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The Ashes, Cricket and Christ

Dec 28, 2010

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.

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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
R.I.P.
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.

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16 Responses to The Ashes, Cricket and Christ

  • Dear Bill, A very appropriate and well researched article whilst the Ashes are on. It is a pity so few Australian sports men and women are Christians. If some are they keep their faith to themselves because I don’t think I have ever heard a famous sports man or woman speak out on an important moral issue such as abortion. If they had it would have made a difference. Also the immoral way some of them live as adulterers and fornicators. On the whole they provide a poor example to the youth of Australia and yet most Australians idolise them and their sport. Sport can be good but it has replaced Christianity for many. As for the old women who prayed for CT Studd there are Christian prayer groups all around Australia with old women as members who pray for all sorts of things so one never knows there may be a change in Australian society for the better.It might only take one sports person to be courageous enough to proclaim themselves a Christian and live as one for others to follow. We wait in hope! A Happy New Year to you and your family and your readers and I will look forward to more interesting articles next year.
    Patricia Halligan

  • Patricia, do not give up hope. This DVD was produced by 11 of our most vocal Christian sports stars: http://www.aus911.com/news.php?id=17

    Grant Vandervalk

  • A timely post indeed Bill – thank you.

    Wealth, sporting prowess, and intellectual heights all wrapped up in one person is no match for the ascended and interceding power of Y’shua.We may see Paul of the Epistles in a similar perspective as C.T. Studd.

    Therefore there is an imperative that we see political and other forms secular leadership from a Righteous perspective as did those two women in praying for Studd as did, we believe, the persecuted church intercede for Saul.

    Ray Robinson

  • G’day Bill,

    Thank you for the clarity and passion with which you write. And the application to contemporary events and spiritual life, always challenging, as C.T. Studd did, that the Christian faith is much more than a few churchy rules. May the Lord bless your ministry in 2011, with the anointing of His Spirit for ideas, commitment, encouragements, grace, truth … all of the above and more.

    Andrew Campbell

  • Greetings Bill. Surprised and delighted to read of C T Studd. WEC sent a team to Indonesia in the fifties. Oh, what challenging, evangelising group they were. We have a photograph of 30 of them in a bible conference. Their leader, a Swiss philosopher, established a mission group in Kalimantan (Borneo) and in Sumatra, leaving them when they led 30 others to trust the Lord Jesus. Two decades later he returned to find 10,000 (ten thousand) believers in each area.
    He launched the Batu bible college which prayed for and evangelised parts of Indonesia. In one decade those trusting our Lord Jesus for salvation increased by 10 million, out of 240 million, majority being Muslim.
    Thank God for the English captain, which took the ashes.
    May God give great leaders from our cricketing teams.
    My web site has Gwenda’s family stories, touching the WEC impact on our children.
    http://www.biblestories.stellaris.com.au
    Harrold Steward

  • I find parts of this essay obscure. What did you mean by a “backslidden life”? Exactly what did he do to earn that odd description?

    It’s is easy to praise with rhetorical statements like “countless lives were touched as a result” but surely the reader needs to know what his solid achievements were to warrant the praise. For example, how many Chinese did he convert to Christianity? And what sort of converts were they, illiterate peasants, urban intelligentsia?

    John Snowden

  • Thanks John

    The term ‘backsliding” is actually an in-house Christian term. It has to do with a person who has made a profession of faith but who then goes backwards in his Christian walk. Studd described it in my article above: “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.”

    As to his impact and converts, if yours is not a mere rhetorical question, then I would suggest you get a biography of Studd and read for yourself just what an impact he made, and how many lives were turned around by the gospel of Jesus Christ which he preached.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Patricia, Thank God for your visionary stance on our great athletes.
    When the West Indies toured our nation, they brought a fast bowler Ian Bishop. Playing on the Adelaide Test the godly manager asked they would play to the glory of God. He turned each morning to Ian Bishop to seek God’s blessing. They won the test by one run. God overruled.
    Ian Bishop spoke to young athletes in our home on the need of purity when touring. He proposed to a Caribbean nurse at Oxford who accompanied him on his next visit. She was a youth evangelist. Two young men in our state have a vision of Christ in Test cricket. One is a youth leader (our grandchildren love Him and his wife). The other is pianist in our home church. Both are near selection. I pray for them waiting on the micro-wave to run its course.
    Patricia, God will honour your prayer.
    Harrold Steward.

  • Sadly, society accepts sin and many leaders and sports people are following the world.
    When people propagate smoking, drinking, adultery, fornication, abortions, and even continue in their sin, it is because they love their own lives more than Jesus and His WORDS.
    Thanks Bill for standing up strong and speaking out.
    We are to stand firmly planted on the Word of God as our foundation.
    Judith Bond

  • Thanks Bill for your reminder about CT Studd. I read about his conversion and later life as a missionary, perhaps nearly 40 years ago as a youth, in the book written by Norman Grubb. It was amazing to me as a teenager at that time. As Aussies, we are experiencing some overdue humility with the cricket being played by our test team.
    Thanks also to Grant who put us on to the Bible Society list of sportspeople who have stood up as Christians in Bible Society publications. They can be such a strong example to our young people in this society where sport plays such a huge role. I will look out for those that I did not know were Christians in future.
    David Everard

  • Thanks David

    Yes I picked up my copy of Grubb’s bio on Studd about 35 years ago. I was saved about 40 years ago, and a real help to my early days as a Christian was to read about the great saints, missionaries and mighty Christians of years gone by. There is always so much value in reading good Christian biographies and being familiar with church history. It sets the bar high so that you don’t settle for second best. You get spoiled for the best when you read such books.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Most of the story was familiar. Yes we’d like to see Christians making a stand. However in “The Flying Scottsman” a biography of Eric Liddell, it is suggested that sport in those days was a gentleman’s game. Now anyone who had another priority would find it hard to get a game at higher levels. Perhaps we need more praying that some already playing will be converted.
    Thanks for reminding us of CT Studd.
    Katherine Fishley

  • I just bought Chariot’s of Fire with the iTunes gift card I received at Christmas. I love biographies of Christian athletes. There are three excellent Christian biographies at http://www.ronowensbooks.com. One on Iris Urrey Blue, Manley Beasley, and Georgy Slesarev, a man who was martyred for his faith.
    Jeff Owens

  • Yes Bill, I have that book “Cricketeer and Pioneer” and must read it again…I love all of Norman Grubb’s writings and have a wide selection of his books. Of course as you are aware I’m sure, that N Grubb married CT’s daughter Pauline and both had a life transforming experience with God while as missionaries in the Congo with CT, based around Galatians 2:20 you can find out more in his book “Once Caught No Escape”.
    Jim Garlick

  • Was he faithful in his duties as a husband and father? Sounds like he left his family alone for long stints of time…
    Michael Mifsud

  • Thanks Michael

    Yes many Christian workers tended to do things a bit differently back then. They tended to put priorities in this order:
    God, ministry, then family.
    Whereas perhaps most today prefer this order:
    God, family, then ministry.
    But he did have approval from his wife on this, and she experienced a deep peace of God concerning the separation.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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