The following letter was, as you will see addressed to me under the impression entertained by the writer, that I am still the editor of the Tennessee Baptist. I send it to you, and I am sure your readers will find it a rich treat - recommend to them the appeal with which it closes.
Yours, truly, &c.,
R. B. C. HOWELL.
CHINA, March 24th, 1848
Dear Brother Howell:
On the 19th inst. I had the pleasure of receiving your most welcome favor of the 17th of March, 1847, just twelve months and two days after date. I name this as an apology for not answering sooner. Though long in reaching me, yet it was none the less acceptable when it did come. I will now attend to your inquiries with much pleasure, and should be most happy more frequently to have a like privilege. You inquire about Mr. Gutzlaff saying, "Do tell me what is his religion, and all about him." In the first instance permit me to bear special testimony to his most generous kindness to me in the hour of need. "A friend in need is a friend indeed," and so was he to me. Brother Buck at home, and bro. Gutzlaff in China, assisted round corners that I could not have turned of myself! I walked by faith like Abraham, not knowing whither I went or at least how I should succeed, until I proceeded to the extent of my feeble abilities in each instance, and then the Lord graciously and opportunely raised up these strong and willing brethren just at the right time to assist over, round or through the difficulty, and to send me on my way rejoicing in the Lord and in his work. I hope they will both be blessed richly of the Lord in that deed, and ultimately reap a reward commensurate with their work! Mr. G. is laborious; he writes and preaches perhaps more than any other missionary in China, notwithstanding his connection with the government. He generally has a service every morning and evening and all day of a Sunday. His connection with government is no more objectionable than that of Dr. Morroson's was, or Dr. Parker's is! He holds the same office, i.ebaptize and its cognates, by a word meaning immersion! Nor does he latterly sprinkle but in some measure, I am told, comes forward towards the duty of immersing the candidate, by dipping his head three times in succession all over in a bucket of water. His assistants are some of them at least, talented men. One of them, who was with me a year or two, was an orator of no ordinary abilities. He would have been an ornament to a pulpit in Nashville or any other city had be spoken the English language as well as he did the Chinese.
You inquire, "Can you speak the Chinese now with ease.'' Do you think in that language?" You must excuse diffidence when I answer in reference to my own bumble abilities. You must not suppose that a foreigner ever makes the Chinese language his own, like a native, except he lives among the natives from his youth up! But in my broken way, 1 speak the language readily and with ease to myself, seldom having to hesitate for a word. Having lived more among the people, I am said to speak the language better than any other foreigner in Canton. As to thinking in the language, this is only done partially. While speaking or writing Chinese one must necessarily think in the language, hence when living among the people and talking no other language, one may almost be said lo think in the language, for he speaks it as uppermost without thinking in English what he is going to say, and then interpreting it. Indeed the idiomatic construction of the Chinese being so different from that of the English, one must learn in some measure to think in the language before he can speak it fluently.
Mission Spirit. - I am most happy to learn that my dear native State, Tennessee, feels twenty times as much on the subject of missions as when I left. This is a promising ratio! You know, I presume, that I was born in Sumner county, about forty or fifty miles above Nashville, and I should be exceedingly glad should Tennessee become one the most mission inclined States in the Union.
You inquire - "Is the Chinese language as favorable to public speaking as the English?" In the consequence of the variety of dialects and shades of dialect in the same congregation, and the paucity of different sounds in the language, many words of different meanings having the same sound; I doubt very much whether ideas are gathered as readily and distinctly from a public speaker in this language as in English! I presume, however, when the subject is known, that the speaker is in the main understood, especially when he is a native of good speaking abilities!
You inquire - "What is it in the presentation of the gospel that strikes the Chinese most forcibly?" The Chinese are a polite, but rather a lethargic people, who seldom manifest any intimations of being forcibly struck by any thing we say to them. Their rule of politeness is never to oppose, hence should they not concur in heart, a polite man will seldom let you know it. When the rude undertake to take exceptions to the gospel, he mentions our preaching against idols and against the worship of the tombs as ridiculous! And says: "Without father, without prince - differ not from a brute." This seems to be one of their wise, national sayings. But in the main you may ridicule their idols until one would think the flies would scarce light on them, without seeing a move among the muscles of your courteous hearer's face, and you may gain his assent to every position you take, and think you have convinced him of every doctrine you set forth, yet you find to your mortification in most cases that the adage remains true - "Convince a man against his will and he is of the same opinion still." He commends your doctrine, but makes no change in his conduct; still, "the heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone!" But blessed be the Lord, his power in the gospel is able to break this lethargy, to cast down their idols as Dagon before the ark, to shake them mightily as the valley of dry bones was shaken, and to cause an exceeding great army to stand up in China to praise and worship the living and true God.
You inquire - "Are there any peculiarities in the Christian experience [of] the Chinese"? Their experience differs from ours in Christendom - whether it differs from that of other heathen, I know not. There seems to be a want of pungent conviction of sin in their experience, and consequently a deficiency in reference to a broken and contrite heart! This has given me much anxious thought and consideration relative to what is to be expected from a heathen as to Christian experience? I have noticed this apparent deficiency in brethren Dean's, Shuck's and my own, all alike: and have supposed it possible, that as they do not know the scriptures thoroughly as we do, their convictions are really less pungent! They generally answer questions well and their moral conduct is at least outwardly good; yet in consequence of this characteristic experience, I generally keep them on trial under examination until the responsibility of keeping them out of the church becomes greater than that of taking them in, and then we receive and baptize them. I might now, I presume, have a church of twenty or thirty members had I baptised all who have applied to me to do so.
Macao, 26th March. - Chapel. - I had the pleasure this morning of preaching in a new bamboo chapel, just built by my congregation of Lepers, which consist of seventeen lo twenty members. They listened attentively and upon inquiry spoke encouragingly as to religious desires. May it please the Lord to convert their souls and to cause them to glorify God by becoming true disciples of Jesus.
27th March. - You inquire, - "What are the influences from which the Chinese Christians are in the most danger of being drawn off again to the world?" I presume each one is in most danger from whatever was his besetting sin before conversion. Idolatry, of course with the Chinese universally is the national besetting sin, and there are many reasons for it being very difficult to relinquish, however foolish it seems to us. It is interwoven in all the intercourse of the native. In his family connexions, in marrying, in his business, by which he makes a living, in life and in death, idolatry winds through the whole. And hence it requires a moral effort, beyond what we would suppose for a heathen.to extricate himself from this sin. Their superstition before conversion leads them to look for the blessing of their God upon all their efforts, whether they [be] good or bad, and hence it takes a strong faith and well fixed moral principles, (except some other motive induces,) for a native to abandon his idols entirely and forever! We have had to turn out two members for returning to idolatry! One said he could not make a living by his profession without it, and the other became a priest so as to make a living by it! I fear also the smoking of opium will give us much trouble in the prosecution of our work. When a native has smoked to a certain extent, it is not only very difficult for him to quit, at least suddenly, but it would even jeopardize his life! We have, however, made this a test question of the reception of members; but the turpitude of this practice, in my judgment, is very similar to that of drinking spirits. And since I have seen the arguments by brethren Jeter and others pro and con relative to that test question, I have had considerable doubts whether we have not been too fast in making this a test question! But of one thing I feel fully persuaded, that should we ever have many converts in China we shall be much perplexed relative to this matter! May the Lord grant us wisdom sufficient to meet the exigencies of the case, for it is a very responsible and difficult duty to introduce the gospel among the heathen.
You inquire, - "Is there any special odium attached to becoming members of our churches among the Chinese?" I think not since the Emperor granted universal toleration. This was a grand step, in the providence of God, towards the universal spread of the gospel in China! The odium principally discovered before, was attached principally to those who became Catholics about Macao. And the reason of this was obvious: when he changed his religion he was under the necessity of literally becoming a naturalized Portuguese; he cut off his tail and put on the Portuguese dress, by which means he escaped persecution from the Chinese officers, in accordance with a regulation which existed between the two governments. Hence it was the selling of his birth-right and the abandoning of his own people, (which they esteem much more respectable of course than the Portuguese,) to which the odium principally attached, instead of that of becoming a Christian. Through toleration this cause of odium is removed, and consequently the effect ceases.
You inquire, "Do the natives who are members of the Baptist and Pedobaptist churches ever come in collision on the points of difference in their religious creeds?" I can't say that I have ever seen any thing serious of the kind yet. This may possibly become the case when we shall have more members.
28 th March - HANGHAI. - A few days ago information, arrived that Rev. Dr. Medhurst, Dr. Lockhart, and Rev. Mr. Muirhead, who had gone out on a missionary expedition to a village about 28 miles from Shanghai, had been attacked by a parcel of boatsmen, beat, cut and shamefully abused, and compelled to kneel down and perform the Kow-tow. Farther information has since arrived that the British consul, Mr. Alcock, is taking prompt measures to bring the offenders to suitable punishment. He has demanded ten of them to be delivered up; failing which he will take their chastisement into his own hand. He has two little war vessels with him, and the prospect was when the information left that they would be called into requisition. The payment of duties was stopped, and junks had been forbid to leave the harbor, and every thing for the time being must have looked pretty much warlike.
"The Tennesse Baptist." - I am happy to say, that I now get your paper pretty regularly I believe, and also the duplicate, with it for the mission, of which you speak . Please accept of my most grateful thanks for both copies. You inquire after my address? Letters and papers should be addressed as follows:
TO REV. I. J. ROBERTS,
Care of L. T. Smith, Esq., 69 Water street,
New York City.
Uet-tung Chapel, - Now, bro. Howell, having answered your interesting letter, putting in some other small matters in the interstices, I hope you will indulge me in protracting my remarks while I make some statements relative to my own little concerns, which are not so propitious at present as I could wish. I am now destitute of a home, stopping at Macao! You know, I presume, that I was robbed and plundered last May of every thing I had - clothes, books, papers, furniture, my dwelling house and chapel so broken up as to render them useless! Now my object is to solicit from home special pecuniary means to aid me in repairing this breach, and to restore me to my wanted usefulness. "Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." But I think my circumstances for usefulness might be much improved, by the supply of money needed. As usefulness is common stock, I flatter myself that I shall be able, so to represent, in this case, the prospect of increase to subscribers as to secure some stockholders among your readers. By the generous assistance of the foreign community in Canton I have been enabled to purchase ample premises, as a foundation on which to build a chapel, dwelling and schoolhouse. I have repaired a small room for a school house; the chapel is about half way up and exposed to the weather; the dwelling house is not yet commenced. I have $810. 02 on hand; about twenty four hundred more will complete the buildings. The commissioners, who were appointed by the two governments, awarded me $1,390 [4 words blurred] injury done me by the rob or robbers - not yet paid. Should that be paid $1,000 more would suffice, if not $2,400. Now I must look to the generous at home for the supply of this deficiency, and my usefulness must be greatly impeded until my chapel and house are rebuilt. At present, my little flock are like sheep without a shepherd; the female congregation do not meet; my bible class and Sunday school are dissolved; the church going bell has ceased to be heard; and except I be enabled lo proceed, what has been done must in a measure be lost!
Now, I beg leave to appeal to the sympathies and generous Christian feelings of my brethren in Tennessee, to help me through this difficulty with the needed pecuniary means. Come, brethren, brother Howell says, "You feel twenty times more on the subject than when I left," let me see how much you feel for me, for the Chinese, and especially for my FEMALE congregation, by the liberality of your contributions. If you will only imitate what the kind merchants and others here have already done for me, I shall soon be restored to my work, and going on my way rejoicing, in usefulness I hope. May I not share in your sympathies even as our Irish friends have done, though one from among you? And while I am not disposed to plead my own destitution of worldly conveniences; yet I do plead for the perishing, who robbed and plundered me for lack of knowledge, "for they know not what they did:" and plead for the means by which I may rebuild my houses, and be placed in a situation to feed them with the bread of life. You know, brethren, however much food you contributed for our Irish brethren, without a ship to convey it to them it did them no good! So is the case here! Thousands have been contributed, and I have spent more than ten years in preparing to preach lo this people, and now I have lost more than ten months, almost thrown away, for want of a chapel and house to live in. Brethren, would you not esteem it a sacrifice to leave home and friends for life? But would not that sacrifice be greatly increased, if circumstances compelled you to do so without the prospect of interest or usefulness? Then this is the case with the missionary, when in the foreign field of action without the means of building, printing and going forward with his work. He expects no interest and what must he do if the means of usefulness are wanting? I presume soldiers placed in a battle field without tents, guns, or ammunition, would esteem that one of the most unpleasant predicaments on earth! So do I! I would rather be at home ploughing in a corn field, or making saddles, than to be a missionary without the means of doing good! I hope better things, however, though I thus speak; and trust that through the sympathy and generosity of the Board and my friends there, I shall soon be supplied with the means of rebuilding m y house and chapel and proceeding with my work. I have almost intruded upon the generosity of the foreign community here, and must be excused from doing so any farther at present, and be permitted to look for assistance from home! I have informed the Foreign Mission Board at Richmond of my need,- no answer yet received. But they will doubtless feel gratified at any indications of liberality manifested in response to this appeal, and forward the money promptly according to direction of the donors!
Yours, most affectionately,
I. J. ROBERTS.
MACAO, 31st March.
[From the Tennessee Baptist, September 8, 1848, pp. 1-2. CD edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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