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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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.

The Martyrs of Islam and Christianity

A religion can be evaluated by various measures. Here I suggest that the martyrs of Islam and Christianity provide a significant insight into both religions.

Martyrs are not new, but neither are they a thing of the past. When John Foxe (1516-1587) wrote his famous book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, in the sixteenth century, he thought that martyrdom was a thing of the past. However, there have been more Christian martyrs in modern times than all those of antiquity. Gospelweb claims that, on average, 465 Christian martyrs are killed around the globe every day.

At the same time Islam has its martyrs. In modern times we know them best as suicide bombers. These are people who have been taught that the killing of infidels (non Muslims) will gain them personal benefits in Paradise.

So, let’s take a moment to review some of the superficial differences between these two groups of martyrs, the Muslim and the Christian. And in so doing, let’s see what those who are willing to die for their faith reveal about the very faith for which they die.

Islam’s martyrs die in holy war (jihad). They are commonly seen today as suicide bombers. Their actions are essentially selfish – in order to gain personal benefit, such as promotion to paradise, with a bevy of beautiful virgins at their behest. In death these martyrs aim to kill as many others as they can. They kill and main innocent people, in the name of their religious zeal.

Islam’s martyrs die for personal gain and maximum carnage on others.

Christianity’s martyrs die as victims, not as warriors. They most commonly die because they have attempted to take their faith to others, or because they refuse to deny their faith in the face of threat. They do not inflict pain or damage to others in their death. They are passive in their martyrdom.

That’s quite a startling contrast.

Muslim martyrs die with self-interest in mind. Christian martyrs die to win others or to remain true to their faith.

Muslim martyrs necessarily engage in the slaughter of others. Christian martyrs bring no harm to others in their death.

Muslim martyrs engender fear in the community. Christian martyrs are no threat to anyone.

The word ‘martyr’ comes from the New Testament Greek word ‘martoos’, which means ‘witness’. So let’s see what these martyrs give testimony to about their religion.

In reflecting the example of Islamic martyrs we are presented with a religion of self-interest, at the expense of others. We are also presented with a religion of violence, carnage and destruction. We are presented with a religion at war. There is no evidence of something that elevates the human soul. The indulgent image of sexual gratification as the reward for martyrdom is itself a base idea, even if it is only pedalled by the fanatic fringe.

Christian martyrs testify to a religion of self-sacrificing devotion. We see a level of self-less commitment to preaching the gospel to others, even at the risk of death. We see love in action.

Martyrs are not the only reflection of a religion. But surely those people who are sufficiently committed to their faith to die for it must have some credibility in illustrating the character of what they are dying for.

On balance, then, the martyrs of Islam and Christianity bear witness to completely different and contrasting religions. There is no evidence in the testimony of the martyrs that the Moslem God and the Christian God have anything in common.

Islam’s Lost Foundations

I believe Islam is close to its end as a world religion. I once heard from a man who had been told such a thing in a prophecy and I am personally inclined to believe it. So let me share some thoughts about some things which will contribute to Islam’s demise.

Islam has lost its foundations. Modern Islam attempts to be a complete religion, while ignoring its foundational components. As such this religion will crack and crumble. It is incomplete and unstable unless it rediscovers its foundations.

What are the lost foundations? I’m glad you asked.

Some years ago I developed a character training program for use in schools. The pilot program was quite effective and several schools asked me to implement it for them. One school had a large Moslem contingent in the student body, so I decided to incorporate some Koranic material into the otherwise Christian sources.

I contacted a local Islamic society and explained that what I sought were Koranic quotes which involved the teaching of godly character, so I could use those quotes to support my promotion of good character qualities. After a week or so I was advised that the Koran (Qu’ran) did not teach character.

There was a simple explanation for the absence of character training in the Koran. Since Islam is built on the work of Musa (Moses) and Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah), and they both give clear instruction in character and lifestyle, there is no need for Mohammed to repeat the work of those earlier prophets.

I was further told that the Koran is a book of prophecies, not a book of character training, since those things were done already by Musa and Isa.

The three great prophets of Islam are: Musa; Isa; and Mohammed. The three great prophetic writings, therefore, are the Old Testament (Musa’s prophetic work), the Gospels and New Testament (focussed on Isa al Masih) and the Qu’ran (the prophetic works of Mohammed).

Today, however, the most prominent activists for Islam seem to have abandoned the foundations laid by Musa and Isa. They do not promote the holy law and Ten Commandments of Moses. They do not teach the golden rule or love for others which are central to the lifestyle Jesus taught.

Consequently we have a modern Islam that has lost its foundations and is trying to apply the prophecies of Mohammed without the foundations laid by Moses and Jesus. Many Moslems, it seems, only give lip-service to the place of Musa and Isa. If this is so, then they are denying their own religion. When the followers of a religion deny in practice what they preach in theory, then the religion is dead. It is a vain show of a religion, not a living and dynamic force that can bring good into the world, or even to its followers.

When a religion cannot enrich its own followers it ceases to be a religion, and becomes a political system or some other social entity. I believe that such has already happened in many reaches of the Islamic world. Islam is crumbling from its own failure to embrace Musa and Isa. Islam has lost its foundations.

It is now simply a matter of time, and I predict a short time only. The Islamic nations will become embroiled in increased fanaticism, as people try to live out prophetic teaching without the character, faith and love taught by Moses and Christ. Islam’s greatest enemies are its own fanatical followers who will promote nothing more than obsession and political force. Islam will again try to force conversion at the end of the sword, only it will be holding the sword to the throat of its own people.

Yet Isa al Masih is the Messiah for all people, including the Moslems. He is ready to pour out wonderful grace on the followers of Islam. Moslems will make the most devoted and effective followers of Jesus Christ and they will be mightily used to prepare the world for the return of our saviour.

Millions of Moslems will come to know and love Almighty God with such depth of relationship that they will shame western believers. Millions of fellow Moslems will become the world’s most effective evangelists, even winning the Jews to faith in Christ in amazing numbers. And Millions of fellow Moslems will be so powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit that they will bring to life again things not seen since the life of Christ and the book of Acts.

Islam is about to crumble, yet Moslems are about to enjoy the most wonderful days they could ever imagine. Join me in prayer to hasten this great grace upon the followers of Mohammed.

Ramon Lull, Missionary to Moslems

This is the day that … Ramon Lull was stoned to death by a Muslim mob in North Africa, in1316.

He was born on the isle of Majorca, off the coast of Spain, in 1232. In teenage days he served as a courtier to the king of Aragon, and was educated as a knight. After a life of ‘utter immorality’ (to quote his own words), at the age of 30 he experienced a vision of “the Saviour hanging on the cross” and dedicated his life to God.

The composition of the “vain song” he was composing was now neglected as he gazed at that figure “in great agony and sorrow”. He penned a quaint verse:

Pardon I sought at break of day;

contrite and sad, I went straightway

my sins before the priest to lay.

(Bear in mind that this was 200 years before the Protestant Reformation).

Ramon Lull felt the call to missionary service almost immediately. But it was almost another 30 years before he boarded a ship bound for North Africa. By this time he had written a number of books – “the most voluminous author on record” (Man, Myth and Magic, volume 59)! There are volumes on grammar, politics, medicine, law, Antichrist, geometry, astrology, homiletics, theology – you name it, Ramon Lull seemed to have written on the subject. “Two hundred and forty of his books still survive”, although we know he wrote many, many more (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 608).

And he had equipped himself for his missionary expedition by learning Arabic from a Moorish slave.

“Since Thou, O Lord, art ever ready to aid … how can any Christian fear to preach our holy faith to the infidels,” he wrote.

His biographer, E.A. Peers, states that the conversion of unbelievers “was the ruling passion of his life” (Fool of Love, page 28).

There were three missionary journeys: the first at about 60 years of age, when he was imprisoned and then expelled from the country; the second when he was 75, and again he faced imprisonment and then banishment; and the third when about 83! He even commenced writing a new book during the voyage (page 102)! This time he was stoned to death. Marcus Loane, in By Faith we Stand, gives the date as 30 June, 1315 (page 71). However, most books say 1316.

With all his curious beliefs (the Pope refused to canonise him because it was believed he practised alchemy), he can claim the title of “first missionary to the Moslems”. He was utterly devoted to the service of Christ.

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.