HISTORY and TIMES of THE KINGDOM
An Essay by Rev. Frank S. Murray
Was Frank Sandford An Egotist?
by Rev. Frank S. Murray
February 11, 1984
No accusation was brought against Mr. Sandford any more frequently than this--that he was an egotist, quite bound up in himself and his own importance. Such an attack deserves impartial investigation. Personally, as one who knew him for many years and had ample opportunity to observe him when "off guard," so to speak, I categorically deny the charge.
But why was it made? There must be some foundation for it, however specious. Yes, there was--and is. And here we come to that difficult analysis of our own selves that is so nearly impossible to make correctly. Why? Because as C. S. Lewis has aptly observed, those most sensitive to pride in others tend to be filled with it themselves. Can it be that it takes an egotist to see egotism in others? I saw scores and hundreds of humble persons who met Mr. Sandford personally and rejoiced in his ministry, and to whom it never occurred to find fault with his strong assertions as to his own victories in Christ. They were only too glad to see one man that was not ashamed to declare his one-ness with the Saviour. But sprinkled in with those hundreds were always a few here and there who were, to use a current expression, "turned off" by him. They resented his authority, suspected his claims to hear the voice of God, and refused his ministry. The most common indictment was usually phrased: "Who does he think he is?" Almost invariably these critics were men and women of considerable standing in the Christian community, and had come to think of themselves rather highly.
Very well. What were his claims? They were astounding to put it mildly. He told us that God had spoken to him on April 14, 1898, saying, "Remove the covering cast over the face of all the earth. Oversee it." On November 23, 1901, he said that God spoke again, saying, "Elijah is here. Testify." On September 17, 1902, came another direction: "Renew the Kingdom." These are but a few of the many messages he said came to him from God, and to deny they certainly reveal that he felt a strong sense of his own important position in the plan of God.
To his critics such claims were like gasoline on fire. They fairly gnashed their teeth against him in their fury--largely because so many believing souls accepted his authority. From the calm perspective of these thirty-six years since Mr. Sandford's death, how should we appraise such claims? In the light of the evident fact that his work has not died--not by any means--and that many otherwise rational Christians firmly believe that he was true, we at least need to be careful.
Only a fool will reject these amazing statements as the ravings of a madman without examining all the evidence impartially. A study of some of his writings without the balance of the rest of his writings, and without the testimony of those who knew and trusted him is at least poor scholarship. Probably there is no one living who has had more ample opportunity than I to examine all the evidence first hand. I am fully prepared in mind and soul to state that I believe, after careful examination, that Frank W. Sandford was indeed what he said he was, and that this fact will be confirmed at the judgment seat of Christ. I suggest that all who approach this investigation do so with an open mind. Why not make allowance for the possibility that perhaps he was right? The council of Gamaliel is worthy of mention here. The humble seeker of truth will make every provision to avoid being "found even to be fighting against God."
Well, Mr. Sandford said he was a prophet. Jesus told us how to appraise prophets. He said, "By their fruits ye shall know them." What are any Christian's "fruits"? First, his daily life of Godliness--prayer, obedience to the Word, being filled with the Spirit, leading souls to Christ, generosity with money, living by faith, care for the souls and bodies of his friends. By all these criteria Frank Sandford was outstanding. No one who knew and lived with him for years as I did could deny it without being incorrigibly prejudiced. It was simply so. I challenge anyone to contest it.
When it comes to a leader in the church--a minister, missionary, Sunday School teacher, or any other who has some sort of oversight, "fruits" can also be seen in the lives of his students, parishioners, or disciples generally. What kind of lives did they live?
Here again, the fruits are uniformly good. Mr. Sandford's Bible School students and all other church members or followers of whatever category who adhered to his teaching and imitated his life have always stood out in the world Christian commonwealth. His followers were never numerous, and he did not seek increasing numbers, once his mission was clarified, but God so arranged it that nearly all who allied themselves with him were able to know him personally and he them, making possible a tight welding of "troops," as it were, under a military leader for effective prayer warfare.
So much for the fruits of a prophet.
Yes, but his claims were so extravagant!
Were they? By what measure? If God had intended in these last evil days to raise up some prophetic character able to stem the worst tide Christendom has ever had to face, wouldn't God back such a man up with more than ordinary credentials? Haven't discerning men of God for decades now been declaring that our need is for a prophet--someone who can speak with authority and furnish a standard of Godliness that would not compromise with humanism? And if so--if God did send such a man--are we not liable to fall into the same trap of Satan that Israel did, and reject that prophet?
Is the carping criticism now being leveled at Mr. Sandford all of a piece with the jealous rejection accorded to other prophets since the world began? Are we any better than our fathers? These are serious questions and require more than a hasty or thoughtless answer.
I have written a book about this man's life which I named "The Sublimity of Faith." I confess that it is a lamentable understatement; it fails to do anything like justice to the glory of God which surrounded Mr. Sandford's daily life. Yet how a person can read that book and fail to take this man seriously is beyond my comprehension. And how anyone can pretend to pass fair judgment on him without reading that book is a profession of shallow scholarship. One might form tentative opinions before reading it, but to go so far as to write and distribute papers purporting to discredit him and his work without at least this much research is inviting raised eyebrows, in my opinion.
But our subject was Egotism. Was Mr. Sandford an egotist? Webster defines the word as "the practice of referring overmuch to oneself; conceit." Such a concept requires our thought. Leaving out the word "conceit" this definition applies overwhelmingly to God Himself--"The Great I AM." No one in all history has referred to Himself so consistently and repeatedly as Jehovah of Hosts. We all know this--we Christians--and take no offense. We say, "He has the right," and we reject the word "overmuch".
Next in line we could probably put Jesus Christ. His claims in respect to His Person, His Authority, and His uniqueness are to the natural man simply stupefying. Atheists are continually pointing this out and sneering at Him. But we who have known and loved Him take the positive point of view. "He has the right," and say again; and look for the day when "every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." Thus far we are on common ground with all devout believers. But we say that the right stops there. No mere human being has any call even to think in such terms. Granted. But what are we to make of Paul's astonishing self-commendations, not once, but many times? Read, for example, 1 Corinthians 4:14-21. In those eight verses he uses the first person no less than thirteen times, including the bold statement: "I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me..." only here he adds something: "even as I also am of Christ."
That relieves us. Of course: follow such a good example. But why did he have to introduce himself at all? we might ask. Why not simply urge them to imitate Christ? Why be so "egotistical"? You will find this strain all through Paul's writings. One would be pardoned for thinking he felt he was "the Whole Show." Why did he do it? Was it simply his frail carnality peeking through? Or was he moved by the Holy Ghost, as we claim to believe?
Why did he write this church: "If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual. let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandments of the Lord"?(14:37) That is very strong stuff. Again, why did he do it?
The answer is not hard to find. He was forced to do it. He had to fight to establish his credentials. He had not been one of the Twelve. He had not been a personal disciple of Christ. He had no one to vouch for his mission except himself. When struck down by the blazing light en route to Damascus, he alone had heard the words of the Lord. Away in Arabia he alone had been "caught up into the third heaven." He had no influential man to vouch for him. The apostles obviously accepted him slowly and grudgingly.
He spells it out rather plainly in the Epistle to the Romans (11:13)--"Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles I magnify mine office..." Here is the simple key. He did not magnify himself, but his office, his authority under Christ, his mission to go and do what at first horrified the Twelve--preach to Gentiles. I suppose none of us today can properly comprehend what a terrific break that was from the accepted tradition that the apostles thought they had received from Christ. ("Go not into any way of the Gentiles...but go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel,"etc.)
Paul had to fight hard to win such meager support as he finally got from the Early Church Establishment in Jerusalem. This is no secret, and we who call ourselves Gentiles have glorified in it ever since. What we might have said had we been Jewish believers in, say, A.D. 40 might have been very different story.
So where does Frank Sandford come in? Grant for a moment his conviction that he had been called and commissioned of God to "restore all things"--to restore the religion of Jesus and the apostles to what it had been intended to be--do you see his predicament?
He had been a denominational pastor and evangelist--and a very successful one. He had signed the Student Volunteer pledge: "I am willing and desirous, God permitting, to be a foreign missionary." He had subscribed with all his heart to their motto: "This world for Christ in my lifetime." He had seen from his trip around the world that denominational missionary methods were not succeeding. He had observed wide gaps between accepted Protestantism and the teaching of the Bible. He had groaned, prayed, fasted, cried, to God for an answer to the world's dying condition. In other words, he had taken God and the Book and the terrible world problem seriously, and was willing to embark on any course that would promise victory instead of defeat.
So God as it were took him seriously. "If you mean what you say, young man, yes, there is a way out, but it will cost you your credibility, your reputation, and perhaps even your life." That in effect is what his soul went through that night in New York City in the fall of 1892 when he wrestled in prayer all night long and emerged with a willingness to pay the price of ostracism from his dearest Christian friends, if need be, in order to obey God to the letter without compromise.
Not then, but sometime later, having studied carefully the life of Paul and seen the misunderstandings that apostle had to undergo, The Lord answered him, he reported: "Are you willing to accept the God of Paul?" In other words, are you willing to accept the lonely walk and all its perils that that man endured?" After days of reflection to count the cost, he replied, "Yes."
He was convinced that God took him at his word. So am I. So are hundreds of other devoted souls that saw in him the courage they would have otherwise lacked.
Then came these various commissions and titles which he says God communicated to him through the years from 1898 to 1902. He was not a blind optimist. He knew very well the misunderstanding, not to say scorn, such claims would pile upon him. Yet he considered the obloquy well worth the cost if he could train a group of warriors to be truly real with God, not seeking to adjust their course to the approval of the more or less carnal minded, even among Christians.
But being alone like all prophets, he had to assert his claims forcefully. He had to magnify his office. There was no one else to do it.
But here let me draw a sharp distinction. He was not egotistical. He did not magnify himself. People say what is the difference? All the difference in the world. He did not deal in false modesty.
If the Holy Spirit spoke through him to good effect he glorified God exactly as much as though someone else had been the speaker. He felt that to deprecate God's work through him would really be to insinuate that he himself should get some of the credit. he was truly unselfconscious about it.
When I first went to live with him for training, fresh from the college world of blowing one's own horn (however artfully) I was disturbed by his occasional references to himself. But when I saw that on any and every occasion he would as fully appreciate others when God saw fit to use them, I detected the true humility behind his attitude. it was the work of Christ that he constantly magnified.
There was nothing Sandfordish about it. He held no brief for Sandford genealogy (though his traced right back to the Mayflower Company). He detested what he called "ancestor worship," and would speak only of what Christ had done in his family. The same with himself. He often mourned his youthful worldliness and the precious years he had wasted in "vanity and pride." He even recognized and spoke penitently about "Sandford pride," of which by nature he had a generous endowment.
But when it came to his "office" in God's plan there was no modesty about him. He was speaking for God and he knew it. He didn't guess so: he knew so. And we who sat at his feet knew it too. Not because he spoke loudly or often. He simply spoke with authority. He embodied before us what Paul wrote the Galatians: "I live; yet not I. Christ liveth in me."
Christ lives in every believer, to the extent they will let Him. Those extents vary, as we all have to confess. But when God found one man who would abandon his concern about what men might think and make himself wholly God's, then God could use him as He could few others. One of the frequently mentioned scriptures with which he warned us was Isaiah 2:22--"Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?" F.W. Sandford did just that. He ceased. He understood Galatians 2:6 very well, where Paul writes of Peter, James and John: "Whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth not man's person." That is the way Mr. Sandford regarded his religious detractors.
Let him express it in his own words, taken from an unpublished manuscript written for the edification of his people at a convention in 1942. After some burning words of exhortation to his fellow ministers, seeking to stir up their pure minds to neglect not the gift that was in them he added this: "And if you want to know my name, it is 'NOTHING! N-O-T-H-I-N-G!--not a whit behind the chiefest apostles, though I am that.'
"If I can get you respectably attired for the Great Day ahead, then I am willing for you never to have another thought of me throughout eternity."
He meant that. He was utterly frank--utterly selfless. There are precious few really self-forgetful persons in this present cagey age, and we appreciated him. I would suppose that all honest souls would appreciate him. He was true--completely true--both to God and man. There was no trace of what is casually meant by egotism about him. Like Paul, he did not "dare to speak of any things save those which Christ wrought through me; but of those he did not dare to keep silent. As I said at the beginning, let those who call him egotistical search their own hearts for the spiritual jealousy that lies so deeply ensconced in most men's souls--especially religious men.
I for one rejoice that such clean, holy, loving, generous, godly man as Frank W. Sandford ever walked this earth and spoke the words God gave him to speak. I have never met a more intelligent balanced, good-humored person. Until I can find one who lives closer to God than he I shall stand up for him and seek to perpetuate the quality of character that he displayed in this decadent age.
"Nathan Harriman at one time before his defection wrote that when Sandford appeared to be boasting, he really was not - it is "refreshing unconsciousness." There was no "false modesty" about what the Spirit had chosen to do through him. "To a shallow person, it is supreme conceit; to those who have learned to value reality, it is sublime." Everlasting Gospel Jan. 8-15, 1901, from Fair Clear and Terrible by Shirley Nelson unpublished page notes p.466