Tag Archives: Claudius Buchanan

Review: The Star in the East

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815) was a minister and missionary in the Church of England. He went to India as a chaplain in 1797, and afterward became very influential in organizing native (i.e., not English) education and translation of Scriptures. He also held great influence in the Mar Thoma church (Kerala, India) and was a key supporter of the first Malayali Bible translation.

Overview:  This little book is a sermon preached in 1809 in Bristol, for the Society for Missions to Africa and Asia, when the author had just returned from India. Buchanan was an inspiration to Adoniram Judson as well as a witness to some fascinating and forgotten history, which is summarized below as an inspiration to the cause of Christian missions.

Meat:

Buchanan’s sermon recounts historical facts which he sees as providential in advancing the cause of Christian missions. Below are the points that he mentions:

  • Danish and German missionaries had arrived in Tamil Nadu (i.e. the Tranquebar colony in south India) in 1706, and their work had brought great results. (Buchanan lived in India for many years and knew firsthand the quality of the church there.)

What then was the effect of giving them the Bible? It was the same as that which followed the giving of the Bible to us. . . . God blessed his own word to the conversion of the heart, and men began to worship him in sincerity and truth. (loc. 367)

  • The spread of the British Empire was providential in the spread of Christianity.
  • The translation of Scriptures into Eastern languages was also providential. Buchanan refers to Henry Martyn and his associates pointedly; Buchanan himself also supported several translation projects.
  • Buchanan promulgated to the West the existence of the “Syrian Christians” in India—the Mar Thoma church, called Syrian because of their use of the Syriac language in liturgy:

We may contemplate the history of this people, existing so long in that dark region, as a type of the inextinguishable Light of Christ’s religion; and, in this sense, it may be truly said, “We have seen his Star in the East.” (loc. 336)

  • Buchanan refers to the strange and interesting tale of an associate of Henry Martyn, an Arab baptized as Nathaniel Sabat, who later left the faith. Robert Murray McCheyne, another important Scottish preacher, has a (not so inspirational!) pamphlet on him and the strange tale of his apostasy and death (Sabat the Arabian, the Apostate (1854)). Buchanan describes “Sabat” and his “vernacular writings” thus:

His first work is entitled Happy News for Arabia [نعمة بشارةٍ للعربي]; written in the Nabuttee [Nabataean?], or common dialect of the country. It contains an eloquent and argumentative elucidation of the truth of the Gospel, with copious authorities admitted by the Mahometans [i.e., Muslims] themselves, and particularly by the Wahabians [Wahhabis].

Note: It doesn’t appear that any of these writings are extant.

Buchanan mentions all these are more as evidences that the time has come to once again announce Christ in the East, as the wise men once did.

In his conclusion, Buchanan also mentions British opponents of missions, saying that “in the future history of our country, it will scarcely be believed that in the present age, an attempt should have been made to prevent the diffusion of the blessed principles of the Christian religion.” (loc. 448) The author then compares naysayers to the pessimistic spies of Israel, who did not believe they should enter the promised land (loc. 469).

In the mean time, while men hold different opinions on the subject here, the great work goes on in the East. . . . And on this point I judge it right to notice a remarkable mistake, which appears to have existed on both sides of the question. It seems to have been assumed on the one side, and conceded on the other, that we have it in our power to prevent the progress of Christianity in India. (loc. 492)