With the English now here battling Australia to retain the Ashes, it is worth looking at how this evolved, and how one remarkable cricketer became an even more amazing Christian missionary. I refer of course to C.T. Studd, the famous English athlete and follower of Christ.
Charles Thomas Studd was born into a wealthy English family in 1860. Along with his two brothers, he attended Eton, where all three excelled at cricket. They played for the Eton XI, and C.T. captained the team in his last year. He then went to Trinity College, Cambridge.
In 1882 the Australian side beat England for the first time, resulting in this satirical epitaph from the Sporting Times:
In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET,
which died at the Oval on 29th AUGUST 1882,
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances
N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.
C.T. was on that English side, and almost saved the match, but the Australians won by 8 runs. That winter he joined the English Test Team tour of Australia under Ivo Bligh, and they won two of the three matches. After that, some Melbourne women put some ashes into a silver urn, and presented it to the winning side. The inscription read:
When Ivo goes back with the Urn, the Urn
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the Urn, the Urn,
And the rest coming home with the Urn.
At his last year at Cambridge he had the highest bowling and batting averages, and his Cambridge cricketing career was called “one long blaze of cricketing glory.” But all that was to soon change. In 1883 he was soundly converted under a D.L. Moody crusade.
He had earlier made a decision for Christ, but by his own admission he had lived a backslidden life for six years. Said Studd, “Instead of going and telling others of the love of Christ, I was selfish and kept the knowledge to myself. The result was that gradually my love began to grow cold, and the love of the world began to come in.”
Interestingly, while he was touring with the Test Team in Australia and living a life of cricketing glory, two old women had been praying for him, that he would be brought back to God, and that happened. His brother G.B. was ill, and near death, and C.T. wondered what good all this cricket glory was.
His brother recovered, and his life was turned around at the Moody meetings. He soon was boldly sharing his faith. “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 that this world can give. …I can tell you that those pleasures were as nothing compared to the joy that the saving of that one soul gave me.”
He finally found something – and someone – that he loved “infinitely better than cricket. My heart was no longer in the game; I wanted to win souls for the Lord.” And that he did for the remainder of his life. After much prayer and Bible reading, he came to see the obvious:
“God had given me far more than was sufficient to keep my body and soul together, and, I thought, how could I spend the best years of my life in working for myself and the honours and pleasures of this world, while thousands and thousands of souls are perishing every day without having heard of Christ?”
He gave himself fully to God, reciting the words of Frances Ridley Havergal, “Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to thee”. With that, he decided he must go to China to share his faith with those who had not heard of Christ. And as is often the case, his greatest opposition came from his own family.
Many said he could have much greater influence if he remained in England. But by now Studd had died to self, and worldly wisdom, and he chose instead to follow God’s leading. After an interview with Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission, he and six other sporting elites left for the mission field. Known as the “Cambridge Seven” they caught the attention of the entire nation.
While in China at age 25, he inherited his father’s fortune. After prayer and reflection, he decided to give it mostly away. While there he married, and after ten years, they returned to England due to poor health. But he could not stop working for the Lord. After a brief speaking tour of American universities, he went to India as a pastor for six years.
In 1906 he returned to England, but again, not for long. He had a great burden for Africa, and he set sail for Central Africa in 1910, leaving behind his wife and four daughters. When pressed by another Christian about such radical steps, Studd replied:
“If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.” This became the motto of the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade which he founded in 1913. He continued to labour in Africa until he died in July 1931.
He wrote a letter home describing the highlights of his life. Cricket is not mentioned. He said this: “As I believe I am now nearing my departure from this world, I have but a few things to rejoice in; they are these:
1. That God called me to China and I went in spite of utmost opposition from all my loved ones.
2. That I joyfully acted as Christ told that rich young man to act.
3. That I deliberately at the call of God, when alone on the Bibby liner in 1910, gave up my life for this work, which was to be henceforth not for the Sudan only, but for the whole unevangelized World.
My only joys therefore are that when God has given me a work to do, I have not refused it.”
Studd’s was an amazing, exemplary life. He was a great cricketer, but he was even a greater disciple of Jesus. He caught a vision of what Christ had done for him, and that vision made all other earthly achievements look dim indeed. He dedicated his life to his saviour, and countless lives were touched as a result.
As we watch the current Ashes series, please shoot up a prayer that a Ponting or a Pietersen will experience the same life-transforming encounter with the risen Christ that Studd did, and that they too would use the rest of their days for something far greater, far nobler, and far more important than mere sporting fame.
Note. For this article I have drawn heavily from the 1933 biography of Studd by Norman Grubb. It is still available in paperback (Christian Literature Crusade, 1972). I highly recommend it.