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.

William Carey Missionary to India

This is the day that … William Carey was born in 1761. The place was Paulerspury, an insignificant village in the English Midlands.

His story is well known – at least, it ought to be!

Born to a family in humble circumstances, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker at the age of 14. By that time he was self-confident in his convictions, whether right or wrong. He admits, “I had a share of pride sufficient for a thousand times my knowledge….the last word was assuredly mine. I also made up in my positive assertions what was wanting in argument, and generally came off with triumph.

At the age of 18, through the witness of a fellow apprentice (who was a Dissenter), young Carey was led to think earnestly concerning spiritual matters and the condition of his own soul, and was eventually converted. It has been suggested that he actually heard John Wesley, who visited the area at this time (W. Carey, by A. Clement, page 5), though he makes no account of that in his autobiographical notes.

Thus it was he joined a Baptist Church, took to preaching, and was ordained to the Baptist ministry at the age of 26.

Six years later he presented a strong case to evangelise those in distant lands. His essay, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen, has been called “the first and still greatest missionary treatise in the English language” (W. Carey, by W. Davis, page 17).

Despite opposition – for missionary work was unthinkable to the theological climate of that day – Carey offered himself: “I’ll go down the mine,” he is reported as saying to his few supporters, “if you hold the rope”.

The result was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society, and Carey himself went to India. Church historians often refer to him as “the father of modern missions”.

The troubles he faced are incredible to read – the destruction of his manuscripts by fire; the opposition of the East India Company; the insanity of his wife, Dorothy; the desertion of co-workers; the fire which destroyed the print shop, “inflicting most distressing loss” (W. Carey, by J. Myers, page 112); the clash with the committee back in England …

But to compensate for this is the thrilling account of the first convert, Krishna Pal, about seven years after the beginning of Carey’s missionary labours.

William Carey died after 41 years in India, without a furlough … his translation of portions or whole Scriptures into about 40 different languages and dialects, and his educational and philanthropic work, mark him as a servant of God extraordinaire!

On his deathbed we eavesdrop as he speaks to Alexander Duff: “Mr Duff … when I am gone, say nothing about Dr Carey – speak about Dr Carey’s Saviour” (W. Carey, by B. Olson, page 46). So it was, on 9 June, 1834, that “the father of modern missions” went to his eternal reward. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

His tombstone bears the words, “A wretched, poor and helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall.”

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.

David Brainerd and the Indians

John Wesley said, “Let every preacher read carefully over the life of David Brainerd,” and distributed his life story to all his societies. So while this post is only a summary, I commend to you a review of David Brainerd’s biography.

This is the day that … the “fire fell” at Crossweeksung, in 1745.

Twenty-seven year-old David Brainerd had been expelled from Yale College three years earlier, and had turned his eyes toward the mission field, among the Red Indians.

His diary almost becomes monotonous with “spent the day in prayer and fasting for my beloved Indians.”

He tells of preaching through a drunken interpreter, of riding 50 miles a day to Indian encampments “down hideous steeps, through swamp and most dreadful and dangerous places … pinched with cold … an extreme pain in my head.” At times he coughed up blood.

But on 8 August, 1745, about 64 Indians – men, women and children – gathered around him. He preached to them on the parable of the Great Feast (Luke 14:16-23) and, to use his own words:

“The power of God seemed to descend like a rushing mighty wind… Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together and scarcely one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation. Old men and women who had been drunken wretches for many years and some little children, not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls… There was almost universal praying and crying for mercy … numbers could neither go nor stand…”

In the days that followed more and more Indians cried: “Guttummaukalummeh!” (“Have mercy on me!”).

By October, 1747, Brainerd was on his deathbed in the home of the famous Jonathan Edwards, and on 9 October all the trumpets sounded as this 29 year-old man of God passed to his Heavenly reward.

William Carey read Brainerd’s Journal, and went to India. Robert Murray McCheyne read it, and went to the Jews. Henry Martyn read it, and went to India and Persia. Jim Elliott was also motivated by David Brainerd’s example. May it inspire you also.

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.

Willam Carey – Desperate for Missions

This is the day that … William Carey preached his “deathless sermon”, as it is described by his biographer, S. Pearce Carey.

It was 1792, and the place was Nottingham, England.

At 10.00 a.m. the young cobbler/pastor from Leicester rose to address the small group.  His text was Isaiah 54:2,3:  “Lengthen thy cords … strengthen thy stakes …” and then rang out a fervent plea for missions. The two key thoughts he drew from that passage are: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

One who was present tells us that Carey “was in an agony of distress” as he became spokesman for the perishing multitudes in heathendom.

As the ministers “once more quenched the Spirit” at the meeting’s close and began to leave, Carey grasped the arm of Andrew Fuller and cried:  “Is there nothing again going to be done, sir?”

“This”, writes S. Pearce Carey, “was a creative moment in the history of Christ’s Kingdom.  Deep called unto deep.  Fuller trembled an instant under that importunity, gesture and heartbreak, and then his soul was stabbed awake and the Holy Spirit flooded his spirit” (page 84).

With Fuller’s ‘inspired strength’ behind Carey’s vision, things began to move.

Before long the Baptist Missionary Society was born, and Carey himself was on his way to India.

While Count Zinzendorf’s Moravian community can be identified as an earlier missionary movement than Carey’s it is true that William Carey carried the burden of Missions like no-one before him. It was an obsession for him, which accounts for his passionate preaching.

Despite the ugliest of obstacles Carey got himself to India and pursued 41 years of missionary service. His wife’s insanity was but one of the crosses he had to bear. He had died to this world and spent himself in service of heaven.

Andrew Fuller

This is the day that … Andrew Fuller died, in 1815.

The son of an English Baptist farmer, and a “powerful wrestler in his youth”, Fuller was to become the greatest original theologian among 18th century Baptists” (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 395).

At the age of 14 he came into “rest for my troubled soul”.  He tells us, in his own account of that conversion, how the example of Esther inspired him to approach the Saviour.

“I was not then aware that any poor sinner had a warrant to believe in Christ for the salvation of his soul”.  But just as Esther entered the king’s presence unbidden and under sentence of death, so Fuller tells us:  “like her I seemed … impelled by dire necessity to run all hazards, even though I should perish in the attempt …”

Wonderfully converted, and self-taught, Fuller became a Baptist minister, first at Soham (1775) and later at Kettering (1783).

He found himself involved in controversy with hyper-Calvinists (Fuller can be described as an evangelical Calvinist), Universalists, and with Arminians.

He was a profound influence upon William Carey, indeed it was Fuller’s snuff box that was used for the first offering of the newly formed Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen (the first of the great foreign missionary societies in the United Kingdom).

His book, The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptance (1785), was a milestone in creating an evangelistic and missionary spirit in the non-conformist churches of the UK.

He died at the age of 61, listening to his congregation singing in the meeting-house adjoining his home.  Bedridden, he turned to Sarah, his daughter:  “I wish I had strength,” he said. 

“To do what, father?” Sarah asked.

“To worship”- and with that he joined the ransomed above … and did worship!  (Men Who Were Earnest, page 301).