Christian Frederick Schwartz
Early Protestant Missionary to India
If asked who the first missionary to India was, many probably would say William Carey. This is hardly the case.
The Apostle Thomas took the Gospel to India in A.D. 42 and died a martyr's death near Madras in A.D. 72.
In more recent history, Bartholomew Zeigenbalg is thought to be the first Protestant missionary to India, having arrived in 1705 at the age of 23. He planted a church among the Hindus in South India and translated the Bible into the Tamil language.
But perhaps the man who, more than any other, left his mark for the cause of Christ in India in the 1700s was Christian Frederick Schwartz. Born in Prussia in 1726, he was sent out by the Danish mission representing the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK). Schwartz was a man of unusual ability and insight into the cause of Christ in foreign missions. Seeing the need for trained leaders, he started the first Christian schools in India. He trained national evangelists by precept, example, and in the school of prayer. A brilliant man, he could preach fluently and effectively in English, Tamil, Portuguese, and German and was an accomplished scholar in Hebrew and Greek.
Schwartz accurately recognized that the enemy was not only the pagan Hindus but also the Jesuits, whom he considered the greatest hindrance to the spread of the Gospel in his area. He was not discouraged by little fruit in his early days but frequently called to mind that a time for sowing precedes that of reaping.
His ministry extended beyond that to the nationals. There were many European government officials, military personnel, and merchants in India with whom he had contact and extensive correspondence. To one he wrote:
My dear John, examine your heart and whatever you find in it that is not agreeable to the will of God-and you will find much of that sort-acknowledge it, bewail it before your God, entreat Him to wash and cleanse you from all your sins. Rest not til you find rest to your soul.
And to another:
When I consider all, high and low, rulers and the ruled, I am struck with grief and a variety of passions. What blindness, insensibility, obstinacy, greediness, and rapaciousness. A thousand times I think with my self "Oh, my God, must all these people die? Must they all appear before the tribunal of Jesus, the Mediator and the Judge? How little do they mind their end and the consequences of their lives." Still I am happy to be made the instrument of Providence to instruct some and to warn others. Who knows but there may come a time when others may reap what we have been sowing.
To another he penned:
The atonement of Jesus Christ is the foundation of my hope, peace, life, and happiness. Though I am covered all over with sin, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all my iniquities and sets my heart at rest. But if, instead of trusting in Christ and in His consummate atonement, we rely on our own virtue and consequently try to stand upon our own foundation, we shall never enjoy one moment's peace of mind. Let us, therefore, seek for pardon, peace, and joy in Jesus.
He was tactful and tried not to offend caste, but ministered to all-both high and low. He said, "the glorious God and our blessed Redeemer has commanded his apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations."
Speaking of some who professed Christ but turned back, he wrote:
. . . that some of those who have been instructed and baptized have abused the benefit of instruction is certain. But all sincere servants of God, nay, even the Apostles, have experienced this grief.
Schwartz never married, but he loved children. He started a home and school for orphans. He was of the mind of Paul. He wrote:
If a new missionary comes out, he ought to be unembarrassed. His first work, besides an attention to his personal religion, is the learning of some languages, which requires great attention and unwearied application. I will not say that a married man is unable to learn languages, but I know from experience in others that the work goes on very slowly. Besides, a missionary who comes out in the married state wants many things to maintain his family decently, which may distract him. If one should enter into that state after he had become qualified for his office, the difficulty would be less and even then he ought to be well-assured of her real piety. Otherwise, she will be a sore impediment to him in the discharge of his duties.
As I approached the time of my departure for career missions, I began to take serious thought of what the Lord, in His sovereignty, wrote in Genesis Chapter 2 and verse18: "And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." As I meditated upon that verse, I came up with four priorities that I wanted to find in a helpmeet:
- I wanted a woman who was truly born again and demonstrated the fruits of the Sprit in her life.
- I wanted a wife who had been called to missions prior to our meeting. I did not want her to be influenced by my call to career missions.
- I asked the Lord that, if it could please Him, she would be a woman who was interested in and being trained in some area of medicine that could be a real help in my ministry.
- And if it could please Him, I hoped that she would have sensed a call, even as I had, to Africa.
As a medical student at Ohio State University, I had become involved in a collegiate Bible study and was very active in the work of this ministry. My wife-to-be was a transfer student from a community college in West Virginia near her home, where she had majored in all the sciences that school offered. Having completed all of those courses, she transferred to OSU for her last undergraduate year. At the close of the first week that she was on campus, when she was a little lonely and a bit homesick, she saw posters around campus inviting interested students to attend an exciting collegiate Bible study. The time and place were mentioned, and she decided to come to the meeting that Friday evening. It was the custom of our group that any visitors, first-time attenders, would have the opportunity to introduce themselves, state where they were from, what school at the University they were in, what their goals were, and, if we ascertained that they were true believers, to give a testimony to that fact.
I came into that meeting a few minutes late and sat at the very back of the classroom. The chairman of the meeting that evening introduced the young lady who subsequently became my wife. All I could see as she stood was that she was a rather petite, blond-headed, young lady. In a very clear, concise way she gave a beautiful testimony of her salvation and of her walk with the Lord. She mentioned the fact that, as an eight-year-old child, she had felt the call to a full-time missionary career. Following her public school graduation, she had attended a small college near her home and had taken all the science courses the school had to offer. She had transferred to Ohio State for her last undergraduate year and, at that time, had obtained a work scholarship in nuclear physics. As she continued her testimony, she mentioned that she felt the Lord was directing her toward graduate studies in some area of medicine that could be used on the mission field and concluded her testimony by saying that she felt the Lord would have her to serve in Africa. During that testimony, I ticked off all four of the priorities that I had placed before the Lord for a help meet for me. I wanted to meet that young lady-and did-after the conclusion of that Bible study. We never had a doubt but what the Lord had intended us one for the other.
She graduated and went on to work on a graduate degree in Bible in a seminary in New Orleans and then entered nurse's training in a large hospital in New Orleans. I completed my medical degree and was appointed an intern at Gorgas Hospital, a civilian and military hospital in the Panama Canal Zone. After I completed my one-year internship, while serving as interim superintendent of the American Leprosarium in the Canal Zone, I brought her down to the Canal Zone; and we were married there.
I have seen situations where Schwartz's comments about a wife being an impediment were true, but that was most certainly not so in my case. As for language learning, we worked very diligently to learn the local tribal language; and we were able to help one another in that process. I probably had a better ear for the nuances of tone, as the Hausa language is a tonal language; but Bettie was much more knowledgeable about the grammar and structure of the language. So we complemented one another in that regard. She became very fluent in the language. In this area of language learning, she was ever a challenger, and encourager, and a corrector to me; and I benefited greatly from her input.
As for piety, I could not have asked for a godlier helpmeet. She was a woman who spent time in the Word of God and in prayer, who had a love for the Africans and a passion to see them come to faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord gave her a rich ministry among the African women and young people such as I could never have had because of the cultural prohibitions in a Muslim context of a man speaking to a woman. She was a tremendous example and blessing to me.
I pity men who labor alone without such a godly helpmeet. I am convinced that our ministry was much more effective as a married couple than we ever could have been if we had served as unmarried individuals. As God gave a helpmeet to Adam, He most certainly gave a wonderful helpmeet to me; and I am eternally grateful to Him for that.
Mr. Schwartz continued voicing his own desires:
But to win Christ and to be found in Him in life, in death, in the day of judgment was St. Paul's wish, has been the wish of all genuine Christians, and shall be mine as long as I breathe.
In his almost 50 years of missionary service in India, I find no record of his ever having returned to Europe. He died at the age of 71 in 1798, two years before William Carey baptized his first convert at Serampore. His legacy: a large Christian community of all castes and ethnic backgrounds. He said, "Let the cause of Christ be my heir."
A few years before his death, he wrote "Let me not flag. May my last days be my best."