Henry Martyn was a 19th century British missionary who left behind a glittering academic career at Cambridge to go to India and Persia for Christ. He was only twenty-four years of age when he left the British Isles. It took him almost a year to get there and he was no sooner there than his health began to deteriorate. This was something he would wrestle with for several years until his untimely death at age thirty-one. Yet in that short span of time, he managed to produce translations of the New Testament in Urdu, Arabic, and Persian, which laid the groundwork for missions in that region for years to come. Throughout his troubles, travails, and trials, Martyn was driven by a burning desire to see the supremacy of Christ made known among all peoples. There is a story that comes out of his life that attests to that reality. When Martyn saw a picture of Jesus bowing down and grasping the robes of Mohammed, he responded, “I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified.”
Henry Martyn reminds us that missions and evangelism must be predicated upon a burning jealousy on our part for God’s glory among the nations (Psa. 96:3; 97:1). There was a certain provocation that fueled his missionary endeavor and endurance. He could not live if Christ were not glorified. You see the same visceral reaction on the part of Paul as he enters the great city of Athens (Acts 17:16-17). A city marked by idolatry, and religious pluralism, a city where it was easier to find a god than a man. Such idolatry, which robbed God of His place, and Jesus of His preeminence, moved Paul to the core of his being. He was provoked in his spirit. In fact, in describing Paul’s reaction, Dr. Luke uses a medical term which describes a seizure or an epileptic fit. The fact that God was being robbed of the glory that was due His name gave Paul a fit.
Both Henry Martyn and the Apostle Paul remind us that Christian missions ought to be the overflow of our delight in God, and the desire to see His name and fame spread throughout the earth. Fundamentally, true evangelism begins with a love for God not a love for the lost, a passion for God not a compassion for men. We must not put the cart before the horse. Our evangelism must be God-centered before it is man-centered. We must love God then our neighbor! The worship of God, a burning desire to see God exalted in the midst of His creation, must fuel and kindle our desire for world missions. As John Piper has rightly said, “Evangelism exists because worship doesn’t.” A failure of nerve on our part in the task of evangelism is a red flag telling us that we do not love God enough. In a world of false religions, in a world where the name of Jesus is a curse word, in a world where men worship the creature rather than the Creator, you and I need to be provoked to more eagerly proclaim the supremacy of Jesus Christ.