His memorial service was held in an overflowing St. Paul’s Cathedral. Queen Victoria displayed his well-worn Bible in a place of honor in her palace. Schools, gardens, parks, war craft, stained-glass windows were named after him. Statues were erected around the world. His bust stands in Westminster Abbey. Tennyson eulogized him in verse.
If your only acquaintance with Charles George Gordon comes with the 1966 Charlton Heston movie Khartoum, you have missed one of the 19th century’s greatest heroes and one of that century’s most devout Christian laymen.
Charles George Gordon (1833–1885) was an unruly, aggressive prankster in school. But in the military, after coming under the influence of an Irish protestant minister and his wife, he began a lifelong study of the Bible. Lytton Strachey wrote that “during the year 1883 a solitary English gentleman was to be seen, wandering, with a thick book under his arm (the Bible), in the neighborhood of Jerusalem…To the friendly inquirer, he would explain, in a low, soft, and very distinct voice, that he was engaged in elucidating four questions—the site of the Crucifixion, the line of division between the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, the identification of Gideon, and the position of the Garden of Eden. He was also, he would add, most anxious to discover the spot where the Ark first touched ground, after the subsidence of the Flood”[i].
Throughout an heroic military career which took him from the Crimea to China, General Gordon maintained an intense correspondence with his sister, Mary Augusta. They exchanged their Spirit-led insights and daily struggles in their Christian faith. They are available for free here and for sale here.
Here are a few samples:
Proof of Faith
The chief proof, after all, that the Bible is good food, is the eating of it; the healing efficacy of a medicine, when it is used, is a demonstration that it is good. I believe the origin of evil is disclosed in the Bible, and I have notes on it, but it is not yet clear to me.
I would that all could look on death as a cheerful friend, who takes us from a world of trial to our true home. All our sorrows come from a forgetfulness of this great truth. I desire to look on the departure of my friends as a promotion to another and a higher sphere, as I do believe that to be the case with all.
Love of God
I believe that all worldly events are part of God’s great scheme, that He loves all human beings of all nations equally, that He is perfectly impartial and has no favorites: this I consider as the great and never to be disputed comfort. That nation A is better than nation B, however backward B may be, I do not think.
The whole secret of our trouble is want of love to God. If we have it to Him, we shall find it impossible not to have it to others.
God is Love
God is love—not full of love, but love itself. The law is love; possessed of love, we shall find our other temptations fall from us like scales.
The great object of all our lives should be what our Savior always spoke of as of inestimable value, even in His last hours, and again when He was leaving earth, namely, peace internally.
Trust in God
If we had a powerful friend ever near us, we would often ask his help and trust him; is not God in that relation to us? Is any-thing too small or too great for Him? Therefore in all things make known your wants to Him, and trust Him to relieve them; He never leaves or forsakes.
Doubt and Decision
If doubt should arise in your mind as to what to do in any matter, think which of the two courses will best show forth God’s glory, and follow it; generally this will be the course most contrary to your own wishes.
Grace and God’s Glory
It is grace alone that makes us differ. Much thought over this does good; we see ourselves reflected in everyone else, and thus can realize what great things God has done for us. I trust in God, whose ways are not ours; we should always remember that His glory should be more in our minds than our selfish desire to feel happy or comfortable.
We have no conception or idea of what God will show us, if we persevere in seeking Him; and it is He who puts this wish in our hearts. All I can say to you is: Persevere; avoid the world and its poor wretched little talk about others; never mind being thought stupid; look on everything with regard to the great day, and trust Him implicitly. He says, “I will preserve thee from all evil. I will preserve thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth and even for evermore ” (Psalm 121: 7-8). If you take these words and keep them in mind you cannot be moved; for, whatever circumstances you may fall into, be quite assured that He is preserving you from all evil.
Our Weakness and God’s Strength
We grow in grace whether we are aware of it or not, and are powerless to produce good or resist evil; and not only are so now but are so (however closely we may be living to God) as long as we are in the flesh. It is the knowledge of our weakness (and that can be known only by experience) which induces us to trust in His strength; even that induction is His gift. He makes us willing. No one word can avail, unless the Spirit of God opens it to the heart.
I have had very nice thoughts on I John 4:15 ” Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” I think it is the key to much of the Scripture. I am more than ever convinced that the secret of happiness and holiness is in the indwelling of God. The same truth is shown in many other verses, but the above, to my mind, shows it more clearly. Let a man seek the teaching of the Holy Spirit on such verses, and he will grow much in grace. As we believe that text, so we shall realize the presence of God in our hearts, and, having Him there, we have as a sequence holiness and love. He alone can make us believe the truth and keep it in mind.
Fruit of the Spirit
Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, and is obtained only by the indwelling of the Spirit; therefore the more we realize the truth of God’s indwelling, the more this peace will be produced—this realization is the gift of God.
It is through crosses that we live; let us have few crosses and we shall starve and be cold, let us have plenty of crosses and we shall thrive.
Our Promised Possession
The truth seems more and more clear day by day: our promised possession is God Himself, and we have the earnest of that inheritance in His dwelling in our hearts.
Offense of the Cross
The offence of the Cross consists in the preaching of the doctrine that man is justified or accepted in Christ, irrespective of his acts; the world wants to have a say with God in the matter.
The Two Kingdoms
The world contains the people of two kingdoms, acknowledging two separate kings and two separate systems of government The one is an everlasting, undefiled, and incorruptible kingdom; the other is mortal, defiled, and corruptible…To the one, death is the end of all their hopes; to the other, death is the gate of everlasting life…The one look to their works to make them children of God; and the other look on themselves as children of God by grace, and therefore they do the works.
The duty of the children of God under the bondage of the children of this world is to wait till God delivers them from the same, for it is He who gives the power to make them captive. That bondage to forms and ceremonies and to the things of this world cannot be broken by their means, such as by austerities or seclusion from the world; it must be by the power of God, and must be patiently waited and prayed for.
As a rule, Christians are really more inconsistent than “worldlings.” They talk truths, and do not act on them. They allow that “God is the God of the widows and orphans,” yet they look in trouble to the gods of silver and gold
You must die before you can be born again, for a birth cannot come again, except a death occurs in the interim. To me the salvation and peace resulting from the same are brought about in such a very wonderful way that that alone seems proof of its divine nature. It is as if you had broken a cup and had bothered yourself to mend it, and as if by your simply leaving it alone it had mended itself. When you have ceased to struggle in the utterly hopeless task of trying to better yourself, and can say, “I give it up,” then peace comes.
Gift of Faith
Can we have more of His Spirit in us than He gives? If you look at the similitude in 1 Corinthians 7 you will see that some are given faith, as quite a distinct gift. Now, if it is a gift, and by grace, not of our merits, it is evident we cannot have it, except it please God to give it. I base on this that it is impossible for us to have faith, to be holy-minded or Christ like, unless God gives the power to be so.
God and the Arabs
Can you, with your strong feelings, think, when you read that God loves those Arabs with that love? Yet He does; and not only ought we to agree, but we ought also to love them as ourselves, for, if they suffer, we suffer; even selfishly we ought to wish them well.
Death and Life
I feel so strongly that death is not an evil to a man that, if I thought the shooting of any number of slave dealers would be of avail in stopping the slave trade, I would shoot them without the least compunction; though, if a slave dealer was ill and it was in my power to cure him, I would do my best to do so.
Leaning on God Alone
Long before you get this, I shall be out of my troubles; so do not pity me, for I have the Almighty to guide me, and death is no terror. I only wish you to know how worn I am through having to lean on GOD ALONE.
Asking and Waiting
My spirit says, “Ask it, if in accord to His will; and be content if the contrary happens.” This is torture to me, yet God has much blessed me, and, if He has made me wait, He has acted bountifully towards me.
From His Last Letter
This may be the last letter you will receive from me, for we are on our last legs, owing to the delay of the expedition. However, God rules all, and, as He will rule to His glory and our welfare, His will be done.
After withstanding a siege of Khartoum for 317 days, radical Islamists overran General Gordon and his forces. Gordon’s severed head was placed in a tree’s branches, for birds to peck, and passersby to stone.
While his body was never found, his sister knew the general had gone to be with his Lord..
Warrior of God, man’s friend, and tyrant’s foe,
Now somewhere dead far in the waste Soudan,
Thou livest in all hearts, for all men know
This earth has never borne a nobler man.
[i] Lytton Strachey. Eminent Victorians. London: Continuum Publishing Group, 2005.