Ligonier Ministries Blog

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  1. On September 4, 1807, a ship called the Trident pulled into the port of Macao, a small Portuguese colony off the coast of China. Aboard the vessel was an Anglo-Scot Presbyterian minister named Robert Morrison. He intended to cross the border and go to the city of Canton, where he would begin missionary work among the Chinese people. When others on the ship heard of Morrison’s plans, they were naturally skeptical. In those days, China was a mysterious and impenetrable world, sealed off from the West. Chinese law forbade westerners from residing in the country (except under very limited circumstances) and enforced strict laws on its citizens to prevent them from embracing Western ideas. Practicing foreign religions or teaching a westerner the Chinese language were crimes punishable by death. From a human perspective, Morrison’s mission seemed impossible. Someone asked him cynically, “And so, Mr. Morrison, do you really expect that you will make any spiritual impact on the idolatry of the great Chinese Empire?” “No sir,” Morrison replied, “but I expect God will.” Indeed, God made an impact through the faithful labors of Morrison, who became the first Protestant missionary to China. Early Life and Formation Born on January 5, 1782, in the small town of Morpeth, England, Morrison was the youngest of eight children. His father, who was Scottish, and his mother, who was English, were active members of the Church of Scotland and raised their children to know the Bible and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is said that at the age of twelve, Morrison could recite from memory all of Psalm 119. By age fourteen, he left school for an apprenticeship in his father’s business. About two years later, he was converted. “I was much awakened to a sense of sin,” writes Morrison: > I was brought to a serious concern about my soul. I felt the dread of eternal condemnation. The fear of death compassed me about and I was led nightly to cry to God that he would pardon my sin, that he would grant me an interest in the Savior, and that he would renew me in the spirit of my mind . . . It was then that I experienced a change of life, and, I trust, a change of heart, too. After making a profession of faith, Morrison soon felt called to the mission field. In 1801, he began studying Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. In 1803, he entered the Hoxton Academy in London to be trained as a minister. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited by the London Missionary Society to go to China and lay the foundations for missionary work. Elated, Morrison wrote to a colleague: “I wish I could persuade you to accompany me. Take into account the 350 million souls in China who have not the means of knowing Jesus Christ as Savior.” After several more years of preparation and studying the Chinese language, he was ordained in the Scots Church in London in 1807 and sent to China as a missionary. Missionary to China From day one, Morrison’s ministry was beset with discouraging obstacles. Jesuit missionaries based in Macao opposed him immediately. He set out for the city of Canton but was prohibited from entering. Foreign merchants were restricted to a narrow strip of land outside the city walls where they traded with the Chinese in factories. Morrison lived in the basement of one of these factories while he studied Mandarin and Cantonese in secret from tutors willing to risk their lives. He was often cheated, frequently ill, and had to live in almost complete seclusion to avoid detection. His loneliness was overbearing and affected his health. Nevertheless, he pressed on. He began compiling a Chinese dictionary and translating the Bible. In his prayers, he often pled with God in his broken Chinese, asking for help to master the language and be more effective. God answered Morrison’s prayers. He quickly became so proficient in Chinese that in 1809, the East India Company, which controlled all trade between the British Empire and the Orient, offered him the post of Chinese Secretary and Translator with a salary of £500 a year. This provided Morrison with legal grounds for remaining on Chinese soil. That same year, God also gave Morrison a wife. He married Mary Morton, the daughter of a surgeon in Macao. Together they had three children. Spiritual Impact After seven years of missionary work, Morrison baptized his first convert. Over his twenty-seven-year ministry in China, he would only baptize ten. Yet, Morrison’s labors were not in vain. He published a three-volume Chinese dictionary, a Chinese grammar, a translation of the Bible, and many articles in missionary journals throughout the world to promote the cause of the gospel in China. He also founded the Anglo-Chinese College at Malacca. The Lord used Morrison as a pioneer, paving a way that would bring many missionaries to the people of China. Morrison’s wife, Mary, died in 1821. In 1824, he married Eliza Armstrong, with whom he had five more children. Morrison died on August 1, 1834, at the age of fifty-two, from a fever and exhaustion. He was buried next to his first wife, Mary, and infant son, James, at the Protestant cemetery in Macao. His grave can still be visited today. This article is part of the Missionary Biographies collection. : R. Li-Hua, Competitiveness of Chinese Firms: West Meets East (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 40. : Wikipedia. 2023. Wikimedia Foundation. Last modified April 7, 2023. : Hallihan, C.P., “Robert Morrison Bible Translator of China, 1782–1834,” Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Record, Oct. to Dec, 2008, Issue 585, 17;
  2. This is an interesting and important question. My Lutheran friends will not agree with me, but I think we can distinguish Luther’s view of baptism from a later Lutheran view of baptism.

    Later confessional Lutherans say that baptism regenerates and, therefore, an infant who receives baptism receives regenerating grace in the water of baptism. Now, that creates certain pastoral problems for them because it means that regenerating grace, in some cases, is lost or at least not finally efficacious. I am not persuaded that’s what Luther actually taught, though that is debatable.

    Luther certainly wanted to stress the importance of baptism, the promises that God makes in baptism, and the reliability of God’s promises in baptism. But if you read the old Dutch Reformed baptismal form, which was written in the sixteenth century, it too is very strong on the promises that God has made in baptism and the reliability of God to His promises, so much so that some Presbyterians think it teaches baptismal regeneration when they hear it read. It doesn’t teach baptismal regeneration, but it does teach that baptism comes to everyone baptized with the strong promise that God will save everyone who receives the promises of baptism in faith.

    I think that’s very much what Luther said as well. When you read, for example, Luther’s Large Catechism on baptism, I don’t think there’s a word in there that we don’t agree with. We should exalt baptism as a great comfort, help, and encouragement to us as Christians.

  3. The Bible records the covenantal narrative about God’s creation of all things, humanity’s fall into sin, redemption through the covenant of grace and its various administrations, and the consummation of all things in eschatological glory. God Himself is the master narrator as the One who declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10) and who is Himself the first and the last (Isa. 44:6; Isa. 48:12). It is an ancient narrative told over a span of some fifteen hundred years in three different languages. The literary devices of the ancient world are not always like our own, so it can be challenging to understand what we encounter in these accounts. What follows, therefore, are three reading strategies that can help us better understand and appreciate the art of the ancient historical narrative as set forth in the Bible. 1. Understand that the unified narrative of the Bible is not always set forth in chronological order. This can be seen in an ancient literary technique whereby the author makes a statement and then circles back to focus on important details about the event itself or how something came to be. Sometimes in the Bible, theology trumps chronology in the arrangement of recorded events. For example, Genesis 2 begins with a description of the seventh day of creation (vv. 1–3), but the rest of the chapter steps back in time to reconsider the events of day six in more detail (vv. 4–25). Genesis 10 records the names and descendants of Noah, the so-called table of nations, listed “by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations” (Gen. 10:31). However, in the very next chapter, we return to the time when there was only one clan, language, land, and nation in order to focus on the events of the tower of Babel. The same is true of 1 Samuel 16 and 17. At the end of chapter 1 Samuel 16, David is loved by Saul and serving full-time as his armor-bearer. In the very next chapter, David is unknown to Saul and does not know how to handle his armor. 2. Whenever possible, let the text interpret itself. Biblical narrative consists of both recorded events and the dialogue, or speech, of characters appearing in those events. Sometimes, a bit of climactic dialogue will give you the clue that you need to understand why such events were recorded and what those events signify. For example, in 1 Kings 17 we are introduced to the prophet Elijah, who delivers the message of a three-year drought to King Ahab. He then departs to a river where he is fed by ravens for an unspecified amount of time. Then, at the command of the Lord, he travels out of the promised land to live with a widow and her young son. The son dies, and Elijah miraculously raises the boy from the dead. The widow’s response is the key to the entire account: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24). The same technique is employed again in the very next chapter. After Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal in a contest, the people proclaim, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39). In a day of false prophets and other gods, the Bible testifies in both word and deed that the Lord is the true God and that His prophets speak His truth. 3. Watch for the unexpected. Sometimes, something odd or out of place is recorded to foreshadow or anticipate a future, more climactic event. Ancient historical narrative teaches by rehearsing and repeating itself. Always listen for the echo. For example, in Exodus 2, just after his birth account, it is recorded that Moses killed an Egyptian who was striking a Hebrew. Then, his own people complained against him and he fled to the wilderness, where he spent the next forty years wandering in the wilderness (vv. 11–15). What are we to think of this brief narrative? Is it saying, “Your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23)? Or, is it saying that if God can use someone like Moses, a murderer, then he can certainly use someone like you or me? Both things are true, but they are not the point of the narrative. These events in the life of Moses foreshadow what is to come. As God’s instrument, Moses is about to deliver all of God’s people, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Egyptians. After that, he will spend another forty years wandering in the wilderness with his fellow Hebrews, who will continue to complain and grumble against him. Conclusion The art form of the ancient historical narrative as it is found in Scripture is both beautiful and sophisticated. When reading these narratives, read carefully and consider all the details, both what is included and what is not. Finally, and most importantly, work hard to understand how all the Bible’s individual narrative units come together in one grand narrative, climaxing in the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 5:39, 45–47; Luke 24:44). This article is part of the Hermeneutics collection.
  4. LAWSON: Spurgeon said that the sovereignty of God was the pillow he laid his head upon at night as he went through hours of great adversity and difficulty. In his book, Trusting God, Jerry Bridges singles out three attributes of God: God is all-wise, God is all-loving, and God is all-powerful. Understanding that triad of attributes helps us know that God is sovereign over our adversity and trials.

    The doctrine of providence teaches that God has ordained even our suffering and that He purposes to use that for His glory and for our good. For example, help someone look to the Son of God, a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. The road that was set out before Him involved much rejection, crucifixion, and an ignominious death, yet this was the foreordained, predetermined plan of God. I think the greatest hope we can give to someone is that things are not out of control. God is sovereignly in control and has all-wise purposes through our suffering for a greater good. Knowing that He is loving, that He is with us, and that He will never leave us nor forsake us is ultimately the greatest comfort in suffering.

    To be familiar with the character of God and the attributes of God is an anchor for the soul to be reminded of who He is and His interaction in our lives. He does all things well. His plan is perfect, even when it includes suffering, adversity, and difficulty. That’s where I would begin in trying to comfort someone: God truly causes all things to work together for our good.

    DEYOUNG: It sounds cliché, but it’s true that while people often forget what you say, they will remember that you were there. They will remember that you showed up at the hospital room or the funeral, that you wrote a note, that you were thinking of them, that you were listening to them.

    In addition to what has already been said, we want to be sure that as we use Scripture with people, we use it in a way that invites them to tell more of their story and doesn’t feel like a stiff arm to stop sharing. Sometimes we comfort people in their suffering in a way that really makes it about us and our uncomfortability with their suffering. I say that is someone who has suffered so, so little.

    We also need to remind people of the end of the story. I’ve spent most of my life in Michigan. I’m a Michigan State Spartan fan. They were recently playing Northwestern and were down by twenty-seven points. My friend, Collin Hansen, went to Northwestern. He wrote me after Michigan State came back and won, and he said, “I never once, in the entire game, thought Northwestern was going to win”—he was right. But when you’re watching the game and it’s your team, you’re thinking, “This is horrible.” But now that you know how it ends, if you’re a fan of that team, you’ll say: “Let’s watch that one again. I love this.” When you watch the parts where they get down more, it’s even better because you know the end of the story.

    In a way that isn’t trite, with tenderness and tears, we need to help people realize the end of the story. We love the story of Joseph, and we know how it ends. He didn’t know how it was going to end when he was there in the pit, sold into slavery. He didn’t know how it was going to end when he was in prison, having done nothing wrong. What did the disciples think about the story on Holy Saturday? What did the Israelites think about the story that was being written for them for four centuries of slavery? We know these Bible stories and we love them because they go from suffering to victory in a few chapters—but they inhabited that for a lifetime, some of them for centuries.

    We need to help each other realize that part of faith is believing in the story that God has written for you that you can’t see yet. The worst part about suffering is when you don’t have hope that this will ever change or that there will be a purpose. We need to be able to say: “You’re in that spot in the story where you’re in the whale, when you thought Jesus was the Messiah but now He’s dead, when Joseph is in prison and the baker and the cupbearer forgot about him. But you know what the end of the story is, and I believe it for you. Let’s press on.”

  5. The last ten years of Calvin’s life were quiet and productive. The final edition of his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, now expanded to four times its original size, was published in 1559. His lectures on Lamentations were concluded in 1563, as were his sermons on 1 and 2 Samuel. But, beginning that summer, his health began to rapidly decline. For a time, he was unable to engage in public duties, though his home continued to play host to a steady stream of eager visitors from Geneva and all over Europe, all keen to get the great Reformer’s wisdom and counsel. He did manage to attend the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Easter Sunday, 1564, though his poor health meant he had to be carried to the service on a chair. That April saw him confined to his sickbed, from which he was never again to rise. Resolved to serve the Lord while he had breath, from his room he exhorted the gathered ministers of Geneva to persevere in their labors for the sake of the kingdom. On Saturday, May 27, 1564, his close colleague Theodore Beza, having just left his bedside, was suddenly summoned to return. Hurrying back, he found that Calvin had already died, “without a word or a groan or even the slightest movement. He seemed rather to have fallen asleep.” “We can truly say,” he noted, “that in this one man God has been pleased to demonstrate to us in our day the way to live well and to die well.” In accordance with his wishes, Calvin’s remains were wrapped in a simple shroud, placed in an unadorned casket, and buried in an unmarked grave in the Pleinpalais cemetery. There would be no possibility of a “cult of Calvin” if the great Genevan Reformer had anything to do with it. Indeed, his remarkably unremarkable burial reflected the driving priorities of his life. In his brief final testament, he surveyed the major accomplishments of his life only to lament, “Alas my desires and my zeal, if I may so describe it, have been so cold and flagging that I am conscious of imperfections in all that I am and do.” In life, Calvin was often bold in defense of the faith. He was incessant in preaching and lecturing, in writing and editing, so that the truth of the gospel might reach further and with more clarity than ever. He was indefatigable, and his literary output was extraordinary. But when it came to his view of himself, Calvin had learned the grace of humility. In death, as in life, his great priority was never to point to himself, but to Christ his redeemer. Commenting on Matthew 24:43, he wrote, “But God does not bestow the honourable title of his children on any but those who acknowledge that they are strangers on the earth, and who not only are at all times prepared to leave it, but likewise move forward, in an uninterrupted course, towards the heavenly life.” This was the ideal for which Calvin strove in life and in death. Let us, like him, set our sights on the heavenly life and move resolutely toward it without interruption. Editor’s Note: This article was originally published May 26, 2021. : Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 1997), 118. : Beza, The Life of John Calvin 118. : Cited in Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 334.