Day by day, young Islamic scholar Muhammad Rahim visited Henry Martyn to hear how he answered the questions and arguments of Persia's greatest theologians.
His attitude, like those of his colleagues, was to heap scorn on this teacher of a “despised sect.” But the patience, wisdom, and love of the young Englishman, little by little, softened his heart.
Martyn was a gifted scholar in his own right. Within five years he had already translated the New Testament into Persian, Hindi and Arabic. He had recently come to Persia in 1810 both to check his translation with local Muslim experts and to give a witness to his Lord.
During their question-answer times, Martyn’s opponents were hostile and even violent in their rhetoric. One of the royal princes put his hand to the hilt of his sword and growled that taking off his head was the only proper reply to such heresy.
Yet Martyn’s responses surprised Rahim and the others. He remained serene and unmoved among his attackers. “If Christ has work for me to do, I cannot die,” he said simply. Martyn never shirked encounters where he might be called upon to confess his faith.
The Englishman’s demeanor and wise answers caused quite a stir in Shiraz. As a result, the leading Muslim authorities decided to silence him once and for all by writing a peerless defense of Islam. Mirza Ibrahim, the “preceptor of all the mullahs,” who edited the presentation, chose to employ courteous subtlety, rather than opposing him with acrimony.
Martyn confronted the champion of Persian theology like a brave knight of Christ. He winsomely replied in a tract in which he showed an astonishing mastery of the entire controversy. The brilliant and compelling interchange was later preserved in English and published by the Cambridge Professor of Arabic, after Martyn’s death.
Rahim, after weighing the countless interchanges between Martyn and the Persian theologians, came to the personal conviction that the Christian faith was the correct one. Because of shame and fear, he stayed away from the sessions for months. But upon hearing Martyn was about to leave, Rahim came at last to make his confession of faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
With profound joy, Martyn placed a copy of the newly completed Persian New Testament into Rahim’s hands. From that day, that book became the the Persian scholar’s lifelong companion.
Years later, Muhammad Rahim shared his conversion with a Christian traveler, and showed him the book that was his greatest treasure. On one of the blank pages was written, “There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth – Henry Martyn.”[i]
Martyn’s Suggestions for fruitful Muslim Evangelism
Henry Martyn has been considered the first evangelical missionary among the Muslims. His life deeply impacted his contemporaries, both Christians and Muslims. Two years before he died, he wrote the following seven principles for work among Muslims:[ii]
1. Share your testimony as to how you experienced forgiveness of sins and peace with God through Jesus Christ.
2. Appreciate the best in your Muslim friends and attribute these qualities to God working in their lives. The same goes for those elements of the Muslim culture that are genuinely approved by God.
3. Keep your message centered in Christ while you speak about the grace of God and how this is transmitted through Christ and applied by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
4. Invite your Muslim friends to study the Bible so that they can discover the truth for themselves.
5. Pray for your Muslim friends and help them during this critical time of investigation and decision making.
6. Create a favorable environment in society through good works that minister to human need.
7. Trust that Holy Spirit will work in your Muslim friends while they seek their place as Christian in their Muslim context.
[i] Padwick, Constance. Henry Martyn. Confessor of the Faith. Chicago: Moody, 1950, pp. 230-234.
[ii] Iglesia y Misión, 1993, p. 9.