Henry Martyn (1781-1812)

The following article is borrowed from Kairos Journal.  I found it quite interesting and informing.  I pray the readers here will as well.

“Alone against Islam”: Henry Martyn (1781-1812)

The debate inside the tent soon matched the soaring temperatures outside as the solitary, sickly Christian rebuffed the arguments of his Muslim opponents. Henry Martyn (1781-1812) had reached Tabriz in May 1812 hoping to present a copy of his Persian translation of the New Testament to the Shah, the nation’s ruler, for his commendation. But before that could happen, the Shah’s vizier (1) ordered him to dispute with the mullahs. After an hour or two the vizier finally intervened with an ultimatum. “You had better say ‘God is God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God.’” No-one moved. All eyes focused on Martyn. Later he recalled, “I said, ‘God is God,’ but instead of adding ‘Muhammad is the prophet of God,’ I said, ‘and Jesus is the Son of God.’” The mullahs rose in disgust and the vizier refused his visitor’s request. (2)

Fifteen years earlier, few could have imagined such a scene. In October 1797, Martyn entered Cambridge University to read mathematics and five years later became a fellow in classics. As a brilliant scholar and linguistic genius, an academic career beckoned, yet Martyn turned his back on it. Charles Simeon (3) asked him to serve as his curate in 1803, and under his influence the young man set his heart on serving Christ overseas.

Leaving behind the woman he loved, Martyn arrived in India in April 1806 as a chaplain of the East India Company, responsible for the souls of the locally stationed British soldiers. But his heart burned for the indigenous Muslim and Hindu populations, and before long he was preaching to them despite heat, opposition, and ill-health. Putting his linguistic skills to use, he started the simultaneous translation projects of the New Testament into Persian, Arabic, and Urdu and completed the Urdu edition in February 1809.

His desire to revise the Persian and complete his Arabic New Testament led Martyn to leave India and enter the formidable domain of Islamic Persia in May 1811. Setting out for Shiraz, a prominent center of Shia Muslim scholarship and poetry, he traveled with a wet towel around his face and neck because of the fierce heat. Once installed in his new home, Martyn worked with a local, Mirza Seid Ali, on the Persian translation, and in less than nine months he completed the New Testament and a version of the Psalms in an accurate and readable vernacular. “No year of my life was ever spent more usefully,” he wrote. (4)

Yet Martyn’s time in Shiraz was far from tranquil. As the only Christian in a Muslim city, he was an easy target for abuse, and the governor had to intervene to stop the constant stoning of his house. He defended the gospel in lengthy discussions with the mullahs and wrote a reply to a defense of Islam published by the leading mullah, Mirza Ibrahim. Always willing to engage the Sufis, his conversations invariably reached an impasse over the deity of Christ. Before he left Shiraz to see the Shah in May 1812, only one man had turned to Christ. Yet the fruit of Martyn’s life appeared after his untimely death that October. His Persian edition reached people in 1846, being used until 1910, and his work still shapes the current edition.

Reflecting on his life, Martyn commented, “Even if I never should see a native converted, God may design, by my patience and continuance in the work, to encourage future missionaries.” (5) Today, Persia (modern day Iran) is still held in the vice of radical Islam, pouring forth a message of threat and triumphalism backed up with arms and money. As political and military solutions are considered to contain its influence, Henry Martyn’s sacrificial example shows the only sure way to challenge Islam. May God be pleased to send many more like him to confront the nations with Christ’s truth.

Footnotes:
1     A high official in certain Muslim countries and caliphates, especially a minister of state.
2     Richard T. France, “Henry Martyn,” in Five Pioneer Missionaries, ed. S. M. Houghton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 291.
3     Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England.
4     Ibid., 285.
5     Ibid., 263.

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