SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND LABORS OF REV. MATTHEW TYSON YATES, D.D.
For Forty-two Years Missionary to Shanghai, China, under the Foreign Board of the S. B. Convention.
SURELY we must say, a mighty man has fallen, as we record the death of Rev. M. T. Yates, oar pioneer missionary to China. While we bow our heads in sorrow at our great loss, we recognize the hand of God lifting his faithful servant np from his toils and sufferings to eternal rest and peace, and thank Him that He so long spared the useful life which has just closed in the triumph of that faith which overcometh the world.
His life and labors pre-eminently justify the high encomium passed on him by Dr. Jeter, who regarded him as our greatest missionary—an estimate of character fully corroborated by a Presbyterian missionary on the field, who, writing home, said Dr. Yates " is physically, mentally and morally at the head of
the Protestant missionaries of this empire, although there are several hundreds of them all told."
His early life gave promise of what, through the power of the Spirit, he has since accomplished. Converted and baptized in 1836, his heart was soon after fired with interest in the heathen world, from reading that inspiring book, "Memoirs of Mrs. Anne H. Judson," hundreds of copies of which Rev. Luther Rice circulated throughout many parts of the South, and which has proved wherever read, a great awakener and furtherer of missionary zeal and purpose. These are his own words of testimony: "Frequently did I weep for hours, while following my plow or using my trowel when I would reflect that the poor heathen who know nothing of Christ, the only Savior of the world, must die and appear before God, and be judged according to their works in this world."* Is it a matter of wonder that a soul so imbued with the Christ-like spirit of love should dare and do great things? Great power was given him, for he sought with tears and importunate prayer to make known the precious truth that Christ died for the sins of the world, to all who had never heard the blessed message.
Not wishing his father and brothers to see his tears, he would often turn aside from his furrow, and seek guidance from God as to what he should do.
He was being led in a way he knew not; but with consecrated purpose, and soul kindled by heavenly fire, he gladly followed the Divine Guidance.
"I will go to school when I become of age, father, if I have to make bricks by moonlight!"
What obstacles can deaden such a will as this?
At eighteen years of age he found himself owner of a horse —his sole property. This he sold, and devoted the money to keep him in an academy for one year. Here it was he fully realized his duty—preparation for the Gospel ministry—which when made known, the North Carolina State Convention sent him to Wake Forest College, where he remained until 1846, when he graduated with marked honor. Married in the same year, and set apart to mission service in China, he embarked the following year for his designated field, arriving at Hong Kong in August, from whence he proceeded immediately to Shanghai, He was soon after joined by Revs. J. L. Shuck and T. W. Tobey, and November 6th of the same year, a church of
* Harvey’s “Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands.”
ten members was organized. Mai and Yong, two natives, were licensed to preach. Seen-Sang had been baptized by Rev. Dr. Shock at Macao, in 1844. The drowning, in April, 1848, of Dr. and Mrs. J. S. James, who were to reinforce the infant mission, cast a deep gloom over the little company. In November following, Mr. Pearcey of Canton, joined the workers in Shanghai. At this time the meetings were attended by 600 or 700 natives.
Three years after the arrival of Dr. Yates in China, the rebellion led by Hang, one of Rev. Mr. Robert's former pupils for a short time, was inaugurated. This, of course, interfered greatly with Dr. Yates' work in Shanghai, the insurgents having taken control of that city, where they were fiercely besieged by the imperial forces, who, after a desperate engagement, took possession of the city, and the "Long Hairs" (insurgents) had to shave their heads and seek safety in flight.
Daring these engagements, the Mission property was destroyed. This property was a considerable building erected in 1850, at Oo-Kah Jack, and of which Dr. Shuck wrote, "Our Board is the first Protestant Board of Missions in the world which ever held property and gained a permanent footing in the interior of China."
In 1853, a young relative of one of the insurgent chiefs was baptized by Dr. Yates as he was on his way from Shanghai to Nanking, then the capital of the rebels, and, in the same year, it was bis province to give some aid to a nephew of one of the five kings under the quasi emperor Hung, so that when Shanghai fell into the bands of the Imperialists after sixty-eight engagements, we must know they were not at all favorable to the "foreigner."
In 1856, Dr. Yates baptized Wong Ping Sang, who has so greatly distinguished himself in his testimony for Christ and the material aid he has bestowed on the mission.
The mission at Shanghai suffered greatly for want of means daring the period of oar civil war, from 1860 to 1865, and the missionaries throughout China had to turn their attention to secular labor for a support. Dr. Yates, judiciously using some money left by him on interest in New York, largely aided in sustaining the Baptist missionaries in China during these years. He also built a chapel at an outlay of $3,000 and presented it to the mission, and afterwards a parsonage for the native preacher Wong, of which he made similar disposition.
In 1861, Dr. Yates wrote his friends: "The troops are still here, and we can expect to do but little for the next two or
three years. Eighty thousand people have destroyed their own lives, thinking the rebels mast be monsters because they have dared to treat the gods with such contempt and violence." It must be remembered the revolutionists were unrestrained iconoclasts and because of this, perhaps more than any other feature, were terrifying to a large proportion of the population.
When at last, in July 1864, the Long Hairs were overthrown, and their capital Nanking capitulated, Dr. Yates wrote: "Thus was crushed out by foreign aid a rebellion which in its beginning promised so much for Christian civilization and the friendly intercourse of foreign nations with all parts of the empire."
For a period of almost seven years, '69-'75, Dr. Yates suffered with a disease of the vocal organs that almost deprived him of his voice, and for which he sought relief in travel, visiting Manchuria and America.
While absent from the mission, in 1869, the native preacher, Mr. Wong, had charge, and aided by Mrs. Yates built up the little church. Who can estimate the toil and prayer, care, and weeping of such an undertaking?
In view of all the bearings in the case, with which Dr. Yates was thoroughly familiar, he gives this testimony: "It does seem as if the process of converting the Chinaman—of bringing him to the point of clearly apprehending and appreciating the love of God in Christ Jesus—is a long one." And Dr. Crawford believes that Christendom will yet learn that a great heathen nation is not easily converted to Christ, and will be the better for the lesson."
Dr. Yates came a second time to America by the overland route, in 1871, his voice having been lost to a mere whisper. He was greatly benefited, but the same trouble overtaking him in 1873, and not wishing to be a charge to any one, he accepted the position of Vice Consul at Shanghai and Chinese Intepreter for the United States. From the profits of these secular offices he built the chapel and parsonage for the Mission.
When in 1876 he was tendered the office of Consul General he refused it, preferring to preach the Gospel to any worldly position, however crowned with honor and emoluments.
Finding no Scriptures in the vernacular of the people to whom he had gone, he translated the New Testament into the dialect of the forty millions of people of "that plain."
What encouraging testimony is this, written by himself, Sept. 12,1877: "This is the thirtieth anniversary of our arrival at Shanghai. At first our way was in the dark, but every successive
decade has shown marked progress in our work. To-day the missionary influence in China is a mighty power. The leaven of Divine Truth has been deposited in this mass of error and corruption, and its irresistible force is beginning to be realized far and wide. The Bible has been translated into the literary (dead) language of the open country, and rendered into the spoken language or dialects of many localities. Places of worship have been secured; churches of living witnesses have been established. Tens of thousands have been convinced of the truth of the gospel who have not had the moral courage to make a public profession of their faith in Christ. Thirty years ago when the prospect was so dark, and the darkness seemed so impenetrable, I could have compromised for what I now behold as my life work. Now my demand would be nothing less than a complete surrender. I am in dead earnest about this matter, for I fully realize that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, and has committed unto us the work of reconciliation and commanded us to make it known to all nations. I not only do not regret devoting my life to the mission work, but I rejoice that He counted me worthy to be His ambassador to the greatest empire on the globe. Now my one desire is that He will give me wisdom to do His will and prove a faithful steward. The Lord be praised for all His goodness and mercy to us in our hours of darkest affliction." He sowed in tears and reaped in joy, and his work done he has gone up to his reward, having departed from us March 17th. Of his last moments we know nothing, but feel assured his end was glorious as his life was consecrated. He was born in North Carolina, January 8, 1819; professed Christ, October, 1836; was graduated from Wake Forest College, June, 1846; was appointed a missionary, August 3, 1846; married Miss Eliza Moring, of North Carolina, September 27th of the same year; sailed for China, March 15, 1847, and arrived at Shanghai, September 25, 1847.
[From S. H. Ford, editor, Christian Repository, 1888, pp. 385-389. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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