Robert Morrison (d. 1834) arrived in China on September 7, 1807 as “the pioneer of the gospel to nearly a quarter of the world’s population.” Here’s how Bob Davey describes Morrison’s story in his excellent book, The Power to Save: A History of the Gospel in China.
“Robert Morrison had been sent to China by the London Missionary Society with the task of learning the Chinese language in order to translate the Bible into Chinese. He was also to compile a Chinese grammar and an Anglo-Chinese dictionary. …[They] had intended to send two or three men with him, but it had proved impossible to them.”
In the early 19th Century, China was a closed country that did not want any foreign “barbarians” to live in the country; it was even illegal for a Chinese person to teach the language to a foreigner. So when Robert Morrison arrived in 1807 he well knew he might be dead within months. But in going to China, Morrison wasn’t just following some inner burning or whisper. He was a man gifted in languages, passionate for the gospel, and encouraged by the London Missionary Society to be a missionary to China. On top of that, in God’s providence, Morrison crossed paths with a minister in the London area who had been working to form a society that would undertake the translation of the Bible into Chinese. This man, Dr. W. W. Moseley, also introduced Morrison to a Chinese man living in London who was willing to teach him the language. Before even setting foot in China, Morrison knew quite a bit about the language – a language which very few non-Chinese people understood in the early 19th century.
Morrison did eventually translate the Bible during his 27 years in China. Though his initial work resulted in just a handful of Chinese converts, his translation and mission work opened the door for the gospel to go forth in China. In fact, one of his prayers has been answered directly. After one of the few baptisms he administered (a man named Xai Afu), he prayed this: “May he be the first fruits of a great harvest – one of millions who shall come and be saved on the day of wrath to come.” Another great piece of this story is that his son, John, continued his father’s gospel work as an interpreter, translator, and printer.
At one point after his wife died Morrison wrote the following.
“I have been fifteen years in this country and one-half of these hears quite alone, but God has borne with my infirmities and has blessed the labour of my hands. I did not at first suppose I should live as long as I have. I hope I, too, shall die at my post.”
Of course there is more to this edifying story; I’ve given a summary. The rest of it is found in chapter three of The Power to Save. Do yourself a favor and buy this book soon. I really can’t recommend it enough. There are helpful maps, illustrations, and photos along with some helpful appendices. This book is a great reminder of the power of the gospel; I couldn’t set it down. I’m sure it will encourage many in the areas of missions, church planting, evangelism, and the comforting truth that Jesus is still rescuing people from darkness and bringing them into his marvelous light.