Elijah Coleman Bridgman Goes to China

Elijah Coleman Bridgman was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts, USA April 22, 1801.  He was to become the first missionary sent to China by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). It was this Board that had also sent Adoniram Judson to India – America’s first foreign missionary.

Mainly Congregationalist in its denominational make-up, the ABCFM later embraced other denominations – until about 60 years later when “denominations came to feel they could operate more effectively with separate organisations … and left the ABCFM with Congregationalists as its chief supporters” (Encyclopaedia of Modern Christian Missions, page 655).

Elijah Bridgman trained at Andover Theological College and then sailed for China on 14 October, 1829.  Here he met up with London Missionary Society worker, Robert Morrison, China’s pioneer missionary.

Bridgman devoted a year to conquering the Cantonese language – later writing a 730-page manual on it! (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 155). In 1832 Bridgman started a mission press and began publication of ‘The Chinese Repository‘, which he edited until 1847. This monthly magazine was designed to awaken the Christian world’s interest in the spiritual needs of that vast land. This was the world’s first major journal on China, making Bridgman America’s first China expert.

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In 1836 he commenced translating the Scriptures into Cantonese, but this task was suspended when the tragic “Opium War” broke out (1839-1842).  But by 1845 the Chinese Emperor pronounced an edict permitting missionary work. The same year Elijah Bridgman married Miss Eliza Jane Gillett. Together they continued to serve the Lord, “on one occasion nearly sacrificing their lives to an infuriated mob” (Great Missionaries, page 102).

They worked together at Guangzhou and adopted two little Chinese girls. Eliza later, in 1850, founded and managed for 15 years the first girls’ school in Shanghai.

Failing health led to Dr Bridgman’s death in Shanghai on 2 November, 1861, and his wife temporarily returned to America. Then, at the age of 59, and alone, she returned to the mission at Peking, where she and her late husband had laboured. Here she secured substantial property and started Bridgman Academy, noted for educating a large number of Chinese women leaders.

Just a decade later she, too, passed into the presence of her Lord, on 10 November, 1871.

To put Bridgman’s work in perspective, Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission which directed English missionaries to China, was formed in 1865, four years after Bridgman’s death.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

Adoniram Judson Gordon the Baptist Fundamentalist

Adoniram Judson Gordon died on February 2, 1895, at the age of 58, having been born in New Hampshire on April 13, 1836. He was a leader of early Baptist fundamentalism.

Gordon’s parents were devout Calvinist Christians. His father was named after John Calvin and Gordon was named after the famous American Baptist missionary to Burma. The family’s devotion prompted their son, at the age of 15 to seek salvation for his soul. A year later he told his church that he desired to become a minister.

Entering Brown University in 1856 and Newton Theological Seminary in 1860, he pursued his calling and on graduating became pastor at Jamaica Plain, near Boston. He enjoyed six successful years there before becoming pastor of the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston, where he remained for 25 years and from which pulpit he became a famous preacher.

Gordon was challenged by an unbelieving community and an unmotivated congregation. He met those challenges with the simple truth of the gospel, ultimately transforming his church into a spiritual powerhouse.

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Dr Gordon, as he was known, lived a saintly life and wrote much about the Spirit-filled life.

Gordon spoke at the Niagara Bible Conference of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario virtually every year from 1877 until his death in 1895, and he was D L Moody’s right-hand man at the Northfield Conventions, even being privileged to host the event in 1892 while Moody was in Europe. Gordon was a regular speaker at Northfield.

Gordon’s presence in these conferences is significant, as very few Baptists were part of the fundamentalist Convention movement in the late nineteenth century. Most of the speakers and organisers were Presbyterian and Congregationalist.

Gordon’s ministry embraced a strong missionary emphasis, he wrote prolifically on the Second Coming of Christ, and he advocated ‘faith healing’. He was personal friend to A. B. Simpson, who had a faith healing ministry.

He believed in the premillennial return of Christ and preached on this, among other things, in the convention meetings. He penned The Ministry of Women in 1894, defending women’s right to preach.

One book that is regarded as possibly his finest work, Ministry of the Spirit, defines the three aspects of the Spirit’s work as: sealing; filling; and anointing.

This contemporary fundamentalist also put pen to paper to compose the melody of one of Christendom’s loveliest hymns, the tune Gordon, which is used to William Featherston’s words, My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine.

On the morning of February 2, 1895, Dr. Gordon, with “victory” as the last clearly audible word on his lips, fell asleep in Jesus.

Gordon’s life and his generation represented the shift in America from the doctrinal preoccupation of the Calvinists, to the practical missiology that dominated American evangelicalism since then. His emphasis was on practical theology and effective evangelistic ministry, saying, “We believe we ought to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints, but in doing this we should seek to be like the saints once delivered to the faith.”

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Ann Hasseltine is America’s First Woman Missionary to Foreign Soil

Ann Hasseltine was born in Massachusetts, USA, on December 22, 1789 and became America’s first woman to go overseas as a missionary.

Converted at the age of 17, “Nancy” (as she was known) soon found herself the centre of attention from the local theological students at Andover Theological Seminary who congregated at her parents’ home.

The Life of David Brainerd stirred her missionary interest, and when young Adoniram Judson proposed – and told her that he was planning to leave America’s shores as a missionary to India – she was quick to accept.

Judson’s letter to Deacon Hasseltine reveals the devotion of the first American foreign missionary:

“Dear Sir, Can you consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world?

“Can you consent to her departure to a heathen land and her subjection to hardships and sufferings of a missionary life … to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death?”

Deacon Hasseltine consented … and on 19 February, 1812 (just two weeks after their marriage) Adoniram and Ann sailed for India under the newly established American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

But it was Burma that they finally found their field of service, where they did face degradation and insult and persecution …

Adoniram and Ann accepted the Baptist instruction en route to India and were baptised when they arrived at Calcutta. However the East India Company ordered them to leave India so they made their way to Madras and took the only ship available, bound for Rangoon, Burma, where they arrived on July 13, 1813.

They worked faithfully but it took them six years to see their first convert. Then life was interrupted by British incursions into Burmese territory. Adoniram was imprisoned and Ann kept him alive, despite her own illness by getting food to him.

When Britain captured Rangoon in 1824 the Burmese government imprisoned foreigners in Ava, the then Burmese capital. Ann devoted herself sacrificially to helping those who were imprisoned, by many letters to the government and by her personal assistance.

One of those imprisoned gave this “tribute of public thanks to that amiable and humane female, who, though living at a distance of two miles from our prison, without any means of conveyance, and very feeble in health, forgot her own comfort and infirmity, and almost every day visited us, sought out and administered to our wants and contributed in every way to alleviate our misery”.

When Judson was released they moved to Amherst. It was there, while her husband was on an errand to Ava, that Ann died on October 24, 1826, at the age of 36, thus fulfilling the prophetic tone of Adoniram’s letter of proposal to her father.

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Emily Chubbuck, Judson’s Faithful Helpmeet

This is the day that … Emily Chubbuck was born in 1817, in New York State, the fifth child in the family. Her family was poor and her health not substantial. She suffered from frequent headaches.

In childhood we find her working in a woollen mill 12 hours a day … then school teaching … and finding some fame as an author. Her success in writing books for children, teaching such principles as the Golden Rule, and as a contributor to several newspapers enabled her to buy a better home for her parents and see them out of their own hardships.

When Adoniram Judson, America’s first foreign missionary, returned from Burma on his first furlough in 30 years, he read one of her books (she wrote under the pen-name of Fanny Forester).

Impressed by her ability, Judson suggested that she write the biography of Sarah, his second wife, who had died a few months previously.

As they worked together on this volume, friendship blossomed into romance, and on 1 June 1846, the 58 year-old pioneer missionary wed the 29 year-old writer.

Back in Burma, Emily and Adoniram laboured faithfully for the Lord. She wrote: “Frogs hop from my sleeves when I put them on, and lizards drop from the ceiling to the table when we are eating, and the floors are black with ants…”

By 12 April, 1850, she was a young widow – Judson had died during a sea voyage recommended for his health. But she did not know she was a widow – alone in Burma with baby Emily – for another four months!

She was deeply pained in her loss, yet she could do nothing more than soldier on. Her personal struggle is beautifully penned in the following verses taken from a longer poem, addressed to her mother.

“Sweet mother, I am here alone, In sorrow and in pain;
The sunshine from my heart has flown, It feels the driving rain—ah, me! The chill, the mould, the rain.

“And when for one loved far, far more, Come thickly-gathering tears,
My star of faith is clouded o’er, I sink beneath my fears—sweet friend, I sink beneath my fears.

“But, gentle mother, through life’s storms I may not lean on thee;
For helpless, cowering little forms Cling trustingly to me.—Poor babes! To have no guide but me.

“All fearfully—all tearfully, Alone and sorrowing,
My dim eye lifted to the sky, Fast to the Cross I cling—O Christ, To Thy dear Cross I cling!”

This brave woman returned to America to care for the Judson children, until she died of tuberculosis on 1 June, 1854, at the age of 37.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Adoniram Judson Impacts Burma

This is the day that … Adoniram Judson was born, in 1788.

He was to become America’s first foreign missionary. His passion for reaching Burma led to the formation of the first American Mission societies. He sailed from his homeland as a Congregationalist, and arrived in India as a Baptist, in 1812. En route his translation of the New Testament from Greek to English convicted him the Baptist position on baptism was correct.

With his young bride, Ann, he soon found himself in Burma, with a 33 year ministry (without furlough) ahead of him, during which he would see the death of both Ann and his second wife, Sarah; endure a 23-month imprisonment in intolerable conditions – and translate the Bible into the Burmese language.

Then he would return to America for a brief furlough – and go back to Burma with his third wife, Emily. Each of his wives is hailed for their commitment and contribution to his life and work. (On August 22 I will share with you a moving account of the life of Judson’s third wife, Emily Chubback)

It took him six years to see his first convert and he faced many obstacles that would have discouraged a lesser man. Significant among his converts was the first convert from the Karen tribe. The man, Ko Tha Byu, has come to be known as the Karen Apostle, the virtual founder of Karen Christianity. Recognising that Christianity was the fulfilment of his people’s own legends this man’s ministry resulted in the conversion of thousands. Within 25 years there were over 11,000 baptised Karen believers.

When Judson died in 1850 he left behind a flourishing church with 7000 members and more than 100 national Burmese pastors. He insisted that each convert be discipled with thorough Biblical training, rather than just make a confession. This led to a strong church among the converts.

“Judson became an inspiring example of missionary sacrifice and dedication for several generations of young people,” says E.A. Wilson.

True! And he would continue to be an inspiration to today’s Christian young people if they would read his biography.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.