Samuel Zwemer Apostle to Islam

Samuel Zwemer was born in his father’s Reformed Church parsonage, April 12, 1867.

He was the 13th child (of 15) of Adrian and Katherine Zwemer, Dutch folk who had emigrated to America 18 years earlier.  Adrian was pastor of a Reformed Church in Michigan.

Adrian raised his children to serve the Lord and so all six of the girls became schoolteachers and five sons entered the ministry. One son died as a missionary in Arabia.

In 1890 Samuel was ordained, and the following year ventured forth to Arabia as a missionary. Years later Zwemer learned that his mother had dedicated him for missionary service when he was a baby.

While at college, Zwemer and two friends determined to become missionaries to the heart of the Moslem world, Arabia. But no missionary society would accept them for such a field, so they created their own, the Arabian Mission.

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On 18 May, 1896, in Baghdad, he married Amy Wilkes, a Church Missionary Society (CMS) worker from Australia who he had gotten to know by teaching her Arabic.  The CMS were not overjoyed about this, however, and required Amy to repay the cost of her journey to the field.  Samuel did so – and thereafter joked that he had ‘purchased’ his wife in accordance with Arab custom!

His ministry among Muslims earned him the title “The Apostle to Islam” – and for 40 years he edited The Moslem World, a magazine devoted to evangelising those people.   Fifty books came from his pen. Amy once said, “Samuel is always writing”, and this intensity of energy and entrepreneurial drive persisted throughout his life. Samuel was also a powerful preacher.

He travelled extensively and accepted many influential posts, including lecturing at Princeton Theological Seminary and speaking at major conventions around the world. He was highly successful at raising money and at energising others to missionary service. He loved the Moslem people and did all he could to reach them, personally, with print, and by meeting their needs. At one time he set up a rudimentary mission medical base, using the knowledge he had acquired and his wife’s professional training as a nurse.

Zwemer’s travels took him to the USA and UK, but also to South Africa, various parts of the Middle East and to Indonesia.

Zwemer’s younger brother, Peter, died in Arabia, and so too did the first two girls born to Zwemer and Amy. Zwemer took their deaths as inspiration for his unrelenting zeal to reach the Moslem world.

In 1937 his wife died.  Three years later (at the age of 73) he married Margaret Clarke, “considerably younger”, who had worked as his secretary.  She died 10 years later, whilst he lived on another two years, passing to his Reward on 2 April, 1952, following a heart attack, at the age of 85.

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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

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Henry Creswicke Rawlinson Cracks Cuneiform

Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson was born in Chadlington, Oxfordshire, England, on April 11, 1810.  He became a member of the British diplomatic service, lived in Baghdad … and dabbled in archaeology. His younger brother, George Rawlinson, became a noted historian.

At the age of 17 he joined the military service of the East India Company, posted to the Middle East, and six years later helped reorganise the Persian Army. Almost thirty years after starting with the East India Company he became one of its directors. But he also had posts on behalf of the British Government.

Rawlinson took an interest in antiquities and was able to gather numerous artefacts which he donated to the British Museum.

Rawlinson knew modern Persian and other Oriental languages. Unbeknown to Rawlinson, Georg Friedrich Grotefend, a German epigraphist had already made progress with deciphering cuneiform, but relied on many guesses and could not complete the task. While cuneiform inscriptions were abundant they were mostly short statements. Rawlinson hoped that a longer text would prove more helpful.

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An extended cuneiform text was known to exist in the mountains between Hamadan and Baghdad. A large panel of sculptured figures and many lines of text was presented in three scripts. Rawlinson assumed that the message was repeated in the three different types of symbols, making it possible to cross reference the message.

His deciphering of 1,200 lines of writing found upon the Behistun Rock was a major break-through in unlocking the ancient Babylonian script. The inscription had been created by Darius the Great and tantalised Rawlinson with the opportunity to crack the cuneiform symbols.

For four years (1835-1839) Rawlinson clambered up and down the imposing 1,700 feet high isolated rock … and there, 400 feet above the ground, “standing on a narrow ledge about a foot wide with the aid of ladders from below and swings from above, he made squeezes of the inscriptions” (Halley’s Bible Handbook).

The Afghan war delayed his studies … then he went back to Baghdad where he was appointed British Consul … and where he continued to scale and examine the Behistun inscription.

“Often in the intense heat he worked in a summer house at the bottom of the garden, a pet lion lying at his feet and a water-wheel from the river Tigris pouring water over the roof to keep it cool.”

Once Rawlinson succeeded in copying most of the great Behisitun inscription he began work on the script that was simpler than the others, which appeared to be alphabetic. The others seemed to be pictographs, ideographs and phonetic characters.

Rawlinson hypothesized the texts belonged to the period of the Archaemenid dynasty in Persia, of the Old Persian Empire (550-330 BC). Behistun was set up by Darius the Great of Persia about 519 BC. It told how Darius came to the throne and overcame those who threatened the Persian Empire. This statement was widely known throughout his realm.

Once the Persian text had been translated, it was possible to study of the other two languages. One was correctly assumed to be Babylonian. This discovery is very important to students of Assyriology since Babylonian and Assyrian languages were both Semitic and closely related. The third type was called Median or Scythian. It was the most difficult of all. It was related to the Elamite tongue, the language of Susa.

In 1846 he presented his findings to the Royal Asiatic Society.  The cuneiform symbols had finally yielded their secrets.  Now Bible scholars began to read the ancient monuments and see what light they shed upon the Holy Scriptures.

Semetic speaking Babylonians and Assyrians used the cuneiform for hundreds of years, but later discovery showed the Sumerians as the inventors, using it before 3000 BC. Rawlinson received a knighthood, as well as numerous academic awards, for this groundbreaking work which was the breakthrough for much further discovery.

Rawlinson died in 1895, and has since been known as the “Father of Assyriology“.

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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

Anthony Norris Groves Renounces Materialism

Anthony Norris Groves was born at Newton Valence, in Hampshire, England, on February 1, 1795.

He studied dentistry and surgery, building a successful dentistry business in Exeter. In 1816, at the age of 21 he professed faith in Christ, but he is described as “a typical middleclass convert to evangelical High Church Anglicanism”. That same year he married his cousin, Mary Berthia Thompson.

Groves had a heart after God which was displayed in both his philanthropic interests and a growing desire to serve God on the mission field. In the ensuing years he came under the influence of Calvinistic teaching and came to a much stronger personal experience of faith.

Groves was impressed by the Bible’s teaching on possessions. He dedicated the whole of his property and the biggest part of his income to the Lord’s work.

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Groves communicated his convictions about possessions in a small booklet called ‘Christian Devotedness’, based on the Christ’s instruction in the Sermon on the Mount, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth”. Groves lived that message and argued that others need to take Christ’s words seriously.

That book had a profound impact on a young Prussian pastor who had settled in Britain, named George Mueller, who applied Groves’ insights to his own life of faith and in the establishing of his faith based orphanages. Mueller is remembered for his astounding confidence in God’s supply, rather than reliance on human sources of wealth. At least part of his amazing confidence came from the inspiration of A.N. Groves.

Groves had to delay fulfilling his call to missionary service, principally because of his wife. Mary was unsaved when he married her and she opposed Anthony’s desire to go to the mission field. It was thirteen years before the couple reached the mission field of modern Iraq.

Mary was eventually converted by the same influences which strengthened Grove’s faith – around the time of the birth of her third child – and she consented to being a missionary also. In 1825 Groves gave up his profession and business to pursue theological studies at Trinity College, Dublin. At that time he met and associated with John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren. Groves’ new appreciation for the simple New Testament model of Christianity led him to give up his theological studies, stating that “ordination of any kind to preach the gospel is no requirement of Scripture”.

In 1827, when Groves withdrew from Trinity College, he expressed the ideas which define the early Brethren movement. “…we should come together in all simplicity as disciples, not waiting on any pulpit or minister, but trusting that the Lord would edify us together, by ministering as he pleased and saw good from the midst of ourselves.”

Groves and his wife, Mary, finally set out for Baghdad, with their two young sons and three Christian friends. The six month overland journey was perilous and took them through Russia and Persia. By December 6, 1829 they had arrived in Baghdad, which was at that time part of the old Turkish Islamic Ottoman Empire. Groves was the first Christian missionary to take to gospel to Baghdad since it fell to Islam centuries earlier. They had no financial backers and expected the Lord to meet their daily needs.

Groves’ sister married George Mueller. Both Groves and Mueller opposed Darby’s “tendency of domination” in the newborn Plymouth Brethren movement. Groves chose to emphasise “the love of Jesus … instead of oneness of judgement in minor things” (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 440).

With George Mueller, Groves became “a founding father of the Open Brethren” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 294).

During the three years in Baghdad plague ravaged the city. Civil war had broken out, bringing siege and warfare. The city was also devastated by flood, typhoid and cholera. 60,000 of Baghdad’s 85,000 inhabitants died of the plague, including Mrs Groves, and their baby girl. Two thirds of the houses were swept away in floods.

Back in England in 1835 Groves re-married, to Harriet Baynes, and prepared for years of missionary service in India. “He sailed for Madras, and thenceforth in many places he ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Twelve Mighty Missionaries, by E. Enoch, page 37).

In India Groves returned to his dentistry profession, supporting himself as the Apostle Paul had done. Thus Groves is regarded by some (such as Robert Bernard Dann) as the Father of Faith Missions, as opposed to those who go to the field with the backing of a mission organisation.

After Groves’ first tour of the Indian missions he came to his own ideas about improving cross-cultural mission activity. Groves encouraged his Indian converts not to adopt western culture, but to apply the Bible directly to their culture, being Biblical and not cultural converts.

In 1842 Mr and Mrs Groves adopted a child of eight as daughter, “an orphan who was commended to their care by her father on his death­bed”. They undertook this charge as for the Lord. The girl came to faith in Christ at a young age, was very effective in her assistance to their ministry and was “in every way, as a beloved daughter”.

In 1852 illness forced Groves to return to England, where he died at the age of 58, in the home of George Mueller on 20 May, 1853. Groves had given up his own earthly possessions, and so he had no home of his own to return to.

Groves did get to see his most promising Indian disciple, John Christian Arulappan, successfully build a network of churches based on Groves’ principles of missionary outreach. Grove’s innovations continued to be picked up and developed by others after his death.

It is to be noted that Groves’ conviction that we should not hoard possessions but trust the Lord to provide significantly impressed Mueller, who was then taken as an inspiration to Hudson Taylor, whose faith principles inspired many interdenominational faith missions.

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