Saturday, April 16, 2016

fire and sword

Sometimes a page is difficult to turn. Like this one. It lists most of the names of those who died in a massacre of 159 missionaries over a few weeks in the summer of 1900 in 'Shansi'. The right hand side contains the names of those who died from the China Inland Mission, known today as OMF.


Barby had discovered the book on the shelves of the SAIACS library here in Bangalore where we live. I had just awoken from my first sleep after a lengthy trip away when she showed it to me. I couldn't put it down, skimming through the entire book over a couple of hours that same afternoon.

My eye was drawn to the brief 'Introductory Note' by Alexander MacLaren, a name I knew. MacLaren was a famous Baptist minister whose biography and commentaries I read as a young pastor. He was a peer of CH Spurgeon, based in the Union Baptist Chapel in Manchester for 45 years. 'The prince of expository preachers'.

[Of MacLaren, one biographer wrote: 'a man who reads one of MacLaren's sermons must either take his outline or take another text'. In other words, his stuff was so good it was impossible not to steal it. He goes on to say, 'MacLaren touched every text with a silver hammer and it broke into three natural and memorable divisions.'  I do hope that those divisions did not each start with 'P'...!]


I digress. Back to Fire and Sword in Shansi and MacLaren's Introductory Note:
The page which these martyrdoms has added to the Book of Martyrs is of a piece with all the preceding pages - the same Christ-sustained heroism displayed by tender women, mothers, maidens and children; the same meek forgiveness, the same unalterable constancy. Stephen need not be ashamed of his last successors. Nor were the Chinese converts a whit behind in their devotion.
The cynical belittlers of Missions, both of the missionaries and the 'rice Christians', as they call the converts, would be silenced, if they have any fairness or sense of shame, by the unshrinking fidelity of these dimly-seeing but deeply-loving Chinese Christians. They could not argue for Him, but they could and did die for Him ... 
The Church at home has not sufficiently realised the sad, glorious story told in the succeeding pages, and some of us have wondered and sorrowed that so little impression has been produced by it ... These English men and women, these Chinese converts, gladly died for their Lord. Surely their example will point the sharp arrow of questioning to some of us, whether we really believe that a Christian life is a daily dying, and that, whether martyrs or not, we are scarcely Christians, unless we continually yield life, self, and all to Jesus Christ.
Ahh, 'the church at home'...

There is some recalibrating which 'the church at home' needs to do if it wishes to be a force for the kingdom of God. Three areas immediately come to mind. One is to replace relevance with resistance as the primary mode of engagement with the surrounding culture. Two is to shed this compulsive anthropocentrism in matters of spirituality, embracing a radical theocentrism in its place. Three is to repent of the fascination with successful celebrities, Christian or otherwise, in order to become fixed on true heroes - with martyrs like these ones heading the list. There have been more Christian martyrs since this massacre than there were in all those centuries before this massacre - and so we are without excuse. Let them be the inspiration. Even more than that, let them be the aspiration.
They triumphed (over him) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death (Rev 12.11).
nice chatting

Paul

PS: I have Alexander McLaren's personal Bible. Seriously. He gave it to a missionary from his church who went to work in India. When that missionary retired he gave it to his pastor in India, my father-in-law ... who then gave it to me. Every second page is blank so that he could write his own notes. Here are the twin pages from the start of Ephesians.


Skeptical?! Don't believe me?!  I can prove it. In The Company of Preachers, David Larsen (the man who taught me preaching, by the way) mentions one of MacLaren's most loved sermons. From Genesis 32, entitled 'Mahanaim: Two Camps'. Here is the outline:
1. The angels of God meet us on the dusty road of common life
2. The angels of God meet us punctually at the hour of need
3. The angels of God come in the shape we need

You can guess what I did next, can't you?
I went to Genesis 32 in MacLaren's Bible and I found this - the outline above in his own hand-writing:

5 comments:

Ben Carswell said...

Wow. Humbled by the martyrs - the world is not worthy of them & delighting in your MacLaren comments (& ever so slightly 'jealous' of your precious possession!) Dad has always enjoyed him & passed a love of his work onto us - I think that came about through Warren Wiersbe who rates him as one of the '50 People Every Christian Should Know'. What's not to love about someone who says "To efface one's self is one of a preacher's first duties. The herald should be lost in his message."?

Paul said...

Thanks, Ben. Humbled indeed.

"Stephen need not be ashamed of his last successors".

Paul Windsor said...

I have it on good authority that MacLaren's church in Manchester drifted away from its evangelical heritage and into a liberalism which eventually led on to its death, which is what tends to happen eventually for such churches. It is now the site of a mosque.

Peter Anderson said...

Thanks Paul. The martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion are indeed an inspiration. A book that left a deep impression on me as a young teenager was A Thousand Miles of Miracle in China" by Glover of the CIM. It is set in that same period. Great reading of MacLaren too and sobering to read what happened to his church when they drifted from the evangelical faith.

Paul said...

Thanks, Peter. My interest in the era has been lifted - I need to track down that book of Glover's. I hope your book gets out and about! Blessings as you travel - see you in July. Paul