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Northern Lights
David Sandeman, Missionary to China


DAVID SANDEMAN was born on April 23rd, in the year 1826. The home of his boyhood was Springland, on the bank of the Tay, a suburb of Perth. There are few scenes in the United Kingdom more beautiful than those which surround the Fair City; and the Missionary in Amoy, however intent on mastering the difficulties of the Chinese language and on preaching Christ to the strange people among whom he had gone to reside, could not fail to revert with pleasure to the lovely landscapes amid which he had spent the early years of his life. In his comparative loneliness, he would recall the days when he roamed over the level sweep of the Inches, or climbed the hills of Kinnoul and Moncrieff, and looked from the former on the Carse of Gowrie and the green undulations of Fife, and from the latter over Strathearn to the picturesque slopes of the Ochils.

David was for a time a scholar in the Perth Academy, the rector of which said of him that his diligence in mathematics was such as favourably to affect the whole class. When fifteen years old he was sent to the Pestalozzian school at Worksop, in England, where he acquired some knowledge of French and German. While at school, and when he returned home, he observed the outward forms of godliness, but was destitute of spiritual life. He needed the change which only the Holy Ghost can effect, and a number of agencies were employed in bringing about his conversion. His parents were truly pious, and his mother especially strove to draw him to Christ. Faithful sermons stirred his soul. Once after hearing the Rev. W. C. Burns in Perth, he said, “I never knew till to-night what my Saviour did for me.” The time of communion in Perth was drawing nigh, but he felt himself unworthy to participate in the benefits of the solemn service, yet was desirous of doing so; and one Sabbath evening, after having engaged in prayer with his sister, he retired to his room, where, resting his soul on Christ, he was able to rejoice in conscious salvation. He was filled with joy, and the expression of his adoring gratitude was, “The Lord God Almighty, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, the triune Jehovah, be eternally praised, be eternally glorified.” The following Sabbath he sat at the Lord’s table in St. Leonard’s Free Church, of which the Rev. Mr. Milne was pastor. Having found the Saviour, he invited others to Him, speaking to those he met, visiting cottages and forming a class of young men, over whose spiritual interests he carefully watched. His zeal was intense. One entry in his journal was, “O Lord, my God, fill me with prayer, with heart-bleedings for sinners! May we take heaven by violence for them! Time flies, and souls are flying to hell. I must pray more for a sense of what the loss of a single soul really is.”

In 1844 he went to Manchester to engage in business, but while attentive to his secular duties, his heart was in the service of his Divine Master. The growth of religion in his own soul and the salvation of his fellow-men were the most prominent of his aims. He always contrived to devote some moments of the dinner-hour to the Scriptures and to prayer, and never lost an opportunity of speaking a word for Christ in the warehouse or in the street. Hia pleasure in secret intercourse with God was great; yet his was not an isolated piety; he delighted in communion with Christian brethren, and rejoiced in them as helping forward the glorious cause to which he had so ardently devoted himself. He resolved to act as if there were no other human being with him, as if he “ alone bore the standard; and yet to watch for and hail any who strive to bear the standard, and take them by the right hand.

While in Manchester he came to the conclusion that it was his duty to abandon his mercantile projects, and to enter on the work of the Christian ministry. Preparatory to that work he enrolled himself as a student in the University of Edinburgh. In college he engaged in literary and scientific pursuits with great ardour, yet without the slightest damage to his spirituality. He faithfully carried out his purpose to study all day in the presence of Jesus. Whether employed on mathematics or metaphysics, the orations of Demosthenes or the arguments of Locke, he strove to gain something which he could use for the glory of his Master. Though so devout in spirit, he was not indifferent to the charms which, genius has thrown over the classic page, and could thoroughly appreciate the magnificent intellects which in ancient and modern times have so largely influenced the course of human thought: “I observe that there is a certain healthiness in the atmosphere of truly great minds which invigorates and strengthens. There is even a moral nobility about such which is not found among men of a lower order. What I admire most in these men and their productions is that air and reality of nobility which all true greatness bears with it as a necessary ingredient. They walk on a higher level; their step is more manly, too, than other men’s, and they cannot stoop to meanness. Stern unalterableness of purpose is a sublime feature of such characters; they call up the idea of the eagle, whose eye as he soars catches the minutest object and marks each, but never swoops till a worthy quarry is discerned, whose fate is then fixed.”

Part of his summer vacations was spent at Bonskeid, a romantic seat of the family near Pitlochrie. The majesty of the ancient hills was before him, and he had delightful rambles through the Pass of Killiecrankie and Glen Tilt, rejoicing at every step in the sublimities built up, and the beauties spread out by the hand of his Heavenly Father. The rifts and ledges of the mountains, the wild torrents that dashed their spray at his feet, the trees that intermingled their variously-tinted foliage, and the flowers that made the ground gorgeous as a mosaic pavement, suggested themes of sacred meditation, and drew from him bursts of ecstatic praise.

In January, 1855, he was licensed as a preacher, and thus gave himself up to the work of the Lord: “Almighty and Eternal God, have mercy on my soul for Immanuel's sake! This soul and this body are Thine by creation, Thine by redemption. And by incomprehensible love and mercy called, as I humbly trust, to be Thine in the ministry of the Gospel, in and by Thy Holy Spirit alone, I do now surrender my whole body, soul and spirit unto Thee the Lord Jesus Christ, and unto the Father for the glory of God in the ministry of the Gospel. Thus by Thy powerful grace and Spirit, granted continually unto and working in me, the one great end of my life on earth shall be the glory of Jehovah in the salvation of lost sinners, and the edification of the saints. By His grace and Spirit I do also renounce the world with its honour and glory, and above all self-glory, the flesh with all its works, and the devil. 0 Jehovah, pour down the Holy Spirit on my soul! Thou glorified Immanuel, Thou hast the Spirit without measure, O pour down of the Holy Ghost, making me full of faith, and of the Holy Spirit, and so of Gospel power! ”Soon after being licensed to preach, he was requested to labour at Hillhead, a preaching-station of the Free Church, about three miles from Glasgow.

He had a passionate love for souls and expected conversions as the result of every sermon; nor were hi3 efforts in vain, for numbers were brought to God. But he could not content himself with the comparative ease and comfort of a pastoral charge in his native land. When he had been three months in Hillhead, he decided that it was his duty to go as a Missionary to China. He began to learn Chinese, and leaving Hillhead, went for a short time on the Continent, visiting Pompeii, Naples and Rome. He returned to Scotland still bent on going to China, but was detained some months on account of the death of his father, and there was a fear that he would have to remain at home to take charge of the family property. Providence, however, removed the difficulties, and at length he had the satisfaction of hearing from Dr. James Hamilton that the day was fixed for his ordination to the work on which he had set his heart.

Before leaving home, he arranged that one-eighth of his patrimony should be devoted to the spread of the Gospel in Scotland and seven-eighths to the spread of the Gospel in China. He sailed from Marseilles, October 11th, 1856, and landed at Hong-Kong on December 1st. He re-embarked for Swatow, where he was heartily welcomed by the minister whose discourses had so powerfully affected his soul in Perth. “A door opened, and out came in full Chinese dress and tail W. C. Burns! Taking me into his room, according to his old wont, he said, ‘Let us engage in prayer,’ in the identical old Perth tones.” Refreshed by the prayers and counsels of his friend, Mr. Sandemau went on to Amoy, where he was to be located. He wrote: “My soul would be bowed in thankfulness to God for the unbroken train of mercies all the way from home to this my destination.” He applied himself diligently to the acquisition of the language, and soon attempted to make known to the people in their own tongue the wonderful works of God.

He was greatly interested in missionary tours, and at Ma-ping, one of the towns visited, had the pleasure of meeting several Christians Next morning, the Sabbath, they were early astir, and prayer and praise were poured forth as from the heart. There was some meaning in the confession of these people, for during the previous week some of them had had their fields bared of their ripe produce, and were otherwise persecuted for the name of Jesus. But they stand fast, by the strength of their Lord, and as it may be supposed, would be among those to whom Christ’s Word was precious on that His holy day. The church was a large room, and the minister was placed at the side opposite the street, so that his voice reached not only the members who were in front, but any in the street who stopped to listen. At the outside were two forms filled with Chinese women, several having children in their arms. Among them were some awakened ones seeking the salvation of Jesus. From their secluded habits, it shows that there is a work going on when such hearers are among the congregation. As it has happened among the Highland glens, so in this region; souls have been brought to the knowledge of Jesus among these retired Chinese valleys; one here and another there, set as single lights in the few hamlets or small villages of dark idolatry; and all to the glory of Him Who passes by the rich and the learned, and oftentimes seeks out His own in the quiet places of the earth.”

Amid all the toils and cares of missionary life, Mr. Sandeman’s heart was elated by the sense of the Divine favour. His religious experience was almost seraphic in its glow and ecstacy. He could say, “To me to live is Christ.’ Sometimes my life in some of its phases seems like a romance of love and joy.” This exuberance of love and joy was, though not understood by him as such, a preintimation of speedy flight from “the land of Sinim” to the paradise of God. In 1858 he was stricken down by cholera, which was then prevalent in Amoy. When those who were with him asked if he had any message to leave for his friends, he said: “ Tell my mother I thought of her, because she taught me the way to Jesus.’* He spoke of Christ as having always been exceedingly precious to him from the moment he knew Him, and died full of faith and hope, in the thirty-second year of his age.

Though his labours for China were so soon ended, his example remains as an incentive to zeal in the Christianisation of that wide and populous empire; and when pagoda and palace, crowded street and river-boat, are filled with the light of the everlasting Gospel, and melodious with the songs of a people, “washed, and sanctified, and justified,” the name of David Sandeman will be remembered with gratitude, and it will be acknowledged that it was not in vain he bade farewell to the waters that glide past, and the hills that look down on his native Perth, and pleaded with God, and toiled so incessantly in Amoy for the salvation of the idolaters whose folly he lamented but whose souls he loved.


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