Revisiting the Christian Classics

I realise that it can be rather perilous to refer to anything less than a hundred years old as being a classic, but exceptions can be made to this basic rule. Some books may have been around only for a matter of decades, but they may be rightly referred to as modern day classics.

Think of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis for example, the first version of which appeared in 1943, or Knowing God by J. I. Packer (released in 1973). Think also of The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1937) or Through Gates of Splendour by Elisabeth Elliot (1957). Many of these books have and will stand the test of time.

Here I want to discuss another such recent classic. I refer to a book written in 1950 by British missionary, author and evangelist Roy Hession (1908–1992). It is his best-selling volume, The Calvary Road. A full 21 years after he first wrote it, there were copies of it to be found everywhere when I first became a Christian in 1971.

Image of The Calvary Road
The Calvary Road by Hession, Roy (Author) Amazon logo

I am sure I had a copy of it as well back in America. But for some reason I more or less forgot about the book for a while, and when it was recently drawn to my attention again, I sadly discovered it was not to be found in my library. So I just went out and bought another copy and gave it a quick read. There is no question that this is a classic.

And the best thing I can do here is offer you a number of quotes from this terrific volume. The first chapter on brokenness alone may be worth the price of the book, and the opening sentences are superb: “We want to be very simple in this matter of revival. Revival is just the life of the Lord Jesus poured into human hearts.”

He goes on to speak about how Jesus is always victorious, and says this:

If, however, we are to come into this right relationship with Him, the first thing we must learn is that our wills must be broken to His will. To be broken is the beginning of Revival. It is painful, it is humiliating, but it is the only way. It is being “Not I, but Christ” (Gal. 2:20), and a “C” is a bent “I.” The Lord Jesus cannot live in us fully and reveal Himself through us until the proud self within us is broken. This simply means that the hard unyielding self, which justifies itself, wants its own way, stands up for its rights, and seeks its own glory, at last bows its head to God’s will, admits its wrong, gives up its own way to Jesus, surrenders its rights and discards its own glory – that the Lord Jesus might have all and be all. In other words it is dying to self and self-attitudes.

And this is a joint effort:

Being broken is both God’s work and ours. He brings His pressure to bear, but we have to make the choice. . . . Brokenness in daily experience is simply the response of humility to the conviction of God. And inasmuch as this conviction is continuous, we shall need to be broken continually. And this can be very costly, when we see all the yielding of rights and selfish interests that this will involve, and the confessions and restitutions that may be sometimes necessary. For this reason, we are not likely to be broken except at the Cross of Jesus. The willingness of Jesus to be broken for us is the all-compelling motive in our being broken too.

The chapter concludes:

But dying to self is not a thing we do once for all. There may be an initial dying when God first shows these things, but ever after, it will be a constant dying, for only so can the Lord Jesus be revealed constantly through us. All day long the choice will be before us in a thousand ways. It will mean no plans, no time, no money, no pleasure of our own. It will mean a constant yielding to those around us, for our yieldedness to God is measured by our yieldedness to man. Every humiliation, everyone who tries and vexes us, is God’s way of breaking us, so that there is a yet deeper channel in us for the Life of Christ.
You see, the only life that pleases God and that can be victorious is His life – never our life, no matter how hard we try. But inasmuch as our self-centered life is the exact opposite of His, we can never be filled with His life, unless we are prepared for God to bring our life constantly to death. And in that we must co-operate by our moral choice.

Or consider his chapter on “The Highway of Holiness”. A few more quotes are worth offering here:

The only way onto the Highway is up a small dark, forbidding hill – the Hill of Calvary. It is the sort of hill we have to climb on our hands and knees – especially our knees. If we are content with our present Christian life, if we do not desire with a desperate hunger to get on to the Highway, we shall never get to our knees and thus never climb the hill. But if we are dissatisfied, if we are hungry, then we will find ourselves ascending. Don’t hurry. Let God make you really hungry for the Highway; let Him really drive you to your knees in longing prayer. Mere sightseers won’t get very far. “Ye shall find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.”
At the top of the hill, guarding the way to the Highway, stands so gaunt and grim . . . the Cross. There it stands, the Divider of time and the Divider of men. At the foot of the Cross is a low door, so low that to get through it one has to stoop and crawl through. It is the only entrance to the Highway. We must go through it if we would go any further on our way. This door is called the Door of the Broken Ones. Only the broken can enter the Highway. To be broken means to be “not I, but Christ.”

He continues:

In order to break our wills to His, God brings us to the foot of the Cross and there shows us what real brokenness is. We see those wounded Hands and Feet, that Face of Love crowned with thorns and we see the complete brokenness of the One who said, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” as He drank the bitter cup of our sin to its dregs….
But do not let us imagine that we have to be broken only once as we go through the door. Ever after it will be a constant choice before us. God brings His pressure to bear on us, but we have to make the choice.

The chapter concludes:

So this is the Highway life. It is no new astounding doctrine. It is not something new for us to preach. It is quite unspectacular. It is just a life to live day by day in whatever circumstances the Lord has put us. It does not contradict what we may have read or heard about the Christian life. It just puts into simple pictorial language the great truths of sanctification. To start to live this life now will mean revival in our lives. To continue to live it will be revival continued. Revival is just you and I walking along the Highway in complete oneness with the Lord Jesus and with one another, with cups continually cleansed and overflowing with the life and love of God.

Let me finish with a quote from a new chapter to the book found in the edition I have. It features some interviews with Hession conducted in 1988. At one point he is asked to further define ‘brokenness’. He replies:

I think it is very important to do that because it does occur, of course, in Scripture – several places – where the broken and contrite heart is spoken of. But unless we really explain what we mean, that word could become a cliche?. People could get the impression of “many tears” and “terrible experience.” It’s nothing of the sort; it is a matter of the will. Brokenness is the opposite to hardness.

Plenty more such quotes could be offered here. I urge you to grab the book and read it all for yourself. You will be so glad you did.

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4 Replies to “Revisiting the Christian Classics”

  1. Have seen Hession’s book in different places but never yet read it – seems I’ve been missing something important. If your excerpts are anything to go by, the Calvary Road has much to do with the individual Christian’s personal Gethsemane experiences, where, amid deep troublings of soul, one gets to that point where one tells the Master, “Not my will but Yours be done.” and really mean it as never before.

  2. “It’s nothing of the sort; it is a matter of the will. Brokenness is the opposite to hardness.” This explanation reminds me of breaking a horse. A broken horse yields to the will of man and becomes serviceable.

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