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James Legge, Missionary and Scholar


An extract from one of three sermons, preached in 1849 on 'The Ordinance of the Sabbath' will give some idea of Dr Legge's style as a preacher. These were called for by the notorious neglect of the Lord's Day in one of the colonies, where so many of the English who were resident there had entirely cast off religious restraint The intense earnestness of the preacher is equalled by his far-seeing estimate of the effects of the neglect of God's great gift in the Day of Rest and Worship.

It should be observed as a day of rest; there should be a ceasing on it from the ordinary and secular labour of the other days. This was signified, in the fact that God ended upon the seventh day all His work which He had made, and entered into rest; not that He had been toiling, and needed the refreshment of repose, but to afford a sublime pattern to man, whom He had made in His own image. And if to man unfallen it was adapted as a day of rest, there is surely a special adaptation in it to the descendants of Adam, in their fallen and suffering condition, and eating bread by the sweat of their face.

Universally obligatory, were it but universally observed, it would secure for man one not unfrequently recurring evening, when his 'weekly toil' would be at an end; it would cause to dawn on him every week one day which he could spend in ease and rest. This design of the Sabbatical ordinance is expressly declared in the Fourth Commandment—'Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger which is within thy gates.'

How illustrative is this language of the truth that the tender mercies of God are over all His works!

There is one law for the master of the household, and for his servants, and for his cattle. The servant, whether bond or hired, and the labouring animal, have a Friend and Protector in heaven. Their master has a Master there, and not more dear to Him is the comfort of the owner than the comfort of the slave. The prohibition from labour is very positive and extensive—'Thou shalt not do any work.'  It is not merely brute labour and menial toil which are interdicted. The wealthy man who had man-servants and maid-servants and cattle would be far removed above burdensome tasks, and so also would be his children, his sons and his daughters; yet they would have their ordinary engagements, their pleasurable avocations, their refined pursuits, and from these it would be their duty to abstain on the Sabbath.

We are not, however, to understand that all works whatsoever were absolutely prohibited. 'That which everyone must eat, that might be done by the children of Israel upon their sacred day, and other things of similar necessity. Nor was it intended that the letter of the commandment should be construed so as to prevent doings of mercy. It was a special object of our Saviour when He was upon earth to vindicate it from this abuse. He did not repeat the ordinance, nor did He relax it; but, laying down the great truth that it was a day made for man by Jehovah, Who will have mercy and not sacrifice, He shewed that a cold spirit of formalism was not to be allowed to repress upon it the exercise of kindly sympathies and charity towards the poor and afflicted. The Sabbath should be observed as a holy or hallowed day. This is implied in the original institution, and positively required in the Fourth Commandment We read in Genesis, 'God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it,' and the commandment begins, 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' Thus the season has its positive as well as its negative duties: While it enjoins to cease from toil, it summons to awaken to religious performances. It is, I am aware, often asserted that the resting on the Sabbath by the Jews was the sanctifying it, and all the sanctifying it that was required of them. But every simple mind must feel that such an opinion is absurd. Keeping the day holy to God surely conveys ideas of mental and spiritual exercises befitting His character; and, moreover, this view is in express contradiction of the Scripture, which says, 'The seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, a holy convocation.'

The mere cessation, therefore, from worldly labour, so far from being all which the ordinance requires of us, only affords opportunity for the right discharge of those services on which its full and proper observance depends. What a pure and spiritual worship did Adam in his time of innocence render on the Sabbath to Jehovah. More fragrant were the emotions that ascended from his soul than the perfume of the flowers that bloomed around him, and spread their petals to the morning sun all glistening with the beads of dew that the nightly ascending mists had left upon them. Grateful was then his recognition of his Creator, and in glowing language would his lofty intelligence and heart undefiled find vent for his conceptions. And though his descendants were fallen from his high estate, they were welcome on the sacred day, as they drew near with humble hearts to the forbearing God. Nor can we believe that those of them who were denominated 'the sons of God' omitted to avail themselves of the privilege.

It seems to have been one Sabbath morn, 'at the end of days,' that Cain and Abel brought an offering unto the Lord, and it was on a seventh day that Noah sent out the raven and the dove from the Ark, seeking to know the will of the Lord. It was after the services of a seventh day that he uncovered the Ark, and looked once more to the blue sky above; and after another seventh day that he went forth from the Ark to take possession once again of the earth, from which the waters of the deluge had retired. Sweet were the Sabbaths to the Patriarchs, as they journeyed through the length and breadth of the promised land, resting in their pitched tents whenever the appointed day came round, and waiting upon God by the rude altars which they had built.

And God did not give His Sabbaths to the Israelites to be a weariness to them. They might be so to multitudes among them, as they are to multitudes among ourselves—multitudes whose affections were altogether earthy; but many prized the 'holy convocation!' They went to it with the multitude, with the voice of joy and praise—with a multitude that kept the holy day. On the seventh day of the Passover would they teach their sons and their daughters the great event by which their God delivered their forefathers from Egypt, nor would they omit the lesson that the observance of the day itself was enforced by that event. And on other seventh days throughout the year as well, the holy convocation of the public assembly would be preceded and followed by the holy lessons of the family around the hearth, and, during the genial months, in the porch or the garden under the vine and the fig-tree.

The Original Sabbath and the Mosaic Sabbath was thus a day of holy rest, a season in which the pious worshipper laid aside his ordinary works and cares, and addressed his inner being, 'Return unto thy rest, O my soul.' That rest was the hallowed worship of Jehovah the Creator, and Jehovah the God of Israel—spiritual communion with Him, so that as the day began to close, devotion rose to its highest strain, and exclaimed, 'Whom have I in heaven, O God, but Thee, and there is none upon earth whom I desire beside Thee!' The original law and the Jewish law were one, and the one law is ours also. The Sabbath should be to us a day of holy rest and of holy convocation.

If we do not so observe it, we are verily guilty; and be assured, thou Sabbath breaker, that God will call thee to account. Repent, therefore, and change thy conduct; for thus saith the Lord, ' If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words : then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride in the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.'

As the bow of promise thrown across the threatening heavens, so is the Sabbath among the toiling, wearying days of the year. It runs through them like a silver stream through a sandy waste or a tangled forest, dancing and laughing in the face of heaven at every angle which it makes, and every open glade where it is seen. It is woven like a thread of gold into the dark and sombre texture. Each holy day lies in the bosom of time as lay the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, but it is not only at certain seasons, far removed from one another, that a power from heaven imparts a healing virtue to its waters: once a week they are stirred; and not one merely may then be cured, but all who step into them shall be made whole of all their ailments.

Man is comforted by it concerning the work and toil of his hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed; and the observance of it disposes to mental culture, and associates it with domestic enjoyments. Happy the household, and happy the nation of householders, in which the Sabbath is esteemed!

We rejoice in the day of rest. We clasp it firmly to us as the rich gift of God; and shall we not glory in it as the day of devout and holy worship ? Would we keep it by ceasing from our usual work that we may spend its hours in our own lust? Could we separate it from the other days only for our own pleasure? Shame! foul shame upon the thought! It is the Lord's day, and He loosens men from their toils upon it, in order that they may repair with undistracted minds and uninterrupted leisure to Himself, to give to His name the glory which is His due, and to receive from Him the blessing which He only can impart



An extract from a sermon preached in 1871, 'The Privilege of the Gospel and its Free Offer,' shows the spirit of the preacher who influenced so many of those, who, far away from home, needed a friend and helper to withstand the temptations by which they were confronted.

First there is room in the Gospel for people of all nations. When the multitude of the heavenly host sang their anthem over the plains of Bethlehem, it was after one of their number had proclaimed to the shepherds, ' Behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.' Yes, He came at once to enlighten other nations, and to be the glory of the people Israel. He came to make Jews and Gentiles one, breaking down the middle wall of partition between them, preaching peace alike to them that had been afar off and to them that were nigh, giving them equally access by one Spirit to their common Father.

This is the glory of Christianity, distinguishing it from other religions and stamping it with the broad seal of Heaven. God had made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, and in the fulness of time He sent forth His Son to take away the sins of the world, that from all the ends of the earth they might look unto Him and be saved. If Christ had come to exalt the Jews by oppressing others they would have welcomed Him. But because He came for them first indeed, but not for them only, they rejected Him. If they had received Him, and yielded themselves in the mass to be His missionaries to the world, they would have had a new and glorious destiny. Preachers would have arisen among them eclipsing all their prophets, whose fame would not have yielded to that of David or Solomon. But the spirit of pride and exclusiveness was strong in them. They forbade the apostles to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved. They seized the chariot of the Gospel, and attempted to hold it back from its course of light and blessing through the earth. Vain was the attempt, but they themselves were crushed beneath its wheels. In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian nor Scythian.

The Cross affords a shelter to the dwellers in snowy and stormy climes; it yields a shade to the panting inhabitants of the torrid zone. It is the same message of love and mercy to the subjects of a despotism and the citizens of a republic. It is like the atmosphere which, of the same proportionally blended elements, sustains life at the equator and life at the poles, and a change in whose proportions would be speedy and universal death. In this respect the Gospel is unique. Go to India, or to China, or any other heathen country. You find religions there, but they belong to peculiar people. They are for them, and not for others with them. They are animated by no spirit of benevolence and aggression. Among ourselves there is not that appreciation of this attribute of the Gospel that there ought to be. We dwarf it to the dimensions of our puny selfishness. We look on other peoples and other races with evil eye askance, instead of longing, praying and labouring for conversion and salvation. It is for a lamentation. But let God be true and every man a liar; and at the banquet of Christ there is room for men of all nations.



Writing in 1859, Dr Legge thus describes the first effort of the Roman Catholics to evangelise China:—

'The Nestorians,' he said, 'were succeeded by the Roman Catholics in the endeavour to bring China to the faith of Christ. There had been considerable intercom between the Popes and various princes of the family Jenghiz Khan, who would gladly have made common cause with the Sovereigns of Europe to crush the growing power of Mohammedanism; and in the reign of Kellai Minorite friar, Johannes de Monte Carvino, after trailling through Persia and India, reached the capital China. Received with favour by the Emperor, despite opposition, of which he complains, from the Nestorians, succeeded in building a church, and was able to boast in 1305, that he had baptised six thousand persons. "I now become old," he says, "and grey-headed, though my toils and tribulations than by my years, which are fifty eight. I have learned sufficiently the Tartar language, a have translated into it the New Testament and the Psalt which I have had written in the most beautiful characters. I write, and I read, and I preach, in public and openly, to testimony of the law of Christ.

'"In 1307, Pope Clement V. sent me seven Francisca with power to constitute John, Archbishop of Peking, and to act themselves as his suffragans. Only three of them however, reached their destination. Other reinforcements were sent; but the rise of the Ming dynasty proved disastrous to the Roman Catholics as it did to the Nestorians. Their infant missions were extinguished."'

Dr Legge then traces the subsequent efforts of Roman Catholics in China in 1552, after the death of Xavier, and fifty years later under the Jesuit Matteo Ricci. 'Master of all the science of his age, not over-scrupulous, versatile and accommodating, he succeeded, after twenty years of persevering effort, in gaining a position in Peking. His clocks and pictures pleased the feeble emperor of his time, who made the stranger a regular allowance from the public treasury.

'Then followed a German, Adam Schaal, who soon established himself at Court and became a favourite with Shun-Cha, the first Tartar sovereign, and was enrolled and made President of the Astronomical Tribunal. Then came Father Verbiest, who was soon as prized by the son and successor of Shun-Cha, as Schaal had been with the father.

'Many labourers came from Europe into the field. Louis XIV. took a special interest in the Mission. Austere, devout, generous, Verbiest strove to make all his acquirements, knowledge, and influence of position subservient to his religious objects; and we must regret that on two occasions he thought it necessary to cast nearly 500 pieces of cannon for his patron. In 1692 an edict was passed by the Emperor K'ang-he, granting toleration to Christianity as full as that enjoyed by Buddhism.

'These were the palmy days of Popery in China, but times of trouble were fast approaching. The elements of discord had long been at work among the missionaries themselves. The terms to be employed to designate the Supreme Being, and the rites to ancestors, were its principal subjects of disagreement. It has been said of Ricci by one of the opposite party, that the "kings found in him a man full of complaisance; the pagans, a minister who accommodated himself to their superstitions; the mandarins, a polite courtier, skilled in all the trickery of Courts; and the devil, a faithful servant, who far from destroying, established his reign among the heathen, and even extended it to the Christians."

'K'ang-he became alienated from the missionaries, and on his death in 1723, and within a year, they were all, save those in the immediate service of the Court as men of science, banished to Macao.'

The writer concludes: 'The enterprise of China's evangelization, I say, has now devolved upon Protestantism. To be sure, Popery is still in the field, and in much greater force than Protestantism is. But not more surely do we believe that in prophecy China is promised to Christ, than we believe that the doom of Popery is foretold. The Lord shall yet consume it with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy it with the brightness of His coming.

'The time when it might have subjected China to itself has passed away; and now the Churches of a purer faith are called upon to subdue it, not to themselves, but for their common Lord. I will not say that for them has been reserved the honour of accomplishing this greatest achievement of Christianity, and placing on the head of Christ this largest of all the crowns of earth, for that would be anticipating the work of the historian of the future, who, looking back on the accomplished fact, may have occasion to say that for them that honour was reserved. But surely the thing itself has been reserved till the opportunity of doing it—to say the least, of attempting it—is now afforded to the Protestant Churches. What a place, might we not infer from this, those Churches must occupy in the mind of the Redeemer!

'It is plain that if Protestantism is not to fail in this enterprise, we must address ourselves to it with extraordinary prayerfulness and vigour. This, and nothing but this, is the service and duty which are now required to hasten on the complete fulfilment of the prophecy, that "these from the land of Sinim " shall come to Christ. No new duty is revealed, no new service is demanded. The prayers of the Church and the testimony of the truth—these are the wheels on which Christianity has moved forward thus far ; these are the wheels on which it will be carried to the universal occupancy of the world. We have, then, to give ourselves to prayer, that an empire of 400 millions of souls may be made partakers of the great salvation, and we have to set about supplying it with the bread of life. Is it not extraordinary prayerfulness that should characterise us —prayerfulness involving how much separation from the world, and setting of the heart on the end to be gained?



Dr Legge first made the acquaintance of Professor Max Muller in 1875. In anticipation of his leaving Oxford he writes to Dr Legge under date Dec. 17, 1875 :—

*My dear Dr Legge,

'I looked forward to your arrival here with the greatest interest. Oxford wants scholars more than anything else, if it is not to diminish down to a mere High School. I had a very selfish interest too, for having lost Julien, I thought I should have in you a new guide in rebus Sinicis. All that is not to be ours. However, in spite of my not being able to enjoy your society here, I am truly glad that the Chair of Chinese is safe, and from all I hear, it will be established on a far better basis than I ventured to hope at first.

'Perhaps a Celtic Chair will be established before I leave, which will be next summer.'

Very pleasant was the relationship of the two scholars, both as friends and as those engaged in a great literary undertaking. The following letter shows the two sides of this co-partnership:—

'Dresden, Bismarck Platz to, Jan. 21, '77.

*My dear Friend,

'How long have I wished to thank you for your letter, so full of sympathy—but I had nothing to say but Yes, Yes, to all your comforting words, and yet all strength seems gone—the heart and the body will not obey—I feel more and more every day how much I have lost. I know how happy her lot has been on earth. Life must have been a perfect paradise to her, without a suspicion of evil and suffering. I know that she is safe, that is a comfort, almost a relief—but there is the blank, and a wound that can never heal—nay, that I hope will never heal. She suffered very little. She was in the full enjoyment of health till two or three weeks before she was taken from us. No human skill could have saved her—an inflammation of the membranes of the brain acted on the nerves of the heart, which wore itself out, and she slept away without a struggle.

'My boy has recovered from his accident and is doing well at school. We shall stay on here till Easter. We can live here more to ourselves than anywhere else. After that I wish to go back to Oxford, unless I must do something for my health again.

'My wife sends her kind regards to you and Mrs Legge. I hope you like Oxford.—Yours very truly,

'F. Max Muller.

'P.S.—Would you let me know when the 'first instalment of your MS. will be ready? I do not want to hurry you in any way. I only should like to know, because I have to send in a Report. I should also like to know about how many sheets the She King and the Shoo King would fill.'

After this Professor Max Muller returned to Oxford, and the friends saw much of each other.

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