Why Study William Milne??

     It has been several months since my last blog post. It was not because I have nothing to say, but what to post. Since September 2013, I have been busy with a graduate thesis (which we call a “senior seminar”) on the topic of William Milne’s mentorship of Liang Fa. As I am finishing the whole project very soon, I have reflected on the purpose of study a person like William Milne. And here I shall give four reasons for anyone who are interested in Chinese church history, to spend sometime reading and studying William Milne, who was the second missionary to China.

  1. Robert Morrison and William Milne were the first and second missionaries to China. Everyone knows the importance of studying something from its beginning. Through Morrison and Milne, God established his church in China. Examining church history in China, three times, the Western church tried to bring the Gospel into China: the Nestorians (7th–10th centuries, and 13th–14th centuries), the Roman Catholics (Jesuits and Dominicans), and the Protestants from early 19th century. Either under the Nestorians or the Roman Catholic missionaries, the Gospel seed had been rooted in the soil of China. It is until Morrison and Milne came to China, God used them as his precious instruments, as pearls of Christ’s crown, and made the Gospel rooted in China. And since then, nothing was able to plug the church out of China.
  2. It is impossible to study Morrison and Milne separately. Since Milne’s arrival in 1813 (2013 remarked the 200-year anniversary of Milne’s arrive at Macao), Milne became “a close friend, intellectual peer, … and constant help [to Morrison].” (C. Hancock, Robert Morrison and the Birth of Chinese Protestantism, 93) As Hancock observed, “in reality, Milne had the creativity, freedom, and personality Morrison lacked; but without his rugged constitution and intellectual focus.” (134) “Yoked in backbreaking work, Morrison and Milne were soulmates in godly grief and blood brothers in Christian service.” (137)
  3. Morrison and Milne shared the same Edwardsian root. Few have observed, Robert Morrison and William Milne are New Divinities in theology and missionary practice. In my thesis (which is entitled as “Training Labourers into His Harvest: A Historical Study of William Milne’s Mentorship of Liang Fa,” and this thesis will be archived in TBS library after May 2014), I briefly argue that through their mentor David Bogue, Morrison and Milne unconsciously followed the Edwardsian root in missiology, which can also found in William Carey and the Serampore mission. Therefore, for church historians, from its beginning, Chinese church history cannot be studied by itself, rather, has to be put back into larger theological and historical background. And for Chinese Christians, from its beginning, by God’s providence, good Calvinistic theology had been brought into China by Morrison and Milne, and as a result, the theological root of Chinese church is Calvinistic.
  4. William Milne took the pastoral role in Malacca, and mentored Liang Fa. As the London Missionary Society required, Morrison’s major task was to translate and prepare ways for later missionaries to China. As his partner, Milne had more freedom in Malacca to preach the Gospel to both Chinese, Malay, American, Dutch and English. Beyond his roles of a printer, journalist, writer, teacher, and principal of Anglo-Chinese College, Milne also was a pastor who mentored Liang Fa to be ready to preach the Gospel to Chinese. Though Milne never said so, it is not hard to imagine that Milne would hope the Gospel might be brought to mainland China by Chinese natives as they had brought opium to China hundred years ago from Malacca. By studying Milne’s mentorship, it helps today’s Western churches to find a better way to help churches in China. 

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