Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Lessons from the Life of Henry Martyn

I recently finished reading a biography of Henry Martyn (Henry Martyn, His Life and Labours: Cambridge—India—Persia, by Jesse Page, 1890), a missionary and Bible translator in the early years of the "Great Century" of Christian expansion--the 1800s. Below are some thoughts I gained from the experience of walking in the footsteps and the words of this intrepid man of God. (Direct quotes of Jesse Page are noted by page numbers).

We can neither measure nor even comprehend the impact we have on others, even in small words and examples (“The flame of one bright life lights the lamp in many other hearts….It is not so much sermons as facts, not precepts but lives which mightily move men. Thus he who fights a good fight in God’s name, not only wins a victory over His enemies, but animates with heroic energy his comrades under the banner of the Cross,” p.29): Henry Martyn was deeply influenced and shaped by the examples, words, and legacies of such men as David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Simeon, but most especially by his sister.

Faith fosters a taste for the beautiful. From Martyn’s journal: “Since I have known God in a saving manner, painting, poetry and music, have had charms unknown to me before. I have received what I suppose is a taste for them, for religion has refined my mind and made it susceptible of impressions from the sublime and the beautiful.”

A great sacrifice for God is a great privilege.

In a letter to Charles Simeon: “Pray not only for my soul—that I may be kept faithful unto death—but also especially for the souls of the poor heathen. Whether I live or die, let Christ be magnified by the ingathering of multitudes to Himself.”

Make the utmost of the time you have. Though knowing his weak constitution, Martyn was determined to “burn himself out for God,” using every moment and every ounce of strength for the sake of the Kingdom. He died just before his thirty-first birthday, having translated the entire New Testament into Urdu, Persian, and Judaeo-Persic.

Suffer rejection and disappointment with perseverance. Martyn was an indefatigable evangelist, never ceasing to proclaim the great message of the Gospel. Though he was constantly mocked and rebuffed during his long voyage to India (and almost every day of his ministry in India), he continued to speak of Christ and never lost his passion for the salvation of souls.

From Martyn’s journal: “The power of gentleness is irresistible.”

From a letter to his sister: “Oh! the electing love, the high sovereignty, the resistless power, and the unfathomable depth of loving-kindness and grace of Him who hath wrought redemption for us. If the grace of God is so sweet now, notwithstanding our sins and confused notions, what is there awaiting us in eternity?”

Witness always.

Live with your death before you.

“The saintship of Henry Martyn does not suffer because he could enjoy a hearty laugh, for it is surely true though apt to be forgotten in our consideration of good men, that exceeding gravity is not necessarily the evidence of abundant grace, and that there is more of Heaven in laughter than in tears,” p.123.


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