This is a sneak peek from BTJ’s EXCLUSIVE biography on the legendary Robert Morrison – China’s first protestant missionary. The book will be available this Fall, 2023.
The following event took place in a small coffee shop in London…
The clanking of hard-soled shoes led the way down the cobble-stoned street of Change-alley, where the revered Reverend David Bogue was scurrying to one of the most important meetings of his life. The letter sent from India by the missionary William Carey needled his mind with the cries of the thousands of unreached tribes in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
David was on his way to a coffee shop in London and that meeting would forever change China.
“We have to get the Gospel to them,” he said as a mantra in his head, repeating it over and over. “We have to get the Gospel to them. We have to get the Gospel to them.”
It was early Wednesday morning on November 5, 1794 and David was running late. The long-latched buckle had broken loose from the leather binding on his shoe, but he couldn’t stop or slow down. It was too cold. The bitter frost was certain to arrest any stationary victim without prejudice. His black justacorps knee-length coat, barely more than a long frock, stretched at the seams like a taunt tent across his broad fat back, and did little to hold out the cold.
At unforgiving temperatures as low as 21 degrees below zero, 1794 was one of the coldest winters in London’s history since instrument records began in 1659. In an early sign of the long winter to come, the Thames River was already completely frozen solid.
Quickly navigating the narrow lanes of Change-alley, he pushed through the crowds making their way to conduct morning business at one of the shops on Cornhill, between the Royal Exchange and the Post Office on intersecting Lombard street. A black mass of merchants and brokers huddled in their stiff high-collar frocks, angling and weaving one into another like a zipper closing and opening again, along the street. Some poured out of the goldsmith shop into the moving path, while others dipped out into shops selling navigational instruments.
As he turned the corner and approached the unmistakable Baker’s Coffee Shop with frosty windows jutting out from the four-story stone building, an older gentleman trying to hide from the wind with a wall comprising entirely of his coat and hat, bunglingly ran into David’s shoulder. Neither man stopped. It was too cold for standing on ceremony.
David pushed the door open and instantly felt the warmth of the fire bite his frozen, calloused cheeks and found himself standing in a room full of men in formal three-piece suits, made of dark wools and pretentious audacity. The men clothed in tight-fitted, double-breasted waistcoats with long tight sleeves and cutaway fronts were lined up around the room.
David was not officially late, but he was the last to arrive. The clambering buzz of fifteen independent conversations suddenly died down to a synchronized silence.
David rubbed his hands together in a motion that warmed them up, as he scanned the room looking for a familiar face. He stomped his feet against the hardwood floor to shake off the weather.
“Ah welcome Reverend David,” said a recognizable voice, booming from behind one of the sturdy thick wooden tables. It was the Cornishman, John Eyre. John and David had been working side-by-side since John had launched the Evangelical Magazine; a magazine geared to help non-conformist Evangelicals focus on completing the Great Commission.
The Reverend Thomas Haweis stood beside him. Thomas’ shockingly distinct features of a jagged arrow-shaped nose that came to a razor sharp point just above his round nostrils made him distinct from everyone else in the room. He liked his black Anglican tunic to be a little longer than any other reverend and his powdered wig was bigger, bunned on each side of his head and covering his ears.
Before meeting at the coffee house, David and John had raised £600 from two donors to help launch an enterprise with one single goal: raise up missionaries to take the Gospel to every tribe and tongue, especially China.
“Everyone is here David,” John said. “All 18 of us.”
Among those present was Mr. Eyres, Mr. Wilks, Mr. Stevens, Mr. Love, a succeeding minister of Bow Lane, two men known as the ‘Minds of Plymouth,’ and a stranger from Scotland that no one had ever met before. Another man by the name of Mr. John Reynelds was present and jotted down some of the names in a journal that would later serve at the minutes of the meeting.
David clapped his hands together again, this time not to warm them up, but instead to warm up the room. Each of the 18 men represented different denominations and creeds, but they all had a connection in England’s abolition movement. They had made great headway in abolishing all slave trade in England and naturally gravitated to freeing slaves to sin with the message of freedom in Christ.
“I think we all know why we are here,” David started, before even taking off his overcoat. The roaring fire at the front of the coffee house was too far away to fight off the cold begging entrance from the front doors. In a make-shift coffee house chapel made of brick walls, high white ceilings with raw exposed dark wood beams creating block shapes and the smell of roasting coffee beans, David shared about the writings that had collectively stirred their hearts.
A year earlier, a letter had circulated to all the churches of the Midlands, expressing the desperate need for inter-denominational world evangelism and foreign missions. The letter was penned by Edward Williams, a pastor at Masbrough, Rotherham.
The Holy Spirit was moving in the hearts of several people at the same time with the same message as Pastor Edward Williams.
William Carey, a pioneer missionary who had recently moved to India, joined in and sounded the alarm for the urgent need for joint missions to the most unreached areas of the world. The call was more than a coincidence. The fingerprints of God were all over the stirring.
In August 1794, David wrote an appeal to Christians and John published it in the September issue of the Evangelical Magazine:
“Ye were once Pagans, living in cruel and abominable idolatry. The servants of Jesus came from other lands, and preached His Gospel among you. Hence your knowledge of salvation. And ought ye not, as an equitable compensation for their kindness, to send messengers to the nations which are in like condition with yourselves of old, to entreat them that they turn from their dumb idol to the living God, and to wait for His Son from heaven? Verily their debtors ye are.”
Two months later, those that responded strongly to the joint appeal of Edward Williams, William Carey, and David Bogue stood in the room.
David and the men standing with him had their own problems to concern themselves with. British soldiers were still dying in America’s Revolutionary War. The French Revolution was spilling over into England. The East India Trade Company was actively stopping mission work in their colonies, but David felt strongly that there was a greater war for Christians to concern themselves with.
“If in many things we are anxious to make a suitable return,” David said about the Second Coming of Christ, “there is one thing with respect to which, if weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, we shall be found wanting.”
Before anyone could think about what that one thing was that they were lacking, David continued, “A survey of the state of the world presents to us more than one-half of the human race destitute of the knowledge of the Gospel, and sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death! Their deplorable condition – it is utterly impossible for words to describe!”
“And what have we done for their salvation?” he asked, rhetorically.
“There are hundreds of millions of poor pagans ignorant of the true God, and falling down before stocks and stones. There are hundreds of millions more blinded by the delusions of Islam, and unacquainted with Jesus, as the only mediator between God and man, whom to know is eternal life. If we have never thought of these things, there is much reason to lament our criminal unconcern for the honour of God, and for the salvation of the perishing souls of men.”
David had written down the words of what he would say, but he didn’t need to. They were etched on his soul. The burden of the lost cried out to him and they clawed their way into his prayer closet.
“Imagine if we would have such a scene before our eyes, of people suffering in hell, what methods would we employed that all these myriads of Pagans and Muslims might be delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son?”
Each man nodded as David spoke. To a man, they were each moved with a scandalous amount of enthusiasm to see the Kingdom of God grow. No longer were they royal subjects campaigning for the colonization of lands for the crown of England, but were one Body dedicating themselves to the invasion of the King of Kings.
That day, in an insignificant London coffee shop, the room of inspired men launched the London Missionary Society. No one knew it then, but they would one day send the very first protestant missionary to China.