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Alistair Begg on “Climbing on Track”

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Dear Friend,

A blessed new year to you and your family!

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to meet the great-grandson of the late Fred Mitchell. That name may well be unfamiliar to you, and if so, I am glad to introduce you. He is not someone I had ever met. In fact, he died three weeks before my first birthday. He was the home director for Great Britain of the China Inland Mission. On his way back to the UK from Singapore, the Comet airliner on which he was travelling disintegrated at ten thousand feet after leaving Calcutta in a heavy thunderstorm. The last message received from the flight engineer was “Climbing on track.”

That phrase became the title of his biography, which I read for the first time in the ’70s. Meeting his great-grandson sent me back to it once again. A couple of quotes from it remind me why it made such an impact on me. Fred was, in the best of senses, an “ordinary” Christian. He wasn’t a clergyman or a professor, nor was he from a distinguished background. His father was a mine worker, and Fred left school at fifteen.

Here is the first quote:

He accomplished no great thing. His name was linked with many Christian organizations, but he was the founder of none. He turned the feet of many into paths of righteousness, but not more than others of his contemporaries. He made no spectacular and inspiring sacrifices. He effected no reforms. For the first forty-five years of his life the pathway he traversed was similar to that of thousands of other self-made, moderately successful business men. … On that ordinary, hum-drum track, however, he walked with God, climbing steadily in spiritual experience.

This, I hope, is an encouragement to each of us as we step into this new year, in most cases returning to familiar paths and routine responsibilities. It is in the fulfillment of everyday duties that we live for Christ. Fred has left us an example as one who was always on the lookout for the opportunity to explain the way of salvation to those whom he met along the way.

The second quote comes from an Anglican bishop. Walsham How (1823–1897) wrote over fifty hymns, and his preaching was filled with memorable turns of phrase, such as this, which had an impact on the trajectory of Fred Mitchell:

You will never lead souls heavenward unless climbing yourself. You need not be very far up, but you must be climbing.

And so, from the biography of Fred Mitchell to me and now to you, we launch into the year saying with the apostle Paul, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

As always, we seek with the materials we offer to increase our love for Christ and His Word and for the people with whom we live our lives so that we might prove to be a help and not a hindrance as we point them to Jesus. I encourage you to request our book recommendations this month, both by Puritan authors: Refreshment for the Soul by Richard Sibbes and Divine Providence by Stephen Charnock.

In closing, a few lines from a seldom-sung hymn:

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me.
The changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see.
I ask Thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing Thee.

With my love in the Lord Jesus,


Associate AI Pastor
Spiritual Support