Tag Archives: Early 19th century

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)

Review: Memoir of Mrs. Stallybrass

Rating: ★★★

Who: A memoir of Sarah Stallybrass, wife of Edward Stallybrass and British Congregational missionary to Siberia. Sarah taught (Mongolian) Buryat children while Edward worked on the translation of the Bible into Mongolian with a few colleagues.

When: 1789-1832.

Overview: This memoir is composed mostly of Sarah’s letters and journal entries, many of which focus on the trials that she went through and her lessons in submission to the Lord’s will in hard times. We follow the Stallybrasses as they sail through the Baltic Sea to St. Petersburg, where they trained in Russian, then thousands of miles overland across Russia to the far reaches of Siberia. After receiving the blessing of the Russian Emperor Alexander I, the Stallybrasses settled at Novoselenginsk near Lake Baikal. They later resettled even further out in Siberia. Sarah struggled with many medical problems, but toiled in raising her children and educating young Buryat children. Four months after they had resettled on the Khodon River with five children, their house burned down in the Siberian winter.

Meat: This biography focuses on Stallybrass’ personal thoughts and walk with the Lord during her travels to Siberia, and her stay there. Under the shadow of health issues and the toil of raising a family in one of the remotest parts of the earth, she maintained her life of prayer and her walk of faith.

Bones: Sarah Stallybrass quotes a wealth of hymns and draws on the richness of Christian tradition; but her view of Providence is one-sided, and makes no mention of spiritual warfare. For example, if we acknowledge that Jesus was sovereign over the weather, and commanded a storm to be calm, we should also admit that other forces had imposed upon this weather before Jesus commanded it.

Quotes: “The danger lies in confounding our success with the success of the great object we professedly regard.” (Joseph Fletcher, p. viii)

“If I have learnt anything more in the past year than in former ones, it has been that happiness dwells not in the throng; my happiest moments I find to be those spent in the [prayer] closet.” (p. 24)

“The Christian must not expect a cessation of his trials till he rests in the bosom of his God. The life of the Son of God was one of sufferings, from the manger to the grave.” (p. 64)