Whatever happened to sacrifice?

Not within cloistered walls,
Not in the peaceful glade,
Not in the sheltered home
‘Neath the trees’ spreading shade.
But on the mountain side,
Wind swept;
Crossing the desert bare,
Sun scorched;
Braving the torrent stream.
Out on the battlefield,
Unsheathed His sword.
Here I find my Lord.

It was 1936. Times were tough for evangelical Christians. They were on the back foot, and felt themselves intellectually outgunned and numerically outnumbered by those who held a much more liberal view of the Christian faith. Into this context came the little booklet that began with the poem above. It was aptly named Sacrifice, published by IVP, and written by one of the young leaders of the evangelical movement—Howard Guinness. The booklet was to undergo at least five editions over the next 25 years, and many evangelicals who lived through its era will tell how it shaped their lives and their general approach to Christian discipleship.

Although quaint to modern ears in its language at times, the general thesis shines from the book with remarkable clarity. And despite the fact that I find myself disagreeing with parts of the booklet, I could not say that about the overall call issued within it. It was a clarion call for the young men and women of its generation to “hold their lives cheap, and be faithful even to death”—to take up the cross and “be nailed to it in college or office, home or missionfield”. Guinness called people to “live dangerously and to be reckless” in Christ’s service. He asked, “where are the adventurers, the explorers, the buccaneers for God who will count one human soul of greater value than the rise or fall of an empire?” What God was after was “lovers—who love Him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort, or very life”.

Systematically, Guinness examined the areas in which sacrifice would need to occur—in relation to money and reputation, marriage and other relationships, vocation, lifestyle and devotional life. It would affect clergy and laity, men and women, rich and poor.

Those who knew Guinness knew him to be a passionate evangelist, and this oozes from every page of his booklet. The sacrifice that he sought was not an empty asceticism, but one where people forthrightly and adventurously aligned themselves with God’s purposes in Christ, and laid everything aside that encumbered them in following their Lord in this purpose. It was not a sacrifice that was given unwillingly, but one that felt that no sacrifice was being given because of the giver’s delight in, and love for, his master.

On the last page, Guinness is at his hortatory best. (Note that although the language talks of ‘men’, it is clear from the rest of his work that he is speaking to both sexes):

Where are the men who are willing to pay the price of vision?

Where are the men of prayer? Where are the men who, like the Psalmist of old, count God’s word of more importance to them than their daily food? Where are the men who, like Moses of old, commune with God face to face as a man speaks with his friend, and unmistakeably bear with them the fragrance of meeting through the day?


In the style of student work of his day, Guinness finishes with an appeal to his readers to ‘act’ and ‘decide’ on a response, and to express that response not only in prayer, but also by signing their name to that prayer of dedication:

Out of gratitude to Thee, my Lord and Saviour, who though Thou wast rich yet for my sake become poor, I now surrender myself to Thee to be filled with Thy Holy Spirit that I may, from today, live a life of sacrifice.

40 years later, something strange has happened to us as evangelical Christians. Those who translate our Bibles feel happier translating the Greek word for ‘slave’ into ‘servant’; our preachers rarely use the language of sacrifice or self-denial; and the question of financial security has crept more to the fore of discussions about ministry opportunities.

Or what about our Christian bookshops? Have you noticed how there appears to be more literature available about self-help than self-denial? This is not to say that sacrifice and self-denial have disappeared; we could all name people whose lives are shining examples of slavery to Christ and self-sacrifice for the cause of his purposes. Nevertheless, there does appear to have been a change in us over the past 40 years.

I’m not sure of the cause. It could be that we have imbibed too much of the spirit of our age. It could be that we have been fattened by the apparent success of the evangelical enterprise against liberalism. It could be that, in our attempt to balance out an incipient asceticism, we have overreacted. Or it could even be that we have simply begun to put on a middle age spread. No matter what the reason, surely we need to recover the language and practice of sacrifice and slavery, for such is the language of Scripture and the practice of our Lord. We are to imitate the grace we see in Christ who “though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). As those who have been loved with such a great love, there will be no regret or sense of being deprived. Like the Macedonians of 2 Corinthians 8:4, we should urgently plead for the privilege of giving, and overflow with love and rich generosity when the privilege is granted to us.

Andrew Reid is the author of many Bible studies and commentaries, and lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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