The Seed of the UCCF: Faithfulness to the Word, germinated by a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit
The real foundation of the IVF (now UCCF) was laid at a Committee Meeting held in Trinity College, Cambridge, early in 1919. Men had begun to pour back into the Universities after demobilisation, and all the various Varsity unions and societies were being restarted. The SCM had I think ceased to function at Cambridge during the War but had now resumed its activities and was going very strong under the guidance of a most capable secretary.
The CICCU, on the other hand, had been kept alive throughout the War by a small group of undergraduates, but did not rapidly increases its numbers afterwards. There were still only some fifteen regular attendants at the Daily Prayer Meetings in early 1919. But most of these fifteen were very keen men, whose faith had stood the test of the war experiences. Realising the keenness of these men, and the new tide of spiritual life which would flow into the SCM if the CICCU were joined to them, many and urgent representations were made to the CICCU to link up and become a kind of devotional branch of the SCM, the Dean of Pembroke being the chief spokesman.
Finally it was decided that in order to settle the matter once and for all, delegations from the two Committees should meet. The meeting took place in the SCM Secretary's room in Trinity, the CICCU's representatives being the President, D.T. Dick, and myself.
After an hour's conversation which got us nowhere, one direct and vital question was put: 'Does the SCM consider the atoning blood of Jesus Christ as the central point of their message?' And the answer given was, 'No not central, although it is given a place in our teaching.' That answer settled the matter, for we explained to them at once that the atoning blood was so much the heart of our message that we could never join with a movement which gave it any lesser place.
From that time onward, it was perfectly clear to the members of the CICCU that their decision had to be the same as their predecessors before the War. Although they gladly recognised that individual members of the SCM might be true servants of Christ, yet as a Movement it had apostasized from the truths upon which it had been founded, and the CICCU must remain absolutely separate, in order to give a clear witness to the University to God's way of salvation through Christ.
This decision was also the real foundation of the IVF for it was only a few months later that the realisation dawned on us that if a CICCU was a necessity in Cambridge, a union of the same kind was also a necessity in every University of the world, with the isolated exceptions of those where the SCM still maintained its original witness to the truth of God's word.
But vision and faith and aggressive action do not come through mere loyalty to truth. One can have all that, and yet as an individual or union be dead, powerless , stagnant. The Gospel must be preached 'with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven' (1 Peter 1:12).
The seed of the IVF was the decision to be faithful to God's Word, as just recorded; but it was a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit which caused that seed to germinate and blossom into a worldwide movement.
Student camps and house parties had not yet been restarted at Keswick in the summer of 1919; but hearing of the way the CICCU was going ahead at Cambridge, Mrs CT Studd was led to give an open invitation to members of the CICCU and one or two from Oxford to form a party. Twenty-nine came.
It was about the third day of the Convention when conscious that things were not going too well, a memorable prayer meeting was held in the drawing room. About five of us were there. We did not separate until 2am, by which time we might have been seen in all sorts of different postures, and laughing instead of prayer, for the burden had been wholly lifted off us, in the glorious assurance that the Holy Spirit had come and was going to flood the house party. And He did.
The blessing fell the next morning, the atmosphere was so charged with His presence that men were getting alone with God having things out and coming back transformed. Frank Millard of the CSSM was one, Jack Warren another, Noel Palmer of Canada another. The spirit of prayer was so upon us that every night during a week of perfect weather, bands of us were out in the wood by the lack praying and along the Keswick streets by day, singing choruses!
The blessing was carried from there to the Eastbourne CSSM, to which a large number of us went. Then back to Cambridge, where the spirit of prayer remained upon us, and when CICCU men met for tear it was to get down to long times of prayer together afterwards. There were a number of remarkable conversions that term (*elsewhere, Grubb mentions 16 converted); one can think of three or four whose names are well-known in evangelical circles today.
Meanwhile Noel Palmer, who had been at Cambridge recovering from a wound and had been fired by contact with the CICCU had gone to Oxford to restart the OICCU. Regular communiques used to be sent to the CICCU reporting progress and asking prayer.
I cannot remember the exact day but it was sometime about the middle of the Michaelmas term, 1919, that one day in my room, God gave me the clear vision of the IVF that was to be. I saw that not only must there be this witness in every University but that God was going to do it. Probably the fact of Noel Palmer's catching the vision of starting an OICCU at Oxford and his going to do it, enabled God to open our eyes to the much bigger thing.
Anyhow, the immediate outcome was that we saw that the first step towards the realisation of the vision would be to have an Annual Inter-Varsity Conference, at which we would get as many as we could from other Universities, and enthuse them with the vision of starting a branch in their own Universities. So the first Inter-Varsity Conference was arranged mainly by Clarence Foster, Leslie Sutton and myself to take place at the Egypt General Mission Headquarters at Drayton Park, North London. About sixty came from Cambridge, Oxford, London and one man from Durham. What a wonderful thing it now is to look back over the intervening fifteen years since 1919 to see how God had brought the vision to pass.
Now it is for succeeding generations of students to maintain the twofold foundation of the IVF. Loyalty to the truths of God's word, and a soul-winning work amongst unconverted students. This can only be done successfully by much travail in prayer, resulting in fresh outpourings of the Spirit upon individuals and unions, and a bold and faithful witness.
Recorded in Donald Coggan, Christ and the Colleges, 1934.