Standing True at Cambridge
Among the five major intercessions of his life, Norman Grubb counts his time at Cambridge University, where he was enrolled as a veteran of World War 1 to receive a degree. His uncompromising stand for sharing the pure gospel and his obedience of faith in joining C.T. Studd on the mission field, which meant giving up that degree, paved the way for the first InterVarsity Conference, and the eventual birth of InterVarsity Fellowship on college campuses around the world.
Before the war I had had five years at Marlborough College, an English “public school” of 600 boys, in which we were all boarders. When war broke out in August 1914, I had just obtained a classical exhibition (grant) to Sidney Sussex College of Cambridge University, entitling me to residence there at reduced fees. Now after five years of war, the university made it easy for us who had been previously accepted as undergraduates to take a short course of two years and obtain a “pass” degree of B.A., or stay longer for an “honors” degree.
With my calling fixed to join C.T. Studd in the heart of Africa, and now being engaged to his daughter Pauline, I was accepted as an undergraduate at Trinity College, instead of Sidney Sussex. Thus I attended the same college in which the Studd brothers had their notable years as captains of cricket and where D.L. Moody was brought by daring invitation for a first evangelistic mission.
Because of my wounded leg, I could not play “Rugger,” the Rugby football I was accustomed to and liked. So I spent my afternoons in what was my real love: knocking at the door of men’s dormitory rooms (there were no women in Trinity), speaking a word to them about Jesus Christ, and inviting them to our Cambridge evangelical union (known as the CICCU, or Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union).
The CICCU had dwindled down to a dozen men in the war years. But various ones of us were zealously reviving it, and I was secretary. We used to meet daily at midday for our DPM (daily prayer meeting) in the Henry Martyn Hall, given to the CICCU in memory of the great Henry Martyn, missionary to Persia. We would also hold “open airs” in the Cambridge parks and an evening evangelistic service. All men, we were a small and insignificant company.
Also at the university there was a much larger, popular Christian society called the SCM (Student Christian Movement). They were not so particular in bringing the gospel to the undergraduates. Instead, they would invite famous political speakers or notable war generals, who would speak on social and moral principles rather than on the need of a personal Savior.
But leaders among the SCM sensed our evangelical zeal and suggested that we join them as a spear point of Christian witness. So two of us—our CICCU president and I—agreed to meet their committee members in a room at Trinity. As we talked together, I became increasingly uneasy about their main emphasis. I asked their secretary, Rollo Pelly, “Do you put the atoning blood of Jesus Christ central in your message?” Rollo hesitated and then said, “Well, we admit it, but not as necessarily central.”
So then both Dan Dick and I arose and said that fusion with them was an impossibility, even though they reached the mass of students and we apparently a mere few. That was a vital meeting in re-establishing the pure stream of gospel and Bible witness in the university, at the price of being the contemptible, narrow few. But we little knew then that that decision was to have worldwide repercussions in the universities and colleges of the whole world.
Then a surprising and disturbing conviction of a personal call came to me. I was nearing the end of my first year, with only another few months to complete this really easily acquired B.A. degree. But out in the heart of Africa, C.T. Studd and his then five co-workers had been practically isolated in those war years. The strong conviction came to me that, in their need of reinforcements and fresh workers, I should drop getting this Cambridge degree and go straight out to join them in the Congo.
Yet, if I dropped out, I could not return later; and it only meant those few months’ delay to get that degree. I asked advice from others, and all advised to wait those extra months. I wanted to agree with them, but it was really just worthless ambition. In the end, the personal pressure of the Spirit on me won the day. I decided to “go down” and leave the university. It was a real death for me—a “dying of the Lord Jesus” which has lasted till today, in the absence of those easily obtained B.A. and M.A. degrees.
The Birth of InterVarsity
I had two weeks left of what would be my final term at Trinity College. It was as if the Spirit “came on me,” as in the Acts of the Apostles. I had a strong inner compulsion to spend those last weeks in calling on all the men with whom I was acquainted there or in other colleges. Likely it would be the last time we should meet on earth, and I wanted to have a final word with them. So I did just that.
One by one, I called on them in their rooms. These were not the normal students of college age, but returnees from the war—sophisticated and mainly ex-officers of various ranks. But I spoke boldly. If I knew the one I was visiting had no saving faith or a very weak one, I spoke to him as either lost and going to hell or obviously with some inhibiting sin blocking Christian growth.
The results were phenomenal for those days, though very different from the present thrilling responses in the student world. About 16 took various steps in accepting and committing their lives to Christ. This was “news” among our CICCU friends, and they asked me to meet with them and tell more about it. I did, and as I did, once again that inner voice spoke clearly to me. “Should not every university and college in Britain, and then in the world, have some kind of union of Christian students like the CICCU?”
Might it not be possible, even before I sailed for the Congo, to arrange some get-together where some of us in the CICCU could meet with some from other universities? I turned to two of my special friends—Clarence Foster, later Secretary of the Keswick Convention, and Leslie Sutton, who later joined us in the Congo—and asked if they would meet me in Leslie’s room in Queens. Even in these last weeks before Christmas, could they get the loan of a hall in London and ask others from Oxford and London and Durham Universities to join us in a first InterVarsity Conference? They agreed, and about 60 of us gathered.
What I only dimly realized then was that this was the birth of a worldwide movement in the colleges of the world. What actually happened was that it was agreed upon to have an annual InterVarsity Conference (IVC). This then became the beginnings of the InterVarsity Fellowship (IVF).
Dr. Douglas Johnson gave up his medical profession to become the first Secretary, and really developer, of what is now so strongly established all over Britain. Dr. Howard Guiness did the same in Canada and Australia, as did Stacey Woods in the USA under the title IVCF (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship).
Now throughout the colleges of every nation, students gather under the title of InterVarsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions (IVFEU). Many thousands of students have been brought to Christ and built up in the Word and Spirit these 65 years, since we had that first InterVarsity Conference in London in 1919!
Behind it, as ever, there was the intercessory death by which, as Jesus said in John 12:24, a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, if it is to bring forth fruit. I did have that death in leaving my degree behind in order to hasten to the Congo. There was also the “obedience of faith” in which we refused to be linked to any Christian movement which did not have Christ crucified at its center, no matter how popular or widespread it was.
Amazingly today, in Cambridge, Oxford and many other universities, the evangelical unions are actually the biggest unions. They are larger than the debating, drama or sports unions; and students by the hundreds attend the weekly Bible sessions and Sunday evening evangelistic services. The formerly flourishing Student Christian Movement, without its firm Bible foundation, is almost nonexistent.
Nothing was schemed or planned or even foreseen, but there was simple absorption in gospel witness among students by all means then available. All “signs and wonders” which have followed have been by the direct guidances and leadership of the Spirit. But always there has been the “obedience of faith” in the present calling, accompanied by the death and resurrection intercessory process.