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EARLY in the nineteenth century Protestants of various denominations were aroused to feel the claims of the pagan world, and missions were commenced in various parts of the earth, and among them China received the heralds of salvation.
The honour of sending the first Protestant missionary to China belongs to the London Missionary Society. Having resolved upon this good, great, and glorious work, that society sought for men in whose prudence they could confide, and whose talents were adapted for that station. The
first person nominated was the late zealous and highly-gifted Dr. Morrison. Having directed his attention to various branches of science, which it was hoped might prove subservient to the cause of the gospel, and gained an imperfect insight into the Chinese language, that first herald of salvation to the pagans of China set sail for Canton at the commencement of 1807.
On reaching Canton, Dr. Morrison studied the language with unwearied assiduity, although surrounded with discouragements. His labours were in truth obliged to be carried on in secret, lest the government hearing of them, should be induced to direct his dismissal from the country. Even the persons who assisted him, trembled lest they should be discovered.
But under the protecting care of the Almighty, who has purposes of mercy toward that benighted land, he laboured in security, and his efforts were crowned with
In a few years, he translated and printed in the Chinese language, first the Acts of the Apostles, then the Gospel by Luke, next the morning and evening prayers of the Common Prayer Book, together with the Psalter, divided for the days of the month, and finally, he completed the translation of the whole inspired book of God.
The translation of the sacred Scriptures into the Chinese language, was completed in 1819, and on this occasion, the translator thus expressed his feelings :-"To have Moses, David, and the prophets, Jesus Christ, and his disciples, using their own words, and thereby declaring to the inhabitants of this land the wonderful works of God, indicates, I hope, the speedy introduction of
a happier era in these parts of the world ; and I trust, that the gloomy darkness of pagan scepticism will be dispelled by the day-spring from on high; and that the gilded idols of Budha, and the numberless images which fill this land, will one day assuredly fall to the ground before the power of God's word, as the idol Dagon fell before the ark.
“ These are my anticipations, although there appears not the least opening at present. A bitter aversion to the name of our blessed Saviour, and to any book that contains his name or his doctrines, is felt and cherished. This, however, does not induce us to despair. I remember Britain; what she was, and what she now is in respect to religion. Three hundred years have not elapsed since national authority said that 'the Bible should not be read openly in any church by the people, nor privately by the poor; that only noblemen and gentlemen, and noble ladies and gentlewomen, might have the Bible in their houses.' I remember this, and cherish hope for China."
The labours of Dr. Morrison were not confined solely to the important task of translating the word of God into the Chinese language. In the midst of these he compiled a Chinese grammar, and commenced the compilation of a Chinese and English dictionary. This latter great work he completed in 1823, and by it he has prepared the way, not only for the attainment of a knowledge of the language of China, but for the future dissemination of European learning and science, and of the great truths of Christianity in that pagan country. The completion of his dictionary, indeed, as well as that of the Chinese version of
the Bible, forms an epoch in the history of the Chinese missions.
While thus employed, Dr. Morrison was mindful of the souls of those with whom he had an opportunity of conversing. Privately he laboured diligently to diffuse a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. Years rolled away, however, before he was permitted to reap any fruit from his labours. Until 1814, no individual had resolution to seek admission, by baptism, into the church of Christ. At that time a Chinese named Tsae-a-ko, after much instruction, and strict examination, came forward and confessed his faith in Christ and was baptized. “At a spring of water," says this devoted servant of God, “issuing from the foot of a lofty hill by the sea-side, away from human observation, I baptized, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Tsae-a-ko. Oh that the Lord may cleanse him from all sin in the blood of Jesus, and purify his heart by the influences of the Holy Spirit! May he be the first-fruits of a great harvest: one of millions who shall believe, and be saved from the wrath to come.” Tsae-a-ko adhered to the faith until his death, which occurred in 1818.
In 1823, Dr. Morrison visited his native country, where he was received with the honour justly due to his talents and Christian philanthropy. Previous to his leaving Macao, he dedicated a native convert, named Leang Afa, to the work of an evangelist among his own countrymen. Dr. Morrison remained in England till 1826, when he returned to Macao. On his arrival, he met Leang Afa, who had been actively and usefully employed during his absence. Fearless of
persecution, he had been ardent in his study of the sacred Scriptures, which he boldly promulgated by conversation, preaching, and the distribution of 'tracts and the book of God itself.
Bibles and tracts were the chief means now used by Dr. Morrison to promote the eternal welfare of the Chinese. In this work he was aided by the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Religious Tract Society, both of which responded to his call to stand forward, “to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty." Nor were his labours in vain. In October, 1832, he writes, “ I have been twenty-five years in China, and am now beginning to see the work prosper. Blessed be God for his mercy to me. By the press we have been enabled to scatter knowledge far and wide.
We now greatly want writers in Chinese. My strength fails me much. The Confucian atheists, who believe that death is annihilation, are numerous. Of late, some merchants here, of that school, have been put into possession of the Testament, Milne on the Soul, and other books printed by us. Agong (another Chinese convert) has been occupied in my house all the summer, in printing sheet-tracts at the lithographic press. Leang Afa has been engaged in printing nine tracts, for which the Tract Society sent out funds. He has baptized three persons during the year."
By means of English presses, which were introduced by this first Protestant mission, Dr. Morrison and his Chinese coadjutors, Leang Afa and Agong, were furnished with many thousand tracts, which they distributed among the people. On one occasion, the native converts itinerated about