1841-1901

James Chalmers

In the more developed world, a great deal is paid to special events that occur in the lives of individuals, families, nations, and the world as a whole. As Christians we set aside the first day of the week, Sunday, to remember our risen Lord and worship Him in a special way. There are other special days such as Christmas and Easter that we celebrate the birth and resurrection of the Lord.

We remember also our own birthdays, special anniversaries, and other family holidays. Some events are recalled, such as Independence Day and others that are celebrated less often and are referred to as Silver, Golden, Diamond, and Centenary celebrations.

I want to call to our attention something that happened just over 100 years ago.  James Chalmers, the great missionary to the South Sea Islands, was martyred Easter Eve 1901. A seasoned missionary (Mr. Chalmers), a newly arrived young missionary named Mr. Tompkins, and about a dozen national believers were felled by stone-age weapons while attempting to reach the savage cannibalistic tribespeople of the Fly River in New Guinea. Their bodies were consumed in a cannibalistic feast. This event rocked the Christian world of that day. But now 100 years later, not so much as brief remembrances have I seen. We do need to remember these outstanding events in missionary history and pledge that we, too, will be willing to give our lives for the spread of the Gospel in this our day. There have been more martyrs for the cause of Christ in the past 100 years than in all previous centuries of the Christian church. Are we ready and willing to give our lives for the cause of Christ?

What is a missionary? "A missionary is one who never gets used to the sound of heathen foot beats on the way to a Christ-less eternity" (author unknown). What is a missionary? Every man without Christ is a mission field. Every man with Christ is a missionary. The following is a quote from Pearl Buck, a missionary kid in China who made no claim to being a Christian but who was a very keen observer: "The early missionaries were born warriors and very great men. No weak or timid soul could sail the seas to foreign lands and defy death and danger unless he did carry religion as his banner under which even death itself would be a glorious end. To go forth, to cry out, to warn, to save others. These were frightful urgencies upon the soul already saved. There was a madness of necessity, an agony of salvation." 

What is a missionary? It is one who imitates Jesus Christ. One so in love with Jesus that he keeps His commandments: "If ye love me, keep my commandments."Mark 16:15 is one of the great commandments: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." David Livingstone said, "God had only one Son, and He sent Him to earth as a medical missionary. Jesus gave his life for the world, so must we give ours to make Christ known to the world."

James Chalmers was truly a missionary. This Scotsman, when first landing at Rarotonga in 1867, was asked by a native, "What fellow name belong you?" Unable to say Chalmers, they called him Tamate. That name stuck, and he became well known throughout the South Pacific for the next thirty-five years as a dauntless messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He spent ten years in Rarotonga and then moved to New Guinea in 1877.

The favorite text of Tamate was Revelation 22:17, "And the spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come.  And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."  It was the voice he heard as an eighteen-year-old youth that brought him to the Savior. It was a text most often used through his long and fruitful ministry. 

I.           In the text he heard the great invitation "come," and he came to Jesus.

II.        In the text he heard a call to repeat the great invitation, "let him that is athirst come"—a message that he repeated over and again, and so must we.

III.      In the text he found the divine answer to the thirsting soul. In February 1879, his wife, Jane, laid down her life. In the hour of his devastating bereavement, Tamate wrote in his diary, "O to dwell at His cross and to abound in pleasant sympathy with His great work.  I want the heathen for Christ."

IV.     In the text he found free access to life abundant: "Come take the water of life freely." Jesus said, "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8b). Chalmers wrote, "The first missionaries landed not only to preach the Gospel of Divine love but also to live it." He was one of the first to see the value of using national teachers and evangelists. When told of the danger from disease, wild animals and cannibals, one of these national missionaries said, "Wherever there are people, precious souls for whom Christ died, there are missionaries who must go."

V.        In the text he heard the universal offer of Divine mercy: "whosoever will."  God would not offer to all that which is not needed by all. Chalmers wrote, "The ramparts of heathenism can only be stormed by those who carry the cross, and I dearly love to be the first to preach Christ in a place. Romans 15:20, 21.

VI.     In the text he heard love's mighty little word, "come."  Before the heathen can come, there must be someone to go.  The heathen of the Fly River were notorious for their savagery, but this did not keep Tamate from going to them.  On April 18, 1901, Tamate went to this district with a young, newly arrived missionary, Rev. Oliver Tompkins, along with some native believers.  They were felled by stone axes, their heads were cut off, and their bodies became a feast to the cannibals.  This happened on the evening of Easter. (Matthew 16:24-25, "Then said Jesus unto His disciples, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.") 

In one of his furlough addresses, he said:  "Recall the twenty-one years—give me back all its experiences; give me its shipwrecks; give me its standings in face of death; give me the surroundings of savages with spears and clubs; give it back again with spears flying about me, with the clubs knocking me to the ground; give it back, and I will still be your missionary.  ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say, "Behold I freely give the living water; thirsty ones, stoop down and drink and live." I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life-giving stream.  My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.'"

Chalmers' second wife died of malaria in two years. He had sent her to Sydney, Australia, for treatment, but a short while later, on his way to join her, he read her obituary in a Sydney newspaper.

Missions is Christ's last command and still is not the church's first concern.  Where do we learn of missions? 

  1. The Bible, which is the scarlet thread, the story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation.
  2. Church history, which is the history of missions from Paul to Polycarp (burned at the stake in A.D. 156 at age 86) down to the present time.
  3. Missionary biographies: books, books, books. Books can and should be among our best friends. Spend much time in THE Book, the Bible. The prophet Habakkuk introduces his short prophecy with this verse: "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." The Prophet Habakkuk was a man with open eyes, and because he was a man with open eyes, he was a man with a burdened heart. Could Christ have been thinking of these words when at Jacob's well, outside the village of Sychar, he told His disciples to, "Lift up your eyes and look."  Do we have no burden because we do not look with compassion on a lost world?  Are we too comfortable where we are?
  4. Many other books are a mine of treasure more valuable than gold. I have found one of the great sources of challenge and inspiration to be the reading of books about missions and missionaries. 

How can we drink of that life-giving stream and then by our indifference withhold it from a perishing world. Remember the definition of a missionary? "A missionary is one who never gets used to the sound of heathen foot beats on their way to a Christ-less eternity." Do we stop our ears to that heathen foot beat, to their cries? Do we close our eyes as they plunge into a Christ-less eternity? Where are those willing to defy death and danger? Where are those to go forth under the banner of Christ? Where are those who recognize the frightful urgency compelled by the madness of necessity, drawn on by the agony of salvation? 

Chalmers cried, "I want the heathen for Christ." Do we?

 

JAD 11/18/02