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Remembering Henry Martyn

Thinking of Henry Martyn today, priest, missionary, and linguist—Anglicans around the world commemorate him on October 19.


Martyn (b. 1781 in Cornwall, England) had enormous prospects when he graduated from Cambridge as Senior Wrangler (i.e., top university student in mathematics, a prestigious public declaration of brilliance). He was headed into law, but a sermon by Charles Simeon (how many were diverted into missionary and other pastoral work by Simeon!) on the powerful effect of a single missionary, William Carey, on India altered his course. Bolstered by reading of David Brainerd (Jonathan Edwards's missionary son-in-law), he committed himself to Asian missions and set out with the British East India Company—of which he became critical, as he was of imperial armies (having experienced war on his outbound journey as he stopped to tend war dead in South Africa).


An amazing mind indeed: he translated the New Testament into Urdu, Persian (Farsi), and Judeo-Persian, while preaching, pastoring, and publicly contending for the faith in India and modern-day Iran. Prescribed a sea voyage for his health, he headed for home, but after rigorous travels he was stopped in a plague-infested town and died at age 31.


He was heard to have said, "Let me burn out for God"—an aspiration typical of younger missionaries in every era, it seems. And his prayer was granted.


His last journal entry read thus:


"Oh! when shall time give place to eternity? When shall appear that new heaven and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness? There, there shall in no wise enter in any thing that defileth: none of that wickedness which has made men worse than wild beasts, none of those corruptions which add still more to the miseries of mortality, shall be seen or heard of any more."


Amen. Martyn was commemorated by a hall devoted to missionary recruitment and study at Cambridge. It is now the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide. May God fire up his faithful today to listen to his call, however surprising, however disruptive, however costly it might be. Young Henry Martyn had so few years to spend in God's service—barely a decade—and yet his work literally brought the Word of God to thousands, even millions. Yes, may those who follow Martyn's Lord ask again today for the grace to burn brightly and warmly—not out, God willing! but steadily and effectively—while we have opportunity to burn.

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