Monthly Reading Challenge, Reading

A Handful of Stars

June is here, and 2021 is almost half over! Where has time gone? Who besides me is excited for another month and another book to read together? Our book this month is A Handful of Stars by F. W. Boreham. But first, it’s time to announce our readers from May.

Our readers for May were:

Fred

Thank you for participating in the reading challenge this month! I hope you enjoyed A Peep Behind the Scenes!

A Handful of Stars

A starry night sky | A handful of stars

I would describe A Handful of Stars as a historical devotional book. Each chapter is about a particular person (a handful of them are from a work of fiction) and how they were influenced by a certain Bible verse, their life verse. Some of them are people most of us will be familiar with. Others are people I’ve never heard of (well, I guess I have because my dad read this book aloud in family devotions a long time ago).

I’m really looking forward to reading A Handful of Stars. I plan to read it during my devotions this month.

Maybe you’ve never done the reading challenge before. Well, this would be a good month for you to participate! Our book has 22 chapters, and with the devotional style in which they are written, you could incorporate them into your personal devotions. You wouldn’t even have to read one chapter every day to finish the book on time.

In case you notice that there is another book that comes before this one, I’ll let you know that it doesn’t matter in which order you read them. There are five books total in this series, but the order doesn’t matter. I read the first book last summer and enjoyed it very much. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one just as much.

You can download an e-book version of the book for free from Project Gutenberg: A Handful of Stars. And I thought I would share one chapter with you right now. It is Hudson Taylor’s text.

A Handful of Stars Chapter 9

Hudson Taylor’s Text

I

The day on which James Hudson Taylor—then a boy in his teens—found himself confronted by that tremendous text was, as he himself testified in old age, ‘a day that he could never forget.’ It is a day that China can never forget; a day that the world can never forget. It was a holiday; everybody was away from home; and the boy found time hanging heavily upon his hands. In an aimless way he wandered, during the afternoon, into his father’s library, and poked about among the shelves.

‘I tried,’ he says, ‘to find some book with which to while away the leaden hours. Nothing attracting me, I turned over a basket of pamphlets and selected from among them a tract that looked interesting. I knew that it would have a story at the commencement and a moral at the close; but I promised myself that I would enjoy the story and leave the rest. It would be easy to put away the tract as soon as it should seem prosy.’

He scampers off to the stable-loft, throws himself on the hay, and plunges into the book. He is captivated by the narrative, and finds it impossible to drop the book when the story comes to an end. He reads on and on. He is rewarded by one great golden word whose significance he has never before discovered: ‘The Finished Work of Christ!’

Copy of Live Verses by F. W. Boreham | A handful of stars

The theme entrances him; and at last he only rises from his bed in the soft hay that he may kneel on the hard floor of the loft and surrender his young life to the Saviour who had surrendered everything for him. If, he asked himself, as he lay upon the hay, if the whole work was finished, and the whole debt paid upon the Cross, what is there left for me to do? ‘And then,’ he tells us, ‘there dawned upon me the joyous conviction that there was nothing in the world to be done but to fall upon my knees, accept the Saviour and praise Him for evermore.’

‘It is finished!’

‘When Jesus, therefore, had received the vinegar he said, “It is finished!” and He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.’

‘Then there dawned upon me the joyous conviction that, since the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid upon the Cross, there was nothing for me to do but to fall upon my knees, accept the Saviour and praise Him for evermore!’

Open book, candle, and coffee mug | A handful of stars

II

‘It is finished!’

It is really only one word: the greatest word ever uttered; we must examine it for a moment as a lapidary examines under a powerful glass a rare and costly gem.

It was a farmer’s word. When, into his herd, there was born an animal so beautiful and shapely that it seemed absolutely destitute of faults and defects, the farmer gazed upon the creature with proud, delighted eyes. ‘Tetelestai!’ he said, ‘tetelestai!’

It was an artist’s word. When the painter or the sculptor had put the last finishing touches to the vivid landscape or the marble bust, he would stand back a few feet to admire his masterpiece, and, seeing in it nothing that called for correction or improvement, would murmur fondly, ‘Tetelestai! tetelestai!’

It was a priestly word. When some devout worshiper, overflowing with gratitude for mercies shown him, brought to the temple a lamb without spot or blemish, the pride of the whole flock, the priest, more accustomed to seeing the blind and defective animals led to the altar, would look admiringly upon the pretty creature. ‘Tetelestai!’ he would say, ‘tetelestai!’

And when, in the fullness of time, the Lamb of God offered Himself on the altar of the ages, He rejoiced with a joy so triumphant that it bore down all His anguish before it. The sacrifice was stainless, perfect, finished! ‘He cried with a loud voice Tetelestai! and gave up the ghost.’

This divine self-satisfaction appears only twice, once in each Testament. When He completed the work of Creation, He looked upon it and said that it was very good; when He completed the work of Redemption He cried with a loud voice Tetelestai! It means exactly the same thing.

Open book, candle, and coffee mug | A handful of stars

III

The joy of finishing and of finishing well! How passionately good men have coveted for themselves that ecstasy! I think of those pathetic entries in Livingstone’s journal. ‘Oh, to finish my work!’ he writes again and again. He is haunted by the vision of the unseen waters, the fountains of the Nile. Will he live to discover them? ‘Oh, to finish!’ he cries; ‘if only I could finish my work!’

I think of Henry Buckle, the author of the History of Civilization. He is overtaken by fever at Nazareth and dies at Damascus. In his delirium he raves continually about his book, his still unfinished book. ‘Oh, to finish my book!’ And with the words ‘My book! my book!’ upon his burning lips, his spirit slips away.

I think of Henry Martyn sitting amidst the delicious and fragrant shades of a Persian garden, weeping at having to leave the work that he seemed to have only just begun.

I think of Doré taking a sad farewell of his unfinished Vale of Tears; of Dickens tearing himself from the manuscript that he knew would never be completed; of Macaulay looking with wistful and longing eyes at the History and The Armada that must for ever stand as ‘fragments’; and of a host besides. Life is often represented by a broken column in the church-yard. Men long, but long in vain, for the priceless privilege of finishing their work.

IV

The joy of finishing and of finishing well! There is no joy on earth comparable to this. Who is there that has not read a dozen times the immortal postscript that Gibbon added to his Decline and Fall? He describes the tumult of emotion with which, after twenty years of closest application, he wrote the last line of the last chapter of the last volume of his masterpiece. It was a glorious summer’s night at Lausanne.

‘After laying down my pen,’ he says, ‘I took several turns in a covered walk of acacias which commands a prospect of the country, the lake and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent.’ It was the greatest moment of his life.

We recall, too, the similar experience of Sir Archibald Alison. ‘As I approached the closing sentence of my History of the Empire,’ he says, ‘I went up to Mrs. Alison to call her down to witness the conclusion, and she saw the last words of the work written, and signed her name on the margin. It would be affectation to conceal the deep emotion that I felt at this event.’

John 19:30 on a starry background | A handful of stars

Or think of the last hours of Venerable Bede. Living away back in the early dawn of our English story–twelve centuries ago–the old man had set himself to translate the Gospel of John into our native speech. Cuthbert, one of his young disciples, has bequeathed to us the touching record.

As the work approached completion, he says, death drew on apace. The aged scholar was racked with pain; sleep forsook him; he could scarcely breathe. The young man who wrote at his dictation implored him to desist. But he would not rest. They came at length to the final chapter; could he possibly live till it was done?

‘And now, dear master,’ exclaimed the young scribe tremblingly, ‘only one sentence remains!’ He read the words and the sinking man feebly recited the English equivalents.

‘It is finished, dear master!’ cried the youth excitedly.

‘Ay, it is finished!’ echoed the dying saint; ‘lift me up, place me at that window of my cell at which I have so often prayed to God. Now glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost!’ And, with these triumphant words, the beautiful spirit passed to its rest and its reward.

V

In his own narrative of his conversion, Hudson Taylor quotes James Proctor’s well-known hymn–the hymn that, in one of his essays, Froude criticizes so severely:

Nothing either great or small,

Nothing, sinner, no;

Jesus did it, did it all,

Long, long ago.

‘It is Finished!’ yes, indeed,

Finished every jot;

Sinner, this is all you need;

Tell me, is it not?

Cast your deadly doing down,

Down at Jesus’ feet;

Stand in Him, in Him alone,

Gloriously complete.

Froude maintains that these verses are immoral. It is only by ‘doing,’ he argues, that the work of the world can ever get done. And if you describe ‘doing’ as ‘deadly’ you set a premium upon indolence and lessen the probabilities of attainment. The best answer to Froude’s plausible contention is the Life of Hudson Taylor. Hudson Taylor became convinced, as a boy, that ‘the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid.’ ‘There is nothing for me to do,’ he says, ‘but to fall down on my knees and accept the Saviour.’ The chapter in his biography that tells of this spiritual crisis is entitled ‘The Finished Work of Christ,’ and it is headed by the quotation:

Upon a life I did not live,

Upon a death I did not die,

Another’s life, Another’s death

I stake my whole eternity.

And, as I have said, the very words that Froude so bitterly condemns are quoted by Hudson Taylor as a reflection of his own experience. And the result? The result is that Hudson Taylor became one of the most prodigious toilers of all time. So far from his trust in ‘the Finished Work of Christ’ inclining him to indolence, he felt that he must toil most terribly to make so perfect a Saviour known to the whole wide world.

There lies on my desk a Birthday Book which I very highly value. It was given me at the docks by Mr. Thomas Spurgeon as I was leaving England. If you open it at the twenty-first of May you will find these words: ‘”Simply to Thy Cross I cling” is but half of the Gospel. No one is really clinging to the Cross who is not at the same time faithfully following Christ and doing whatsoever He commands’; and against those words of Dr. J. R. Miller’s in my Birthday Book, you may see the autograph of J. Hudson Taylor. He was our guest at the Mosgiel Manse when he set his signature to those striking and significant sentences.

VI

‘We Build Like Giants; we Finish Like Jewelers!’–so the old Egyptians wrote over the portals of their palaces and temples. I like to think that the most gigantic task ever attempted on this planet–the work of the world’s redemption–was finished with a precision and a nicety that no jeweler could rival.

‘It is finished!’ He cried from the Cross.

‘Tetelestai! Tetelestai!’

When He looked upon His work in Creation and saw that it was good, He placed it beyond the power of man to improve upon it.

To gild refinèd gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet,

To smooth the ice, or add another hue

Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light

To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,

Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

A mountain stream | A handful of stars

And, similarly, when He looked upon His work in Redemption and cried triumphantly ‘Tetelestai,’ He placed it beyond the power of any man to add to it.

There are times when any addition is a subtraction. Some years ago, White House at Washington–the residence of the American Presidents–was in the hands of the painters and decorators. Two large entrance doors had been painted to represent black walnut. The contractor ordered his men to scrape and clean them in readiness for repainting, and they set to work. But when their knives penetrated to the solid timber, they discovered to their astonishment that it was heavy mahogany of a most exquisite natural grain! The work of that earlier decorator, so far from adding to the beauty of the timber, had only served to conceal its essential and inherent glory. It is easy enough to add to the wonders of Creation or of Redemption; but you can never add without subtracting. ‘It is finished!’

VII

Many years ago, Ebenezer Wooton, an earnest but eccentric evangelist, was conducting a series of summer evening services on the village green at Lidford Brook. The last meeting had been held; the crowd was melting slowly away; and the evangelist was engaged in taking down the marquee. All at once a young fellow approached him and asked, casually rather than earnestly, ‘Mr. Wooton, what must I do to be saved?’ The preacher took the measure of his man.

‘Too late!’ he said, in a matter of fact kind of way, glancing up from a somewhat obstinate tent-peg with which he was struggling. ‘Too late, my friend, too late!’ The young fellow was startled.

‘Oh, don’t say that, Mr. Wooton!’ he pleaded, a new note coming into his voice. ‘Surely it isn’t too late just because the meetings are over?’

‘Yes, my friend,’ exclaimed the evangelist, dropping the cord in his hand, straightening himself up, and looking right into the face of his questioner, ‘it’s too late! You want to know what you must do to be saved, and I tell you that you’re hundreds of years too late! The work of salvation is done, completed, finished! It was finished on the Cross; Jesus said so with the last breath that He drew! What more do you want?’

And, then and there, it dawned upon the now earnest inquirer on the village green as, at about the same time, it dawned upon young Hudson Taylor in the hay-loft, that ‘since the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid upon the Cross, there was nothing for him to do but to fall upon his knees and accept the Saviour.’ And there, under the elms, the sentinel stars witnessing the great transaction, he kneeled in glad thanksgiving and rested his soul for time and for eternity on ‘the Finished Work of Christ.’

VIII

‘The Finished Work of Christ!’

‘Tetelestai! Tetelestai!’

‘It is finished!’

It is not a sigh of relief at having reached the end of things. It is the unutterable joy of the artist who, putting the last touches to the picture that has engrossed him for so long, sees in it the realization of all his dreams and can nowhere find room for improvement. Only once in the world’s history did a finishing touch bring a work to absolute perfection; and on that day of days a single flaw would have shattered the hope of the ages.

Ready to Join?

If you’re new to the monthly reading challenge, the first of the month I choose a book for us to read together. It might be a biography, fiction story, or non-fiction work.

Of course, if you would rather, you can choose a book of your own to read. That is always an option, though it will be fun if we read the same book together.

If you want to participate, just leave a comment and let me know. Sometime around the middle of the month, I will do a post where I discuss the book, sharing what has stood out to me. You can share your thoughts then, too. If you join the challenge and complete it, let me know because the first of every month, when I tell what our new book is, I will be telling who completed the previous month’s reading challenge.

If you’re finding this post and it’s not the beginning of the month, feel free to go ahead and jump in! Or you can subscribe to the blog by email and get notified when next month’s reading challenge rolls around.

So, do you want to join our reading challenge to read A Handful of Stars or another book? All you have to do is leave a comment below and let me know, or send me an email at hannah@morethanjustreading.com. I hope you join!

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