Although to many the name J. Charleton Steen will be largely unknown, his contribution to the work of the Lord over the latter years of the 19th Century and into the 20th Century was significant.
J. Charleton Steen was born in June 1865 and spent the early part of his life in the Scottish town of Greenock. Although little is recorded of this part of his life, it is known that he was saved as a youth, and showed early promise, both in his studies of the scriptures and his zeal in the gospel. His early exercises did not diminish, and, at the relatively young age of twenty-three, he gave up secular employment and began full-time service for the Lord.
Initially, he set out to preach the gospel in Wigtownshire, south-west Scotland, joining a well-known evangelist, Robert Miller, to evangelize those coastal areas of Scotland. He was faithful to his task and was soon busy in gospel preaching. It did not take long for Steen to travel further afield, and for his obvious gift in the handling of the scriptures to become apparent. Eventually, his ministry took him all over the British Isles.
As a diligent student of the scriptures, Steen was always able to offer help to believers as a teacher. He moved fromScotland in the early years of the 20th Century, living in Nottingham, Leytonstone, Woodford and, finally, Buckhurst Hill, London. Of his service, B. R. Mudditt wrote appreciatively, ‘he laboured assiduously in the service of the Master … he met with the saints at Princes Hall, Buckhurst Hill, where his gracious ministry was always valued and appreciated’.1
It was during the early 1920s that Steen wrote his first book God’s Prophetic Programme, which was published by Pickering and Inglis. Although focusing largely on the prophecy of Daniel, it was described as ‘Indicating the Consummation of “The Times of the Gentiles” – with two charts in colour’.2 It was some years later that the book by which he is best known, Christ Supreme, an exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, was published by John Ritchie Ltd.3 Although by no means a detailed exposition, it has provided many profitable lines of study from its relatively few pages.
In 1925 Steen became associated with the Believer’s Magazine. The first editor and founder of the magazine, John Ritchie, began to show signs of failing health. At that point, Steen was called upon to give his help to this particular work, and took up the task of joint editor. He compiled what were then known as ‘Treasury Notes’ for the magazine, these contributions being described by his successor, William Hoste, as of ‘a helpful and Christ-exalting character … a source of pleasure and profit to the many readers’.4
On the death of John Ritchie, in March 1930, Steen took over the editorship. Having served alongside John Ritchie for a number of years, he was ably fitted to the task. However, as he had worked in conjunction with the older servant so he sought to enlist the help of others to continue the work. William Hoste recorded, ‘he ever sought to give to the Lord’s people that which would edify, as well as that which would lead to the path of true separation from the world, its systems and its ways’.5
Hoste was to succeed Steen, but worked with him during his short tenure as editor of Believer’s Magazine. Not only did he get to know the character of Steen’s ministry but also something of the man himself. In his appreciation of Steen, Hoste wrote, ‘I found him a man to be trusted, of equable temperament, tenacious to the truth, and very jealous of anything that might in any way reflect on the personal glory of our Lord’.6
Although only in his early sixties, Steen’s commitments began to take their toll upon his health. Yet, in spite of these early signs of health problems, he did not slow down. He continued to travel to fulfil speaking engagements whilst still committed to his work as magazine editor. He commenced a series of meetings at the York Street Gospel Hall, Leicester in early September 1931. As R. G. Taylor of Leicester wrote later, ‘It was noticeable to those who knew him well, that he was looking older and did not appear to be quite himself, although he did not complain of any ill-health. His ministry on the Wednesday evening meeting was much appreciated. This being the last occasion on which his voice was to be heard, it is not without significance that one of the hymns he gave out was “I'm waiting for Thee, Lord, Thy beauty to see Lord”. About ten minutes before the end of the meeting Mr Steen suddenly closed his message and then collapsed on the platform’.7 In spite of his immediate hospitalization, within 12 hours he had passed peacefully into the presence of his Lord.
B. R. Mudditt, writing in Believer’s Magazine, October 1931, pg. 219.
Some date this book as early as 1920 but the books are often undated and therefore it is difficult to be precise as to the year of publication. Most would put the year as 1923.
Generally dated as 1930.
William Hoste, writing in Believer’s Magazine, October 1931, pg. 217.
Ibid, pg. 217.
Ibid, pg. 218.
Ibid, pg. 219.