Christian Friedrich Swartz Impacts Southern India

This is the day that Christian Friedrich Swartz was born in Prussia (now Poland), in 1726.

He has been described as “one of the most energetic and successful missionaries of the 18th century (Schaff/Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 2131).

His youth was spent at Halle, the centre of German pietism. Founded by Jacob Spener, this was a movement that sought to add spiritual life to a moribund Lutheranism. Young Swartz here studied the Indian dialect, Tamil, that he might superintend the translation of a Bible in that tongue.

Lutheran Missions to India had seen success under several missionaries, notably two eminent Germans, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719) and Heinrich Plütschau (1678-1747). Both of these men had preceded Swartz at Halle. Ziegenbalg’s work in southern India was an inspiration to William Carey for the latter’s later work in northern India.

In 1750 Swartz sailed for India, where he lived for the next 48 years, and where he died. When Schwartz arrived in south India, the Tamil-speaking Christian community established by Ziegenbalg and others was close to 2,000 persons.

Swartz threw himself into the missionary work. “His passion to save men made all labour and sacrifice seem little. He studied the habits, modes of thought and idioms of speech, and even the mazes of mythology, which are the paths to the hearts of the Hindus” (New Acts of the Apostles, by A.T. Pierson, page 91).

In 1768, the East India Company appointed Schwartz as a chaplain in Trichonopoly. Ten years later in 1778, Schwartz moved to Tanjore where he lived the rest of his life. During his service with the British, Schwartz was known as a peacemaker (i.e., diplomat) during times of war caused by the East India Company’s aggressive policies in India. Schwartz’s linguistic abilities became legendary as he related easily among Germans, English, Portuguese, and many different Indian peoples. Schwartz learned Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Persian, Hindustani, Marathi, and Portuguese.

He established many schools for native Indians and orphaned Indian children, which greatly endeared him to the Indian people.

Swartz never married; indeed he was critical of fellow missionaries who did! (Christian Missionaries, by O. Milton, page 33.) Rajahs, governors-general, haughty Brahmins, English military officers, all seemed to look upon him as a man of God.

It was Wednesday, 13 February, 1798, that he lay upon his deathbed and, “with clear and melodious voice”, joined with the friends gathered around him, singing, “Only to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ”.

The Rajah’s son, Serfojee, acted as chief mourner a few days later.

It is estimated that Swartz was responsible for the conversion of over 6,000 Hindus and Moslems during his years in India.

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. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Yesterday is Gone

The Beatles made a huge hit singing “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away”. And others waxed poetic about how “Yesterday’s gone” and how they remember “Yesterday when I was young” and so on.

Yesterday’s Hold

The reason “yesterday” has such a hold on people’s lives is that we all carry the past into the present and beyond that into the future. Yesterday is the time we sowed certain things into our lives and today we reap the harvest. So yesterday is a powerful component of ‘today’ and it will still be making its presence felt when we get to tomorrow.

The Catholic Church teaches people to go to confession to deal with the sins of yesterday. Someone sneered at the habit of some who sin during the week and look for forgiveness in the confessional on the weekend. They said it was like sowing wild oats all week and then praying for a crop failure.

The Hindu faith respects the baggage of yesterday as karma, which we carry not only through this life, but into future lives which Hindus believe they will face. Gautama Buddha, who rejected the Hindu teaching of reincarnation, went so far as to say that we cannot remove our Karma even in a thousand lifetimes.

Yesterday’s Debris

Here are just a few of the things we bring with from yesterday, even though yesterday is gone.

We bring our disappointments from yesterday. We face disappointments with others, such as our parents and family. But we also face disappointments with ourselves.

We bring our broken relationships from yesterday. Once we have offended someone else or they have offended us that damage remains, often throughout life. Family reunions and community life become tinged with the hurt and offence that we feel toward others and they feel toward us.

We bring our compromises from yesterday. Once we have compromised our values and character that becomes a weak spot for us from that time on.

We bring our slaveries from yesterday. When we give in to sin, such as anger, pride, jealousy or lust, that thing enslaves us and it controls us throughout our lives.

Today’s Harvest

It is also true, as the Bible teaches, that our actions and choices involve us sowing seeds in our lives. A seed not only remains, but it germinates and produces a whole crop. So when we sow something into our life, we are setting up a harvest in the future.

Today’s harvest is filled with the fruit of the things we planted yesterday. If we planted selfishness, pride, anger, greed, violence, self-pity, wilfulness, addiction, lies or other evil things, we will have an evil harvest today.

If we planted forgiveness, faith, love, trust, humility and the fear of God then we will have a much better harvest today than others might have.

Yesterday is not ‘Gone’

While the songs might say, “yesterday’s gone” it isn’t true. Yesterday has passed, but it has not ‘gone’. Yesterday lives with you today.

Just as yesterday’s piano lessons undergird today’s musicianship and yesterday’s studies undergird today’s understanding, yesterday’s moral choices undergird today’s character.

Transforming Yesterday

“You can’t go back in time” is one way to look at it. “What’s done is done!” might be your way of dismissing the past. But there are powerful ways of unlocking the past and transforming yesterday. Let me briefly outline two of them.

Confession of Sin is a powerful way to unlock and transform yesterday. When you repent of the choices you made in the past God is able to set you free from the debris and consequences of those choices in the present. You can actually get a crop failure, even though you sowed lots of wild oats.

God can go back in time. While you are stuck in the time-space continuum, God exists outside of time. So He is able to go back to your past and make Himself present, bringing healing to things that are part of your yesterday that has ‘gone’ from you.

A Testimony

A friend of mine named Malcolm visited a lady who had chronic problems. When he prayed for her she had a vision of a baby crying in a cot. She realised that she was seeing herself as a tiny baby. She sensed the extreme distress of the baby and it connected with the pain that kept surfacing in her life.

A spirit of intercession came on Mal and he began to weep for her. As he did she saw in her vision that the door to the baby’s room opened and Jesus walked in. Jesus lifted the baby into His arms and as He did the woman felt all her pain and torment drain from her life.

It was as if Jesus was able to go back in time to the entry point of the woman’s troubles and resolve them, even though that was now many years past.

Saying Good-bye to Yesterday

If yesterday has brought its bad baggage with it into your today then be encouraged to say “Good-bye” to that stuff. You can remove it forever by confession and by asking the Lord to unlock and heal your past.

The Steps to Release, which I have written about in my books and in other posts, will be helpful in this process.

I want you to live in the freedom with which Christ has made you free. I want you to be able to say, in all reality, that Yesterday is Gone! Keep all that is good from yesterday and unlock and remove all that is bad. Once you’ve said “Good-bye” to yesterday’s rubbish you will have an even better future to look forward to.