Tag Archives: Late 18th-century missions

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)

William Carey Enquiry Book Cover

Review: An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens

 Rating: ★★★★★

Who: William Carey, British missionary to India, known as “the father of modern missions.” He is also noted for his linguistic works and Bible translations in Bengali, Marathi, and several other languages.

When: 1792, one year before William Carey left for his mission field in India.

Overview: Encyclopedia Brittanica calls this pamphlet “the charter of Protestant missions.” This pamphlet led directly to the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society. While it’s not so widely read today, Carey’s arguments are surprisingly current and readable.

Carey argues first that the Great Commission is Christ’s mandate to all his disciples, not just the Eleven (Section I); then he gives a summary of how Christianity grew through missions work, in the Book of Acts as well as over the centuries (Section II); the third section summarizes the state of missions in his day; the fourth section debunks a series of objections in the way of missionary service; and, the last section explains the duties of all Christians to further missions work by prayer and finances.

Meat: The first part of Carey’s pamphlet argues persuasively that the commissions of Jesus apply to all Christians, not just the apostles. His arguments in this section are timeless and should be discussed even at the present time. Jesus has not repealed or amended the Great Commission; it stands binding on all his followers.

Carey also has some great reminders about missionary hardship. (He encourages his readers that the invention of mariner’s compass has made travel much more certain!) He points out with conviction—Livingstone noted the same in Africa—that traders will undergo any hardship for the single goal of riches; Christians with a single goal should likewise “act with all their might,” without fear, in the pursuit of this all-encompassing goal. (See quote below from p. 82.)

Bones: It is difficult to make heads or tails of Section III, Carey’s survey of the state of world missions, which is replete with obsolete place names; even the data itself is questionable. Section II might also seem superfluous to many readers, although the history itself is well done.

Quotes: “Where a command exists nothing can be necessary to render it binding but a removal of those obstacles which render obedience impossible, and these are removed already.” (On the Great Commission, p. 11)

“After all, the uncivilized state of the heathen, instead of affording an objection against preaching the gospel to them, ought to furnish an argument for it.” (p. 69)

“It is inconsistent for ministers to please themselves with thoughts of a numerous auditory, cordial friends, a civilized country, legal protection, affluence, splendour, or even a competency. The flights, and hatred of men, and even pretended friends, gloomy prisons, and tortures, the society of barbarians of uncouth speech, miserable accommodations in wretched wildernesses, hunger, and thirst, nakedness, weariness, and painfulness, hard work, and but little worldly encouragement, should rather be the objects of their expectation. ” (p. 72)

“When a trading company have obtained their charter they usually go to its utmost limits. … They cross the widest and most tempestuous seas, and encounter the most unfavourable climates; they introduce themselves into the most barbarous nations, and sometimes undergo the most affecting hardship. … Christians are a body whose truest interest lies in the exaltation of the Messiah’s kingdom. Their charter is very extensive, their encouragements exceeding great, and the returns promised infinitely superior to all the gains of the most lucrative fellowship. Let then every one in his station consider himself as bound to act with all his might, and in every possible way for God.” (p. 82)