Unlike many preachers, my father had no formal theological training. As well as running a successful business in a small Scottish village, and playing his part in the raising of four children, he also preached twice a week, every week in the local Gospel Hall from 1948 until January 1969. Many came to know Christ through my parents’ ministry and personal witness.
My father’s undoubted gift and enthusiasm for preaching God’s word was developed in what he called, ‘the furnace of affliction’: the prisoner of war camp in Poland where he was incarcerated by the Wehrmacht from 1940 to his liberation in 1945.
In his book, ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’, he relates his ‘call’ to the ministry and his first service in 1941.
“0N APRIL 19TH, 1941, a prisoner from the main camp joined us at Quadendorf. I doubt very much if he had any notion as to the influence he would have on our men in general, or on me in particular. The new arrival was Fred Goodchild, a middle-aged Englishman, small of build and with a slight limp. Fred had been hit by flying shrapnel in France and his wound always caused him pain.
Our new colleague had scarcely settled in when he asked if we had a Church Service on a Sunday evening. I did not hear him ask this question but I learned later on that the answer he got was a firm “no”. However, some more sympathetic or perhaps sarcastic gent added “We do have a Bible thumper in our ranks. You'll see him lying somewhere reading The Book.” Of course, I was the man they referred to and the book was my father's little Bible. So it was like Stanley meeting Livingstone in darkest Africa, Fred Goodchild met Charlie Morrison, better known as Schuster — at Quadendorf. At once, Fred suggested a camp service the next evening, which was a Sunday, and I was delighted to agree. But then, the bombshell was dropped. I said, “You will give the sermon, Fred.” He looked at me in absolute amazement and said “Me, Mate! I could not preach a sermon. It will have to be you.”
That was how I was ordained to the Ministry as they put it in churches nowadays. By the way, the word “ordained” merely means “put in position” as in the Psalm — “the moon and the stars which you have ordained”. With a great deal of hesitation and also trepidation, I agreed to take on the job just for one Sunday. Little did I dream that the one Sunday would continue from April 20th, 1941 till the week we were evacuated from Danzig on February 16th, 1945 — nor could I have imagined we would not miss one Sunday service in all that time. How I managed to find a new subject each week with only a Bible and no fancy reference books, I say in all reverence, only God knows. But the God who knows also cares and was to provide me with all that I required in the thoughts He put in my mind through all these long years.
My immediate problem however, was to find something to say the next evening, for my newly-found friend Fred became my P.R. man. He went round everyone inviting them to hear my very first sermon. What was I to do? The only thing left to me as so often, was to ask for help, in other words to pray.
Consequently, about seven o'clock on April 20th, with the men sitting round the room, I stood up and read without any singing or prayers. The only two parts of the Bible I knew anything about were Psalm 23 and The Gospel of John, Chapter 10. To my mind they seemed to fit together pretty well. I assumed that most of the lads would have a fair working knowledge of Psalm 23. It was written by David, the shepherd lad, and begins as we all know with the well-known words “The Lord is my Shepherd...” Here was one of the great song-writers and musicians of his day. He played the harp in those times and not the guitar. He had told of his faith in God through this particular psalm. I tried to press the point about David's experiences in life. He had faced and killed both a lion and a bear. Then he tackled Goliath, the Philistine plus armour-bearer, and downed the giant pretty smartly with a stone — in the Name of the Lord.
This he did while his big brothers and the rest of the Israeli soldiers stood open-mouthed in terror. Yes, David was no slouch and could say from his own experience, “Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you (Lord) are with me”. How vital to realise, I said, that without Jesus Christ as my Lord, death can be a very lonely time. No friend can go with me here. But when my trust is in Christ, I will “never walk alone” as the football supporters love to sing, not even in the valley of death, for He has promised “I will be with you”.
But then I had also read from the Gospel of John, Chapter 10. These words were spoken by a greater Shepherd than David. They were the words of Jesus himself, the Son of God. What did He have to say to me? Verse eleven reads, “I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep”. David risked his life for his sheep because he loved them and knew them well. Jesus did more than David. Jesus laid down his life for his sheep — on the Cross. The Bible says while we were still sinners Christ died for us. The Good Shepherd could say “No-one takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again”. Not only did Jesus speak here of his death, but he also promised he would return from the dead, as He did. Having tried to explain this to my audience, I then veered on to verses 27 and 28 of John, Chapter 10 and here, I quote these two verses to save time. Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand”.
Now my path seemed clear to press home my whole point. I recited the only verse which I could recite by heart: “All we like sheep have gone astray”. That was a good moment, I thought, at which to say that I was as big a sinner as any of them. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each one of us has turned to his own way, and God has laid on Jesus the sins of us all.” (What a subject it is, but I did not really do it justice at all. I was too scared.) There's another verse in the Bible which confirms this truth for, it says, “Christ died not only for our sins, (i.e. Christians’ sins) but for the sins of the whole world”. From that, I understood the only sin which would deprive me of eternal life and debar me from Heaven was the sin of unbelief: of refusing to receive Christ as my Saviour and Lord.
When I had finished this miniature sermon, I was absolutely shattered. I slipped off to the kitchen, most likely to get a drink of water. Immediately, I was followed and bombarded with questions from all sides. I don't remember much of what I was asked, but I do know that Joe Wathen was one of the lads who drew me aside. He told me he had been christened in Church as a child and confirmed at the age of twelve. He joined his Church later on, but never grasped the truth before that when Christ suffered on the Cross, he died for our sins.”
One of my favourite hymns is ‘Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus’, written by George Duffield on the tragic death of the hugely successful evangelist Dudley Atkins Tyng in 1858. While the military allusions in the hymn might not be too popular in present day evangelical culture, it is an encouragement to believers to continue to stand up for Christ by preaching the Gospel even in the most difficult of circumstances.
I am always reminded of God’s grace to my father in the circumstances surrounding his first sermon when I sing these precious words:
Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!
Stand in his strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you
Ye dare not trust your own
Put on the Gospel armour,
Each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger
Be never wanting there!
My late father’s book can still be obtained via Amazon.
‘We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5