The following are mostly extracts, taken from a communication sent to the Texas Baptist Herald, in 1876, signed T: "Elder Issachar J. Roberts was born in Sumner county, Tenn., on February 17, 1802. He worked at the saddlers' trade for several years. On March 18, 1821, he was converted at Shelbyville, Tenn., and was baptized May 13, 1821, by Reverend William Martin. He was ordained at Edgefield, S. C., April 22, 1828. His first wife was Basha Blanchard, whom he married January 4, 1830, and who died the following year. He preached in Mississippi, where he owned property said to be worth thirty thousand dollars. This formed the basis of the Roberts' Fund Society, under the auspices of which he went as a missionary to China in October, 1836. The property proved of but little value, and Elder Roberts connected himself with the Foreign Mission Board of the Triennial convention. The first six or seven years of his life in China were spent at Macao, where he had a congregation of lepers, and at Hong Kong, in company with Reverend J. Lewis Shuck. In 1845 he started a mission in Canton. He was the first American Baptist Missionary, if not the first Baptist Missionary in that city. Shortly after his arrival he gathered a little church, the Weltung, of six or seven members, two of whom became useful assistants in publishing the gospel. From the second annual report of the China Mission Society, of Kentucky, we learn that during the year 1846, three thousand nine hundred and thirty-five dollars and sixty-three cents had been expended
by the church: a floating chapel had been procured, where regular worship was maintained, and one hundred and ninety-one thousand two hundred and fifty-eight pages of tracts and Scriptures had been published and circulated."
Elder Roberts offered himself to our Board in a letter dated September 24, 1845. In the meantime our Board had applied to the Kentucky China Mission Society for his transfer, and the Society, dissolving its connection with the Northern Board, advised Elder Roberts to become our missionary. In June, 1846, Elder Roberts wrote:"See what God has wrought in His Provitience for us, even exceeding our most sanguine expectations as regards the opening for the reception of the gospel. Who knows whether the Southern Baptist Board has not been constituted for such a time as this. I have leased a lot on \vhich to build a chapel and mission-house, and have one thousand dollars collected for the purpose." On July 21, he wrote:"I have three promising inquirers. My chapel is nearly finished. I have just received a fine bell from New York, and the belfry is in course of erection to-day. I believe that all the members will contribute freely, willingly and liberally, according to their means. They have three of the assistants under their own patronage and direction." August 16, he wrote:"I made my last payment on the house, chapel and lease to-day. They have been paid for by the foreign community in China, through the Canton Missionary Society, and of course the property belongs to that Society. The feverish state of things created hostilities to all foreigners." On June 29, 1847, Elder Roberts wrote of an assault upon his house; the destruction of his records and furniture, and the sinking of the floating chapel. The damages were assessed at two thousand eight hundred dollars; his loss of private and church papers was irreparable, yet he gloried in tribulation, saying: "I count all things loss that I may win Christ." Through the interposition of the American Consul, Mr. Everett, the loss was in part indemnified by the Chinese government. He soon made a contract for another lease whereon to build another chapel, adjoining the one already purchased. On June 4, he wrote:"Lye, from Hong Kong, preached as usual at the Lein Hing Ki chapel." On June 25, he wrote:"The Weltung Baptist church has been almost like sheep without a shepherd since the robbery. The chapel was laid in ruins, and the members were scattered. But like the apostles they went about preaching the gospel. Met to-day in room repaired - seven members present All the church records entirely gone, and we begin anew. The number of communicants
[p. 525]are eighteen. This is slow progress for ten years, but thank the Lord."
During this year Elder Roberts collected in Canton and vicinity two thousand nine hundred and thirty dollars and thirty-six cents. His journal for this year concludes thus:"Have made great progress in China in ten years. Increase your means, brethren, and let us see if God will not open the windows of heaven and pour you out such a blessjng that there shall not be room enough to recejve it." In 1849, in anticipation of war between England and China, in which event little could be done, Elder Roberts returned to the United States, which the Board had authorized before leaving. He effected a union between the Weltung church and the First Baptist church, of which he wrote, "there are only three members."
During his visit to America he married Miss Virginia Young, an estimable and elegant woman. The ceremony was performed by the Reverend William Buck, at East Hickman, Ky. Elder Roberts' relations with the Board of Foreign Missions were not perfectly harmonious, but he returned to China with his wife in 1850, as their missionary. In 1852 his relation to the Board was dissolved, but he continued his work in Canton independently; he went to Nankin, the capital of the insurgents, whose leader had studied the Christian religion with him at Canton. Elder Roberts was offered the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs, and received, by royal decree, free access through the rebel territory, not only for himself, but for all religionists. By the same decree idolatry was abolished, and provision was made for the establishment of eighteen chapels at Nankin. Elder Roberts was very sanguine that there was going to be a general revolution in favor of the Christian religion, but these hopes were soon dissipated. In 1862, being insulted by the King, he fled for his life and returned to his work in Canton. In 1865, Mrs. Roberts returned with her two children and now reside[s] in St. Louis, Mo. Elder Roberts returned in 1866 and passed some time in Mississippi. From there he went to upper Alton, Ill., where he died December, 1870 or '71. The journal of Elder Roberts, which was kept with great care, and even beauty of arrangement and chirography,
manifested regularity and industry in his work and scrupulousness in his private devotions and alms-giving; the propriety of noting which, in view of the anticipated eyes of others, he expressed grave doubts. He was a man of extremes of character, like the rest qf God's earthly children - made up of some gold and quite as much clay. Let it be remembered that he laid the foundation of our work in Canton; that during his labors, vast progress was made in the gospel; that he displayed great liberality and was unquestionably zealous of the Master's glory. Let us rejoice in the hope that the virtues and graces which clearly appeared in his life, are now expanded into a perfect and sanctified character in the presence of his Redeemer-God.
[Joseph H. Borum, Tennessee Baptist Ministers, 1880; rpt. 1976, pp. 523-526 - jrd]
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