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CHINA – THEY SHALL COME FROM THE EAST!
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
In Matthew 8:5-13, we are told that Christ healed the servant of a Roman centurion, a Gentile. On this occasion Christ gave the words of our text, concerning the conversion of many Gentiles in all parts of the world. In Luke 13:29 Christ said the same thing.
“And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).
Dr. John Gill (1697-1771) said of this verse,
“And they shall come…” from all parts of the world, from every nation under the heavens; meaning the Gentiles…these “shall come from the east and from the west”: from the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same (Isaiah 45:6; Malachi 1:11; Matthew 8:11) “and from the north, and from the south”: from the most distant parts of the world inhabited by men; see Isaiah 43:5-6. God has his chosen ones…in all parts of the world; and therefore his Gospel must be preached to all nations, for the gathering of them in, which will be done in the latter day (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, vol. I, p. 628; note on Luke 13:29).
The Olympics were held in Beijing in 2008. Since then we have heard about China constantly. And the words of Christ come to mind, “They shall come from the east” (Luke 13:29). Surely this refers to China. Here is a short sketch of the history of Christianity in China.
Recent archaeological evidence reveals that Christianity was first brought to China in 86 A.D., during the lifetime of the Apostle John. The Gospel was rejected by the Chinese at that time. The Nestorian Christians brought the Gospel a second time to China in 635 A.D., under the preaching of Alopen and others. Christianity gained a foothold and continued for about a hundred and sixty-five years. In the ninth century the Nestorian Christians in China were persecuted and ceased to exist as a movement, although some of their church buildings are still standing today.
Then in 1807 Christianity was introduced to China a third time, when the British missionary Robert Morrison reached Macao and translated the Bible into Chinese. He baptized one Chinese convert before his death in 1834. Eight years later the Treaty of Nanjing of 1842 allowed foreign missionaries to enter China freely. Preaching from Morrison’s Chinese translation of the Bible, the missionaries began to see numbers of conversions. Twenty-three years later, in 1865, the British missionary James Hudson Taylor began establishing the first of his 205 preaching stations (or mission churches) deep in inland China. For doing this work, many have called James Hudson Taylor the “Apostle to China.” By 1928 the number of missionaries in China peaked at 8,325. Thousands of Chinese were converted to Christ under their sacrificial ministry.
The Communists came to power in 1949 and began expelling all foreign missionaries. One of the last British missionaries to leave (probably the very last one) was Miss Gladys Aylward, an English missionary whose courageous story has been told in a movie titled “Inn of the Sixth Happiness,” starring Ingrid Bergman. I had the privilege of hearing Miss Aylward in person for three hours in 1962. It was a soul-stirring testimony, and I remember much of what she said today, nearly fifty years later. She made such an impression on me that I re-dedicated my life to be a missionary to the Chinese after I heard her speak when I was twenty-one years old. You can read her life in a book called “The Small Woman” in our bookstore.
With all foreign missionaries expelled from China, the Communists then banned the ordination of the Chinese themselves. Shortly before this my former pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin, left China to study theology and Semitic languages in the United States. I learned a great deal of what happened in China, before the Communists took over, directly from Dr. Lin, who died at 98 years old in 2009. Dr. Lin baptized me, and I was a member of his church for 24 years. Dr. Lin ordained me as a pastor in 1972. Before coming to pastor our Chinese church in Los Angeles, Dr. Lin taught Hebrew and other courses in the graduate department at Bob Jones University for several years. Then Dr. Lin came to pastor our Chinese church in Los Angeles. Dr. Lin’s ministry made a deep impression on my life in the 1960s, for which I will always be grateful. He taught me to have complete faith in the Bible as the very Word of God. Dr. Lin’s father had also been a pastor, in old China, before the revolution in 1911.
The Communists forbade any Chinese from being ordained to the ministry between 1955 and 1985. Ordinations had to be carried on in secret among those in the underground “house church” movement. In 1995 the Communists banned what they called “evil cults” in the house church movement. The Communists gave that name “evil cults” to the best Christians in China!
Jonathan Chao wrote an article in Reformation Today (November-December 2000) in which he said, “In China, the Protestant Church has grown a hundred times during the last fifty years (1950-2000) under adverse circumstances and a hostile environment. That environment has been one of persecution by the atheistic [Communist] state” (Reformation Today, Nov.-Dec. 2000, p. 3).
Chao continued by saying, “In January 1950…there were 834,000 Protestant… members. Today, while there is no reliable survey available, an educated estimate would put the number of believers at nearly 85 million…70 million are found in a variety of house churches scattered throughout the land” (ibid.). [These figures are much higher today, eleven years later.] Jonathan Chao concluded by saying that “Today in North and Northeast China reports indicate that there is a church in every village” (ibid.).
Chao told of the phenomenal growth of the Chinese churches under intense persecution. He cited such faithful pastors as Wang Mingdao (1900-1991) who was imprisoned for twenty-two years for preaching the Gospel; Yuan Xiancheng of Beijing, who was imprisoned for twenty years, and has pastored a church since 1979; Xie Moshan of Shanghai, who was imprisoned for twenty years; and Samuel Lam of Guangzhou, who also spent 20 years in prison for preaching the Gospel of Christ.
These extraordinary pastors, and thousands of other totally dedicated Chinese Christians have led the Chinese house churches into an explosive revival, the greatest revival on earth in the last several decades.
Jonathan Chao said, “As a student of Chinese church studies, I can say that the ongoing expansion of the church in China has already passed the point of the [Communist] state’s ability to control it. There are already more Christians than [Communist] party members, some of whom are turning to Christ” (ibid.).
The success of this mighty revival in China is astonishing, particularly when you realize the great suffering many Chinese house church Christians have had to endure. The website religiousfreedomforchina.org/English (November 24, 2002) gave this report that illustrates what happened to thousands of others in China:
• At the local police station, the police interrogated and tortured them. With the Bible in his hand that he found from Yuxi Wei, Yang Zhang shouted at Wei, “Where did you get it? Who is your leader?” Before Wei got a chance to reply, Zhang slapped several hits on his face, and then used an electric police club to strike Wei’s ears. Seeing Wei groan under the strike, Zhang shouted, “We have to give you a hard time because you believe in God.” Then he told another police, “Go and see what is going on with Xiang. Beat him to death if he refuses to confess!”
Christian Persecution Magazine (http://www.christianpersecution.info/) gave a list of persecutions against house churches in China in 2008. These persecutions against Christians occurred in the months and weeks before the Olympics began in Beijing.
• China: Authorities Banish Pastor From Beijing Prior to [the Olympic] Games
U.S. President George W. Bush [attended the] Olympic events in Beijing. [President Bush also attended] a church service in [a government-run church on] Sunday. Chinese authorities banished house church pastor Zhang Mingxuan from the city for the duration of the Games. Several other Christians remain in detention or face ongoing harassment.
Added: Aug 6th, 2008 3:46 AM
• China [Sentenced an] Evangelical Leader To Two Years Forced Labor
An evangelical pastor who trained Christian missionaries and evangelized in northwest China and Tibet [was] sentenced to two years forced labor because of his Christian activities, investigators said.
Added: Jul 10th, 2008 3:31 AM
• Chinese Security Forces Raided House Church At Coal Mine
Chinese security forces raided a house church at a coal mine in China's Gansu Province and detained several Christians as part of a crackdown on unauthorized worship services in the Communist nation, a Christian rights group said Monday, June 30.
Added: Jul 1st, 2008 1:32 AM
• China Canceled Court Hearing Of Frail House Church Leader
A frail [sickly] prominent Chinese house church leader and Christian bookstore owner already detained for three months remained in a Chinese prison Sunday, June 22, after a court hearing was unexpectedly cancelled, Chinese Christians said.
Added: Jun 23rd, 2008 2:49 AM
• China: Bookstore Owner Due to Appear in Court
Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan, detained in a Chinese prison without his medication for diabetes, was due in court Thursday (June 19) to face as yet unspecified charges [related to selling Bibles and Christian books].
Added: Jun 19th, 2008 3:34 AM
• China Detained Church Leader Due To Meet [European Union] Official
The president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, a major umbrella group of underground churches, was detained along with his interpreter while on his way to meet a senior European Union official, fellow Christian workers said.
Added: Jun 19th, 2008 3:33 AM
• Beijing Christian Bookstore Owner Rearrested In China
A bookstore owner in Beijing was still behind bars Saturday, April 19, a month after he was re-arrested for publishing Bibles and Christian literature, his wife said.
Added: Apr 22nd, 2008 11:11 AM
• China Detained House Church Leaders For Running “Evil Cult”
House church leaders and other Christians remained detained Sunday, April 6, in China’s Sichuan Province, on charges of running an “evil cult” [the Communist name for evangelical house churches] after security forces raided their house church and Sunday School, fellow Christians said.
Added: Apr 8th, 2008 7:37 AM
• “Wave of Persecution in China”; Group Smuggles Millions of Bibles
Government initiated attacks in China against Christians and their churches are “the worst in years” with a “wave of persecution” reported across the Communist nation, a well-informed group revealed Tuesday, April 1.
Added: Apr 2nd, 2008 10:39 AM
• Chinese Christian Evangelist Mistreated In Muslim Prison
A Chinese Christian who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment last November for distributing Christian leaflets among Muslims [was] mistreated in a Muslim…prison, a Christian news agency reported Tuesday, March 18.
Added: Mar 20th, 2008 10:21 AM
• At 7:00 the next morning, there came Xian Li, the [Communist] party director of the Political Protection Division of the county Public Security Department. Li using a leather belt whipped Brother Cai until the bloody bruise covered all around his face and other parts of his body. Then they tightened him onto a bench, and poked him with an electric power line. Brother Cai could not bear with the electric shock, and he shouted and groaned. Then Li kicked him down to the ground, and stamped on his face, shouting, “I will cut off your [organ] if you don’t [reject] God!”
(religiousfreedomforchina.org/English, Nov. 24, 2002).
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand spent fourteen years of torture and suffering in a Rumanian Communist prison, where he witnessed the courage and commitment of many persecuted Christians. I had the privilege of knowing Pastor Wurmbrand quite well. He spoke at our church many times, and my wife and I had dinner with him and Mrs. Wurmbrand in their home several years ago. In his book, Tortured for Christ, Pastor Wurmbrand said,
It must be understood that there are no nominal, half-hearted, lukewarm [house church] Christians in…China. The price [these] Christians pay is far too great. The next point to remember is that persecution has always produced a better Christian – a witnessing Christian, a soul-winning Christian. Communist persecution has backfired and produced serious, dedicated Christians such as are rarely seen in free lands [like America]. These people cannot understand how anyone can be a Christian and not want to win every soul they meet [to Christ] (Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, Diane Books, 1976, p. 105).
It is my prayer that you will become like the dedicated house church Christians in China, not like so many half-hearted evangelicals in the United States! To be like the dedicated Christians of China, you must be converted. You must turn whole-heartedly to Jesus Christ, and trust Him alone. He died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sins. He shed His Blood so your sins could be washed clean. He rose physically from the dead, and is now alive – seated at the right hand of God the Father – up in Heaven. Come to Christ. Believe on Him. Be converted. And then, live the Christian life with the same dedication as those in the house church movement in China. Be in church every Sunday morning and every Sunday night, like they do. Come also for prayer, Bible study, and evangelism each Saturday night. Go to evangelism, like they do. Live your life for Jesus Christ – as they do!
Over a hundred years ago, Horatius Bonar wrote a hymn that expresses the dedication of the Chinese house church Christians today. Let his hymn inspire you to live your life for Christ as they do in China! It’s number 7 on your song sheet.
Go, labor on; spend, and be spent,
Thy joy to do the Father’s will:
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?
Go, labor on; ‘tis not for naught;
Thy earthly loss is heavenly gain:
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises: what are men?
Go, labor on while it is day:
The world’s dark night is hastening on;
Speed, speed thy work, cast sloth away;
It is not thus that souls are won.
Toil on, faint not, keep watch and pray,
Be wise the erring soul to win;
Go forth into the world’s highway,
Compel the wanderer to come in.
(“Go, Labor On; Spend, and Be Spent” by Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889).
And may God help you do so! And be sure to come back for the evening service at 6:00 PM tonight!
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 8:5-12.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Go, Labor On; Spend, and Be Spent” (by Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889).