Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Book Review: Steal Away Home

Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom. Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey. 2017. B&H. 273 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: There was not a village in the world more pleasant than Stambourne, and although London was only forty miles southward, there was rarely a need to leave.

Premise/plot: Steal Away Home introduces readers to two men: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson. Chances are, you've heard of Charles Spurgeon. It is less likely that you've heard of Thomas Johnson. The narration switches back and forth between these two. The novel covers five decades.

Charles Spurgeon was a preacher, the celebrity preacher of his day. His sermons were printed, not only in England, but also in America. Thomas Johnson started life as a slave, but, even before the slaves were emancipated, freedom was his through Christ. After the war, he became a preacher as well. His dream--shared by his wife--was to go to Africa as a missionary. Charles Spurgeon helped him realize this goal.

My thoughts: I definitely found this one a fascinating read. I loved both stories. The second half was even better than the first half. By the end, I was EMOTIONAL.

I loved the writing!

Some of my favorite quotes:

  • His grandfather taught him many meaningful things: how to count the stars, how to read the Scriptures at meal times, and the importance of good Puritan books. His reading parlor was littered with books too heavy for little Charles to carry, but the stories in these volumes were a relief to the soul, a healing balm that he would treasure for years to come.
  • “Sometimes, the Lord gives us the opportunity to see things—things that seem wrong—so that we can do something about them. So we can change them. But other times, the Lord lets us see things—things that seem wrong—so those things can change us.” Charles listened and catalogued every word. 
  • The most important thing to understand about our mysterious God is that He is God, and we are not. When we are least expecting it, He will put something so deep inside the caverns of our heart. We won’t see it at first, we won’t even know it’s there. But one day we’ll look back and see He was in control of everything, all along the way. 
  • The cover was green as moss, and possessed a beautiful golden inlay of embossed images and letters. “Other than the Holy Scriptures, this is my favorite book. My grandfather gave it to me when I was just seven years old, and I’ve read it fifty times at least. Each time, I’m charmed all over again.” Charles ran his fingers along the gold-embossed letters that read The Pilgrim’s Progress. He thought of his grandfather, and a familiar peace rushed through his body. “You carry this with you always? Why?” asked Susannah as she leaned towards the table. Charles handed her the wornout book, and she gently put her fingers on the embossed title. “Why, Mr. Spurgeon?” said Susannah, now smiling and incredibly interested. “Because, when you read this book, it makes you feel like the author is a living Bible. You can prick him anywhere, and he bleeds the Bible. He cannot speak without quoting a verse or a section of Scripture. It’s as if his very soul is full of the Word of God.” Charles placed both elbows on the table in front of him, and extended his hands towards the green and gold book in Susannah’s hands. “So this story—which I never seem to tire of—is the best description of the Christian life. And the secret of its freshness is that it’s essentially biblical teaching in the form of a beautiful and striking allegory.”
  • Several nights of the week, Charles and Susannah would meet under the gas lamp in the center of the gardens, reading Puritan writers and discussing the gems of wisdom found within.
  • There are rare moments when one can see, from the outside, what the inside of a person looks like. It was as if Thomas could see the inside of his fellow slaves, clearly. Pain became visible. Sorrow was seen. Hope couldn’t be contained, so it spilled out onto their faces, from their eyes, down their cheeks, to their chins. Joy burst from their hearts, and caused their hands to sway and dance. 
  • “Have you stolen away to Jesus?” Ezekiel paused, letting the question soak. “Have you stolen away from this place—your work, your troubles—have you gotten alone with the Lord? ’Cause that might be the most important question you answer all day long. ’Cause you see, the master . . . he owns our body. The master, he owns our time. The master, he owns everything about us,” Ezekiel continued to whisper, looking only to Thomas. “But. There is something you can’t ever forget. There is one thing that man don’t own. There is one thing that man can’t ever own.” “He don’t own your soul.” 
  • The pain is the measure of grace by which God is choosing to endure me today. 
  • It is a great mercy to be able to toss and turn, changing sides during the night in a bed. It is a great mercy to set one’s head on a pillow for an hour of sleep, interposed between long stretches of pain. It is a great mercy to press eyelids together to catch a glimpse of reprieve, as brief as it may be. We call those things mercies, because like the span of blue between a mass of thunderclouds, so is rest in the midst of suffering.
  •  “Oh, God,” he whispered in the shadows, “the sick bed is soft when You are there. The furnace of affliction grows cool when You are there. Oh, God be there.”
  • “I—I simply do not want to be confined to this bed. I do not want your body to be ravished with pain. I do not want for our lives to be marked with sickness. I do not want it. And yet, if this is what God has for us—I want to want it! Does that make sense?” He lowered his head in frustration and opened his eyes to the tattered leather cover of his Bible, still sitting unopened atop the wooden tray on his bed. “I want to want this hard path we are on.”
  • “Your depressive thoughts aren’t meant to press you down. No! They are meant to fly your soul up. Up to the arms of the Good Master. Charles, you count up your crosses, as bitter as they might seem. You count up your diseases, pains, and sorrows, as many as they might be. Then, you see that Jesus put ’em all there. He put them there so you’d run to Him faster than you’ve ever run. He might not ever take them away. Even if Jesus had never taken slavery away from me, I still think it would have done just what it was supposed to—make me run to Jesus over and over again. That’s when you see how sweet He is. He’s right there. Has been the whole time. Sharin’ in that suffering. Weepin’ with you.
  • Sometimes, during the hardest of seasons, all you can do is whisper songs of hope in the night. But I’ll tell you—God always hears.” 
  • To worry is to bear a burden that is not ours to carry. 
  • When his gout lessened and he was able to preach, Charles preached as he had never before. He gained from illness a wealth of knowledge and sympathy which he could not have gained elsewhere. Undergirding all of his experience in suffering was his conviction that his ill health was God’s gift, and he used that gift every time he opened his mouth, inscribed pages for a book, or preached a sermon from the pulpit of the Tabernacle. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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