By Rev Dr Ed &
-an article for the
Many of us as children read
Robert Louis Stevenson’s best-selling books like Treasure Island, Kidnapped,
and a Children’s Garden of Verses. He was a popular celebrity in his own
time. Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, wrote to Stevenson speaking
of “all the pleasure you have given me during my lifetime–more than any other
living man has done.” Rudyard Kipling called him ‘his idol’. GK Chesterton said that Stevenson "seemed
to pick the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing pick-up-sticks." Recently, Stevenson was ranked, just after
Charles Dickens, as the twenty-sixth most-widely-translated author in the
Few have realized the deep
Christian message that he wove into his many novels. There are hundreds of biblical references in
his over thirty books. In Treasure Island, a pirate brings a curse on
himself by using a ripped-out page of the Bible to give Long John Silver a
‘black spot’ of death. The bible verse was Revelation 22:15: “Without are dogs
and murderers.” Greed for false treasure leads to nothing but violence and death.
The true treasure brings peace and life.
Treasure Island is a spiritual application of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13 44:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden
in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and
sold all he had and bought that field.
In Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde,
Stevenson gives one of the most profound analyses of Romans Chapter 7 in its struggle
between good and evil. In Kidnapped,
the hero David Balfour is urged to be constant in his prayers and reading of
the Bible. The missionary Henderland
inquired (of David Balfour’s) state
of mind towards God…he had not spoken long before he brought the tears into my
eyes. There are two things that men should never weary of, goodness and
humility; we get none too much of them in this rough world among cold, proud
people;...he soon had me on my knees beside a simple, poor old man, and both
proud and glad to be there.
In the days before film, TV, and
the internet, Stevenson had a remarkable ability to take you on a journey,
giving you eyes to see a part of the world that most people had never
visited. In bringing you by imagination
to foreign lands, he also took you on a safari for your own soul.
Born in 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland,
Stevenson battled bronchial health issues for most of his short life, but never
let it stop his writing. A key spiritual influence on his life was his nurse
Alison Cunningham (known as Cummy). She
read him stories from John Bunyan and told him stories of the Covenanters revivalists
who brought spiritual renewal to Scotland. Robert’s favorite game as a child was
to make-believe that he was a clergyman and to preach from an improvised
pulpit. As a child, Robert commented, “I
would lie awake to weep for Jesus, but I would fear to trust myself to slumber
lest I was not accepted and should slip, ere I awoke, into eternal ruin.”
Self-condemnation and fear of hell crippled his young spiritual life.
During his Edinburgh University
years, Stevenson got involved in drunkenness and visiting prostitutes. Rebelling against his father’s strict
religiosity, he briefly identified himself as a ‘red-hot socialist’ and an atheist.
He formed a club with the motto “ignore everything that our parents taught us.”
When his father learned of this motto, he said to his son, “You have rendered
my whole life a failure.’ In a letter to
a friend, Robert mocked his father’s prayers as nothing better than praying to
By age 26, he regretted his
foolishness. Stevenson wrote to his father, stating that:
Christianity is among other
things, a very wise, noble and strange doctrine of life ... You see, I speak of
it as a doctrine of life, and as a wisdom for this world ... I have a good
heart, and believe in myself and my fellow-men and the God who made us all ...
There is a fine text in the Bible, I don't know where, to the effect that all
things work together for good for those who love the Lord. Strange as it may
seem to you, everything has been, in one way or the other, bringing me nearer
to what I think you would like me to be. 'Tis a strange world, indeed, but
there is a manifest God for those who care to look for him.
When he married his wife Fanny in
1880 at age 29, he described himself as “a mere complication of cough and bones,
much fitter for an emblem of mortality than a bridegroom.” Being addicted to cocaine
and opium did not help his frail health.
In 1890, he and his wife Fanny settled
with their children in Samoa in the South Sea islands where he taught Sunday
School. The Samoans called him Tusitala (the Storyteller), building a ‘loving
heart’ road right up to his house. Many missionaries in Samoa deeply impressed
Those who have a taste for hearing
missions, Protestant or Catholic, decried, must seek their pleasure somewhere
else than in my pages. Whether Catholic or Protestant...with all their
deficiency...the missionaries are the best and the most useful whites in the
Robert described the missionary
James Chalmers as “a man that took me fairly by storm for the most attractive,
simple, brave and interesting man in the whole Pacific.” He also deeply admired
the missionary Rev. W.E. Clarke who later took his funeral: “…a man I esteem
and like to the soles of his boots; I prefer him to any one in Samoa, and to
most people in the world.” S.J. Whitmee, Stevenson’s missionary interpreter,
had many conversations with him, saying that ““He was nearly all the time I
knew him, reading the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures.”
Robert Louis Stevenson died tragically
of a stroke in his island home in 1894 at age 44. Ten years after his death,
his wife printed Vailima Prayers, a small book of Robert’s prayers:
Lord, Give us courage and gaiety
and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.
Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavours.
If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we
be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all
changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to
As the clay to the potter,
as the windmill to the wind,
as children of their sire,
we beseech of Thee this help and mercy
for Christ’s sake. Amen
May Robert Louis Stevenson’s
example inspire many Christian writers to be Christ-centered authors of God’s
Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird
Co-authors, God’s Firestarters