“Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war” (Jer. 51:20).
India is a colorful land and God has sent some colorful Christians to labor there. One of those at the fore was Silas Fowler Fox . “No one sleeps when Silas speaks” was his billing.
Silas was born December 22, 1893, just outside Medicine Hat, Alberta, to Caleb and Bessie Fox. His father died just three weeks after the birth of Silas, and some time later the young widow remarried a certain Mr. Roberts who was given to drink. Eventually, after innumerable beatings, Mrs. Fox, in the dead of winter, gathered her few belongings and her children into a sleigh and left, never to return. These grim memories left Silas with a hatred of alcohol: “Drink is a curse and should be left alone by Christians.”
Years later in Bombay, during one of Silas’ sulfur-flavored sermons—his text was Jude 23, “And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh”—fire was the theme. In his biography, Silas’ son Donald writes, “One could almost sniff the brimstone in the hot atmosphere.” Hearing the shout of “Fire!” someone called out the fire department, thinking a building was burning. The incident reminds us of what Spurgeon said: “Find a church on fire and the whole community will come out to watch it burn.” And communities did come out to watch this man on fire.
The match was lit when a nineteen-year-old in Toronto, Canada, named Silas Fowler Fox, came to Christ. Three years later he enrolled in the Toronto Bible College to study under W. H. Griffith Thomas and Frank Weston. Married to Emma Grau in 1916, by January of 1917 they were in India under the Ceylon and India General Mission.
He left that mission board in 1926, and thereafter became an outspoken advocate of New Testament missionary practices. He was persuaded that faith practices keep a man faithful, and that many uncalled and unqualified foreign workers were being wrongly sustained by mission boards.
Speaking of the shipwreck in Acts 27 he made this sly dig, “Here we see the scriptural justification for boards. It says in verse 44 that some escaped ‘on boards.’ Many a board keeps a sinking missionary afloat!”
As an itinerant preacher, Silas spoke Telugu as though he had heard it from the womb, and he mastered a number of Indian dialects. He saw some fifty assemblies gathered to the Lord Jesus from his numerous children in the faith.
When someone said, “I hear, Mr. Fox, that you’re an independent missionary,” Silas would retort, “I’m not an independent missionary! I’m not independent of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, or of the Bible!” He was a man who felt dependent. If his spirit was dull he would bemoan the lack in his diary entries, “No fire, no points, no grip.”
It was at such times that he would apply to himself the lesson of a favorite message. This was his message on the lost axe head (2 Ki. 6:1-7). To him the lost axe head sometimes represented the servant of God who had lost his usefulness. Silas writes:
What did he have left in his hand after the axe head fell off? Answer: Of course only the handle would be left in his hand. Suppose he covered up his loss—then all afternoon he could have continued hitting trees with the handle. Now he would never fell a tree with an axe handle. As we look around we can see much Christian work and activity—only sad to say there is NO POWER in it. No power of the Spirit of God in it—too bad—the axe head has gone, if it was ever there. Sunday School teachers…even those behind the pulpit—I repeat again—activity but NO POWER, and this should not be.
John the Baptist had a real ministry and the word was, “The axe is laid unto the root of the trees” (Mt. 3:10). The Jews at that time had the belief that by being children of Abraham they were children of God. This was a wrong tree and God used John to cut it down.
Today it is nominal Christianity and people think because they are “Christians” they are safe. This tree must be cut down—it has grown very big. The message is: “You must be born again”—an individual matter. When you repent and receive Christ, you receive power and a new life (see Jn. 1:11-14).
It says in Ecclesiastes 10:10, “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength.” That is how real preaching should be. The Word of God is as the axe and it is not dull, but one needs the power of the Spirit to use it effectively. We are to preach the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven (1 Pet. 1:12).
When I was a boy, I saw woodsmen cutting trees in the forest, felling big trees with an axe. It was a grand sight to see these men bared to the waist, their muscles rippling as they worked. Now today of course this is all done mechanically; they have big machines to do the job. However real preaching should be like the man using the axe on the trees—seeing chips fly.
May the Lord help us to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit so that big trees might fall and new lives begin as people trust Christ. That young man lost the axe head, but he cried out and Elisha came and brought back the axe head. By the power of God the sunken axe head swam.
If we are not conscious of that power in our life, we must confess it and cry out. Elisha asked, “Where did the axe head fall?” And today I ask you, “Where did you lose the power?” Did worldliness creep in? Was it the love of money? Or carelessness? Confess it to the Lord and come back to Him today. Paul prayed, “That the power of Christ might rest upon me.” May this be our experience: the power of Christ resting on us and our ministry.
Dr. Clifford Wilson describes hearing “the axe head sermon” at a camp in Melbourne, Australia:
Silas pictured the man (2 Kings 6:1-7) continuing to chop down the tree, after the axe head had flown off. There he was (Silas, that is), pencil in hand—for that was the axe—moving it up and down against the imaginary tree. A friend came along and watched in amazement as “the axe handle” kept up its rhythmic movement.
“What are you doing, man?” he asked at length.
“I’m chopping this tree down,” was the answer, hands still going through the motions.
The friend watched for a minute, confused. Then he spoke up again. “But man, you can’t chop a tree down with just an axe handle!”
“Don’t worry,” hands still going up and down, “I’m being faithful!”
Wilson, himself a discouraged missionary, saw this, and there learned from Silas that with God there is no point in “going through the motions” if one has lost the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. That power can only be restored by God Himself when we cry to Him. “Being faithful” is not enough.
How many workers have become immobilized by spiritual sloppiness or coldness? Can they move on for God again? Silas was once approached by “Tamil David,” a preacher of renown whom God had formerly used powerfully, especially among Syrian Christians. In his book, The White Fox of Andhra, Donald Fox writes,
It is reliably reported that some 30,000 turned to Christ under his [Tamil David’s] ministry. This man, V. D. David, of Tinnevelly, had had a setback in his Christian life while touring the United States. At that time, he was under a cloud and had been out of the ministry for seven years.
Missionaries took it in turns to organize conventions, and at one Silas organized, Brother David came up to him and asked, “Can the iron swim again?” This was an allusion to the incident in 2 Kings 6:6.
“By the power of God’s renewing grace, why, of course, yes,” Silas assured him and thereupon invited him to participate in the upcoming convention, where he did so with fresh anointing and went on to resume a useful ministry. With this incident in mind, Silas often preached on “the recovered axe head.” In his mind’s eye he could visualize this old evangelist once more going about his business…The beautiful feet were once more in circulation.
Although Silas Fox invested significant time in specific Telugu-speaking areas, he felt the Lord had called him to itinerate widely. In his first term in India alone, he preached in some 300 villages, preaching to crowds in the village markets. He was renowned for various attention-getting antics in the open-air while preaching, but there was substance to the work accomplished through this firebrand.
As Volume 3 of F. A. Tatford’s series That the World May Know states: “Through the efforts of those who had caught the vision of Silas (the ‘White Fox’) over 150 virile assemblies came into being in the next two decades” (p. 137).
V. Luke, a believer from Andhra, writes: “We, the Andhras, owe a good deal to the ministry and life of S. Fox, who, like a star shining in the sky, led us to the Lord Jesus Christ. His messages were characterized by spiritual power from on high. We are witnesses to the rivers of living waters which sprang from within and caused a great blessing.”
The White Fox of Andhra by Donald S. Fox, Dorrance & Company, 1977
That the World May Know, Vol. 3; The Challenge of India, Echoes of Service, 1983