket

But fame and fortune did not capture CT's heart. Cricket was an idol of his for a while, but when he attended his gravely ill brother, he asked 'What is all the popularity of the world worth to George? What is it worth to possess all the riches in the world when a man comes to face eternity?' He was catapulted to fame through sport, but his life was not just cricket!

Instead, he discovered a joy in sharing Christ that eclipsed all others: 'I cannot tell you what joy it gave me to bring the first soul to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have tasted almost all the pleasures this world can give. Those pleasures were as nothing compared to the joy that the saving of that one soul gave me.'

mission on campus

CT signed up with Hudson Taylor's mission to China and gained fame as one of the 'Cambridge seven'. Including the stroke of the Cambridge boat and army officers, they were men who inspired a generation. Even Queen Victoria received a tract with their testimonies. On mission in Edinburgh University, a lecturer recognised their unusual appeal:

'Students, like other young men, are apt to regard professedly religious men as wanting in manliness, unfit for the river or cricket field, and only good for psalmsinging and pulling a long face. But the big muscular hands and long arms of the ex-captain of the Cambridge Eight, stretched out in entreaty while he eloquently told out the story of redeeming love, capsized their theory. And when CT Studd, a household name and one of the finest bowlers in England supplemented his words by quiet but intense personal testimony...opposition and criticism were alike disarmed, and professors and students together were seen in tears, to be followed by the glorious sight of professors dealing with students, and students with one another'. (1)

mission in China: God provides

After living rough in China for two years, CT kept the promise he made as a student to follow Jesus' advice to the rich young ruler: 'Sell everything you have and give to the poor...then come, follow me.' (2) For most students today, whose equity is negative, giving away debt might be an easy decision. But Studd was due to inherit £2 million on his 25th birthday. The money went to orphan care in Bristol, missions to the poor in Whitechapel and India and the founding of the Moody Bible Institute. Thereafter, he operated as a 'faith missionary', reliant on income donated without fundraising.

Despite his aristocratic roots, his choice of wife, Priscilla, was not dictated by social standing or looks. He had prayed for a woman of character, a 'Real Salvation Army Hallelujah Lassie'.

'I didn't marry her for her pretty face; I married her for her handsome actions towards the Lord Jesus Christ and those he sent her to save'. And she was no gold digger: they started marriage with £5 to their name.

But their faith was rewarded. In their lifetime, the World Evangelisation Crusade (now WEC International) mission they founded received five times the amount they had donated. But they never applied it for personal use.

They had four girls, which was a point of witness in a country that threw baby girls into the river. They shocked their neighbours by calling the fourth Joy, but saw God's purpose in demonstrating that God loves girls too. Family life on mission was costly. They lost two boys, and later a grandson died visiting them in Africa, on his first birthday.

mission at home: godly provocation

Forced back to England by a respiratory condition, Studd returned on mission to the hardest place of all: home. He upset a friend's cousin by comparing true religion to smallpox: 'if you get it, you give it to others and it spreads!' She offered him a cup of cocoa over a long chat, but he rudely left her holding it out as he talked. When she got as angry as a Victorian lady was allowed to show, he replied 'That is exactly how you are treating God, who is holding out eternal life to you!' Two days later he received a telegram: 'Got the smallpox badly - Dollie.'

CT joined his brother on mission to American students. One seemed confident of God's approval: 'I am trying to make Jesus my example'. 'Oh' replied Studd, 'then you are quite sure to be damned!' He explained the futility of trying to live up to Jesus' standard and the liberation of knowing God's free grace.

mission in India: planter turned ambassador

Studd's father had made his fortune in India and his dying wish was to see the gospel reach the Indian people: 'What have they seen? Studd the indigo planter? Studd seeking wealth? Are they not going to see Studd the ambassador of Jesus Christ?' CT honoured his father by travelling back to evangelise indigo planters. He was based at Ootacamund a British colonial hub where snooker was invented. As a result he accessed the elite in order to reach the most. He joined a cricket tour becoming only the second man to score two double centuries on rough Indian pitches. But this was merely an excuse to preach on the barracks where they played. Sadly his health suffered. His wife wrote: 'Charlie is a wreck, the slightest movement brings on asthma.' He only slept from 2-4 am, sitting upright in a chair. Reluctantly, the Studds returned home once more.

Just as he played with a straight bat on the cricket field, CT was renowned for his unusually direct preaching. He once said: 'Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of Hell.' Here is another sample of his style addressing a business lunch: 'You've had a rich dinner, I shall not tickle you with an academic display of language. I once had another religion: mincing, lisping, hunting the Bible for hidden truths, but no obedience, no sacrifice. Then the real thing came before me. The parlour game with the nurses became real cricket on the public ground. Words became deeds. The commands of Christ became battle calls to be obeyed, unless one would lose one's self-respect and manhood. Instead of saying 'Lord, Lord' and yet remaining deaf to the simplest commandments, I began to rely upon God as a real father...'

This approach bore much fruit amongst groups previously hardened to the gospel. Even journalists warmed to him: 'Here is a missionary to emulate. No pessimism about him, no lukewarmness; he loves and he follows...his faith is as brave as his speech is clear and straight'.

mission in Africa: cannibals want missionaries!
or my grave - a stepping stone!

In 1908 Studd's eye was caught by an unusual poster declaring 'Cannibals want missionaries.' He thought 'Why, sure they do, for more reasons than one!' He was shocked to hear that traders, diplomats, scientists and game hunters had ventured to the African interior, but no Christians.

Challenged to go, he replied 'But the doctors won't permit it!' Then he heard the Lord ask 'Am I not the good physician? Can I not keep you there?' He soon found backers, but they dropped him when they read the doctor's report, which predicted death within weeks. Studd told the committee: 'Gentleman, God has called me, and I will go. I will blaze a trail, though my grave may only become a stepping stone that younger men may follow.'

At the age of 50, Studd set out on his greatest missionary work. He proved the doctors wrong, staying in Africa 18 years. He was to see revival far beyond any expectation. Trekking through dangerous territory in Congo, Studd and his party found themselves without food or money. 'Why do breeches have so many buttons? To be cut off and used as money in Central Africa, of course.'

But not only trousers were transformed. The cannibal tribes recalled 'I have done more sin than there is room for in my chest... My father killed a man and I helped to eat him...I did witchcraft from the fingernails of a dead man, and with the medicine killed a man'. They were asked why they came, as the missionaries had no money to offer. The answer: 'We do not care a snap about money, what we want is God!'

'The difficulty is to believe that [God] can deign to use such scallywags as us, but of course he wants faith and fools rather than talent and culture. All God wants is a heart, any old turnip will do for a head; so long as we are empty, all is well, for then he fills with the Holy Ghost'.

Yet the humble Studd did use his head, not to avoid the real battle of the heart, but to engage the hearts of Africans who might find the Bible foreign. When he preached, he put biblical characters into bark cloths and black skins, bread became bananas, camels became elephants, and snow became chalk. Today we call it contextualisation, repackaging the message for a new audience.

Perhaps, then, Studd's most important challenge to us is to follow his attractive example in courage, giving all for Christ. Underlying his boldness was not sporting ego or machismo, but the love of Christ which compelled him to share the gospel.

CT Studd's legacy

  • Valued time at university to grow in Christian character and encourage others
  • Was totally unashamed of the gospel, and modelled Christ-like manliness
  • Used his fame and wealth to commend Christ in China, India and Congo
  • Founded WEC which today has 1,800 missionaries in 80 countries
  1. Dr DA Moxley quoted in Grubb NP. CT Studd: cricketer and pioneer. Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1933:33. All quotes from this work unless otherwise stated.
  2. Luke 18:22
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