What a man! What a General!
LETTER FROM LONDON
Long before I knew God in Christ, I saw him and loved him in my mother. She was my clearest, nearest idea of God, a God of whom I was utterly unafraid…with every respect to an upright and anxious father, it was my mother’s passionate love that led me into purity and wept me into truth.
Who was the inspirational writer? Who could so warm a reader’s heart in just a few sentences? GENERAL ALBERT ORSBORN. For my previous New Frontier article, I had looked up the date (1954) of his autobiography, The House of My Pilgrimage, when sheer fatigue had made him decide to relinquish office. Immediately I was hooked. What a writer! What a command of the English language! What a story he has to tell! I had forgotten what a genius he was. And he wrote all 294 pages by hand. No computer. No word processor.
Yet, because he was a son of Army officers, continually on the move, his early education was neglected. Ten times he had to change schools. He wrote: “At the age of four…I learned nothing at a small private school. I spent much time standing to attention in the bathroom which was the punishment cell. A sharp and shrewish mistress aroused in me a strong dislike of all lessons. I cannot remember one single school that I really enjoyed. Most of them I hated.” A Scottish school was his salvation, introducing him to Euclid, algebra and even a little Latin. Evening school and other voluntary educational facilities helped him in adolescence.
He recalls the Sunday night meeting when he left the crowded gallery to kneel at the Penitent-form. Beside him, a drink slave, “his life evidently very different from mine, but our hearts were alike in their need of forgiveness and redemption.” Teenager Orsborn was already in a gang intent on mischief.
I have a soft spot for a retired General prepared to relate: “There were no girls in our gang. There was a certain Maggie, a rather coy and inevitable type, with a flash of mischief and a saucy laugh. I rather liked her but did not say so and was never alone with her. Not until I was 17 did I have a girl friend.”
It would need a whole series of articles about Orsborn’s book to even give a glimpse of the Army’s sixth general; several chapters, for example, on his song-writing, including no fewer than 250 popular songs wedded to Army words–a process he describes “like giving a lovely lady a new dress.” Maggie, perhaps!
All my personal contacts with General Orsborn were unforgettable, beginning with three Spiritual Day meetings he led at the training college. In 1946 (the year of his election) my 280 fellow cadets and I sat transfixed by his oratory. He strode to and fro across the platform, his tunic held only by the neck hooks swinging open to reveal a pocketed Army red waistcoat as he turned dramatically on us cadets to press home a vital truth.
I was the War Cry reporter for his Easter 1956 retirement farewell from Sweden and Denmark. In Malmo, a capacity audience hung on his every word and gesture as he enacted the grave-clothed Lazarus emerging from the tomb at Christ’s command. He took in his stride like an Olympic champion the alleged hurdles of the language barrier. Just before the final meeting of the campaign in Copenhagen, the General’s ADC slipped an envelope into my hand. “Buy something for your wife with the General’s affection. He has valued all your support.”
This General understood how often we editorials were away from home.
Again, I was the duty scribe for his weeknight farewell meeting in Tunbridge Wells, a southeast English town. Every seat was taken. There was pin-drop silence when, at the climax of his preaching, he challenged people to decide for Christ. Then, just then, at this climactic moment, a baby cried. “Oh, no,” I heard myself softly moan. “This will ruin the night.”
But Orsborn was master of the moment. “As that baby cries,” he said softly, “so let your cries go up to a loving Heavenly Father. And as its mother comforts the little one, so will a loving Lord meet your needs.”
What an appeal! How powerfully God used his servant Albert Orsborn that night. Yet he writes: “Pray and preach as I may, giving all I am and have to the message, I shall never be able to fulfill my calling. I shall die with my message only partially and poorly spoken.”
What a man!